Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings were a huge Allied undertaking in June 1944 during World War Two that opened up the Western European Theater of Operations. Here, Robert Tremblay considers the operation in the context of the differing leaderships: the Allies led by General Eisenhower and the Nazis led by Erwin Rommel.
During General Eisenhower’s message to the Allied Forces, the day of June 6, 1944, he communicated intent and insight to the forces by stating they are “about to embark upon the Great Crusade”. General (GEN) Eisenhower’s engaged and responsive decision making, through his experience and leadership attributes, accounted for the success in defeating Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Operation Overlord. Operation Overlord became the catalyst for the future Allied victory in the European Theater of Operations for WWII. Operation Overlord was to open-up a third war front through Western Europe, within the European Theater of Operations, in order serve as a theater opening for a line communication to liberate Western Europe. Then, the Allied forces would have the ability to create an envelopment of Nazi Germany, leading to their occupation and surrender. The mission consisted of a multinational invasion using air power, sea power, and land power. Operation Overlord forces comprised of 5,000 landing vessels (security provided from 700 naval boats) transporting 175,000 (numbers vary) from five multi-lateral divisions with three Allied airborne divisions by 1,000 personnel transport aircraft and gliders, which were supported by 4,000 fighter and bomber airplanes. Operational Overlord consisted of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines coming from seven nations coming together for a common cause.
Root Cause Analysis for Operation Overlord
The root cause for the execution of Operation Overlord and the occupation of Omaha Beach was a result from three critical factors. The first factor was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR’s) decisions to formally support the “Europe First” policy over the Pacific campaign. The reason is that the Americans and the British made a mutual judgement that Germany was rapidly becoming a bigger risk than Japan and the Allies needed to concentrate first on Europe. FDR and Churchill’s objective was to destroy Hitler’s aggression across Europe and North Africa. The Americans and the British used the “Europe First” policy as an advantage for development of its readiness through the Southern European and North African campaign. FDR used military, as an instrument of power to reach a political objective of legitimizing the “Europe First” policy. This policy led to the planning and preparation for Operation Overlord.
The second critical factor was the concept of operations development amongst the Allied leaders for Operation Overlord. The Allied leaders initially discussed the concept of operations in May 1943 at the Trident Conference. During the conference, the senior Allied leaders discussed the organization, training, and equipment for the U.S. Military and Allied Forces going into Great Britain. Then, at the Quadrant Conference in August 1943, the Allied military leaders discussed the concept of Operation Overlord. This stated three conditions that needed to be met before the execution of Operation Overlord. The first condition was that there needed to be exhaustion in the German military resources before the Allies executed D-Day. The second condition was that the Allies needed to strain the German resources though the depletion of their logistical base by sustaining two areas of operations within the war. The third condition was that the Allied forces were to use opportunities to advance their readiness through mission-related experiences.
The last factor was the selection of GEN Dwight Eisenhower. FDR officially designated GEN Eisenhower as the Supreme Commander on his weekly address. Before he did the address, FDR told GEN Eisenhower “Well, Ike, you are going to command Overlord”. GEN Eisenhower took all responsibility for Operation Overlord. After his appointment of responsibilities, GEN Eisenhower empowered the Allied forces with loyalty and conviction so they could plan and prepare for this complex operation. He stated that he had “full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle”.
Conflicting Personalities of Generalship
The German and American generalship was the decisive reason as to whom would be victorious in Normandy. There were conflicting personalities operating within different forms of nationalism and ideology. Soldiers witnessed GEN Eisenhower being an engaged general based on wanting to know each soldier’s emotions before the invasion. For example, during Operation Overlord, this is where the famous picture was taken in front of the 101st ABN DIV Soldiers before they did their jump behind enemy lines. Additionally, once he provided the decision for Overlord, he was as anxious for the soldiers as the general officers and the division commanders as it was the soldiers that put the plans into action.GEN Eisenhower had the personal courage to take all of the responsibility of any failure. For example, with respect to Operation Overlord, GEN Eisenhower wrote a letter claiming all responsibility if the Normandy Invasion was a failure. Now, he was able to lead an organizational culture with full freedom and empowerment. GEN Eisenhower made it clear with Churchill and FDR that he needed the responsibility and empowerment to be able to make and execute decisions and actions freely. This generalship and climate was all the way down to the lieutenant and sergeant. These lieutenants and sergeants had the empowerment to decide and execute the tactical decisions and actions required for all operations to become a success.
