On D-Day, the eyes of the world were on the Allies

In the first days of June 1944, BBC transmitters beamed to the forces of the French Resistance the prearranged signal that indicated the start of the long-awaited naval, air, and land invasion of France that would open a critical second front against Germany.

The 74th anniversary of the Normandy landings is a useful moment to pause, reflect and ensure that the memory of this historic event doesn’t slip away. June 6, 1944 became historical shorthand for a generation of Americans, a date that needs as little explanation as “September 11” does for their progeny.

As General Eisenhower wrote in his June 6 Order of the Day, “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade towards which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”

The Plan for Operation Overlord was codenamed D-Day. The “D” in D-Day is a general term for the start date of any military operation. The Allies selected Normandy as the landing site because it provided the best access to France’s interior.

Operation Overlord was the greatest technical feat of the war. The challenges of mounting a successful landing were daunting. Herculean preparations requiring remarkable coordination among the Allies for Operation Overload had been going on since 1942.

The forces assembled constituted the greatest amphibious force in history. An armada of more than 5,000 ships and landing craft were waiting to transport more than 150,000 British, Canadian, and American troops; 1500 tanks; and thousands of guns, vehicles, and supplies to five beach heads along a 50-mile strip of the heavily fortified Normandy coast. Leading the way were over 300 minesweepers that cleared a path through a minefield that stretched across the English Channel to the Normandy beaches.

The Americans landed to the west on Utah and Omaha beaches, while the British and Canadians landed on the east at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. Allied casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action, 60 percent of them American. The first 20 minutes of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” captures vividly the horrible realities of the landing and the price paid by the soldiers.

They were supported by 12,000 planes, some of which had been systematically destroying bridges and access routes to seal off the invasion area from the interior while others—transports and gliders —prepared to drop paratroopers and demolition teams well behind the beaches to complete the job.

The invasion was a high-risk operation, the outcome of which was by no means certain. The defenders had been preparing their reception for four years, building a formidable Atlantic Wall of concrete, wire, machine guns, mines, and artillery. SS panzer divisions lurked in the wings. As General Rommel famously remarked: “the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive, the fate of Germany depends on the outcome … for the Allies as well as Germany it will be the longest day”.

Despite furious German resistance, the Allies carried the day on June 6 and established a precious beachhead. Once the Wehrmacht recovered from its surprise, resistance was fierce. The Americans could not take Cherbourg, the principal port of the invasion coast for three weeks. The British, who should have entered Caen on the evening of D-Day, fought their way in on D+34 (July 9).

Finally caught in the decisive Battle of the Falaise Pocket, the Germans had nothing to do but run. After that, the road was clear for the race to Paris and the drive for the Rhine. Rommel was right, 11 months later Nazi Germany crumbled onto the scrap heap of history.

D-Day, June 6, 1944, paved the way for the liberation of Europe with countless acts of sacrifice by the men and women of the armed services that still resonate today. Success on the “longest day” marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe.

Originally Published:  Jun 2, 2018 


Civil and military success depend on developing and adapting strategy

Developing strategy is too often thought of as a by-the-book, one-shot undertaking to provide managers with a comprehensive roadmap that is supposed to cover all eventualities. But in the real world, this is scarcely the case.

Instead, developing an effective strategy is a relatively messy process that involves evaluating everything we know about the external environment at any given time, designing a realistic way to achieve long-term goals, constantly monitoring for changes in the environment, and revising strategies as they are being executed to take such changes into account. Strategy must reflect reality, not what you think the world ought to be like.

As proposals to invest in transportation and other infrastructure currently making headlines, military history provides essential background for those attempting to develop effective strategies for such large undertakings. Without this background, they’re like techno-wannabes trying to do engineering without have studied physics.

As the United States approaches the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, we should remember lessons the military has taught us: How to properly develop a strategy, why it must be regarded as an ongoing process, and how it must respect changing realities.

Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, killing more than 2,000 and wounding another 1,000. Sixteen battleships, cruisers, and other warships were sunk or disabled in the attack, but all-important fuel storage and ship repair facilities were left untouched. This omission allowed Pearl Harbor to continue as a forward base for American naval power in the Pacific.

When President Roosevelt delivered his “Day of Infamy” speech asking Congress to declare war on Japan the next day, the federal government already had a detailed game plan for defeating Japan in the Pacific. It was known as War Plan Orange and had been under development by the U.S. Navy since 1905.

The Navy began this effort and carried it forward in response to growing awareness that the U.S. acquisition of the Philippines during the Spanish-American War was likely to create conflicts with Japan in the western Pacific that could eventually lead to war.

By 1941 War Plan Orange had undergone many revisions and updates to reflect changing political and tactical realities such as the emergence of the aircraft carrier as a naval weapons system that had the potential to become as important as the battleship.

The game plan contained extensive detail about the numbers and types of fighting personnel that would be required to carry out the strategy, and how to recruit, organize and train them. Finally, it detailed the types and quantities of weapons and equipment that would be needed, how to produce them, what kinds and quantities of raw materials their production would require and how and where to allocate them in the theater of war for maximum effect.

It was all there in black and white. And as history has demonstrated, War Plan Orange reflected what actually happened. It was indeed the blueprint for the campaigns that eventually defeated Japan in 1945.

War Plan Orange guided the U.S. to victory over Japan less than four years after Pearl Harbor. This was less than half the time the U.S. spent in Vietnam, and far shorter than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It began as a sound strategy and was flexible enough to roll with the punches from events that strategists were unable to anticipate.

Clearly, the United States needs this kind of strategic focus at all levels of government if efforts to address major domestic and foreign policy issues are to succeed. Otherwise the country risks missing worthwhile opportunities, doing new projects and programs without proper coordination, and spending a lot of money just to make things worse.

As a new administration comes into power, it would be wise to recall that, as former President Eisenhower wisely remarked, “Plans may be irrelevant, but planning is essential.”

Originally Published: November 26, 2016