Doomsday, Seventy-five Years Ago and Look Where We Are Today

By Isabella @TheWandCarver

Instagram:  @thewandcarver

Some might say I’m getting a bit too political in my old age.  Well, I’ve seen some things, so I say, I’ve earned it. I have not seen half what the young chaps during WWII, particularly, D-Day [short for Doomsday] have seen.  And with the deepest respect for them I wanted to bring to you two very timely stories by two completely different chaps – one fellow is from England and was only 11 years of age at the time of D-Day.  However, his accounting of history is significant as are his opinions.  The other account is from a German soldier, who was captured and taken to the US to stay in a prison camp.  I do hope that with reverence to the war that ensured our freedoms on both sides of the pond for this last 75 years, you will read them both and take from them what you will.  I will give my take afterwards as I wouldn’t want to sway anyone’s thoughts and opinions.  I am copying them both from the original news stories with due attribution to the news medias from which they come as well as to the writer of each story.  Thank you for your time.

From The Daily Beast

D-Day at 75: What the Hell Happened to the Spirit That Saved Europe?

By Clive Irving   06.01.19

In the late spring of 1944, an 11-year-old boy was cycling down a bucolic country lane in southern England when he saw something so extraordinary that he thought it must be a mirage.

Operation Overlord

“Operation Overlord” D-Day

Between the rows of trees in an apple orchard were wingless military airplanes covered in camouflage netting. Like others of his age in wartime Britain the boy had learned to identify types of warplane—though in his case and to his eternal shame he had once erroneously identified one flying overhead as British only to see its bomb doors open and unload on a nearby railway.

This time he correctly recognised the machines sitting in the orchard as one of America’s finest fighters, the P-51 Mustang. Further down the lane in another orchard were larger four-engined British Stirling bombers, again wingless.

Amazingly, nobody was guarding these machines which, in their wingless form, seemed helplessly and incongruously immobilised. How did they get there? And why?

They were part of the massive assembly of military equipment concentrated in England for the largest gamble of the war, the Allied invasion of mainland Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944. England had become like one vast offshore aircraft carrier. But the size of the air armada and its location had to be hidden from German overflights, lest it betray D-Day’s target, the beaches of Normandy.

Nearer to that fateful day 75 years ago the parked fuselages would be transported out by road and reunited with their wings at the airfields where their crews waited. The Mustangs would escort bombers and the Stirlings would tow gliders carrying the thousands of special forces who would head silently in the night to positions beyond the beaches.

The boy on the bike was me. You don’t easily forget an experience like that – it was a small and personal window into something too large really to properly comprehend at the time it happened. I got off the cycle and walked around the Stirlings, trying to imagine what it must be like to sit exposed in the transparent nose turret over enemy territory.

The thrill was juvenile, but already part of a life that had adapted to the everyday movements of epic warfare to a point where they were as normal as the other routines of growing up in wartime Britain.

“It was as much a cultural occupation as it was a military one.”

The quaint names of many of the villages in southern England—Chipping Ongar, Fowlmere, Matching Green, Thorpe Abbots—had suddenly become attached to airfields that emerged almost overnight as America sent her great bomber fleets across the Atlantic.

By mid-1943 the US Eighth Air Force was bombing Germany almost every day from these airfields. The young men flying those missions suffered fearful losses but they knew why they were there: One of them, a New Yorker named Elmer Bendiner, wrote The Fall of Fortresses, one of the finest war memoirs, and he put it very clearly, when he said, “it was quite in order to believe that the world could be undone and reborn in the twinkling of an eye and that I was to be an agent of that cataclysmic revolution.”

Bendiner was one of a million Americans sent to Britain as the planning of D-Day began. The effects of this migration were profound and lasting for both nations, binding them together in a way that is virtually impossible to imagine now if you were not there. Nothing like it has happened before or since.

It was as much a cultural occupation as it was a military one. The contrast between the war experience of the two nations was vast. The British had grown used to a war in which civilian populations were often living in the front line, bombed for nights on end, and depending for survival on skillfully managed but austere food rationing.

