To mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Derek Davis visits the Normandy Beaches where the Allies stormed ashore on June 6th 1944. He talks with some of the survivors, the Irish who were part of the massive seaborne assault.
On the 6th June 1944, the liberation of France began with the biggest waterborne invasion in history. The Allies had mounted a programme of deception to convince the Germans that the anticipated attack would begin in Norway or across the Pas de Calais.
A phantom army was created with dummy tanks and entirely fictitious radio traffic. The American General Patton was on charge. Weather conditions on the English Channel created only a small window of opportunity and in an astonishing lapse in German intelligence the invasion began in complete secrecy.
The first conclusive proof that the Allies were heading for the beaches of Normandy came at first light when terrified German sentries saw the greatest armada ever assembled by a war machine.
On the eve of this invasion an attach by airborne troops captured strategic bridges over the Orne river to enable the invaders push inland and to prevent German tank columns from racing to the beaches. This was a complete success.
Although the Irish State issued only 771 permits for men of military age to leave the country during 'the emergency', it is calculated that 165,000 men joined the British Armed Forces.
An unknown number served with the American forces and many thousands of Irish men and women became war workers, including those who made the artificial harbours towed across the channel behind the invasion force. Proportionately, although an exact figure is impossible, thousands of those who took part in the Normandy landings were Irish and many are buried in the military cemeteries under the engraved insignia of every regiment.
In France the sacrifice of these volunteers is still honoured by men like Andre Heinz, a local resistance leader, who spoke to Derek Davis of his indignation that Ireland had failed to recognise the role played by thousands of its citizens.
Many of the men who fought their way through Normandy are still alive and have contributed to the programme. One of the central messages of the documentary is that it is not too late for the Irish State to acknowledge the debt that Europe owes to its fallen heroes.
Presented by Derek Davis
Compiled by Sinead Mooney
Produced by Conor Kavanagh
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries