Press Briefing by Brigadier General Harold Nelson, Captain Dennis Linton, Lieutenant General Harry Kinnard, Colonel John Sullivan
The Briefing Room
2:38 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Quickly, there will be another briefing on Friday morning at 11:00 a.m. Tony Lake will walk you through the bilaterals and the policy portions of the trip, and then somebody will come out and, as you requested, will walk through the schedule day by day and discuss things like proper attire, weather and events.
Now we will do a -- this is on the Battle of Normandy. And I'd like to introduce Brigadier General Harold Nelson, who is the Chief of Military History for the United States Army. And he will take it from there.
Again, there will be several presentations, so if you guys can hold questions until all the presenters have had a chance to do their presentations. And then we'll take questions from there.
GENERAL NELSON: Thank you. I would reenforce that point -- we have a series of briefings here. We're going to go from the general to the particular. And I'm going to do the overview. And if you'd just get that first slide up there for me.
This is the way I'm going at it. It's difficult to get everybody on to the same sheet of music. And when historians are working, people don't often agree. But I'm trying to carry everybody up to June of '44, not just Normandy, because the President is going to Italy as well as to D-Day, but primarily concentrating on the European theatre. We're not going to spend a lot of time talking about the Far East.
First point: Latecomer. The U.S. is a latecomer in the war not only in the military sense in that the war has been raging in the Far East and in Europe for years before the U.S. is attacked at Pearl Harbor, but also a latecomer in the political sense. The statesmen of 1941 remember when the U.S. first appeared on the world scene as a military actor.
1917, World War I. The U.S. has not been involved for generations and generations and generations, like the British, the French, the Germans in resolving the problems of Europe through force of arms.
Second, narrow mobilization base, not just in the sense that we sometimes think of it in terms of the material sense, but in the political sense as well. Remember in August of 1941 the extension of the draft passes by only one vote. The attack on Pearl Harbor changes that as well. And so the political support and the mobilization go forward together rapidly, beginning in 1942.
But just to contrast a little bit and give you a sense of size -- the Army in 1939 had 187,000 people. In 1944, it has 7,900,000. So that's five years of change there, folks. That's noticeable.
The Air Corps in 1939 had 22,000 men. In 1944 it has 1,344,000 -- enormous growth. Airplanes in 1939, the Air Force had 2,500. In 1944, over 78,700. And meanwhile, of course, we're heavily involved in helping our allies as well.
In the Navy, we had five carriers in 1939. And in spite of losses, when the war ended we had 28 heavy carriers and 71 escort carriers. Just think of that ship building. That's what we talked about when we talk about mobilizing from a narrow base and how much this nation changes as it goes to war by the time of 1944, the period we're commemorating.
Now, in terms of seeking to be a good player in a coalition, the U.S. recognizes it's not going to go it alone in this war. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. has agreed to the notion of Europe first -- victory in Europe -- that the Nazi threat is the greatest threat and it must be dealt with with the highest priority. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, that's a very difficult strategic goal to stick with, to resource the European strategy at the expense of the Far East.
So there's a balancing act. And it's really not until 1944 that you see tremendous resources really being brought to bear there. But even in the European strategy, there's a conflict from the outset between American strategists, who say the thing to do is to build up in England and then attack right across the Channel as soon as possible -- and the British strategy, which ultimately prevails, which is called the "peripheral strategy", to get at Germany and the Access powers initially where they are the weakest, while bombing their homeland, and by depending on resistance movements and sabotage to weaken them in the occupied areas. That's the strategy we are going to see, even though that's not the strategy that U.S. military advisors to the President would have advocated.
Next point has to do with worrying about the postwar state. We sometimes focus on post-1945. Between 1939 and 1941, the Hitler-Stalin pact makes the Soviet Union and Germany allies. During that period, the Soviet Union annexes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. That makes people who are watching their newsreels a little bit nervous about the appetites of the Soviet Union.
In addition, the U.S. doesn't see eye to eye with some of its allies about the issue of colonies. One of the things that President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill can't talk about very pleasantly is the Indian subcontinent. The U.S. believes that one of the outcomes of the war will be a weakening of the old empires, and that's not necessarily the way some of our major partners see it. And finally, of course, there is a belief from the outset that some sort of united nations is needed so that resolution of international disputes can be achieved without resort to war. All those things are very much a part of the way the United States is trying to conduct this war.
Finally the point of how we're becoming stronger and more resilient by '44. I just want to move to the actual places we're going to be going and talk a little bit about the strategy. To do that -- you can see just a little bit of North Africa here. You can see Tunisia. In November of '42, way off this map out to the west, in Operation Torch, the allies come ashore and begin their attack against Axis forces in North Africa.
By May of 1943, North Africa has been liberated, and over 270,000 Axis soldiers are taken prisoner in the final campaigns to liberate Tunisia. This is not a minor operation. And using North Africa as a base then, the allies attack across a narrow part of the Mediterranean and seize Sicily. In September of 1943, as the British move up the peninsula, the Americans come across and conduct a large amphibious landing at Salerno. The combination of those actions leads the Italian government to sue for peace, leave the war. One of the consequences of that is greater numbers of German troops move in and occupy the part of Italy not yet liberated. So beginning in September of 1943 then, the allies are truly doing the work of liberation on the continent of Europe in behalf of the Italian people. But that effort bogs down south of Anzio.