When General Omar Bradley, to become one of the key commanders on D-Day and during the battles beyond the beachheads, arrived at Prestwick in Scotland in September 1943, he was offered for breakfast a choice between boiled fish and stewed tomatoes. “Prestwick taught me to confine my breakfast thereafter to the U.S. Army mess,” wrote Bradley.

The reverse of this was that the British found the Americans to be enjoying a lifestyle that was for them mostly a distant memory: a normal American diet with plentiful red meat, far better tailored uniforms, and a general assumption that an efficient fighting force should be supported by creature comforts equal to those at home.

But as I recall it there was more admiration than resentment. After all, American culture in the form of music and movies had already made its own ocean crossing years before. The glamorous norms of American domestic life were vicariously enjoyed in cinemas as though existing on another planet. Hollywood supplied more than half of the movies shown.

Big band swing music was contagious. Dance halls were one of the few places where the young Americans could meet the British girls and schmooze to the beat familiar from the recordings of Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Artie Shaw and Glen Miller. James’ wife, the movie siren Betty Grable, became a kind of Eighth Air Force voluptuary, a model for the pin-ups painted on the fuselages of B-17 bombers to remind crews of the girls they dreamed of—or, in many cases, of the British girls they dated and, if they survived, would take home as brides.

Meanwhile, at the more urgent and serious level of military planning, the so-called Grand Alliance of powers was less harmonious. D-Day required the collaboration of generals of very different experience, backgrounds and temperaments.

Compared to today’s elaborate military bureaucracies, the planning of the world’s greatest amphibious expedition began at a remarkably modest scale. In April 1943, fewer than 50 British and American officers of senior ranks were gathered under the British Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan in Norfolk House in the centre of London to conceive the invasion of mainland Europe.

Some of Churchill’s staff had prepared an alternative plan based on the idea that—if left for long enough—the Nazi regime would collapse from internal opposition and no invasion would be needed.”

The Americans arrived in London gung-ho to make a devastating assault that would drive ultimately all the way from the English Channel to Berlin. They were dismayed to discover that the British were far less decisive and, given the complexity of the operation, reluctant even to consider a concrete date for the landings.

Looming over the whole endeavour was the titanic presence of Winston Churchill. Britain’s greatest war leader had held fast against Hitler as the rest of Europe fell but now he was haunted by a spectre of his own youthful audacity. In the World War I campaign against the Ottoman empire he had been the architect of an amphibious attack on a Turkish stronghold at Gallipoli that had ended in a bloody fiasco.

The prime minister hadn’t lost his nerve but right up to the moment 24 hours after the June 6 landings when it was finally clear that they were successful he remained unusually tense. Some of his staff had prepared an alternative plan based on the idea that—if left for long enough—the Nazi regime would collapse from internal opposition and no invasion would be needed.

Churchill knew this was wishful thinking. He also knew that the Allied forces were up against some of the best trained and equipped fighters in the world, the German Panzer divisions. Apart from one decisive victory in North Africa when the British defeated one of Hitler’s most capable generals, Erwin Rommel, the German army had proved hard to beat in western Europe. But, like Napoleon before him, Hitler had suffered huge losses by invading Russia, particularly to the strength of the Luftwaffe.

This had decisive consequences in Normandy: although the Panzers could match any Allied ground forces they had little air support. After confusion in the German high command delayed deployment of the Panzers their best tank, the Tiger, was the most devastating weapon facing the invaders on the ground. It was only because the Luftwaffe was incapable of providing them cover that they were unable to stop the break out from the beaches and the eventual thrust toward the Rhine and the German homeland.

Although the Supreme Commander on D-Day was General Dwight Eisenhower his three subordinates in charge of land, sea and air operations were all British—the last time that Britain would ever play such a significant role in any war. Of these the most talented and most irksome was the lean and eternally disputatious General Bernard Montgomery, victor of the great battle with Rommel.

Bernard Montgomery

General Bernard Montgomery

Montgomery later rewrote history, claiming that Morgan’s staff had produced a flawed plan that he pulled apart and reconstructed. In fact, Morgan’s D-Day plan had correctly chosen Normandy over other sites and, with a clever scheme of deception, convinced the Germans that if there were landings they would be much further north. Moreover, many of the technical innovations that secured success, like whole pre-fabricated harbours, came out of Morgan’s visionary team. Montgomery did improve the planning and provided the dynamism to execute it, but he traduced Norman.

