Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Why Red Army's role in bringing Down the Third Reich must not be overlooked

 

D-Day veteran John Quinn meets George Sayer in Bayeaux, France, on the 75th anniversary
D-Day veteran John Quinn meets George Sayer in Bayeaux, France, on the 75th anniversary
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

The recent commemorations in England and France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day were dignified and intensely moving on television. The sight of ex-servicemen, now aged in their 90s, recalling the dramatic and terrifying events of Allied troops landing on the Normandy beaches was gripping.

The parachute drops by elderly veterans was scary, but compelling viewing. Their collective and personal courage was there for all to see.

The ordinary viewer was by and large unaware of the actual history of the Allied invasion of occupied France on June 6, 1944.

But the broadcast of these events brought to mind the terrible sacrifice made by ordinary citizens who became soldiers during the course of Second World War to defeat a very powerful and defiant Nazi Germany.

The military veterans with their quiet dignity were rightly given pride of place, while the political dignitaries adopted a low profile.

Given the ultimate success of the Allied invasion, we retrospectively view D-Day as a given.

But it was far from certain that Operation Overlord was going to be a success.

The landings along the Normandy coast were fiercely resisted by very determined and highly-motivated German troops.

They had a considerable advantage, given the fact that they were defending a highly-fortified coastline with extensive artillery emplacements and mined beaches.

The Germans were also commanded by one of their greatest military commanders, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Interestingly Rommel, as well as other high ranking officers, had already given up on Hitler and were conspiring to overthrow him.

He was ready to sue for a separate peace with the Allies in order to defend Germany from the Soviet Union, which had successfully pushed the Nazis back in eastern Europe.

Notwithstanding all of those factors, he fought hard to resist the invasion. He did so with great skill and determination.

D-Day and its subsequent days were a brutal and bloody affair with huge causalities on both sides.

The Germans incurred roughly 9,000 casualties and the Allies 10,000.

Over one million men were eventually landed and by August 25, 1944, Paris was liberated. But it wasn't until May 1945 that the war ended with the fall of Berlin.

In between these dates there were fierce battles between the German army and the Allies. Nothing was pre-determined and the Allies faced significant delays and setbacks, such as at the Battle of the Bulge.

For most young people now, the array of political leaders at the commemoration is an inconsequential formality and few would have seen the attendance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as unusual.

After all Europe has been united in peace and friendship for decades, not least through the structure of the European Union.

So if you need convincing as to the merits of the EU, then revisiting the history of the Second World War is a good lesson.

The preservation of European democracy is the greatest achievement of D-Day itself. Without the military success of D-Day, there would be no peace in Europe and we could all have been subjugated into the Nazi empire.

While much credit should be given to the organisers and governments behind the commemoration, there was one glaring and incomprehensible omission, and that was the refusal by the Allied nations to invite the Russians to the commemoration in either England or France.

It was a surprising snub given the fact that the Russians were invited to and attended the 70th anniversary. President Vladimir Putin, in a very dignified manner, dismissed the snub as "not a problem".

While relations between Putin and the West are obviously strained, that in itself is an insufficient reason not to invite Russia to the commemorations.

After all, without the Russians there would never have been a successful D-Day landing at all.

The defeat of the Nazis owes much more to the Soviet Union's victory at Stalingrad in February 1943.

It is estimated that almost 27 million Russians died in the Second World War. That is a staggering figure compared to the combined losses of the Allies, including Britain, France and the USA.

It is incontrovertible that the defeat of Hitler's armies in Russia marked the definitive turning point against the Germans in the war.

Without the courage and determination of the Red Army, the Nazis would not have been defeated.

The Allied invasion of France in 1944 was therefore a follow-on from the Soviet victory over the German army.

But the opening up of the second front in France marked the decisive end of the Reich.

Given all that, it was gratuitously offensive to exclude the Russians.

It was also a gross denial of the historical truth and a denigration of the extraordinary courage of the Soviet people during the war.

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