Ramsey, Eisenhower and Montgomery on D-Day

Ramsey, Eisenhower and Montgomery on D-Day



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Ramsey, Eisenhower and Montgomery on D-Day

Here we see Admiral Ramsey and Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery on HMS Apollo, off the Normandy beaches on D-Day.


Book Information

by Edward E. Gordon & David Ramsay

Publisher: Prometheus Books
September 2017
Available as Hardcover & Ebook

  • Offers a fresh perspective on the Normandy Invasion and its aftermath
  • Focuses on the conflicting egos, personal and national rivalries, and professional abilities of major Allied commanders. Contends that their lack of cooperation and bad decisions lengthened the war, increased casualties, and allowed the later Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
  • Provides insightful answers to the many controversies surrounding the Normandy campaign.

Divided on D-Day‘s coauthor is David Ramsay, the son of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay who was the naval commander-in-chief for the Normandy Invasion and who earlier directed the Dunkirk evacuation. He is the author of Lusitania Saga and Myth and ‘Blinker’ Hall Spymaster: The Man Who Brought America into World War I.

    of Ed Gordon’s interview on Author’s Voice. to questions on Divided on D-Day posed by Brian Feinblum on BookMarketingBuzzBlog. Ed Gordon discuss varied aspects of the Normandy Campaign with Rev. Greg Sakowitz.

Eisenhower Under Fire, 1944-45

Eleven months and one day after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion landed Allied troops in France to begin the liberation of Western Europe and defeat Nazi Germany, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) commander, General of the Army Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, cabled the British-American Combined Chiefs of Staff: “The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.” At that time and under the stern gaze of Ike’s SHAEF chief of staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, German General Alfred Jodl, representing Adolf Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, had signed the document surrendering Germany unconditionally to the Allies. One day later, at the insistence of USSR dictator Josef Stalin, the Soviets held a separate surrender ceremony in Berlin, presided over by Marshal Georgi Zhukov.

Although Germany’s surrender ended combat on the fighting fronts, the “battle” for the postwar reputations of the senior Allied commanders was about to begin in earnest. Indeed, Eisenhower’s skill as a strategist and even his basic military competence had already been savagely attacked – not by his German enemies, but by his British colleagues. Despite leading history’s most successful military coalition to a decisive victory over Nazi Germany, Ike was harshly criticized by senior British officers during his tenure as supreme Allied commander. They claimed that Eisenhower knew “little if anything about military matters,” was “quite unsuited to the post of supreme commander,” and that his “ignorance as to how to run a war [was] absolute and complete.”

The fiercest attacks were directed at Eisenhower’s warfighting strategy, which the British derided as an unfocused, unimaginative, “broad front” approach that unnecessarily increased Allied casualties and prolonged the war. This disparaging comment by Britain’s senior military officer in November 1944 is typical: “The American conception of always attacking all along the front, irrespective of strength available, is sheer madness.”

From mid-1944 to early 1945, Ike’s principal British subordinate, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of British-Canadian 21 Army Group, persistently argued for an alternate strategy. Monty proposed a plan in which he would lead a concentrated, single axis thrust on a narrow front that he claimed would quickly punch through Germany’s crumbling defenses, swiftly reach its Ruhr industrial heartland, and win the war in weeks, not months. After World War II ended, as rising tensions with the USSR made Berlin a frequent focus of Cold War conflict, Monty and his supporters even claimed that his narrow front strategy would have allowed him to capture Hitler’s capital ahead of the Soviets.

Yet an examination of the facts reveals Eisenhower’s solid competence and exceptional fitness as an Allied military commander, as well as the effectiveness of his strategy and the egregious inadequacies of Montgomery’s proposed plan.