Historians of D-Day all agree that it was Eisenhower, a general with no battlefield campaign to his name, whose diplomatic and people skills were indispensable in reining in and deploying egos as large as Montgomery’s and his own strutting military genius General George Patton. Bradley, too, helped hold the volatile command together.

And so it was that on the morning of June 6, 1944, a massive force headed for five beaches on the French coast: 156,000 troupes, nearly 7,000 vessels and 11,590 airplanes.

Among those airplanes were the previously wingless machines that I had found dispersed in the orchards among the apple blossom two months earlier. But on that June morning they were not what I saw. Soon after daylight the Eighth Air Force took off and, as I watched, formed up in waves of B-17 bombers over our villages and towns and headed east to pulverise the German military infrastructure in northern France in order to cripple the immediate response to the landings.

All of us who remember that time of exceptional fusion of American and British talent and bravery look on it now, 75 years later, with mixed emotions. It made me, forever afterward, deeply aware of what could be achieved when the very best of both nations could be galvanised into common purpose for the sake of civilisation as we are able uniquely to fashion it. Europe was saved. The concordat of Atlanticism held good for several generations and with it unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Now large ideas, open minds and daring vision are in retreat. Populism in Europe poisons politics and weakens democracy. Instead of pushing on with the great European project that really began with D-Day, Britain is in the grip of the Little Englander fantasies of Brexit. Donald Trump will co-opt D-Day for his own purposes and once more show his profound gift for getting on the wrong side of history as only someone who knows no history can. And America was never more on the right side of history than on June 6, 1944.

Hold that last thought.  Now, the thoughts of a former German soldier….

From NBC News [North America]

Approaching D-Day’s 75th anniversary, former German soldier Paul Golz fears for Europe

By  Andy Eckardt and Corky Siemaszko  June 2, 2019

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany — Seventy-five years after D-Day, the world is once again a troubling place to a former German soldier who was on the losing side of the cataclysmic clash that hastened the end of World War II.

Paul Golz

Ex-German POW, Paul Golz

Paul Golz, 95, has a clear memory of being on guard duty in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944 — and realizing the invasion was underway when the skies over the Normandy coast were illuminated by flares, known as “Christmas Trees,” dropped by Allied planes to mark paratroop landing areas.

“It looked very nice,” Golz, sitting in his tidy cottage in the German town of Koenigswinter, told NBC News several months before the anniversary of D-Day. “And then I knew, aha, now it is starting.”

Golz was at the time a drafted member of the German army, then under control of the Nazis, and he has recounted that day several times before to historians, to curious reporters, and to several generations of school children.

But as the leaders of the Free World prepare to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Golz said he fears a fraying of the alliances that were created in the wake of the war, alliances that brought peace and stability to Europe. And he has deep misgivings about the leadership of President Donald Trump.

“With Trump it is not easy,” Golz said. “Many Germans are not happy with what he does. He cannot just say ‘America First.’ Today you cannot succeed alone.”

It’s not just Trump. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union also worries Golz.

“Take Brexit, that monkey business,” he said. “How should England succeed in a world where everything is globalized?”

Like many Germans, Golz also takes a dim view of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have recently found shelter in his country.

“Nobody wants them, we also do not want them to stay,” Golz said. “We rebuilt our country, the Syrians also have to go back and rebuild their own country. There is no other way.”

Never mind that Golz himself became a refugee after the war when Pomerania, a region on the southern Baltic coast where his family ran a farm, was returned to Poland and the Germans were expelled.

What remains undimmed by the passage of time, however, is Golz’s belief that the invasion that spelled the end of the Third Reich saved Europe — and his life.

Take Brexit, that monkey business,” he said. “How should England succeed in a world where everything is globalized?

“It changed my life, the life of a poor farmer’s son,” Golz said in German. “I am thankful to the Americans, too. I was never treated badly. We always had enough to eat. And we had these great windbreaker jackets.”

Were it not for a case of diphtheria, Golz might have wound up on the Russian Front. He came down with the infection not long after he was drafted at age 18 and wound up in a hospital in the German-occupied Polish city of Torun.

