“These are the heroes who helped end a war”: Commemorate D-Day’s 70th anniversary at HMNS

Today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day — the Allied invasion of Normandy — which would prove to be a critical moment in defeating the Axis powers of World War II. And we’re doing quite a bit here at HMNS to commemorate the day.

See D-Day: Normandy 1944 in our Giant Screen Theatre

First and foremost, we’re showing the 3D film D-Day: Normandy 1944 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, with additional show times today at  5:00 p.m.6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

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

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

Thanks to a generous donation from Gallery Furniture, all military personnel (veterans and active duty) can see D-Day: Normandy 1944 for free, with military I.D. (You can obtain tickets at the HMNS Box Office or Gallery Furniture locations.)

We spoke with Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, founder of Gallery Furniture, about the donation. “It’s important to remember the sacrifices [of veterans],” McIngvale said, “It’s just as relevant today as it was 70 years ago to say thank you.”

He considers this donation to be “the least we can do.” McIngvale said, “I am thrilled and excited to be involved with HMNS.”

We’re grateful for Gallery Furniture’s involvement and hope that military personnel from the Houston area will take advantage of this offer, valid through Veteran’s Day in November.

Catch Saving Private Ryan as we kick off our Take Two series on the Giant Screen

To further commemorate D-Day, we’re starting our Take Two series in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre with a screening of Saving Private Ryan tonight at 8:30 p.m.

Our Battleship Texas exhibit is now on display

To further commemorate the holiday, our Battleship Texas exhibit is also open now. Organized by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this exhibit highlights the history of the Battleship Texas in service to the United States Navy through World War II. It showcases 60 artifacts of the only surviving U.S. Navy vessel to have seen action in both world wars.

Objects on view include a never-before displayed flag from the ship and a shell that hit the vessel but did not explode, plus select pieces from the silver service presented to the battleship by the people of Texas, historical photographs and personal items from men who served aboard the Battleship. A special listening station shares crew member memories of service aboard the Battleship during World War II.

So there you have it folks. We’re commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day in a big way, and we want you to be a part of it.

If you’d like to learn more about D-Day and WWII, check out our three-part series by our Curator of Anthropology, Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout

And let us remember the words of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as he spoke to soldiers about to make the invasion at Normandy:

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

D-Day, Part III: “We are coming by day and by night”

Editor’s Note: This is part three 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 and here for part two. For information on D-Day: Normandy 1944, the 3D film now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, please visit us online.

Landing craft approaching the beach at Normandy. June 6, 1944 (Image Wikimedia)

Landing craft approaching the beach at Normandy, June 6, 1944 (Image: Wikimedia).


Soviet soldiers hoisted their banner on top of the Reichstag in Berlin.

  

Less than a year separate these two images. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded France; on May 2, 1945, Soviet soldiers hoisted their banner on top of the Reichstag in Berlin. For the Allied armies advancing on Berlin, these intervening 11 months were anything but a cakewalk.

In France, German defenders stubbornly resisted the invasion. Hedgerow country in Normandy, known as the Bocage, offered them shelter and hiding places. It was only after an enterprising individual had equipped the front of a tank with sharp steel spikes that it became possible to drive though the hedges and overwhelm German defenses.

hedgerow_cutter_for_Allied_tank_Normandy_1944Under the command of General Patton, U.S. armored units broke through the German lines and raced toward Paris. The city was liberated on August 25, 1944. Antwerp, an important port city in Belgium, was liberated on September 4. Soon, much needed supplies were offloaded on its docksides. An attempt to rid the Netherlands of its German occupiers was only partially successful, as the Allies literally aimed for a “bridge too far.”

While armored units advanced over land to the German heartland, there was an equally ferocious battle being fought in the sky. British and American bomber forces leveled German cities and the factories in a determined effort to cripple Germany’s ability to wage war. This strategy, started in 1942 on a massive scale, continued up to a few days before the fall of Berlin. The quote at the top of this blog post comes from leaflets (and radio broadcasts) aimed at the German people. They warned:

“We are bombing Germany, city by city, and ever more terribly, in order to make it impossible for you to go on with the war.  That is our object.  We shall pursue it remorselessly. City by city; Lübeck, Rostock, Cologne, Emden, Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Duisburg, Hamburg — and the list will grow longer and longer. Let the Nazis drag you down to disaster with them if you will. That is for you to decide.  We are coming by day and by night. No part of the Reich is safe. People who work in [factories] live close to them. Therefore we hit your houses, and you.”
 - Pamphlet dropped in Germany by the RAF, Summer 1942.

On the eastern front, Soviet troops continued their march westward. German resistance crumbled. The appearance of advanced technology, especially jet-powered airplanes, came too late and in insufficient numbers to make a difference. V-weapons, meant to exact revenge on Allies cities such as London and Antwerp, caused great loss of life. They did not, however, reverse the fortunes of war for Germany.  

The aftermath of a V2 rocket hitting London 1945 (Image: Wikipedia)

Christmas 1944 did not bring peace; a last gasp German offensive into the Ardennes region of southern Belgium resulted in the Battle of the Bulge. A German demand to surrender received a famous one-word answer from Brigadier General McAuliffe: “NUTS.”

By now German units were fighting on their own soil, in the east against Soviet forces nearing Berlin, and in the west against Allied forces occupying the industrial Ruhr area on their way east. Soviet and American forces eventually encountered each other at a crossing over the Elbe river. As they penetrated deeper into Germany, Allied soldiers liberated thousands of concentration camps. Evidence of the Holocaust became widely known abroad.

Soviet troops captured Berlin, sustaining and inflicting horrific losses. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide. Two days earlier, Benito Mussolini had been captured and killed in northern Italy. On May 7, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered and the war in Europe was officially over. All over Europe and the U.S. people celebrated Victory in Europe (VE) Day.

May 8, 1944 issue of Stars and Stripes. (Image Wikimedia)

May 8, 1944 issue of Stars and Stripes (Image: Wikimedia).

Hostilities were not yet over. In the Pacific theater, the war against Japan continued. Two atomic bombs dropped on Japan brought the bloody conflict to an end some three months after peace came to Europe.

As far as Europe is concerned, one can confidently say that the D-Day invasion marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich. Forced to fight on two fronts, Germany ran out of men and material.

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.

In honor of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, on Friday, June 6 we’ve added additional screenings of D-Day: Normandy 1944 (at 5:00 p.m, 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre.

Thanks to a generous donation from Gallery Furniture, all military personnel (active duty and veterans) can see D-Day: Normandy 1944 for free.

We’re also starting our Take Two series this month in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre beginning Friday, June 6 with a showing of Saving Private Ryan (8:30 p.m.) and on Friday, June 13 with The Longest Day (7:00 p.m.).

 

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.