Any 20th-century history buff knows that June 6 marks the anniversary of the D-day Normandy landings, part of Operation Overlord to retake Nazi-occupied western Europe during World War II. No maritime invasion had ever been larger in the history of warfare; even Helen of Troy’s face only launched a thousand ships. About 7,000 Allied ships sailed across the English Channel from the United Kingdom, in what many would see as a reverse invasion of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. By 1944, however, Allied victory was as yet uncertain.
Historian P.M.H. Bell, author of Twelve Turning Points of the Second World War, chronicles the twelve events most central to understanding the range of conflict in what was an undeniably complex and (ha!) globally-encompassing war. He argues that a “turning point is simply a point at which a decisive or important change takes place….When we examine these turning points, it becomes plain that the war followed a shape and pattern.” Bell divides the war into three phases: 1940 – 1941; 1942 – May 1943; and finally from 1943 – 1945, writing that in this final phase inclusive of D-Day, “the Germans still had a slender chance of avoiding defeat,” an opportunity they failed to take. You can check out the other eleven points by viewing the Table of Contents, and read a post by Bell on the Yale Books London blog.