Seventy-two year ago, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower scribbled on a loose piece of paper his order to launch Operation Overlord—taking full responsibility for its failure, which was very likely.
The planning for Overlord began in May 1940, soon after France fell to the Nazi blitzkrieg. It was not popular plan with the English, who waged a four-year staff-on-staff war behind the scenes against it.
English Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his generals called for a strike at Germany’s underbelly, cutting up through the Balkans and most importantly creating a wedge between Soviet troops and Central Europe.
President Franklin Roosevelt and his generals wanted to launch an assault directly on the Europe’s Western shores as early as 1942. Some of this was because of a bias in American military science for Union leader Josef Stalin’s view that opening up the second front in France would relieve pressure on Soviet forces locked in a massive conflict in Russia.
It cannot be understated that the 1944 presidential election was a major factor in Roosevelt’s decision to create the second front. At home, a war-weariness was creeping into American psyche. The draft was cutting deeper into the population and the horrific causalities were piling up.
Two days before the landings at Normandy, the Allies liberated Rome from German forces and Paris was liberated Aug. 14, 1944. Inside the allied war councils, it was assumed that the war in the European Theater of Operations was over, but for the mopping up.
But, the war in Europe was not over until May 8, 1945. As German defenses stiffened and allied mistakes such as the botched Operation Market Garden in September 1944 stalled the momentum gained at Normandy.
Bizarrely, as Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army drove east across France towards Germany, both German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler and a Roosevelt, feeling the political sting of high causalities, issued the same order: Stop Patton.
Eventually, the war in Europe did come to a close, it that close began at Normandy.
Upon Ike’s command, 5,000 ships steamed toward the beaches of Normandy carrying 160,000 troops, including 24,000 troops for the small stretch labeled Utah Beach. The invasion force, supported by 113,000 aircraft took an entire day to secure a foothold on the 50 miles of French coastline. The American and allied killed and wounded the invasion of Normandy was 9,000.
On the night of the invasion, Roosevelt addressed the nation and he offered a prayer that ended:
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.