So we'll put our attention over on this map. You may not be able to hear me very well. But I'll just bang them together and we'll hope that we can all hear. If you look way over the far side there, you can see the defensive line. In January of 1944, the allies bring an amphibious operation in here at Anzio in the hope that this operation to the rear of the strong German lines -- strong not only because of the good German defenders, but because of the very difficult terrain -- that this operation will force the Germans to weaken those lines so that the attacking forces shown on the far right of that map can succeed. The allies are foiled in that expectation and a stalemate continues.
Heavy losses within the beachhead at Anzio -- the cemetery that the President will visit at Nettuno holds many of the losses from a very costly campaign of attrition within the beachhead. But in spite of that attrition, the U.S. builds up forces in the beachhead, makes adjustments with its allies down in the main line, and in May of 1944, breaks out from the Gustav line, breaks out from the Anzio beachhead and drives on Rome, so that Rome is liberated on the 4th of June, 1944.
Now, while all of that's going on down in Italy, we can shift our attention back up to where we all thought we were going to be talking about when we came in here this afternoon, which is the north of Europe.
Since the war has begun way back in 1940, bombardment aviation from bases in England has been working first against near targets because of difficulties of range, escort aircraft. But now by 1944, far more aircraft, far better capabilities, not only of the bombardment aviation, but of the accompanying fighter aircraft, are ranging all the way over the German homeland in a very effective strategic bombardment campaign, which is bringing up the Luftwaffen to try to intercept and shoot down those aircraft. And that results in aerial combat that fundamentally weakens the Luftwaffen, making it far easier for the allies to contemplate that cross channel attack.
There are a number of other things that the aerial preparation phase does for the allies. It seals off this area that's been defended all the way along the Channel coast, the so-called Atlantic Wall, characterized by strong beach defenses and ready mechanized reserves that can rush to the threatened point. That area's being more and more isolated by this bombardment, making it more difficult for the Nazis to bring forces forward to the threatened point.
The superiority and, ultimately, supremacy of the allied air power ultimately makes it almost impossible for German reconnaissance aircraft to see very much of what's going on in England as well. And that then contributes to the famous deception operation, where allied forces in this part of England are set up so that it appears they'll attack across this narrow part of the Channel, the Port of Calais. And through intelligence advantages, not only are we feeding deceptive information to the Germans, but we are watching their action by intercepting their radio messages, the famous magic or ultra, and knowing that they're going for the deception. This is extremely important because the allies are planning to descend upon the coast at Normandy, and they know that their forces are relatively weak.
This map shows an area here, the Normandy beaches, which is depicted by the entire map out here to your right. And it's really that map we're going to shift to now as I introduce to you Captain Linton, who has spent most of the last couple years working carefully, thinking about the battle of Normandy under the tutelage of a very capable veteran of that campaign, General Al Smith.
So, Captain Linton, they're all yours.
CAPTAIN LINTON: What I'd like to say first is the success of D-Day is attributed to a good plan, but it was modified and executed brilliantly by the men on the ground. That's what made it work.
The planning for Operation Overlord actually began as early as 1941 when the Brits left the continent of Europe. But not until after operations in North Africa and Sicily would the timing be right for the invasion in 1944. General Eisenhower was selected as the Supreme Commander, and he was given the following mission: He was told simply to enter the continent of Europe and strike at the heart of Germany. And with that, they went about the planning.
Before getting into the actual operation, let's take a look at the enemy. The German army who conducted the blitzkrieg in 1940 was not the same army in 1944. Instead of the mobile offensive army which had won earlier campaigns, the Germans would choose to fight from the static positions built along the coast. You can see most of their units along the coast. This was called Hitler's Atlantic Wall.
The Atlantic Wall consisted of concrete fortifications, landing obstacles tipped with mines, and mine fields. These obstacles were the first of their kind used in military operations, and represented a serious threat to the invasion. Due to a manpower shortage, the German had been fighting all these years -- they lost three million men alone just on the Eastern front. Many of the troops manning these positions were conscripts or "volunteers" from the occupied countries, young and old men that were not previously drafted and returnees from the Eastern front.
The Panser units were served as a mobile reserve. But because the war had been going on so long and things didn't go the way Hitler always wanted, he had reserved the right to commit these units to the beach. And because of that, they would not be committed on D-Day effectively because it would take so long for him to make that choice.
While the enemy continued to strengthen the Atlantic Wall, General Eisenhower and his commanders continued to refine the plan. The planners had decided on the Normandy coast for the several reasons that were mentioned by General Nelson -- one, it could be supported by the aircraft; two, that it was not where the Germans thought they would attack. The deception plan known as Operation Fortitude would continue to build in the German mind that the attack would come in Calais. Therefore, it was important that the preliminary air operations would then cut off the enemy's ability to quickly reinforce Normandy.
Although the promise to knock out the gun placements and create bomb craters along the course of Normandy did not materialize due to the weather, that air campaign was a success due to the destruction of the transportation system and the complete control of the air the allies enjoyed on D-Day. In the days following the invasion, the enemy was hard pressed to move their units because it brought immediate attack from the air.
