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June 06, 2014


Dave Rosenthal, the guy on the right. He lived a couple of houses down from me until he and his wife Rose moved to assisted living.

A friend of mine posted this remembrance of D-Day from actor Charles Durning on FB, it seems worth sharing here. I wish they would have let him just tell his story without the stupid oh-so-sombre patriotic music.

I am, always, humbled by the sheer courage - the willingness to do whatever was needed - of those guys.

Minimum suggested reading: Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Band of Brothers.

Things would have gone worse for the Allies had the Germans heeded numerous warnings of an imminent attack. Also: had the Russians not been beating the everlasting crap out if them in the East. Also: had Hitler not elected to micromanage the war.

All said, we got off relatively easy. But still nowhere near easy.

"That last one", i.e. the casualties, also seems pretty surprising to me. His statement is VERY full of conditionals and gives no hint as to casualty figures he uses, the WWI battles with which he compares them or the recognition that 77days is not quite the same as the duration of WWI.

In short, I'd like a little less hand-waving and some more data.

What also saved numerous live were the failed 'test runs' the British tried earlier, in particular the Dieppe Raid. That disaster teached the Allies invaluable lessons about what not to do and what sh|t could happen when seemingly irrelevant details were not taken into account.
I just came home from the cinema where there was a D-Day commemoration with contemporary film material (newsreels from the US and Germany, some raw footage, a Humphrey Jennings short). I get ever more cynical the more of that stuff I have seen over the years. British material on average has stood the test of time with little phony stuff included and less over the top narrative*. But both US and German 'news' (=propaganda) footage contains both painfully obvious faked (and/or staged/out of place) scenes and twists the facts in a way that even the contemporary audience should have become highly suspicious. And one almost has to laugh when the narrative is belied by the very images allegedly illustrating it ('Bridge taken out by precision bombing', all bombs visibly miss; 'A glider shot down by our flak', the glider 'wreck' has no visible damage and obviously got unloaded as planned after removal of the tail section; etc.).
Alas, little has changed there, and today CGI is cheap enough to fake about anything quickly.

*a remarkable change from WW1. Interestingly, some British war related films from WW2 poke fun at the inept/hilarious propaganda from yesteryear. The British military obviously recognized the fatal 'John Wayne effect' on recruits years before Wayne started to play heros in war movies and sought to counteract it.

My aunt and uncle were the household staff for Cornelius Ryan, who wrote the Longest Day and a Bridge too Far and I remember reading those books as a kid. An appreciation here that lines up with my memory

Which is what led me back to The Longest Day. I had not opened the book in many years. And yet the story, or rather the many small stories that filled the narrative, had stayed with me. I had seen the movie from time to time over the years. It is a remarkably faithful adaptation—Ryan had worked on the screenplay. But was it the film or my early memories of the book that drew me back? Or was it something else entirely: my growing realization that the qualities that made the book endure—the precise details, the way each of Ryan’s many set pieces unfolded so quickly, even as the sentences were packed with multiple facts—could come only through an approach to reporting that I had long considered secondary to the words themselves?

I opened the book on the eve of a long weekend. I was hooked after a single page. Something was taking place in the telling of this story that transcended the journalistic equivalent of mere looks—a richness, a depth. A little like love, not as it happens for teenagers, but for adults.

Strangely, I remember reading both the Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, but not the Last Battle, about the fall of Berlin, though thinking about it, I'm sure I did but it has been supplanted in my memory either by Beevor's book or maybe because that one doesn't have a movie attached.

All said, we got off relatively easy. But still nowhere near easy.

No, it wasn't easy. My father told me, and he was there, that it wasn't easy. And I visited the site, and imagined its ugliness that day. I'm so grateful to them.

Could one of you knowledgeable people tell me what those X-shaped pieces of metal were, in the surf on D-Day? Were they German defenses, or were they something the Allies brought?


If you can, I'd love it if you tell us more about your father and his experiences. Did he ever go back?

My father turned 18 in March 1945, and joined the Marines right after high school graduation; he never saw action. But in the 1960s, when we were living in France, my mother wanted to take a side-trip to visit Germany (her father's parents were immigrants from Bremen). My father refused to go, and she told me about them standing on a hill in Alsace looking over the river, and him weeping and swearing at Germany, as he remembered so many dead friends.


