By Russell Bruce
Nations are given to creating their own myths and Britain is no exception, indeed a myth maker extraordinary. The end of WW2 and the significant part D-Day played in enabling following generations to come together in peace and stability through increasing cooperation and collaboration is a mark of where Europe’s nations stand today.
Britain did not stand alone. With the exception of the Channel Islands, it was not under the control of the Third Reich. So it became a base for the presence of those countries that would form the invasion force on 6th June 1944 led by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower
A real cause for celebration
Nothing in this article will take away anything from the achievement of what British forces did that day. Channel 4 interviewed many of the veterans attending the celebrations in Normandy today. Their honesty about how scared they were, how they recognised the fortune of their survival when others did not, or comrades who have not lived to see the 75th anniversary give a real sense of honest reflection of their experience that day and the impact it had on their lives.
There is however a wider context. Our graph shows the main composition of the invasion forces. D- Day would not have been possible without both US and Canadian forces, the 9 million tonnes of supplies and equipment from North America or the involvement of 2 million forces based in Britain from many other countries.
On D-Day, Allied forces consisted primarily of American, British and Canadian troops but also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air or ground support. Intelligence from the French resistance was crucial to the air, naval and troop landings.
And lest we forget: 70,000 Irish men and women
“…what happened to the Irishmen and women who chose to serve in the British armed forces during the Second World War. The Irish state was officially neutral but Britain owed a huge debt to the Irish people who fought on the Allied side. Some 70,000 citizens of Ireland served in the British armed forces during the war, together with another 50,000 from Northern Ireland.”
75 years on Britain faces the big retreat
As the memories of the celebrations fade Britain will return to its current Brexit obsession, despite a large percentage of the population just switching off. Little wonder when the ineptitude of Westminster to find a solution is now entering a fourth year.
The collaboration across many nations on D-Day should allow us to focus on a continuing European future rather than a retreat echoing Dunkirk and the failures at Dieppe and Anzio. The evacuation of Dunkirk (May 26 to June 4, 1940) may have been a success in terms of logistics and for the little boats sailing back and forth but it was still a retreat.
Standing alone on the eastern front, Russia was desperate for the Allies to mount a major attack in Western Europe. A year after Dunkirk on 22nd June 1941 the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, striking deep into Soviet Russia before being bogged down in a conflict in which they had underestimated the determination of soviet forces and significantly, the impact of Russian weather which contributed much physically challenging muddy bog.
The Russians had to wait 3 years for the Allies to finally launch Operation Overlord (D-Day) on another June date. Hitler ignored history’s lesson and thought he could succeed where Napoleon had failed. Russian weather and doggedness got the better of both of them.
The myth of standing alone looks set to prevail with our southern neighbours. There has always been a sense of standing apart during the years of the UK’s membership of the EU. Crunch time is coming and the runestones are carved with Boris’ Brexit Crash Out X/2019 AD
England: Ready to stand alone
With the Westminster politcal system looking like a bog of Russian mud the electorate in England seem resigned to any resolution – whatever the cost. Scotland must claim its European future and not be caught in a pincer movement on Europe by Putin and Trump. Both want to undermine the EU. Putin to regain lost influence over Eastern Europe and Trump because the EU is a powerful economic competitor. In business damaging a competitor is to your advantage. Statecraft doesn’t work that way. Just ask Mexico and China about bullying tactics. Brexit plays straight into Trump’s hands. If he appeared to row back on the NHS being on the table for a trade deal it was because that was the one thing that could result in Brexit unravelling.
The two images in the content of this article are screenshots from the Imperial War Museum website. Much more balanced than most of the media and political hype. The headline pie chart was produced by Russell Bruce.