History of the Second World War, Volume 4

D-DAY THE HIDDEN MEANING Build-Up for D-Day R. W. Thompson It was difficult in the last days for any manor woman in Britain involved in the humblest degree in the vast effort of D-Day to imagine that anything else existed. The thing itself seemed 'total’. But to appreciate the Allied cross-Channel assault it is important to glance at it in the perspective of the framework of 'total war’. The United States was not yet at the peak of her war effort her heavy commitment in the Pacific was moving steadily towards its climax ingrowing strength. Assault plans for the invasion of Japan which would dwarf even Overlord were already far advanced, involving the Chiefs-of-Staffs and the heads of government in the United States and Britain in complex discussions. In Italy an American army fought under Alexander with British, Canadians and Free French and was preparing for the final heave which would encompass the rout of Kesselring. outGoing from the United States with its enormous reserves of wealth its massive productive capacity and its manpower this effort great as it was helps to reveal something of the nature of Britains war effort as she embarked on the last phase of the des­perate struggle against time. For four years she had been at full stretch infighting theatres of war embracing the Atlantic the Arctic and Indian Oceans the Mediterranean and many lesser seas. Her armies had toiled and fought through North Africa and large parts of the Middle East achieving heartening victories under Wavell and Auchinleck and at last the reward of Alamein under Montgomery but in the dark months between suffering agonies of defeat and frustration on the fringes of many lands. Her troops had fought up through Sicily and Italy and were crawling through the steaming jungles of South-East Asia. Now impoverished her man­power dwindling fast compelled perhaps to barter her autonomy, she knew only that victory in 1944 might save her. Steadily the terms of war had moved against her placing her more at the mercy of her friends than of her enemies and she had come doggedly, even bravely to the eve of her last throw. A man struggling to a distant shore through turbulent seas does not pause to ask himself whether the assistance offered by a friendly hand is good for him. But the present left little time for thought of the future. In the midst of the final preparations for the assault on North-West Europe the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff and the heads of government wrestled with a host of problems. General de Gaulle indignant at the denial of recognition to his provisional government refused at the last to permit French liaison officers to embark with the Allies for France. Of a different order were the discussions on Pacific strategy, which involved India and Australia. Throughout the month of May the conference of the Dominion Prime Ministers met in London. Random selections from the diary of war reveal some of the dark shadows of the fears consuming the Prime Minister. On April 12, hoping even then to stave off the south of France landings he emphasised to President Roosevelt the great contribution to Over­lord of the Italian campaign. It had drawn held and was defeating 35 German divisions of quality. How could we have hoped for more, or expected so much! Surely a series of 'feints would suffice to hold the few German divisions in the south of France! How in any case, could such a landing affect the battle for Normandy? It had all been said before. The United States was no longer pre­pared even to argue. She would have her way not only in the south of France but in Italy even in Britain and Western Europe. Not for nothing had she agreed to put 'Germany first. Britain might con­tinue to wear the outward symbols of her vanished power clutching her threadbare toga to hide her scrawny nakedness. Indeed it would be in poor taste not to do so. At the last it would be evident, even to those who were no longer 'children that the Emperor had no clothes. On April 29 the threat of famine in Bengal compelled the diver­sion of urgently needed shipping from Australia to carry grain to avert a disaster which in its death roll would dwarf the casualties of war. Mountbatten was forced again to improvise in South-East Asia with his accustomed skill and ingenuity. Soon his armies would be forgotten. Yet in May 1944 Britain as a nation was still along way from despair. Outwardly there was cause for rejoicing. The final inoffensive Italy opened on May 11 and on the 18th Cassino fell. Five days later the Anzio beach-head at last linked up with the main offensive, and while the British 8th Army pursued the enemy up the Tiber valley intent upon its encirclement and destruction the Americans raced for the symbol of Rome entering the Piazza Venezia 35 hours before the Allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches. 'The cop is the thing that matters Churchill cabled to Alexander, but the 'cop was Rome. The great Russian summer offensive was then only ten days away and as the Allied power inclosed upon the Germans from three sides the ghost of 'Anvil on the southern horizon haunted Alexander and nagged at Churchill in London. The voice of Britain was no longer heard. 1792
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