Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Geography of the Battle of Midway and D-Day

Post is dedicated to all those who served in the Battle of Midway and Operation Overlord


June 6 is an important anniversary for two reasons. In 1942 the United States Navy turned the tide to earn its victory near the Midway Islands. A world away two years later, Allied forces began European operations north of the Alps with the assault on northern France.

Midway

Japanese Admiral Yamamoto said the Japanese would have the advantage over the Americans for only six months after Pearl Harbor. He believed the Japanese would have to destroy the American carrier fleet for Japan to have any chance of victory. Attacking Midway Atoll could aid in the destruction of the opposing fleet and give Yamamoto a commanding edge in the Pacific. Hawaii and the main naval base at Pearl Harbor would be at risk to attack if Midway was to be captured. The United States would then be powerless to stop invasion fleets from reaching Alaska, Madagascar, and Australia.

Four carriers and a hundred-fifty support ships sailed to Midway. The United States Navy had three carriers and about fifty support vessels. In possibly the first naval battle to be fought with no ship to ship sightings, the American aircraft sunk all the Japanese carriers.

An American victory was desperately needed in 1942. The year started off with complete defeats. However, Midway gave a huge morale boost to the Allies and while progress was slow and bloody victory was achieved three years later.

The naval aspects neuter out many of the common study techniques of military geography. However, it can be mapped strategically. History Animated has a series of maps which document the planning and actions of the Battle of Midway.

D-Day

D-Day was the start of the great crusade. The liberation of France cost the Allies 45,000 dead and many more wounded. The liberation began on the beaches of Normandy and spread south of Caen, France.

Beaches like Gold, Sword, Utah, and Omaha served as the launch pads of freedom in continental Europe. Each base needed to be linked to each other in order for the invasion to succeed. The Allies had to navigate roads which were islands in a sea of flooded and mudded fields. Bridges over narrow but deep rivers and channels were taken and held against repeated counter-attacks. Geography mattered on D-Day.

Two good downloads are available for Google Earth. First one can download National Geographic's D-Day map (KML). Then for the real historical and military geography enthusiast there is a download containing multiple maps and areal photos of Omaha Beach (KML).

UPDATE: Encyclopedia Britannica's D-Day website also features a plethora of maps.

The sacrifices of June 6 should always be remembered.

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