Those were meant to obstruct landing craft. They would have been underwater at high tide. At low tide, as was the case, the invading soldiers would have to cross more open beach.


The Germans had planned two rows of those obstacles, one for high and one for low tide, but had not yet finished work. As it turned out they had started with the wrong one, so the effect was greatly reduced.

I would be happy to tell you more details by email to you, personally, Doctor Science, but don't really want to identify myself here.

My father was a fighter pilot doing missions over the invasion that day.

He did go back, but not on an anniversary. He and my mother were getting on in years. (They're both gone now.) They were riding a bus (I'm not sure where in Normandy), when someone chatted with them. He told them why he was visiting. My mother told me that everyone on the bus stood up and put their hands on their hearts. Of course, my parents were in tears. I, of course, was in tears when they told it to me.

When I reflected on that story, I thought that maybe there were some people on the bus who were being ironic. It's so hard these days to imagine that people would sincerely do that, especially with people hating America for so many reasons. But then I heard this.

Anyway, thanks for the invitation to reflect further.

For me, visiting Omaha Beach and the American cemetery above it brought home, in a way nothing else could, the heroism involved in the D-Day landings.

The beach itself, as Capa's photograph shows, was narrow, and faced high rises of land - not quite cliffs maybe, but enough to give defenders a huge advantage.

To a non-military type like me, success seems unbelievable. Yet they did it.

Those steel obstacles are called Czech hedgehogs. Ironically, they provided the raw materials for the the first Rhino Tanks, which facilitated the breakout from bocage/hedgerows in Normandy.

There were also wooden poles used to impede landing craft.

Wrong-way poles. In the Omaha Beach scene some of the obstacles are pointed in the wrong direction. We're referring to the large wooden obstacles, not the metal tetrahedrons that the U.S. troops sheltered behind. These wooden obstacles consisted of a log roughly the size of a telephone pole with one end elevated and supported by two other logs. The raised end was supposed to face the beach. The idea was that an incoming landing craft would ride up the pole and detonate the Teller mine at the end of it. Yet in the opening beach scene, the elevated end of these poles is facing the water. Later during the Omaha Beach sequence the poles have reversed direction and are facing the proper way.link

The doctor's link to CNN prompted me to click on this about Eisenhower's most difficult decision.

I had an odd experience in the early 1970's. A friend and I were hitchhiking around Europe and we found ourselves in a Scottish village, asking directions from a pair of elderly ladies. Then one of the ladies asked if we were Americans. We said yes. And the two ladies teared up and held our hands and thanked us. They were thinking of World War Two. I was eighteen, female, and felt only the remotest connection to the war. I felt very undeserving of thanks. I also felt...like our status as a nation that deserved to be thanked was a something that the current (at that time) government was screwing up. But the war I knew about was Viet Nam.

Doctor Science: My father refused to go, and she told me about them standing on a hill in Alsace looking over the river, and him weeping and swearing at Germany, as he remembered so many dead friends.

My father made a point of buying a Renault rather than a VW bug, when the bug was popular. He was by no means a war monger but, when in doubt, he preferred the French.


I knew Jews who refused to even *ride* in a VW as late as the mid-70s. That was a family that got out of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the ones that *did* get out -- no-one could really feel that they were over-sensitive about the iconic Nazi car. But it was one of those factors you had to take into consideration when arranging car pools.

"MYTH: America and Britain got off lightly in World War II"

In a fit of compulsive number-crunching, I went rambling through Wikipedia, compiling campaign/battle statistics. These are just for military forces, and in round thousands, casualties (including KIA, WIA, and captured)/maximum forces. In vaguely chronological order (i.e., off the top of my head, and therefore somewhat wrong):

Battle of France:
France/UK 2260/3300 68% (mostly French but I didn't do the breakdown). Germany 157/3350 5%. Italy 6/300 2%.

Barbarossa (Invasion of USSR):
USSR 4000/5300 75%. Germany 800/3800 21%.

Pearl Harbor: US 4/25 16%. Japan: approx 0.

Philippines 1:
US 145/151 97%. Japan 12/129 9%.

