OTHER STRATEGIC CONSIDERATIONS

Although the primary purpose of this paper is to address the military requirement for OVERLORD, any paper on OVERLORD would be deficient if it ignored the broader political and strategic issues which concerned senior policy makers during World War II. The first of these issues was the desire for a “second front” to provide relief to the Russians.

While this had been a consistent and well-justified theme from Stalin throughout 1941 and 1942, by late 1943 the urgency had been relieved. At Tehran, Stalin knew he could defeat the Germans unilaterally, if required. (15:340) Although the possibility of a separate peace between Germany and Russia may have been a basis for real concern in 1942 and early 1943, by the time of the Tehran Conference it would have taken a catastrophic reversal to change the Russian commitment to victory. Russia was in the war to stay and to win. Furthermore, the Americans would have been well justified had they maintained that the second front already existed in the Pacific, where the Russian forces were not engaged. It may have been a great historical misfortune that the other allies could not do more to relieve Russia during the darkest days of 1941 and 1942 when she faced the Germans essentially alone, but this compelling need simply did not exist at the Tehran conference. By that time, the argument for a second European front was merely a “rationale of convenience.”

Some assume the allied decision to proceed with OVERLORD was based on a desire to limit Russian territorial gains to eastern Europe. This rather Machiavellian rationale probably has more validity than a purely military one, but it also has several deficiencies. First of all, it was not apparent in late 1943 that Germany would fight to the bitter end. It was conceivable that surrender, rather than destruction would be chosen at some point prior to Russian invasion of German territory. Occupation forces would then have entered Germany unopposed, and it is reasonable to assume that American and British forces would have been given preference. Secondly, even if the Germans did not surrender, continuing attrition on the eastern front would gradually have resulted in the transfer of German forces out of France, so British and American forces would have faced little or no opposition to a deferred landing there. This was the contingency covered by the war plan known as RANKIN. It provided for a very rapid invasion and advance across France in the event of an imminent collapse of the German government. There is no question that Hitler would have expended his last resources fighting the Russians for Berlin rather than British and American forces for France and western Germany. Had British and American strategists been truly Machiavellian in their deliberations concerning OVERLORD, they would have deferred the invasion and waited for a later opportunity when they would have faced little or no opposition.

Even more opportunistic strategists would have recognized the wisdom of Winston Churchill’s recommendations for a Mediterranean strategy rather than a massive invasion of France. His strategy promised to do two things. First, it would have limited British and American casualties and risk, so that strong forces would have been available to confront Russia in the post-war world. Secondly, successful execution of this strategy would have prevented Russian occupation of much of eastern Europe. As described by Churchill and British Field Marshals Alexander and Wilson, the Mediterranean strategy would have included campaigns throughout the Danube basin. (17:466-475) (23:537-538) As indicated earlier, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslavakia, and even Poland could well have come under British and American control. It is entirely conceivable that this option, followed by operation RANKIN, would not only have prevented Russian occupation of western Europe, but would also have kept them out of much of central and eastern Europe as well. Unfortunately, Churchill’s mistrust of the Russians was completely ignored or discounted as an insufficient basis for changing the OVERLORD planning. It is therefore very unlikely that American insistence on OVERLORD could have been based on distrust of the Russians or a desire to limit their occupation of Europe. There were too many more favorable opportunities for doing this, had it been a strategic objective, and there is simply too much evidence to the contrary.

As a final point on the strategic basis for OVERLORD, the potential gains from OVERLORD did not compare with its potential cost to the allies. Allied victory on the beaches of Normandy followed by the successful invasion of France were not decisive In the European theater. Even without OVERLORD, the outcome of the European war had already been decided. The Russian Army and the combined bombing campaign could guarantee Germany’s defeat. Furthermore, British and American forces could have been massacred on the beaches of Normandy or “Dunkirked” at a later date. This outcome is not only plausible, it came very close to actually happening. Repositioning one or two divisions would probably have given the Germans a victory on the Normandy beaches. Less interference by Hitler in the decisions of his commanders might also have given him a victory even after the allied beachead had been established. The invasion was a serious and unnecessary risk. American and British strategists can be critically questioned for deciding on an operation which in all likelihood was going to cost them more than it could possibly gain. Good strategists do not give their opponents the opportunity to win major victories when they are under no military compulsion to do so.

