Our Site Podcast with James Holland

Our Site Podcast with James Holland

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The C-47 was the workhorse of the Second World War and a D-Day (and everywhere else) veteran is nearing completion of a lengthy restoration to flight in Coventry. Matt takes Hedge Hopping on the road to meet up with Charlie Walker and find out the last on the exciting restoration of Night Fight. Be warned, there is a lot of riveting nose in this episode. Boney makes no apologies for this, there is an aircraft to finish!

Learn more about Night Fright at

Your guide to D-Day: what happened, how many casualties were there, and what did it accomplish?

It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, marking the beginning of the campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation. But how much do you know about D-Day? And what does D-Day stand for? Here, historian James Holland brings you the facts…

This competition is now closed

Published: June 5, 2019 at 4:00 pm

What does D-Day stand for?

Literally, the ‘D’ stands for day, as in the day of the invasion. The earliest known reference goes back to 1917, but early in the Second World War it was called ‘Dog-Day’ after the phonetic alphabet of the day. It was used during Operation WATCHTOWER, the US invasion of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, for example. Later, it became simply known as ‘D-Day’ and was used for all major amphibious operations including north-west Africa, Sicily and southern Italy.

The term ‘H-Hour’ was also used – the time of the landings – which was 6.30am on the two western beaches (Utah and Omaha) an hour later at 7.30am a little further to the east for the British landings and 7.45am for the Canadians at Juno. This was because the Allies wanted to land when the tide was out in order to both avoid the beach obstacles (the Germans assumed any invasion would be at high tide so the Allies had less beach to cross and so had placed them closer to the high tide line) and because they needed the beach at low tide to allow successive waves of troops and vehicles the space and time to unload.

Listen: Military historian Peter Caddick-Adams answers key questions about D-Day

What happened on D-Day?

The invasion was codenamed Operation OVERLORD and took place on Tuesday 6 June, having been delayed by 24 hours because of poor weather. American, British and Canadian troops were to be landed on five different beaches across the Normandy coastline: the Americans at Utah at the base of the Cotentin Peninsular and at Omaha at the western end of the northern Normandy coast the British were to land at Gold Beach, east of Omaha then the Canadians at Juno and the British again at Sword, the easternmost invasion beach. Allied airborne troops would be dropped by parachute or glider and secure the flanks ­– the Americans in the west and the British and Canadians in the east.

In all, some 7,000 vessels were used including 1,213 warships and 4,127 landing craft of various types and sizes. Some 23,000 airborne troops were dropped and 132,000 men landed on the beaches. They were also supported by a staggering 12,000 Allied aircraft. Contrary to popular myth, more British and Canadian troops were delivered to Normandy on D-Day, while two-thirds of the aircraft more than three-quarters of the landing craft and 892 of the warships involved were British, not American. Not all D-Day objectives were achieved, but the airborne troops did secure the flanks as planned and landings were broadly very successful.

Why did D-Day happen?

Back in June 1940, the British had retreated back across the Channel and then France, Britain’s ally, had surrendered. Nazi Germany then occupied much of continental Europe and also Norway. Following the defeat of France in the third week of June 1940, Britain successfully withstood the threat of invasion by decisively defeating the Luftwaffe without control of the skies over southern England, a German invasion was an impossibility. This consigned Germany to a long, drawn-out war it could ill afford and to invading the resource-rich Soviet Union far earlier than planned.

The United States had been gearing up for war since the fall of France and when Germany’s Axis partner, Japan, attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii [on 7 December 1941], America was finally drawn into the increasingly global conflict.

In December 1941, British and American war leaders met and agreed that the defeat of Nazi Germany was their first priority and that the best way to achieve this was by an invasion of France, using Britain as a launch-pad. The build-up of US forces in Britain began in January 1942, but it soon became clear this new coalition of Britain and the United States was not ready to crack Nazi-occupied Europe any time soon. Instead, a joint invasion of north-west Africa, held by pro-Germany Vichy France, was launched first in November 1942. With the British Eighth Army attacking from Egypt and the Anglo-US First Army from Algeria, the German-Italian forces were caught in a pincer in Tunisia, which finally fell in May 1943.

