The 75th anniversary of D-Day – the WWII landings of Allied forces in Normandy – is coming up this Thursday, June 6. I’ve appreciated seeing the different ways people are recognizing the tremendous sacrifices and victories of the day.
Did you know that another major event in World War II history happened just two days before D-Day, on June 4th?
I’ve shared this story before, but in memory of sacrifices on a less-well-known front, I wanted to share again the story of the “D-Day Dodgers.”
“Timing is everything” – cliché, but true.
Timing can mean the difference between success and failure, between ‘famous’ and ‘forgotten.’
Seventy-five years ago, on June 4, 1944, a military campaign that had dragged on for over a year and a half reached a historic milestone. The Allied forces in Italy liberated their first Axis capital: Rome.
Months of slogging up mountains while under fire, of crossing river after bridgeless river, of mud, cold, and disappointment, had finally borne fruit.
This momentous event held the headlines…for one day.
Timing, after all, is everything. On June 6th the Allies began their long-awaited landings on the beaches of Normandy.
Of course, the D-Day invasions were extremely important. Years had gone into their planning and preparation. The tremendous sacrifices involved, the thousands lost, deserved recognition. It was thrilling to have a foothold in France for the first time after being ousted in ’39. However, the Italian campaign, controversial from the start, was now definitely relegated to a secondary position.
Soldiers who’d spent years and lost friends fighting through North Africa, Sicily, and up the foot of Italy, saw commanders, troops, and materiel sent away to support the efforts in France. Loved ones sent them letters telling them what a relief it was that they were “safe” in Italy.
Perhaps Lady Astor, member of the British Parliament, wins the prize for the worst insult to the Italian effort. She named the troops the “D-Day Dodgers”- shirkers of the fighting in France.*
The response of the troops was so memorable that I’ve been caught singing it around the house. (There are several version- this one’s the most “family friendly” 😉 )
A few of the places of interest mentioned in the song:
“Salerno”- The first major WWII assault on the European mainland: 4,870 Americans killed, wounded or missing. (This does not include casualties from the British 10th Corps.)
“Cassino”- The ‘Gustav Line’ of German defenses passed through the mountains by the town of Cassino. It took four Allied assaults over many months to break the line, the last being a huge effort of camouflage, false trails, and infantry assaults.
“Anzio”- Amphibious landings established this beachhead north of the stalled line at Monte Cassino. The attack stagnated, and the Allies were trapped for months. The American hospital area was hit so often that it was nicknamed “Hell’s Half-Acre” and stories circulate of soldiers pretending they weren’t wounded to avoid being sent there for care. The Allied forces at Anzio suffered 29,200 combat casualties, (killed, wounded, prisoners or missing,) and 37,000 non-combat casualties.
Many thanks for visiting.
* Some sources indicate that Lady Astor’s statement was due to a misunderstanding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/10841035/Monte-Cassino-veterans-anger-at-D-Day-dodger-label.html
Statistics for this article are from http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/salerno/sal-fm.htm and http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/anzio/72-19.htm