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D-Day: the successes and failures in focus
A: In a way it was a miraculous choice. Eisenhower [the supreme commander] had a very difficult decision to make but in fact it worked very well.
When he took the decision the weather was appalling, with wind and rain battering on the windows. However, the Allies had weather stations in the western and northern Atlantic, and so were able to see a gap in the weather which the Germans couldn’t see. This is why Rommel [commander of the German defences] was away from his headquarters on 6 June, thinking that the Allies wouldn’t invade on that day, and why many of the German divisional commanders were at Rennes actually looking at a possibility of doing a command exercise against a landing in Normandy.
The Kriegsmarine [German navy] didn’t send out any patrols that night because they thought the weather was too bad. In fact the weather wasn’t too bad for the landings, but it was bad enough for the Germans to have their eyes slightly off the ball.
If the Allies hadn’t crossed on 6 June they would have needed to postpone for another two weeks, and that would have taken them into the worst storm the channel has seen in over 40 years. One assumes the meteorologists would have been able to pick that up but if not it could have been the most appalling disaster in military history.
So the decision to go on 6 June was definitely the right one. It was a brave decision and thank God they said, “Right, let’s go!”
Q: Were the Germans ready to meet the Allied invasion?
A: They had certainly seen it coming. The whole question for them was whether the landings were going to be in Normandy or in the Pas de Calais region. Plan Fortitude, the Allied deception operation, was perhaps the most brilliant that has ever been devised.
It succeeded far beyond what the Allies dared hope in persuading the Germans that Normandy was just the first phase and that the real attack was going to come with a First Army Group led by General Patton in the Pas de Calais. This meant the Germans held back the bulk of their 15th army in the Pas de Calais. Had they not done so the Allies would have faced a very difficult time indeed because reinforcement would have been much more rapid.
In the event the Germans brought divisions up from central and southern France to meet the invasion, rather than across from the Pas de Calais.
Q: In your book you explain that the Allied casualties on D-Day itself were significantly lower than anticipated. Why do you think this was?
A: It was partly because they took the Germans by surprise and also because the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were less effective than they had thought. The RAF and the USAF did an extraordinary job in keeping the Luftwaffe on the ground, with deep patrols right into France.
As for Kriegsmarine, it only managed a few attacks by E-boats [torpedo boats]. The Allies had been expecting massive losses of minesweepers because if they had been ambushed by German destroyers they would have been intensely vulnerable. Yet not a single minesweeper was sunk.
The casualties for drowning were not in fact that high and most of the casualties on landing came from landing craft which were turned over or tanks being swamped by the waves. Even on Omaha beach, despite the great American myth, casualties were lower than expected and on the Gold, Juno and Sword beaches the Allies got away very lightly.
Q: Was the relative lack of casualties on D-Day due more to German shortcomings than Allied success?
A: Yes, I think that is true. There were in fact failures in the Allied plans, which had depended on knocking out the German defences with shelling and bombing. The Allied shelling from naval artillery went on for too short a period to take out many of the defences.
It would also have been much better to have destroyers going in close to bombard rather than having battleships shelling for a couple of hours offshore. The American air commanders said their bombing could be so accurate that it would knock everything out, but the bombing on D-Day was in most places completely wasted.
At Omaha for example, the Americans didn’t want their bombers to fly along the coast because they would be exposed to flak. Instead they came in over the invasion fleet and of course they were afraid of dropping their bombs on the landing craft so they held on a few seconds more, meaning their bombs fell on open countryside rather than hitting the beaches.
Considering how few of the defences had actually been knocked out by the bombers’ assault, it was a miracle that the casualties were so light. It was a nasty shock for many of the invading troops to arrive and find the gun emplacements were still in action.
Q: Were the Allies well-prepared for the battle for Normandy that followed the D-Day landings?
A: The preparations for the crossing of the Channel were the most intense and meticulous that have ever been made for any operation. However, there wasn’t much forethought about the second phase, and this is where things started to go wrong. The Allies had had a lot of time to prepare, but there was this feeling of ‘let’s get ashore’ without a clarity of thinking about the immediate follow-up.
On the British side, General Montgomery’s plan was to seize Caen on the first day but the troops needed for such an operation were simply not organised enough in advance. If you are going to get your troops 10 miles inland and capture a whole city in a day, which is a very ambitious task to say the least, you have to make sure that your infantry are mounted in armoured personnel carriers or something like that to keep up with the tanks.
The trouble was that the tasks allotted were far more than could be realistically achieved. Then the Germans pushed in their panzer [tank] divisions as quickly as they could and the two sides found themselves in a battle of attrition. The British were supposed to seize enough land to start building airfields but this became impossible as they didn’t have the room. They hadn’t advanced far enough.
Q: Therefore would you say that the British thrust into Normandy did not go as well as planned?
A: Montgomery would have insisted that his master-plan had never changed but then Montgomery, often out of quite puerile vanity, could never admit he had been wrong about anything. He had wanted to seize Caen, advance to Falaise and then break through to Paris. That was always the stated objective and either he didn’t really plan to do that or he got it badly wrong.
I think he probably got it wrong and couldn’t admit that when the British were blocked in by German panzer reinforcements.
At this point Montgomery realised that by anchoring the panzer divisions on his front it would give the Americans the chance to break through in the west. It had always been considered a possibility that the Americans would achieve this breakthrough but it was also thought that the British would break through around Falaise. There is however evidence that Montgomery was not prepared to risk such an attempt, knowing the casualties it would cause.
The Americans became very angry about this, feeling that the British weren’t making the effort or taking the risks and there is an element of truth in that. There was a bitter anti-British feeling among the American commanders over Montgomery’s behaviour that contributed to the worst crisis in Anglo-American relations during the whole of the Second World War.
Q: Do you think there was any way that the British could have got to Paris first?
A: In the circumstances I think it was unlikely simply because of the concentration of panzer divisions against them. They did nearly break through on a couple of occasions but these attempts were often badly handled.
Operation Goodwood [18–20 July], for example, was very poorly planned and when the tanks charged through it was described as the death ride of the English armoured divisions. There was a catastrophic loss of tanks on the first day. However Goodwood did tie down panzers before the big American launch of Operation Cobra on 25 July and so the American possibility of success there was greatly increased.
Q: Despite the setbacks, Cobra succeeded and the Allies managed to seize Paris before their stated objective of 90 days after D-Day. What were the key reasons for their victory?
A: Once they were ashore, Allied victory became inevitable. They had a clear superiority of forces. By the end of August they had landed two million men, while at the same time the German army was being ground down in a battle of attrition.
The Allies also had massive artillery, and I don’t just mean artillery on the ground, but also naval artillery which was able to smash so many counterattacks. They had overwhelming air power. Allied air forces were able to destroy the German resupply system so they were constantly short of rations, fuel and ammunition. This had a huge effect on the German fighting capacity.
Q: We’ve discussed Montgomery’s failings already, but how well did the other Allied commanders perform in the battle for Normandy?
A: American general Omar Bradley, who has often been accused of being uninspired, was actually a lot better than, certainly some British, historians have given him credit for. Where one could criticise Bradley perhaps was his obsession with a broad front strategy, ie not attacking in individual concentrations but assaulting right the way across the whole of the base of the Cotentin peninsular.
This strategy contributed to the large number of American casualties. However, Bradley did recognise the necessity for a concentrated attack just west of St Lô for Operation Cobra.
Eisenhower wisely put George Patton in command of the Third Army to make the breakthrough. Patton was the ideal general for this as his leadership, energy and push was just what was needed for one of the most devastating campaigns in history. This didn’t make him a nice man but a good ruthless general is not going to be a very nice man and Patton was a pretty demanding commander to put it mildly.
Q: What about Eisenhower as supreme commander?
A: He was heavily criticised by Montgomery both at the time and afterwards. “Nice chap, no soldier,” was Montgomery’s view. But Eisenhower actually showed extremely good judgement on all the major issues.
One has to acknowledge a huge achievement in keeping such a very disparate alliance together with such conflicting characters. Whether Eisenhower should have taken a more detailed control of events is a question of what you regard as the role of a supreme commander. I think he was quite right to let the commanders make their own decisions, having established an overall strategy.
Q: How well did the British and American troops fight in the battle?
A: This is a big area of debate, particularly among historians. There has recently been a swing back to the view that the British and Canadian troops performed better than people in the past have given them credit for, and I believe there is some truth in that.
Yet one has to accept the fact that the armies of democracies could not possibly fight in the same way as those of totalitarian regimes where the degree of indoctrination was simply overwhelming. They were not going to be as fanatical or as self-sacrificing. Both British and American psychiatrists were struck by how few German prisoners were suffering from combat fatigue in comparison to their own side. The Americans for example suffered 30,000 combat fatigue casualties in Normandy.
There were I think flaws in the Allies’ training, and I believe the Americans learned more on the job than the British did. The British suffered from the regimental system which resulted in a failure to integrate infantry and armour in a way that was necessary for that kind of fighting in northern France. You cannot suddenly put together an infantry battalion and an armoured regiment and expect them to work together. It takes a lot of training and preparation and the British hadn’t done that.
Q: How do you rate the German defence of Normandy?
A: It was quite simply brilliant in making use of what they had available. Their infantry divisions on the whole were pretty weak so these were bolstered by little pockets of tanks, panzer grenadiers and anti-tank guns taken from the panzer divisions.
Panzer commanders were appalled about this because their whole military ethos was based on the idea of keeping a division together, but these parcels were extremely effective in the defence of the bocage [an area of dense hedgerow]. They were able to inflict considerable casualties on the British and the Americans here by using camouflage and mines and also some very nasty fighting.
And this brings me to a point that I believe has been hugely overlooked in the past: the fighting in Normandy was comparable to that on the Eastern Front. The German casualty rates in the battle for Normandy were 2,300 men per division per month and it was actually lower in the east.
