On the early hours of June 6, 1944, the first Allied units began to move in towards Normandy, France, taking part in one of the defining moments of the Second World War. In the three years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, United States has become embroiled in a massive confrontation, deploying soldiers first to Africa and then to Italy to relieve the pressure off of Europe and the Soviet Union and to open additional fronts against the German military. Operation Overlord is notable for a number of reasons. While it was by far the largest seaborne invasion that the world had ever seen, it was not the operation that spelled the end of the German occupation of France and mainland Europe. The invasion was a component, one that very nearly failed, in larger wartime strategy and planning that as a whole, helped to end World War II.

In addition to the complications involved in a major, multinational strategy, Operation Overlord was an incredibly ambitious, dangerous and complicated military offensive that integrated seven separate military forces and numerous branches of said militaries, which in and of itself, lent itself to numerous difficulties and challenges. Different militaries (The United States, The United Kingdom, Canada,  Free France, Poland, Norway and Australian armies all took part) operate to different standards, procedures and tactics, and moving all forces onto a single series of battlefields, with specific timetables and goals required an incredible amount of planning and coordination. This was helped by the landings on separate beaches by different nationalities, with Sword taken by the United Kingdom and Free French soldiers, Juno by Canadian and UK forces, Gold Beach by UK, while Omaha and Utah beaches were taken by the United States.

Other difficulties came with inter-unit coordination. Prior to the United States landings on Utah and Omaha, the 8th and 9th Air Forces flew over the beach sites on bombing runs, working to take out German emplacements and weapons, while providing cover on the ground for soldiers. The second wave of soldiers would be the airborne soldiers, flying in overnight to begin their attacks on German units. They were then followed by a navel bombardment, which sought to further disrupt German batteries on the beachfronts themselves. Finally, ground soldiers were deployed to the beaches to begin their attack against the German forces on the beaches and into Normandy.

As to be expected with any major operation, there was much that went wrong. While the allies achieved air superiority over the skies of the invasion zones, bombers were hampered by inclement weather, and out of sight of their targets, opted to drop their bombs slightly later, to avoid hitting any of the ships and soldiers waiting off the shore. As a result, most bombs landed inland, away from their targets. Airborne soldiers, hampered by the same weather, and pilots avoiding anti-aircraft fire, were hopelessly scattered across the invasion zone, where they operated in smaller units, often miles from their original targets. Naval bombardments missed, or did little damage to hardened targets and batteries, while the weather once again hampered invasion plans as landing ships moved off course, disrupting major units and the tactics that had been planned out for them. The invasion could have very well become one of the worse disasters in U.S. Military History.

However, it wasn't. When the soldiers landed on the beach fronts, they were faced with preset German emplacements and enemy fire. Soldiers were thrown together with soldiers from other units, sometimes from landing zones that were very far away, and quickly learned that the missions that they had trained for weren't necessarily accomplishable. However, with guidance from their officers and from each other, they worked together, pulled upon their training and realized what their immediate goals were, and worked towards placing those goals towards the overall goal of the day: to get off the beach and to form a beach head for the waves of soldiers, materials and weapons coming in behind them. Soldiers from every unit worked to get off the beaches, up the cliffs and pushed the German lines back. By the end of the day, US forces had secured the beaches and had begun to move inland, where they then engaged in a bloody struggle against German resistance in France.

While Normandy was a vital component of the Allied push against the Axis forces, it was not the only one. However, it demonstrated the training and sheer force that was available to the United States and her allies at the time, and showed that technology and a mass of soldiers were not the only things that were in place to win the war: it was the soldier's training and ability to improvise, recognize their goal and seek the means in which to achieve it.

Back in the USA

So, I'm back - currently in New Hampshire, with my Aunt and Uncle, who picked me up from the airport. Yesterday was incredibly long and with probably two of the worst flights that I've ever had. They were smooth, which was nice, but both legs of my trip home had one thing in common: screaming infants. Three of them. One on the transatlantic flight over, and another two on the two hour flight up. I don't know what it is, biology maybe, that makes a squalling baby such a horrible thing, but it's a horrible thing on a flight because of the limited space. The two in the last flight were also RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Fortunately, I had my CD player and Victoria's Wars to keep my sanity to some degree.
So, I'm back in New England, trying to readjust me biological clock, which is currently telling me that it's around 2 in the afternoon, even though it's really 9 in the morning. Aunt Jan and Uncle Tom are currently out to a meeting with a doctor (Uncle Tom had surgery a while back) and after they get back, I'll head out and go home.