With increasingly large Allied forces now in the Mediterranean and with Italy teetering, it made sense to follow up with an assault on Sicily in July 1943 – and after victory there, a further invasion of southern Italy that September. Vital airfields were captured in southern Italy, from which Allied strategic air forces (those independent of ground operations) could work in tandem with bomber forces operating from Britain – and so tighten the noose around the Third Reich. Gaining air superiority over all of Western Europe was a non-negotiable prerequisite for any invasion and not until the spring of 1944 had that condition been met. Finally, in early June 1944, the Allies had the weight of men and materiel as well as control of the skies with which to invade. The date was set as 5 June 1944, which was then pushed back a day due to poor weather, to Tuesday 6 June.

What was the goal of D-Day?

The immediate goal was to make sure the invasion was successful. The Allies had amassed vast forces, but despite the thousands of warships and landing craft, only a fraction of Allied strength could be initially transported across the Channel. Allied intelligence was superb and so long as the exact location and timing of the invasion remained secret to the Germans, the attackers would achieve tactical surprise when they began landing in Normandy. This proved the case but thereafter the race was on as to which side could build up a decisive weight of forces in Normandy first.

This was where Allied air power came in, because it was the bombers and fighter-bombers that were responsible for slowing German reinforcements to the front, both of infantry units, but particularly their panzer divisions – formations of motorised infantry, artillery and tanks – which were the best Nazi Germany had. By blowing up bridges, railways and roads and harrying anything that tried to move in daylight, they were able to greatly slow up German movement to Normandy and allow increasing numbers of Allied troops and materiel to cross the Channel.

Listen: Giles Milton on lesser-known stories of soldiers and civilians who were involved in the Normandy landings

Once a decisive materiel advantage had been achieved, then the outcome of the battle in Normandy – and ultimately all of France and Western Europe – would not be in doubt. By brilliantly coordinating their forces in the air, at sea, and on land, and by using the full weight of their industrial and technological superiority, the Allies not only secured a foothold on D-Day, they won the race to build up forces at the front. The result was overwhelming victory in Normandy 77 days later in August 1944 and a catastrophic defeat for Nazi Germany.

How many casualties were there?

The Allies had braced themselves for as many as 40,000 casualties on D-Day, but they were far fewer – around 10,000 all told. Even on the American-assaulted Omaha Beach, made famous by films such as The Longest Day [1962] and Saving Private Ryan [1998], the Allies lost only 842 dead. It was a lot, but not as bad as most people think today or was feared at the time. German casualty figures on D-Day are not at all precise, but estimates put them at a similar number.

Overall, however, the Normandy campaign was brutal and spectacularly violent. Including both sides as well as civilians – and some 15,000 French civilians were killed – the average daily casualty rate of each of the 77 days of the battle was 6,675: higher than the Somme, Passchendaele and Verdun in the First World War.

‘Big war’: the Allies’ winning strategy

Allied strategy was to use ‘steel not flesh’: they wanted to use their enormous global reach and access to resources to make the Allied war effort as mechanised and technologically advanced as possible and to use machines – steel – in order to keep the number of men at the coal-face of war as low as possible. This they achieved very well: in Normandy only 16 per cent of British troops were infantry and just 7 per cent in tanks – figures that were much the same for the Canadians and Americans too.

More than 40 per cent, however, were service troops [men supporting the front line – Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Army Medical Corps etc] this was the long supply tail that was a benchmark of Allied strategy. They harnessed naval and air brilliantly with the troops on the ground, while in contrast, by 1944 Nazi Germany’s much-reduced navy and Luftwaffe were able to contribute to the battle hardly at all, suppressed by massive Allied superiority.

