How Jews helped turn the tide on D-Day 75 years ago

How Jews helped turn the tide on D-Day 75 years ago

A leading archivist estimates that thousands of Jewish servicemen fought in the allied troops during the Battle of Normandy

75 years after D-Day, the world is waking up to the contribution Jewish soldiers made to the largest military invasion ever staged, a leading archivist said.

Martin Sugarman estimates that “many hundreds, possibly thousands” of Jewish servicemen fought in the allied troops between June 6th and August 29 1944.

Overall, approximately 65,000 British Jews served in the Second World War, including up to 3,000 in the Royal Navy and 25,000 in the Royal Air Force.

Sugarman, who works with the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women and (AJEX) the Jewish Military Museum, has written five books on the subject.

“The Jewish contribution shouldn’t be exceptionalised but it should be recognised,” he said. “The number of Jews who fought in the allied forces is out of proportion with the Jewish population.

“Our casualties were higher, perhaps by small amounts but nevertheless it completely negates the [postwar] antisemitism that Jews did not fight because it’s the other way around.”

Walter Bingham with his Legion of Honor award on his lapel, on board the ship in Haifa harbour
Photo credit: Embassy of France to Israel / Elodie Sauvage

Among those who fought on the front-lines, army veteran and Kindertransport escapee Walter Bingham was drafted as an ambulance driver at the age of 20. 

Bingham, 95, who now lives in Jerusalem, fought in the Battle for Hill 112, which continued for six weeks, after being deployed several days after D-Day.

The heavily decorated soldier was later recognised for his bravery in the field by King George VI and received France’s highest award the Legion d’Honneur last year.

But according to Bingham, the contribution made by Jewish soldiers in the war has been largely forgotten amid rising antisemitism.

“But immediately after the war in 1948 there was sympathy for Israel and for the Jews and for our achievements,” he added.

Fred Balcombe

Meanwhile, 29-year-old Eastender Fred Balcombe was among six of eight siblings to serve in the army and played a pivotal role in the landmark D-Day landings.

Serving as Adjutant of the 518 Squadron in the Hebrides, Balcombe helped predict the weather in the English Channel by flying meteorological flights at 20,000 feet, delaying D-Day by two days.

“Bad weather would have compromised the operation, and changed the course of the war, ” his grandson the human rights barrister Adam Wagner said.

“I think Jewish people have made an amazing contribution to the country and this country has been an amazing sanctuary.”

Fred Balcombe, fourth from the left on the top row
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