The savagery in Normandy was intense and the killing of prisoners on both sides was much greater than has been considered up until now. One has only got to read a lot of accounts of American paratroopers they weren’t taking prisoners in many cases. Then there was the British attitude towards SS prisoners which was one of, “I don’t think he’s going to make it back to the prisoner of war camp…”
Q: The fighting on the Eastern Front was notorious for civilian casualties. Did this also happen during the battle for Normandy?
A: There was not deliberate killing of civilians on the Western Front, unlike the east, but civilian casualties were still appalling. One has to face up to the fact that more French were killed in the war by Allied bombing and shelling than British civilians killed by the Luftwaffe and V-bombs.
In the bombing beforehand over 15,000 civilians were killed and during the fighting in Normandy there were at least 20,000 French deaths, which is a huge number.
Q: Could the Allies have reasonably reduced the high number of civilian deaths?
A: Yes I’m afraid I think they could. The British bombing of Caen [beginning on D-Day] in particular was stupid, counterproductive and above all very close to a war crime.
There was an assumption I think that Caen must have been evacuated beforehand. Well that was wishful thinking on the part of the British. There were over 2,000 casualties there on the first two days and in a way it was miraculous that more people weren’t killed in Caen when you think of the bombing, and the shelling which carried on for days afterwards.
Here again there was a lack of thinking things through. If you are intending to capture Caen on the first day then you need to be able to penetrate its streets with your troops. Why then smash them to pieces? In fact, exactly as happened at Stalingrad, the bombing created terrain for the defender as well as being morally wrong.
There have also been heavy accusations against the Americans in Normandy for their indiscriminate use of artillery. The Americans have always believed that you save lives by using massive artillery bombardments beforehand, and I’m certainly not saying they should have done the whole thing without artillery because Allied casualties would have been horrific.
Yet there were occasions, as for example at Mortain [on 12 August], where the Americans destroyed the town in a fit of pique even as the Germans were retreating, simply because they had had such a bloody time there. That I think was deeply shocking.
Q: As a whole, how successful would you say the Allies were in the battle for Normandy?
A: If you look at it overall it was a triumph in that they secured their stated objective of being on the Seine by D plus 90. From that point of view it was a success but whether they could have avoided many of the mistakes along the way is certainly a matter for debate.
Q: Was it more the future of postwar Europe than the defeat of the Nazis that was at stake at D-Day?
A: Yes I believe so. Germany was certainly going to lose the war by that stage and in fact one could have said that a German loss was irreversible from much earlier on.
It was very much a question of the postwar world. If, for example, the invasion fleet had sailed into the great storm and been smashed, that might have delayed the invasion until the following spring by which point the Russians could well have been west of the Rhine.
This, though, is counterfactual history, which is not something I’m keen on.
Q: Decades later, the Normandy landings continue to fascinate people. Why do you think this is?
A: I think it can easily be explained by the sheer scale and the sheer ambition of the invasion itself. Even though Stalin was bitter about the Allied failure to launch a second front earlier, he had to acknowledge that it was one of the greatest operations the world has ever seen.
The landing of so many thousands of troops on an enemy-occupied country, all in one day, having crossed a very large channel to get there, is unprecedented in history and that is why people remain so interested in it.
When you go to Normandy today there are cemeteries and memorials everywhere and of course museums. I think it must have more museums per square mile than almost any other area of any country in the world. And it’s not just British and Americans who visit. You can see from the different registration plates in the car parks the fascination that the battle for Normandy continues to hold for people from all over the world.
Antony Beevor is the world’s bestselling military historian and the winner of numerous awards. His previous works include Stalingrad, Berlin, Crete and The Battle for Spain. He is also a visiting professor at Birkbeck College.
To listen to our podcast, in which Beevor discusses his book on D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, click here.
76 Years Ago – D-Day: The Disaster At Slapton Sands
Confidence was vital to success in such a risky operation as the Normandy invasion of 6 June 1944. But in the last weeks before D-Day, confidence evaporated among many senior American generals and officers. What caused their self-assurance to slip was witnessing one of the greatest military disasters of World War II.
Near Slapton Sands, in one night of miscommunication, panic, and chaos during an invasion dress rehearsal, more Americans died in a tragic accident than would later die on all but one of the Overlord beaches. Many survivors and witnesses viewed the catastrophe as a terrible omen.D-Day rehearsal on Slapton Sands, Devon.
On April 27, 1944, Operation Tiger—an invasion rehearsal for the 4th Division—began after dark. Twenty-five thousand men were due to land on Slapton Sands, which had been prepared to resemble Utah Beach in Normandy. Three hundred and thirty-seven ships were involved, with the British Royal Navy providing an escort and protection from attack from any German craft patrolling the channel.
The men needed the practice because the 4th’s previous exercise on Slapton Sands, “Exercise Beaver,” had been “far from successful: co-ordination between units broke down and the men who took part remember it mainly for the confusion.”
Shortly after midnight on April 28, nine German torpedo boats moved into Lyme Bay, close to Slapton Sands. Lured by heavier than normal radio traffic, the E-boats suddenly found themselves in the midst of Operation Tiger. German E-boats, “Schnellboote,” were designed to wreak maximum havoc in the channel.
Truck mounted crane and DUKW on the beach during April 1944 training exercises at Slapton Sands, Devon, England.
A hundred feet long and powered by 6,000-horsepower Daimler Benz engines, the boats were able to attack at a maximum speed of 40 knots. Painted black for nighttime camouflage and armed with two torpedoes, they also carried two 20mm cannons, which fired green tracer bullets that lit up far from their source to prevent Allied vessels from quickly identifying their position.
The rehearsal’s slow moving LSTs (landing ship tanks) were no match for them. Because of widespread confusion among the British escorts, that night the E-boats were able to get close enough to the Tiger convoy (codenamed T-4) to launch their torpedoes. Warnings had been issued about the Germans’ presence but no preventative action taken. The result was an unmitigated disaster.
One LST was seriously crippled. Another burst into flames, trapping many of the victims below deck. A third sank immediately, sending hundreds of U.S. 4th Division soldiers to their deaths. As bodies washed ashore along England’s South Coast in the days after, the official death count rose to 749. Quartermaster soldiers on board LST 531 were among the hardest hit.
Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)-85 during a practice landing at Slapton Sands.
The 3206th Quartermaster Service Company was virtually destroyed. Of its 251 officers and men, 201 were killed or wounded. U.S. Navy Medical Corpsman Arthur Victor survived the sinking of LST 507, which had been “packed with about 500 soldiers…amphibious [vehicles], jeeps, trucks…loaded from one end of the ship to the other, top deck and tank deck. We were a floating arsenal.”
Like hundreds of other survivors, Victor would spend the night clinging to a life raft as his countrymen slipped into death by hypothermia. By 3 AM, the channel waters were “almost unbearably cold…I had also been swallowing oily tasting salt water that made me nauseous, and I started puking. I pissed my pants to feel the warm. I remember how good it felt pouring over my thighs.”
USS LST-289 arrives in Dartmouth Harbor, England, after being torpedoed by German MTBs during an invasion rehearsal off Slapton Sands
Victor watched buddy after buddy fall away into the black waters, unable to struggle on. Soon, more than half of those who had clung to the life raft after 507 sank were dead. After three hours in the water, a man shouted that he could hear a ship’s engine. Another LST, Number 515, had come to the rescue.
The 515 lowered three LCVPs into the water and one of the boats, designed by Andrew Higgins to storm enemy beaches, quickly made its way towards Victor. He had held a fellow survivor’s hand most of the night but now, only minutes from rescue, the man gave up. “I was so mad that the ludicrous thought came to mind that I could have killed [him].”
USS LST-289, Slapton Sands Invasion Rehearsals, 28 April 1944
Julian Perkin, a British warrant officer candidate, arrived off Slapton Sands aboard HMS Obedient near daybreak on April 28:
“The sight was appalling. There were hundreds of bodies of American servicemen, in full battle gear, floating in the sea. Many had their limbs and even their heads blown off…. Those the doctor pronounced dead were pushed back into the sea [where] small American landing craft with their ramps down were literally scooping up bodies. It was a ghastly sight!”
The dead were buried in military graveyards around England. The wounded were segregated for days from other troops and, according to some survivors, told not to say a word to anyone before the invasion. “We were told to keep our mouths shut and taken to a camp where we were quarantined,” recalled 4th Division infantryman Eugene Carney.
Sherman tank at memorial for those killed in Operation Tiger, Slapton Sands, Devon. Photo: Neil Kennedy / CC BY-SA 2.0
“When we went through the mess line we weren’t even allowed to talk to the cooks. If, for example, we wanted two potatoes, we were told to hold up two fingers. If three, three fingers.” On April 29, corpsman Arthur Victor joined other survivors who were taken to a “dilapidated barracks, under guard, for three days, and ordered, under threat of court martial, not to discuss the incident with anyone outside our immediate group.”
On the evening of April 29, General Eisenhower wrote to General George C. Marshall, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington. The disaster meant that the Allies had no reserves of LSTs, vital to Overlord’s success.
“We are stretched to the limit in the LST category,” wrote a concerned Eisenhower, “while the implications of the attack and the possibility of both raiders and bombers concentrating on some of our major ports make one scratch his head.”
Enters Dartmouth Harbor, England, after being torpedoed by German MTBs during invasion rehearsal operations off Slapton Sands, England, on 28 April 1944.
More worrying to Eisenhower than the communications failure that had exacerbated the disaster was the 4th Division’s woeful performance once it had actually landed on Slapton Sands. Harry Butcher, Eisenhower’s aide, was, like his boss, deeply troubled by “the absence of toughness and alertness of the young American officers whom I saw on this trip.
They seem to regard war as one grand maneuver in which they are having a happy time. They are as green as growing corn…. We should have a more experienced division for the assault than the 4th which has never been in a fight in this war.”
But there was only one division that was not green, the 1st Division, and due to concerns about the 29th Division’s inexperience, it had been slated to join the 29ers in the joint operation to seize Omaha Beach.
Aerial view of a practice landing at Slapton Sands, England, in preparation for the Normandy Invasion.