The Allies were fighting ‘big war’, whereas the Germans were forced to fight largely on land only. For too long, the narrative of D-Day and the battle for Normandy has focused on the fighting on land, whereas it needs to be understood in its wider context and from the perspective of the Allies’ broader strategy.

James Holland is an award-winning historian, writer and broadcaster and author of Normandy ‘44: D-Day and the Battle for France (Bantam Press, May 2019). He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a research fellow at Swansea University, and he hosts a weekly podcast with Comedian Al Murray about the Second World War, ‘We Have Ways of Making You Talk’. You can follow James on Twitter @James1940

This article was first published on HistoryExtra in June 2019

Reply All

The internet is wonderfully weird sometimes and Reply All has a knack for diving down interesting rabbit holes and uncovering comical absurdity at the heart of modern technology. While it’s ostensibly a tech show, it’s very accessible, and the hosts always take the time to explain what they’re talking about. They’re also likeable and quick to poke fun at themselves. The best episodes see them investigate strange online scams and they do a great job of balancing technical information with a compelling story that features an interesting cast of real-life characters.

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By watching German trains passing through Belgium, day and night, they provided important data to British intelligence in the Netherlands. Messages were carried using a variety of methods – in one case, a midwife, whose job allowed her to cross military lines, regularly carried reports wrapped around the whale bones of her corset. By the end of the war, intelligence from ‘La Dame Blanche’ provided the British with details of German troop movements through occupied Belgium on almost a daily basis.

The Axe Files with David Axelrod The Institute of Politics & CNN

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Unlike any other Bible podcast, Ascension’s Bible in a Year podcast follows a reading plan inspired by The Great Adventure Bible Timeline, a ground-breaking approach to understanding salvation history developed by renowned Catholic Bible scholar Jeff Cavins. For each period in the timeline, Jeff will join Fr. Mike for a special episode that will help you understand the context of each reading.
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Today we read about Elijah's discouragement after fleeing from Jezebel, and how God tells him to "arise and eat" to strengthen him for the journey ahead. Fr. Mike points out how God calls us to draw strength for the journey as well, even at the end of our earthly lives. The readings are 1 Kings 19-20, 2 Chronicles 20, and Song of Solomon 6.

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For the complete reading plan, visit

Please note: The Bible contains adult themes that may not be suitable for children - parental discretion is advised.

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For the complete reading plan, visit

Please note: The Bible contains adult themes that may not be suitable for children - parental discretion is advised.

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Only ONE more day until Thanksgiving. My goal this week has been to point out positive lessons we might learn from a more accurate encounter with the Pilgrims’ story. Today I tackle the question of why the Pilgrims really came to America and what we might learn from their experience.

“Departure of the Pilgrims from Delft Haven,” Charles Lucy, 1847

The belief that the Pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom is inspiring, but in the sense that we usually mean it, it’s not really true. I’ve shared this reality numerous times since writing The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History, and I almost always get pushback from the audience. That’s understandable, since most of us from our childhood have been raised to believe quite the opposite. But if we’re going to really learn from the Pilgrims’ story, we need to be willing to listen to them instead of putting words into their mouths.

One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Democracy in America where Alexis de Tocqueville observes, “A false but clear and precise idea always has more power in the world than one which is true but complex.” The Pilgrims’ motives for coming to America is a case in point.

The popular understanding that the Pilgrims came to America “in search of religious freedom” is technically true, but it is also misleading. It is technically true in that the freedom to worship according to the dictates of Scripture was at the very top of their list of priorities. They had already risked everything to escape religious persecution, and the majority never would have knowingly chosen a destination where they would once again wear the “yoke of antichristian bondage,” as they described their experience in England.

