75th anniversary commemorations of Allied landings in Normandy

Representing the SVK MOD at the 75th D-Day anniversary commemorations in the French coastal town of Arromanches was SVK Defence Attaché to France Col Peter Knánik. On this occasion, a Memorial Plaque dedicated to the Czechs and Slovaks who participated in Operation Overlord in 1944 was unveiled in Arromanches on the initiative of the Pilsen-based Military History Club.
 
Thanks to the configuration of its beach, Arromanches had a prominent place in the military strategists’ plan to open the Second Front as one of the two artificially created temporary harbours (Operation Mulberry). After supressing the Atlantic Wall defences, Allied troops, equipment and supplies began to pass through the harbours, moving inland into Normandy and later into continental Europe to support Allied operations. The remnants of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches cannot be overlooked even today.
 
Amidst Normandy’s bloody beaches, the Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade Group (CIABG) disembarked on Arromanches beach in early September 1944, whereas some elements of CIABG sailed from Portsmouth, UK. The reason why CIABG was not assigned to fight alongside British, American and Canadian soldiers, the key strike forces of the “Longest Day”, was that other ranks were not full-up on strength and were not so highly trained for combat. CIABG was made up of Czechs (64%)and Slovaks (18%).
 
During Operation Overlord, Slovaks also became involved in air operations. Among the fighter pilots of the Czechoslovak Wing RAF was the renowned fighter ace Otto Smik. On the first day of Normandy landings the air operations were joined by No. 134 Czechoslovak Fighter Wing RAF, comprised of three Czechoslovak fighter squadrons RAF (310 Sqn, 312 Sqn and 313 Sqn), and by a Czechoslovak bomber squadron RAF (311 Sqn). The Wing numbered about 80 pilots. Czechoslovak fighter pilots operated in this theatre of operations until 29 June 1944, when they were withdrawn only to be reassigned to the Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB).
 
The exact number of Slovak soldiers and airmen serving on Operation Overlord has not been established to date. The reason for this is that there was no separate entry for nationality, only for native language and citizenship in the official documentation of the Czechoslovak Defence Force. Nevertheless, two Slovaks stand out from among them: Otto Smik, fighter pilot of 310 Sqn and Ivan Schwarz, airman of 311 Sqn. According to Peter Šumichrast, military historian of the Institute of Military History, Slovak soldiers were also embedded individually into the first echelon invasion forces to gain first-hand combat experience.

Author: MO SR, Photo: MO SR - Date: 25.06.2019
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