Secrecy about the Slapton Sands disaster was crucial. If it became common knowledge, it would have an irreparable impact on morale and alert the Germans to Overlord. Yet despite the gag order imposed on many survivors, rumors spread fast through many officers’ quarters. Some were so shocked by the scale of the botch-up that they began to seriously question their roles in the invasion, just a few weeks away.
There were other deeply troubling issues. For example, what had happened to the officers involved in Operation Tiger who knew the details of Overlord – so-called BIGOTs? One intelligence official recalled:
“There was a whole day when it was seriously contemplated trying to alter the [D-Day] operation because of the knowledge which the enemy must now be presumed to have—the detailed knowledge of almost everything we planned.”
But over the following days the bodies of every intelligence officer were found, even though hundreds of other corpses were never recovered. It was “one of those amazing miracles which characterize war.” Overlord was still a secret, it seemed. But only on D-Day would Allied intelligence know for sure.
The franchise moves that almost happened
When a franchise moves from one city to another, it creates a massive identity shift for two different fan bases. One group is essentially a jilted lover and the other is a euphoric new bride. The Dodgers’ leaving is still felt in Brooklyn while San Francisco is still euphoric that the Giants made the move.
But there have been many proposed moves and threats to relocate over the years that could have changed baseball.
What teams could have moved? What fan base could have been devastated?
And how could a fan base, a team and major league baseball have been different if these moves were made?
The Milwaukee Browns&mdash1954
The city of St. Louis had two ball clubs and two very different owners during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Cardinals were run by Fred Saigh, who bought the team from Sam Breadon. The Redbirds could not match their success from the early and mid 1940s under Saigh’s leadership.
Meanwhile the Browns were run by Bill Veeck. He famously brought in midget Eddie Gaedel to bat in a Browns game. He brought in Satchel Paige to pitch. Plus he had the two greatest figures of Cardinals history on the Browns payroll. Rogers Hornsby managed the team and Dizzy Dean was the broadcaster. Veeck knew that St. Louis couldn’t support two teams and seemed determined to make that team the Browns. When Saigh was convicted on tax evasion charges during the 1952 season, out-of-town investors looked to buy the team and move it.
However, the Busch family bought the team and pumped Anheuser Busch money into the team. Veeck knew he couldn’t compete with Budweiser, so he looked to move the club to Milwaukee for the 1954 season. But the owners, who never cared for the theatrical Veeck, blocked the move. They also blocked his proposed move to Baltimore until he sold the team to Baltimore investors.
If Veeck had sold the team to a Milwaukee investor, the Browns would have returned to their original home. (They played as the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901 and 1902 before moving to St. Louis.) The Braves would have had to find a different home. Maybe they would have been the Baltimore Braves. And maybe the Seattle Pilots would have been given more than a year to survive before heading to Milwaukee.
The Los Angeles or San Francisco Senators&mdash1956
The 1950s were a time when the population was shifting and teams were on the move to take advantage of new markets. And no team needed a change of scenery more than the Senators. The team stank for so long and the very prospect of winning pennant was so preposterous that it was the plot of “Damn Yankees” and involved a deal with the devil.
The city of Los Angeles began to court the Senators. The fastest-growing city in the country was going to be a Senators city. The West Coast would go crazy for them. And the courtship continued during the 1956 World Series in Brooklyn. However, when Walter O’Malley got wind that Los Angeles officials were in town, he let them know that his Dodgers would consider Los Angeles as an option in case their stadium proposal fell through.
When L.A.’s flirtation with the Dodgers intensified, the Senators set their gaze on San Francisco and Seals Stadium. But the Dodgers’ move to California needed a second National League team to go west for approval. So the Giants were persuaded to abandon a move to Minneapolis and head to San Francisco.
With the West Coast options dried up (and the possibility of San Diego and Seattle found not viable) the Senators stayed in Washington until the 1961 season, when they moved to Minnesota and became the Twins.
But if O’Malley had not leaned that the Los Angeles officials were in town, Harmon Killebrew could have been L.A.’s first baseball superstar… and maybe the Dodgers would still be in Brooklyn.
The Minneapolis Giants&mdash1957
Despite a glorious history, two recent pennants, a World Series title in 1954 and the presence of Willie Mays, the Giants’ time in New York was coming to a close. Their attendance was sagging and the Polo Grounds was crumbling.
The most likely spot was to Minneapolis. The city was dying for a major league team and Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington just needed minor tweaks to be major league ready. And, along with an expected frenzied new fanbase, they were familiar with many of the players including Mays . The Minneapolis Millers were the Giants top farm team and many of the 1954 World Series winners had played in Minnesota.
However the Dodgers needed a second team in California to get their move west approved by the league. So with pressure from Walter O’Malley and San Francisco mayor George Christopher, the Giants forsook 10,000 lakes for the Bay Area and Seals Stadium.
Perhaps honoring their original intention of a Minnesota move could have blocked the Dodgers from leaving Brooklyn. Either way, the appeal from San Francisco prevented Willie Mays from being one of the most beloved figures in Minnesota sports history.
The Los Angeles Athletics – 1956
When the A’s left Philadelphia for Missouri, it was a doomed marriage from the start. Owner Arnold Johnson had many ties with the Yankees and the team became essentially a de facto farm club for the Bronx Bombers.
Not only did Johnson never have any intention of building a pennant winner, but he seemed ready to move the team almost from the moment it landed. His eyes were on Los Angeles and the potential to have a gigantic market for himself. If he had coordinated with the Griffith family, perhaps the Athletics would have had Los Angeles and the Senators could have ruled San Francisco.
Instead the Dodgers took off for Los Angeles. The A’s never got to be the L. A. A’s. Johnson died during 1960 spring training.
The Dallas-Louisville-Atlanta-San Diego-Seattle-Denver-New Orleans-Phoenix A’s&mdash1960s and 1970s
After Charlie O. Finley took over from the Johnson family in 1960, he vowed to never move the team from Kansas City. Then he almost immediately began shopping the team around. By the end of the 1962 season, he tried to move the A’s to Dallas. The move was denied by his fellow owners.
Unfazed, at the end of the 1963 season he had a deal to return big league baseball to Louisville for the first time since the Colonels were disbanded in 1900. Once again, the owners rejected the move.
Every year there seemed to be a new landing place for the A’s. One minute he wanted to bring the team to Atlanta. Then San Diego and Seattle wanted a ballclub and had Finley’s ear.
And each time he wanted to move, he was rejected. Finally, in 1967, his proposed move to Oakland was approved after Kansas City passed funding for a new park and a replacement expansion team would be rewarded to the city.
Once in Oakland starting in 1968, the seeds of a great team were planted. The A’s made the playoffs each year from 1971 to 1975 and became the only team other than the Yankees to win three straight World Series in 1972, 1973 and 1974. But titles did not bring stability.
By 1978 the A’s were a shell of their former selves, decimated by bad trades and free agency. Finley once again began to look elsewhere.
In 1978 he courted Denver to move the A’s to Mile High Stadium. In 1979, New Orleans and the Superdome were brought into the mix. By the early 1980s, when Finley was going through a divorce, he tried to sell the team to an investor who would move the club to Denver. But when the Raiders announced they were leaving for Los Angeles, the city of Oakland acted quickly to not lose baseball and football at the same time. Oakland would not let Finley out of the Coliseum lease and ultimately forced Finley to sell part of the team.
He sold the team to Walter Haas, who kept the team in Oakland, even though he looked at Phoenix as a possible new home for the club. The A’s are currently looking to move out of Oakland again.
The Milwaukee White Sox&mdash1968
When the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta before the 1966 season, Bud Selig led a group determined to bring a team back to Wisconsin. The most likely candidate was less than 100 miles away.
The White Sox played several “home games” in Milwaukee. The result was eye-popping. In just nine games, the Milwaukee schedule made up for nearly a third of the White Sox home attendance. The scenario seemed almost too perfect. The White Sox would travel just two hours north and be close enough to retain their fans in Chicago who were not about to become Cubs fans. And the baseball-starved fans in Milwaukee were eager to embrace a new team.
Selig and White Sox owner Arthur Allyn agreed to the deal but the move was blocked by American League owners, who felt it was bad for business to leave Chicago. Selig would later turn his attention to the expansion Pilots, who he turned into the Brewers in 1970. Evidently the American League owners weren’t so concerned about abandoning Seattle.
The Washington Padres&mdash1974
The expansion of 1969 looked like it produced two duds. The Seattle Pilots lasted a single season before going to Milwaukee. The San Diego Padres didn’t look like they were going to fare much better. The team was rotten on the field and the initial excitement for the team died off after a couple of years.
After 1973, their fifth season, Padres owner C. Arnholt Smith was about to sell the team to Joseph Danzansky, who wanted to move it to Washington to replace the second Senators team, who moved and became the Rangers. It looked like a done deal and even Topps Baseball Cards were printed with members of the Padres playing for “Washington National League.”
But McDonald’s president Ray Kroc outbid Danzansky and took over the team, keeping the Padresin San Diego. Washington would have to wait another 31 years for a big league team to arrive. That would be from the other National League team that was part of the 1969 expansion, the Montreal Expos.
The Seattle White Sox and the Chicago A’s&mdash1975
The abrupt move of the Pilots from Seattle to Milwaukee set up an odd chain of events that nearly disrupted the American League forever. Washington state attorney general Slade Gordon sued the American League for a breach of contract after the Pilots left. The suit expedited a return of big league baseball to the Northwest. But what team would fill the void and use the new multipurpose Kingdome as its home?
The White Sox, who still were failing to draw a crowd, looked like a prime candidate to move. But the American League wanted a presence in Chicago. A’s owner Finley, always looking for a new home, considered moving the A’s to Comiskey Park and allowing the White Sox to head for the Pacific Northwest. (Why didn’t Finley just move the A’s north? I guess we’ll never know.
The Toronto Giants&mdash1976
Giants owner Horace Stoneham was looking to sell and found a group of investors from the Labbtt’s Breweries. A Superior Court judge blocked the sale and Bob Lurie offered the Giants a new deal. It was for less money than the Canadians were offering, but part of the Labatt’s offer included buying out the lease for Candlestick Park. Such a buyout would not be needed if Lurie kept the team in San Francisco. They would not become Canada’s team.
