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

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.

Inflatable tanks and 'fake news': What you probably didn't know about D-Day
The British Normandy memorial. Photo: DPA

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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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 


The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?