IKE UNDER ATTACK

During Eisenhower’s 1942-45 tenure as supreme Allied commander, his greatest detractor and harshest critic was Field Marshal Alan Brooke (later Lord Alanbrooke), Britain’s World War II chief of the Imperial General Staff. Although the acerbic Brooke was highly critical of many leading Allied figures, including his own countrymen – in particular, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill – he confined most of his unflattering remarks about British leaders to the privacy of his wartime diary. He was much less secretive about his disdain for Eisenhower, however, and shared his stinging criticisms of Ike with Churchill, Montgomery and others.

Brooke began criticizing Eisenhower’s leadership during the 1942- 43 North African campaign, when Ike first exercised Allied command. In fairness to Brooke, Ike did make mistakes in his initial effort at coalition command – logistics were a mess, Anglo-American cooperation at the operational level was poor, and Ike failed to exercise firm direction and control of combat operations. The latter failure led to the February 1943 assignment of British General Harold Alexander as Eisenhower’s “ground commander” for the remainder of the campaign, an appointment chiefly engineered by Brooke. Yet Ike learned from his early mistakes, grew as a coalition commander, and in 1944-45 evolved into arguably the most effective allied coalition commander in history.

Brooke, however, continued criticizing Ike throughout the remainder of the war. He and other British generals were particularly critical of Eisenhower’s lack of pre-World War II combat experience, as Ike had not made it overseas to France during World War I. Yet with the notable exception of Montgomery’s decisive November 1942 victory at El Alamein, the battlefield records of the “combat experienced” British commanders prior to mid-1944 featured little to brag about. Brooke, who had been a field grade artillery officer in World War I, and whose service included planning the fire support for the horrifically disastrous 1916 Battle of the Somme, had little personal combat experience in World War II. And what he did have consisted principally of presiding over a series of early war disasters inflicted by the Germans – notably, his corps’ hasty May 1940 retreat to Dunkirk and humiliating evacuations from France in the wake of that retreat.

Although it seems certain that Brooke’s criticism of Eisenhower was at least partly motivated by his disappointment at not receiving the position of supreme Allied commander himself, his jealousy does not necessarily invalidate his complaint that Ike was woefully ignorant of military affairs and how to command an allied coalition. The picture of Ike painted by his critics, led by Brooke and Montgomery, was that of a genial, good-natured “chairman of the board” suddenly snatched from obscurity by Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall and placed in a supreme leadership position for which he was ill suited and with duties he was ill prepared to perform.

Putting this unflattering picture into words, Montgomery condescendingly dismissed Ike, saying, “Nice chap. No general.” However, an examination of Eisenhower’s career prior to his assumption of supreme command exposes this characterization as egregiously false.

“THE BEST OFFICER IN THE ARMY”

Dwight D. Eisenhower was, above all, a “team player.” Whether it was the West Point football squad on which he was a star athlete during his years as a cadet (1911-15) or the 1942-45 Anglo-American partnership he led that became history’s most successful allied military coalition, Ike put the team first. Yet, as his best biographer, Carlo D’Este, revealed, “Eisenhower’s easygoing manner and charming smile” was “a disarming façade behind which lay a ruthless, ambitious officer who thirsted to advance his chosen career.” That Ike never permitted his sizable ego to interfere with the success of the team is a testament to his remarkable strength of character. In fact, years after retiring from public life, he explained the secret to his success: “I got where I did by knowing how to hide my ego.”

Ike’s ability to be the consummate team player was greatly facilitated by his congenial personality – even detractors admitted that Eisenhower consistently came across as personable, likeable and modest. His winning personality was exemplified in a charismatic smile that helped him make friends easily and quickly gain the confidence of virtually all with whom he interacted throughout his career. But there was steel behind Ike’s famous ear-to-ear grin.

For all his outward congeniality, Eisenhower proved adept at handling strong-willed subordinates, notably Montgomery and George S. Patton during the 1942-45 campaigns. Both men tried Ike’s patience many times, yet both ended up bending to his will. Although Ike could be ruthless when necessary, while leading the Allied effort in Europe he had an “enforcer” – his chief of staff, “Beetle” Smith, who acted as his attack dog to keep unruly subordinates in line.