“Approximately 10 people from my company were ill at the time, and most of the others were quickly deployed to Russia,” he said. “They died like flies. Hitler sent the youth to the slaughter.”

Once he was better, Golz was assigned to 91st Air Infantry Division and dispatched to Normandy where the troops were literally dug in near the Cherbourg heights.

“We did not live in houses at the time, but dug holes where we lived,” he said. “About one meter deep into the ground and a tent above it. We were about eight people in one tent.”

And all around them was a forest of “Rommel’s asparagus,” millions of 13-to-16-feet logs planted in fields, the tops connected by tripwires that would set off a mine should a parachutist or a glider hit one. They were named after Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

On the day of invasion, Golz said he was more concerned about being hungry than the invading Allies. He said at that point he had not eaten in three days, but when he went into a nearby village to get some milk he was rebuffed by the French.

Golz said he returned to his unit, which had been ordered to march toward the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, some three hours away. But en route, Golz said, they were ordered to head to another town.

“I saw how the bombs were dropping,” he said.

Starved and thirsty, Golz said at one point he wandered off into a field in search of sustenance when he saw something moving.

“I took my weapon down and moved toward it,” he said.

It was a downed parachutist. His face was covered with camouflage paint, but he was unlike any man Golz had ever encountered before.

“I had never before seen a black man,” Golz said.

Golz said the soldier was trembling. He said he spoke no English, so he tried to reassure him in German that he was not going to hurt him.

“He spoke back to me calmly in English and in the end took his water bottle and said ‘Good water,’ which I understood,” he said.

Golz said he insisted the soldier take a sip before he too drank from the bottle. Then he took the American prisoner.

The next day, Golz said he saw his first dead American. He said the German soldier he was with, a Saxon named Schneider, began searching the pockets of the corpse and found a wallet with a picture of a pretty blonde woman inside.

“And then we saw that he had a golden ring with a stone on his right hand,” Golz said. “Schneider tried to pull it off, but could not get it off. So, he said he would cut off his fingers. I said, ‘If you cut off his fingers, I will blow you away.’”

“It was good that we did not do it,” he added. “Because we heard from others that if the Americans found a ring on you, they would shoot you.”

By June 10 of that year, the war was over for Golz. He said after strafing a column of American trucks with machine gun fire, they retreated to a pasture where the pursuing GI’s found them.

“Come on boys, hands up,” Golz recalls the Americans telling them.

Golz said they had no choice but to surrender. He said they were forced to march for two hours to a market hall where about 100 other German prisoners of war were being held. He recalled that the black GI guarding them rebuffed a furious French man who wanted to shoot all the Germans.

“The American had a duty to guard us, and that is what he did,” Golz said.

From there, the POWs were marched to Utah Beach and loaded on a British ship. To this day he remembers in detail what they were fed.

“Sausages, mashed potatoes, a cup of coffee and white bread,” he said. “After we ate, we were still hungry, so we went down the stairs and stood in line again to eat a second time.”

They were taken first to a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. Then, after a time, they were shipped across the ocean to New York City on a ship called the Queen Mary 1. From there, Golz said they were taken by train to West Virginia and a POW camp where they were treated more like guests than prisoners.

“On every bed there were cigarettes and chocolate, and they had prepared food in the kitchen for us,” he recalled, smiling broadly. “That is where I drank my first Coca-Cola. Wow, that tasted delicious. Ice cold.”

Come on boys, hands up,” Golz recalls the Americans telling them.

Just how well they were being treated sank in for Golz when they were made to watch news footage from the newly liberated Nazi concentration camps.

“It was the first time we were confronted with the atrocities,” he said. “We saw the starving people in the concentration camps.”

Golz said that, when he was asked at age 16 which branch of the service he should sign up for, his older brother, who had already fought in Ukraine, had advised him not to join the Gestapo.

“They did not fool around, I was told,” he said.

But Golz said he was not aware of what his fellow Germans had done to the Jews and Poles and countless others until he saw the footage. He said his captors were surprised when he told them he did not know what happened in places like Auschwitz, Dachau or Sachsenhausen.

“I told them I did not know about this because in Germany we did not get to see or hear this,” he said. “Those who had taken part, had been a guard there, did not say anything.”

