On June 6, 1944 Allied forces under the command of General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower stormed the beaches of Normandy. It was almost four years to the day that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his famous “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech in which he prophetically called for the “New World” to step forth and liberate the old.
The hour of Europe’s liberation had come, and it would be delivered by the greatest amphibious invasion in world history.
The Associated Press dramatically reported, “Thousands of American, Canadian and British soldiers, under cover of the greatest air and sea bombardment of history, have broken through the ‘impregnable’ perimeter of Germany’s ‘European fortress’ in the first phase of the invasion and liberation of the Continent.”
Eisenhower was one of the first to be convinced that a concentrated attack in Western Europe was vital to ultimately defeating Nazi Germany. He wrote in 1942, “We’ve got to go to Europe and fight—and we’ve got to quit wasting resources all over the world—and still more—wasting time.”
Renowned historian Craig L. Symonds wrote in Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings, “Before the first landing craft nudged up onto the sand, before the first soldier stepped onto the beach to face that merciless machine gun fire, a great deal had to happen.” It was an organizational and logistical nightmare to orchestrate an invasion force of “over six thousand ships and more than a million men.”
In what was arguably the most momentous single day of the 20th century, Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower played a decisive role. Marshaling the men and materials necessary for such a massive undertaking, Eisenhower worked closely with U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, numerous Allied leaders, as well of heads of state like Churchill to help organize and plan an amphibious landing of unprecedented size and scope.
In the nervous days leading up to to the final assault—when storms and bad weather threatened to derail the operation—Eisenhower began to feel the weight of what he knew would be a world-changing event.
A future where a chillingly modern, yet barbarous Nazi Germany became the supreme world power was not out of the question. Eisenhower believed that if the landing failed and tens of thousands were killed in vain, the ultimate blame would fall to him. Even if another invasion had been planned in the future, he would not likely be given a second chance to lead it.
In a recent interview, Eisenhower’s son David Eisenhower said, “In the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to accept full responsibility. In my opinion, had Overlord failed or become bottled up, the Allies would have mounted major landings elsewhere — either in Brittany or along the southern French coast (where secondary landings took place in August), under General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff and Eisenhower’s boss.” Eisenhower even put together a statement in case he met defeat.
The stakes and pressure for success were immense. The message that he sent to his troops on the eve on invasion—short, yet direct and profound—highlighted what his men would have to fight for and the cause that so many would die for on that day. Countless generations owe a great debt for what they did. And it is the duty of future generations to pay that debt to preserve and cherish the freedom that they bled for.
Here is what Eisenhower said to the Allied forces under his command in the hours leading up the invasion:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces:
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory.
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.