Smith’s job was to ruffle feathers when necessary, as his other, more telling nickname “the Barker” attested. But once Smith’s scolding had achieved the desired effect, Ike would flash his famous grin and smooth the ruffled feathers back down. While this seemed like a simplistic “good cop-bad cop” leadership technique, it had the singular virtue that it worked. As Smith’s biographer, D.K.R. Crosswell, wrote, “Smith’s assignment was to get results, not to make friends.” And to Ike’s – and the coalition’s – benefit, that’s exactly what the Barker did.

Eisenhower’s ability to remain above the petty squabbling that inevitably occurs in any large military organization was extremely important to his effectiveness as a coalition commander. He realized that the success of his leadership depended on team building, gaining consensus, forging compromises and achieving agreement rather than merely issuing orders.

Another vital key to Eisenhower’s success was his high intelligence, a trait that Ike admitted he usually “hid,” but which in retrospect is clearly evident in his military and political accomplishments. Although Ike, as D’Este wrote, “possessed a keen intelligence as icy as has ever risen to the higher reaches of American life,” he decided early on that appearing too intelligent might spark jealousy and mistrust among his peers and superiors, which could impede his career. As D’Este noted, “Eisenhower went to great lengths to assume the role he had decided to carve out for himself: that of a solid, dependable officer who performed his duties efficiently but without drawing undue attention to himself.” Yet regardless of Ike’s efforts to appear merely “solid and dependable,” by the eve of America’s entry into World War II his accomplishments and demonstrated ability had drawn the attention of senior U.S. military leaders who were organizing the country’s war effort.

Eisenhower’s rapid rise from seeming obscurity as America entered the war in December 1941 to become supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe within a few short years has often amazed those who have not studied his pre-World War II career. Yet Ike’s supposed prewar anonymity is a myth. Although on the surface his career might seem nearly indistinguishable from those of his contemporaries, Ike in fact had impressed his superiors throughout his service in the World War I and interwar Army. From 1918 to 1941, four assignments in particular showcased his developing skill, competence and intelligence.

First was Eisenhower’s World War I service from March through November 1918 at Camp Colt near Gettysburg, Pa., where Ike – only three years out of West Point – led the effort to create the Army’s tank corps. This task entailed significant responsibility, required Ike to work independently and show self-starting initiative, and gave him his first valuable experience working with America’s “citizen soldiers.” His notable success in this assignment also earned Ike his first of five Distinguished Service Medals.

Second, Eisenhower finished first in his 1925-26 Command and General Staff School class at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. This achievement was not only a tribute to his high intelligence and developing military skills it also put him on the “radar screen” of senior leaders Army-wide (including George C. Marshall), who began to request that “Ike Eisenhower” be assigned to their units.

Third, as a major and lieutenant colonel in the 1930s, Eisenhower spent seven years working for General Douglas MacArthur in Washington, D.C., and later the Philippines. This put Ike in daily contact with the Army’s top-ranking officers and senior civilian leadership while MacArthur was chief of staff (1930-35). Working for MacArthur not only taught Ike how to deal with difficult, strong-willed personalities, it also led to an officer efficiency report in which MacArthur – the U.S. Army’s ranking officer – called then-Major Eisenhower “the best officer in the Army” and advised “when the next war comes, Eisenhower should go right to the top.” Importantly, during his time in the Philippines under MacArthur, Ike learned valuable lessons about working closely and harmoniously with senior officers and high officials of another country and entirely different culture. He learned the value – often the necessity – of compromise in order to achieve results when working closely with allies.

Fourth, as 3d Army chief of staff under General Walter Krueger – who specifically requested Eisenhower’s assignment by personally appealing to Marshall, who became Army chief of staff in 1939 – Ike ran the historic August through September 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers. From this huge and unprecedented undertaking, Eisenhower gained experience in handling large masses of troops (400,000 took part) and the equally massive logistics requirements necessary to support and sustain them. It firmly cemented his Army-wide reputation, particularly with Marshall, and on September 29, 1941, Ike earned his first general’s star.