The Giants stayed but Don McDougall, one of the head Labatt’s investors, made an apt observation. “Changing ownership is not going to put people in the ballpark and it’s not going to pay the bills.”
The next year the Blue Jays were formed in Toronto. And around the time they moved into the luxurious SkyDome, Bob Lurie would be looking to get out of Candlestick. There would be one more potential move for the Giants.
The Tampa Bay White Sox – 1989
Hoping to lure a big league franchise to the Sun Coast, the city of St. Petersburg built the Suncoast Dome in 1986. The White Sox seemed like the most likely tenant as the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois did not want any part in building a new park on the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox looked ready to tap into a potentially lucrative Floridia market.
But lobbyists in Illinois pushed for ballpark funding and in 1989 the White Sox were officially going to get a new home. The park, originally called New Comiskey Park and now called U.S. Cellular Field, opened in 1991. It is kind of a bland ballpark compared to Camden Yards which opened the next year. Chicago built it just before the whole retropark craze began.
St. Pete remained without a team for almost another decade.
The Tampa Bay Giants&mdash1993
After more than a decade and a half of uninspired baseball, the Giants won the 1987 division title and the 1989 National League pennant. But those triumphs could not mask the fact that Candlestick Park was an awful place to play and watch a game. Lurie may have saved the team from moving to Toronto a decade before, but the team’s problems remained.
When ballot measures for a new stadium in San Francisco failed in the s and s and proposed sites in San Jose and Santa Clara also fell apart, it looked like the Giants were doomed in the Bay Area. Vince Naimoli led a group of Tampa Bay investors who wanted to put a major league team in the vacant Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field). The Giants move seemed all but certain for the 1993 season. A “Welcome Giants” rally was held in St. Petersburg and San Francisco fans were bringing “Don’t Go!” signs to the half empty Candlestick.
Had the National League not blocked the move, the Giants would be stuck in a dome in Western Florida, the A’s would have the Bay Area all to themselves and China Basin would just be another place to row a boat. And who knows where Bonds would have ended up.
The North Carolina Twins&mdash1997
When Twins owner Carl Pohlad could not get a new stadium built in Minneapolis, he looked to move on and sell the team to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver. Charlotte seemed like a ripe market in the 1990s to put a baseball team. The Hornets tested the waters for the NBA. The expansion Panthers were successful in the NFL and a proposed sports center would have included a baseball stadium.
However, a backlash from the city against public money for stadium construction halted any Charlotte ballpark in its tracks. Instead Beaver had his eyes set on what is known as The Piedmont Triad, which is the area that includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. (And close to Durham and the symbol of minor league baseball for many movie-goers.) The region had an NHL hockey team with the Hurricanes and the thought was that the area would support a baseball team and still get TV revenue from Charlotte.
The hope for a tax-funded stadium fell through, as did the hope of major league baseball in the Carolinas. Beaver did wind up buying the Charlotte Knights Triple-A team. The Twins remained in Minnesota and despite contraction and relocation rumors, they finally got their new ballpark, Target Field, in 2010.
The Charlotte-Monterrey-New Jersey-Portland-Northern Virginia-Norfolk Expos&mdash2004
When the Expos escaped the specter of contraction, they still faced major problems. They had no owner, no money and no potential to stay in the disastrous Stade Olympique. Baseball could have thrived in Montreal, but the post-strike years and the Loria management destroyed any hope. Even as the Expos were contending for a wild card spot in 2002 and 2003 and posting winning records, they had to move.
The problem was there were few viable options. Actually there was only one: Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital had been without a team for more than 30 years and had a major league stadium sitting there unused in RFK. Everyone on the planet knew, starting in 2002 when Major League Baseball took over the Expos, that the team needed to move to Washington.
Keeping the move from happening was Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Much of the Orioles’ fan base came from D.C. and an interloper would cut into his revenues. He promised to sue baseball if the Expos encroached in his territory. Baseball had expanded by four teams since 1993 and never put a team in Washington.
So basically baseball put on a charade of other towns that could be considered. Portland offered a design that didn’t have a roof, a cinch for 40 rainouts a year in Oregon.
Monterrey, Mexico was insanely offered as a possibility. One of the chief problems that Montreal had was trying to lure players into a foreign market. If they didn’t want to go to Canada, why would they go to Mexico?
Baseball tried to work around the Baltimore problem and still draw D.C., fans by investigating Northern Virginia and Norfolk.
Ridiculously, the New Jersey Meadowlands was rumored to be an option. If the Orioles had the resources to sue, imagine what the Yankees and Mets would have at their disposal.
Finally the staring contest ended and a settlement was reached with the Angelos family. The Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005. The deal could have been made three years earlier and saved baseball the humiliation of running a team in Montreal playing in front of nobody.
Had a factor here or there had gone differently, the whole structure of both leagues would have been different. Not better, but different.
It Appears The D-Day Invasion Was *Never* About Defeating Hitler
The most common military phrase on this day was probably “Charlie-Fox”. If you don’t know what that means, then you’ve never been in the military. (Wikimedia Commons)
Operation Overlord, the landings on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, was the largest amphibious invasion in modern history, epic in every meaning of the word. Most Americans have been taught that this was the beginning of the end for Hitler’s reign of terror across Europe, that we were there to “personally shoot that paper-hanging son of a bitch” as General Patton so pithily promised in his speech before his Third Army.
But the key is the date D-Day took place: June 6th, 1944.
There is no doub t that almost every man and woman among the Allied nations would have heartily agreed with the general’s statement and would happily have bought tickets to watch the spectacle. By then, the decision among the Allies was “unconditional surrender” (which decision may well have prolonged the war). No cease-fire, no treaty, no letup in combat until the defeated surrendered without any promises of leniency or clemency by the victorious. We were going all-out for the blood of our enemies.
And hadn’t America and the United Kingdom moved heaven and earth to bring Nazi Germany to heel? There was the Battle of the Atlantic where we had to overcome Admiral Dönitz’ U-boat wolfpacks from 1942 through the end of 1943 Operation Torch where we invaded French North Africa in Nov. 1942 and our still-green troops were handily defeated by General Rommel’s Afrika Korps at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Feb. 1943 and the invasion of Italy in Sep. 1943 which culminated in the occupation of Rome on June 4th, 1944, a mere two days before the Normandy invasion. Who could possibly claim we hadn’t done all we could to defeat Hitler? This guy could:
So many Americans to this day don’t realize how the war on the Eastern Front was much greater by orders of magnitude than what our grandfathers faced on the Western Front. All by itself, the Eastern Front is considered the largest and deadliest military confrontation in human history, with nearly twice the total military death toll as in the entirety of World War I, which total does not include up to 24M civilian deaths. This was why as early as summer 1942, Stalin officially requested — begged, in diplomatic terms — both Churchill and FDR to open a second front by invading France. For a bit of perspective, here’s a graphic representation of the price Soviet Russia paid compared to our own (again, not counting the even greater number of civilian lives lost):
So why didn’t we invade earlier? Was it even possible to do so while the Battle of the Atlantic still raged? And if we had been able to carry out such an invasion, could we have done so without setting our green troops up to be massacred by the Nazis, many of whom were hardened veterans blooded on the steppes of the Eastern Front?
Yes, it does seem we could have, but chose not to do so. Why?
- Operation Torch — the invasion of French North Africa — was largely unnecessary. The Afrika Korps had been soundly defeated at the Second Battle of El Alamein by General Montgomery’s Desert Rats and no longer presented a real danger to Egypt, the crucial Suez Canal, and the Persian oil fields.
- The Battle of the Atlantic was not an obstacle to the invasion itself. One must bear in mind that during the Battle of the Atlantic, U-boats almost never attacked British or U.S. Navy vessels. Their targets were the merchantmen, the cargo vessels carrying not just military supplies, but also the food, fuel, and raw materiel needed so badly by the civilian population of the United Kingdom. The U-boat commanders refrained from attacking Navy vessels because to do so was to court death from the destroyers, cruisers, and — later — the aircraft carriers whose pilots increasingly specialized in sub-hunting. Instead of being used to invade French North Africa in late 1942, they could have been used in the North Atlantic to more safely shepherd the convoys and bring the U-boat threat to an end much more quickly.
- After losing the Battle of Britain in September 1940, Hitler had effectively ceded air superiority over the English Channel to the Royal Air Force and had sent most of Goering’s vaunted Luftwaffe to support the ongoing invasion of the Soviet Union.
- In his history of World War II, Churchill stated that one of the major obstacles to Operation Sea Lion — Hitler’s planned invasion of England itself — was that it had to occur before the end of summer, before the notorious weather of the English Channel became unpredictable and made any large-scale crossing impossible. The same dynamic would have applied in the opposite direction as well, so, combined with the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic, it would be understandable for the Allies to not be able to invade in 1942.
In other words, an invasion of the northern coast of France in the spring or summer of 1943 was entirely doable, especially had it been given the additional resources — men, materiel, supply, and naval support — which had instead been sent to conduct and support the invasions of French North Africa, Sicily, and Italy.
But what was the condition of the Wehrmacht at the beginning of 1943? Did FDR and Churchill have reason to believe an invasion of the northern coast of France was doomed to failure?
December 1941, the beginning of the long, slow death of the Wehrmacht
The first major defeat of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front was not at Stalingrad, but at the Battle of Moscow, which had ended almost exactly a year earlier. The Germans had pushed to the very outskirts of Moscow by late November 1941, but the Red Army’s counteroffensive, spearheaded by eighteen fresh divisions from the Soviet Far East, was launched on nearly the same day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th, 1941. Those divisions — all long-accustomed to and trained to fight in the bitter Siberian cold — had been hurriedly transferred after Soviet spy Richard Sorge had informed the Kremlin that Japan was certainly not planning any invasion of Siberia, and by January 7th, 1942, those fresh and winter-hardened Soviet divisions had driven the Wehrmacht nearly 100 miles away from the Soviet capital.
