Originally posted 10 August 2012
In this post, Rev. Donald Sensing makes a powerful case that 6 June 1944 is the most critical day in Western history:
The awful stakes of D-Day
There are many "pivot" days in human history, when the course of human events swung in a new direction because of discrete actions. It is hard to find another moment in all history when so much rested on an outcome of one day as rested on the success of the Allies' landings on Normandy. In military history, no other day in American history compares. The only single day that comes to mind for me right now is the day of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, when an Athenian army repelled a Persian landing force. The entire future of Western civilization and the idea of democracy itself lay in the balance. And yet even that may day not stand alone as D-Day does because the Persians persisted and the later battles of Plataea and Salamis were probably even more important. So there was no "one day" of paramount importance in the Persian War, even though it was almost certainly the most important war of ancient times.
The success at Normandy validated the strategic assessment of Churchill in the dark days of June 1940:
This is not the decisive point and this is not the decisive moment. That moment will come when Hitler hurls his Luftwaffe against Great Britain. If we can keep command of the air and if we can keep the seas open, we will win it all back for you.
It was an astute judgment but it seemed like wishful thinking to the French. Their generals assured the government that "in three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." France made peace with Hitler and left Britain to stand alone.
There is no D-Day in 1944 unless Britain remains defiant and unconquered in the summer and fall of 1940. As Churchill understood, the first crucial battle in the liberation of Europe would take place in the skies over England.
The great French Army was very largely, for the time being, cast back and disturbed by the onrush of a few thousand armoured vehicles. May it not also be that the cause of civilisation itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen?
(Speech to Parliament 4 June 1940)
On 1 August 1940, Hitler issued Directive No. 17:
The Luftwaffe will use all the forces at its disposal to destroy the British air force as quickly as possible.
The RAF proved equal to the great challenge. Throughout the summer and fall they battled the Luftwaffe in hundreds of actions in the first great air campaign in history. The Germans never attained control of the air over southern England; without air superiority no invasion was possible.
On 15 September, Hitler put Operation Sea Lion-- the invasion of England-- on hold.
Der Führer had suffered his first strategic setback. Britain remained undefeated and unbowed. The great triumphs that came in the years that followed were only possible because of that momentous victory in 1940.
After the war German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was asked to name the turning point of WWII. His interlocutors expected him to pick the destruction of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad or, perhaps, the failure to capture Moscow in 1941. The old Prussian demurred. The war turned, in his mind, on the Luftwaffe's failure to win the Battle of Britain.
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few
Like the battle of Midway, the Battle of Britain stands out from the most other military turning points in the modern era. Sedan, Verdun, Stalingrad and Normandy were struggles contested by armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. The Battle of Britain was on an altogether smaller scale. A few thousand pilots and ground support personnel were the first and main line of defense against Hitler and his war machine.
As Churchill put it:
The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite
The free world can give thanks that England prevailed against those great odds.
This website let’s you follow the course of the campaign as it unfolded.
More on the the Battle of Britain here