“Although the initial assault may not have been made in your own country,” Allied Commander Dwight D Eisenhower promised occupied Europe on D-Day, “the hour of your liberation is approaching”.
He was right, but it took another 11 months of bitter fighting. Even though the Allies were gathering momentum, the Germans were not giving up easily.
The Battle of Normandy, which began so well on June 6, 1944, dragged on until the end of August and resulted in 83,000 casualties.
In September, Operation Market Garden – where 30,000 British and American airborne troops were flown behind enemy lines at Arnhem, Netherlands with the aim of capturing a network of bridges to cross the Rhine – ended in unmitigated disaster. The ‘Bridge Too Far’, as it was known, saw 18,000 Allied soldiers dead or captured.
The last real German offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, came in December that year. The Allies eventually won the fight, which played out in freezing temperatures on a poorly defended US front in the Ardennes (a forested area over Belgium, Luxemburg and France), but at massive cost.
Nearly 20,000 US troops were killed and tens of thousands more wounded, missing or captured.
Even away from the battlefields, the Germans wouldn’t yield. Instead, they launched a deadly wave of unmanned bombs on British cities, which killed 6,000 and injured 17,000 in London alone. But for every painful step back, there were more hopeful leaps forward.
The first of these was the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944, following four years and two months of Nazi occupation.
Just nine days later, German troops fled Brussels.
The Allies soon pressed in from every angle.
In the east, Warsaw fell to Russian forces on January 17, 1945. A month later, the Allies launched a massive air attack on Dresden, a beautiful baroque city referred to as the ‘Florence of the Elbe’.
Dresden lacked any real strategic or industrial importance and residents believed it had escaped the Allied bombing that had wiped out other German cities. But in February 1945, 800 RAF bombers and 311 US Airforce screamed over the city in deadly waves, dropping 2,600 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs in 48 hours.
The city was obliterated, with some 40,000 civilians dying on the melting pavements.
Even now, questions remain over what happened: was it a tactical manoeuvre or a savage, vengeful war crime?
Just two months after the Dresden bombings, Hitler took his own life. A week later, the war in Europe was over. Justified or not, Dresden clearly played some part in sealing the fate of an already shattered nation.