The trip was amazing, and it hasn't really struck me until now how fast it went by. I have to say thank you so much to people who sheltered me and were able to meet up with me during the trip (And I feel really bad that I didn't get to see everyone), but because of people's help, I was able to survive in London and eat at the same time, so I'm thankful for that. Meeting up with people, such as Sara and Naomi was also great, because I haven't seen them in a long time, and it was good to have someone to talk to, or bug, depending on the hour.

Normandy was surreal. Seeing the battlefields with two Army Generals is probably the best way to see the battlefields, given their background, and we got such a detailed look at the battlefields, that I think I need to go and throw out my paper and re-write the thing. As it is, it needs significantly more research time and writing time, because I'm still finding mistakes in it. (I did get an A for it though, which is a plus). Hell, while I was out there I was able to do some work on it - I found the resting places of four of my guys, as well as their service numbers, exact units and date of death, something that I either didn't have or was incorrect. Yeah, I'm a geek like that.
Actually seeing Normandy put a huge spin on how I perceived the battle - the books and things that I've read don't really tell the entire story - we looked at terrain and things like that at points, something that I'd never really thought of. And, Normandy is HUGE. Hundreds of square miles, all one fairly continuous battlefield. Most people think of just the landing beaches as where the fighting was - that was just the first day. And, like when I went and visited the battlefields at Marathon, Greece, I got chills thinking about what had transpired there, although in this case, there's still a huge active local memory for the event. People still remember the battle there, and appreciate us for it. There's still the bunkers, the beaches, bullet and bomb craters, and I'm sure if you really really looked, you'd find some of the equipment that the allies lost in the airborne drops (they lost almost 90% of the soldier's leg bags due to prop-blast), bullets, guns and I'm sure that there's still a couple bodies kicking around somewhere that were just never recovered. The battle here isn't nearly as abstract as the one in Marathon.

Seeing London again was nice, but a little empty. I didn't have anything official to do there, like school or work, or a larger circle of friends to hang out with. But, it was nice seeing everything again, the accents, the To Let signs, everything about London just came right back to me, and I was comfortable there. I got to see a bunch of familiar things, like the Imperial War Museum (I did end up finding and splurging on a book on the Falklands War) and some new things, like the Geological Society of London and got to see an original print of William Smith's first Geological map, which was something like 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide. And lots of walking and bus riding.

All in all, it was a very very fun trip. I'll have good memories from it, but I am happy to be back home (sorta - soon) and get back on with work here.

