New evidence suggests one of D-Day’s most heroic battles may have been unnecessary, The Washington Post reported. U.S. Army Rangers bravely took the ridge of Pointe du Hoc from Axis forces, but was it the best focus of Allied soldiers with everything else going on that day?
According to the The Washington Post article, Maisy Battery is a newly discovered Axis military complex a mile inland between Omaha and Utah beaches, which should have been a much higher-priority target for the Rangers than the nearby Pointe du Hoc. However, since D-Day was nothing short of titanic in scale, Maisy Battery was literally buried during the fight and subsequently forgotten until recent years. A look back at the incredible and history-changing day of June 6, 1944, lends credence to this seemingly monumental oversight.
D-Day by the Numbers
“It was the greatest amphibious operation in history,” General Wesley K. Clark, U.S. Army (Ret.), said. “5,000 landing craft and assault ships, six battleships, 23 cruisers, 250 destroyers and escort vessels, more than 250 minesweepers, and 130,000 soldiers.” For reference, 130,000 people is nearly the entire population of the city of Savannah, Georgia.
General Clark said that meanwhile, far above them, paratroopers in 1,200 aircraft from three airborne divisions joined the fight. “The United States sustained more than 4,400 casualties that first day, most of them coming on Omaha Beach,” he said. “Allied forces struggled, for weeks, to break out of the beachhead lines—progress of a few hundred meters cost hundreds of casualties. But German reinforcements were stymied by confusion, obstacles, and resistance, day after day.”
In the end, D-Day was a success for the Allies; Germany surrendered just 11 months later and ended the European war. Unfortunately, the cost was heavy on both sides. “From D-Day and the invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944, through Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945, the Americans suffered a horrific 587,000 casualties,” General Clark said, which is higher than the current population of Albuquerque. “In five years of war, Germany had lost more than 114,000 officers and more than 3.6 million men.” German casualties, then, equal the combined populations of the major Texas cities of Dallas and Houston.
The Path to and through Germany
Owing in great part to the Allied forces on D-Day, British, French, and American troops paved a road—sometimes literally, with tanks cutting down hedge rows—to a panicking Nazi-controlled Germany throughout the summer and fall of 1944. “In the north, the British were taking the most direct route to Germany,” General Clark said. “And in the south, on the Mediterranean coast of France, the allies launched a separate assault into France known as Anvil; and from there into Germany from the south.”
According to General Clark, more than 2.1 million Allied soldiers had entered at Normandy by mid-September thanks to the door that D-Day opened for them, all but ensuring a German surrender by the year’s end. However, a combination of frigid winter weather, an uphill trudge against German forces who fought from defensive positions and Hitler’s big gamble and payoff at The Battle of the Bulge dashed those hopes, delaying victory until May 7 of the next year.
It will never be known for certain whether fewer lives would have been lost or if Germany would have surrendered sooner if the soldiers taking Pointe du Hoc had focused on Maisy Battery instead. However, even if that proves to be the case, the legacy of D-Day lives on 75 years later as a major victory for Allied forces.
General Wesley K. Clark (U.S. Army, Ret.) contributed to this article. General Clark rose to the rank of four-star general during 38 years of service to the United States military. He graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar to study at Oxford University, where he earned his M.A. in Economics.