Operation Overlord itself, or the suboperation within it called Operation Neptune, the actual assault, was scheduled for 5 June. But due to poor weather, it was postponed. If the assault had to be postponed past the 6th, it couldn't take place until the 19th. And there was a lot of fear then that the complete surprise that they had would be given up to the Germans. Therefore, when the weather officer came in to brief on the weather situation for the 6th and stated that there would be a small break, but it would hamper air cover, General Eisenhower then made the fateful decision, and he said simply, "Okay, we'll go." And with those simple words, the invasion was on.
Due to the length of this briefing, I'll quickly summarize the British and Canadian operations. I don't want to downplay them. They're very important to the operation, and I don't want to overshadow their contribution. But we'll get on to the American beaches.
Shortly after midnight on 5 June, the British 6th Airborne would successfully seize important bridges on the northern flank and protect the invasion from counterattack. The British would assault three beaches -- the British 3rd Division at Sword, the Canadians at Juno and the British 50th Division at Gold Beach. While successful in seizing up beachhead, the British would not take Caen. And Caen in fact would not be taken until July 25th when the Americans would break through at Saint-Lo which would push the Germans to fall back and fall out of Caen.
The attack in the American sector began with 13,000 paratroopers from 101st and 82nd Airborne Division parachuting to the rear of Utah Beach after midnight on 5 June. Their mission to secure the causeways from Utah Beach and protect the flank of the 7th Corps was extremely important. The area behind the beaches had already been flooded, and by opening the gates to the rivers behind that they could completely flood the back of the beach and cut off the troops from moving in. Therefore, they had to be taken by surprise. That was the mission of the 101st and 82nd.
Due to the weather and reaction of -- anti-aircraft fire, the drops were extremely scattered -- and as General Kinnard will attest to when I'm finished. But as a testament to their dedication and training, the paratroopers linked up and they formed ad hoc units and they went on to complete their D-Day missions. In fact, the next morning, when the 4th Infantry Division would cross Utah Beach, they would link up through the exits with the Airborne, and find that the beachhead had been completely protected from any threat of counterattack from the Germans.
While the airborne divisions were fighting their battles in the night, the men of the 4th, 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions were embarking on their landing craft. The air bombardment continued. However, most of the aircraft dropped their bombs too far inland. Remember, in the morning it was very misty and cloudy, and we don't have the pinpoint navigation that we had today. In fear that they were going to drop the bombs on the invasion, they dropped a little bit further inland. And that would have an effect on some of the beaches later on.
The naval bombardment started on time, with hundreds of guns opening up in initial waves heading towards the beach. The 4th Infantry Division, the first unit to land, headed toward Utah Beach. Due to a loss of the control boats that controlled the ships -- the boats that they went in -- the mines -- three out of four of them, and the rough tides, the initial assault waves actually landed south of where they expected to land.
However, upon getting on the ground they found the positions weaker here. Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., 57 years old at this time, a battle-hardened veteran, he fought to go in on the first waves with the chain of command because, in his words, he needed to be there to steady the boys. Later on in the campaign he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
He made a fateful decision. He made the decision to start the war from here. And that's exactly what they did. They quickly overcame the German resistance and moved inland to link up with the airborne troops. Due to this decision made on the spot, less than 200 casualties were taken on Utah Beach on D-Day.
Over on Omaha, the scene was quite different. It was known from the beginning that Omaha Beach would be difficult to take. However, it was crucial from having a large gap between the British and the American forces. The beach at Omaha is comprised of shingle or large stones with a large beach flat that would be almost 300 yards long on the morning of the attack. It's marshy and it's overlooked by towering bluffs. This is the top of Omaha Beach up here.
Two divisions would be assigned to attack this beach. The 1st Infantry Division -- they were already veterans of the North African campaign and Sicily -- and the 29th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit which is from around this area of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, which would see its first combat -- just like most of the units on that day.
As the men moved toward shore, two important events would further complicate their attack. First, an intelligence failure -- they failed to identify a crack German unit, the 352nd had also reinforced because they'd been here on training maneuvers in the Omaha Beach area. And secondly, when the haze had lifted, the failure of the naval and air bombardment to destroy the strong points -- there were 12 German strong points on Omaha Beach alone, besides numerous other gun positions. Those are just the concrete positions.
The first assault waves came in under heavy smoke and rough seas. They quickly became intermingled and were soon pinned down. They took extremely high casualties. Alpha Company 116th infantry from the 29th Infantry Division would take almost 96 percent casualties as the landing ramps went down. But despite this fact, through bravery, leadership, the men were raised up from their fear and from the enemy fire and they would quickly start breaking down the obstacles and moving up the bluffs. Spotters started calling in targets for the naval gunfire, which was now able to see parts of the beach and would bring in devastating pinpoint fire.
Although the situation was tenuous at first, even causing General Bradley, the 1st Army Commander, to think about shifting everything to Utah Beach, the men of the 1st and 29th began clearing the obstacles and would work their way up to the end of the bluffs by the middle of the afternoon. At the end of the day, Omaha Beach would be secured, but at a cost of approximately 2,400 casualties.
I need to bring up that -- as you see your different casualty counts, none of them are exact for a one-day operation. That's why, when you read several books, you run into different accounts.
General Bradley would say later that every man that stepped foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero.
