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Guernica, by Picasso, 1937

Guernica, by Picasso, 1937

Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)
Photo credit: Google Images

The Battle of the Atlantic

The term “Battle of the Atlantic” was coined by Sir Winston Churchill in February 1941 who described it as the “longest, largest, and most complex” in naval battle in history.  It lasted six years.  (See Battle of the Atlantic, Wikipedia)

The Normandy Landings

To narrow the field, we will remember D-Day, or Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings which took place 69 years ago on 6 June 1944.  The Normandy landings may well be the largest military operation in history and it was an operation that could not fail.

The Commanders: Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, but overall command of ground forces (21st Army Group) was given to General Bernard Montgomery.*

*Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein KGGCBDSOPC
He was in command of all Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord from the initial landings until after the Battle of Normandy.  He then continued in command of the 21st Army Group for the rest of the campaign in North West Europe.  (See Battle of Normandy and Operation Overlord, Wikipedia.)
Omar Nelson Bradley (February 12, 1893 – April 8, 1981) was a five-star American General.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) had invaded Europe, thereby acquiring Lebensraum (living space).  He was eliminating Jews and Romani as well as persons he deemed racially inferior and mentally deficient.  He was also sending to death camps persons he considered sexual deviants.  The master race was the Aryan race.  However, the Aryan master race theory was not Hitler’s idea.  That’s another story.[i]

Growth of Nazism

It has often been claimed that the growth of Nazism could have been avoided had the Germans not been severely penalized under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I (28 June1919).  Article 231, the “war guilt clause,” imposed onerous and humiliating reparations on the German people.  That mistake was not repeated at the conclusion of World War II.  The United States put into place the Marshall Plan, or European Recovery Program, ERP.  It could be that the United States wanted to prevent the spread of communism (see Marshall Plan, Wikipedia).  Be that as it may, Europe was rebuilt.

Opposition within Germany

There was opposition to the Führer within Germany, both before and during World War II.  By the late 1930s, there were in fact many opponents of the régime, but it was too late.  If discovered, they were killed.  By then, they were Hitler’s hostages and Hitler was a dictator.  (See Führerprinzip, Wikipedia).  During the war years, die Weiße Rose, the White Rose, was a German resistance movement and there were, moreover, attempts to assassinate Hitler.  (See Assassination Attempts on Adolf Hitler, Wikipedia.)

Particularly notorious is the disastrous 20 July plot (1944).  A bomb was left by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (15 November 1907 – 21 July 1944) in a room where Hitler was to hold a meeting.  The bomb was moved slightly and, although it detonated, Hitler was not injured.  Stauffenberg was executed on 21 July, a day after the failed bombing.  However, according to Wikipedia (20 July plot), 4,980 were executed as a result of this failed assassination.

Among members of the White Rose resistance who were caught, most were executed at Stadelheim Prison, Munich, in 1943, but Hans Conrad Leipelt was beheaded on 29 January 1945.

Sympathizers outside Germany

Moreover, there were sympathizers outside Germany.  Unity Mitford (8 August 1914 – 28 May 1948) was among the people who fell for Nazism.  Her story is mysterious.  She apparently shot herself in the head and was returned to her family by Hitler who had paid the hospital bills.  She may also have given birth to Hitler’s child.  That, we may never know.  But we know that there were Nazi sympathizers in Britain.

Naivety: The Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain FRC

There may have been naivety in the case of Neville Chamberlain (18 March 1869 – 9 November 1940), the First Minister of the United Kingdom.  It may have been difficult for him to believe that Hitler was a monster.  According to Wikipedia, Chamberlain “is best known for his appeasement foreign policy.”  He signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, “conceding the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany.”  However, when Hitler invaded Poland, on 3 September 1939, Britain, with Chamberlain as First Minister of the United Kingdom, declared war on Germany.  Chamberlain “led Britain through the first eight months of the Second World War.”  (See Neville Chamberlain, Wikipedia.)

The Vichy Government

As well, there were collaborateurs in France.  Philippe Pétain (24 April 1856 – 23 July 1951), a hero of World War I and a marshall of France, made peace with Germany and became Chief of State in the Vichy government.  He was 84 at the time.  After the war, Pétain was condemned to death but spared the ignominy of an execution by Charles de Gaulle (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) who was President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic from 1944 until 1946.  De Gaulle had been a protégé of Pétain.

Operation Overlord

We will now go directly to Operation Overlord (see Battle of the Atlantic, Wikipedia), an attempt to liberate Europe which, as I noted above, could not fail.  Operation Overlord was led mostly by Eisenhower (US) and Montgomery (UK) and required deception on the part of the Allied forces.  The Nazis never suspected the Allied forces would enter Europe through Normandy.  Calais was the area they were protecting.  Let me use numbers to describe Operation Overlord.  This military operation necessitated:

  • a 12,000-plane airborne assault (strategic bombing) which preceded an
  • amphibious assault, involving 7,000 vessels.
  • Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June 1944, and
  • more than three million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.
  • Canadian forces suffered 18,444 casualties during the Normandy fighting.

Taking part in Operation Overlord were, indeed, many Canadians.  According to the Canadian Encyclopedia,

“[o]n 6 June 1944, after almost a year of special assault and combined operations training, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (Maj-Gen R.O.D. Keller) and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (Brig R.A. Wyman) were part of the Allied forces which attacked the Normandy coast of France in Operation Overlord. Landing on “Juno” Beach, between Vaux and St Aubin-sur-Mer, the Canadians penetrated about 9 km inland by the end of D-Day. Beating back enemy counterattacks during the next several days, the Canadians continued to thrust inland against growing opposition, aided by highly effective tactical air support. Supported by British formations on either flank, a lodgement area was gained and additional formations reinforced the assault forces. In the Canadian sector the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division (Major-General C. FOULKES) and 4th Canadian Armoured Division (Major-General G. Kitching) arrived to form the Second Canadian Corps under Lieutenant-General G.G. SIMONDS. With these and additional forces, the First Canadian Army (Lieutenant-General H.D.G. CRERAR) took over command of the eastern part of the Allied front.”

I lived in Normandy and visited all the beaches and cemeteries: little white crosses, almost as far as the eye could see.  There were far too many deaths and there was destruction.  We lived near Coutances.  The stained glass windows of its Gothic cathedral had melted.  Saint-Lô was almost totally destroyed and so was Caen.

One of my uncles survived D-Day.  He cannot understand how and why he survived.  On his return to Canada, he married and settled into one of the houses built for veterans by the Canadian government.   Sixty-nine years after D-Day, my uncle still lives in his veteran’s house.  They were little houses, but lovely.

Veteran's House

Veteran’s House


[i]  The theory of the Aryan master race was developed by Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (14 July 1816, Ville-d’Avray, Hauts-de-Seine – 13 October 1882, Turin), a French aristocrat and the author of An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines), written between 1853 and 1855.

By clicking on the link below, you will access a site on Canadians on D-Day, including videos.

Canadians on D-Day

Pablo Picasso
Portrait of Françoise Gilot, 1946
“Woman-flower / La femme-fleur” 
Photo credit: Google Images
Micheline Walker©
June 7, 2013