At Normandy, Will Michigan FB Learn About All-Black D-Day Regiments?

Submitted by Communist Football on April 26th, 2018 at 6:40 PM


The highlight of the Michigan football team's trip to France is a visit to Normandy. For anyone who has been there, Normandy is a compelling reminder of American valor. As General Mark Clark once put it:

If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we asked...was enough...soil in which to bury our gallant dead.

But one aspect of the D-Day story that doesn't always get told is the role of all-black military regiments at a time when the U.S. military was segregated. One key regiment was the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, whose members were strapped to the blimp-shaped balloons armed with explosives that hung in the air to block the Luftwaffe's ability to strafe the Allied troops below.

"Saving Private Ryan," the film Ira Weintraub and others have encouraged the football team to watch on the flight to France, had an all-white cast. As an NAACP spokesperson once noted,

The most frequent comment about [Saving Private Ryan] is that it's the most realistic depiction ever done of the war, and yet there are no black people anywhere, not even among the extras.

Think about this: many of those black soldiers, like Corporal William Garfield Dabney of Roanoke, Virginia, were from the segregated South. After the war, Dabney got a degree in electrical engineering. But he couldn't find work in his field, because no one would hire him. So he became a carpet layer and tile setter. Dabney and his comrades were risking their lives to protect the freedom of those who wished to discriminate against them.

Thankfully, there are ways to remedy the Saving Private Ryan problem, so that the team can learn about the role of African-American regiments in the Normandy invasion.

In 2007, the History Channel broadcast a documentary entitled "A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day." A clip can be found here:

Linda Hervieux in 2015 published Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes. A sample of her writing can be found here.

I hope someone affiliated with the Michigan program reads this, and has the opportunity to share these resources with interested team members.



April 26th, 2018 at 7:06 PM ^

African Americans were mostly support troops. Seeing as the movie occurred mostly behind German lines or at the front I’m not sure where the NAACP expected to see black troops. They played a supporting role by design. Supporting troops never get much pub. The focus in the telling of wars is on those who saw combat. They should be talked about and honored as all participants should. But so should the cost of war. 70,000 French civilians died during the Normandy campaign. It should also be noted that the campaign wasn’t necessary to defeat the Germans. The Soviets were grinding the Nazis into dust in the East. For me the ignoring of the cataclysm occurring in the East is the most disturbing aspect of how we teach the war here. Russia lost 27 million people in that war. They are the ones most responsible for defeating Nazism. The hell Ivan went through in serving Stalin while battling Hitler is unimaginable.


April 26th, 2018 at 7:19 PM ^

You have this tic about making sure people KNOW about Russian contributions to the war as if people like Communist Football don't already know about them. 

The idea that the Russians would have won the war just fine without any western intervention at all is a popular one, mostly amongst Putinists in Russia who are busily rehabilitating Joseph Stalin. Yes, they did a great deal of the fighting and the dying in WWII. Their heroic defense of Stalingrad is one of legend, and no WWII buffs consider any understanding of the war complete without appreciating the magnitude and importance of massive campaigns like Barbarossa and Bagration, or vital battles like Moscow and Kursk. 

It is also true that the contributions of the western allies were vital for the Russians. The threat of and eventual opening of a second front drew vital divisions away from the vast, undermanned eastern lines. The allied bombing attacks of Germany's homeland prompted Hitler to divert a majority of the Luftwaffe away from the East at a time when allied boots were not even on the ground in Western Europe. The massive Soviet advances following their Deep Operations doctrine were enabled by hundreds of thousands of lend-lease trucks, and the superior T-34 tanks were made using steel delivered by western allies. Their troops and citizens ate American food (at mealtime, Russian soldiers would joke, "let's open the second front!" before knifing open a can of spam) and Stalin was so conscious of this that he had millions of foodstuffs re-stamped so that Russian people would think it was produced domestically.

Most responsible historians reject the idea that Russia could have won the war on their own, and so did the Russian leaders when behind closed doors. 

Why dump on every mention of D-Day to make this point? 


April 26th, 2018 at 7:31 PM ^

Yes. Quattro isn't, I hope, talking about the morality of the Stalinist regime, just its fighting power. It is worth nothing that Beevor believes that a Western nation would not have held Stalingrad, and the threat of execution for dessertion plus the promise of excution of your families if you leave no doubt played a part in this. Of course, both the Nazis and the Soviets had operatives whose job it was to execute soldiers who tried to retreat.

But thousands of Russians soldiers were executed in such fashion.