Referencing the Germans’ generalship, it was the total contrary. Hitler and his Generals micromanaged down to the lieutenant and sergeant. For example, during the invasion, the German Commanding Generals had to seek authorization from Hitler to get a Panzer Division from the reserve. The German Generals could not wake Hitler until noon, while the first land forces started to come aboard around 0600 hrs on June 6, 1944 and Airborne operations came the night prior. Once the German Generals received clearance, the Panzer division could not start moving until night so that they could be under darkness for concealment. Therefore, this Panzer Division did not arrive until 0930 hrs June 7, after a 75-mile march. The impact was drastic for not having the Panzer division in an expeditious matter of time. Guderian stated in his memoirs that the best opportunity for a counterattack on the British airborne forces was lost due to not receiving orders from higher command. Furthermore, to make matters worse, Rommel was not at Normandy. Hitler gave Rommel the operational command of securing the Atlantic and Normandy front, but Rommel was far away and tried to get to Normandy. However, since the Allies had air superiority, Rommel could not fly and had to drive. The result was multiple blunders that led to German failures and Allied successes during the invasion.
In conclusion, historical analysis substantiates that American Forces were successful in accomplishing their objectives in Operation Overlord. This was done through their maneuvers that resulted in the opening up of – and eventual envelopment of – the Western European Theater of Operations. Operation Overlord had lasting impacts within World War II. Therefore, one of the main conclusions from Murray and Millet’s analysis was that World War II was one of the biggest destroyers of human life and material that we have encountered in world history. The amount of human life lost to Operation Overlord (and especially at the Battle of Omaha Beach) was and is still unthinkable. Then, with the amount of money and material destroyed, that loss was even greater. The Overlord Allied casualties totaled 60,771 with 8,975 killed in action. Historians believe that Hitler wanted to conquer the world at any cost. Hitler and the Nazis proved this point on many occasions. For example, Hitler and his Nazis committed unthinkable acts within the Holocaust, Polish and French Campaigns, and several other Eastern European campaigns. The Allies needed to hold the Nazis accountable and so defeat them. The process of defeating the Nazis came at a very high cost, with the destruction of material and human lives. The means were the destruction of the Nazis and ends were eliminating their evil from the world. Therefore, it is my belief that the ends outweighed the means. In conclusion, GEN Eisenhower summarized that “Operation Overlord was at once a singular military expedition and fearsome risk”.
What do you think of the article? Let us know below.
Dwight Eisenhower. Message from General Dwight Eisenhower to the Allied Forces, Eisenhower Archives Website (6 June 1944).
John J. Marr. “Designing the Victory in Europe.” Military Review July-August 2011 (2011): 64.
John J. Marr. “Designing the Victory in Europe.”, 64.
Max Hastings. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 21.
Dwight D. Eisenhower. Crusade in Europe (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1952), 211
Dwight Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Diaries.Edited by Robert H. Ferrell (New York: WW Norton and Company, 1981), 107.
Eisenhower. Crusade in Europe, 251-252.
Dwight D. Eisenhower.At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1967), 271-275.
Stephen Ambrose. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches(London: Simon Schuster, 1994), 190.
 Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett. A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War. (Cambridge, MS and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 412.
Rommel, Rommel Papers, 483.
Heinz Guderian. Panzer Leader. (New York: Dell, 1989), 184.
Ambrose. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches, 567-575.
Murray and Millett, A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War, 554-557.
Dwight D Eisenhower. In Review.(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1969), 69.
Dwight D Eisenhower. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, 273.