When Marshall chose Eisenhower to join his handpicked team on the Army staff in December 1941 the week after the Pearl Harbor attack, he knew well that he was selecting an officer of supreme competence, proven ability and great promise. And after honing his skills and learning his job as an allied coalition commander in North Africa and the Mediterranean in 1942-43, Eisenhower was the best-qualified senior American officer to be supreme Allied commander in Europe. Brooke’s specious claim that “Ike [knew] little if anything about military matters” demonstrably was self-serving nonsense.

But did Eisenhower’s 1944-45 warfighting strategy deserve the harsh criticism it received from Brooke, Montgomery and their supporters?

IKE’S WARFIGHTING STRATEGY, 1944-45

In modern military operations, the genesis of all warfighting strategy and operational plans is a basic mission statement, detailing what the military action is intended to accomplish. Eisenhower’s pre-D-Day mission statement, received from the U.S.-British Combined Chiefs of Staff on February 12, 1944, read: “You will enter the continent of Europe, and in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” Thus Ike’s clearly specified objective was Hitler’s army, not the Nazi dictator’s capital, Berlin. And destroying the German army in the West was exactly what his strategy accomplished.

To ensure the destruction of the enemy forces in France and Germany, Ike needed a military strategy that was logistically supportable, extensively pressed to tie down German units all along the front line to prevent them from massing to defeat Allied breakthroughs, and flexible enough to exploit successes by quickly moving forces to capitalize on fleeting opportunities. Above all, however, Ike sought to achieve an Allied victory, not merely a “British” or “American” triumph.

Eisenhower’s strategy, developed by his SHAEF staff and agreed upon in May 1944 before the D-Day invasion, called for advancing along dual axes, with Montgomery’s 21 Army Group in the north and General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group farther south. These two spearheads were to encircle Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial region by linking up east of it, and then overrun the country to the Elbe River, where the westward-advancing Soviets would be met. The southern flank of this dual axis advance was to be guarded and supported by General Jacob L. Devers’ U.S.-French 6th Army Group after it landed in southern France in mid-August. Therefore, calling Eisenhower’s strategy a “broad front” approach was actually a misnomer his critics intended as a condescending term of derision and ridicule.

Yet along these dual axes is exactly how Allied armies advanced behind Monty’s British-Canadian army group and Bradley’s American army group. (See Eisenhower’s Dual Axis Strategy map, p. 32.) While the Allies had to maintain a continuous front line to keep German forces in check all along the line, the strategy’s main effort consisted of the dual spearheads’ advances.

Ike’s strategy accomplished its intended purpose of destroying Germany’s armed forces principally because it featured the vital requirements for victory. First, the pace of the advance made it logistically supportable – except for a period in late August-early September 1944 when it outstripped supply capabilities, a situation exacerbated by Montgomery’s failure to clear the Scheldt Estuary quickly enough and open the badly needed major port of Antwerp. (See You Command, July 2013 ACG.)

Second, the dual axis advance continually forced the outnumbered, outgunned and out-supplied German defenders to confront and react to multiple threats. The Germans were not given the opportunity to mass forces against a single thrust offensive that might have resulted in a devastating setback to the overall Allied effort.

And third, the flexibility of Ike’s strategy proved key in defeating the one major counteroffensive Germany did mount, Hitler’s December 1944 Ardennes Offensive. Ike was able to swiftly move divisions from all along the Allied front (totaling 600,000 troops) to the Ardennes to defeat the enemy attack, and in the process destroy Germany’s last remaining major reserves of mobile forces.

The plan’s flexibility was also apparent when the Allies unexpectedly captured an intact bridge across the Rhine River at Remagen on March 7, 1945. (See Battle Studies, March 2013 ACG.) That success was immediately exploited to “jump start” Allied operations to get across the last major barrier to Germany’s heartland, paving the way for the March through May 1945 final advance to victory.

