On the eve of my departure for Normandy thoughts and emotions flourish and it is difficult not to resort to statistics to water down the dust that clogs the throat and the eyes.
Normandy was the martyr that saved the rest of France, because the great intensity of the campaign fell almost entirely on the province, and as Anthony Beevor states, the debate concerning Allied bombing and artillery overkill will always continue.
The statistics are sobering. A total of 19,800 French civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy. The preparation bombing for OVERLORD killed an additional 15.000 civilians in Normandy. This represents half of the 70.000 killed in all of France during the Allied bombing campaign during the entire course of the war – more than those in Britain killed by German bombing.
During those three summer months the Wehrmacht lost nearly 240.000 casualties and a further 200.000 were captured. The 21st Army group of British, Canadians and Poles sustained 83.045 casualties and the Americans 125. 847. The Allied airforces lost 16.714. Numbers like these can reduce the mind to mush, because taking it all in is quite impossible. One is, after all, talking about a total number of casualties of around 450.000 men, which is almost the equivalent of the number of Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazi’s in Auschwitz more or less contemporaneously, over the same period of time.
And it is into this cauldron of destruction and death that I will be moving 67 years later in time. I hope to meet a few survivors of this momentous moment in History, but a young man of 20 in 1944 would now be 87 years old. There must be many older men in the region now that experienced the invasion as children, and that insight too would be valuable. But I am reminded that “between the idea and the reality falls the shadow” and am prepared for another reality on the ground.
When I arrived in Norway in the late 1970’s the German Occupation was alive and thriving in the minds of everyone, now it is hardly mentioned, although the Ghosts of Quisling and the thousands who served the Germans, not to mention the treatment of the Jews, are now starting to appear in the cracks of the façade created to hide it all.
It is often when those who participated are no longer with us, or have lost the power to influence opinion, that another truth emerges. Both in personal relationships and in momentous historical events.
June 28th 2011