D-Day has always been a celebrated day throughout the entire world in which the Western Allied forces were finally able to break Hitler grasp on Europe. The landings that occurred on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 was a great military victory at the cost of many lives. But the motives behind D-Day are unclear. Why did Britain want to go through Italy and did everything in its power to stop the invasion of Normandy? Why did the US promise Stalin that a second front would be open? The motives behind Operation Overlord are more because of political power play between the allied nations rather than opening a decisive military front.
The most remarkable aspect of World War II was how America committed itself to the battles occurring in Europe and had not concentrated on Japan, the United States’ main aggressor. It was the Americans who were impatient to confront the German army on the continent while the British were haunted by the deepest misgivings about doing so. “Why are we doing this?” cried Winston Churchill in a bitter moment of depression about Operation OVERLORD in February 1944, which caused him a spasm of enthusiasm for an alternative Allied landing in Portugal. ‘I am very uneasy about the whole operation,” wrote the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, as late as June 5, 1944. “At best, it will come very short of the expectation the bulk of the people, namely all those who know nothing about its difficulties.
At its worst, it may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war,” (Ambrose, 56). It seems that the British favoured opening a second front to relieve some of the pressure from Russia, but did not agree with the second front being opened in the beaches of Normandy, but rather that of Italy through the Mediterranean. Had the United Sates Army been wavering in its commitment to a landing in Normandy, it is unlikely that the landing would have taken place before 1945. Until the very last weeks before OVERLORD was launched, its future was the subject of bitter dissension and debate between the generals of Britain and America.
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For a year following the fall of France in 1940, Britain fought on without any actual prospect of final victory. When Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941,the first gleam of hope presented itself to Britain. For the remainder of that year, Britain was preoccupied with the struggle to keep open her Atlantic lifeline, to build her bomber offensive into a meaningful menace to German, and to keep hopes alive in any theatre of war where British army could fight (Africa and the Middle East). Then in December of 1941 came the miracle of Pearl Harbor. Britain’s salvation and the turning point of the war happened when Hitler declared war upon the United States.
After that, the outcome of World War II was never in serious doubt. Great delays and difficulties lay ahead in mobilizing America’s industrial might for the battlefield, and in determining by what strategy the Axis were to be crushed. To the relief of the British, President Roosevelt and his Chiefs of Staff at once asserted their acceptance on the principle of “Germany first.” “They acknowledged that her war-making power was by far the most dangerous and the following her collapse, Japan must soon capitulate. The war in the Pacific became overwhelmingly the concern of the United States Navy” (Keegan, 167).
The principal weight of the army’s ground forced, which would grow to about eight million men, was to be directed against Germany and Italy. This decision was confirmed at Arcadia, the first Anglo-American conference of the war that began in Washington on December 31, 1941. American committed herself to BOLERO, a program for a vast build-up of American forces in Britain. “Churchill, scribbling his own exuberant hopes for the future during the Atlantic passage to that meeting, speculated on the possible landing in Europe by 40 Allied armoured divisions in the following year: “we might hope to win the was at the end of 1943 or 1944,” “ (Hastings, 90).
But in the months after Arcadia, as the first United States troops journeyed to Europe, it was the American who began to focus directly upon an early cross-Channel invasion. The debate now began, and continued with growing heat through the next 20 months, “…reflected, “an American impatience to get on with direct offensive action as well as a belief, held quite generally by the US War Department, that the war could most efficiently be won by husbanding resources for an all-out attack deliberately planned for a fixed date.
American impatience was opposed by British note of caution: American faith in an offensive of fixed date was in contrast to British willingness to proceed one step at a time, moulding a course of action to the turns of military fortune.” Here, in the words of the American official historian…” (Ambrose, 60), was the root of the growing division between the Combined Chiefs of Staff throughout 1942 and much of 1943.
At first, American thinking was dominated by fear of a rapid Russian collapse. They believed that in order to prevent such a thing from happening the western Allies had to create a powerful diversion on the continent. ROUNDUP was a plan for an early invasion, with whatever forces were available, which the British speedily took pains to crush. Under strong American pressure, Churchill agreed in principle to the notion of executing ROUNDUP with 48 allied divisions not later than April 1943.