Certainly, Eisenhower’s warfighting strategy was not perfect and was not without flaws in practical implementation. Ironically, its chief virtue, keeping the enemy off balance by advancing along dual axes, also created its principal weakness – it was extremely manpower intensive. The plan depended on a continual superiority in manpower and a constant flow of replacements for the tremendous number of casualties produced by such a strategy. Ike could not attack at multiple locations and at the same time expect to keep losses to a minimum.

Maintaining the Allied advance along dual axes required Ike to utilize all the divisions provided to him to prosecute the war in northwest Europe. And since the U.S. Army made the conscious decision to mobilize only 89 divisions to fight a global war, the 61 American divisions in Ike’s command were stretched dangerously thin along the Allied front, particularly in December 1944 in the 80- mile Ardennes sector, where German armies nearly broke through during the Battle of the Bulge. Additionally, the limited number of American divisions prevented Ike from being able to maintain a strategic reserve – beyond the two U.S. airborne divisions, when they were not committed to combat operations, and arguably the Allied strategic and tactical air forces that might conceivably be considered his “flying reserve” force in lieu of ground units.

The problem with the scarcity of combat divisions was further exacerbated by the fall of 1944 replacement crisis. Casualties from the bitter September through November fighting were replaced only with extreme difficulty and by gutting divisions still undergoing stateside training prior to overseas deployment. Even with these draconian measures, by December 1944 Eisenhower’s combat units were seriously understrength. The day before the German Ardennes Offensive was launched, Bradley’s 12th Army Group was short 30,000 Soldiers, 20,000 of them front-line infantrymen. Likewise, after over five years of war, America’s British and Canadian Allies were scraping the bottom of their countries’ manpower barrels as well.

Yet despite the serious manpower problem Ike’s strategy fostered, the U.S. Army’s 89 division “gamble” succeeded (although whether the policy could have survived an invasion of Japan if America’s atomic bombs had not made that bloody endeavor unnecessary remains a matter of debate). And the flawed replacement system, although stretched to the breaking point by the 89,000 American casualties incurred in the Battle of the Bulge, did not catastrophically collapse before final victory was won in May 1945.

However, would a less manpower intensive strategy – specifically Montgomery’s narrow thrust plan – have won the war quicker and at a lower cost in casualties? Brooke and Monty certainly argued at the time that it would, and their supporters subsequently made the same claim in the postwar “battle” over reputations. Was, as Ike’s critics claimed, Montgomery’s plan a viable alternative that would have shortened the war?

MONTY’S NARROW THRUST STRATEGY

Beginning in mid-1944, Montgomery claimed that he could win the war quickly by advancing in the north over a single axis along a narrow front with a force of 40 divisions that would target Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial heartland. (See Montgomery’s Narrow Thrust Strategy map, p. 32.) Eventually – principally postwar, when Berlin was a Cold War “hot spot” – this narrow thrust strategy was extended to include the claim that Monty’s forces could have moved eastward from the Ruhr and on to Berlin to capture Hitler’s capital ahead of the advancing Soviets. Indeed, on the surface, the narrow thrust strategy does seem to follow the principle of war of “mass,” the synchronized application of superior fighting power at a decisive point to achieve victory (the British call this principle “concentration”). Yet closer examination of Monty’s strategy reveals serious flaws that Ike’s critics have chosen to ignore.

First, as Martin van Creveld calculated in his superb study of logistics, Supplying War: Logistics From Wallenstein to Patton, Monty’s “40 divisions” realistically would have been quickly reduced to a mere 18 when all logistical and operational requirements were considered. Captured ground could not simply be left in a vacuum, but had to be occupied and defended against the inevitable German counterattacks. Supply lines had to be protected and secured, and as a force advanced, those key “sinews of war” extended longer and longer, requiring the diversion of increasing numbers of combat troops to protect them. Moreover, because Monty failed to capture the Scheldt Estuary expeditiously and open the port of Antwerp (closed to Allied shipping until December), Ike’s SHAEF logisticians at the time calculated that only 12 divisions could have been supported in a rapid advance. Van Creveld weighed all the factors in the “broad front” vs. “narrow thrust” strategy debate and concluded, “In the final account, the question as to whether Montgomery’s plan presented a real alternative to Eisenhower’s strategy must be answered in the negative.”

