Three different events on 4 June during World War II mark the progress of the Allies in defeating Germany, Italy, and Japan.
First, on 4 June, 1940 the British Army evacuation of Durnkirk France was completed. “Operation Dynamo” as it was known the was the heroic effort by mostly civilian boat owners to evacuate the British Army from the beach and thus avert a war ending disaster. The British lost most of their equipment and many of their soldiers. Many, but not all and not a majority. Along with much smaller numbers of French and Polish soldiers, they were evacuated back to England.
Britain was at it’s nadir in the war. Germany now controlled most of Europe, withe the exception of the neutral countries. Still ahead were the German air blitz, the submarine war, the Western Desert Campaign. Still ahead was the planned invasion by sea of Britain by German troops.
The United States was still neutral and negotiating to stay that way with it’s main potential ally (at the time) of Japan. Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone and it looked very bleak indeed.
On this date Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his “We Shall Never Surrender” speech to rally the beleaguered nation.
Here is an excerpt,
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government – every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight 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 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 good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
There was still almost five years of horribly difficult war ahead, but this was the point at which the British stood resolute. The invasion of Britain never happened because the Royal Air Force stood fast and defeated the Luftwaffe in the air. That was aided by some stupidity by the German General Staff and Adolph Hitler, but the resolve of the British people was the key element.
Here is the entire speech, which includes a most pessimistic assessment of the situation. Of note is not so much the defeat, but that but for the perfidy of King Leopold of Belgium, the Germans might have been held at bay outside of France. More evidence, if we needed it, that weakness emboldens your enemies.
Two years later, 4 June 1942 came one of the greatest victories in the history of the United States Navy. A thousand miles northwest of the Hawaiian Islands near the pre war refueling stop called Midway, the US Navy sprung a trap on the heretofore unstoppable Imperial Japanese Navy. While there is still debate over the Battle of the Coral Sea, there is no debate over who won at Midway.
The loss of four of the six aircraft carries that had carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor a mere six months prior, along with experienced air crews, and planes was a blow from which Japan was never able to recover. Add to that the losses of crews and planes at Coral Sea, and for at least the short term, the IJN wasn’t able to carry out air offenses.
There was still more than three years of incredibly difficult fighting ahead. There would be the brutal invasion of Guadalcanal, the devastating losses at the Battle of Savo Island, and a succession of island invasions that would cost thousands of American lives before the war won.
The tide was turning, but the issue was still in doubt.
Two years later, on the other side of the world the big news on 4 June, 1944 was the Liberation of Rome. American soldiers under the command of General Mark Clark marched into the city to the cheers of the Italian people. The battle in Italy was far from over and would go on until the end of the war. The Germans fought a series of defensive actions and the fighting was incredibly vicious.
German resistance, along with the mountains and weather made the capture of all of Italy all but impossible. To complicate the problem, the Allies pulled many experienced units out of Italy for the invasion of Southern France. That happened after the invasion of France two days after Rome fell.
The Normandy Invasion became the big news in June as the Allies opened the “second front” in Europe. Not that liberating Africa, Sicily, then most of Italy, didn’t qualify as a second front. It just didn’t satisfy Josef Stalin’s demands for action that would relieve his troops on the Eastern Front. Which is a different story.
So, the Liberation of Rome became a footnote in history instead of the big story of the week of 4 June, 1944.
From bitter defeat to victory encapsulated in three dates four years apart. In a war that could have been prevented almost a decade earlier. What a waste of lives.
It’s all summed up here,
What indeed where they thinking?