D-Day, Part II: “We will accept nothing less than full victory”

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series exploring the history and significance of D-Day as we approach the 70th anniversary of the battle. Click here to read part one. For information on D-Day: Normandy 1944, the 3D film now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, please visit us online.

General Dwight Eisenhower speaking with paratroopers, June 5 1944 (Image Wikimedia).

General Dwight Eisenhower speaking with paratroopers, June 5, 1944 (Image: Wikimedia)

“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!” – General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944. 

With these words, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ended his message to the troops as they headed for the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. 

Once the decision had been made at the Trident Conference to open a second front and invade Western Europe, preparations needed to be made to ensure the mission’s success. This involved deciding when and where to land, devising measures to deceive the Germans, and working out all the logistics to make these plans work.

As to the “where,” the German High Command assumed that the Pas de Calais in Northern France was the likeliest place for an Allied invasion. This was not unreasonable. At 21 miles, it marks the shortest distance between German-held territory and Allied-held territory. To put things in perspective, this distance of 21 miles is slightly less than the length of the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans.

The Germans looked at this spot as a jumping off point for their own invasion of England. One photo shows German officers, including Herman Goering, standing on the beach at Pas de Calais, looking at the white cliffs of Dover. That was as close as they would ever get.

German officers standing on the beach at Pas de Calais, looking at the white cliffs of Dover

 

Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. The city of New Orleans is visible to the south of the lake. The causeway is the straight line crossing the lake, covering a distance equal to that between Calais, northern France and Dover, England. (Image: Wikimedia)

Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. The city of New Orleans is visible to the south of the lake. The causeway is the straight line crossing the lake, covering a distance equal to that between Calais, northern France and Dover, England. (Image: Wikimedia)

The Allies selected Normandy for various reasons. It had good beaches, which were protected from western gales by the Cotentin Peninsula, or Cherbourg Peninsula. While it was further away from England than Pas de Calais, Normandy was also not the place where the Germans expected the landings to happen. The beaches in Normandy remained within easy reach of fighter airplanes, guaranteeing that there would be sufficient air cover to protect the troops when they hit the beach. By 1944, the German air force was no longer as powerful as it once had been.

As to when to invade Normandy, the Allies relied on tides, available moonlight, and good weather. Coming in with full knowledge of the tides would allow the boatmen of the landing craft to get close enough to the beach, while still being able to avoid the extensive belt of beach obstacles. In 1944, it was determined that optimum conditions would exist toward the end of May.

Once a “where” and “when” were decided upon, it became necessary to deceive the Germans. An operation this size could not remain hidden. The Allies decided that the best course of action was to make the Germans look the wrong way. The Allied deception plan – known as “Operation Bodyguard” — employed various schemes to mislead the Germans.

Inflatable tank, used during Operation Bodyguard. (Image Wikimedia).

Inflatable tank, used during Operation Bodyguard (Image: Wikimedia)

Fake infrastructure and equipment (including inflatable replicas of tanks and vehicles) was used to simulate non-existing army units. Radio traffic was generated to reinforce that impression, with messages exchanged among these make-believe units. Well known military figures, most famously General Patton, were also part of the deception plan. General Patton took on a high visibility profile in Southeast England, the area where the non-existing First United States Army Group was supposed to have set up camp. Ghost armies would continue to play a role during the remainder of the war.

The Allies also made use of diplomatic channels, double agents and other very creative ruses to leak tidbits of information to deceive the Germans into believing the main invasion would happen anywhere but Normandy, and that any action there would be part of a diversion and nothing more. Eventually, after an agonizing delay because of bad weather, the invasion was launched. D-Day was underway.

Wave after wave of airborne units had gone in ahead of the main body. Their job was to secure bridges, and secure the flanks of the invasion area. The invasion area was 50 miles wide; a mind-boggling distance roughly equal to what separates Houston from Galveston, or Washington, D.C. from Baltimore.

American, British, Canadian and other Allied forces came ashore that day facing a well-entrenched enemy. For more than a year, Marshal Rommel had been in charge of fortifying the mainland against an invasion they knew would come one day. A huge workforce had been employed to build strong points from Norway to the border with Spain — a distance of about 1,500 miles. A giant German version of the French Maginot line, these fortifications were named the Atlantikwall.

