Operation Neptune

Good morning, it’s Thursday, June 1, 2017. Seventy-three years ago today, Operation Neptune officially began. Today we know the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of France as the Battle of Normandy, although in the Army it was called Operation Overlord. Neptune was the first part of that grand plan, and referred to the ferrying of troops and equipment across the English Channel.

On June 1, 1944, armed messengers boarded the armada of vessels waiting in British harbors. These messengers, all of whom were officers, carried sealed and top-secret orders informing the commander of each ship that Neptune’s debarkation date was June 5, with the possibility of delaying one or two days depending on the weather.

Americans of a certain age who are familiar with D-Day remember the iconic newsreels of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower mingling with airborne troops on the eve of the invasion. It was a fitting gesture, especially on English soil. In “Henry V,” Shakespeare has King Harry go out among his troops in disguise on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.

What infinite hearts-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings that privates have not too
Save ceremony, save general ceremony.

The first week of June 1944 was not a time to stand on ceremony, as the real-life king and queen of England demonstrated.

King George VI wasn’t yet three years into his reign when England was dragged into the Second World War. He and his wife endeavored to remain in London, even during the worst of the nighttime bombings known as the Blitz. They knew what they were doing. Prince Albert, as he was known before his coronation, had a military education, while Queen Elizabeth had an innate instinct for leadership.

Nearly 1,000 civilians had been killed on the first night of the Blitz, most of them in London’s East End. A week later, on September 13, 1940, German planes dropped bombs in a Buckingham Palace courtyard while the king and queen were in residence.

“I am glad we have been bombed,” Elizabeth said defiantly. “It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face.”

Now, nearly four long years later, the king and queen, like Shakespeare’s King Harry, walked among the sailors of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Naval Beach Battalion in the port town of Weymouth before the great invasion.

A lanky American named M. Clyde Whirty was handed an American flag by one of the men in Elizabeth’s party. A native of Maine, Clyde Whirty had talked his father into letting him enlist two years earlier when he was 17. Clyde would turn 19 the day after D-Day — if he lived that long. I’ll have the rest of his story tomorrow.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics

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