2nd BRITISH ARMY: NORMANDY TO FINAL VICTORY IN EUROPE 1945
During June 2019 our country held events and celebrations marking the 75th Anniversary of D Day 1944, the seaborne invasion of Nazi occupied Europe by two massive Allied Armies via the Normandy Beaches of Northern France. The date was Tuesday 6th June 1944 delayed by one day from Monday 5th June due to storms in the English Channel, a huge gamble by Supreme Commander General Eisenhower that could have resulted in disaster and failure. The aim of this massive military undertaking which took many months in its planning and preparation including a campaign of deception to mislead the enemy, was to set up a Second Front in the West while the Russians who were now on the offensive in the East advanced on Germany through occupied Eastern Europe. We at Christ Church Portsdown, who are for ever linked to those momentous events through our continued custody of the 2nd Army Memorial Windows, marked the 75th Anniversary of those landings by repeating on Tuesday 4th June 2019 the Knights Vigil service held on the evening of Sunday 4th June 1944 attended by 2nd British Army Staff led by their Commanding General Sir Miles Dempsey.
The invasion of Normandy in that Summer of 1944 was a success in gaining a foothold on continental Europe, but the German Armies occupying the hinterland had to be cleared before Paris could be liberated and progress made by the Allies through the Low Countries to the German border. The Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord) continued until mid August 1944 with the surviving German formations then retreating East across the River Seine towards Germany in the face of overwhelming Allied Land and Air Forces. Paris was liberated on 25th August and shortly after that the Allies occupied Brussels and Antwerp, with General Dempsey’s British and Canadian 2nd Army heading for Holland and the Northern German border, and the 1st and 3rd American Armies of Bradley and Patton heading towards the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr and Southern Germany. Reversals and setbacks in the advance occurred at Arnhem in September 1944 and later in the harsh Winter in late December as Hitler used his last reserves to go on an armoured offensive through the Ardennes against the Americans at Bastogne. But by the 23rd March 1945 the British 2nd Army of General Dempsey crossed the River Rhine the last main obstacle to entering the German homeland, the infamous Belsen Concentration Camp was liberated on 15th April and by the end of April 1945 Dempsey’s troops reached the River Elbe and the Baltic coast so securing North West Germany and Denmark from the advancing Russians. Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 29th April under siege in his Berlin bunker as the city fell to the Russians. Field Marshall Montgomery at his Headquarters on Luneberg Heath South of Hamburg accepted the surrender of all German Forces in Northern Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark on 4th May 1945 and this was followed by the final surrender document being signed in Berlin by the German High Command and Allied representatives on the morning of 8th May 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a historic speech on the BBC to the nation on Tuesday 8th May 1945 declaring the end of the Second World War in Europe. He appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the Royal Family waving to enormous crowds that stretched up the Mall, London & the rest of UK erupted in celebration. The troops were coming home! So eleven months after landing on the beaches of Normandy after attending Christ Church with his staff, General Miles Dempsey and his troops finally achieved the objective that they had prayed for that Sunday evening, putting their trust in God. After the surrender 2nd Army briefly became an Army of Occupation as Germany was divided into 4 Zones of Occupation by the victorious powers. The aim was to get as many personnel as possible back to UK and demobilised as quickly as possible to their former occupations and rebuilding of the country. 2nd British Army was to be disbanded by August and Dempsey was posted to the Far East to take up a new command after the surrender of Japan.
On Friday 8th May this year a Bank Holiday will mark the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, plans for nationwide events and celebrations have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 Lockdown measures imposed by the Government. But as we remain within our homes on that day we can still reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women of 2nd Army in order to achieve that final victory inspired by the prayer of Sir Francis Drake used by General Miles Dempsey at his Eve of D Day Knights Vigil Service :
O Lord God , when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter , grant us also to know that it is not the beginning , but the continuing of the same , until it be thoroughly finished that yieldeth the true glory ; through Him who, for the finishing of Thy work, laid down His life for us, our Redeemer , Jesus Christ . Amen
Keith Fisher (Church Historian)