Second, Monty’s single axis strategy would have been highly vulnerable to a strong German riposte, such as the one launched in the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge surprise attack. Although in September 1944, at the time when Montgomery was pushing hard for his strategy, German forces were seriously depleted from the summer breakout and exploitation across France and appeared fatally disorganized, the German army soon demonstrated an almost miraculous capacity to regenerate and quickly reorganize its seemingly “defeated” forces. Indeed, had the panzer and infantry forces Hitler gathered for the Ardennes Offensive been instead thrown against the flank of Monty’s “narrow thrust,” it undoubtedly would have produced such a disastrous setback to the Western Allies’ fortunes that Ike’s armies might have been forced to await the Red Army along the Rhine River, not the Elbe! Countries behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War then would have included all of Germany, not just East Germany, as Stalin would have been unlikely to “give back” to the Western Allies the territory his Red Army soldiers had shed blood to capture, and which they occupied, regardless of any prior agreements among the Allied Big Three leaders (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin).

Third, Eisenhower actually gave Montgomery a chance to show that his narrow thrust strategy could succeed – and Monty botched it. Ike approved the September 1944 Operation Market-Garden, Monty’s attempt to “jump” the lower Rhine and position his army group to drive on to the Ruhr industrial region. Market-Garden famously and disastrously failed at the “bridge too far” at Arnhem at the same time that German forces supposedly were so depleted and disorganized that Monty’s narrow thrust, it was claimed, would easily slice right through them and capture the Ruhr. Monty’s boast that his single axis advance would quickly win the war was both literally and figuratively “a bridge too far” at that point of the war in Europe.

Fourth, although Ike’s critics have claimed that his multiple offensives along the front line unnecessarily led to the bloody battles of attrition in the fall of 1944 – the Lorraine campaign and the Siegfried Line campaign – the very nature of modern, industrialized warfare made such relentless wearing down of the enemy an inevitable feature of mid-20th-century conflicts. Indeed, these vital, hard-fought, months-long battles positioned Ike’s armies to crack German defenses at last and to overrun Germany to the Elbe River in the spring of 1945. With the notable exception of the September through December 1944 Battle of the Hürtgen Forest that Ike foolishly allowed Bradley to get 12th Army Group enmeshed in, the attrition battles in the fall of 1944 and winter of 1944-45 in effect proved to be a necessary evil – the bloody precursor to the war’s final campaigns that helped set up Allied victory by battering and wearing down the enemy to the breaking point.

Fifth, Monty’s narrow thrust strategy ignored the military truism that regardless of how brilliant a plan might seem, the enemy gets a vote. As Moltke famously warned, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Apparently, Brooke, Monty and other critics of Ike expected the Germans in late 1944 to react with the same stunned “deer in the headlights” operational paralysis that the British and French armies had exhibited in the face of the May 1940 German invasion of France. Yet the German army’s incredible resilience, and its ability to create new fighting forces seemingly out of thin air and launch devastating counterstrokes, had already – and often – been demonstrated on the Eastern Front in the wake of Red Army offensives that were typically much more powerful than the one Monty had planned. Moreover, the ferocity of the Germans in the West in late 1944 was suddenly fueled by the stark knowledge that they were now defending the very borders of their homeland against Allied invaders, not merely fighting to retain conquered territory.

