102. D-Day Special Episode

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected where we demonstrate how everything has a history and how those histories link together in unexpected ways.

For this special bonus episode Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell discuss the poignancy of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.


The D-Day landings, code named Operation Overlord, took place along the heavily fortified Normandy coast. The German’s had been expecting an invasion and Rommel had been charged with constructing the “Atlantic Wall”, over two thousand miles of bunkers, pillboxes, land mines, and obstacles, along the north coast of France. However, this defence line was not without it holes, and the invasion was planned to take place on 5 June. Bad weather delayed the action to the following day and so the Allied liberation of Western Europe began on the 6 June. Allied forces, made up of 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops, landed on the coast of France. This invasion was the largest amphibious military assault in history; with 6,939 ships and landing vessels, 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders needed to transport the 156,115 troops. Allied troops, which the German forces had expected at Calais, landed at five beaches, code named from west to east: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. These code names were not the only codes used on the beaches of Normandy that day.

Pregnant Birds, Whales and a Crazy White Man: D-Day and the Native American Code Talkers –  Numurekwa’etuu

Thirteen Comanche Code Talkers landed on the beaches of Normandy with the Allied troops on June 6 1944. These were a select group of Native American service men, who had been specifically trained to relay secret messages using words which were based on their traditional tribal language. One of the benefits of using the Comanche language was the fact that it was not recorded in ethnographic books, making it an ideal secret language. They also developed two hundred and fifty secret code words which no one outside of the group would be able to understand. These words were mainly made to describe objects and actions for which there were no Comanche equivalents; such as bombers, which became “pregnant birds” and Adolph Hitler who was “crazy white man”. Based within the 4th Infantry Division, which landed on Utah Beach, the first message sent from this position was sent by a Comanche Code Talker Larry Saupitty. His message read “Tsaaku nunnuwee. Atahtu nunnuwee” which translates to: “We made a good landing. We landed in the wrong place.”

Comanche (Numunuu) was not the only Native American language secretly utilised during World War II. Four hundred Navajo men were drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps and saw action in every major battle involving the marines in the Pacific, such as Guam, Iow Jima, and Okinawa. At Iow Jima the Code Talkers, using Navajo, sent more than eight hundred messages without a single error. They also sent out some of the first detailed reports of the destruction of Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. Some of their words included; CHAY-DA-GAHI which translates as tortoise and was used to describe a tank, whilst LO-TSO, which is whale, was used for a battleship.

The Comanche Code Talkers were present at many of the war’s major events, such as the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge, several of them were injured in action and were awarded the Purple Heart. All the Comanche Code Talkers have now passed away and a debt is truly owed for their heroic actions. Not one of their codes were ever broken.

Cpl Charles Chibitty, Cpl. Forrest Kassanavoid, T/4 Haddon Codynah, T/4 Morris Tabbyetchy, T/5 Willis Yackeschi, T/5 Robert Holder, T/5 Wellington Mihecoby, T/5 Clifford Otitivo, T/5 Simmons Parker, Pvt. Melvin Permansu, Pvt. Elgin Red Elk, Pvt. Albert (Edward) Nahquaddy Jr, Pvt. Perry Noyabad, Pfc. Roderick Red Elk, Pfc. Larry Saupitty, Pfc. Ralph Wahnee, Anthony Tabbytite.

(Names recorded at www.comanchemuseum.com)

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