Britain plans 'unprecedented' D-Day event for queen, leaders

Britain plans 'unprecedented' D-Day event for queen, leaders
Britain plans 'unprecedented' D-Day event for queen, leaders

PORTSMOUTH, England (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II is set to join British Prime Minister Theresa May, other world leaders and World War II veterans on the southern coast of England on Wednesday to honor the Allied soldiers who risked and gave their lives in large numbers 75 years ago for the D-Day invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi Germany.

Britain has promised "unprecedented commemorations" in Portsmouth. There will be testimony from some of the more than 300 World War II veterans and "one of the greatest British military spectacles in recent years" featuring a flyby of 24 vintage and modern military aircraft.

The event, which kicks off two days of D-Day anniversary observances, is intended to be a tribute to the soldiers who shaped history during the dangerous mission to reach beachheads and fight in German-occupied France.

"The Normandy landings 75 years ago were a moment of historic international cooperation," May said. "And it is right that at the heart of today's commemorations are the veterans who fought to secure the liberty and the peace that we now enjoy."

Codenamed Operation Overlord, D-Day saw more than 150,000 Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy in northwest France on June 6, 1944, carried by 7,000 boats. It was a turning point in the war, and helped bring about Nazi Germany's defeat in May 1945.

Planning to attend are presidents, prime ministers and other representatives of the countries that fought alongside Britain in Normandy: the United States, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

The leader of the country that was the enemy in 1944, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is also attending.

In Portsmouth, dignitaries plan to read from historical documents linked to D-Day. In May's case, it's a letter written by Capt. Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps to his wife, Gladys, on June 3, 1944, a few days before the invasion. It was in his pocket when he landed in Normandy.

"I can imagine you in the garden having tea with Janey and Anne getting ready to put them to bed," wrote Skinner, who was killed the day after D-Day. "Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not yet had any wish at all to back down from the job we have to do."

The observances will conclude U.S. President Donald 's state visit to Britain hosted by the queen. Elizabeth will be accompanied by her son, Prince Charles, at the event.

The focus shifts to France Thursday, where commemorations will be held at simple military cemeteries near the Normandy beaches where Allied troops landed and died.

Commemorations in France began early Wednesday morning with U.S. Army Rangers climbing the jagged cliffs of Normandy's Pointe du Hoc to honor the men who scaled them 75 years ago in a valiant D-Day assault.

Elderly veterans looked on as members of the 75th Ranger Regiment started mounting the limestone promontory at dawn, pulling themselves up on ropes one by one, seagulls swooping above them.

They're recreating a journey taken by the U.S. Army's 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions to destroy Nazi guns atop the cliffs. The operation helped prepare the way for Allied troops landing on beaches up a few kilometers (miles) up the coast to break Hitler's stranglehold on France.

Of the 235 men who took on the cliffs in 1944, only 90 were fit for battle two days later.

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Follow all the AP's coverage of D-Day at https://apnews.com/WorldWarII

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Katz reported from London. Milos Krivokapic in Pointe du Hoc, France and John Leicester in Carentan, France contributed and Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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