No story of D-Day would be complete without mentioning the assault of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc was a promotory which -- as you can see on this chart -- which housed German artillery positions that dominated both those beaches, Utah and Omaha. The Rangers were to scale the 90-foot cliffs and knock out the guns. Coming under fire at the base of the cliffs, the Rangers quickly climbed the rock face, using toggle ropes with the toggle about this long -- toggle ropes and specially-designed ladders. Arriving at the top, they discovered that the guns were not in the emplacements.
It's a testament to the Rangers' spirit that while they continued to fight the Germans at Pointe du Hoc, a small group of Rangers would move inland and find the guns about a mile in, pointed toward Omaha Beach, and destroy those guns. First Sergeant Leonard Lamel would be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for those actions.
After the assault of the 225 Rangers that started at the base of the cliff, only 90 would be fit to fight. With the help of naval gunfire, they would hold out for seven days until relieved. Twenty-four hours after the invasion had began, 175,000 men would be ashore and the first steps towards the liberation of Europe would be well planted.
The importance of D-Day is not the plan or Operation Overlord. More, it's the bravery and dedication of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who understood the importance of that momentous day. When the boatswains that guided their boats in through the minefields time and time again until the landing craft was destroyed, to the glider pilot that would attempt to land a plywood plane in the dark in a small field with obstacles, they understood mission first.
Examples of individual heroism and tremendous leadership abound, from Captain Joe Dawson, who will introduce the President at the cemetery, and First Lieutenant John Spalding, which would lead their men up through the bluffs and be the first to assault the German strong point at Omaha Beach, to Lieutenant Turner Turnbull of the 82nd Airborne, who with his platoon would hold off a German battalion -- that's roughly 10 times the size of his platoon -- from attacking into the flanks of Ste. Mere Eglise the morning of D-Day. It is to these soldiers that we remember D-Day and its importance to the free world.
We're lucky today to have with us one of those soldiers. May I introduce General Kinnard who was with the 101st Airborne on DDay.
GENERAL KINNARD: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm very happy to be here, but I must tell you I had a birthday early this month and so I'm happy to be anywhere. (Laughter.) I think my role here is to try to prove to you that it's possible to have taken part in Normandy and still be more or less alive today. (Laughter.)
In any event, I was a 29-year-old colonel in a parachute regiment of the 101 50 years ago today, and I have to say, that's a better assignment than being a retired Lieutenant General at 79.
Our mission, we knew, was to go into the continent of Europe, but as of today 50 years ago, we didn't know exactly where, how or when. We'd been formed in the United States in August of 1942, together with the 82nd Airborne Division. We trained very hard in the States and then we had moved to England, playing Russian Roulette with the U-boats in the fall and winter of 1943, and had been getting along with the British famously for a long time. I wish I had time to talk about life in England because it was really something, very great.
But now the time had come. We were through training. We were through the rehearsals, through the exercises, and we knew we were going into the marshalling areas. In the case of the airborne troops, our marshalling camps were heavily secured camps on the edges of the departure airfields. And in there, there was a lot going on. There were crap games; there were people writing home to mother and all these letters had to be censored and held until the invasion actually took place. There was a lot of praying going on. There was knife sharpening, and there was lots of eating because the chow was very, very good in the marshalling camps.
But most of all, there was briefing about what it was that we were supposed to do. And what were we supposed to do? We were supposed to drop into this area right here where the blue circle is. We had three drop zones in that area -- A, B, and D. C had disappeared because we found that Rommel had planted a lot of poles in it and we didn't think that would be very healthy. So that was moved at the last minute.
In addition to the airborne, which was Pathfinders at 12:15 a.m. in the morning, followed by 400 aircraft loads of 6,500 paratroopers -- some nine battalions -- we also had two glider serials and then we had an over-the-beach serial. And that comprised the attack by the 101st Airborne Division.
When we got there -- our mission has already been covered by the Captain a little bit, but just to review it -- we were to capture the four exits from the causeways leading in from Utah Beach. There was an inundated area right here with only these four causeways over them, and a very few Germans with machine guns could really wreak havoc. So our job was to take these positions out from behind.
In addition to that, we were to capture a bridge and a lock along the Dreux River, because this area was subjected to very heavy flooding controlled by the Germans. And we were to knock out two bridges coming in from Carentan across the Dreux River -- the railroad and the road bridge to Cherbourg. And additionally, we were to knock out a battery about here, Seine-Maritime, which threatened Utah Beach. Those were our objectives.
Now, the landing plan to support this. This is the seaborne invasion right here, which we talked about. These were the Brits coming in on the west flank, down here on the Orne River. But the 82nd and the 101st came around this way. And I call your attention to the flank position of the airborne invasion. That was not by accident. In the Sicily operation, our troop carrier had overflown our navy and had gotten lots of aircraft shot down for their pains. "Friendly fire," in quotes. So the idea of this was to be on the flanks and not require recognition by the enemy.
In addition, I want to point out to you that after we hit the coast of Normandy, we had to make an extensive flight over that peninsula before we hit our drop zones; whereas the Brits had it a lot better -- they came in right off the ocean and they were immediately on their drop zones, which was a much better deal.
One final thing that we were briefed on was that, instead of a password, we had a high-tech development for IFF, which stands for "Identification - Friend or Foe". It was the cricket -- comma, dimestore, comma, M-1. (Laughter.) Instead of a password, one click meant, who the hell are you? And two clicks meant, I'm friendly. If the guy you clicked at was a German, he used his hightech thing, which was a burp gun, to reply to you. (Laughter.) But that's what all of us had.
And now to the landing itself. All went well until we got to the coast of Normandy. It was about a 54-minute flight, which gave everybody lots of time for soul-searching. When we hit the coast of Normandy -- we had been flying at 500 feet, and then we climbed to 1,200 the time we hit the coast, and then 1,200 until we got to our drop zones, supposedly back to 700 just before that for the drop itself. When we hit the Normandy coast there was haze, low clouds, and lots and lots of German flack. We had quite a few of our aircraft knocked down. And the troop carrier pilots, perhaps understandably, disobeyed orders and did not maintain their formations, but began to take evasive action, flew all over the sky. And the net result was that we had a terribly scattered drop, as did the 82nd. Many of our men were -- give me the other chart again, please -- many of our men were in the inundated areas or in the rivers. And some of them were even dropped in the channel.
This is a measle sheet to give you some idea of where the different sticks of the 101st dropped. And you won't be able to see this from the back, but there are arrows here and there around the border of it which have numbers like "21 miles away," et cetera. These were where some of the sticks landed. It was a very, very scattered drop.
Actually, the division was landed, aside from a few strays, in an area about 25-by-15 miles. But fortunately, about 70 percent, about 300 planeloads, landed in an area of about eight square miles, right about there. The 1,500 or so men who landed outside of that area were mostly killed or captured without being able to take part in the actual operation.
So what happened really was that individuals and small groups began to get together with their crickets and what have you and finally found out where they were. And fortunately, in our briefings we had not restricted it to only what the individual or his unit did, but instead had tried to give him the big picture so that each individual or small group was able, once oriented, to figure out what they could best do to accomplish the overall missions of the division. And that's exactly what they did.
And although a lot of our men were killed either in the flooded areas or by the Germans, for every objective that the division had, there was at least one small group that struggled doggedly until the objective was taken. And so by the close of D-Day we actually had taken all of our objectives -- almost none of them as planned -- we had captured all the causeways, we had captured a bridge over the Dreux and we captured the lock at Le Bourget. We had found that the battery had been moved, but we killed or captured all the Germans who were manning that battery.
We were not able to knock out the two bridges until a few days later. But the good news was that the seaborne people came ashore, as the Captain indicated, with only 197 casualties, in contrast to about 2,200 to 2,500 on Omaha Beach where they had no paratroopers to take the enemy from behind.
That's it for me. I'll be followed by Colonel John Sullivan to cover the events of the commemoration. (Applause.)
COLONEL SULLIVAN: As you can see from our historical summary of what happened in the European campaign, and especially from the General's comments today, it is most appropriate that we commemorate the 50th anniversary of these battles. And what I'd like to do this afternoon is very quickly summarize for you how we intend to commemorate those events. I'll use the President's schedule to do so with one exception, and I'll come to that in just a couple of minutes. It's one event that the President will not be on.
I might first of all say that we have in excess of 40 events ongoing during this time. And we can provide you a list of those at a later time if you'd like to have them. Let me start off by following the President's schedule. I'll do it with this chart here, and I'll have a photograph of each one of the places I talked to on your right. So if I could have my first slide, please.
The first event that the President will participate in is a ceremony at the Sicily-Rome Cemetery which is 30 miles south of Rome at Nettuno. And you saw it on an earlier chart. It's in the vicinity of Anzio. This event will take place on the 3rd of June at 10:00 a.m. The theme of this is to commemorate the allies' landings at Anzio, Sicily and Salerno. It's about a 45-minute ceremony. It will be bilateral with the Italians. President Scalfaro of Italy will participate, and there will be a joint wreath-laying. This will be followed by a reception for the U.S. veterans on the site of the cemetery there at Nettuno.
The next ceremony that will take place will take place the following day on the 4th of June at 10:15 a.m. And I might note to my chart, it's a change -- 10:15 a.m. at Cambridge American Cemetery. The theme of this is to commemorate the air battles over Europe. And the reason we've picked this theme is because many of the bomber crews, and also, many of the fighter pilots are actually interred in that cemetery.
The next ceremony to take place is a Queen of Englandhosted state dinner which will take place at the Guild Hall in Portsmouth, England. This is a photograph of the Guild Hall, the city hall there in Portsmouth. We understand that 14 heads of state are being invited to participate in this. And each one of the allied countries are asked to have veterans of D-Day participate. The United States will have 75 veterans at that state dinner. It's a black-tie event.
The next ceremony, also in Great Britain, is on the 5th of June at 10:30 a.m. in the morning. This is at Southsea Common, which is this large facility here, which at the very center of it is the British World War II monument. This is called the drumhead service. And the drumhead service is a religious service where the Archbishop of Canterbury will give a blessing of the fleet as they depart off to battle. The 14 heads of state will participate in this again. And we understand from the British that possibly in excess of 100,000 people will attend this event.
Following the drumhead service, at 12:15 p.m. on that day, there will be a U.K.-hosted flotilla departure ceremony at the Solent. The Solent is the harbor right there in Portsmouth. What will happen is, the heads of state will board the Royal Yacht Britannia and sail out into the harbor. And as they sail out, they'll pass that monument that I just showed you there at Southsea Common. And then the ship will turn and to out to all the ships that are at anchor. There will be many combatants from the allied nations, and there will also be many of the commercial ships there with the veterans on board. And when the ship goes by, the heads of state will have a salute to the veterans embarked.