London / France Update

So, as I've mentioned, I'm in London. I went abroad last Wednesday from Manchester NH, and arrived sometime mid afternoon here. I went and found my hostel, and walked around London for a little while, refinding old places. Later in the afternoon, another Norwich alum, Naomi arrived at Waterloo - we were staying at the same hostel, and I was able to lead her to it. We walked around, found dinner and hung out for a little while. Thursday was fun - We went out to Oxford in the morning and walked around the place for a little while, went to most of the cool sites, although we didn't go into any of the schools, but we did end up at the Eagle and Child, then went back home to London. From there, we discovered that the musical Spamalot was playing in the West End, and went out to go see that - absolutely fantastic and brilliant musical. Anyone who's a fan of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail would absolutely love it - it's a fantastic adaptation, and they've thrown in a huge number of references to Flying Circus and Life of Brian. I can't remember when I laughed so hard. Highly recommended for everyone. The next day, we went out and met up with Sara, who's still in London. We also met up with her friend Rob, who I met last time I was here. We walked around for the rest of the day, got lunch and dinner and generally caught up and chatted. It was a lot of fun. I brought my suitcase over to her apartment, which is waay out in Zone 3. It's quite a ride out. The next morning, I left Naomi, who was to leave later in the week and went out to Heathrow, where I flew to Paris. It was a quick flight, and I arrived in Charles De Gaulle somewhat disoriented, but I found my hotel within an hour or so, where I met up with the Norwich people who were already there. I met up with Vice President Whaley and President Schneider, as well as several trustees, General Sullivan and General Nelson, which was cool. We had dinner there, which was fantastic, and then went to bed. The next morning, we were up early, got on the bus and picked out a couple more people, and then drove out to Normandy, via Caen. We stopped along the way at Pegasus Bridge, which was the first structure in Normandy to be liberated by the allied forces, the 6th British Airborne Company C. The store was a literal shrine to the American and British soldiers. I, along with General Sullivan, General Nelson, President Schneider and V. President Whaley had dinner in the back room, where I suspect that few tourists see. Afterwards, we walked around the area, saw where the three gliders of the Company C landed, as well as looked over the bridge. It was a cool walkaround. Our next stop was a windshield survey of the British and Canadian beaches and the tactical significance of their actions. We got back on the bus and went out to our hotel, which was really really high quality place. We had a seminar where we went over the overal world situations of World War 2, and I presented on half of my paper. We had dinner there and went to bed. The next morning (Tuesday), we set out for the vicinity of Utah Beach. While we were driving around, we spent a lot of time on tactics and the overall stratigy of the invasion and how all the elements fit in together. We first looked over the airborne forces and how they operated and the conditions in which they landed. We stopped by St Mere Eglis, which was captured on the first day, and where a lot of the American soldiers assembled. From there, we went to Utah Beach, where we went over the beaches. Utah was the easier of the two beaches, and we discussed that. There were a couple of bunkers on site, and we looked over those. We then got lunch and move on to Point Du Hoc, the site where the Rangers landed and took a German Battery that could fire down on the beaches and Allied forces. There are still a number of bunkers and craters still there, although the actual memorial is off limits due to cliff erosion. We returned to the hotel, dinner, etc, and the next day, we set out for Omaha Beach. We arrived there and talked about the people who landed there, and how it differed from Utah beach (2000 people killed as opposed to 200). We visited several sites there. I was presented a book by the entire group, who'd signed it, in thanks for my work on the Norwich people. I talked a bit about the Norwich alumni there, and we visited the American cemetary overlooking the beach. It was a horrible sight. I was a little disgusted by the people there - taking video and tons of photographs, generally acting like tourists. It seemed disrespectful. I found the resting places of four Norwich people (None were at that site). We then went on to lunch at Arromannes, where we got lunch and I sent off my postcards to the US (Various people should be getting them in a couple days). I went out to the cliffs and looked at the rocks and did some drawings, and we returned back to the hotel where we took a rest and had our last seminar, where we discussed the trip and how it can be used in the future. It was an interesting talk, and we took another break, packed and went to our last dinner there. Yesterday morning, we drove back to Paris, where I got my flight. I'd hoped to meet up with Linh, but we didn't get around to meeting up like we'd hoped (Sorry!). I flew back to London, where I dropped by bags off and bought a couple of books, found a park and read for a while, then met up with Sara, got dinner and went up to her place, where I am right now. I called home, Sarah and work (to brag), and passed out. I'm taking a break today, just staying in, resting from all the walking around that I've been doing, and catching up on TV show finales that I missed. LOST was mindblowing, and Heroes (which I'm watching now) is just jaw dropping. Many thanks to Sara for letting me stay here, because it's a much appreciated break and good to talk with people that I know. Pictures can be seen in the links below. Now, for the rest of Heroes and lunch.

Album 1

Album 2

Overseas Again...

I learned this the other day, and didn't want to say anything until I was sure, but the big news of the week is:

I'm going overseas again, this time to France, and most likely, London.

Basically, a spot opened up on the Normandy trip here at Norwich, and I got the e-mail earlier this week, and was told by President Schnider that I could go with them, cost free, save the flight over there. This is because I'm working on the Norwich Students & Invasion of Normandy paper that will be giving them a lot of information and putting a Norwich face on the battle. Thus, the invite.
I'm rather excited about this, as it's only about 40 or so days away, about a week after graduation.

What's also really got me excited is that this means that there's a very, very good chance that I'll be able to visit London for a couple days. I looked up flights from New York to Paris, and found them to be fairly prohibitive, running into the thousands of dollars. New York to London, on the other hand, is much cheaper, about half of that, along with the flight or train ride from London to Paris. The chance to see London again is fantastic, because I know people there, and will be able to revisit places again, a year after I left, also, when it will be really nice out. Basically, I've been bouncing around since I've heard the news. What's also cool is that when I went up to tell Mom about my thoughts about travelling through London and how it's cheaper, she suggested it to me first.

Don't get me wrong, going to France and to the Normandy beaches also has me very, very excited, because it was one of those places that I had really wanted to visit while I was overseas last time, but never got the oppertunity to really do. Plus, you know, I've been studying D-Day for the entire semester and did a lot of reading beforehand, and to actually see it would be amazing. I guess this means that my paper has to be really good. I'll be starting my writing on the second part either this afternoon or tomorrow. It's two weeks before the last draft is due, which means that I have three more sections to do, and to do fast. I think I'm on top of it though. If people are interested, I'll reprint it here, serialized, once it's finished.

I can't wait.