By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016
Originally published at The International Business Times, republished by The Syrian Intifada
This week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed what everyone already suspected: the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had lied repeatedly about its adherence to a deal worked out in 2013, under which it would surrender its chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests. By the end of the year, the Assad regime’s unrestrained brutality—which saw the murder of 5,000 people—provoked a militarised response as the population took up arms to defend itself.
Throughout 2012 the Assad regime escalated its response: artillery levelled sections of ancient cities like Homs, helicopter gunships were employed, fighter jets bombed urban centres, and Scud missiles—designed for inter-state warfare—were deployed internally, against civilians.
This strategy of collective punishment and mass-displacement as a means to suppress the uprising culminated with the Assad regime unleashing chemical weapons against civilians, probably first doing so in December 2012.
President Obama said in August 2012: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” In December 2012, Obama reiterated the threat, saying the use of CWMD would bring “consequences”.
But Assad repeatedly used nerve agents and other CWMD over the next six months, without consequence. In June 2013, the US publicly stated that Assad had used CWMD and the “consequence” would be the first provision of “military support” to the rebellion. But this lethal aid only started arriving in September 2013—after a massive CWMD attack.
On 21 August 2013, the Assad regime used sarin nerve agent to massacre more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta. President Obama was set to launch a round of airstrikes—the French had prepared jets to join the attack—against Assad’s military and unconventional weapons sites when the matter was halted, put to a vote in Congress, and then abandoned completely for a “deal” with Russia, which in the administration’s telling meant Assad surrendered the CWMD he had heretofore denied possessing in exchange for the strikes being called off.
The reality was rather different. Obama had never intended to enforce his “red line”—it was a bluff that got called. Additionally, Obama had begun secret talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and from late 2012 Tehran had effectively taken control in regime-held areas of Syria. A conflict with Iran in Syria might derail the President’s legacy project.
The president’s signalling, therefore, was not that he would use force unless Assad gave up his CWMD: the stated aim was to punish Assad and uphold an international norm. The signal instead was that the President would take any available option to avoid doing what he did not want to, and Moscow provided the decommissioning of Assad’s stockpiles as a fig leaf.
Assad was made a partner in disarmament, extending him some legitimacy, as the Russians had wanted. The West was made complicit in campaigns of atrocity that were passed off as the regime “taking steps to secure” the exit routes for the CWMD, and Assad was, despite all reassurances to the contrary, handed “a license to kill with conventional weapons“. The effect on the moderate and Western-supported rebels was “devastating,” and radicalism on all sides was given a boost.
For this extreme price, Assad was not even disarmed of his CWMD—a sideshow in terms of what was inflicting the casualties. In June 2014, all declared CWMD was removed. This was, said President Obama, a demonstration that “the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences”.
That October, OPCW found four secret CWMD facilities, one of them a production site. By summer 2015 it was clear in open-source that Assad had retained some CWMD, and US intelligence confirmed this in early 2016. Meanwhile, Assad began the routine use of alternate chemical weapons against Syrians, notably chlorine. A separate, simultaneous OPCW investigation has documented eight of these atrocities by the regime.
There have been no consequence for Assad trading sarin for chlorine—nor for the barrel bombs, incendiary weapons, starvation sieges, airstrikes, and use of death squads that have destroyed a country and ignited a region-wide war that has killed half-a-million people.
When asked about his decision to stand back from military strikes against Assad in 2013, President Obama said he was “very proud of this moment”. The US has all-but abandoned the stated regime-change policy, and is instead inching ever-closer to an accommodation that keeps Assad in place. The Russians managed, via their intervention, to turn the peace process inside-out: from a means of transitioning Assad out to a discussion about the terms on which he could stay.
That process was jointly killed earlier this year by Assad and al-Qaeda making the ceasefire untenable. But without an alteration in the balance-of-power on the ground in favour of the mainstream armed opposition, the terms of the discussion will remain the regime’s whenever the next round takes place.
