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Pocketmags Digital Magazines

D-Day 75th Anniversary: Blood on the Beaches

Te fate of World War II turned on 6 June 1944, the day of the Normandy landings. Giles Milton recounts key moments of an outlandishly ambitious offensive through the words of those – Allied and German – who lived them
Allied troops on the landing crafts did not know if they would survive D-Day, but they knew the beaches had to be taken

It was shortly after midnight on Tuesday 6 June 1944, when a young German officer named Helmut Liebeskind slipped on his jacket and stepped outside into the damp night air. He was disturbed by the noise of Allied bombers flying overhead and wanted to see if anything untoward was taking place.

As he looked up at the sky he got the shock of his life. Trough a break in the cloud he could see “the shadowy forms of multi-engine bombers with freighter gliders attached”. Tis was not one of the routine bombing raids that happened most nights – the gliders were designed to land enemy troops.

Liebeskind was quite possibly the first German soldier to witness the opening action of D-Day: a mass glider drop into Normandy as part of a number of airborne operations. He rushed back into his headquarters and snatched at the staff telephone. “Major,” he shouted down the line. “Gliders are landing in our section. I’m trying to make contact with No II Battalion.”

A few miles away in an underground command bunker in the Normandy town of Caen, a German wireless operator named Eva Eifler had just started her night shift. She was looking forward to a quiet few hours, for it was tipping down with rain and the wind was blowing a gale. It was not the sort of night on which the enemy would launch their much-anticipated invasion.

But at the same time that Liebeskind spotted the gliders, Eifler began receiving coded messages from German field posts across Normandy Something was not quite right. Reports were flashing in from all along the coast – reports that suggested an airborne landing was already underway

WAITING ON THE WEATHERMEN

Operation Overlord depended on a full Moon, a flooding dawn tide and a spell of fine weather. Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, had a chief weatherman named James Stagg, plus three teams of meteorologists, but they rarely agreed with each other. The American forecasters thought their British counterparts too cautious, the British thought the Americans confident, while the naval forecasters disagreed with everyone.

ABOVE: A US paratrooper clambers aboard with his full pack, which weighed around 30kg
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About History Revealed

Few stories can match that of the end of the Incas, when the largest empire in the pre-Columbian Americas was defeated thanks to deceit and double-crossing. How did thousands of experienced Inca warriors fail to repel just 170 Spaniards? Plus: the CIA’s mind-boggling PsyOps experiments, the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the origins and accuracy of the Bible, wacky races, jousting and much more