S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “USSR”

Thoughts About D-Day, 6 June 1944

We thank and honor the men who landed on the Normandy beaches on June 6th 1944.  All are heroes.

I was fifteen years old when we heard a radio announcer blurt that the Allies had landed on the beaches in northern France.  Involved were 130,000 Allied soldiers from USA, Britain, Canada, and the Free French.  There was no mention of casualties.  The news was all positive: we were going to liberate Europe from the Nazi scourge.

Meantime, Joseph Stalin’s Red Army was advancing swiftly through Belorussia with Poland in sight in the USSR’s version of their “liberation of Europe”—under the plague of the hammer and sickle of Communism.

In retrospect, I have concerns about the wisdom of the D-Day landing on the Normandy beaches.  These brave men stormed the beaches into the teeth of the German’s defenses: the Atlantic Wall orchestrated by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox)—perhaps the most skillful of all Third Reich’s generals.  The approaches to the beaches had a four-tiered defense system.

  • About 300 yards from the high-water mark were Belgian gates with mines attached.
belgian gates

Belgian Gates

  • A line of spiked logs facing seaward.
spiked logs

Spiked Logs

  • Thousands of underwater mines.
underwater mines

Underwater Mines

  • A near continuous line of hedgehogs close to the beaches. 
Pas de Calais, Atlantikwall, Panzersperren

German Engineer with Hedgehog

On shore, were coastal artillery batteries in gun casement, tank traps, thousands of machineguns, mines, booby traps, two divisions of Wehrmacht well armed, and combat veterans from the Eastern Front (USSR).  In nearby reserve were two Panzer divisions.

Gun Enplacement

Coastal Artillery Gun Casement

Anti-tank trap

Anti-Tank Trap



German Machine Gunner on Omaha Beach

Allied causalities at day’s end were over ten-thousand—dead, wounded, and missing!

Our causalities increased alarmingly in the following few days.  Not until late on 9 June did the Allies secure the beaches and begin their tedious and dangerous advance into Normandy.
I wonder if our invasion of Europe should have been in southern France?

To set the perspective for D-Day, let’s review a few key highlights of World War II to date.

  • 01 September 1939. Germany invaded Poland and France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.
  • 17 September 1939. USSR invaded Poland.
  • 10 May 1940. Germany began Blitzkrieg through the low countries and France.
  • 22 June 1940 France surrendered. Germany occupied Paris, the land areas around the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.  A puppet French government, headed by Marshall Henri Phillippe Pétain, was established in Vichy to govern central France and the area adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea—dubbed “Unoccupied France.”  Most of the French colonies in Africa and Asia were under the control of Vichy France.
  • 22 June 1941. Germany invaded the USSR.
  • 08 November 1942, Operation Torch.  American troops landed in Vichy-French North Africa.
  • 10 November. 1942, German troops occupied Vichy France.
  • 13 May 1943. Africa cleared of Axis troops.
  • 10 July 1943.  Allies invaded Sicily.
  • 03 September 1943.  Allies invaded Italy.
  • 04 June 1944.  Allies liberated Rome and are bogged down in the mountains north of the city.

I would speculate: even though Germany had occupied all of France in late 1942, our task might have been somewhat less horrendous if we had invaded France from the Mediterranean coast.  Few German troops were in this area and the terrain was more favorable for a fast armored breakout.

Isn’t speculation wonderful?

International Brigades in Spain 1936-39 by Ken Bradley: A Book Review

ImageThe clue to the authors political bent is in his Dedication: “To the volunteers of the international brigades who gave all they had to oppose international fascism and to preserve a free Spain.” (My emphasis on “free.”) Republican Spain (again another euphemism) was anything but free or a republic. In 1936, when the Spanish Revolution began, Spain was in the firm grip of the Soviet Union’s Communist International (Comintern), and the government was pro-Marxists, and the USSR was the primary supplier of arms to its Army. Spain pair for these arms in silver coins from it colonial glory-days—not at its numismatic value but rather at its current price in troy ounces.

“Republican” was the Comintern’s successful agitprop to disguise the true nature of the Spanish Communist government. It launched severe oppression against the Catholic Church, monarchist, Carlists, and any group opposed to its dictatorial-socialists agenda. In this chaotic environment, Fascists General Francisco Franco started the civil war.

Here a few snips from Bradley’s narrative illustrating the Comintern’s influence in Spain and the International Brigades:
• “…there was a meeting at NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) in the Lubianka (Prison) in Moscow.”
• The Comintern organized a network to get foreign volunteers to join the International Brigades in Spain.
• Communist Parties in various countries handled recruitment for the International Brigades)
• Political Commissars were included in each company, battalion, and brigade.
• George Orwell served in the Catalan (Socialists) militias.
• Commissar Walter Tapsell had been the leader of the Young Communist League in Britain and circulation manager of the Daily Worker.
• General Emilio Kleber, Thaelmann (German) Brigade was an agent of the Comintern military section of the Red Army.
• Captain Tom Wintringham, British Battalion, was a member of the Communist Party, editor of The New Left Review, and later a correspondent for the Daily Worker.

Bradley gives short shrift to the campaigns in this Civil War. He skims over key battles yet inundates us with city and province names without providing a map. In detail, he discusses the names and official numerical designation, composition, and affiliation of the International Brigades—actually done in more detail that I need to know. He notes that most of the soldiers were fighting for ideals and not for money. Most soldiers were working-class people, intellectuals, and labor leaders.

His primary focus is on the uniforms of the soldiers of the International Brigades—illustrated in twelve-color plates. This book is more of a reference book than an exploration of the Spanish Civil War for the curious reader.

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