Operation Overload 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.

General Eisenhower addresses American troops on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day.

General Eisenhower addresses American troops on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day.

Introduction

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”.[1]  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.[2]  Operational Overlord consisted of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines coming from seven nations coming together for a common cause.[3]  

 

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.[4]  Then, at the Quadrant Conference in August 1943, the Allied military leaders discussed the concept of Operation Overlord.[5]   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”.[6][7]  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”.[8]  

 

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.[9]  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.[10]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.[11]  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.[12]  Once the German Generals received clearance, the Panzer division could not start moving until night so that they could be under darkness for concealment.[13]  Therefore, this Panzer Division did not arrive until 0930 hrs June 7, after a 75-mile march.[14]  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.[15]   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.[16]  The result was multiple blunders that led to German failures and Allied successes during the invasion.  

 

Conclusion

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.[17] 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.[18]  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”.[19]

 

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[1]Dwight Eisenhower. Message from General Dwight Eisenhower to the Allied Forces, Eisenhower Archives Website (6 June 1944).

[2]John J. Marr. “Designing the Victory in Europe.” Military Review July-August 2011 (2011): 64.

[3]John J. Marr. “Designing the Victory in Europe.”, 64.

[4]Max Hastings. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 21.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Dwight D. Eisenhower. Crusade in Europe  (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1952), 211

[7]Dwight Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Diaries.Edited by Robert H. Ferrell (New York: WW Norton and Company, 1981), 107.

[8]Ibid

[9]Eisenhower. Crusade in Europe, 251-252.

[10]Dwight D. Eisenhower.At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1967), 271-275.

[11]Stephen Ambrose. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches(London: Simon Schuster, 1994), 190.  

[12]Ibid, 567-575.  

[13] 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.   

[14]Rommel, Rommel Papers, 483.

[15]Heinz Guderian. Panzer Leader.  (New York: Dell, 1989), 184.

[16]Ambrose. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches, 567-575.  

[17]Murray and Millett, A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War, 554-557.   

[18]Dwight D Eisenhower.  In Review.(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company INC, 1969), 69.  

[19]Dwight D Eisenhower. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, 273.

The 75th anniversary of D-Day took place a few days ago, on June 6th. In honor of that, today we have a contribution from an author of a recently published book about D-Day - D-Day UK: 100 Locations in Britain (Amazon USAmazon UK). Here Simon Forty explains the background to World War Two’s D-Day and his book.

US troops approaching Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

US troops approaching Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

In June 1944 Allied forces invaded France to liberate Europe and destroy Nazism.

Immortalised in film and book, D-Day is, rightly, seen as a turning point in 20thcentury

history and opened a land campaign that finished less than a year later in the

unconditional surrender of the enemy. 

 

The speed, means and method of this victory have been discussed and debated

ever since. Most of the discussion has concentrated on the landings and the battles

that followed: the bravery of the soldiers, sailors and airmen; the effectiveness and

personality of the commanders; the efficiency and abilities of the respective tactics,

weapons and armies.

 

The locations are written indelibly in our memories: Omaha and Juno, Pegasus

Bridge, Arromanches, Pointe du Hoc, Sainte-Mère-Église. Understandably, much of the

military remembrance – the cemeteries and memorials – are on the French side of the

English Channel, as are most of the remnants of war – bunkers, vehicles, scarred buildings.

However, like the tip of an iceberg, the D-Day landings and the battle of Normandy

– about two months’ fighting from 6 June until the end of August – were the result of

years of preparation that took place to a great extent in Britain. It was in Britain that

the plans were developed, the logistics organised and the weapons prepared. It was in

Britain that the soldiers boarded the ships to take them to France, from Britain that

the air forces provided aerial cover and the armada set sail. It was in Britain that large

numbers of young American, Canadian, Polish, and French men and women spent so

much time that they became part of the everyday life of the country. And it wasn’t all

work: the influx of that many young men and women – including more than 100,000

black troops – had a striking affect on Britain’s social scene. After the war, 60,000 war

brides left Britain for a future in North America. British and American culture hadn’t

become one entity, but it had certainly joined at the hip.

