The invasion of Normandy was a crucial moment in WWII and today former soldiers and world leaders are gathering to remember it. But are we overlooking other major events of this global war?
It was the largest seaborne invasion in history. On the 6th of June 1944, after more than a year of planning, 156,000 Allied troops waded ashore onto the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy under a hail of German shells and bullets. On the bloodiest beach landing, it was said that there were two types of people: ‘the dead and those who are about to die.’
Around 4,500 Allied soldiers died in that first assault, as did 20,000 French civilians killed by bombardments. But by the end of the day, the Allies had established a crucial toehold in France. The end of Nazi Germany came 11 months later.
Now, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, 1,000 veterans and world leaders will gather on the Normandy coast to commemorate the event. It is a particularly poignant anniversary because, with the majority of the veterans now in their 80s and 90s, few will make the journey again.
The D-Day landing is embedded in the public memory and it has been notably depicted in numerous films, such as ‘Saving Private Ryan’. This is partly due to the sheer drama and scale of the invasion by which British, US and Commonwealth troops liberated France. Britain had faced a very real threat of invasion in 1940; Normandy was a notable turning point in its fortunes.
Yet while it is important to commemorate D-Day, many remind us that it should not skew our appreciation of the contribution made by others elsewhere. At least eight million Russian soldiers died in the struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, ten times the number killed from the US and Great Britain combined. And this is why many Russians took particular offence when Prince Charles recently compared Putin to Hitler.
But while other key moments of the war, such as Stalingrad, do receive attention, some historians note that we often fail to appreciate the scale of the carnage elsewhere. Poland was the first country to be attacked in the war, and it lost not only a fifth of its population in the bloodshed, but also its freedom when the war ended. When honouring the soldiers of Normandy, they say, we must remember the sacrifices many others also made.
Lest we forget
While we applaud the many veterans taking part in the memorial in Normandy today, many believe it is vital that we do not forget their sacrifice when they have gone. Nazism was a truly appalling blot in Europe’s history, and we must remember those who gave or risked their lives to defeat it.
But others point out that the war was a global event, and atrocities and feats of bravery and sacrifice took place from China to Africa, from Russia to Burma. D-Day is important of course, but we should not lose sight of the scale of destruction in places beyond the English-speaking world.
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Lecturer: Abdulkhaliq Mohamed Sheikh Osman- Birmingham UK