Fortified coastline of German-occupied Europe, known as the Atlantikwall, shown in green. (Image Wikimedia)

Fortified coastline of German-occupied Europe, known as the Atlantikwall, shown in green (Image: Wikimedia)

From 1943 to 1944, bunkers, observation points and gun emplacements were constructed at a feverish pace. Among these fortifications was a series of bunkers and gun emplacements at a location called Pointe du Hoc, a rocky promontory overlooking Omaha Beach. Allied intelligence surmised that these strong points sheltered huge 155 mm artillery pieces which, it was feared, could wreak havoc on the landing beaches. These guns had to be neutralized, and the U.S. Army Rangers were selected to do the job.

Pointe du Hoc bunker, remains of charred ceiling beams, evidence of the intense fighting that took place here. (Photo Dirk Van Tuerenhout).

Pointe du Hoc bunker, remains of charred ceiling beams, evidence of the intense fighting that took place here (Photo: Dirk Van Tuerenhout).

Intense fighting ensued. Bunkers were attacked with all available weapons, including flamethrowers as well as naval artillery. Much to their surprise, the Rangers established that the artillery, thought to have been in the emplacements, had been moved inland. They were able to locate and destroy them, as well as a huge ammunition dump nearby. In doing so, they saved a lot of lives.

Pointe du Hoc. US Ranger monument. (Photo Dirk van Tuerenhout)

Pointe du Hoc, U.S. Ranger monument (Photo: Dirk van Tuerenhout)

The commanding officer of the Rangers was Colonel James Earl Rudder. He was wounded during the attack, but survived and eventually became the sixteenth President of Texas A&M University. Among the huge armada of ships firing at the German fortifications was the USS Texas. She sailed up and down the coast, firing at Pointe du Hoc as well as the coastal guns defending the port of Cherbourg. Some of the Rangers wounded during the Pointe du Hoc operation were treated on the USS Texas.

By the end of the day, Allied forces had become sufficiently entrenched on the Normandy coast. It would take another year before the “1000-year Reich” came crashing down. That part of the story will be covered in the third and final blog on this topic.

D-Day Normandy 1944 now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre

D-Day Normandy 1944 now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre

The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Wortham Giant Screen Theatre is now showing D-Day: Normandy 1944.  The film is running exclusively at HMNS in the Houston-Galveston area through November 11.

Click here to read the next in this series, D-Day, Part III: “We are coming by day and by night”

“An ordeal of the most grievous kind”: World War II through Winston Churchill’s eyes

There’s a new 3-D film coming to the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre on Friday, May 23: D-Day: Normandy 1944. Telling the story of the largest Allied operation of World War II through an incredible visual spectacle, this film brings a fresh perspective to the planning, perseverance and sacrifice that came together to bring victory to the Allied forces.

In the spirit of the film’s message, our newsletter last week (which announced D-Day: Normandy 1944), included a quote by Winston Churchill:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

This quote, however, was used out of context. In fact, it refers to the Battle of Britain rather than D-Day. Some of you wrote in to notify us, and we thank you for your keen eyes and diligence.

As I researched the quote to double (and triple) check the origins and meaning behind it, I realized what an incredible wordsmith Churchill had been. Quotes from his various speeches, orders and interviews remain some of the most recognizable and poignant references to WWII today. It then occurred to me that Churchill was a figure so deeply entrenched in the war and emblematic of the character of the United Kingdom that his personal quotes can serve quite well as a timeline for the war — not just indicating battles, but also the collective feelings, attitudes and spirit of the United Kingdom during the war.

1938
“You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”

This quote was made in reference to the German annexation of the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia, which had been praised by then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a way to ensure “peace for our time.”

1940
“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

This quote is taken from Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister, given on May 13, 1940. At this point, Germany had taken Poland and had invaded Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, whereupon Chamberlain resigned.  

1940
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

This quote was made in reference to the Battle of Britain in August 1940 (the name “Battle of Britain” was also coined by Churchill in a speech to Parliament in 1940 after Germany took France). At this point in the war, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) was involved in fighting the German Air Force in the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces. Britain’s victory in the battle prevented the German “Operation Sea Lion,” which was planned to be an amphibious and airborne invasion of England. German forces, however, would continue bombing operations, known as the Blitz.

