Australia’s part in the D-Day landings marked 80 years later

William Ton |

Crowds have gathered in Normandy to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Crowds have gathered in Normandy to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Australia’s small but crucial role in the struggle that brought about the downfall of Nazi Germany in Eastern Europe will be remembered eighty years later.

About 3,200 Australian pilots, sailors and soldiers took part in the dangerous D-Day campaign in France on June 6, 1944, while their brothers and sisters fought Japan closer to home.

The Normandy landings were the largest sea invasion the world has ever seen and marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe from the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler.

A poppy
At least fourteen Australians were killed during the D-Day campaign, which marked the end of Nazi Germany. (Lukas Coch/MONKEY PHOTOS)

Together with British, American and eleven other soldiers from the Allied forces, the Australians helped form a beachhead from which the armies of the free world would march on Berlin.

About 2,800 soldiers served from the air, while 500 served in Navy warships and a number of soldiers assisted in the British Army’s ground offensive, RSL National President Greg Melick said.

At least fourteen Australians were killed on D-Day and hundreds more during the Normandy campaign.

“This Thursday, the 80th anniversary of D-Day, we will join communities around the world in remembering those and all who fought for freedom and peace,” Mr Melick said.

Governor General David Hurley and his wife will represent Australia at commemorative events hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and in the United Kingdom to mark the D-Day anniversaries.

One of the first Australians killed on D-Day, Sub-Lieutenant Richard Pirrie was recognized at the Normandy Memorial War in Portsmouth, England, on the eve of the commemoration.

Sub-Lieutenant Pirrie, who had turned 24 that day, commanded a small spotter boat which he brought as close to the coast as possible to identify and shoot at the Germans.

His actions successfully neutralized the German positions and no Allied forces in that section of the beach failed to reach the shore safely.

But the Australian was killed after his boat was hit by gunfire from Germans on shore and a floating mine.

“He was so successful that the Germans realized what he was doing and fired directly at his small boat,” said Matt Anderson, director of the Australian War Memorial.

Richard Pirrie who died during the D-Day landings.
Richard Pirrie turned 24 on the day he died during the D-Day landings. (David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS)

Sub-Lieutenant Pirrie’s cousin, Richard Pirrie, said many people see D-Day as an American, British and Canadian battle.

“But Australian blood was also shed,” he said.

Approximately 27,000 Australian airmen took part in the Western Theater during World War II.

One in five did not survive.