1200: Churchill – ‘a vital and essential first step’

Churchill practising with a US sub machine during one of numerous pre invasion visits to troops training in England. Eisenhower stands a little further back.

Churchill practising with a US sub machine during one of numerous pre invasion visits to troops training in England. Eisenhower stands a little further back.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force had made a brief announcement to the world’s Press at 9.17am that the invasion was underway. This was probably before Hitler was personally informed.

There was much that still could not be said in public and this constrained Winston Churchill when he went to the House of Commons at noon to announce the invasion. He was nevertheless already able to paint a very re-assuring picture of the progress of the operation.

He first had to tell them about the Allied capture of Rome, which had taken place on the 5th, which dominated that day’s newspapers. He then turned the the dramatic events of the previous 12 hours:

I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France.

At sea, a convoy of LCI (L) in two files headed for Utah beach. Each craft has its barrage balloon

At sea, a convoy of LCI (L) in two files headed for Utah beach. Each craft has its barrage balloon

An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel.

Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines, and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time.

The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled.

The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended.

The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 firstline aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle.

Flight Sergeant J S Fraser-Petherbridge of No. 198 Squadron RAF takes off from Thorney Island, Hampshire, in Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, MN293 'TP-D on a sortie over the Normandy beachhead to search for enemy transport.

Flight Sergeant J S Fraser-Petherbridge of No. 198 Squadron RAF takes off from Thorney Island, Hampshire, in Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, MN293 ‘TP-D on a sortie over the Normandy beachhead to search for enemy transport.

I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession.

So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.

It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.

Just a small part of the invasion fleet off the Normandy coast.

Just a small part of the invasion fleet off the Normandy coast.

There are already hopes that actual tactical surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting.

Canadian infantrymen of the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment disembark from a Landing Craft Assault [LCA] onto 'Nan Red' Beach, JUNO Area, at la Rive, near St Aubin-sur-Mer, at about 8.05 am on 6 June 1944, while under fire from German troops in the houses facing them.

Canadian infantrymen of the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment disembark from a Landing Craft Assault [LCA] onto ‘Nan Red’ Beach, JUNO Area, at la Rive, near St Aubin-sur-Mer, at about 8.05 am on 6 June 1944, while under fire from German troops in the houses facing them.

The battle that has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in intensity for many weeks to come, and I shall not attempt to speculate upon its course.

A shell exploded 88 mm on the beach of Utah Beach. In the foreground of American soldiers are protecting themselves from enemy fire.

A shell exploded 88 mm on the beach of Utah Beach. In the foreground of American soldiers are protecting themselves from enemy fire.

This I may say, however.

Complete unity prevails throughout the Allied Armies. There is a brotherhood in arms between us and our friends of the United States. There is complete confidence in the supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and his lieutenants, and also in the commander of the Expeditionary Force, General Montgomery.

Churchill in his famous 'siren suit', with Montgomery who now took command of the land forces in Normandy.

Churchill in his famous ‘siren suit’, with Montgomery who now took command of the land forces in Normandy.

The ardour and spirit of the troops, as I saw myself, embarking in these last few days was splendid to witness. Nothing that equipment, science or forethought could do has been neglected, and the whole process of opening this great new front will be pursued with the utmost resolution both by the commanders and by the United States and British Governments whom they serve.

I have been at the centres where the latest information is received, and I can state to the House that this operation is proceeding in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.

A dead German soldier lying in front of a bunker overlooking the coast at Utah Beach.

A dead German soldier lying in front of a bunker overlooking the coast at Utah Beach.

Many dangers and difficulties which at this time last night appeared extremely formidable are behind us.

Troops of US VII Corps move over the sea wall on Uncle Red beach, Utah area, 6 June 1944.

Troops of US VII Corps move over the sea wall on Uncle Red beach, Utah area, 6 June 1944.

The passage of the sea has been made with far less loss than we apprehended.

The resistance of the batteries has been greatly weakened by the bombing of the Air Force, and the superior bombardment of our ships quickly reduced their fire to dimensions which did not affect the problem. The landings of the troops on a broad front, both British and American-Allied troops.

The guns of an American battleship firing at their targets as an LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) carrying reinforcements heads for OMAHA. At first the assault was held almost exactly at the waters edge but forward momentum was gradually inspired as subsequent waves of troops came in and the US Navy renewed its bombardment at very short range against individual strongpoints.

The guns of an American battleship firing at their targets as an LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) carrying reinforcements heads for OMAHA. At first the assault was held almost exactly at the waters edge but forward momentum was gradually inspired as subsequent waves of troops came in and the US Navy renewed its bombardment at very short range against individual strongpoints.

I will not give lists of all the different nationalities they represent-but the landings along the whole front have been effective, and our troops have penetrated, in some cases, several miles inland. Lodgments exist on a broad front.

Aerial view of landing on Sword Beach at low tide in Hermanville.

Aerial view of landing on Sword Beach at low tide in Hermanville.

The outstanding feature has been the landings of the airborne troops, which were on a scale far larger than anything that has been seen so far in the world.

The US sector glider landings. The terrain was much less open in the west, with the small fields of the 'bocage'.

The US sector glider landings. The terrain was much less open in the west, with the small fields of the ‘bocage’.

These landings took place with extremely little loss and with great accuracy.

An aerial view of the mass of British 6th Airborne gliders in the open fields around Ranville.

An aerial view of the mass of British 6th Airborne gliders in the open fields around Ranville.

Particular anxiety attached to them, because the conditions of light prevailing in the very limited period of the dawn-just before the dawn-the conditions of visibility made all the difference. Indeed, there might have been something happening at the last minute which would have prevented airborne troops from playing their part. A very great degree of risk had to be taken in respect of the weather.

The supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, crossing the English Channel en route to Normandy from southern England on June 7, 1944.

The supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, crossing the English Channel en route to Normandy from southern England on June 7, 1944.

But General Eisenhower’s courage is equal to all the necessary decisions that have to be taken in these extremely difficult and uncontrollable matters. The airborne troops are well established, and the landings and the follow-ups are all proceeding with much less loss-very much less-than we expected.

Fighting is in progress at various points. We captured various bridges which were of importance, and which were not blown up. There is even fighting proceeding in the town of Caen, inland.

Operation NEPTUNE: the air and naval assault phase of OVERLORD. Part of an oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing Landing Craft (Tank) landing reinforcements and equipment at the junction of 'King Red' and 'King Green' Beaches, GOLD Area. A steady stream of vehicles can be seen travelling along the beach and inland up the road towards Mont Fleury.

Operation NEPTUNE: the air and naval assault phase of OVERLORD. Part of an oblique photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing Landing Craft (Tank) landing reinforcements and equipment at the junction of ‘King Red’ and ‘King Green’ Beaches, GOLD Area. A steady stream of vehicles can be seen travelling along the beach and inland up the road towards Mont Fleury.

But all this, although a very valuable first step – a vital and essential first step – gives no indication of what may be the course of the battle in the next days and weeks, because the enemy will now probably endeavour to concentrate on this area, and in that event heavy fighting will soon begin and will continue without end, as we can push troops in and he can bring other troops up.

Beach casualties being helped to the sick-bay on board HMS FROBISHER.

Beach casualties being helped to the sick-bay on board HMS FROBISHER.

It is, therefore, a most serious time that we enter upon. Thank God, we enter upon it with our great Allies all in good heart and all in good friendship.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ccg June 7, 2014 at 3:13 am

It surprises me that so much detail was announced so early. Besides giving info to the enemy, what if it had ended in disaster?

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: