The Price of Victory
By Stephen T. Powers
Although universally portrayed as essential and victorious, the D-Day assault on the Normandy coast was not with enormous material and human costs, and it would be an injustice merely to gloss over them.
Bombing and the fighting that took place within their bounds heavily damaged a great many Norman cities and towns, most notably Caen and St. Lô. It took at least 20 years to erase the physical scars left by the contending armies, so that today that destruction is virtually invisible to the casual tourist.
Still highly visible after 70 years are the battered reinforced-concrete remnants of the Atlantic wall that still scar the coastline and will remain in place into the distant future — a visible reminder of the battles fought here on Day-Day.
The human costs of the Battle of Normandy were severe. Some 14,000 civilians in Lower Normandy died as a result of the fighting, mostly from the Allied bombing campaign. Even before the 6th of June, the implementation of the “Transportation Plan,” SHAEF’s efforts to isolate the Normandy battlefield by bombing rail yards and bridges, had taken its toll of French civilians — nearly 1,100 casualties in the Sainte-Etienne raid on May 26, 1944 for example. According to Oliver Wieviorka in his recent study, “Normandy: The Landings to the Liberation of Paris” (Cambridge, 2008), between June 1940 and May 1945 there were some 600,000 tons of bombs dropped on France, killing 67,078 people, 35,317 in 1944 alone.
Added to those casualties were the victims of deliberate massacres by members of the German Armed Forces, the most infamous being those at Oradour-sur-Glan, Pommerit-Landy, Plestan and Huelgoat. Some 600 French civilians (including resistance fighters) were summarily executed between June and August 1944.
While there were no reported massacres by Allied troops, there was widespread looting of French property and numerous reported rapes.
The two American Airborne Divisions suffered nearly 5,000 casualties before being withdrawn from combat in early July, while the entire U.S. V Corps had 5,142 men killed, wounded or missing by D-Day+4. Most of those casualties were GIs from the 16th and 116th RCTs who landed in the first assault waves.
The losses among the other Allied forces were fewer on D-Day, but mounted steadily as the campaign continued. All told, the Allied casualties in the Normandy campaign (6 June through mid-August) of 209,672 were a little more than half those of the Germans, whose total losses amounted to some 393,689 men. It had been a costly victory.