 

Americans start to arrive

The first Americans arrived in Northern Ireland in January 1942 – although

‘Special Observers’ had been there since spring 1941. By May 1944 their ranks had

swelled to around 750,000, a figure that doubled before 1944 was out. Some of these

soldiers spent a short time in Britain before heading to the Mediterranean theatre;

others spent as much as 20 months training for action.

 

This invasion – often dubbed the ‘friendly invasion’ – affected most people

in Britain in one way or another. The Americans had to be housed and fed; they

had to have places to train and trainers to tell them what to do. They had to have

equipment and places to practise using it. The supplies for the battles to come had

to be stored somewhere. The details of the invasion had to include secure locations

for final preparation, places to board ships and receive final orders. And then there

were the naval facilities, and those needed for the US Air Forces: airfields, runways,

hangars. This was no mere temporary posting. This was the creation of an American

infrastructure in a way that hadn’t been done before. The rulebook had to be created.

Over the next two years the preparations for the invasion of France took form.

It wasn’t a linear progression: political considerations, fighting in Africa and the

Mediterranean, the strength of the opposition – all these things interrupted progress

until late 1943. From then on the countdown had begun and while the actual end date

changed slightly, it wasn’t a question of if, but when.

 

D-Day UK, published to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, chooses 100

locations in Britain to tell the story of how the invasion of France came about. It covers

the practicalities of the planning process, the main people and the major organisations

involved. It looks at the specialist training the troops needed and the major exercises;

gives an insight into some of the logistical issues, covers the movement of troops from

marshalling camp to embarkation – for delivery to France by landing craft or aircraft;

examines the range of air assets over the battlefield, from fighters through medium

bombers to the heavies; and touches on the naval side of the landings, particularly the

minesweepers and landing craft.

 

Choosing 100 locations

Choosing 100 locations proved to be a difficult job and I’m sure that many would

disagree with my choices: too much air and not enough naval; too much in Hampshire

and not enough in Essex; too much American and not enough British or Canadian; too

much that can’t be seen today. In the end it’s impossible to please everyone.

Finally, I decided early on not to include museums in the listings: there could

have been 100 of them alone, including the Imperial War Museum, National Army

Museum, RAC Tank Museum, D-Day Museum, Royal Signals Museum, Fleet Air

Arm Museum, the excellent Portsmouth naval museums (the Submarine Museum,

Naval Museum and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower), Bletchley Park, Cobbaton

Combat Collection, museums at airfields (Tangmere, Shoreham, Dunkeswell), up to

and including the Commando display in the Fort William Museum. All these and many

more have material related to D-Day and are worth a visit.

 

 

D-Day UK: 100 Locations in Britainby Simon Forty is available here:Amazon USAmazon UK

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Over the course of 2014 we have had a great variety of fascinating blog articles on the site. Below are 5 of our favorites...

George Washington on his Deathbed by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851.

George Washington on his Deathbed by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851.


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  2. Nick Tingley writes here on a fascinating topic. He postulates on what could have happened had the 1944 Normandy Landings against Nazi Germany taken place in 1943. As we shall see, things may well have not turned out as well as they did… Article here.
  3. In this extended article, Rebecca Fachner looks at the story of King Henry VIII’s seventh wife – the one that got away. We venture in to the tale of Catherine Willoughby, one of the most enchanting women of her age and Henry VIII’s would-be wife.
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George Levrier-Jones

Nick Tingley writes his latest article for the site on a fascinating topic. He postulates on what could have happened had the 1944 Normandy Landings against Nazi Germany taken place in 1943. As we shall see, things may well have not turned out as well as they did…

 