America was soon informed of the Nazi defeat at the Battle of Moscow — the Soviets made sure of it by releasing a propaganda film named “Moscow Strikes Back” in New York City in February of 1942, less than two months after the end of the battle. In fact, the film was one of four winners at the 15th Academy Awards for Best Documentary. We now know that Hitler likely caused the defeat himself by delaying the initial advance on Moscow by two months, thus forcing the Wehrmacht to conduct an offensive to take the Russian capital just as the Russian winter was about to begin, and with precious little winter gear for the troops and equipment. His generals had to be thinking — but were too afraid for their lives to say out loud — “what the hell are you thinking, you blithering idiot?”
On a side note, in WWI, when Hitler was but a corporal yet to win his Iron Cross for courage under fire, the German Army was sent to war against France in August of 1914 without being supplied with proper winter clothing. They had been assured by Kaiser Wilhelm II (who assumed they would defeat France as easily as they had in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870) that “You’ll be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.” It is truly ironic that Hitler, having lived with the results of that very blunder, would make the same mistake after having made the same assumption when he launched Operation Barbarossa.
In other words, by early 1942 both FDR and Churchill knew that history was likely beginning to rhyme once more, that the Wehrmacht were about to relive Napoleon’s greatest blunder. In hindsight, the fate of his Grand Armée was almost gentle compared to the one awaiting the Wehrmacht. But in early 1942, America was still recovering, getting its wits together following the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was no real hope that they could invade the northern coast of Nazi-occupied France before the English Channel would make such a crossing untenable in September.
Seen in this light, the Battle of Stalingrad, in every respect the most terrible battle of the war, was not the turning point of the war as it has been considered for generations. Instead, it was more of a horrific speed bump on the way down the steepening decline of the once-invincible Wehrmacht. That, and it was — it had to be — final confirmation to the West that the Red Army was going to defeat the Wehrmacht, that it was only a matter of time before General Georgy Zhukov would be knocking back shots of vodka in Berlin.
Still, why would Churchill and FDR — being the two men in whose hands lay the final decision — decide to delay an invasion of Nazi-occupied France, but instead send the troops to places where they did not present a clear and present danger to the Third Reich? Because the cruel calculus of America’s and the UK’s national interests presented a serendipitous opportunity for payback — not just against Nazi Germany, but against the Soviet Union.
The antipathy of the western democracies towards communism was implacable long before Russia’s October Revolution in 1917. American captains of industry were continually on the watch for the next Eugene Debs or Huey P. Long, for the next demagogue who would push for socialist reforms in a capitalist nation. Both America and England had been horrified at Lenin’s successful revolution — we even sent a few thousand troops to support Kerensky’s White Army against Lenin’s Red Army in 1919.
So when America and the United Kingdom saw Nazi Germany making war on Soviet Russia, they didn’t see “bad guy versus good guy”, but “bad guy versus bad guy”. In fact, the future president Harry S. Truman stated:
“If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.”
Of course we never helped Nazi Germany as Truman suggested…unless it was by not invading France to start that second front that Stalin wanted so badly.
That, and Churchill wanted — in modern terms — payback. Up until the very month Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union had been sending hundreds of thousands of tons of raw materials for the Nazi war effort, even after the Wehrmacht had crushed France and the Luftwaffe was warring for supremacy in the skies over London. Churchill had to know that at least some of those aircraft dropping bombs on London were there because of the raw materials the Soviets had supplied to Hitler.
The western Allies knew that Hitler was beaten, that he had no hope of stopping the advance of the Red Army. By the end of April 1944, the Red Army had beaten the Wehrmacht back almost completely outside the Soviet Union, all the way to the Polish frontier. The problem, the Allies saw, was no longer Hitler, but the Soviet Union. Once the Soviets took over Nazi Germany, what was to stop them from continuing their march westward through the Low Countries into France, to “save” Western Europe from Nazi occupiers that still remained? They realized that if they did not invade France, it too would soon be behind what Churchill in a 1946 speech termed the “Iron Curtain”.
This, then, is why America, the United Kingdom, and the British Commonwealth invaded the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944: not to defeat Hitler, but to prevent the Soviet Union from taking over the rest of continental Europe.
Addendum: Several readers disagreed with my article’s contention, and I was able to respond effectively (IMHO) to all of them…except for one. John Griswold pointed out that by invading Italy, we were able to keep 70 divisions pinned down and unable to assist the 33 German divisions sent to repel the invasion at Normandy. I don’t have a good argument against that, so I must admit that it looks like I could very well be mistaken, and he deserves the credit (and my gratitude) for pointing out my error. Give him a follow — the man knows whereof he speaks.
D-Day Was The Largest And One Of The Bloodiest Invasions In History
The Allied invasion of Europe that culminated in D-Day took two years to plan and still nearly foundered on the bloody beaches of Normandy.
James A. Warren
No military operation in history has exercised so great a hold on the collective imagination of Americans as the D-Day landings in Normandy, France. Omaha Beach, where thousands of acts of individual valor and initiative transformed an impending disaster into a bloody triumph, is as sacred a piece of ground to Americans as any place on earth, including Gettysburg or Plymouth Rock.
Just two hours after the initial landings at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, the intensity of fire from well over 100 well-dug-in Wehrmacht machine guns and antitank weapons positioned in the bluffs behind the beach shut down the landings, leaving the early waves of assault troops stranded with little cover and only a handful of Sherman tanks. Most of the specially designed amphibious behemoths, along with other combat vehicles and heavy weapons, had sunk in the rough surf en route to the beach. Many infantry in the first waves drowned, having disembarked from their landing craft in water over their heads. The preliminary naval and air bombardments had utterly failed to reduce the German strongpoints. “I gained the impression,” recalled the American general in command of the landing, “that our forces had suffered an irreversible catastrophe.”
But Omar Bradley was wrong. On their own initiative, a dozen destroyers sallied forth into dangerously shallow waters in front of the beach—so close they took fire from German rifle rounds. Using American tank fire on the beach to spot the location of the main enemy emplacements, the destroyers’ five-inch shells decimated the most formidable German positions within 90 minutes.
The infantry on the beach rallied. Improvised squads and platoons, some led by mere PFCs or corporals, began to move off the beach, sometimes using the corpses of their comrades as cover from the raking fire of the German guns, and cleared all five draws through the bluffs leading to the towns beyond. Much of the combat was hand-to-hand. And desperate. The landings resumed, and the tide of battle shifted to the Americans. By 6 p.m., there was no question the U.S. Army was on Omaha to stay.
Over the course of the “longest day,” 10,000 servicemen—Brits, Frenchmen, Poles, and other allies in addition to Americans, who suffered the lion’s share of the casualties—were killed or wounded. Three thousand alone fell in the near-disaster on Omaha—more than on all the other beaches combined.
The immediate objective of the landings, in military parlance, was “to secure a lodgment” on the beaches strong enough to repel the inevitable German counterattack, and hang on to the beachhead while sufficient combat power was brought to bear from across the channel in order to initiate a major armored thrust to the East to crush Hitler’s formidable war machine.
Soldiers have crossed the seas in ships for several thousand years to assail their enemies on foreign shores, but in terms of scale and intention, the amphibious assault on the Normandy coast was—is—unprecedented. More than 6,000 vessels of a bewildering variety of types, at least 10,000 aircraft, 2 million men, and three years of planning were required to bring it off. Scores of best-selling books, countless documentaries, and two blockbuster feature films have told the story of the stormy, windswept channel crossing, the daring airborne assault behind the beaches, the landings, and the ensuing battle through the hedgerows of the Norman countryside.
More than admiration and respect for brave deeds well done lies behind our now 70-year-long fascination with Operation Neptune, the cross-Channel invasion and amphibious landings that formed the first phase of Operation Overlord, the battle for Normandy. For contemporary Americans, Britons, and Canadians, there is a certain vicarious thrill in placing themselves, through the power of imagination, among their countrymen who took part in the Big Event.
These were people, after all, who believed unreservedly in the value of what they were doing—people, writes historian Antony Beevor, who were “acutely conscious of taking part in a great historical event.” Great, indeed. The men who participated in the landings, from cooks and mechanics and landing craft coxswains, to infantrymen and combat engineers and pilots, were breaking through Hitler’s vaunted Atlantic Wall to reignite what FDR called “the great flame of democracy” amid “the blackout of barbarism.” The whole world watched then, for it was nothing less than the fate of the world that hung in the balance.
In our more cynical age of ambiguity and ambivalence, of low-intensity, quagmire wars that concern, it seems, only the tiny minority of men and women who are personally engaged, or who support those who are, we cannot help but be moved by the great spectacle of D-Day, by the audacity of the operation, and the unwavering commitment of millions of soldiers and citizens in seeing it through to the end.
They don’t make wars like this one any more.
Most of the notable books on this subject—one thinks immediately of Antony Beevor’s D-Day, or Steven Ambrose’s D-Day, June 6, 1944, which gave birth to the much-celebrated Band of Brothers miniseries—are tightly focused on bringing to life the individual ordeals of the participants once the invasion gets underway, and placing those harrowing, tragic, heroic, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences in the broader context of the operation.
In Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings, Craig L. Symonds, professor emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy, takes a different tack. He spends just a quarter of his 400 pages on “the action” on land, sea, and air between June 6 and June 30, the official conclusion of Operation Neptune. The rest of his book is taken up tracing the fascinating, multi-layered story of how the invasion morphed from a cloudily conceived idea in the minds of British planners in the wake of Dunkirk, into the massively complex undertaking it came to be by June 1944.
Thus, Symonds explores at length the fascinating debates over invasion strategy by the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) and their respective bosses, FDR and Churchill the monumental logistical challenges posed by the operation’s unprecedented demands for men and materiel, especially cargo ships and landing craft and finally, the series of battles and campaigns in 1942 and 1943 that Symonds argues the Allies had to fight—and win—if the major invasion of France was to succeed.
Prominent among those struggles was the battle of the Atlantic, waged against the U-boat menace. Until the U.S. Navy had vanquished the dreaded wolf packs with the help of the Enigma code intercepts and new air-sea hunting tactics, the requisite buildup of American troops and supplies in England could not be accomplished.