The failure to punish Assad at the time for the Ghouta chemical massacre has done irreparable harm to one of the few international norms left, contributed beyond calculation to the radicalisation of Syria and the rise of anti-Western sentiments, and the course of events since has underlined the lesson that such criminality pays. It is now widely agreed—even by parts of the Turkish government, probably the most hawkishly anti-Assad—that Assad will to have some role in a “transition”. The contrast to the autocrats who were not prepared to kill on this scale and thus fell from power is stark.
It can also be guaranteed that just as Assad strung out the disarmament process so that he was always necessary—eternally disarming and never quite disarmed—any transition in Syria overseen by the dictator will be one in which Assad is always going and never actually gone.
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In Parenthesis – Part 7,
pages 183-186 (1937)
By David Jones
It’s difficult with the weight of the rifle.
Leave it–under the oak.
Leave it for a salvage-bloke
let it lie bruised for a monument
dispense the authenticated fragments to the faithful.
It’s the thunder-besom for us
it’s the bright bough borne
it’s the tensioned yew for a Genoese jammed arbalest and a
scarlet square for a mounted mareschal, it’s that county-mob
back to back. Majuba mountain and Mons Cherubim and
spreaded mats for Sydney Street East, and come to Bisley
for a Silver Dish. It’s R.S.M. O’Grady says, it’s the soldier’s
best friend if you care for the working parts and let us be ‘av-
ing those springs released smartly in Company billets on wet
forenoons and clickerty-click and one up the spout and you
men must really cultivate the habit of treating this weapon with
the very greatest care and there should be a healthy rivalry
among you–it should be a matter of very proper pride and
Marry it man! Marry it!
Cherish her, she’s your very own.
Coax it man coax it–it’s delicately and ingeniously made
–it’s an instrument of precision–it costs us tax-payers,
money–I want you men to remember that.
Fondle it like a granny–talk to it–consider it as you would
a friend–and when you ground these arms she’s not a rooky’s
gas-pipe for greenhorns to tarnish.
You’ve known her hot and cold.
You would choose her from among many.
You know her by her bias, and by her exact error at 300, and
by the deep scar at the small, by the fair flaw in the grain,
above the lower sling-swivel–
but leave it under the oak.
Slung so, it swings its full weight. With you going blindly on
all paws, it slews its whole length, to hang at your bowed neck
like the Mariner’s white oblation.
You drag past the four bright stones at the turn of Wood
It is not to be broken on the brown stone under the gracious
It is not to be hidden under your failing body.
Slung so, it troubles your painful crawling like a fugitive’s
David Jones was an artist and poet who served in the trenches as a Private soldier from 1915 until 1918, was wounded at The Battle of The Somme, and spent more time on active service than any of the other First World War poets. Although less well known now than Owen, Sassoon and others, he was regarded by Auden, Yeats, Pound and T.S. Eliot as the outstanding poet of the First World War.
Jones grew up in London and studied at Camberwell School of Art. His father was a printer’s overseer and originally came from Wales. From his early childhood, Jones saw himself as Welsh and developed an interest in Welsh history and literature. His poetry often draws on this and on the vernaculars of Cockney and Welsh hill farmers which Jones encountered in his regiment.
Jones began writing poetry more than ten years after the 1918 Armstice, publishing his first major work in 1937. He continued painting, drawing and writing poetry throughout his comparatively long life in between episodes of depression caused by what would now be called post traumatic stress.
In 1921 Jones converted to Roman Catholicism. He said that “the mass makes sense of everything” and much of his poetry is religious. Obviously, we at Shiraz wouldn’t agree, but that doesn’t detract from the power of his poetry.
From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
Excellent, political but compassionate coverage (as you’d expect) from Comrade Coatesy:
Paris has been struck by a series of deadly attacks that left at least 120 people dead in six locations around the capital in the deadliest violence France has seen since World War II.
Follow FRANCE 24’s live blog for all the latest developments.
At least 120 people are reported to have died in a series of attacks that began Friday evening just after 10pm local time in six locations in and around Paris.
- Police have reported that eight of the militants were killed, seven of them by using suicide vests
- Around 200 people have been injured, 80 of them seriously
- Paris prosecutor’s office warns that “accomplices” could still be on loose
- President François Hollande has declared a state of emergency and ordered increased checks at the borders
- Police have set up a special emergency number to call for help: 197.