Golz said he was released in 1946 and when he returned to what was left of Germany he began to realize how lucky he was to have been captured by the Americans. In addition to losing his home, he learned that his sister had been raped by Russian soldiers and became pregnant.

“The worst I did not get to see because I was in the United States at the time,” he said.

In the years that followed, Golz said he became a student of the war he had taken part in. He began returning to Normandy on the significant anniversaries and meeting with American soldiers who were once his enemies. He recalls being deeply moved the first time he went to the American cemetery.

“They were all shot in the water on June 6,” he said. “That was on my mind when I saw the many graves. The Germans sat in a big bunker with big machine guns and just aimed at them.”

Golz said he was also asked several times to speak to French schoolchildren about the war and his small part in it. He showed a reporter the words he used to read to the classes when he made his presentation.

“These many, many young men, most of them between 18 and 25, have given their lives for our peace, for today’s Europe,” part of it reads. “Remember that and preserve this peace.”

In the twilight of his life, Golz said he is aware that he is part of a dwindling fraternity and that time has done what the bullets didn’t do in 1944, namely cull the numbers of men he could call comrades-in-arms.

These days, when he can, Golz said he tends to his little garden and the old apple tree that “still brings him joy and a few apples each year.” And he remembers.

“I have no hate, no hate,” he said.

Eckardt reported from Koenigswinter, Germany, and Siemaszko from New York City.

I hope you read both accounts. I know they are rather long, but I felt they needed to be re-posted in their entirety, although photographs from the articles could not be procured.  An Englishman and a German from the time of the same war.  One a young boy, the other a soldier…. But they both seem to have a common feeling between them.  They are both against the divisiveness and Populist actions of some politicians in different countries.  I will hold my hand up that I once thought it would be good for the UK to go back to standing apart from Europe.  What do I know? It seemed to hold up fine the first 18 years of my life without being a part of a Union… still, the divorce proceedings have been bloody awful and has divided the country terribly. This I am worried for.  And now there is a man named Trump as President of America whom is intent on driving a wedge between his own people, serving to disembowel democracy with every tweet and with his posturing and rudeness has set the poorest example possible for younger people – for any people. How he gets to weigh in on how Brexit should be handled is beyond me, not to mention how horrible he has been to London Mayor Sadiq Khan.  The thing I constantly tell myself is that although, yes, the American public voted this man into office, it was not all of them  who did, and we must remember that Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote but their ridiculously confusing and out-dated “Electoral College” [which is hardly a ‘college’], actually gave Trump the presidency.  I don’t blame the American people… not all of them… not the majority anyway. I think it is very telling that Democracy is supported because of the popular vote.  I know when [and if] they can get shut of Trump as president, it will take a long, hard time to right all his wrongs, but we must all be patient as we would be with a poorly relative and give it time.  My point is, that these fine gentlemen whose words you read above remember a kinder, more genteel America.  One that treated prisoners of war like true guests in an honourable way and another who remembers the greatness of those who came to the aide of a country they once fought to leave but came back to save lives and help us to free all from the spectre of fascism.  Yes, what the hell happened, indeed?  Not just to Europe but to America? It wasn’t all Donald Trump, but he surely has made it worse.

Harken back to the days 75 years ago and renew the gentility and good manners.  Respect one another, no matter their colour, religion, or country.  Allow yourself to put fear aside and learn about each other.  People only generally hate what they fear.  So, learn about Islam, or Judaism, or Black culture or whatever it is you think you hate. Learn the truth so you can stop being fearful and when you’ve stopped being fearful, you will learn to love and respect.  These men thought we were on the way to learning this but along the way both sides got turned wrong way round.  Let’s shift our focus back to what is right.

And I say this to people of every country, not any one in particular.  We all have much to learn. I’m so grateful that we did get it right 75 years ago.  We can do that again. As Mr Golz said: We cannot just say ‘America First’ [or any country first]. Today you cannot succeed alone. #BetterTogether

Many thanks for reading my rather lengthy blog.  When I first read these two stories I felt they must be married together in one writing to prove one point.  I do appreciate the time you’ve taken from your day to read and if you would like to share, please use the social media buttons below.  I also love comments and will be happy to answer as soon as possible.  Warmest blessings to all whom this way wander x

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