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'B-Day Landings': Allied forces' Benidorm beach invasion
TIDES and the moon's phases could have been what really won World War II – any miscalculation in either could have meant the death toll of nearly 20,000 men skyrocketing on June 6, 1944 and may have led to France remaining in Hitler's hands, and possibly the Nazi occupation heading west.
Coded Operation Neptune, now referred to as the D-Day Landings, the largest cross-sea invasion in history was only partly successful at first, but triggered a chain of events that ultimately led to the Germans' retreat and an end to six painful years of conflict – as well as the eventual creation of the European Union to ensure such atrocities would never happen again.
With only a handful of young adults, and virtually none of the soldiers left who could tell you about World War II, word-of-mouth detail of the actual fighting on the Western Front can now only be second-hand, from younger brothers, sisters and children who heard all about it from their surviving relatives.
And within a decade or two at the most, there may be nobody left to tell us about World War II from a direct witness' standpoint – which is why attempts are being made across the continent to keep the horrors alive; and the positive parts, of course. Because there actually were several, as those few who remember it in the flesh can still recount.
Benidorm, Spain, 2018 may be as far removed from Normandy, France, 1944 as the entire war appears from everyday life for anyone under 75 today, but the two are about to collide in a unique and horrifyingly authentic re-enactment of the Allied forces' en masse descent on the beaches of Omaha, Utah, Sworn, Gold and Juno which led to their decisive victory.
Hell and high water
The human flood of 156,000 British, US and Canadian soldiers, of whom 24,000 came down by parachute ahead of the waterborne invasion and following mass bombardment from planes and warships, walked straight into a hostile barrier of tripods, stakes, barbed wire and land mines, 170 coastal artillery guns, plus rocket launchers.
Over 10,000 Allied fighters were killed, injured or declared missing in combat – the War Office confirmed 4,414 as dead – whilst the Germans lost between 4,000 and 9,000 men.
Now, 74 years, 16 weeks, three days and eleven-and-a-half hours later, a genuine warship from the Naval base in Cartagena (Murcia) will have been drafted in for the Landings off the heavily-frequented Poniente Beach to the south end of Benidorm (Alicante province) next Saturday, September 29 at 18.00.
A day later but a year back in time, the week-long Allied invasion of Salerno, Italy – codenamed Operation Avalanche – will be replayed on Poniente Beach on Sunday, September 30.
Here, the successful invasion staged by 189,000 Allies meant the Italians' declining interest in World War II led to its dropping out altogether, weakening the German forces and reducing the need to deploy troops in the Middle East, especially as it came just four months after the defeat of the North African Axis Powers.
The strategy worked, even though 2,009 Allieds and 630 Germans lost their lives, with a further 7,050 and 3,500 respectively injured, and 3,501 Allieds missing in action.
Following the 21st-century version of Operation Avalanche, the Spanish Armed Forces will descend upon Benidorm beach by parachute.
Back to the '40s, but it's not all belligerent
Abandoning the new Millennium for three days, Benidorm's Poniente Beach area is heading back in time to 1940s' Europe: trenches, military bases, uniformed parades on foot and in vehicles capture the essence of the War with just the right balance of authenticity and fiction: nobody really wants to know what it felt like, not completely; but it'll be just real enough to satisfy your curiosity about the 20th century's most prominent moment in history.
And back to those good bits we mentioned: women say it was almost exciting, as they got the chance to enter the job market in a hitherto 'man's world'; Ireland's poorest became wealthy overnight thanks to the abundance of jobs in UK munitions factories, and the music and film of the era became the start of a mini-cultural Renaissance. Not to mention the economical-but-elegant 'ration fashion' which has inspired catwalk collections 60 or 70 years on.
These popular culture elements will be brought back to life in Benidorm from Friday to Sunday, September 28 to 30 with a Dirk Bogarde musical show and the heady, smoky, romantic jazz and piano notes of Café Paris, and participants dressed in the sharp pencil-skirt suits and flowing floral frocks of the day.
Up to 50,000 visitors are expected to be waiting on the shores to witness the 'B-Day Landings' – including hordes of curious Spaniards, for whom World War II largely happened elsewhere.
After all, Benidorm beach 'landings' 74 years on tend to be by car or coach via budget airlines touching down in Alicante; instead of Atlantic Wall fortifications, you'll find 'Mediterranean Wall' structures of bars, restaurants and hotels in a Manhattan-style skyline, and 'beach invasions' are no more dramatic than international sunseekers soaking up the rays on the Poniente's golden sands.
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