In simple words President Obama spoke for the world,
“It’s an attack not just on the people of France. But this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”
In France President François Hollande spoke of « acte de guerre » commis par « une armée terroriste »
Let us hope, for dear life, that we will not see a repeat of the comments made after the murders of our beloved comrades at Charlie Hebdo at the killings at the Hyper-Casher.
Like this: The attacks in France are a blowback from intervention in the Muslim world, says Seumas Milne. 15th January 2015.
This how the most murderous assault began: Attacker in Paris concert hall shouted ‘Allahu akbar’, fired into crowd: witness.
The Islamic State, Daesh, has now brought its genocidal operation to Europe.
The Islamic Caliphate, Daesh, has created an exterminating machine.
Ruled, in its eyes, not by a Person, but by the Shadow of god, it is a totalitarian monster.
It is not by ignoring its existence that Daesh will be defeated.
This is the way of justice and righteousness: the heroines and heroes battling the genociders at this very moment: ‘Tyranny has gone’: Kurds and Yazidis celebrate recapture of Sinjar from Isis. Another account: Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani said that only peshmerga forces joined the operation to liberate Shengal, clearly denying presence of other forces which include HPG, YJA-STAR, YBŞ, HPC and YPJ-Shengal.
Pierre Laurent leader of the Parti Communiste Français.
Notre pays vient de vivre l’un des pires événements de son histoire. Les attaques terroristes simultanées de la nuit dernière à Paris et à Saint-Denis, revendiquées par Daesh, faisant à cette heure 127 morts et 200 blessés, sont effroyables. La France est en deuil.
Au lendemain de ce carnage, nos premières pensées se tournent vers les victimes, leurs familles, leurs proches, les témoins et tous ceux dont la vie a été menacée. Pour tous, la douleur est immense. Chacun en France s’en sent profondément meurtri.
Nous saluons l’action des forces de l’ordre, des secours, des urgentistes et personnels de santé et des agents territoriaux dont la mobilisation a été exemplaire ainsi que la solidarité des habitants qui s’est immédiatement manifestée.
Moins d’un an après les attentats de janvier dernier, la République est frappée en son cœur.
Alors que l’État d’urgence vient d’être décrété par le gouvernement, le renforcement des moyens de police et de justice est un impératif. L’État doit trouver durablement les moyens adaptés pour garantir la sécurité de toutes et de tous.
J’appelle notre peuple à ne pas céder à la peur, à se rassembler pour la liberté, l’égalité et la fraternité, et pour la paix. Nous devons refuser les amalgames et les stigmatisations. Ensemble, nous devons rejeter fermement la haine et les racismes.
La France est touchée par la guerre et la déstabilisation qui minent le Proche et le Moyen-Orient. La lutte contre le terrorisme appelle une mobilisation redoublée et des solutions internationales.
Elle ne pourra triompher que dans la mobilisation pour un projet de société solidaire qui place au cœur de tous ses choix l’émancipation humaine, les valeurs de la République et la paix.
Le PCF, ses représentants et ses élus, seront de toutes les initiatives qui, dans les prochains jours, permettront à nos concitoyens de se rassembler pour faire face à cette épreuve et ouvrir un chemin d’espoir pour notre peuple.
Dans ce moment tragique, le PCF a interrompu toute activité de campagne électorale.
P.S: responsibility now claimed by Islamic State.
The first nuclear bomb killed 100,000 people and razed two-thirds of the city of Hiroshima
The leading American Trotskyist, James P Cannon spoke at a memorial meeting in New York for Leon Trotsky on 22 August 1945. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just taken place (August 6 and 9), and Cannon used the occasion to express his outrage at the atrocity:
What a commentary on the real nature of capitalism in its decadent phase is this, that the scientific conquest of the marvellous secret of atomic energy, which might rationally be used to lighten the burdens of all mankind, is employed first for the wholesale destruction of half a million people.
Hiroshima, the first target, had a population of 340,000 people. Nagasaki, the second target, had a population of 253,000 people. A total in the two cities of approximately 600,000 people, in cities of flimsy construction where, as reporters explain, the houses were built roof against roof. How many were killed? How many Japanese people were destroyed to celebrate the discovery of the secret of atomic energy? From all the reports we have received so far, they were nearly all killed or injured. Nearly all.
