Western leaders were Thursday to remember the 1944 World War II D-Day landings in northern France to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation, mindful of the over two-year war raging again in Europe after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron will host US leader Joe Biden, King Charles III of the UK and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, representing the Allied powers whose troops gave their lives in the landings on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

They will reflect on the immense sacrifices made by the tens of thousands of troops on the sandy beaches and cliffs of Normandy, often far from their homes, under intense German counter-fire.

But with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky joining the Western leaders in Normandy, the ceremonies will provide a hugely symbolic backdrop to talks on how Ukraine can gain back ground after Russian advances.

Advertisement

No Russian official has been invited, underlining Moscow's pariah status in the West after the invasion of Ukraine despite the decisive Soviet contribution to defeating Nazism in World War II.

The most honoured guests will be the surviving veterans. Around 200 are expected, a number that is dwindling every year with most at least in their late 90s and some older than 100. This may be the final major anniversary where they are present.

"If I could go again, I would go again. I'm glad we sacrificed so that others (could) have a good life," John Mines, 99, who was among the first wave of soldiers on D-Day, told AFP on the ferry crossing the Channel to the events.

WORLD BRIEFING: July 7, 2024
Other Topics of Interest

WORLD BRIEFING: July 7, 2024

The world in focus, as seen by a Canadian leading global affairs analyst, writer and speaker, in his review of international media.

"They're all heroes."

- 'Cherish those who served' -

Kicking off events with a ceremony in the neighbouring Brittany region to remember French resistance fighters who landed in occupied France as D-Day got under way, Macron said he was sure today's youth was "ready for the same spirit of sacrifice as its elders".

"As the dangers mount... you remind us that we are ready to consent to the same sacrifices to defend what is most dear to us," Macron said.

Advertisement

King Charles, whose visit to Normandy on Thursday will be his first overseas trip since his cancer diagnosis, led a day of commemorations in the English port city of Portsmouth, a key hub as Allied troops prepared for D-Day.

"As we give thanks for all those who gave so much to win the victory whose fruits we still enjoy to this day, let us once again commit ourselves always to remember, cherish and honour those who served that day," he said.

In an operation kept secret from the Germans, the Allies landed on five beaches spread across the Normandy coast: Omaha and Utah for the Americans, Gold and Sword for the British and Juno for the British and Canadians.

Separate national ceremonies will be held before most of the leaders come together for an international ceremony from 1400 GMT at Omaha joined by Zelensky and also German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

- 'Deepen Ukraine support' -

Biden, who touched down in Paris earlier Wednesday, was also expected to promote the United States as a defender of democracy and international alliances, contrasting himself against election rival Donald Trump during a state visit that will last until Sunday.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters travelling to Paris that Biden would tell Zelensky "how we can continue and deepen our support for Ukraine".

Advertisement

Macron has already sought to break taboos by refusing to rule out sending troops to Ukraine, a position that unsettled some EU allies.

But there have been shifts in recent weeks, with the West showing readiness to allow Ukraine to use Western-provided weapons to strike targets in Russia, and France pushing for the deployment of European military instructors in Ukraine.

The landings by Allied forces, backed by airborne operations that parachuted troops directly onto occupied soil, were the biggest naval operation ever in terms of the number of ships deployed and the troops involved.

By the end of what became known as "the longest day", 156,000 Allied troops with 20,000 vehicles had landed in Nazi-occupied northern France despite facing a hail of bullets, artillery and aircraft fire.

The landings marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Western Europe, though months of intense and bloody fighting still lay ahead before victory over the regime of Adolf Hitler.

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter