At 0016 hours on June 6, 1944, the Horsa glider carrying Lieutenant Den Brotheridge and his men landed right near the Orne River Bridge. That bridge, as we saw a year ago, was a crucial target for Allied capture. Brotheridge led his platoon across the bridge, in the process killing a German sentry…the first German to die in Operation Overlord.
Continuing forward, Brotheridge caught sight of a machine gun pit and, while running, threw a grenade toward it. At that same moment, Den fell to the ground with a bullet in his neck. Dying a short time later, the well-loved Lieutenant became the first Allied soldier to die in Overlord.
“Our landings…have failed and I have withdrawn our troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
Those were the words penned by General Eisenhower, shortly after giving the order to go on the 5th. You know, much has been said of massive invasion, which was unleashed on the French coast 65 years ago. Hundreds and hundreds of books have been written about Overlord (at least a dozen of which are on my shelves), from nearly every conceivable angle and covering nearly every aspect of the operation.
The fact that Dwight Eisenhower didn’t ever have to publish the “defeat” statement is a testament to the bravery, ingenuity, and tenacity of thousands of soldiers who made good on the years of planning and preparation that went into what was, to that point, the largest sea and air operation of all time.
It’s a credit to the leadership of hundreds of officers who, when the enemy bullets began to fly, saw their carefully laid and rehearsed plans go up in smoke. Yet still they instructed their men, improvised their plans, and inspired the troops to keep going.
It’s a credit to French resistance, which did much to help disrupt German communications. They risked immediate execution if caught in the act, or grievous torture to reveal their accomplices.
And what about those in charge of the deception campaign against the Germans? It effectively acted as a “second front”, tying down a dozen of Germany’s best divisions 200 miles north in the Pas de Calais area that could have reinforced Normandy.
Denny Brotheridge’s death was first of June 6th. By 0016 of June 7th, his was just one among thousands more. But their sacrifice meant the dawn of June 7th would break with a very different situation in western France. While the Allied foothold was still tenuous in places along the coast, the liberation of Europe, which began with a fiery speech given by Winston Churchill more than four years before, was now fully underway.
Recommended Reading: D-Day – Another must-have from Stephen Ambrose.