In the [New York] Times today there is a report from the Tokyo radio about Nagasaki which states that “the centre of the once thriving city has been turned into a vast devastation, with nothing left except rubble as far as the eye could see”. Photographs showing the bomb damage appeared on the front page of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. The report says: “One of these pictures revealed a tragic scene 10 miles away from the centre of the atomic air attack”, where farm houses were either crushed down or the roofs torn asunder.
The broadcast quoted a photographer of the Yamaha Photographic Institute, who had rushed to the city immediately after the bomb hit, as having said: “Nagasaki is now a dead city, all the areas being literally razed to the ground. Only a few buildings are left, standing conspicuously from the ashes.” The photographer said that “the toll of the population was great and even the few survivors have not escaped some kind of injury.”
In two calculated blows, with two atomic bombs, American imperialism killed or injured half a million human beings. The young and the old, the child in the cradle and the aged and infirm, the newly married, the well and the sick, men, women, and children — they all had to die in two blows because of a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.
This is how American imperialism is bringing civilisation to the Orient. What an unspeakable atrocity! What a shame has come to America, the America that once placed in New York harbour a Statue of Liberty enlightening the world. Now the world recoils in horror from her name.
One preacher quoted in the press, reminding himself of something he had once read in the Bible about the meek and gentle Jesus, said it would be useless to send missionaries to the Far East anymore. That raises a very interesting question which I am sure they will discuss among themselves. One can imagine an interesting discussion taking place in the inner circles of the House of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan, who are at one and the same time-quite by accident of course-pillars of finance and pillars of the church and supporters of missionary enterprises of various kinds.
“What shall we do with the heathens in the Orient? Shall we send missionaries to lead them to the Christian heaven or shall we send atomic bombs to blow them to hell?” There is a subject for debate, a debate on a macabre theme. But in any case, you can be sure that where American imperialism is involved, hell will get by far the greater number of the customers.
What a harvest of death capitalism has brought to the world! If the skulls of all of the victims could be brought together and piled into one pyramid, what a high mountain that would make. What a monument to the achievements of capitalism that would be, and how fitting a symbol of what capitalist imperialism really is. I believe it would lack only one thing to make it perfect. That would be a big electric sign on the pyramid of skulls, proclaiming the ironical promise of the Four Freedoms. The dead at least are free from want and free from fear…
Long ago the revolutionary Marxists said that the alternative facing humanity was either socialism or a new barbarism, that capitalism threatens to go down in ruins and drag civilisation with it. But in the light of what has been developed in this war and is projected for the future, I think we can say now that the alternative can be made even more precise: the alternative facing mankind is socialism or annihilation! It is a problem of whether capitalism is allowed to remain or whether the human race is to continue to survive on this planet.
We believe that the people of the world will waken to this frightful alternative and act in time to save themselves…
Above: the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp after bombing by Assad’s forces
About 200,000 Palestinians lived in the Yarmouk camp in a suburb of Damascus for more than 50 years. They were once held up as a symbol of Syrian support for the Palestinian cause, but when Syrian opposition forces moved in two years ago, Assad turned on the Palestinians, laying siege to the camp and blocking water and electricity supplies. Now Islamic State (‘Daesh’) jihadists have moved in, while Assad’s forces barrel-bomb the camp. The remaining Palestinians are trapped between the two forces of mass-murder.
Yet the UN stands by and does nothing. And the so-called Palestine Solidarity Campaign organises no protests and rounds up no celebrities to sign letters to the Guardian. Why not? Surely it’s not because on this occasion, Israel can’t be blamed?
Thanks to Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen of the Guardian.
To his credit, Mehdi Hasan speaks out.
Correction: the PSC has issued a statement … blaming Israel …
70 years on from the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, where at least a million died, Steven Spielberg’s film, which includes testimonies from survivors is essential viewing; put aside 15 minutes to watch:
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I am a woman. I am a Kurd. And since I entered this world, this is the second time that my family and my people are experiencing a genocide and massacre. And this is the story of our life.
