If December 7, 1941, is a day that lives in infamy, then June 6, 1944 is the glorious opposite: D-Day, the date of the invasion of Normandy, the turning point in the Second World War. It is impossible to overstate the scope of the decisive battle that marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe. The landing involved some 5,000 ships, 11,000 planes, and 150,000 men, and comprised the largest and most complex air-, sea-, and land operation ever attempted, before or since.
It was four years since the fall of France and the British evacuation of Dunkirk, three since the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union, and two and a half since the United States entered the fray. In 1944, Hitler held much of the continent, including the so-called Atlantic Wall, a 2,400mile fortification of bunkers and landmines comprising all of Northwestern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway. But his position was slowly but surely being eroded. The time had come to take decisive action.
In January of 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed command of the operation, codenamed Neptune. Ike picked the date of the invasion—June 5— and oversaw the massive disinformation campaign designed to trick Hitler into thinking the landing would be at Calais, 400 kilometers to the north. Inclement weather delayed the invasion by 24 hours, and helped lull the Nazis into a false sense of security, as the skies were cloudier at Calais than at Normandy. Not only that, but many of the top German brass were on leave the day of the invasion, including famed general Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox.
First, three divisions of paratroopers were dropped inland, to protect the flanks. Before dawn, hundreds of amphibious ships crossed the English Channel. Then, at sunrise, six full divisions—three American, two British, and one Canadian—stormed the shore at five points along the shore, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The resistance in France and Belgium also played a major role.
The Nazis were completely surprised by the attack. Hitler was so convinced the Normandy landings were a decoy that he insisted on keeping a division at Calais, where nothing was happening. Rommel, the general in charge of the defense, was 300 miles away the morning of June 6, and had to travel that distance by car, as the skies were completely controlled by the Allies. By the time the Desert Fox arrived at the battlefield, the battle—and, arguably, the war—was lost. With a toehold at Normandy, the Allies poured men and matériel into France. By August, Paris was liberated from Nazi clutches. Within a year, Hitler would be dead, and the war in Europe would be over.
This remarkable collection features World War II coins from six of the countries involved in the Normandy invasion.
1. Great Britain sixpence For all its status as a precious metal, silver has no real value in times of war. To conserve bronze, Great Britain did not issue pennies in 1941, 1942, or 1943. Sixpence continued to be issued throughout the war. KM852, W: 2.8 g; D: 19.5 mm; silver; Obv: King George VI; Rev: crowned monogram
2. United States nickel American nickels, as the same suggests, are generally made of copper-nickel. To conserve that metal for the war effort, the U.S. Mint took the unorthodox step of using silver as a substitute. KM192a, W: 5. G; D: 21.2 mm; copper-silver-manganese; Obv: Thomas Jefferson; Rev: Monticello
3. Canada nickel Canada also switched to steel during the war, in 1944 and 1945—and wrote the denomination in Roman numerals, for “Victory.” This coin is chrome-plated, one of the first issued anywhere of that particular composition. KM40 a, W: 4.4 g; D: 21.2 mm; chrome-plated steel; Obv: King George VI; Rev: Torch on “V”
4. France 2 franc These coins were issued by the German puppet government in Vichy. There is a subtle difference between this and previous French issues: the slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood)” on the older coins has been replaced with “travail, famille, patrie (work, family, homeland). KM90 4.1, W: 2.2 g; D: 27 mm; aluminum; Obv: Double bit axe; Rev: oak leaves
5. Belgium 25 centimes These, too, were issues of the Nazi occupation government, although they are very similar to previous Belgian issues. The three shields represent the three ethnic groups living in the country: the Dutch-speaking Flemish, the Frenchspeaking Walloons, and the German speakers in the East Cantons. KM131/ 132, W: 6.5 g; D: 26 mm; zinc; Obv: Three shields, hole at center; Rev: Crown design
6. Germany 5 Reichspfennig In 1940, at perhaps the peak of its powers, Germany switched metals in its 5 reichspfennig coins from aluminumbronze to zinc. The coin used in the country by the Allied occupation force after the war ended was almost the same design as this one—but without the swastika. KM10 0 , W: 2.5 g; D: 19 mm; zinc; Obv: Eagle above swastika; Rev: oak leaves.
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