1941
“Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Churchill made this statement during a speech given at Harrow School in Harrow, England on October 29, 1941.

1942
“I have never promised anything but blood, tears, toil and sweat. Now, however we have a new experience. We have a victory — a remarkable and definite victory. The bright gleam has caught the helmets of our soldiers and warmed and cheered all our hearts.”

These remarks were given after Britain drove German troops out of Egypt — a sign that the tide of the war was turning in favor of the Allies.

1944
“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.”

Churchill made this speech on June 6, 1944 as the Allied forces took hold in France on D-Day, opening the second front of the war.

1945
“It was the middle of the night, but it was as if seven suns had lit the earth; two hundred miles away the light could be seen. The bomb sent up smoke into the stratosphere … The secret has been wrested from nature … Fire was the first discovery; this is the second.”

Churchill made these comments on the atom bomb in conversation with his doctor, Lord Moran, on July 23, 1945.

D-Day, Part I: What happened in the years preceding the Normandy landings

June 6, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France. By 1944, World War II had raged for almost five years in Europe. It took another year of bitter fighting before it was all over. The Allied invasion, dubbed “Operation Overlord,” was the result of a decision made the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.

Before we talk about the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, let’s step back and look at the origins of the conflict. Between 1939 and 1940 Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Italy joined Germany in its attack against France. By the beginning of July 1940, only the United Kingdom was resisting the Nazis. In the East, a secret pact between Germany and the Soviet Union resulted in Poland being wiped off the map and its territories occupied by both German and Soviet armies.

German plans to invade the British Isles involved the extensive use of the Luftwaffe in the famous Battle of Britain.  From July 10, 1940 to October 31, 1940 the skies over England were filled with swerving and dodging airplanes. In the end, the British were victorious and the intended German invasion was cancelled. Prime Minister Churchill famously remarked, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few,” in his tribute to the pilots who served in the Royal Air Force.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during WWII (Library of Congress, Reproduction number LC-USW33-019093-C)

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during WWII (Library of Congress, Reproduction number LC-USW33-019093-C)

In September 1940, Italy, using its own colony of Libya as a springboard, invaded British-controlled Egypt. They failed to make headway, forcing the Germans to intervene on the side of their allies. In February 1941, the Afrika Korps landed in Northern Africa and soon pushed as far as the border with Egypt. It would take a massive effort involving British and American forces to defeat Rommel; the first step was a successful landing in North Africa. 

Among the U.S. naval forces supporting the landing was the USS Texas. She broadcasted a message from the President – in French – aimed at the Vichy forces forces in North Africa, urging them not to resist. The broadcast was met with mixed success.

The Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942 saw the first large-scale use of U.S. troops against German forces. It took until May 1943 before the North Africa campaign came to a successful conclusion.

General Rommel in North Africa, 1942 (Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-786-0327-19)

General Rommel in North Africa, 1942 (Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-786-0327-19)

General Rommel, who had been given the nickname “Desert Fox” by the Allies, was recalled to Berlin before the final collapse of German forces in Africa. He eventually reappeared in Western Europe, tasked by Hitler to fortify the French beaches against an Allied invasion.

In June 1942, the Axis forces invaded the Soviet Union; it took them to the gates of Moscow, but not any further. A brutal winter and fresh Siberian troops first stemmed the tide — and eventually turned it.

The summer of 1943 marked more Soviet success in repelling the invaders from their territory. The Western Allies invaded Sicily and eventually the Italian mainland. A tenacious German defense kept the Allies from making quick progress. On June 4, 1944, Rome was finally liberated. Two days later, the invasion of Normandy gets underway.

Advertisement for D-Day Normandy 1944.

Advertisement for D-Day Normandy 1944.

The D-Day invasion came after many months of preparation and often bloody training exercises. After a brief delay because of inclement weather, a huge invasion force consisting of hundreds of thousands of men crossed the English Channel on their way to France.

The preparations of this invasion and the subsequent 100 days of fighting in northern France are chronicled in a new Giant Screen-sized documentary, D-Day Normandy 1944. Narrated by Tom Brokaw, this 43-minute film blends a variety of cinematographic formats. Archival images, CGI renderings and animation help a modern audience understand how this landing changed the course of history.