April 26th, 2018 at 7:50 PM ^

Observing that Stalin was a monster is russophobia? Wow, you're further out than I thought. I was attempting to give you credit for dealing with only the military aspects of the debate (and these are issues that are enjoyable to debate) but if you're white-washing Stalin, you're out to lunch. You probably aren't, given other comments in the thread, but perhaps you should re-read my comment before accusing me of racial prejudice.


April 27th, 2018 at 9:52 PM ^

and unofficial policy, is hardly historically limited to the Soviets or Stalin. This is not to diminish the magnitude of Stalin's terror, of course, but Stanley Kubrick's extremely fine (in fact quite daring) Paths of Glory--starring a great young Kirk Douglas--tells such a story about a French deserter. And the practice has been common, especially in the heat of battle, almost everywhere.  

There's a coercive element to war-fighting generally; it's scary as hell. I once read that MOST soldiers in the Civil War shit themselves when they first went into battle. Mass desertion is sometimes little more than a matter of animal flight.

A lot can be said about the topic, clearly (we might start with the observation that the men who start them seldom fight them, that poor men usually stand closest to the heat of battle, etc, that generals and officers make many, many bad decisions about the disposition of troops). And Normandy has the rare distinction of being a battle of near-absolute heroism and necessity. But although Salvatore is too het up by half, it is really true that without the Soviet/Russian sacrifice we might all be settling down to schnitzel and kraut for dinner.* And I think he's probably right that that is less recognized than it should be. 

*I can say that; my mom grew up in Nazi Germany. Her parents spent most of the war in prison. Her half-brother deserted the German army and fled home from the Eastern front. 

Great OP, btw; got a little sidetracked, but appreciate learning about this, Sr. Communist. Hasta la siempre. 




April 29th, 2018 at 7:47 AM ^

They did have a blue water.  Well, to be honest, they had blue water capable ships - not a lot of them, though.  But they were not good at operating them.  They never have been.  The Germans also had a capable fleet in WWI (bigger than the Brits, I believe, or at least really close), but never really understood how to operate them as a fleet.  

The rest your post is spot on.  Nobody will ever invade the US homeland - they will be sunk in the middle of the ocean, or shot out of the sky, before even a remote threat looks real.


May 2nd, 2018 at 4:07 PM ^

Had far fewer ships than the Royal Navy. However, ship for ship the Germans were superior both in armor, and its placement, and caliber to caliber German heavy naval rifles out performed their British counterparts. The power of a navy of that period was based on the number and technical sophistication of its battleship and battlecruisers. The German navy had around 20 dreadnought class battleships and 5 battlecruisers. At the beginning of WWI the British Royal Navy had 25-35 then state of the art battleships and battlecruisers. By the end of the war Britain had 35 battleships and 11 battlecruisers, 20 of these 46 ships were built after the start of the war. Despite Germany's best efforts, the British dramatically out built them throughout the war.

When the US entered the war it sent the five dreadnought class battleships and support ships of the United States Battleship Division nine to Britian which was attached to the Royal Navy as the Sixth Battle Squadron. Through most of the war the Royal Navy enjoyed a 2-1 numerical advantage over the German Navy. 

That said at the beginning of WWI the German navy was considered the second most powerful navy in the world. 

Go Blue Eyes

April 26th, 2018 at 9:14 PM ^

Stalin (i.e. the Soviet Union) invaded Poland two weeks after their ally at the time, Germany, invaded Poland.  They also invaded Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia.  They also invaded Finland.  They also took parts of Romania.  Aside from Japan and Germany, no country invaded more neutral countries than the Soviet Union. 


April 27th, 2018 at 6:49 AM ^

I encourage everyone to watch the "Why We Fight" series of movies produced by the US War Department just after the US entered the war. It is a fascinating example of propaganda (produced by some of the best people from the movie business at the time). It is a remarkable piece of cinema, but viewing it can also be frustrating for how much is "white-washed" to keep public opinion in their favor (especially on the film about Soviet Russia).


April 26th, 2018 at 7:30 PM ^

"Most responsible historians reject the idea that Russia could have won the war on their own, and so did the Russian leaders when behind closed doors" This is pattenly false. The Russians very well could have won the war on their own something any respectble historian would admit to. Russia had enormous advantages in manpower, were able to save most of their industry, and could outproduce Germany in tanks and planes. 50,000 T-34's for example.


Allied bombing raids provided at best a distraction to the Luftwaffe which was already being ground down from non-stop warfare. Russia did not need the US's bombing campaign.


US supplies to Russia were indeed crucial in particular because of how much of their arable land they lost. I'll grant you that. But militarily Russia had more than enough by themselves to win the war.


Why do yo insist on promoting jingoistic nonsense?