Malaysia: UK 61/140 44%. Japan 5/70 7%.

Singapore: UK 85/85 100%. Japan 4/36 11%.

El Alamein 1&2:
UK 27/195 14%. Germany 41/116 35%

Torch (French Africa):
US/UK 1/107 1%. Vichy 3/60 5%.

Kharkov 2:
USSR 277/765 36%. Germany: 29/350 8%.

Kharkov 3:
USSR 96/346 28%. Germany 56/220 25%

Midway US: 0/NA NA%. Japan 3/NA NA%.

Guadalcanal (land):
US 7/50 14%. Japan 32/36 89%.

Stalingrad (just the city, I think):
USSR 750/1143 66%. Germany+ 850/1040 82%

Tunisia: US/UK 76/NA NA%. Germany 300/NA NA%.

US/UK 25/467 5%. Germany 20/50 40%. Italy 131/230 57% (mostly POW)

Tarawa: US 4/35 11%. Japan 5/5 100%.

Italy: 13/189 7%. Germany/Italy 4/100 4%.

USSR 1071/1910 56%. Germany 198/912 22%.

Overlord (June-August):
US/UK 226/2052 11%. Germany 425/1000 43%.

Market Garden (Holland):
US/UK 16/42 38%. Germany 83/300 28%.

Battle of the Bulge:
US/UK 91/737 12%. Germany 83/300 28%.

Saipan: US 14/71 20%. Japan 30/31 97%.

Guam: US 8/36 22%. Japan 19/22 86%.

Peleliu: US 10/28 36%. Japan: 11/11 100%.

Philippines 2:
US 62/NA NA%. Japan 345/NA NA%.

Iwo Jima US 26/70 37%. Japan 22/22 100%.

Vienna: USSR 18/745 2%. Germany 63/NA NA%.

USSR 360/2500 14%. Germany 591/767 77%

Okinawa: 50/183 27%. Japan 117/160 73%.

I'm too lazy to do WWI stats, but in terms of the US, UK, there's simply no comparison to what the USSR went through. The Western Front was a big war in and of itself, but it was a sideshow compared to what went on in the USSR and Eastern Europe. For the US and UK, largest number of casualties were for Overlord @ 225K, with a casualty rate of 11%. The highest casualty rate was during Market Garden, at 38%, but it was a small operation.

In contrast, Barbarossa alone killed, wounded, or surrendered 4 million Soviet troops, for a 75% casualty rate. That single 6 month period killed more Soviet soldiers than the US and UK lost in the entire war. And of course we're not even counting the civilians.

For a relentless, straight-in-the-eye recounting of the civilian slaughter, including Soviet troops by the Nazis, on the Eastern Front by Stalin, first in Ukraine, and then throughout Eastern Europe in turns as tens of millions of human beings were caught between the murderous death jaws of Hitler and Stalin.

I won't attempt to quote the book; every page is dense with unremitting barbarism.

Better to quote from J.R.R. Tolkein's recently published translation of "Beowulf" (just reviewed in the New Yorker) as the monster Grendel, a more sentimental type than either Hitler or Stalin and the Soviet and Nazi armies, consumes a knight:

The monster seizes the man, "biting the bone-joints, drinking blood from veins, great gobbets gorging down. Quickly he took all of that lifeless thing to be his food, even feet and hands."

Or if you prefer Seamus Heaney's translation of the same lines, the monster:

"bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down
his blood
and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the
utterly lifeless, eaten up
hand and foot."

Now rereading both of those translations, they won't do to describe the millions gassed, shot in the back of the head, and especially starved to death.


I'd prefer being eaten by Grendel.

Then the reprisals (this, from Tony Judt's "Postwar") after the war as populations and borders were massively shifted and reordered and the dicey, compromised cross-loyalties made by the survivors and the combatants to keep body and soul together came back to haunt so many on the gibbet.




Count, what book are you talking about? There could be so many ...

Thanks, TheRadicalModerate, for this simple but illuminating number-crunching. I could have done it myself, but I didn't, and probably wouldn't, so I appreciate what you've done, and I learned something new today.

Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder, I suspect.

A very fine and deeply disturbing book.

Yikes - thanks for that link, Doctor Science. No wonder he had a visceral reaction against "the bug car."

