Notebook

A Russian occupation and a veterans' revolt – it's D-Day all over again

Notes from Normandy as the 70th anniversary approaches

7 June 2014

9:00 AM

7 June 2014

9:00 AM

The phrase ‘ring of steel’ hardly begins to describe the operation here in Calvados country as we await the 70th anniversary of the pivotal moment in modern history. Some world leaders are bringing warships as well as jets to the D-Day commemorations. The exclusion zone not only covers a chunk of northern France but even extends to cross-Channel ferries. Every Normandy veteran has had to be cleared for a pass although, as many point out: ‘We didn’t need a pass on 6 June 1944.’

If the cops are nervous, the protocol people are beside themselves: what do they do with President Putin? He may be the pariah du jour but Russia, which lost 27 million to Nazism, has to be included. Now that Putin’s been booted out of the G8 after annexing Crimea and his Winter Olympics are over, this is his one opportunity to grandstand with the head-of-state club. The crunch point will be Friday’s team photo and cosy lunch at the Château de Bénouville. Since D-Day was chiefly a UK/Canadian/US affair, the Queen and President Obama will be at top table with President Hollande (Prince Charles and David Cameron, not being heads of state, will be elsewhere). But if the French place Putin too far below the salt, the new Cold War may turn glacial.

This anniversary has a record of political tension. Come the 50th, in 1994, there was an EU schism when the Germans were not invited. At the 60th, the veterans complained when they were. At the 65th, President Sarkozy invited President Obama but not the Queen, and Gordon Brown was booed. The 70th bodes well for Angela Merkel, though. It will be a pleasant change for a German Chancellor to be in Normandy and see someone else on the naughty step.


Mr Hollande has another one for ‘Dear Mary’. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are making a state visit to Paris this week. Yet France, famously, has no first lady to share the load and look after the Duke. Mr Sarkozy had a similar problem ahead of his 2008 state visit to Windsor. With a few weeks to go, he married Carla Bruni.

There’s much talk of this being the ‘last hurrah’ for the D-Day warriors. They’ve heard it all before. Five years ago, the officers of the Normandy Veterans Association called it a day, whereupon a splinter group set it up all over again. Some 650 members of what might be called the Continuity NVA are here this week. They will curtail national operations after this anniversary but carry on at branch level. Several tell me that they’re already looking forward to next year — when the heads of state are not here and the traffic is back to normal.

Among the toughest of D-Day missions was the Parachute Regiment’s night assault on the German guns at Merville. Stuart Tootal’s book All Manner of Men deftly captures the agonising way in which everything went wrong. Yet with just 150 men from an original force of 750, they pulled it off. It was a famous feat of arms. Less well-known is their heroism afterwards as they spent a week dug in around the Château Saint-Come fighting off Rommel’s infantry, artillery and Panzers. It reads like Rorke’s Drift. A battalion that left Britain in 32 Dakotas and three Horsa gliders came home in four trucks. Gordon Newton is among the veterans of 9 Para in Merville this week for the unveiling of a new memorial. They had been expecting their regimental colonel but officialdom messed up and Prince Charles has to lay wreaths elsewhere. The veterans are stoical, less so the people of Merville. Like so many Normans, they are fiercely protective of ‘their’ old boys. ‘We just feel lucky to be alive,’ says Gordon, who went on to a distinguished career in the Met. ‘But the mayor’s taken it very badly.’

These events remind us what we lost when Tony Blair pensioned off the Royal Yacht to a cruise terminal in Leith. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, a million lined the Solent to wave her off to Normandy with the Queen and the leaders of the free world aboard. I well remember Lech Walesa of Poland, pressed to the deck rail, fists clenched and speechless with emotion, while Bill Clinton surveyed the scene and quoted Eisenhower. Since national pride dictated that he should land in a US vessel, Mr Clinton had to jump ship — literally — south of the Isle of Wight and nearly fell in. Come nightfall, Britannia steamed up the canal to Caen. At Pegasus Bridge, she was greeted by bands, saluting veterans and sobbing crowds. This week, the Queen and Prince Philip arrive on a scheduled Eurostar service.

Normandy’s cemeteries are looking sublime. The biggest — and gloomiest — is the German one at La Cambe. Here lies the tank ace Michael Wittmann. As James Holland’s fine BBC documentary, Normandy ’44, reminds us, Wittmann once destroyed 29 British tanks and personnel carriers here in just 15 minutes. Among the many flowers on his grave is a British Legion cross.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Robert Hardman writes for the Daily Mail.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

    Yet on December 26, 1991 the West simply took the word of Communists that the USSR had collapsed! There was no “full victory”, which could only be determined after (1) VERIFYING the collapse, the survival of the West depending on such verification; (2) de-Communizing the Soviet Armed Forces Officer Corps (which was 90% Communist Party officered!), the survival of the West depending on such de-Communization; and (3) demobilizing the 6-million vigilantes that assisted the Soviet Ministry of Interior in watching the populations of the larger Soviet cities, the survival of the West depending on such demobilization.

    Imagine it’s March 1944 and the Allies receive a dispatch from Berlin that Hitler and his inner circle are dead, cremated, and the Nazi government has collapsed. Included in the dispatch are films of crowds in the streets cheering the death of Hitler, attacking SS soldiers and Gestapo and toppling statues of Hitler. What do you think the reaction of the Allies would have been? To pack up the war in Europe, demobilize the armies there? Ah, no. The Allies would have demanded that an occupation of Germany take place, where the Allies (1) could ensure that the Nazi government in Berlin had indeed fallen; and (2) prepare Germany, to the satisfaction of the Western Allies, to enter the pantheon of democratic nations. With that in mind….

    Take a look at what the Russian government ordered the Russian Ministry of Defense to keep on the masthead of its official newspaper…see if you notice something odd…

    http://www.redstar.ru/

    “Krasnaya Zvezda” is Russian for “Red Star”, the official newspaper of Soviet and later Russian Ministry of Defense. The paper’s official designation is, “Central Organ of the Russian Ministry of Defense.” Note the four Soviet emblems next to the still existing Soviet era caption titled “Red Star”(!), one of the Soviet emblems including the image of Lenin, the man who removed the independent Russian nation from the map, supplanting it within the new nation called the USSR, a murderous one-party government that spread violence throughout the world in order to “liberate” the world, and bring into existence a one-world Soviet dictatorship! If the “collapse” of the USSR was real, then the “Red Star” caption, four Soviet emblems and Lenin’s image could not form the masthead of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s newspaper, due to their association with the Soviet Union and its ideals of world revolution. Imagine the official paper of the German Ministry of Defense is named “Das Third Reich”, where next to the caption are four Nazi emblems, one of the emblems sporting a profile of Adolph Hitler’s head!

    The fraudulent “collapse” of the USSR (and East Bloc) couldn’t have been pulled off until both political parties in the United States (and political parties elsewhere in the West) were co-opted by Moscow & Allies, which explains why verification of the “collapse” was never undertaken by the West, such verification being (1) a natural administrative procedure (since the USSR wasn’t occupied by Western military forces); and (2) necessary for the survival of the West. Recall President Reagan’s favorite phrase, “Trust, but verify”.

    Notice that not one political party in the West demanded verification of the collapse of the USSR, and the media failed to alert your attention to this fact, including the “alternative” media. When determining whether the “former” USSR is complying with arms control treaties, what does the United States do to confirm compliance? Right, the United States sends into the “former” USSR investigative teams to VERIFY compliance, yet when it’s the fate of the West that’s at stake should the collapse of the USSR be a ruse, what does the United States do to confirm the collapse? Nothing!

    It gets worse–the West also never (1) de-Communized the Soviet Armed Forces of its Communist Party officer corps, which was 90% officered by Communist Party members; and (2) arrested and detained the 6-million vigilantes that assisted the Soviet Union’s Ministry of the Interior control the populations of the larger cities during the period of “Perestroika” (1986-1991)!

  • Nick BW

    Disgraceful treatment of Russia. They saved our bacon! America and Nato have an indefensible record months and so does the EU. Answer, get out!

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    It’s odd to celebrate a conflict that saved Europe from the Nazi menace, only to turn around and surrender it to EU bureaucrats, American imperialists, and vibrant African and Muslim enrichers.

  • davidhill

    The bravery of those who went to liberate Europe on D-Day cannot be exceeded. For they knew that they may not live that day out and where thousands did not.

    But what gets me is how the Establishment (Obama included), who are never in the ‘front’ line of any conflict, not even D-Day to lead by example, get on their high horses and try to give everyone the impression at celebrations that they know the suffering that the lower and middle classes endured and went through. Nothing could be further away from the truth and where one has only to look at how they treat Alan Turing, a prosecuted homosexual, who some say we could not have won the war without him. Indeed some have said that Turing’s work probably saved at least 3 million lives.

    But when it came to saving his life and allowing him to have a job after the war, the Establishment did absolutely nothing. Indeed they made his live a misery and where through the laws that they had enacted, Turing could not get another job and where he was before his conviction going to take up an academic appointment in the USA. They even took this away from him so he could not work. Being chemical castrated in the process the and having no future, as all had been taken from him, it was the Establishment that ultimately caused Turing to take his own life through suicide. That is how the Establishment in reality acts and where their fronting of anything to do with D-Day is a disgrace and where they are basically hypocrites.

    To read more about Turing’s terrible treatment by the Establishment who are presently espousing the virtue of our war heroes (never a greater one than Turing in numbers of lives saved) visit – The ‘Establishment’ Makes Amends but where the ‘Establishment’ does not change its spots when it comes to its own –
    http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-establishment-makes-amends-but_720.html

  • mariandavid

    It was of course sheer moral cowardice, hiding behind a thin veneer of religious respectability. They should all, from Churchill down be utterly condemned.

  • Sam Fuels

    You are a lamp of liberty, a shining beacon for all to see. Glow brighter, shine bigger: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

Close