D-Day 75: ‘The grand assault on Hitler’s European fortress has begun’

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The Scotsman’s leader column after D-Day, reproduced here, reflects on changing fortunes and ‘blood, toil and tears’ to come.

From The Scotsman, Wednesday, 7 June, 1944

The Scotsman's leader column after D-Day, reproduced here, reflects on changing fortunes and 'blood, toil and tears' to come. Picture: TSPL

The Scotsman's leader column after D-Day, reproduced here, reflects on changing fortunes and 'blood, toil and tears' to come. Picture: TSPL

The grand assault on Hitler’s European fortress has begun. The attack launched early yesterday morning from the southern shores of England on the coast of Normandy - historic battleground in the Hundred Years War - will be supplemented soon by further attacks from the west, from the east, and from the south.

The Eastern front, where the Russians have been resting and regrouping after their gigantic efforts of the winter and spring will blaze into activity. The Mediterranean front, where in Italy the Allies have already achieved a resounding success, will thunder into action, with all the Balkans aflame.

The pressure and the tension will grow week by week as new battles are joined, and the enemy is relentlessly driven back until at last he is cornered inside his own frontiers, if he has not surrendered before then.

That is the picture as we would like to see it developing and there is good reason to believe it will develop.

What a contrast to the situation just four years ago - what an almost unbelievable contrast!

On Tuesday, June 4, 1940, Mr Churchill tells the House of Commons that we have evacuated 335,000 troops from Dunkirk. He calls it a “miracle” but it is, he adds, a miracle inside “a colossal military disaster.” And there was worse to come, on June 21 the French Government accepted an armistice from Germany, and France was out of the war.

We were alone, but for the Dominions and Colonies, facing the most formidable military Power, with the best-equipped armies and the most highly trained troops the world had ever seen up to that time.

Practically all the world, except ourselves, thought it was the end of this country as a Great Power and the end of the British Empire.

It was a dark moment, and it is well to recall it to-day, when out armies are once more fighting on the soil of France for the liberation of that country and everything else. The British spirit did not fail, and that it rose superior to depressing circumstances, disappointed hopes, and blasted fortunes was due, so far as human agency is responsible to the indomitable courage and fine leadership of Mr Churchill. One June 4, 1940, when he told the House of Commons of the “miracle” of Dunkirk he used these now historic words: “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.” And, he went on, with prophetic insight, “even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island, or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle until in God’s time the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to rescue and liberation of the Old.” That was just four years ago. The blood, toil, tears and sweat that Mr Churchill offered as our portion have been exacted, although happily not in the measure that seemed likely. Powerful allies are now fighting by our side, the triumphal progress of the enemy was first checked and then rolled back.

Now is the moment when we are delivering what we hope is the first of the great, synchronised blows that will shatter his defences and annihilate his armies. We must still pay in blood, toil, tears, and sweat. But we have passed successfully through such sufferings and perils that to relax or despair now would be the rankest treason and cowardice.