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UK feared offending Germany during 40th D-Day anniversary | UK | News

UK feared offending Germany during 40th D-Day anniversary | UK | News

WHILE this year’s 80th anniversary of D-Day did not pass without drama, preparations for the 40th anniversary had their fair share of anxiety too. 

According to newly declassified documents,  figures in Margaret Thatcher’s Government were consumed by one overwhelming concern- that Germany might take offence.

Letters between defence secretary Michael Heseltine and foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe have revealed the consternation felt at the highest levels of government following an Anglo-German summit at Chequers on 2 May, 1984. 

It was there, according to Cabinet papers, that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl raised with Mrs Thatcher the delicate “question of the reaction in Japan and Germany to the celebration of the Normandy landings”.

1984 was one of the Cold War’s most challenging years for the Western alliance which seemed, to some, to be fraying at the seams.

Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko’s ill health meant that policy was being led by even arch hardliners Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

The USSR had placed SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and, in response,  the US had put Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe.

In the meantime British and West Germany were under intense pressure at home, as peace movements gained influence to push for a stop to the US-Soviet arms race.

The fact that many veterans from both sides of the Second World War were still living was also a factor to be considered. 

Heseltine was especially concerned over any “denigration of the German Army” in the speeches due to be delivered by politicians representing the Allied nations during anniversary events in Normandy, the highlight of which was a major speech given by US President Ronald Reagan.

While agreeing that it was “entirely right that we should be celebrating the 40th anniversary of D-Day on the basis now planned and that we should ensure that the celebration is given proper publicity”, he went on to caution that it was “important that whatever speeches there are at the various events should strike the right tone.”

He added: “I have in mind particularly what the Americans may say. I hope that we can avoid too much of the flavour of the triumph of good over evil or any denigration of the German Army, which is obviously a sensitive issue in Germany.”

Rather than dwell on the military defeat of the Germans, Heseltine suggested to Howe that the focus of the events should be on “the sacrifice made to secure freedom and democracy in Western Europe.”

Both men hoped that they could “bring to bear in this direction whatever influence we have (on the United States)”.

They succeeded.

In the event, US President Ronald Reagan was to deliver one of his most poignant speeches.

He praised the heroism of US, British, Canadian and Polish forces on that day, and paid special tribute to the ““the boys of Pointe du Hoc”; the 62 surviving Army rangers who 40 years before, had scaled the 100-foot cliffs under enemy fire.

And, in a testament to the strength of the Special Relationship, he did so without once mentioning Germany by name.

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