This year, 2014, is 70th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of Western Europe – the attacks in Normandy, France, popularly known as D-Day. The media will undoubtedly repeat the claim that the liberation of Europe from the Nazis depended upon the operation’s success. But that’s debatable.
A few weeks after D-Day, on June 22, 1944, which was the third anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration. It was a major assault on the Eastern Front that virtually destroyed German Army Group Center. It was the biggest defeat of German forces during WWII and liberated most of the western Soviet Union from the Nazis.
While Operation Bagration was in progress, the Soviets launched the Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive from Ukraine in July against German Army Group North Ukraine (formerly called Army Group South). They succeeded in encircling the German XIII Army Corps and killing or capturing most of its 45,000 men. This attack eventually reached the outskirts of the Polish capital of Warsaw and the border of Romania.
These decisive defeats made it obvious to Hitler’s allies that they were on the losing team. Romania switched sides in August and joined the Allies, and in September Finland and Bulgaria did the same. Romania subsequently launched an offensive in Central Europe against the Germans and their remaining ally Hungary. Bulgaria attacked the Germans in the Balkans, and the Finns went after them in Lapland.
The only significant military success the Nazis achieved in the summer of 1944 was on the Mediterranean Front, and even that was limited. They continued to impede the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula that had started with the Allied landings in southern Italy in the fall of 1943. The Allies broke through German defenses and captured Rome on June 4, 1944, but most of the German forces were able to escape a bit to the north and form another formidable defensive line.
After the summer of 1944 the Germans had no chance of stopping the Soviets. Their intelligence on Soviet military planning was practically nonexistent while the Soviets had developed very effective tactics. The Germans were outnumbered by at least 3 to 1, and the latest Soviet tanks and planes were as good or better than theirs.
The D-Day landings in Normandy fulfilled a promise U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had made to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to open a second front in Western Europe in order to take some pressure off of Soviets. But even after the Normandy landings, about 60% of the German army’s manpower remained dedicated to the Eastern Front.
Still, the success of D-Day undoubtedly shortened the war by creating another front for the Germans to defend. And the quicker end to the war meant a quicker end to the Holocaust. The landings also permitted Allied troops to overrun the German V-1 and V-2 rocket launching sites in Western Europe. Some also have argued that the Germans would have been able to deploy more of their new jet planes if the war had lasted longer. But the round-the-clock bombing campaign by the U.S. and Britain against German industry, coupled with the loss of German access to the Romanian oil fields, made fuel very scarce for the Luftwaffe’s planes.
The bottom line is that by 1944 the liberation of Western Europe from the Nazis inevitable – with or without the D-Day landings. By the end of 1944 the Soviet armies on the Eastern Front were about three times larger than all of the Allied armies in Western Europe. And by the end of the war the Soviets had killed about nine times more Germans than the U.S. and British combined. If the success of the D-Day landings assured the liberation of Western Europe, it was more likely a liberation from the threat of Soviet occupation after the war.
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