June 6 marked the 77th anniversary of Operation Overlord - the greatest amphibious military operation in history. Some 150,000 allied troops, including the Poles, disembarked onto the territory of France to open the western front in Europe during WWII.
On the night preceding D-Day, around 24,000 Allied paratroopers landed behind the enemy lines, taking control over several strategic points to cut the Germans from the reinforcements coming from the inland.
Alongside the Americans and the British, the Poles were also fighting bravely. The Polish warship “Błyskawica” (“Lightning bolt”) provided artillery barrage for the landing soldiers, while the Polish pilots shot down record numbers of enemy planes.
For many soldiers, D-Day was to be the last day of their lives. The horror of what happened after they set their feet on the beaches of Normandy has been graphically depicted in the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”
Nevertheless, their heroic sacrifice was not in vain. The military success of the operation proved of key importance in the final defeat of Nazi Germany.
Following the allied offensive in France, in August 1944, the First Armoured Division of general Staniław Maczek was deployed in Normandy and took part in the key battle of Falaise, closing the encirclement of the large German forces. This decisive victory paved the way to Paris for the Allies. Later in 1944, the Polish division fought in Belgium and Holland. One of their most recognised achievements was the liberation of the Dutch city of Breda in October 1944.