And then once that's completed, we understand that the President will then board the George Washington, which is shown right here, and he will sail over to Normandy on board that ship. We understand it's about a six-hour crossing.
The one I'd like to brief you about, the ceremony that the President is not attending, is happening at the same time the President is actually boarding the yacht and going to France. But it's one I think you'd like to know about. And it is the airborne operation that will happen at St. Mere Eglise at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon on the 5th of June. And as we briefed you on the historical part of the operation, we are again having the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Division send approximately 500 paratroopers back to jump at St. Mere Eglise to commemorate that event.
I'd like to now move to the 6th of June -- if I could have my next chart there. And I'll go through each of the events. The President will participate this day in five ceremonies. It starts with the sunrise ceremony aboard the George Washington. This will commemorate and honor those veterans who gave there all before they ever reached the coast of France. The President will host a wreath-laying ceremony and will have approximately 150 veterans on board the ship when this happens.
Following this, the President will then fly to Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc, as was briefed earlier, was one of the fierce battles of this day -- one of the many fierce battles of this day -- but the site itself still has the scars of 50 years ago. Those dimples and pockmarks that you see there are actually bomb craters from the B-24s that attacked the beach that day and from the artillery. And when you have a chance to walk that, you'll see that there anywhere, 10 to 15 feet deep.
This ceremony honors the Rangers who participated with the Navy to land and take that hill that day, and eventually take the six guns that could have shot to either beach -- Omaha or Utah. The theme is to honor the vets who participated in D-Day's first assault. It will take place at 8:30 a.m. in the morning.
The next event on the 6th of June is a French-U.S. bilateral ceremony that will take place at Utah Beach at 10:00 a.m. At this ceremony President Mitterrand will welcome President Clinton to France. And the two of them will then conduct a bilateral ceremony. It will, again, include a wreath-laying ceremony and a speech by President Clinton.
After that we understand the President will meet many of the veterans who are there. We have 4,500 veterans and family members that have signed up to participate in this ceremony. Total attendance is over 7,000.
Let me move on to the next ceremony. And what will happen is that following a luncheon for the heads of state in Caen, the President will then fly back to Omaha Beach. And this photograph shows Omaha Beach as it today. The French will conduct a ceremony on that beach. And you can see where the U.S. cemetery there is at Colleville. And approximately two to three kilometers down that beach, as you're looking at it, will be the site of the French international ceremony. It will take place at 2:45 p.m. It will last about and hour and five minutes. President Mitterrand will be the host and 14 heads of state will participate.
We understand that there will be about 7,500 people participating. The U.S. right now has about 2,000 U.S. veterans and family members who will be in attendance.
Following this event will be the last ceremony of the day for President Clinton. It is the U.S. premiere event, the U.S. national ceremony. It takes place at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville, right on the beach. It's a beautiful cemetery. The event will start now -- and there's a change to my chart here, which shows 1700 -- 5:00 p.m. It is now at 5:30 p.m. We see that this ceremony will last about 45 minutes. The President will have an opportunity to visit with the veterans following this.
And what I'd like to do, since this is the last event for the day, is very quickly summarize what each of these events will look like in general. Each one is very specific.
Upon the arrival of the President, of course, we'll have honors. And then the President will take his place. And we will then have a benediction, followed by the introduction of a veteran who will then introduce the President and he will speak. Following that we'll have a wreath-laying. When the wreath-laying is completed we'll have the taps and a flyover, and then we'll have the invocation. At the end of that, the President may visit with the veterans or conduct other events.
This is the last event of the day. Again, we think it will last about 45 minutes. And then we understand the President will fly off to Paris for the evening.
What I'd like to do now is ask General Kicklighter to come up here, and the entire panel will be prepared to take your questions.
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: I'd like to introduce Dr. Hallion, who is the Chief Historian from the Air Force. Would you raise your hand, please? And then we have the Chief Historian from the Navy, Dr. Marolda. So we'll try to be ecumenical on your questions.
Q: I'd like to ask if the -- if our strategy had prevailed, instead of using the English, would it have been as costly, or have you retrospectively wondered which would have worked better?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: That's a very good question. I'll ask our historian to answer that.
DR. HALLION: It's hard to get into the "what ifs?" The problem with the U.S. strategy was the charts -- a "what if" answer is always very difficult. But the problems that the planners really would have had with a direct cross-Channel attack in 1942 or early '43 was we simply lacked the shipping and the air superiority. Remember that the Battle of Britain was started in 1940, and there was still great difficulty with gaining air superiority, even locally. And our British colleagues understood that better than we did.
So I think in the long run, this was better. But there's been gallons and gallons of ink spilled by historians now and in the future on that subject.
Q: Colonel Sullivan mentioned the paratroopers reenacting the drop on the 5th of June. What's the status of the veterans who were planning to drop on the 5th of June also?
GENERAL NELSON: That's a very good question, and we've had a lot of discussions with that group. We initially were very concerned about their safety and welfare more than anything. We asked them to come be part of the ceremony, and we would like to properly honor them for what they did 50 years ago.
They've insisted that they're going to jump, regardless. (Laughter.) So we have added them to the ceremony. They will be -- they will jump at the end of the 82nd-101st jump. They've agreed to safety requirements that we have insisted on. We make the safety calls because of weather on the drop zone. And we have jump masters that are working and will work with them to do our best to make it as safe as we possibly can.
Q: Do you have any idea of how many there will be?
GENERAL NELSON: It started out to be 33. I think the number, John, now is up to 44.
Q: What are their ages -- how old are they?
GENERAL NELSON: I think the youngest is 67 or 68 and the oldest is 83.
Q: Sir, how concerned are you for their safety?
GENERAL NELSON: We're very concerned, as well the doctors and all the airborne folks. But many of these heroes have been jumping all their life, and they belong to parachute clubs and they've already been out practicing and they've made some practice jumps. But anytime you have an airborne jump, it's always -- even with our young soldiers.
Q: A couple of statistical questions. The 175,000 troops that went ashore on D-Day, are those Americans only, or Americans and allied troops?
CAPTAIN LINTON: That's American and allied soldiers coming ashore that day.
Q: And the other thing -- I've read some accounts on Pointe du Hoc which talk about 300-foot-high cliffs. You mentioned 100 foot. Is the 100 foot --
CAPTAIN LINTON: About 100-foot cliffs, sir.
Q: Are Germans taking part in this at all -- in the wreath-laying in any way or --
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: They are not taking part in France or the U.K.
Q: Why not?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: I think that's a question better answered by the French and the British.
Q: Of that 175,000, do we have any way of knowing how many are still alive today?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: I don't know that we know. Of the 16 million veterans that served in World War II, from the Veterans Administration, when we began the commemoration in 1991 it was about 8.7 million. That number today is down to about 8.1 million. Unfortunately, that very special generation who was given the toughest mission we've ever given any generation is getting to the age now that they're moving into retirement and, unfortunately, we're losing that great leadership that not only led us in the world, but served and led this nation in other capacities throughout.
Q: You said before the Germans are not taking part in France or the U.K. Are they taking part in Italy or anywhere else?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: From the beginning, we have not excluded anybody, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor when we commemorated that on December the 7th, 1991. We are working and dialoging with all of the nations. We hope this will be a coalition effort. We hope that not only will we thank and honor our veterans, but we will study together, our young people will study and learn together; and together we'll use that knowledge to ensure that we have a safe future for the children and the grandchildren of this generation.
Q: Will the Germans be participating in any of the commemorative ceremony in any way?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: We didn't show you a chart --let's show the chart here in Washington. Don't we have it right here? We have three events here in Washington. One is the Holocaust Memorial Museum is at 8:00 a.m. in the morning on June the 6th, is going to dedicate the General Eisenhower Plaza, which is the entrance to that museum, in honor of the men and women who landed at Normandy and began the liberation of Europe and eventually the liberation of the death camps. I think that all the diplomatic corps will be invited to that. That's an event run by the Holocaust Memorial Council and Museum.
We have an event at Arlington National Cemetery that starts about 10:30 a.m. The Vice President will be there. There's no exclusions to that. The normal guest list that we invite to events like that will be invited.
And then, that night, there is a musical salute at Wolf Trap, called "A Day to Remember." It's open to the public, and the Wolf Trap Association and the Armed Forces YMCA is running that.
Q: I have three questions. I'll try to be brief. First, did you gentlemen give the same briefing to the President that we're getting here -- a similar briefing?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: We have, throughout this program since President Clinton has been in office, we have worked very close with the White House and with President Clinton. We've discussed the program several times, and he has had recently two meetings where he has personally been updated on this program. He's walked through all of it. I think you know that he had historians in last night for dinner, and he's extended a lot of effort to prepare and get involved.
Q: The other question is, I understand that there was some research done on Clinton's father, William Jefferson Blythe, and what he did in Italy. Can you tell us what he found out about that?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: I think we'd have to turn to the White House for that. We don't have that knowledge in our team, but I'd have to turn to the White House. Not on our team, not on our panel.
Q: The other question was, is there, looking ahead, is there something planned for 1945, 50-year commemorations?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: We began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and we've picked major events -- many cities, and throughout America, many cities are doing D-Day events in addition to the ones that you've seen. And we will go through major events all the way until we get to V-J Day, September the 2nd, 1995. Again, emphasizing thanking and honoring veterans or families on the home front, and getting an education value out of this, and supporting schools to get history back into the classroom. So we'll continue on past November, or past September, and probably end on Veteran's Day, November 11th, '95.
Q: General, the Colonel had indicated that there was sort of a standard rundown that there was going to be for the various events that are going to be happening on D-Day. Is there a standard tone or theme that will repeat at each of these events, or will it be different?
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Each one has a special theme. They're all tied together. But the focus is, and the real VIP for all of these events are the veterans and their family members. And the family is children, grandchildren are treated as the veteran. And in the event the veteran was deceased -- either killed at that battle or has since died -- we try to give the same respect to the family who comes.
So the focus is on the veteran and on their families, trying to thank and honor in a proper way. There's no way to adequately do that, but as best we can. And then we try, through you -- and I would applaud what you're doing for this event -- is being able to touch those veterans who can't be there through the printed media and through television, those eight million that won't be able to be there, we want to make sure they share this.