Having determined that OVERLORD was not necessary for allied victory in Europe; that OVERLORD was too late to provide the much needed relief to Russia; that OVERLORD was perhaps the least advantageous opportunity to limit the scope of Russian post-war occupation; and that as a strategy, OVERLORD had a greater potential for losing or extending than for winning the war; it is extremely difficult to Justify the operation. The apparent basis for the final decision on OVERLORD was that the American strategists were committed to it. Even though the original rationale for OVERLORD was sound, American strategists refused to recognize that the European situation had changed. After fighting for OVERLORD for over two years with the British, the US Army would not relinquish its only opportunity to play a major role in the defeat of the Germans. By late 1943 the inertia associated with OVERLORD was simply too great to overcome.

CONCLUSION

The massive allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 was not necessary for the military defeat of Germany. The German Army had already been destroyed on the eastern front, and the German war industry was being devastated by the combined bombing offensive. According to Trumbull Higgins,

When the British were finally compelled by their Allies to invade France in 1944, it was an invasion essentially undertaken in the self-interest of the West, the terrible risk of the collapse of the Soviet Union having long since passed. At this date the Red Army no longer needed more than Western supplies with which to occupy eastern Europe. (4:283)

The Normandy invasion was simply too late to be of meaningful assistance to the Russians. In fact, Stalin had conceded that is was no longer necessary.

Furthermore, many capable allied strategists knew that OVERLORD was no longer required and recommended against it. Why were these recommendations not heeded, especially since they would have resulted in greatly reduced British and American casualties? Two considerations cannot be ignored. First was the sheer momentum behind the OVERLORD planning. American planners had placed all their European “eggs” in this basket, they had been advocating OVERLORD against the British for over two years, and they were unwilling to concede to the British position in late 1943. Secondly, American leaders, including Roosevelt, felt that unless American forces took a significant (albeit late) share in defeating the German Army, the Russians would be entirely uncooperative in the post-war world and probably would not assist in defeating the Japanese. The British were much less concerned about Russian sensitivities, feeling instead that their post-war interests would be better served by strengthening and conserving their armed forces rather than squandering them on the beaches of Normandy.

OVERLORD was not a military necessity; it was an unnecessary military gamble that could easily have failed. In retrospect, it is impossible to understand why American strategists were so committed to it. This commitment itself is evidence of serious strategic inflexibility. American planners either could not or would not adjust to the realities of the European theater in late 1943 and early 1944. Having already made the investment in a strategic bombing force that, in combination with the Russian Army, could have defeated Germany in a matter of months, why did the US not unleash the bombers and turn its attention to the Pacific theater? Why did US strategists not accept British recommendations for a less risky Mediterranean/Balkan strategy that would have left the western forces in a much more favorable post-war position relative to the Russians? The answers to these questions have political as well as military dimensions. President Roosevelt believed he could buy Stalin’s post-war cooperation. When Stalin expressed his final preference for OVERLORD at Tehran, he essentially allowed American political and military strategy to coalesce. OVERLORD was what the Russians still wanted and it was what Gen Marshall had always wanted. Roosevelt could not have been more pleased.

In the final analysis, parochialism cannot be discounted. During World War I American leaders and forces had chafed under the constraints of a strategy developed by Britain. With World War II, America had another opportunity to assert its world leadership role and develop the strategy for victory. Gen Marshall was entirely consistent with the attitudes of the American people and their political leaders when he insisted that OVERLORD, the American plan, would be used to defeat Germany. Furthermore, and perhaps even more important to Gen Marshall, he knew that victory in the Pacific theater would be achieved primarily by Naval and Air forces. Geography alone dictated this. OVERLORD was the last opportunity for the US Army to play a major a rather than a peripheral role in the victory. General Marshall simply would not let such an opportunity pass.

LIST OF REFERENCES

  1. Hastings, Max. OVERLORD: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
  2. Stoler, Mark A. The Politics of the Second Front: American Military Planning and Diplomacy in Coalition Warfare. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1977.
  3. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Summary Report (European War). U. S. Government, 1945.
  4. Higgins, Trumbull. Hitler and Russia: The Third Reich in a Two-Front War. 1937-1943. New York, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1966.
  5. Kournakoff, Sergei. What Russia Did for Victory. New York, New York: New Century Publishers, 1945.
  6. Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. New York, New York: William Morrow and Co., 1948.
  7. Salisbury, Harrison E. The Unknown War. New York, New York: Bantam Books, 1978.
  8. Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. New York, New York: The MacMillan Co., 1970.
  9. Von Manstein, Erich. Lost Victories. Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Co., 1958.
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  11. LeMay, Curtis E., Gen USAF (ret), Remarks at the Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 17 September 1985.
  12. Hansell, Haywood S. Jr., MaJ Gen USAF (ret), Remarks at the Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 17 September 1985.
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  14. LeMay, Curtis E., Gen USAF (ret.). “Strategic Air Power: Destroying the Enemies Resources.” Aerospace Historian. Spring/March 1980. pp. 9-15.
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  18. Stamps, T. Dodson and Esposito, Vincent J., editors. A Military History of World War II. Volume I. Operations in the European Theaters. US Military Academy, New York, 1953.
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  23. Liddell Hart, B. H. History of the Second World War. New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1971.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Along with d-Day, another military operation was ‘Operation Tiger ‘which was the dress rehearsal for D-day which had numerous fatalities of which included my dad’s brother. This event occurred about 1 month before D-day

