D-Day, H-Hour: the greatest collaboration the world has ever seen

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother …

—William Shakespeare (King Henry V, Act IV, Sc. 3)

Henry V and his army give thanks on the field of Agincourt
Henry V and his army give thanks on the field of Agincourt

It may have been just a play, but the same power to move people through words was never put to the test more effectively than in the first half of the 20th century.

The time was 1944, D-Day, H-Hour. The Battle of Normandy. The Allied Invasion of Europe.

It was a “golden age” of speeches when carefully crafted words had the power to lift people’s hearts and make the difference between success and failure.

Hawker HurricanesWho among us is not stirred by Churchill’s words after the Battle of Britain?—a real turning point in World War II.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
—Winston Churchill

Or his speech after the fall of France to Nazi Germany:

Winston Churchill during the General Election Campaign in 1945

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …
—Winston Churchill.
Once more, a supreme test has to be faced. This time, the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause. Once again, what is demanded from us all is something more than courage, more than endurance. We need a revival of spirit – a new, unconquerable resolve.
—King George VI.
Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
—Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower
General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day
General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day
The battle has begun and France will fight it with fury. For the sons of France, whoever they may be, wherever they may be, the simple and sacred duty is to fight the enemy with every means in their power.”
—General de Gaulle.
This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.
—Winston S. Churchill (wiki) (in announcing the Normandy invasion to the House of Commons, 6 June 1944).
People of Western Europe: a landing was made this morning on the coast of France by troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force. This landing is part of the concerted United Nations plan for the liberation of Europe, made in conjunction with our great Russian allies. I have this message for all of you. Although the initial assault may not have been made in your own country, the hour of your liberation is approaching. All patriots, men and women, young and old, have a part to play in the achievement of final victory. To members of resistance movements, I say, ‘Follow the instructions you have received.’ To patriots who are not members of organized resistance groups, I say, ‘Continue your passive resistance, but do not needlessly endanger your lives until I give you the signal to rise and strike the enemy. The day will come when I shall need your united strength.’ Until that day, I call on you for the hard task of discipline and restraint.
—Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Today, on this day, D-Day, we remember and give thanks to the Greatest Generation.

A-20 from the 416th Bomb Group making a bomb run on D-Day, 6 June 1944
A-20 from the 416th Bomb Group making a bomb run on D-Day, 6 June 1944

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Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944
Company E, 16th Infantry. Wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944
Company E, 16th Infantry. Wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944
Commando coming ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944
Commando coming ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944
Troops wading ashore from an LCI(L) on Queen beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944.
Troops wading ashore from an LCI(L) on Queen beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944.
American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, takes a breather before moving onto the continent at Colleville-Sur-Mer
American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, takes a breather before moving onto the continent at Colleville-Sur-Mer
American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, who stormed Omaha Beach. Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, 6 June 1944.
American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, who stormed Omaha Beach. Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, 6 June 1944.
A medic of the 3d Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., 1st U.S. Inf. Div., moves along a narrow strip of Omaha Beach administering first aid to men wounded in the landing.
A medic of the 3d Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., 1st U.S. Inf. Div., moves along a narrow strip of Omaha Beach administering first aid to men wounded in the landing.
Wrecked landing craft on Nan Red beach, Juno area, at St Aubin-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944.
Wrecked landing craft on Nan Red beach, Juno area, at St Aubin-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944.
A group of German prisoners standing in the water next to a disabled Sherman Crab flail tank watch as a jeep is towed from the sea, Queen beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944.
A group of German prisoners standing in the water next to a disabled Sherman Crab flail tank watch as a jeep is towed from the sea, Queen beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944.
Landing ships putting cargo ashore on one of the invasion beaches, at low tide during the first days of the operation, June 1944
Landing ships putting cargo ashore on one of the invasion beaches, at low tide during the first days of the operation, June 1944
Troops of 3rd Infantry Division on Queen Red beach, Sword area, circa 0845 hrs, 6 June 1944.
Troops of 3rd Infantry Division on Queen Red beach, Sword area, circa 0845 hrs, 6 June 1944.
Troops take shelter near an M10 Wolverine tank destroyer.
Troops take shelter near an M10 Wolverine tank destroyer.
German POWs being escorted along one of the Gold area beaches, 6 June 1944.
German POWs being escorted along one of the Gold area beaches, 6 June 1944.
Royal Engineers serving with a 50th Division Beach Group share cocoa with a French boy in the village of Ver-sur-Mer
Royal Engineers serving with a 50th Division Beach Group share cocoa with a French boy in the village of Ver-sur-Mer
D-Day Cemetery in Normandy. Credit Michal Osmenda
D-Day Cemetery in Normandie. Credit Michal Osmenda

David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.