And so the real focus is on veterans, and then getting people interested in reading books about history. We don't have an agenda about what the answers are, but if we read history -- and I think you've generated the interest that we'll read more history -- we'll be better prepared, I think, to face the future.
Q: A question for General Nelson. In this era of intercontinental missiles and so forth, what are the lessons of D-Day for today's military?
GENERAL NELSON: Well, many of us probably read John Keegan in U.S. News and World Report a week or two ago where he said, you know, it's all very interesting, but we'd never do that again. I think the answer is, it wouldn't look at all like this. The Marine Corps, of course, worries a lot about forced entry from the sea, and so does the Army. Obviously, it's going to be far more dispersed, you're going to be dependent on naval aviation as well as Air Force aviation. You get some sort of air superiority, and then you're going to have to hope that resourceful, innovative soldiers, welltrained and capable, will take it from there.
The reason I'm saying this is, I think you all have noticed that we are becoming a continentally-based force. We don't have nearly the forward-deployed forces that we once had as we move beyond the Cold War. So if we're going to have to go ashore, we either go ashore because we're invited or because we force our way ashore. So obviously, we continue to maintain an interest in forced entry from the sea, from the air, and it won't look much like D-Day.
But the functional requirements will be there. There must be a deception plan, there must be a preparatory phase, there must be an assault phase, there must be a consolidation phase. And they'll all look different, but you can still think about them.
Q: Can I also ask you a history question while you're up there?
GENERAL NELSON: Let him do a follow-up first.
Q: It's not really a follow-up, it's sort of -- I've read in a couple of accounts that Overlord was not the original name for this operation, that the code writers had another name, but Churchill didn't think that it was strong enough.
GENERAL NELSON: There is some stuff that you'll read that Churchill liked to get involved in choosing the parameters within which things could be named. Initially, the concept of a quick assault into Europe across the Channel was called "Roundup," and it was named that because it was feared in '42 that -- and even late in '41, although we weren't involved in that, that Russia might be knocked out of the war; the Soviet Union might just collapse, given the weight of the German attack. And so there was a fear that they needed some sort of a plan to go ashore. And you're right; code names get changed.
And now, please -- I cut you off.
Q: Did you really fooled the Germans?
GENERAL NELSON: Yes, the Germans were deceived. Not only before the landing, but after the landing they continued to think that this was a diversion and they kept force in place at the Port de Calais, expecting the main attack. There was a whole false order of battle. It's a wonderful story.
Q: To follow up on that, it's extraordinary to us as we look at the maps that they were so close, and yet the Germans were so fooled. Could you talk a little bit about that? And particularly, so far as the press is concerned, we think about today's press, and what are the possibilities of that kind of thing happening today?
GENERAL NELSON: Yes, that's probably one big difference right there. In Britain, you're on an island, and so you can kind of keep track of the comings and goings. That's point one. And you're on an island that's been at war for five years -- almost five years by the summer of '44. And so the controls of movement of the population have become very restrictive by the standards of the United States today. That's point one, and it has to do with press access as well as with ordinary citizen access.
Point two -- the German spies have been captured, interned, or disappeared, so that through the spy network the German government is receiving information that appears to support the deception operation.
Third, the ability to control overflights and limit what observation pilots can see as they come from the continent makes it possible to use inflatable boats and inflatable tanks and trucks and things of that nature. And then in addition, then as now, adversaries worry about certain generals. In the U.S. Army there was a General known for his aggressiveness, General Patton. General Patton is taken out of the Mediterranean and he's placed up there as the commander of this army group. Everybody's watching -- where's Patton? What's Patton going to do next? He's one of their key guys. And so they use every aspect of deception. And then as I say, reading the ultra traffic, the high level traffic between the high command in the field, they know what the Germans are telling their units to do. And sure enough it matches what they would expect them to do if they're swallowing the deception.
So it would be very difficult, as Keegan points out, to replicate all those conditions.
Q: May I follow up a little bit about the press, if you don't mind. If anyone there can tell us, what really -- there were tremendous restrictions on the press. What role did they play, and what were some of those restrictions?
GENERAL NELSON: The press played the important role that it always plays, trying to get the best information to the most people as quickly as possible. The constraints on that are different in the 1940s than they are today. But there's a close working relationship between the military in the field, the military here in Washington, the political leaders here in Washington. And it is somewhat self-censorship, it is censorship. But there is generally a feeling of goodwill between the press and the military, in spite of a certain amount of friction.
Everybody wants to be in the first wave. Everybody doesn't get to be in the first wave. Everybody wants to have maximum capacity for filing their stories immediately on Omaha Beach.
Q: What happened --
GENERAL NELSON: Basically, I think, the World War II Commemorative Committee is prepared to give you the press annex to the overlord plan which will tell you in great detail exactly what happened. But basically, it's a form of pooling -- a limited number of correspondents are allowed to take part in each of the actions.
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: We've been given the sign a couple of times that we've run over time. But all of us will stay behind and talk individually as long as you want to talk. The last thing I'd like to say is just reemphasize what the purpose of all this. And that's to thank and honor the veterans and their families. The second part is to get people interested in reading history so that we can learn and prepare to never let this happen again.
Thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure to be with you. And we'll stay and talk as long as you want to.
END 3:40 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Brigadier General Harold Nelson, Captain Dennis Linton, Lieutenant General Harry Kinnard, Colonel John Sullivan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269532