But the British privately continued to believe that ROUNDUP neither could nor should take place. Despite their assent to the operation, in the name of Allied solidarity, they began a successful struggle to divert resources towards much more modest objectives. As the BOLERO build-up in Britain fell behind schedule, the desert campaign dragged on without decisive result. It became apparent to Washington and London that there could be no campaign in France in 1943.
It was at Casablanca in January 1943 that the Anglo-American leadership met for their second major conference. This was to be the last meeting at which the British gained acceptance of their own ideas about the manner in which the war should be pursued. The Americans reluctantly accepted the invasion of Sicily, with the prospect of further operations in Italy. They also undertook a “…commitment to an even greater combined bomber offensive against Germany, designed to “weaken Germany’s war-making capacity to the point to which invasion would become possible,” (Keegan, 171).
The American Chiefs of Staff returned to Washington “…irritably conscious that they had been persuaded to adopt a course they did not favour- the extension of operations in the Mediterranean which they believed were designed to chiefly serve Britain’s imperial and diplomatic purposes,” (Hastings, 191). But the British had at least acknowledged that northwest Europe must be invaded the following year. The Americans were determined to see that these plans follow through.
Throughout the remainder of 1943, while the British argued for extended commitment in the Mediterranean, the American remained firm. At the Trident Conference in Washington in May, the date for the invasion of northwest Europe was set for May 1, 1944, codenamed OVERLORD. This proposal was put to Stalin at the Teheran Conference in November 1943; he accepted it. The American argued that any cancellation or unreasonable postponement would constitute a breach of faith with Russia.
At the beginning of 1944, Nazi Germanys fundamental problem was that she had “…conquered more territory than she could defend, but Hitler had a conqueror’s mentality and he insisted on defending every inch of occupied soil…” (Keegan, 37). To carry out such orders, the Wehrmacht, the German Army, depended on improvisations, the most important were conscripted foreign troops, school-age German youth and old men, and fixed defensive positions. It also changed its battle tactics and weapons design, transforming itself from the highly mobile blitzkrieg army of 1940-1941 that had featured light, fast tanks and hand-marching infantry into the bulky, immobile army of 1944 that featured heavy, slow tanks and dug-in infantry.
Everything else that happened in Nazi Germany was also Hitler’s doing. He had learned the lesson from World War I and realized that Germany could not win a war of erosion, and do nothing, and this, his policy in the first two years of World War II had been blitzkrieg. But in the late fall of 1941 his lightning war came to a sudden halt in Russia. In the summer of 1942, Hitler tried another offensive against Russia but was stopped when the snow began to fall. At the end of January 1943, nearly a quarter of a million German troops at Stalingrad surrendered. In July 1943, the Wehrmacht launched its last offensive on the Eastern Front, at Kursk. The Red Army stopped it cold, inflicting horrendous casualties.
From Kursk on, Hitler had no hope of winning a military victory against the Soviet Union. That did not mean his cause was hopeless. He “…had a lot of space to trade for time on the Eastern Front, and in time it was inevitable that the strange alliance- Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States- that only he could have brought together would split asunder…” (Ambrose, 200). His death and the total defeat of Nazi Germany would certainly breakup of the alliance, but Hitler wanted the breakup to happen while it still benefited him. He “…had good reason to believe that it might happened- if he could convince Stalin that he couldn’t depend on the United States and Britain.” (Ambrose, 200). In that event, Stalin could well conclude that the cost of victory to the Red Army fighting the war alone was too high. Once the Red Army had returned to the start line of June 1941, the border of eastern Poland, Stalin might be willing to negotiate a peace based on the division of Eastern Europe between the Nazis and Soviets.
Between August 1939 and June 1941 the Nazi and Soviet empires had been partners, joined together in an alliance based on a division of Eastern Europe between them. To return to that situation, Hitler had to persuade Stalin that the Wehrmacht was still capable of inflicting unacceptable casualties on the Red army. To do that, Hitler needed more fighting men and machines. To get them, he had to strip high Western Front. To do that, he had to hurl the forthcoming invasion back into the sea.