April 26th, 2018 at 7:46 PM ^

Given that the OP regards Normandy, which the football team is visiting, you appear to be the one insistent on promoting jingoism. Hand-waving away the importance of diverting the Luftwaffe and the factor Western transport vehicles (not to mention other logistical support) played in the fundamental execution of Soviet mobility tactics and strategy is absurd. The very factors that ground the Germans to a halt in 1941 are the ones that Western support enabled the Russians to overcome and exploit to victory in 43-45. 


April 26th, 2018 at 7:56 PM ^

The Luftwaffe was seriously stretched and depleted. Why you insist on thinking that "diverting" it was key is bizarre to me.  The Germans did not have long range bombers until the HE-177 late in the way. They did not have the men to sustain their effort on either front. Raw demographics are a significant factor here which you are ignoring.


Russia had more men, more equipment, and a fanaticism equal that to the Germans. They also had the rather significant advantage of being a massive country with huge pockets of partisans attacking German units, supply depots, and railroads. Germany never could cope with the extreme logistics involved in invading Russia.


April 26th, 2018 at 8:19 PM ^

None of the facts in your last paragraph are in dispute. At no time have I asserted, contra the suggestion of "jingoism," that the Russians weren't the most significant factor in the defeat of Germany. I don't somehow harbor a belief that the US rode in and won the war on its own, or even predominantly. I do, however, consider the contributions of the US and Britain important and will argue as much. 

It's possible to not be jingoistic, to study in detail the events of the war, and still conclude that the Western Allies were an important factor in Europe. 


April 26th, 2018 at 8:25 PM ^

"They are the ones most responsible for defeating Nazism." That leaves room for credit for the US and UK. I just think too many Americans believe the US defeated the Nazis singlehandly. My issue is with that. I deeply admire the men of the Allies who fought the Nazis.

In truth any of the three could have defeated the Nazis in a hypothetical one-on-one scenario. Britain with it's vast empire and resources could have done. US and Russia definitely could have.

Germany never had the manpower or resources to beat any country. Their "wins" were vs a demoralized France and a collection of smaller states. In hindsight, not that impressive.



April 27th, 2018 at 8:35 AM ^

The US was supplying the UK with 20% of its munitions by 1943.

The US supplied the Soviets with 400,000 heavy trucks, 2,000 locomotives, 11,000 railcars, and billions of dollars worth of planes, tanks, food, and supplies.

In 1941 the Soviets lost 58% of their vehicles, it was the US that turned that around.

Half of all Soviet made aircraft came from US metal, the US made 15% of their aircraft straight up.

British tanks made up as much as 40% of the medium and heavy tanks defending Moscow in December 1941.

I could go on. No the Soviets don't win alone.


April 28th, 2018 at 12:58 AM ^

27 million dead. Entire cities levelled. Large swaths of territory destroyed.  They faced 200 German divisions vs the 60 the Western Allies faced.

Conversely, the US and UK  combined lost 800,000 in both theaters. Seeing as war is ultimately about fighting and often dying it's not a stretch to say that the lion's share of credit for defeating Nazism goes to the Russians.


April 28th, 2018 at 11:49 AM ^

No one is disputing that the Soviets faced more German divisions and no one is disputing that the Soviets suffered far more dead.

You said that the Soviets could have beat the Germans alone.  I am telling you that all of those Soviet forces do not fight without Allied food, Allied trucks, Allied trains, Allied guns, Allied artillery, Allied metals, Allied chemicals, Allied planes, Allied clothing, Allied medicine, etc.... 

The allies even provided the Soviets with the majority of its communication equipment.  We gave them enough telephone cable to wrap around the earth's equator.  This was crucial for communicating to the frontlines, without having messages intercepted.

"An army marches on its stomach."

All of those brave Soviets are not fighting without the above.

The Soviets had resource and logistic problems as is - even after with massive allied supplies, transportation vehicles, and resources coming in.

And all of this ignores the Allied bombers pummelling Germany from the air - diverting resources from the front, destroying Luftwaffe resources, building air defense systems instead of more weapons for the front, and demoralizing the German public - this certainly had an impact on the war at the front to some degree.

The Soviets would have been knocked out by Germany without Allied aid and the pinning down of German troops elsewhere.


Finally, despite lend lease...Zhukov admitted that the USSR was nearly defeated at the end of 1941 by was Allied counter intelligence that delayed the German attack into the USSR by more than a month...which helped the USSR as winter set in before the Germans could complete their was Allied tanks (40% of the Soviet's around Moscow) that slowed the Nazis from overruning Moscow...etc...


April 27th, 2018 at 7:46 AM ^

Yes, the USSR loses to Germany if the US is not involved. Lend lease gave the Soviets vital supplies and do they fight without it?