Entrance to the Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, France. (Photo Dirk Van Tuerenhout)

Entrance to the Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, France. (Photo by Dirk Van Tuerenhout)

The invasion of Normandy involved a particularly daring and bloody operation at Pointe du Hoc, a rock cliff 100 feet high on which Allied intelligence was convinced the Germans had installed several large pieces of artillery.

Click here to read the next in this series, D-Day, Part II: “We will accept nothing less than full victory”

What this operation entailed, who participated and how it ended will be the topic of a second installment related to the D-Day Normandy 1944 documentary, showing in our Giant Screen Theatre starting May 23

Local support provided by IBERIABANK.  

The heart of the world: The star of Jerusalem 3D talks about her hometown and seeing herself on the Giant Screen for the first time

Farah Ammouri and her brother Mohammed after viewing Jerusalem 3D in our Giant Screen Theatre for the first time.

If you haven’t yet heard the mountains of praise for the wildly stunning Jerusalem 3D movie, climb out from under your rock right now. This epic film from National Geographic Entertainment whisks and winds you through one of the world’s most important cities with arguably one of the most storied pasts of all time.

But in a city as multifaceted and layered as Jerusalem, how do you do justice to its many tales without focusing on its politics?

Well, you hear it from the perspectives of those who live it every day.

The production team of Taran Davies, George Duffield, and Daniel Ferguson said in a press release, “Our goal is to look at the roots of the universal attachment to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope the juxtaposition of these different religions and cultures — all with profound spiritual and historical connections to the city — will reveal how much Jews, Christians and Muslims have in common and inspire all of us to better understand each other.”

So the team asked three girls — a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim — to lead them around their city for a day. Each girl revealed surprisingly different perspectives — perspectives that form the backbone of Jerusalem 3D‘s magic.

Farah Ammouri, an 18-year-old Muslim, was one of these young women. She spent her entire life in Jerusalem, and she currently attends college in Dallas. We sat down to talk with Ammouri after she traveled to Houston for her very first viewing — ever! — of Jerusalem 3D.

So this was the first time you’d seen the full movie. What did you think?

It was awesome. I loved it. Most of my own footage I’d seen — they’d shown me the clips of what was happening and how they were filming — so I was up-to-date on how it was going to be. But I didn’t see [any of the other girls'] footage; [Director Daniel Ferguson] only showed me mine.

How did you end up in the movie anyway?

First of all, I’m not an actress, obviously. [laughs] I went to a Catholic school, and our nun asked for girls whose families originate from Jerusalem to be interviewed for a movie. A lot of my good friends were auditioning for the movie. It was awkward for awhile, being selected out of a lot of girls that you know. I auditioned in October and I found out in January of the next year. It was a shock; I didn’t know what to expect. [Ferguson] told me about the movie; that it was going to be about religion but nothing political, and I was fascinated by the idea.

You didn’t want to be a part of it because you have acting aspirations?

Nooooo. [giggles] The girls who casted for the movie … we’re all going into something scientific. I have no aspirations to become an actress.

Did you know either of the other girls [Nadia Tadros, from a Greek Orthodox and Catholic family, and Revital Zacharie, a Jew] before the movie?

I knew the Christian girl [Nadia Tadros]. She’s really good friends with me; she used to go to my school and graduated two years before me. I didn’t know she was a Christian girl, and once I knew, we started talking to each other even more. She helped me a lot [throughout the filming of the movie]; we would give each other mental support and encourage each other.

Has your life changed at all as a result of the film?

It has given me experience. I’ve met a lot of new people, and I’ve learned a lot. My personality has gotten stronger from the movie. Imagine seeing yourself walking down the stairs [referring to a scene in Jerusalem 3D], and everyone looking at you and they are trying to tell them not to look at you. When they don’t look at the camera, they’ll be looking at me, and they tell them, “Don’t look at the girl; act normal.” It’s funny.

How do you view your relationship with Jerusalem now that you’re in the United States?

I’m a bit homesick. I do want to go back to live. I came here to study Genetic Engineering and it’s really hard to study that in Jerusalem. After that, I really want to go back home to my family.

Explore the cherished land of Jerusalem in our Giant Screen Theatre. Get your tickets to Jerusalem 3D.