The American and British air forces, for their part, had to reduce the Luftwaffe to near impotence in order to ensure air superiority over the beaches and the channel. Allied bombers also had to inflict severe damage on the transport network in France to constrict the movement of reinforcements, particularly the powerful Panzer divisions, to the beaches once the landings had taken place.
Finally, the CCS had to organize and execute an ambitious deception campaign, Operation Fortitude, to pin down German forces far from the intended landing zones. This elaborate ruse, which involved the creation of entirely ersatz armies, replete with radio traffic and dummy, rubber tanks and landing craft, ultimately succeeded in pinning down a considerable number of heavy German divisions near Calais, where the invasion was expected to take place, as well as in Norway.
From the time of the American entrance into the war after Pearl Harbor, the British and the Americans quickly agreed to a “Germany First” grand strategy, but they took very different views on the timing and the nature of the cross-Channel invasion—views that reflected their different cultures and histories. The British “envisioned any such assault as the coup de grace to be applied to an enemy utterly worn out by prolonged struggle and constant bombing … no invasion should take place until Germany was visibly faltering on the brink of collapse.” To the Americans, however, the invasion was “not to ratify a victory already won it was to seize that victory by brute force.”
General George C. Marshall, Roosevelt’s chief military adviser, and his protégé, Dwight Eisenhower, pressed for husbanding precious men and materiel, staying clear of diversionary operations in other theaters, and for the early launch of an invasion of northwestern France. Meanwhile, Winston Churchill and General Alan Brooke, the chief of the Imperial General Staff, persistently argued for a “periphery” strategy, attacking the Germans in their “soft underbelly” in North Africa and Italy, and then invading southern France from the Mediterranean.
The British high command found it difficult to invest in the more ambitious American conception of the operation, at least in part because of the fiasco at Dunkirk and lingering memories of slaughter at the Somme and elsewhere on the Western front in World War I. They “couldn’t help but be skeptical as the American president committed the United States to constructing 24 million tons of shipping and an army of 16 million men when they had spent their entire military careers in an atmosphere,” as British General Fredrick Morgan put it, “of niggling, cheese paring, parsing, and making do.”
But it was more than that. American hubris and naiveté rankled the British. Marshall was good at raising armies, thought Brooke, but not much of a strategist. Ike was a nice guy, and a hard worker, but he, too, lacked strategic vision. Besides, he had never been in combat. All the Americans, from FDR down, underestimated the capabilities of their adversary, and exaggerated their own. The Yanks, wrote one very senior British officer, “are new at this game and have the enthusiasm of beginners.” The Americans, for their part, found the British arrogant, condescending, excessively cautious, and, at times, ungrateful for American largesse.
The “cultural collision of Brits and Yanks threatened but never quite broke the partnership,” writes Symonds. The Brits won the early battles at the conference table, securing FDR’s approval to launch joint operations in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Symonds joins most contemporary historians on both sides of the pond in asserting that this was a good thing, for the American troops were green and in need of combat experience. Besides, in retrospect, it seems doubtful American industry could have produced the sealift or the landing craft to have launched the invasion much earlier than it actually occurred.
A firm commitment to launch the assault was not reached until May 1943, when it was agreed to land in northwestern France, as the Americans had wanted. By this point, the overwhelming contribution of the United States in men and materiel to the war effort placed its military in a dominant position when it came to working out the strategic and tactical details of the campaign.
After May 1943, Neptune’s logistical requirements dictated the pace and scope of other allied operations, not the other way around. And the invasion, Symonds wisely observes, had far reaching social implications: “For nearly four hundred years, the movement of humanity between Europe and America had been overwhelmingly westward as immigrants took passage for the New World. Now that tide was reversed, and in particularly dramatic fashion, for the American ‘invasion’ of Britain took place not over centuries or even decades but in a single year. Not only did this phenomenon test the sealift capability of the Allies, but it greatly affected the soldiers themselves, most of whom had never been outside their home states, much less out of the country.”
The final plan for Neptune “ran to 1,100 pages and specified the duty assignments of every ship, every landing craft, every vehicle, and nearly every allied sailor and soldier on almost a minute-by-minute schedule.” Symonds’s book deftly conveys a sense of the mind-boggling complexity of the operation. His emphasis on the strategic and logistical problems faced by the planners, far from detracting from the drama and power of the story, heightens our appreciation of the gravity of operation, and how difficult it was to pull off.
In relating the well-known story of the crossing and the landings, Symonds has an excellent eye for telling details and arresting quotes from the ordinary participants. The crucial factor in the operation’s ultimate success, he convincingly concludes, “was human judgment applied at a crisis moment, often instinctively and selflessly.”
It is those judgments and that selflessness we will reflect on today, with admiration, respect, and most of all, thanks, to all those who made Operation Neptune a brilliant, albeit harrowing, victory.
James A. Warren, a visiting scholar at Brown, is the co-author, with General Fred Haynes, USMC, of The Lions of Iwo Jima: The Story of Combat Team 28 and the Bloodiest Battle in Marine Corps History.
Why D-Day Still Matters
Historian John McManus explains how the invasion marked a turning point in America’s relationship with the rest of the world.
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Acclaimed historian John McManus began his book The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach with these words: “Desperate. Hellish. Disastrous. Catastrophic. Traumatic. Shocking. Bloody. Anyone who was at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 … is likely to have used one or more of those powerful words to describe it. At Omaha Beach, the stakes were so high, and the fighting so bitter, that the very name involves something legendary, even iconic.”
McManus reminds us that continuing to explore the events around that invasion reveals much about what has shaped our role in wars to come. With the help of years of research and personal interviews with those who fought, the author shares his thoughts with the Post’s West Coast editor.
Jeanne Wolf: As the war in Europe raged on, our country was strongly isolationist. Was D-Day, at least symbolically, a watershed moment where we began our commitment to becoming a leader of Western Europe and the free world?
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John McManus: It was really one of the key moments for America in World War II as it ended our determination not to get deeply involved. I really think that a great realization happened after the fall of France in 1940. It was stunning. I think that most Americans felt that at that point, “Well we don’t want to be in the war formally just yet, but we better get ready.”
This soon led to a shift in outlooks, a shift in values and perspective toward more of an American involvement in Europe, and more internationalism. And D-Day was the logical outgrowth of such thinking.
JW: It’s not too much to say that one day made such a momentous change?
JM: No. What’s so compelling about the Normandy invasion is that there aren’t that many actual single dates in history like that which you could look at and say, “Wow, this is a day that you know that sets the tone for decades.” D-Day was definitely one of those days. I mean there was so much on the line if the invasion failed. For America, it was kind of an emblematic commitment because D-Day was the first day of almost a year of very heavy fighting. From that day forward, the campaign to defeat Nazi Germany would be about two-thirds American in terms of manpower and especially material power. There was an enormous blood-cost.
JW: In planning the D-Day invasion, Eisenhower was named the leader. Why was an American in charge of a war that had already been going on for five years? And did this foreshadow our leadership role in Europe?
JM: There was no doubt that an American would be in charge of Operation Overlord because only one country out of the Western coalition could lead this invasion and, more importantly, the campaign that followed. If we pull the lens back further from an American point of view, D-Day was just one of our massive operations going on globally at that point. There were huge operations in the Pacific and the bombing campaign of Germany. All of this stuff was happening, so it was like, “Wow, look what America is capable of.” We had become a military and economic superpower. That’s why the Normandy invasion was not possible until 1944, because among the Western countries, only the United States really had the kind of power to lead the invasion and the subsequent campaign. What you’re seeing there is the beginnings of NATO. I think there was no question there would be an American commander.
What the American people always have to ask themselves is: “Is this worth it?” It is a very serious question.
JW: There’s a lot of talk today about “wasting money” on military support of other countries and, more specifically, the cost/benefit of supporting NATO and whether we’re paying too much or whether others aren’t paying their fair share. But some argue that the benefit of allying with Europe, even at great cost, is priceless.
JM: A hundred and ten thousand Americans died in World War I. World War II was even bloodier. Then we went through a decades-long commitment to protecting Europe through the emblem of NATO during the Cold War and even beyond. There’s bound to be some weariness and bound to be waste, and when we have so many social problems in this country, a lot of people are quite rightly thinking, Well, shouldn’t we be worried about those too? But the world is a small place. What happens in Europe tends to really matter for us too, and that hasn’t changed. So the Americans have been going round and round with their NATO allies for decades about whether we’re carrying too much of the cost and the responsibility. It’s not a new issue.
JW: Because not helping can be so disastrous?
JM: Just think, what if Europe became a key part of the world that was hostile to the United States and its values. What would that mean for the hundreds of thousands of lives that the U.S. expended to make sure Europe was free in World War II and the millions, yes millions, of lives that were affected by the Cold War. It is a question of whether America really represents freedom internationally or if it’s not as important to us.
JW: Aren’t we the world’s police force, in a sense, protecting civilization every day?
JM: Whether you like it or not, there’s a lot of truth in that. And whether you’re a soldier or not doesn’t matter because the American people are ultimately paying for a lot of this in so many ways. So yeah, it affects you whether you know it or not, and that’s part of what I tell all my students. It’s certainly in your interest to know more and understand more because you’re affected by this.
Into the jaws of death: American invaders spring from the ramp of the Coast Guard-manned landing barge to wade those last perilous yards to the shores of Normandy. (U.S. Coast Guard)
JW: The debate goes on. Is our engagement — in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, even Iraq — is it on moral grounds? Or is it self-interest?