To say that the Pilgrims came “in search of” religious freedom is misleading, however, in that it implies that they lacked such liberty in Holland. Remember that the Pilgrims did not come to America directly from England. They had left England in 1608, locating briefly in Amsterdam before settling for more than a decade in Leiden. If a longing for religious freedom alone had compelled them, they might never have left that city. Years later, the Pilgrim’s governor, William Bradford, recalled that in Leiden God had allowed them “to come as near the primitive pattern of the first churches as any other church of these later times.” As Pilgrim Edward Winslow recalled, God had blessed them with “much peace and liberty” in Holland. They hoped to find “the like liberty” in their new home.

“Landing of the Pilgrims,” Henry A. Bacon, 1877

But that is not all that they hoped to find. Boiled down, the Pilgrims had two major complaints about their experience in Holland. First, they found it a hard place to raise their children. Dutch culture was too permissive, they believed. Bradford commented on “the great licentiousness of youth” in Holland and lamented the “evil examples” and “manifold temptations of the place.” Part of the problem was the Dutch parents. They gave their children too much freedom, Bradford’s nephew, Nathaniel Morton, explained, and Separatist parents could not give their own children “due correction without reproof or reproach from their neighbors.”

Compounding these challenges was what Bradford called “the hardness of the place.” If Holland was a hard place to raise strong families, it was an even harder place to make a living. Leiden was a crowded, rapidly growing city. Most houses were ridiculously small by our standards, some with no more than a couple hundred square feet of floor space. The typical weaver’s home was somewhat larger. It boasted three rooms—two on the main floor and one above—with a cistern under the main floor to collect rainwater, sometimes side by side with a pit for an indoor privy.

In contrast to the seasonal rhythms of farm life, the pace of work was long, intense, and unrelenting. Probably half or more of the Separatist families became textile workers. In this era before the industrial revolution, cloth production was still a decentralized, labor intensive process, with countless families carding, spinning, or weaving in their own homes from dawn to dusk, six days a week, merely to keep body and soul together. Hunger and want had become their taskmaster.

This life of “great labor and hard fare” was a threat to the church, Bradford repeatedly stressed. It discouraged Separatists in England from joining them, he believed, and tempted those in Leiden to return home. If religious freedom was to be thus linked with poverty, then there were some—too many—who would opt for the religious persecution of England over the religious freedom of Holland. And the challenge would only increase over time. Old age was creeping up on many of the congregation, indeed, was being hastened prematurely by “great and continual labor.” While the most resolute could endure such hardships in the prime of life, advancing age and declining strength would cause many either to “sink under their burdens” or reluctantly abandon the community in search of relief.

In explaining the Pilgrim’s decision to leave Holland, William Bradford stressed the Pilgrim’s economic circumstances more than any other factor, but it is important that we hear correctly what he was saying. Bradford was not telling us that the Pilgrims left for America in search of the “American Dream” or primarily to maximize their own individual wellbeing.

“Pilgrims Going to Church,” George H. Boughton, 1867

In Bradford’s telling, it is impossible to separate the Pilgrims’ concerns about either the effects of Dutch culture or their economic circumstances from their concerns for the survival of their church. The leaders of the Leiden congregation may not have feared religious persecution, but they saw spiritual danger and decline on the horizon.

The solution, the Pilgrim leaders believed, was to “take away these discouragements” by relocating to a place with greater economic opportunity as part of a cooperative mission to preserve their covenant community. If the congregation did not collectively “dislodge . . . to some place of better advantage,” and soon, the church seemed destined to erode like the banks of a stream, as one by one, families and individuals slipped away.

So where does this leave us? Were the Pilgrims coming to America to flee religious persecution? Not at all. Were they motivated by a religious impulse? Absolutely. But why is it important to make these seemingly fine distinctions? Is this just another exercise in academic hair-splitting? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that the implications of getting the Pilgrims’ motives rights are huge.

As I re-read the Pilgrims’ words, I find myself meditating on Jesus’ parable of the sower. You remember how the sower casts his seed (the word of God), and it falls on multiple kinds of ground, not all of which prove fruitful. The seed that lands on stony ground sprouts immediately but the plant withers under the heat of the noonday sun, while the seed cast among thorns springs up and then is choked by the surrounding weeds. The former, Jesus explained to His disciples, represents those who receive the word gladly, but stumble “when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake” (Mark 4:17). The latter stands for those who allow the word to be choked by “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19).

