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Inflatable tanks and 'fake news': What you probably didn't know about D-Day

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Inflatable tanks and 'fake news': What you probably didn't know about D-Day
The British Normandy memorial. Photo: DPA
09:11 CEST+02:00
Exactly 75 years ago, on June 6th, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops invaded the northern French coast, marking the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany.

To commemorate the momentous event that occurred three-quarters of a century ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a ceremony in Portsmouth, England, along with other world leaders. 

"The fact that I, as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, can be here today and that we stand together today for peace and freedom is a gift of history that must be protected and nurtured," she said. 

Meanwhile, the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, who is father of President Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, got himself into hot water on Twitter by criticizing Merkel.

As world leaders gathered, Huckabee said that it “must have been an ‘awkward’ moment for Angela Merkel”.

But his tweet backfired, with many people biting back at the Republican.

As commemorations continue, here are some little-known facts about "the longest day".

'Erotic adventure'

"When the Germans came, we told the men to hide. But when the Americans came, we had to hide the women!"

The French joke refers to the "erotic adventure" which the US military promised American soldiers fighting in France, historian Mary Louise Roberts writes in "What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France."

Propaganda painted France as "a tremendous brothel inhabited by 40 million hedonists".

Readers of the military newspaper "Stars and Stripes" could learn the French for "you are very pretty", "I am not married" and "are your parents at home?", whereas the German vocabulary section offered phrases such as "No cigarettes!" and "Line up!", Roberts explains.

American promiscuity sparked outrage in cities like Le Havre and Reims, where sexual acts "took place in parks, cemeteries, streets and abandoned buildings".

More than 150 American soldiers were tried for rape, most of them black men, underlining the racial discrimination at the time, Roberts said.

READ ALSO: 'D-Day anniversary: 'We had a funeral every day'

Threat of defeat

With D-Day looming, the Allies prepared for the worst.

Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe and future US president, Dwight Eisenhower, prepared himself in advance for announcing a failure.

Actors representing soldiers in World War II gather at dawn on Omaha Beach on northern French coast on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Photo: DPA

He penned a statement on June 5th entitled "In case of failure" which said that "any blame or fault... is mine alone".

"My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available.... The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do."

Allied forces quickly gained control of five points along an 80-kilometre (50-mile) front on beaches codenamed Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.

But at Omaha, heavy casualties earned the beach the sombre nickname "Bloody Omaha".

READ ALSO D-Day anniversary - How France will commemorate 75 years since the Normandy landings

High cliffs there gave the Germans an immediate advantage.

Americans were left waist deep in rough seas as crashing water sank their landing craft, and some drowned. Of the 34,000 Americans deployed, 2,500 were killed or wounded.

Some paratroopers drowned in "catastrophic" jumps, said French historian Jean Quellien, author of "The Battle of Normandy". Heavy equipment weighing 30 to 40 kg (65-90 lbs) pulled them underwater.

Inflatable tanks

"Fake news" might be considered a modern phenomenon, but the British led a deception campaign, codenamed Operation Fortitude, to try and fool the Germans into thinking the Allies planned to attack Scandinavia, then France's Calais region, rather than Normandy.

Inflatable tanks were positioned on the British coast facing Calais, and metallic lures were used to make it appear to German radar that a large force was about to land near Calais. Fake radio messages were leaked to German
intelligence services.

Even after the D-Day landings on June 6th, the Germans believed a second attack was planned in the Calais region. Hitler eventually ordered troops to join the Normandy front.

Native American 'code talkers'

Communicating through coded messages would have taken too long during the landings and commanders couldn't speak in English in case they were intercepted by the Germans.

Instead, the Americans used Native American "code talkers", especially the Comanche, who worked in their indigenous language.

A small wooden cross with the inscription "In memory of a fallen soldier, no matter which nation" stands on the war cemetery Bayeux at the grave of a soldier who fell during the Second World War. Photo: DPA

John Parker, son of "code talker" Simmons Parker, remembers that "bomber plane" was translated as "pregnant bird".

He said his father told him that in the Comanche language, "crazy white man" meant Hitler.

Landing in... Indonesia

In December 2018, the British postal service, Royal Mail, apologized after releasing a stamp commemorating D-Day's 75th anniversary showing American troops landing in Indonesia, then known as Dutch New Guinea.

"We would like to offer our sincere apologies," Royal Mail said.

 
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