This doesn't take away from the Soviets massive loss of life and sacrifice, but some historians argue that Germany could have knocked the Soviets out simply by attacking them a few weeks earlier or not splitting their forces up as much as they did.


April 26th, 2018 at 7:28 PM ^

I don’t really have a quarrel with the content of your post, SQ. But making these points in response to the OP comes across diminishing or minimizing the contributions of the black regiments who participated in D-Day. Perhaps that wasn’t your intention, but I find it very unfortunate.


April 26th, 2018 at 7:33 PM ^

Almost none participated on D-Day and that was due to racism. What is unfortunate is the promotion of exaggerated history. Blacks were dealing with the same racist bullshit in 1944 that they were in 1862.  That is the lesson you and others ought to take out of my posts.


April 29th, 2018 at 8:08 AM ^

Please explain how we take anything about racism from your posts?  All you've done is tell the rest of the MGoWorld how great Russia was because they saved us by winning the war for us. You took an otherwise great OP and turned it into a shit fest about something completely unrelated to the original topic.  You suck, both as a poster and as a person.  I can't imagine you have any friends - accept for those people with your exact same 'shit on everything' personality.


May 2nd, 2018 at 4:26 PM ^

The 761 Tank Battalion was an African-American unit that served with distinction during WWII. They were known as the "Black Panthers" after their unit's distinctive insignia. The battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions. In addition, a large number of individual members also received medals, including one Medal of Honor, 11 Silver Stars and about 300 Purple Hearts. They were called "one of the most effective tank battalions in World War II".

The battalion first saw combat on 7 November 1944. It was among the American units that relieved the 101st Airborne at Bastogne.


April 26th, 2018 at 7:55 PM ^

Ukrainians had it rough. They had just lost something like 7 million to forced starvation in the 32-33 famine, and welcomed the Germans as liberators. But Nazi idealogy refused to consider them as an ally, so instead of being armed to fight against their former oppressors, they were persecuted more.

Eastern Europe was unimaginably perilous for civilians. 


April 26th, 2018 at 8:03 PM ^

as auxiliaries of the Einsatzgruppen, the Trawniki.  

Nazis also had a Slavic army(Russian Liberation Army) under former Russian general  Andrey Vlasov. (as well as a Muslim SS unit)

The Nazis at times did use non-Aryan peoples.


But yeah, Eastern Europe was literally hell on earth. The vast majority of the people who died in the ETO died there. 


April 27th, 2018 at 11:06 AM ^

...but did see a documentary once on Ukraine in WW2 which stated that Ukranians were conscripted by both sides, thus at some points German uniformed Ukranians were shooting at Russian uniformed Ukranians. True?

Ukraine, Poland...terrorized by one side, then by the other...unimaginable what it would be like trying to survive through that


April 26th, 2018 at 8:05 PM ^

Dude, I know. However, it bothers me deeply that many people don't recognize the Soviet Union as an empire (and often a racist one as well) and forget that all 5 Soviet Central Asian republics lost between 7-11% of their population in WWII, which while not quite as high as the numbers in the Slavic majority Eastern European republics, is still very very high 

Communist Football

April 27th, 2018 at 9:52 AM ^

I mean, hanging from a blimp and being a sitting duck for Nazi snipers can be called a "supporting role," I guess, but that's like saying an OG or OT only plays a "supporting role" on a football team because he doesn't personally advance the football.

In terms of numbers, black soldiers represented approximately 4 percent of the initial landing party:

Of the 31,912 troops landing on Utah Beach, approximately 1,200 were black and included troops of the remaining battery of the 320th Balloon Battalion, the 582nd Engineer Dump Truck Company, the 385th Quartermaster Truck Company, and the 490th Port Battalion with its 226th, 227th, 228th, and 229th Port Companies.

The issue is that there's a common misconception that there were no black troops at D-Day, a misconception that was furthered by Saving Private Ryan. Overall, a million African-Americans served in World War II. And given that the Michigan football team is full of talented black players, to me it seems important to make sure that the program has the opportunity to study this topic during its visit.


April 28th, 2018 at 12:50 AM ^

It would real difficult for any sniper to hit someone hanging from a blimp.( which were not even needed because of Allied air superiority)

They were also one of numerous blimp regiments most of whom were white. Your football analogy fails because these blimp regiments were not crucial to the success of the invasion.


Again, fewer than one percent were in a combat zone. Initial landing means the first wave of troops ashore. That generally means after the area has secured. 


My grandfather was in support as a Marine in the Pacific as an aviation mechanic. There is no shame in it. 


It's important to note WHY they were restricted: Racism, racism, racism.  Noting their supporting role says nothing about their courage, but the racism of their country.