This week marks one of the great turning points in modern history, the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France -- D-Day as it is famously known.
There are few alive today who lived through the carnage of the beach landings. Morley Piper, an Essex resident, survived the murderous German defenses at Omaha Beach, and throughout this week The Eagle-Tribune will tell his story through our news pages. Like many other veterans of D-Day, he is spending this week in France, attending ceremonies and visiting sites where 70 years ago he fought to liberate Normandy.
D-Day marks a major turning point in World War II. By the summer of 1944, France had endured four brutal years of Nazi occupation. The Allied invasion would liberate France, unravel the German defenses and lead to Germany’s surrender 11 months later.
On the morning of June 6, Piper and thousands of other Allied troops were sent ashore at five beaches along the Normandy coast. They faced a strong defensive barrier known as the Atlantic Wall, a complex web of concrete gun positions, minefields, barbed wire, and machine gun pits, backed up by an extensive network of artillery. The Atlantic Wall was designed to provide such a devastating amount of firepower the attackers would be hurled back into the sea.
At Omaha Beach, the Americans of the 29th and 1st Infantry divisions faced the most intense concentration of fire. The Allies best-laid plans to damage or destroy the defenses before the troops set ashore had utterly failed, and so Piper and thousands of other young men had to rely on their training, their courage, and each other to find a way to get through the maelstrom. The landing waves suffered enormous casualties as they pushed their way through the enemy’s concrete and steel. Had their efforts at Omaha Beach failed, many historians believe that the landings at the other four beaches would have been jeopardized, and D-Day itself could have failed.