It was a deeply moving experience to follow the proceedings yesterday, especially the humility of the 20 or so veterans. During the boring bits, when the Heads of State individually took their seats for example, and the commentators had to pad, I found myself reflecting on my own memories. I was born 9 years after the landings and education, war comics and films shaped a number of precepts which later, with deeper reading, were incorrect or at least questionable, namely:
(1) The British, supported by the Americans and fortified by Churchill’s rhetoric, were chiefly responsible for victory;
(2) Field Marshal Montgomery was the most brilliant military commander on either side;
(3) The British soldier was superior to his German counterpart;
(4) The British were the more inventive in ideas and material;
(5) The French played a significant role in the victory.
Some of these precepts particularly were still apparent yesterday, so allow me to consider these in greater depth:-
(1) The British and Americans were responsible for victory
The Soviets vanquished the Germans on the Russian front. They had by far the most casualties (18 million) and the combination of the winter, poor protection of German clothing but above all the zeal of the Red Army under General Zhukov inflicted a body blow on the Wehrmacht from which they never recovered.
(2) Field Marshal Montgomery
Its hardly surprising that Montgomery was highly rated at my school (St Paul’s) as he was a pupil and planned the landings from there. It’s undeniable that Monty restored morale and, after losing every battle up to El Alamein, we did barely lose one after. He also had a considerable foe in Rommel,the desert fox, a brilliant strategist . Yet it’s equally undeniable that Monty had a flair for self-promotion and the reunions of the the 8th Army at Albert Hall and his military manuals ensured his reputation continued. It’s equally undeniable that he was no team player. He did not get on with Eisenhower, apparently they fell out when Ike smoked in his presence and that the raid on Arnhem was misconceived by Monty.
(3) the superiority of the British soldier
After the fall of Singapore, when 70,000 British soldiers were captured, there was real concern about their fighting capacity and qualities. They seemed to improve after El Alamein but no mention of D-Day is complete without reference to the resilience of the German army, who pinned the Allies advance back to the Bocage area and fought to the end at Cherbourg. There was also the counter-thrust of the Battle of The Bulge which lack of fuel, rather than the Allies, thwarted.
( 4) materiel
the U boat, Panzer tank, Messerschmidt. V1 and V2 were all colossal contributors to the German war machine. They also in the blitzkrieg adoped the doctrine of Basil Liddell Hart of mobile columns which punched through the Magonot Line in the Ardennes and overcame the French army the largest in Europe swiftly. However the brtish can lay claim to the cracking of the codes at Bletchley that won the battle for the Atlantic and radar.
50 The Role of the French
it is thought that the maximum number in the resistance was 250,000 mainly communists in the Alsace region. Crucially lack of offensive activity behind German lines meant the allies were pinned in the bocage. De Gaulle was sentenced to death as a traitor. During the round up Jews in 1942 children under 6 were held in a velodrome outside Paris. Eichmann said they were of no use but the French sent them on trains to their death anyway. The perpetrator became the Head of Bank Indo Suez after the war. Mitterand worked as a civil servant in Vichy and covered this up. they were fortunate to play any role in the great post war conferences of Potsdam and Yalta
My conclusion is that every generation writes its own history with a veracity that Winston Smith would rewrite it depending on who your ally is in 1984