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by Paul Wright
Thursday, June 12, 2014
On June 6, 1944, RAF pilots flying over the English Channel described seeing the sea so packed full of ships “one could have walked from shore to shore”.
The Normandy landings, or D-Day, became the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving more than 7,700 ships, 12,000 aircraft and 156,000 troops.
On Friday, veterans in Hampstead and Highgate remembered their own contributions to the momentous day some 70 years later.
Their efforts saved countless lives and were said to have significantly cut the length of the Second World War.
Bill Howard, 94, was one of 10,000 men and women from Germany and Austria who fought in British uniform.
A Jew persecuted while living in Berlin, he managed to leave his native Germany by train in 1937 and begin a new life in West Hampstead.
Volunteering as a Royal Navy intelligence officer intercepting German communications, he remembers the “astonishing” scenes when he arrived in Portsmouth a few days before the invasion.
“When you’re faced with what you could see before D-Day – well, there’s nothing quite like it. There were so many ships it was unbelievable.”
He added: “I was stationed on the HMS Bellona – a brand new light-cruiser only entering service the year before – which was supporting the Americans landing at Omaha Beach.
“Our guns started opening fire in the early hours of the morning and carried on for hours. The noise was unbelievable.
“I watched as the troops landed on the beach. It was awe-inspiring. These boys were the real heroes.
“I was tasked with listening in to German communications and given the codes I assume had been broken by the Enigma lot – they had done amazing work.
“You could tell the Germans were in a real panic – all shouting their heads off at each other, giving away their positions and what they were planning.”
Mr Howard joined Walter Schneiderman, 91, Colin Anson, 92, and Alice Anson, 89, to talk about their experiences of D-Day at the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) in Golders Green yesterday (Wednesday).
Historian Anthony Beevor joined dignitaries on the beaches of Normandy on Friday to pay his respects to the fallen and guide Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge through what the troops would have faced. More than 4,400 Allied troops died on D-Day.
Speaking to an audience at the LJCC just days before, he said: “The preparations were staggering and made past war efforts look insignificant.
“It was so big, Operation Overlord became known as Operation Overboard – a joke made by troops to hide what became known as D-Day jitters.
“There were several turning points in the war but I would say D-Day could be described as being a turning point in the Cold War.
“Hitler would have still been defeated without it but it begs the question of how far the Red Army would have advanced by that time. It affected the post-war outcome massively.”