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Tiger
    It was a secret mission that was covered-up by the government for many years which made it hard on the family . The families were only told of the date of the solder’s death April 28, 1944 .

  2. It was the policy of unconditional surrender insisted on by Roosevelt and Churchill that prolonged WW2. Hitler was willing to have a negotiated peace but not unconditional surrender. You only have to look at what happened after they did surrender this way – mass killings, starvation of pows and civilians, mass rapes, looting of art, machinery and patents, war crimes trials for the defeated but not the victors even though they did the same thing etc – to see why he refused. Hitler made over a dozen peace offers including withdrawing German troops from France, Belgium, Holland and other areas in return for a negotiated peace and they were all rejected by Britain and USA. https://forum.codoh.com/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=10192

  3. We have to mention, that USSR had many divisions in the South, because Turkey was a potential opponent. And many divisions in the Far East, – Japan was the enemy. After the capitulation of Germany, Marshall Zhukov broke into pieces a million Japanese Kwantung army during a month.
    So, the enormous territory, unfriendly and unfamiliar nature and weather, the national fury of the Soviet People’s, huge resources, partisan fight – all this was a cemetery for invaders. It was the essential question of surviving for my peoples.

    • Zhukov crushed the Japanese twice – first at Khalkin Gol in 1939 and again in 1945. The Germans are always credited with being the first to employ all arms mechanised warfare, but really, it was Zhukov, out on the border between Manchuria and Russia, where he used armour, aircraft, artillery and infantry in coordination to absolutely rout the Japanese forces. This was the development of the ‘deep battle’ tactics developed in the 1930s by Tukachevsky, who sadly fell to Stalin’s purges. The Russians were very lucky that Zhukov survived the purges because he was all the way out in the far eastern military district and thus, out of sight, out of mind. The Americans lionise Patton, the west as a whole has a built up the likes of Rommel, Guderian and Manstein as great generals, but the truth is, the outstanding commander of WW2 was Zhukov, he beat the Germans before Moscow, saved Leningrad, crushed the Germans at Stalingrad and then lead the Red Army all the way to Berlin.

  4. The purpose of the war was to capture Caspian basin somehow, as is always the purpose with British/Napoleon/USA/Nazis/Isil/NATO. It is always the different aggressor but the target is always the same.

  5. 1/ Good article. Thank. We also have the opinion that the second front was opened later than it should have been and in a hurry. There were no special prerequisites for delaying the opening of the second front, as Stalin requested England and the United States. I do not in any way underestimate the value of hundreds of thousands of lost Yankees and Britons. But in fact, the second front and the operation in Normandy – it was just a rush. The Western coalition understood that the USSR itself would crush Germany (and, in fact, the whole of Europe, since Germany united the majority of European countries against the USSR). They were afraid that the Soviet soldier would reach the western outskirts of Europe and thus practically all of Europe would be under the influence of the USSR. All historically described.

    • 2/While the Soviet Vanya stormed the strongest German strongholds, dying by the hundreds of thousands, the Western coalition sought to be near when all was finished by Soviet soldier. Crafty, with their second front. And while ordinary soldiers – heroes, from both sides, were hugging on the Elbe, their western hyenas, commanders and politicians, were already planning an operation on the atomic bombing of my great country. … Allies,- worse than enemies! My country was destroyed, robbed. My ancestors once again liberated Europe from militaristic sentiments and fascism. 15 years have passed and the whole world recognized Yuri Gagarin! The bosses from the Bilderberg club may try to rewrite the history of the Second World War as much as they want, but millions of people in the ranks of the Immortal Regiment, the genetic memory of the winners, like the harsh ocean waves will break a wave of lies and deception of the Western rulers.

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