D-Day 1944 - The Assault on Hitler's Europe

On the morning of the 6th June 1944 Anne Frank, and the others hiding in the 'secret annex' in Amsterdam, heard via the BBC that allied forces were landing on the northern coast of France. "Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation?" Anne wrote in her diary. "The liberation we've all talked so much about, which still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale, ever to come true? Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? We don't know yet. But where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again." Like Anne and the others in hiding, the news of the landings brought renewed hope of liberation to millions across occupied Europe. In Germany, most anti-Nazis hoped that the advent of allied forces in Europe would force the surrender of the Nazi regime before the arrival of the Red Army!

From the day he became Prime Minister, Winston Churchill knew that while Britain might, just, with a great deal of effort and a great deal of luck, defeat a German attempt at an invasion of the British Isles, he also knew that it was impossible for Britain alone to defeat Nazi Germany on the continent of Europe. To achieve and sustain a successful invasion Britain needed the full commitment of the United States of America to the war in Europe. American manpower, airpower and its overwhelming industrial might were the prerequisites for a successful assault on Hitler's Europe.

The failed German attempt to invade Britain in autumn 1940 (however seriously it was intended) and the disastrous allied assault on Dieppe in August 1942 in which so many Canadian servicemen lost their lives, were, nevertheless, instructive in planning an amphibious landing on a defended coast - one of the most difficult military operations which can be undertake. This course will cover the three decisive months from June to August 1944 - from D-Day to the liberation of Paris. Among other things, we will explore the two years of preparations for Operation Overlord, the initial assault on the beaches and the struggle to breakout from the bridgehead; we will consider the place of the French Resistance who worked behind the lines to disrupt German responses, as well as atrocities such as the destruction of Oradour-sur-Bain.

When General de Gaulle entered Paris he gave a distinctive interpretation of the battle for France, and we will conclude this course by considering how D-Day and the Normandy campaign have been interpreted and commemorated in film and personal memory. For the British, the Normandy landings have entered the pantheon of World War II battles, such as Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, which, to many, have come to define a concept of 'Britishness' which seems to become more intense the further we move away from the events themselves, as we end our course we might like to ponder why this should be.

Dr Andrew Lacey
October 2018

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