JM: I think the answer is “yes” and “yes.” It’s both. You had that even after World War I. The American government told us we were fighting to save the world for democracy, and actually what we saw was that there was a lot of hardcore economic value there, too. Well, welcome to American conflict around the world, because it’s the same thing as it was in World War II and the Cold War. It’s the same thing in Iraq or the Korean War or wherever it might be. But one theme you do see as a historian in a lot of these places is that when the Americans go, and they’re willing to stay in for the long haul, you tend to see a kind of better country come out of that. I’m alluding obviously to Germany, Japan, Korea — you do tend to see this. Or, when the Americans leave — Vietnam would be a really good example of another kind of outcome. So what the American people always have to ask themselves is: “Is this worth it?” It is a very serious question. I would never say otherwise. D-Day is just one example of that. There’s always a tremendous blood investment. The title of my book comes from Colonel George Taylor, who was commanding the lead assault at Normandy and said to his men, “Only two kinds of people are going to be on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die. Now get moving.”
JW: We hear all the time that those who fought the battle of D-Day were members of what has been called the “greatest generation” — men willing to stand up and sacrifice for the greater good. How do you explain that spirit?
JM: There was definitely an understanding of how crucial D-Day was and that it had to succeed. But I think what really caused them to go on is a kind of a camaraderie. All the higher-minded patriotic stuff that they may feel after you get through about 80 layers of cynicism is not why people really fight. They fight because of the guys next to them. I talked to survivors who explained that they thought in the midst of the chaos, I know a lot of people are relying on me. I’ve got to do my part. And that kept many of them continuing to risk their lives.
JW: In the end, wasn’t it easier to fight that battle on Omaha Beach and the war because we had the moral clarity of being on the right side?
JM: World War II is unique in that it is a mass participation war, though, believe it or not, two-thirds of those who served were draftees and only one-third volunteers. Still, it was a popular war. And that’s very rare in American history. Most of our wars have either been or become incredibly unpopular with some Americans. But World War II was a linear war you could look toward a concrete series of steps that would lead you to victory. It was a war that was waged against nation-state actors whom you could identify and fight — and fight to victory. And it’s one of the rare times in American history where both parties came together on this idea — well, let’s work together toward the victory.
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A Red Europe and the US reverting to isolationism. What a different world it would have been.
Just imagine… America losing it’s (NATO granted) strategic edge during the inevitable Cold War…
Fascinating, yet terrifying.
Stalin would not have stopped at the Rhine, he would have rolled straight to the English Channel. It would have been like having Sauron win the War of the Ring. Europe would have been smothered under generations of darkness.
The TV series “The Man in the High Castle” is a disquieting picture of some aspects of this.
try reading a book called “the twilight men,” by otto basel. translated from german, it’s a difficult read. it depicts a world in which the axis won the war. it was scary. the us was divided between germany and japan. this could have been the outcome of a failure at normandy.
The Soviets would have finished off the war, and taken over the rest of Germany, or in otherwords.. germany would have been dimished greatly by the soviets. !Soviet Russia!
The result of a failure on D-Day: nuclear weapons detonated over Dresden and Stuttgart on August 6 and August 9, 1945.
Absolutely. Failure at Normandy certainly doesn’t equal German victory, though, without the concerns of a second front (At least for a while) it may have freed up German resources to defeat the USSR. In the end, the US would have certainly dropped nuclear weapons on Germany, continued their advance through Italy and Southern France (Let’s not forget Operation Dragoon) and defeated Germany (With or without the Russians).
The Soviets would be in Berlin and Hitker would have killed himself April 30 . The Soviets would have move the iron curtain to the Atlantic.
The western allies didn’t defeat Hitler. They just saved Western Europe from the Russians
This is exactly correct. By June 6, 1944, the German army in the east was in disarray. The idea that it could have regrouped and held off the Soviets is fanciful nonsense.
The western allies didn’t save France from Nazi Germany they saved France and the rest of western Europe from the Soviet Union. Stalingrad and Kursk was where WW2 was won and lost.
As a historian friend says: “World War Two was fought between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia everything else was a sideshow.”
No, more likely it would have been Berlin and Munich.
The Russian spring offensive would have still occurred, the Allies might have still been able to launch a second offensive later in the summer with German divisions transferred to the East weakening their western defenses and the Americans would have had an atomic bomb to drop on the Ruhr in August 1945.
D-Day was never in doubt. I offer my commentary on WABC’s John Batchelor Show:
D-Day was indeed a remarkable event, but as executed on June 6, it was simply not going to fail. I fully understand how myth demands transcendence against all odds, but all odds were with us that day.
And you, sir, are an absolute fool to think that virtually any commander (save for MacArthur) wouldn”t at least privately been concerned with failure.
MacArthur was very concerned with failure during his daring landing at Inchon in Korea.
RE: “D-Day was never in doubt.”
If that was true, then why did Gen. Eisenhower, before the invasion had begun, write two statements: one announcing the success of the D-Day landings (the historically well-known statement) and one in which he takes full responsibility for the invasion’s failure?
The Red Army would have eventually defeated Germany, even if DDay failed.
In Mein Kamph, Hitler says that after the mental defectives and Jews are eliminated, ALL the Slavs are to be killed. ALL the Poles and Russians were destined to be killed if the Red Army lost.
Its very strong motivation to win a war, knowing that if you lose, all of your extended family is destined to be killed.
Maybe the Red Army would have been victorious, maybe. But it is worth mentioning that the Germans pulled the bulk of their armored forces from the East to fight in France just at the moment when their forces were dangerously overextended, a disability that gradually became apparent that summer in Stalingrad. It wouldn’t have taken much to prevail in the beginning of that battle, when the German army faced only 30k largely ill-trained and disorganized troops.
RE: “…a disability that gradually became apparent that summer in Stalingrad.”
The Battle of Stalingrad took place from 23 August 1942 to 2 February 1943 – not during the summer of 1944.
For every German soldier the Allies fought in the west, the Soviets faced three. Your information that Germany “pulled the bulk of their armored forces from the East to fight in France” patently comes from an unreliable source.
i must add that in “the twilight men, the us east of the rockies was called “the united vassal states of america.” it was run for the germans by the kkk. ’nuff said.
First time I’ve heard this kind of take on the consequences of an axis victory at Normandy, the fairly limited amount of related fiction I’ve read imagines some kind of stalemate or cold-war between the US and Germany. This scenario of potential soviet advantage looks more plausible at first glance.
I wonder, though, if the Allies were repelled on D-Day could it also be likely that FDR would have lost the election, with the ironic buck stopping there? Perhaps the resulting tensions between FDR and the military could have opened the door to public allegations of the President’s foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor, true or not.
Would a Dewey administration continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars rapidly developing the atomic bomb whose design was largely still on the drawing board? Faced against Me-262’s, V-1s, and V-2’s, perhaps the US would redirect resources to development of more conventional and reliable weapons, e.g. jets and higher yield incendiaries. The bomb would still get done, but at a pace reflecting a delayed imminence of an invasion of Japan due to losses in Europe.
Victory would still be achieved by the continued destruction of German industry while America continued to increase war production and efficiency, which Dewey was an advocate for in official capacity.
Fractures may have also formed in the alliance with the Soviets, due to a changed mood in Washington less sympathetic to Communists. Either from a change in politics or the simple matter of W. Europe and the Mediterranean taking complete precedence over support for the USSR. With the Russians caught in offensive formations, there could even have been a repeat of Barbarossa, though on a more limited scale closer to German frontiers.
And finally mix in a very possible dead HItler by Summer of . Maybe sooner. he would not have tunneled himself underground so quickly and maybe even resumed public appearances/speeches following a failed D-Day, making him an easier target for assassination. If not, given what’s known about his medical care, a victory at the Atlantic Wall would not have cured his Parkinson’s. There would still be a race to see who gets to surrender first to the West once it was confirmed that he was really dead this time, for sure.
An increasingly war wary US, a desperate England, a Russia left to fend for itself, and a legitimate and recognized Flensburg gov’t-type regime in a post-Hitler Germany suggests a brokered peace/ “conditional” surrender may have been possible between the West and Germany, more so than the US nuking western Europe. Even if they showed Ike the door after D-Day failed, I doubt there was any American general who would have supported the use of atomic bombs in Europe unless as a matter of last resort. So, we’re back to the old hypothetical US-German cold war again.
Sorry for hijacking the page like this, this was just a really fun premise to think about. I have a new addition to my bookmarks, great site!
I believe the Americans would if D day failed have a cold war with either a German or Russian dominated Europe just like the book Father
land. The other option being the American using Atomic bombs dropped
by B29bombers while the Germans would use He177 bombers, V 1 and V 2 missals to deliver nerve gas on European and British cities. In which case the British, Germans and other Europeans should be thankful they where not gassed nor nuked.
Or did you mean missiles, not missals?
It’s true if D-Day failed,then the U.S would have been forced to use those Atomic bombs on Germany first and forcing another Hittler asasination attempt from the Germany military High Command that would have popular support after the second bomb that would have succeeded .Finally wherever the Red Army might have been at the time the first dropped would have stopped them dead in their tracks ,giving Stalin pause and maybe deterring him from even touching Germany if the Red Army wasn’t there already,so starting the Cold War early and getting his spies to acererate the theft plans for copying the Manhattan project and production of the stolen B29 bomber.
Finally perhaps a second limited landing might have occurred,but certainly without Eisenhower as th leading general,However those Atomic bombs are the key for the west to force enough internal chaos for the german military to rise up and kill Hittler themselves with forcing the SS to surrender or die or better yet leave them for the Russian to deal with.Finally on a conventional war for not the he Russian were going to have to finish mauling down the Germans on the battlefield down to defeat even with more lost of life and a Cold War still on the table without them having any part if Germany to use in the game.
D-day was far more important in relation to the cold war (here I exaggerate a bit), the Russians were pretty much knocking on Hitler’s door by the time the allies made landfall on Germany.
however the absence of western control in Europe would have very likely would have returned america to the principle of minding its own.
This would have left Britain and a few capitalist states isolated in Europe, probably soon to fall to communism from USSR influence. Eventually this would lead to communism becoming a major power and threatening the USA. Eventually this could lead to the world becoming communist.
A very interesting read, but as with any “what if”, once you start speculating there are so many different roads a different story might go along.