Yes, "Bloodlands" by Timothy Snyder.

Incomprehensible I am as well, indeed. I even proofread.

I just read a review of Bloodlands (by Timothy Snyder), by Anne Applebaum in the New York Review of Books. I'm not always a fan of Anne Appleabaum, but, for those (like me) who haven't read the book, even the review is wrenching.

Just finishing up The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Yes, Soviets lost a great many men and civilians in battle, partly due to Hitler's notion that he could exterminate or enslave all of Russia.

Poland took it rather hard as well. But Poland seems to fall outside of the records presented, above. What Hitler had in mind for the Poles and Czechs was extermination to the degree possible. Against Russia, however, Hitler discovered that his intel sucked, and that Rusians fight like wolverines when cornered. And that troops become ineffective when not properly supplied.

Checking Wikipedia, Polish losses were approximately 6 million, mostly civilians.

Neither the Germans nor the Russians were especially gentle in their partitioning of Poland, but from what I have read, the Germans were much more brutal.

Radical Moderate,

I appreciate your research, but I don't understand your numbers.

What does, for example, France/UK 2260/3300 mean?

I would guess that means combined French/UK forces, killed/wounded.

British forces would have experiences many more losses had it not been fir the Miracle at Dunkirk.

Not really a miracle. Just more Nazi stupidity.

"Bloodlands" reads like an autopsy report for the entire human race situated between the eastern border of Ukraine and the western borders of what we now call Eastern Europe, with German, Austrian, French, and Italian Jews fed into the maw by train.

"Russians fight like wolverines".

Yes, I've heard American World War II veterans and some others say we "should" have taken on Stalinist Russia while we were in the neighborhood in 1945, but the public appetite for war and chaos was surfeited, as Roosevelt, Churchill, AND Stalin knew, not that Stalin wouldn't have been beyond digging in his cornered wolverines, fed on shoe leather, potato and beet peelings and melted snow, for several more winters of kicking ass, and the Russian people, despite their hatred of Stalin and despite decades of propaganda convincing them that they loved Papa Joe or else, would have fought house to house and hedgerow to hedgerow all the way to the Primorsky Territory at the far eastern border of the country to preserve Mother Russia.

Plus, when Woody Allen said his grandmother was raped by Cossacks, it was an existential statement, not a joke, as the Russian Army raped everyone's grandmother, sister, mother, and daughters, a good many men, what was left of the livestock in Eastern Europe, and probably the few trees that were left standing.

But, yes, the Nazis were more brutal, since every human being to the East was considered subhuman, even your average run of the mill Polish anti-Semite. Not that rape didn't occur at the hands of the Germans on a wide scale, but its inefficiency compared to a bullet in the neck over a grave dug by the victims or death by gas was frowned upon.

Had we continued East into Mother Russia, I suspect many of us would not be here because our grandfathers and great-grandfathers would be fertilizing Russian mud.

I suppose nukes would have been on the table, but wolverines feed on radioactivity when the chips are down.

Besides, Yossarian would have shot himself on page 27 of "Catch-22", had he known another 200 bombing missions were ahead of him and Michelle Malkin and FOX News would still be on his case.

The Atlantic Wall Today

byomtov @ 6/7 9:03PM:

First number is casualties, which includes killed, wounded, and captured. Second number is the maximum forces involved in the operation. So France/UK 2260/3300 means that, together, France and the UK lost 2,260,000 troops and 3,300,000 were involved in the Battle of France. This one's a little weird, because I didn't separate France and UK, and you should note that pretty much the entire French Army surrendered after France was conquered, so the bulk of those "casualties" are actually troops that were captured. For the French, US, and UK, being captured meant spending the war in a POW camp and/or doing slave labor. Some French prisoners were repatriated, but most were not. For the Russians, being captured was close to a death sentence. Only 40% of Russian POWs survived.

TheRadicalModerate, I appreciate your research, but you regularly say "UK" forces where "British Empire" would be more appropriate, especially in North Africa and the Asian theatres. The contribution of (mainly) Australian, Canadian, Indian, New Zealand, and South African troops is usually overlooked: it was immense, and they were killed and wounded like everybody else.

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