In a mid-spring morning in 1943, France was awash with blood. Like the brutal battle of Gallipoli in the First World War, Allied troops found themselves once again pinned down and being forced back into the sea by a well-trained army. These troops, under the command of US General George Patton, had barely been on the shores of Normandy for more than a week before the German war machine had finally kicked in to gear. Starting at Benouville in the east, German Panzer units were screaming across the coast of Normandy, cutting off the divisions that had already made their way inland. Those that managed to cling on to the coastline began to be evacuated but the German counter-attack was so swift that many were left to their fate. For the second time in the Second World War, the Allies had been kicked out of France.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied effort in Europe, was given little choice but to order the withdrawal of the rest of the invasion force. Soon after he accepted full responsibility for the failure and was fired. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who only a year before had quite happily dismissed Churchill’s plan to attack the “soft underbelly of Europe”, was now forced to admit that the British Prime Minister may have been right. Under immense pressure from a population that was already astonished by America’s “Germany First Policy”, Roosevelt was forced to withdraw his forces from Europe to face off with the Empire of Japan in the Pacific.

After a year of revelling in the presence of their strong, American allies, Britain once again found itself facing the Nazi threat – alone in the West.

US troops before fighting began in June 1944.

US troops before fighting began in June 1944.

Operation Round Up

But none of this happened.

The Allies did not launch a large-scale invasion of France in 1943. Nor did they fail to hold on to the landings when D-Day finally came about in 1944. Eisenhower was not fired and the American population did not demand that the Armed Forces withdraw to take on the more immediate Japanese threat.

But, when the Americans finally joined the war in Europe in 1942, this scenario of an attempted invasion of France in 1943 was certainly a real possibility. President Roosevelt and his generals, under a huge amount of pressure from the American people and his new Russian ally, Josef Stalin, were eager to open up a second front in France and bring the Nazis to heel as soon as possible.

The proposed invasion of France, codenamed “Operation Round Up”, was intended to take place in the spring of 1943. Its goal was to relieve pressure on the Soviet Union and force a quick end to what had already been a war to rival the Great War of 1914-18. The plan could have ended the war by Christmas 1943. But it was not to be.

 

The British Question

The main character responsible for delaying the invasion of France was the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. As a politician who had led Britain against the threat of invasion in 1940 and saw the turn about of the British fortunes of war in North Africa, Churchill held a lot of sway over both the British people and the American president. Whilst American generals were advocating an invasion of France as soon as the troops were ready to do so, Churchill and the British generals were suggesting a more roundabout way of dealing with the Nazi threat.

Churchill’s suggestion was simple. The Allies should focus on removing the Axis Powers from Africa first, to relieve pressure on the forces fighting from Egypt. Then, once Africa was secure, he later suggested that the Allies should attack Sicily and then mainland Italy in an attempt to knock the German’s closest ally, Italy, out of the war before taking the Nazis on in the final attack.

Unwilling to argue with the British, whose island offered the only close staging point for any invasion of France, Roosevelt eventually capitulated to Churchill’s plan, much to the dismay of his own generals. Seaborne landings took place in Africa in 1942 and in Sicily and Italy the following year.

Ever since, historians have been arguing over Churchill’s intentions for suggesting an attack on the “soft underbelly of Europe”. Many suggest that Churchill was only ever interested in securing Britain’s Empire by having troops in Africa and that the attack in Italy was designed so that Churchill could gain leverage against the Soviet Union in any potential post-war agreement. It appeared that many of the American generals at the time had considered this possibility as well. When Churchill further suggested the idea of an invasion of the Balkans prior to an invasion of France, the generals, and later historians, were quick to suggest that this was merely a ploy to ensure that the Soviet Union would have little bargaining power after the war was over. However, this invasion did not take place and Roosevelt finally stood his ground, insisting that the Allies’ next invasion should take place in France.

There are, however, some historians who have suggested that Churchill had learned from his experience at Gallipoli during the First World War and, as such, was proceeding with a greater caution when addressing the issue of defeating the Nazis. These historians are keen to point out that the sea and air landings in Africa, Sicily and Italy were by no means successful.

 

Learn By Experience

Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, was a complete farce in comparison to the later D-Day landings. Both the British and Americans failed to achieve their objectives, the landings were delayed due to poor planning and an airborne operation with a single American parachute battalion turned into a complete nightmare. In the aftermath of Operation Torch, both the US General Patton and British General Clark acknowledged that the landings had been completely chaotic. They even went so far as to suggest that their troops would have been massacred had they been fighting German troops rather than the badly armed French colonial troops that they actually engaged.

Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, was little better. Although pre-dawn airborne drops and sea landings saw 80,000 allies land on in Sicily, the attacks themselves were often chaotic. After landing on shore, the US Seventh Army had no clear objectives due to the vague planning of the operation and it was only by the exploitative nature of General Patton that the army did not stop dead in its tracks. Furthermore, troops often came ashore in the wrong place and airborne troops found themselves scattered all over the place. The British glider force, who were tasked with capturing a key bridge south of Syracuse, lost the majority of its gliders to the sea and were forced to capture the bridge with only thirty men. To make matters worse, ground commanders often complained about the lack of Allied air cover over Sicily, but their air force colleagues were unwilling to risk fighters as they would often get picked off by their own anti-aircraft batteries.

The Allied landings in Italy in September 1943 appeared to be a drastic improvement on the earlier attempts in North Africa and Sicily, but this was largely due to the Italian government surrendering shortly afterwards. A later landing at Anzio in January 1944 failed to advance quickly enough and allowed the occupying Germans to fall back to more defensible positions.

Whilst many are quick to criticise Churchill for “leading the Allies up the Mediterranean path”, the chaotic invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Italy show us that the Allies were by no means ready to take on the Germans in 1943. In fact, many of the lessons learned from these failures during the earlier invasions ensured the success of Operation Overlord in June 1944. Regardless of Churchill’s reasoning, he had at least prevented a potentially disastrous invasion of France in 1943.

 

The What Could Have Beens

So what would have happened during a 1943 invasion of France?

There are many interpretations for what might have happened. I believe that General Patton would have been the obvious choice to lead the invasion of France. Patton was not chosen to lead the attack in 1944 due to an incident during the Sicily campaign where he slapped a soldier who was suffering from combat fatigue. But if the invasion of Sicily had never happened, this event may not have happened leaving Patton open to command the attack on the Normandy beaches.

There may still have been an attempt to attack and capture Pegasus Bridge, which was one of the few bridges that would allow the Germans access to attack the eastern flank of the Normandy beachheads. And this attack would probably have been undertaken by glider assault. But we can imagine that the attack would have been as successful as the glider assault in Sicily. With gliders crashing well short of the target there would have been few troops in position to hold the bridge. The troops at Pegasus Bridge would have easily been overrun and the Germans would have had the opportunity to cut the invading armies off from the sea.

There would have been an airborne assault, but given how chaotic the airborne assaults in North Africa and Sicily had been, the confusion that the paratroopers encountered on D-Day in 1944 would have been far greater in 1943 had they not had that earlier experience in the Mediterranean. The same can be said of the beach landings that would have been chaotic and delayed. We can quite easily imagine that the struggle that occurred on Omaha beach in 1944 would have been present and even greater at every single landing site in 1943.

Whilst we can’t know for sure that a 1943 invasion of France would have been a disaster, history suggests that it would have been. It is entirely possible that the landings themselves may have been a success, but without the experience of encountering those small failures in the otherwise successful landings in the Mediterranean it seems highly unlikely that the invasion of France would have achieved anything close to the success of D-Day. At best, an Allied Army would have found itself penned into the Normandy region by a more experienced German force. At worse, the Germans would have poured along the coast, cutting off the invasion forces and driving the rest back in to the sea.

 

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References

The Second World War - Anthony Beevor (2012)

Invaders: British and American Experience of Seaborne Landings 1939 - 1945 - Colin John Bruce (1999)

Fighting them on the Beaches: The D-Day landings, June 6, 1944 - Nigel Cawthorne (2002)

D-Day Fails: Atomic Alternatives in Europe - Stephen Ambrose (1999)