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D-Day: Mighty roar that won us the day; The D-Day landings marked a turning point in World War II. The occasion also provided the backdrop for a battle of wits between an array of intriguing personalities, as Peter Woodman explains.

Byline: Peter Woodman

A s D-Day dawned, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill feared he would be woken in London to be told of massive casualties.

In contrast, German leader Adolf Hitler, attending a reception near Salzburg in Austria, greeted the reports of the Normandy landings with enthusiasm.

'The news couldn't be better. Now we have them where we can destroy them,' said 55-year-old Hitler.

Even then, Austrian-born Hitler was convinced that the invasion was a mere prelude or decoy for a real invasion, which would occur at a later time further to the north, near Calais.

That Hitler should continue to think like this was a triumph for Churchill as the Allies had gone to elaborate lengths to dupe Hitler as to the real invasion area.

While Churchill prepared to tell the House of Commons about the progress of D-Day, Hitler was spreading a map of France and exclaiming: 'They are landing here and here -just where we expected them'.

Churchill told MPs that as far as D-Day was concerned: 'Everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan.'

It was Churchill who had given D-Day the codename Operation Overlord and had played such a big part in the months of planning.

While Hitler prepared for his reception for the new Hungarian prime minister at Klessheim Castle, Churchill visited the Overlord headquarters near Portsmouth on the eve of D-Day.

It was this desire to be close to the action that characterised Churchill, who would no doubt have been puffing on a huge cigar as he anxiously waited for news of the success of the Normandy landings.

Churchill, aged 69 at D-Day, balding and smiling, was happy to be seen as the sort of leader who enjoyed smoking and drinking.

Hitler, black-haired, grim and moustachioed, who on D-Day had just passed his 55th birthday, wanted to portray an altogether different image.

He was content to be known as a vegetarian who eschewed smoking, drinking and women. But although the non-smoking part was true, Hitler enjoyed ham and sausage dishes, frequently drank beer and wine and had a mistress, Eva Braun.

But while Churchill had been happily married to his beloved Clemmie since 1908, Hitler was only wedded to Eva hours before his death in 1945.

There was a marked contrast in their speechmaking techniques.

Hitler would rant at his audiences, indulging in much arm movement.

Churchill's speeches, which he spent long hours preparing, were far more polished. In the dark days of 1940 he managed to find the words to lift a nation. Later, he would modestly say that it was the British people who had shown the lion-hearted resolve and he had merely supplied 'the roar'.

Churchill had been born in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, on November 30, 1874, while Hitler came into the world on April 20, 1889, in the Austrian town of Braunau.

The German leader's father was an illegitimate customs official while Churchill's father, Randolph Churchill, was a Conservative MP.

If much of their early lives contrasted sharply, both had one thing in common -modest school records. Churchill was unhappy at Harrow and showed little ability.

Hitler, who had suffered from lung infections, quit school at 16 -partly through ill health and partly through poor school work.

Both leaders saw pre-Second World War action. Churchill fought at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in 1898 and opposed the Boers in South Africa. After first trying to evade the call-up, Hitler fought in the First World War, was wounded and was awarded two Iron Crosses for bravery.

The two men also knew what it was like to be imprisoned. Churchill had been locked up by the Boers but was able to escape, while Hitler received a five-year sentence following the unsuccessful Munich beer hall putsch of 1923.

Hitler served only nine months of his sentence and used the time to write the first volume of Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

Ultimate political success and power must have seemed a long way away for Hitler as he languished in jail. Churchill, though, had been an MP since 1900, had held the office of Home Secretary and been a member of the War Council in the First World War when the failure of the Dardanelles campaign led to his rejoining the army. But when Hitler finally became German Chancellor in January 1933, the out-of-office Churchill was languishing in the political shadows. It was during this time, as he continually warned of the dangers of the rise of the Nazis, that Churchill wrote his History of the English Speaking Peoples.Hitler's surge through Europe in the late 1930s realised Churchill's worst fears. The declaration of war between Britain and Germany in 1939 brought Churchill back into power as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Finally, in May 1940, the two men stood on an equal political footing for the first time following the appointment of Churchill as Prime Minister.

Shortly after came the retreat of more than 340,000 British troops from Dunkirk and the fall of France.

Britain stood alone but Hitler lost the Battle of Britain, then foolishly turned on Russia; the Americans entered the war, and the Allied victory of El Alamein in North Africa proved the turning point.

The success of D-Day hastened the victory in Europe. While Hitler took his own life in a Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, Churchill lived to be 90, becoming Prime Minister again in 1951 after his shock landslide election defeat in 1945.

He died, festooned with honours, on January 24, 1965.


Churchill, right, aged 69 at D-Day, was happy to be seen as the sort of leader who enjoyed smoking and drinking. Hitler, black-haired, grim and moustachioed, who on D-Day had just passed his 55th birthday, wanted to portray an altogether different image. He was content to be known as a vegetarian who eschewed smoking, drinking and women
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 5, 2004
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