Finally, the ridiculous claim by proponents of Monty’s “narrow thrust” strategy that it could have captured Berlin ahead of the advancing Soviets is simply Cold War-era wishful thinking. In September 1944, Monty’s single axis advance would have been hard-pressed even to have reached the Ruhr industrial area, let alone be powerful enough to quickly conquer that urban jungle. The spearheads of Ike’s dual axis advance captured the Ruhr by surrounding and isolating the immense region, not by invading and assaulting it block by block. Even had Montgomery captured the Ruhr, he hardly would have retained sufficient strength and the logistical wherewithal to drive rapidly on for another 270 miles to get to Berlin – and then win another round of nightmarish urban combat to capture Hitler’s capital. Logistics alone would have defeated any attempt by Monty to seize Berlin, regardless of the purely military challenges his forces faced.

The Cold War-era fantasy that all the Allies had to do was to get to Berlin and they could have taken the 321-square-mile urban tangle without a fight ignores the stark reality that Adolf Hitler (until his April 30, 1945, suicide) was still in charge and would not have permitted his defenders to give up his capital and last refuge to the Soviets or the Western Allies without a bitter fight to the end. The Soviets suffered 350,000 casualties capturing Berlin in some of the worst fighting of the war. The Allies, particularly the Americans with the Pacific War still staring them in the face, could not have afforded to suffer even a tiny fraction of those horrific casualty numbers.

Despite the claims of Monty’s supporters, Ike was certainly correct in not attempting to take Berlin. (See Command Decisions, July 2005 ACG.) Expending 100,000 American casualties (Bradley’s estimate of the cost) to capture a city that had already been given to the Soviets was idiotic. Had Ike tried, as D’Este has insightfully pointed out, “the resulting bloodbath of Allied casualties would have all but ruined [his] reputation.” At the time, Eisenhower remarked in several staff meetings: “Why should we endanger the life of a single American or Briton to capture areas we soon will be handing over to the Russians?” Ike was not only correct in passing on the prize of Berlin he would have been criminally incompetent in even trying.

In retrospect, Monty’s narrow thrust strategy was indeed “Napoleonic” – but that is not a compliment. It belonged in a bygone era, long since past, when wars could be won in an afternoon through a single stroke of genius by a Napoleon or a Frederick the Great. Montgomery’s plan was woefully unsuited for modern industrialized warfare waged against a skilled, experienced and motivated enemy, as it did not inflict the manpower and materiel attrition necessary to fatally crack the opponent’s still formidable defenses. Eisenhower’s strategy, on the other hand, accomplished that.

IKE’S ALLIED VICTORY

Although Eisenhower’s steady, dual axis strategy was not implemented flawlessly, it proved to be a war winner. It was logistically supportable, flexible enough to allow Allied armies to react to German counterstrokes, and sufficiently robust to attrit German forces in the West to the point where Allied armies could crack the enemy defenses in early 1945, opening the way for the final offensive that overran Germany’s heartland to the Elbe River. Above all, as Ike had planned, his strategy produced an Allied victory, not merely a “British” or “American” triumph.

Far from being militarily incompetent and merely a genial but ineffective “chairman of the board,” as critics such as Brooke and Montgomery had claimed, Eisenhower clearly demonstrated in leading the 1944-45 campaign that he was a highly skilled and extremely effective commander. A consummate “team player,” Ike was superbly suited by training, experience, and, above all, character to be history’s most effective allied coalition commander. Assessing his military prowess, particularly his skill in coalition command, renowned historian Martin Blumenson concluded: “America’s greatest field commander in World War II, Eisenhower represented more than anyone else the new leadership and the new American role in world history. His achievement was great. His military stature assured.”

Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, “Armchair General” Editor in Chief.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Armchair General.


D-Day Generals: Allied Leaders of Operation Overlord

Born in Texas and reared in Kansas, Eisenhower graduated sixty-fifth in the West Point class of 1915. It was called ‘‘the class the stars fell on’’ including Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, sixty-one of the class’s 164 second lieutenants achieved general-officer rank during their careers, an astonishing 37.2 percent ratio.