If D-Day had failed, it most likely only could have failed within the first 24 hours of the invasion. Once the beachheads were secured there was nothing the Germans could do to dislodge the Allied forces on a strategic level. Different choices there might have shortened or lengthened the campaign. Henceforth, I believe if a German victory in Normandy would have happened it had to happen within the early hours of the battle. As Rommel pointed out, to defeat the enemy at the waterline.
It is hard to imagine what the consequences would have been in terms of casualties, moral, politics, strategy and momentum. Amongst the casualties I suppose would have been most members of the 82nd and 101st US Airborne divisions, as they would have been the most difficult to extract. British 6th Airborne possibly might have been able to reconnect to the beaches and pull out that way, but then again, that flank would have been the flank that the Germans had to press through in order to secure victory, so I imagine most of the division would have been capture or destroyed. The assault forces possibly would have gotten out, in some form of a bloodied nose.
The degree of defeat might vary on how the retreat was conducted. A hastly evacuation from Omaha for example towards Utah beach might have isolated the beachheads, allowing the Germans to defeat the British sector, but possibly allowing the Americans to settle in further North. The question then would be, would they be able to hold and expand the beachhead or also be forced to retreat. This might have been a costly defeat, whereas returning the units back to the ships along the entire coast might have speared a lot of men and equipment to fight another day.
Morale however would be on an ultimate low with the Allies. V1 and V2 rockets soon would have joined in to dampen the mood in England. Clarke’s march on Rome would have been forgotten and it is hard to tell what would have happened there, if the Germans felt they could reinforce that sector with units from France.
I suppose that there would not have been any campaigning in France for at least a year. New commanders would have to be found, I suppose Patton might have profitted and would have been involved in divising new plans for a new attack the next summer. As I read before, FDR’s re-election might not have been as easy, possibly giving different priorities to the war effort as a consequence. Maybe the Allies would have decided to widen the conflict to Spain and to lure the Germans that way – as a form of re-enacting Wellington’s campaign there against Napoleonic France.
At the same time, it might not have been certain whether Britain was able to continue the war effort. Before D-Day it was apparent to the British war planners, that once the Normandy campaign was over, that they had to disband units in order preserve the fighting capability of the army. Possibly, the British would have recalled units from Burma, once the Japanese offensive towards Imphal was stopped and the front there secured. However, I doubt that Indian Army units could have arrived in Britain in significant numbers before ’45. Once more, Churchill might have been forced to resign and a different War Cabinet might have preferred to end the conflict and preserve what is left of the British Empire and concentrate on its oversea areas instead, if it could guarantee peace in Europe. This naturally would have meant that American forces would have to leave Britain to respect British neutrality in the matter. America would then have been required to find a new stepping stone into Europe, if it cared to continue with the Germany first policy. The Italian theater would have regained importance, but due to terrain reasons would not have served the purpose for fast maneuverability. Moreover, supplying units there would remain awkward. France or Spain would remain preferential targets, yet assembling a sizeable invasion force to breach the Atlantic Wall and to take the gamble a second time at possibly worse odds would take greater courage, more preparation and in general would have been even more challenging and less likely to succeed.
On the Eastern Front, it is hard to say what exactly would have happened. The Russian Spring Offensive would have taken place shortly afterwards, yet it is questionable how it would have feared with a changed strategic situation. Germany at that moment could focus on a one front war, possibly reinforce the front soon enough after the offensive started and had the chance to bring the front to a stalemate possibly. The essential question here is, how likely was Germany to completely overstretch itself. It was doing so since Kursk in and as both the Allies and the Soviets were kicking their doors in the summer of it became a matter of time, but with a one-front war, a stalemate might have been a chance. Possibly with extraordinary luck, the Germans might have turned a retreat into a tactical victory by being able to mount strong counterattacks that could have made things difficult for the Russians. It is doubtful though, that Germany would have been able to mount another stategic offensive on the Eastern Front in / as manpower as well as resource shortages and I believe a continuation of the Allied bomber offensives on Germany would have kept German industrial output under control (at some stage the German war economy would not be able to improve its efficiency faster than what was being destroyed by the Allied bombers).
With regard to the nuclear bomb, as far as I know, the Allies relied to some extent on German uranium in order to manufacture the bombs for Japan, as the Allies themselves were still not able to mine the required amount quickly enough themselves. A bomb on Germany might not have happened before , but once the Allies had it and if the war was still going on, they would have used it on Germany. The question here is, in coordination with Russia or not.
Also then the question is, how would have German morale developed. The army would have been in high spirits after defeating the long awaited Allied invasion. The Western Front would have been secured for the time being. Further fortifications would have been added to the one’s in place. The possibility of also halting the Russian offensive somewhere in Eastern Poland and possibly destroying large Russian armoured formations could have added to jubilant Germany in the summer of 1944. Yet, as bombing continues and the war continues despite the promise of a final victory, German morale might have dampened quickly in the autumn and winter to pre-invasion levels. Nuclear threat might have added, but then I wonder if anybody in Germany or in the world what the real dangers of a nuclear bomb were and are, and therefore could this have effectively influence moral? I doubt Germany would have surrendered despite having nuclear bombs being dropped on them. It might have caused fraction within the state, between those who felt the game was up and those who fanatically believed in the final victory. Some sort of weird civil war within German might have erupted, as different fractions would seek to gain power, in order to end the world war to save what remains of Germany. Hitler possibly would lead the SS and other fanatical units against elements of the Wehrmacht. I doubt that Berlin would have been the target, as neither was Tokyo. The Ruhr area would be an obvious choice and possibly Munich, a city that had not been hit much by the strategic bombing campaign in order to highlight and illustrate the destructive value of the nuclear bomb.
So for certain can be said, that Allied victory at D-Day preserved Germany from complete destruction and spared Europe at least a year of war, if the waring parties had not come to an alternative settlement before the Allied forces at developed a nuclear bomb. The victory in Normandy was a victory for democracy in Europe. It is needless to say that the post-war order would have been entirely different.
D-Day: What if it had failed?
General Dwight Eisenhower was the most powerful man in the world in early June, 1944, and then a moment later, he was largely powerless. The invasion force of which he was supreme commander would land almost 200,000 troops in the Normandy region of France within the first 24 hour of Operation OVERLORD, better known now as D-Day. That is, this would happen if the invasion was successful – and to be successful a few key elements had to go the Allies’ way. First, the airborne landings, from the American 82nd and 101st Airborne and British 6th Airborne divisions, would have to succeed. Dropped inland of the landing beaches on the night of June 5th, these thousands of men were tasked with seizing bridges, key road junctions, and other locations in order to prevent the Germans from quickly counterattacking at the beaches.
The second key element was the beaches or, rather, the six Allied infantry divisions – three American, two British, and one Canadian – that were to land on them at just after dawn on June 6th. These units would have to fight their way ashore, establish a firm hold on each beach and the areas immediately inland of them, and then link up with one another as quickly as possible. This, through German defenses – the “Atlantic Wall of “Fortress Europe,” as Hitler called them – that had been built up over several years and were under the command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed Desert Fox.
The airborne landings, which were being conducted on a scale never before tried, and the amphibious landings, which turned out to be the largest ever in history, had to both be successful before German tanks and other units could be brought forward from inland France. In addition to the German defenders and defenses, the Allies had to contend with high seas and only just-tolerable weather conditions, which initially forced Eisenhower to postpone the invasion from its original date of June 5th, and gamble that June 6th, when better weather was forecast, would be followed by a few extra days of clear skies to facilitate air cover and follow-on forces.
Through all these variables, Eisenhower had the power and responsibility to make the final call on whether to ‘go’ or not. The lives of so many thousands of troops – Allied and enemy – were in his hands, along with the fate of a continent. That is, until he gave the order to go, which he did in the small hours of June 5th. Thus, over 24 hours before the sun rose over a 5000-ship armada, Ike made himself powerless by giving the order only he could give.
The “soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied expeditionary force,” as he addressed them in his D-Day message given out and read the day before, were now going to see if the year-plus of planning and years of training would be enough for them to win the day, and from it the war. Although Ike expressed every confidence in his troops and the plan, he knew that victory was not guaranteed, and so wrote a short note, which he kept on his person, to be delivered to his superiors should the invasion fail. In this brief statement, Ike demonstrated the quality of his character and leadership: the willingness to take full responsibility for his work, no matter the outcome. Read his brief statement below and consider the tension between the power with which he was entrusted, and the massive burden he carried along with it.
Hand-written, unissued message:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
Read also the OVERLORD Operations Order, from March 1944, in which the invasion itself – its ends and means – is sketched out for the Allied military. Note that the code word stamped on the document, “BIGOT” (possibly an acronym for British Invasion of Occupied Territory), indicates that it is genuine, unlike a set of false documents, stamped “ultra secret”, that were generated to mislead the German intelligence services. To be “bigoted” in reference to OVERLORD meant to have been briefed in fully. In the months leading up to the invasion, only a few leaders and a tiny group of trusted officers knew when and where the invasion would take place. This copy of the order comes from the Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library, of the United States Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
What if D-Day had failed?
Given the size, scope, location, and timing of D-Day, there was little room for alternate scenarios if Operation Overlord had failed. Calais was closer, but Adolf Hitler expected that to be the landing zone and had the most powerful defenses there (Operation Fortitude had been designed to keep him expecting the landing to be there even as the Allied force was heading to Normandy). The weather was a critical factor—it delayed the invasion for days and failure on June 6 would have held up any further action for two weeks—at which point the Channel would have been experiencing its worst storms in years (June 19-22). Failure was really not an option and nobody, least of all General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was able or willing to consider anything short of success. Everyone involved conducted themselves accordingly, which (combined with virtually complete Allied air superiority) assured that there would not have to be a “Plan B.”
Where can you learn more? D-Day is one of the most written about campaigns in history! Check your library or the military section in any book store or e-catalog. Osprey Publishing put out entire books in its “Campaigns” series devoted to each beach and additional separate ones for the subsequent breakout operations. Samuel Eliot Morrison covers the naval aspect in his history of U.S. Naval Operations. The U.S. Army put out a treatment on the landings and subsequent expansion of the beachheads in its series. The list is endless and still growing.
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