This is the second time in 23 years, because of the threat of a genocide, there has been a mass exodus of my people to the borders of a hostile state, only to be shot at and beaten as they sought refuge from a greater evil.
This is the second time, in 23 years, that our girls have been carried away, erased from history; left only in the memory of those who loved them, forever left wallowing in the pits of the darkness that the evil in the hearts of some men forced on them. Their lives, their hopes, the love that they carried in their young hearts blowing away in the wind like the barely written pages in the rarest books; and surely each and every one of them was as rare and as precious as the next.
There is a certain beauty in the fleeting nature of life. The meaning of life is in the nature of our experiences and what these experiences teach us. Some of us go through life never knowing any better, never questioning life or our value or place in the scheme of things. We know with certainty that the wheel of time spins a life of joy and immense privilege. We know that only good things come to us tomorrow, and we lay ourselves to sleep each night knowing the certainty of a blessed life.
And then there are others who carry a load so heavy that the weight of their pain is enough to break a lessor person a million times over. And I think of the elderly Yazidi woman who had no one left but a son that she raised with the tears of her loneliness; only for him to be lost careless in the dozens of massacres by ISIL. As if his life was not worth every ache in the bones of this mother, whose hopeless weeping should have shamed a thousand men- if we lived in a better world. I think of the force of her despair as her tears burst from her broken heart, and I wonder, as my own heart bleeds in response, “how can she persevere?”. And I think of the five year old boy who carried his 18 month old sister across miles, in extreme heat, with no water or food with his little feet, so that he could escape from grown men meaning him harm his innocent mind could not fathom; and I think a child should never have to live such a terror- but I am only reminded of my own childhood, and I realize my heart is twisting because he reminds me of my older brother and how we grew up in war, in refugee camps, escaping another genocide, another massacre, in hunger and poverty and I KNOW that reality is different. And still, I think of the Yazidi girls, renowned for their beauty, being carried away for the pleasure of men who, surely if hell existed, deserve no better place. And I think of the mother whose six daughters and new bride had been carried away by this same evil, and I struggle to understand; and surely, “how can we ask them to bear such pain?”
And YET, today is Eid- the Festival of Sacrifices. And TODAY my people were meant to be sacrificed by ISIL as a gift to their people. And today is day 19 of the siege of Kobane. 19 days in which no support, food, aid and supplies have entered Kobane to the YPG AND YPJ forces simply because they are Kurds, and they are homeless, and because they dare to ask for the same right that so many people enjoy each and every single day. And, YET, against all odds, they persevere; because their brave hearts hope that one day they will leave this world a little bit better than when they entered it. One in which the Yazidi girls are safe and the little children are safe and in which Kurdish mothers do not celebrate their Eid in the graveyards of their sons and daughters, lost for a homeless nation.
And yet, we persevere. We persevere despite our tears. We persevere, because we must
NB: Coatesy’s coverage of the fight against IS (ISIS/ISIL), the need to stand with the Kurds, and the bankruptcy of the wretched ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (and its supporters at the Guardian) has been outstanding. He excelled himself today.
This is part one of a brilliant 1964 BBC series on WW1. It contains the best archive film then available, and is narrated by Michael Redgrave. It gives due emphasis to the socio-political background to the conflict, including the role of the labour movement. Well worth watching the whole series if you have the time:
H/t James Bloodworth
Coatesy has some interesting stuff on France’s entry to WW1 here
[Please note that I shall be incommunicado for the next week or so. I’m hoping Rosie and/or one or two other occasional Shirazers will step into the breach while I’m away, but if not normal service will resume on my return – JD]
Ernest Mandel once proposed that World War Two should be seen as, simultaneously, an inter-imperialist dispute and an anti-fascist struggle. The two elements are difficult to disentangle, even in retrospect, but both should be recognised and, insofar as we can, distinguished between. D-Day was, I’d contend, indubitably part of the anti-fascist struggle. The young workers who fought and died then, and the dwindling band of elderly survivors, deserve our profound respect and gratitude.