In emphasizing the Pilgrims’ “search for religious freedom,” we inadvertently make the primary menace in their story the heat of persecution. Persecution led them to leave England for Holland, but it was not the primary reason that they came to America. As the Pilgrim writers saw it, the principal threat to their congregation in Holland was not the scorching sun, but strangling thorns.

The difference matters, particularly if we’re approaching the Pilgrims’ moment in history as an opportunity to learn from them. It broadens the kind of conversation we have with them and makes it more relevant. When we hear of the Pilgrims’ resolve in the face of persecution, we may nod our heads admiringly and meditate on the courage of their convictions. Perhaps we will even ask ourselves how we would respond if, God forbid, we were to endure the same trial. And yet the danger seems so remote, the question so comfortably hypothetical. Whatever limitations we may chafe against in the public square, as Christians in the United States we don’t have to worry that the government will send us to prison unless we worship in the church that it chooses and interpret the Bible in the manner that it dictates.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we never ask the question. Posing it can remind us to be grateful for the freedom we enjoy. It may inspire us to greater vigilance in preserving that freedom and heighten our concern for Christians around the world who cannot take such freedom for granted. These are good things. But I am suggesting that we not dwell overlong on the question. I’m dubious of the value of moral reflection that focuses on hypothetical circumstances. Avowals of how we would respond to imaginary adversity are worth pretty much what they cost us. Character isn’t forged in the abstract, but in the concrete crucible of everyday life, in the myriad mundane decisions that both shape and reveal the heart’s deepest loves.

“First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” Jeannie Brownscombe, 1914.

Here the Pilgrims’ struggle with “thorns” speaks to us. Compared to the dangers they faced in England, their hardships in Holland were so . . . ordinary. I don’t mean to minimize them, but merely to point out that they are difficulties we are more likely to relate to. They worried about their children’s future. They feared the effects of a corrupt and permissive culture. They had a hard time making ends meet. They wondered how they would provide for themselves in old age. Does any of this sound familiar?

And in contrast to their success in escaping persecution, they found the cares of the world much more difficult to evade. As it turned out, thorn bushes grew in the New World as well as the Old. In little more than a decade, William Bradford was concerned that economic circumstances were again weakening the fabric of the church. This time, ironically, the culprit was not the pressure of want but the prospect of wealth (“the deceitfulness of riches”?) as faithful members of the congregation left Plymouth in search of larger, more productive farms. A decade after that, Bradford was decrying the presence of gross immorality within the colony. Drunkenness and sexual sin had become so common, he lamented, that it caused him “to fear and tremble at the consideration of our corrupt natures.”

When we insist that the Pilgrims came to America “in search of religious freedom,” we tell their story in a way that they themselves wouldn’t recognize. In the process, we make their story primarily a source of ammunition for the culture wars. Frustrated by increasing governmental infringement on religious expression, we remind the unbelieving culture around us that “our forefathers” who “founded” this country were driven above all by a commitment to religious liberty.

But while we’re bludgeoning secularists with the Pilgrim story, we ignore the aspects of their story that might cast a light into our own hearts. They struggled with fundamental questions still relevant to us today: What is the true cost of discipleship? What must we sacrifice in pursuit of the kingdom? How can we “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15) and keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27)? What sort of obligation do we owe our local churches, and how do we balance that duty with family commitments and individual desires? What does it look like to “seek first the kingdom of God” and can we really trust God to provide for all our other needs?

As Christians, these are crucial questions we need to revisit regularly. We might even consider discussing them with our families tomorrow as part of our Thanksgiving celebrations.

Watch the video: Podcasting: Should You Be Hosting or Guesting? (August 2022).