Operation Overlord

Operation Overlord INTRODUCTION On June 5, 1944 Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the Order of the Day. At 12:15 AM, June 6, 1944, 23,000 paratroopers and glider troopers plunged into the darkness and the allied troops; American, French, British and Canadian, stormed a 50-mile stretch of French beach called Normandy, D-Day had begun. General Eisenhower started the morning off with this speech to the troops: Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.

The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41.

The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. In midsummer 1943, a year before the Anglo-American invasion of Normandy that would lead to the liberation of western Europe, Adolf Hitlers Wehrmacht, or armed forces, still occupied all the territory it had gained in the blitzkrieg campaigns of 1939-41 and most of its Russian conquests of 1941-42.

It also retained its foothold on the coast of North Africa, acquired when it had gone to the aid of Italy in 1941. The Russian counteroffensives at Stalingrad and Kursk had pushed back the perimeter of Hitlers Europe in the east. Germany or its allies still controlled the whole of mainland Europe, except for neutral Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Sweden. The Nazi war economy, though overshadowed by the growing of Americas, outmatched both that of Britain and that of the Soviet Union except in the key areas of tank and aircraft production. Without direct intervention by the western Allies on the continent, an intervention that would center on the western Allies commitment of a large American army, Hitler could count on prolonging his military dominance for years to come. Since 1942, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had been pressing his allies; U.S.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to mount a second front in the west but the circumstances would not permit it. Americas army was still forming, and the landing craft necessary to bring such an army across the English Channel had not yet been built. Britain had begun to prepare theoretical plans for a return to the continental mainland soon after the retreat from Dunkirk, France, in 1940. The Americans started to frame their own timetable immediately after Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. Less inhibited than the British by perceived technical difficulties, the Americans pressed from the start for an early invasion, desirably in 1943, perhaps even in 1942.

To that end, George C. Marshall, Roosevelts chief of staff, appointed a protg, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the U.S. Armys war plans division in December 1941 and commissioned him to design an operational scheme for Allied victory. Eisenhower convinced President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill that the priority had to be Germany First. He framed proposals for a 1943 invasion (Operation Roundup), and another (Operation Sledgehammer) for 1942 in the event of a Russian collapse or a sudden weakening of Germanys position.

Both plans were presented to the British in London in April 1942, and Roundup was adopted. The British, nevertheless, reserved objective doubts, and at subsequent Anglo-American conferences in Washington in June, and in London in July; squashed all thought of Sledgehammer and then succeeded in persuading the Americans to agree to a North African landing as the principal operation of 1942. Operation Torch as the landing in North Africa was to be code-named, effectively postponed Roundup again, while subsequent operations in Sicily and the Italian mainland delayed preparations for the cross-Channel invasion through 1943 as well. The postponements were a principal cause of concern at inter-Allied conferences at Washington, Quebec, Cairo, and Tehran. At the last gathering, Roosevelt and Stalin combined against Churchill to insist on the adoption of May 1944 as an unalterable date for the invasion.

In return, Stalin agreed to mount a simultaneous offensive in Eastern Europe and to join in the war against Japan once Germany had been defeated. The decision taken at Tehran was a final indication of American determination to stage the cross-Channel invasion and a defeat for Alan Brooke, Churchills chief of staff and the principal opponent of premature action. Despite Brookes procrastination, the British had in fact been proceeding with structural plans, coordinated by Lieutenant General Frederick Morgan, who had been appointed COSSAC (chief of staff to the supreme Allied commander [designate]) at the Anglo-American Casablanca conference in January 1943. His staffs first plan for Operation Overlord was a landing in Normandy between Caen and the Cotentin Peninsula in strength of three divisions, with two brigades to be airdropped. Another 11 divisions were to be landed within the first two weeks through two artificial harbors that would be towed across the Channel.

Once a foothold had been established, a force of a hundred divisions, the majority shipped directly from the United States, were to be assembled in France for a final assault on Germany. In January 1944 Eisenhower became supreme Allied commander, and the COSSAC staff was redesignated SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). Hitler had long been aware that the Anglo-American allies would eventually mount a cross-Channel invasion, but, as long as they dissipated their forces in the Mediterranean and as long as the campaign in the East demanded the commitment of all available German forces, he downplayed the threat. By November 1943, however, he accepted that it could be ignored no longer, and in Fuher Directive 51 he announced that France would be reinforced. To oversee defensive preparations, Hitler appointed Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, former commander of the Afrika Korps, as inspector of coastal defenses and then as commander of Army Group B, occupying the threatened Channel coast.

In January 1944 the Allies also appointed an invasion commander. Bernard Law Montgomery, Rommels desert opponent in North Africa, was nominated under Eisenhower as commander of the ground invasion forces. Walter Bedell Smith, an American, continued as Eisenhowers chief of staff, but his other principal subordinates were British. Air Chief Marshall Arthur Tedder as his deputy, Admiral Bertram Ramsay as naval commander, and Air Chief Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory as head of the expeditionary air forces. Montgomerys first acts were (1) to demand and get five divisions to make the initial landing and (2) to widen the landing area to include the Orne …

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