Max Hastings (yes, I know he’s a Tory, but he’s also a damned good military historian), wrote in his superb book on WW2, All Hell Let Loose (Harper Press 2011):
Meticulous planning and immense armaments promised Overlord‘s success, but the hazards of weather and the skill of the German army fed apprehension in many British and American breasts. The consequences of failure must be appalling: civilian morale would plummet on both sides of the Atlantic; senior commanders would have to be sacked and replaced; the presige of the Western Allies, so long derided by Stalin for feebleness, would be grievously injured, likewise the authority of Roosevelt and Churchill. Even after three year’s attrition in the east, the German army remained a formidable fighting force. It was vital that Eisenhower should confront von Rundstedt’s sixty divisions in the west with superior combat power. Yet the invaders were supported by such a vast logistical and support ‘tail’ that, even when they reached their maximum strength in 1945, they would deploy only sixty American and twenty British and Canadian combat divisions. Air power, together with massive armoured and artillery strength, was called upon to compensate for inadequate infantry numbers.
For the young men who made the assault on 6 June 1944, however, such grand truths meant nothing: they recognised only the mortal peril each one must face, to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The invasion began with drops by one British and two American airborne divisions on the night of5 June. The landings were chaotic but achieved their objectives, confusing the Germans and securing the flanks of the assault zone; paratroopers engaged enemy forces wherever they encountered them with an energy worthy of such elite formations.
Sgt. Mickey McCallum never forgot his first firefight, a few hours after landing. A German machine-gunner mortally wounded the man next to him, Private Bill Atlee. McCullum asked Attlee ‘if he was hit bad’. The soldier replied, ‘I’m dying Sergeant Mickey, but we’re going to win this damn war, aren’t we? You damn well A we are.’ McCallum did not know where Atlee hailed from, but thought his choice of words suggested an east coast man. He was passionately moved that this soldier, in his last moments, thought of the cause rather than himself. In the hours and days that followed, many other such young men displayed similar spirit and were obliged to make a matching sacrifice. At dawn on 6 June, six infantry divisions with supporting armour struck the beaches of Normandy across a thirty-mile front; one Canadian and two British formations landed on the left, three American divisions on the right.
Operation Overlord was the greatest combined operation in history. Some 5,300 ships carried 150,000 men and 1,500 tanks, scheduled to land in the first wave, supported by 12,000 aircraft. On the French coast that morning, a drama unfolded in three dimensions such as the world would never behold again, British and Canadian troops poured ashore at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, exploiting innovative armoured technology to overwhelm the defences, many of them manned by Osttruppen of Hitler’s empire. ‘I was the first tank coming ashore and the Germans started opening up with machine-gun bullets,’ said Canadian Sgt. Leo Gariepy. ‘But when we came to a halt on the beach, it was only then that they realized we were a tank when we pulled down our canvas skirt, the flotation gear. Then they saw we were Shermans.’ Private Jim Cartwright of the South Lancashires said, ‘As soon as I hit the beach I wanted to get away from the water. I think I went across the beach like a hare.’
The Americans seized Utah, the elbow of the Cherbourg peninsula, with only a small loss. ‘You know, it sounds kind of dumb, but it was just like an exercise,’ said a private soldier wonderingly. ‘We waded ashore like kids in a crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down.’ Further east at Omaha beach, however, Americans suffered the heaviest casualties of the day — more than eight hundred killed. The German defending unit , while no elite, was composed of better troops than those manning most of the Channel front, and kept up vigorous fire against the invaders. ‘No one was moving forward,’ wrote AP correspondent Don Whitehead. ‘Wounded men, drenched by cold water, lay in the gravel … “Oh God, lemme aboard the boat,” whimpered a youth in semi-delirium. Near him a shivering boy dug with bare fingers into the sand. Shells were bursting on all sides of us, some so close that they threw black water and dirt over us in showers.’
A private soldier wrote: ‘ There were men crying with fear, men defecating themselves. I lay there with some others, too petrified to move. No one was doing anything except lay there. It was like mass paralysis. I couldn’t see an officer. At one point something hit me on the arm. I thought I’d taken a bullet. It was somebody’s hand, taken clean off by something. It was too much.’ For half the morning, the Omaha assault hung on the edge of failure; only after several hours of apparent stalemate on the sands did small groups of determined men, Rangers notable among them, work their way up the bluffs above the sea, gradually overwhelming the defenders.
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