Victor Davis Hanson

Seventy years ago this June 6, the Americans, British and Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion of Europe since the Persian king Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C.

About 160,000 troops landed on five Normandy beaches and linked up with airborne troops in a masterful display of planning and courage. Within a month almost a million Allied troops had landed in France and were heading eastward toward the German border. Within 11 months the war with Germany was over.

The western front required the diversion of hundreds of thousands of German troops. It weakened Nazi resistance to the Russians while robbing the Third Reich of its valuable occupied European territory.

The impatient and long-suffering Russians had demanded of their allies a second front commensurate with their own sacrifices. Their Herculean efforts by war's end would account for two out of every three dead German soldiers -- at a cost of 20 million Russian civilian and military casualties.

Yet for all the sacrifices of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin was largely responsible for his war with Nazi Germany. In 1939, he signed a foolish non-aggression pact with Hitler that allowed the Nazis to gobble up Western democracies. Hitler's Panzers were aided by Russians in Poland and overran Western Europe fueled by supplies from the Soviets.

The Western Allies had hardly been idle before D-Day. They had taken North Africa and Sicily from the Germans and Italians. They were bogged down in brutal fighting in Italy. The Western Allies and China fought the Japanese in the Pacific, Burma and China.

The U.S. and the British Commonwealth fought almost everywhere. They waged a multiform war on and under the seas. They eventually destroyed Japanese and German heavy industry with a costly and controversial strategic bombing campaign.

The Allies sent friends such as the Russians and Chinese billions of dollars worth of food and war materiel.

In sum, while Russia bore the brunt of the German land army, the Western Allies fought all three Axis powers everywhere else and in every conceivable fashion.

Yet if D-Day was brilliantly planned and executed, the follow-up advance through France in June 1944 was not always so. The Allies seemed to know the texture of every beach in Normandy, but nothing about the thick bocage just a few miles inland from Omaha Beach. The result was that the Americans were bogged down in the French hedgerows for almost seven weeks until late July -- suffering about 10 times the casualties as were lost from the Normandy landings.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.