This Week in History recalls memorable and decisive events and personalities of the past.

June 6th 1944 – Operation Overlord 

One of the most memorable moments of the Second World War, the naval landings and invasion of northern France, have been immortalised in film, video games and documentaries. 

By 1941 almost all of mainland Europe had fallen under the control of Nazi Germany, with Britain left alone to continue the struggle in the west. Germany would turn its attention to the east, towards the Soviet Union. 

By 1943, with the massive armies of the Soviet Union and Germany clashing in the east, Stalin was eager for his British and American allies to open a major front in the west to draw German forces away from the Eastern Front. The Allies had already landed troops in southern Italy in 1943, but the Germans and their Axis allies in fascist Italy had managed to slow the advance and drag the Allies into a tough contest of attrition on the Italian peninsula.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill strongly opposed opening a front in France, as his own experience with the amphibious assault at Gallipoli in the First World War led him to fear that any such operation would be doomed. Despite this, the Americans, British and Canadians drew up plans for a massive naval invasion of northern France in mid-1944. This plan to liberate France from German occupation was codenamed ‘Operation Overlord’. 

After several delays due to weather, the Allies launched the invasion just after midnight with a massive drop of paratroopers over northern France from 1 200 planes. This was followed within hours by the landing of 160 000 men from an armada of more than 5 000 ships at five demarcated zones along the coast. These were codenamed Utah and Omaha for the Americans, Gold and Sword for the British, and Juno for the Canadians. 

Facing varying degrees of resistance, the Allies would manage to gain mastery of all five landing zones by the end of the day and begin what was to prove a difficult campaign to break out into France. 

Overlord is perhaps most notable for being an amazing feat of logistics; within three months of the first landing, the Allies had moved two million men from England to France and had constructed harbours and infrastructure to ensure that this massive army could be supplied and kept in the fight. These feats of engineering and supply have become signature aspects of the American armed forces into the modern period. 

June 7th 1494 – Spain and Portugal sign the Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the New World between the two countries

The Treaty of Tordesillas was aimed at preventing conflict between the two major early colonial powers at the dawn of the age of European exploration. 

The Portuguese had been the earliest pioneers of seaborne exploration, with voyages down the west coast of Africa beginning in the mid-1400s. Using experienced sailors from their own homeland and from the Italian republics, the Portuguese had begun to open up the world beyond Europe to trade and conquest. As loyal Catholic monarchs, the kings of Portugal had received promises from the pope that all land south of the Canary Islands would rightfully belong to Portugal. 

In 1492, an Italian captain named Christopher Columbus would upset these claims when he managed to secure Spanish funding for a voyage of exploration to the west in search of a new trade route to India. He returned from this voyage claiming to have found a new route, and new lands, having unknowingly stumbled on the Caribbean. Despite the fact that Columbus had already claimed these lands for Spain, the Portuguese pointed out that much of what he had found actually lay in areas the pope had already promised to Portugal. 

After much discussion, and anxious to avoid war between the two Iberian kingdoms, the pope negotiated a new treaty, the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world outside of Europe between Spain and Portugal; a line would be drawn through what is today eastern Brazil, which would grant Portugal all lands to the east, and to Spain, all lands to the west. A second treaty in 1529 would draw another line on the other side of the world to prevent the claims overlapping. 

While often ignored – Spain colonised the Philippines, which fell within Portugal’s area – the treaty still had a huge impact on the modern world, and is the reason why Brazil, Angola and Mozambique speak Portuguese as a major language while the rest of South and Central America speak Spanish. The original copies of the treaty can still be seen today in museums in Portugal and Spain. 

June 8th 793 – Vikings raid the abbey at Lindisfarne in Northumbria, commonly accepted as the beginning of Norse activity in the British Isles

‘From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord’ is the prayer allegedly offered up by Christian monks seeking respite from the numerous Viking raids on western and southern Europe between the 9th and 11th centuries.

This period, often called the ‘Viking age’, is generally thought to have begun with a raid by Scandinavians on the abbey at Lindisfarne in what is today northern England on 8 June 793. 

The cause of the sudden explosion of raids and invasions by Scandinavian people in this period is hotly debated by historians, with theories ranging from climate change and population growth to shifts in the politics of the Scandinavian kingdoms. 

Today we usually call these people Vikings. However, the noun Viking is a modern term; they were usually called Norse or Danes by the people they were raiding. Rather than Vikings being a people, to go ‘viking’ meant to go raiding: a young Danish man might go viking for a year or two before returning home with stolen wealth and slaves. 

Using their fast, shallow-draft ships, Viking warriors could move quickly and appear unexpectedly, travelling along coastlines or up rivers and launching a raid without warning, then withdrawing back to safety before local armies could be mustered to fight them. 

Eventually the appearance of more complex and widespread fortifications across western Europe would make these raids ineffective, with the last major Viking lord generally thought to have been the Norwegian king, Harrold, the Hard Ruler, who was killed invading England in 1066. 

The Vikings certainly left an impression on the minds of the Christians of Europe, with one English scholar in the 790s writing: ‘Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race … The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.’

12th June 1942 – Anne Frank receives a diary for her thirteenth birthday

On this day in Nazi-occupied Netherlands, a 13-year-old Jewish girl would receive a dairy for her birthday; two days later she would begin to write in it. So began ‘The Dairy of Anne Frank’, a book that stands today as a reminder of the horrors inflicted on the world by the Nazi regime. 

Anne Frank was a German girl born in 1929, who, by 1942, was in hiding from the Nazi regime in the Netherlands in a series of small rooms concealed by book case at the back of a business owned by her father, Otto Frank. 

While she initially used her diary as a simple record of the thoughts and musings of her life in hiding, towards the end of the war, after hearing a March 1944 radio broadcast of the exiled Dutch minister of education’s call on citizens to preserve documents about the horrors of the occupation, Anne began to write with future readers in mind. 

In August 1944, the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, arrested her and most of her family, exiling them to a concentration camp. In either February or March 1945, Anne and her sister would die of typhus, a result of the poor living conditions in the camp. She was just 15 years old. 

Perhaps the most memorable passage from the book is Anne’s declaration: ‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.’

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Nicholas Lorimer, a politician-turned-think tank thinker, is the IRR's Geopolitics Researcher and is host of the Daily Friend Show. His interests include geopolitics, and history (particularly medieval and ancient history). He is an unashamed Americaphile, whether it be food, culture or film. His other pursuits include video games and armchair critique of action films from the 1980s.