By Penny MordauntSecretary of State for Defence
On the morning of 6 June, 75 years ago, a mighty Allied force stormed the beaches of North West France on a mission to liberate the continent from Nazi tyranny.
This was D-Day. The beginning of the largest amphibious operation in history.
On that longest of days almost 12,000 aircraft, from Lancasters and Spitfires to Horsa gliders, crossed the channel to establish command of enemy airspace.
On that dramatic day more than 15,000 airborne soldiers dropped out of a clear blue sky to land behind enemy lines – securing roadways and bridges for the Allied advance.
On that defiant day, almost 7,000 vessels from minesweepers to merchant ships disembarked over 150,000 troops, including more than 60,000 British soldiers, onto beaches dubbed Sword, Gold, Utah, Omaha and Juno. After braving the swells, the fearless fighters of Operation Overlord charged the mine-strewn sands establishing a vital bridgehead for the Allied advance.
Their actions that day laid the foundations for victory in Europe. We will never forget what they did there. They risked both life and limb for our freedom.
So this week our nation pays them a special tribute. We will honour our heroes with military bands, flypasts and parachute displays. Country-wide commemorations will take place from Poole to Portsmouth, where most of the landing force set sail. Services of thanksgiving will be held in Staffordshire’s National Memorial Arboretum and in Normandy’s ancient Bayeux Cathedral.
D-DAY - BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (BU 1181) Film still showing commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, aboard a LCI(S) landing craft on their approach to Queen Red beach, Sword area, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM.
Most memorably of all, the MV Boudicca, a ship chartered by The Royal British Legion and paid for by Government LIBOR funds, will set sail from Dover carrying some incredible VIPs – our surviving D-Day veterans. Accompanied by a Royal Navy flotilla, this band of brothers will be bound for Normandy sands to once more pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
Back in 1944 these brave warriors left UK shores with the words of General Dwight D Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, ringing in their ears: “Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force,” wrote the great General in his famous Order of the Day:“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
In 2019, the eyes of the world are once more trained on this generation. In an age of complex global threats, their deeds in the salt and spray of a distant June morning remind us what can still be achieved even in the darkest of times.
Our D-Day veterans changed the course of history. Seventy-five years on, they remain our inspiration.