Hitler also worried about the prospects of a Western Front opening up. A successful Anglo-American offensive in 1944 would pose a direct threat to Germany’s heartland, the Rhine-Ruhr region. A successful Red Army offensive in 1944 would overrun part of Ukraine and White Russia, areas important but not critical to Germany’s war-making capability. A successful Anglo-American offensive would overrun the Rhine-Ruhr, areas that were indispensable to Germany’s war-making capability.
Hitler’s reasons for shifting priority to the West in 1944 were more political than military. On March 20, he told “…his principal commanders in the West, “The destruction of the enemy’s landing means more than a purely local decision on the Western Front. It is the sole decisive factor in the whole conduct of the war and hence in its final result. He went on to explain, “Once defeated, the enemy will never again try to invade. Quite apart from their heavy losses, they would need months to organize a fresh attempt. And an invasion failure would also deliver a crushing blow to British and American morale. For one thing, it would prevent Roosevelt from being reelected- with any luck he’d finish up in a jail somewhere! For another, war weariness would grip Britain even faster and Churchill, already a sick old man with influence waning, wouldn’t be able to carry through a new invasion operation.” At that point, the Wehrmacht could transfer forty-five divisions form the West to the East to “revolutionize the situation there… So the whole outcome of the war depends on each man fighting in the West, and that means the fate of the Reich as well!” (Ambrose, 205). This was Germany’s only hope.
The Allied problem was to land, penetrate the Atlantic Wall, and secure a foothold in an area for reinforcement and expansion. The objective of the operation was to achieve surprise. If the Germans knew where and when the attack was coming they surely could concentrate enough men, concrete tanks, and artillery at the spot to defeat the assault.
It was going to be difficult enough even with surprise. Amphibious operations are inherently the most complicated in war, but in World War II the record got better. “By the end of 1943 the Allies had launched three successful amphibious attacks- North Africa (November 8, 1942), Sicily (July 10, 1943), and Salerno (September 9, 1943), all involving British and American land, sea, and air forces under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower” (Hastings, 113). None of the coastlines, however, had been fortified. What they about to attempt had not been done before.
But it had to be done. US Army chief of staff George C. Marshall had wanted to invade France in late 1942, and even more in mid-1943. British hesitation and political necessity had forced a diversion to the Mediterranean. At the end of the 1943, however, the British overcame their doubts and the Allies committed themselves to a cross-Channel attack as the decisive effort for 1944. The invasion of Italy was a success. The Western Allies were able to land and conquer half of Italy but were soon stopped. More battles and quarries proved little result because of heavy German defense and Britain was finally soothed and had to agree to Operation Overlord for any chance of opening a second front.
Failure to mount an assault and create a second front would be a double cross to Stalin and might lead to the precisely the political consequence- a separate Nazi-Soviet armistice- Hitler was counting on. Or, perhaps worse, a Red Army liberation (and thus postwar occupation) of Western Europe. At a minimum, no cross-Channel attack in 1944 would put off victory against the Nazis at least late 1945, possibly until 1946. Meanwhile, the political pressure to say to “…the British “To hell with it, if you won’t fight in France, we will take our army to the Pacific” (Keegan, 58) would become all but irresistible. So there had to be an assault.
The British finally succumb to the agreeing with operation Overlord because she had exhausted all of the military options and thorough fear of losing the US in the fighting against Germany. The United States firm commitment to Operation Overlord occurred because of her fear of a new Nazi-Communist Pact if Russia was fighting a one front war. It seems that D-Day occurred because of both a strong military commitment to Russia on the US side, but also because of exhausted military options on the British side. The only outcome of this scenario was Operation Overlord: D-Day.
Ambrose, Stephan. D-Day June 6,1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster,1994
Keegan, John. Six Armies in Normandy. New York: Viking Press, 1982
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Hastings, Max. OVERLORD: D-Day, June 6, 1944. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984
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