This is a marvelous quote from Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day1 about the approach of Allied ships to the beaches of Normandy. This morning I stood at the top of the hills behind Omaha beach and tried to imagine the immensity of this movement:
Off the French coast a little be before 9 P.M. a dozen small ships appeared. They moved quietly along the horizon, so close that their crews could clearly see the houses of Normandy. The ships went unnoticed. They finished their job and then moved back. They were British minesweepers—the vanguard of the mightiest fleet ever assembled.
For now back in the Channel, plowing through the choppy gray waters, a phalanx of ships bore down on Hitler’s Europe—the might and fury of the free world unleashed at last. They came, rank after relentless rank, ten lanes wide, twenty miles across, five thousand ships of every description. There were fast new attack transports, slow rust-scarred freighters, small ocean liners, Channel steamers, hospital ships, weather-beaten tankers, coasters and swarms of fussing tugs. There were endless columns of shallow-draft landing ships—great wallowing vessels, some of them almost 350 feet long. Many of these and the other heavier transports carried smaller landing craft for the actual beach assault—more than 1500 of them. Ahead of the convoys were processions of mine sweepers, Coast Guard cutters, buoy-layers and motor launches. Barrage balloons flew above the ships. Squadrons of fighter planes weaved below the clouds. And surrounding this fantastic cavalcade of ships packed with mens, guns, tanks, motor vehicles and supplies, and excluding small naval vessels, was a formidable array of 701 warships.
1. Read more about the book on Amazon.