Lieutenant Eisenhower was assigned to San Antonio, Texas, where he met Mamie Doud, whom he married in 1916. During World War I Eisenhower was largely engaged in training units of the U.S. Army’s nascent tank corps. However, his considerable administrative and political skills were soon noted, and he was promoted to major in 1920—a rank he held until 1936. ‘‘Ike’’ was first in his Command and Staff School class, and he was an early selectee for the Army War College. His supporters and contemporaries included leaders such as Douglas MacArthur, George C. Marshall, Leonard T. Gerow, and George S. Patton.

Interwar assignments included duty in the Panama Canal Zone and France before joining MacArthur’s staff in Washington and the Philippines, where the former tanker and infantryman learned to fly. MacArthur said of Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower, ‘‘This is the best officer in the army’’ and predicted great things for him. Such praise from the megalomaniacal army chief of staff was almost unprecedented.

In 1940–41 Eisenhower commanded a battalion of the Third Infantry Division and served as division and corps staff officer. He was promoted to full colonel in March 1941, and as chief of staff of the Third Army he enhanced his reputation during extensive maneuvers involving nearly half a million troops in Louisiana. By year end he was a brigadier general— exceptional progress, considering that he had been a major for sixteen years.

In the War Plans Division, Eisenhower renewed his acquaintance with Marshall, then chief of staff, reporting to him on plans and operations. Within a few months Eisenhower pinned on his second star and was addressing joint operations with the navy and other Allied forces. The foundation was being laid for Eisenhower’s eventual appointment as supreme commander for the invasion of France.

Meanwhile, Eisenhower represented the United States during British planning for bringing American forces in the United Kingdom. In June 1942 Eisenhower was appointed to command U.S. Army forces in the European Theater of Operations, but almost immediately he moved to the Mediterranean to conduct offensives in North Africa and Sicily during 1942–43. There he gained greater knowledge of U.S. and Allied forces and personalities, including Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Adm. Bertram Ramsay, and Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery.

As a lieutenant general, Eisenhower commanded the Allied invasion of French Morocco in November 1942, pursuing the campaign to completion six months later. By then he was a four-star general, directing the conquest of Sicily in the summer of 1943 and landings on the Italian mainland that summer and fall. He was appointed Allied supreme commander for Neptune-Overlord on Christmas Eve of 1943 and, after extensive briefings in Washington, he replaced Britain’s Lt. Gen. Frederick Morgan at COSSAC, establishing SHAEF headquarters in London in January 1944. Many of the American and British commanders he had known in the Mediterranean assumed crucial roles in SHAEF, enhancing Anglo-American coordination.

Still, it was no easy task. Apart from Marshall (who had been promised the slot by President Roosevelt), Eisenhower may have been the only American who could have operated the sometimes testy coalition so well. (Assertions that the Allies might have fallen out except for Eisenhower’s acumen are gross exaggerations Britain was in no position to conduct the war alone.) Relations with Montgomery were particularly strained at times, but U.S. dominance in manpower and materiel required an American as theater commander. Though criticism was leveled at Eisenhower for his lack of combat experience and his highly political orientation, the results proved the wisdom of his selection. He was, after all, manager of perhaps the most political coalition of all time, involving as it did military and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

The original date for D-Day was 5 June 1944, but unseasonably rough weather forced a reconsideration. Eisenhower accepted the optimistic assessment of Group Captain J. M. Stagg, the chief meteorologist, who called for about thirty-six hours of decent weather over the sixth. Though concerned that the first landing waves would be isolated ashore with insufficient strength to repulse German counterattacks, Eisenhower felt justified in proceeding with Overlord. The order was issued at 0415 on 5 June, and at that point the process became irrevocable. ‘‘No one present disagreed,’’ Eisenhower recalled, ‘‘and there was a definite brightening of faces as, without a further word, each went off to his respective post to flash out to his command the messages that would set the whole host in motion.’’

Eisenhower toured the Normandy beaches shortly after D-Day, observing the massive movement of U.S., British, and Canadian forces driving inland. He was awed seeing firsthand the necessary logistical network, such as the Pluto Pipeline. He was accompanied by his son John, a newly minted second lieutenant who had graduated from West Point on 6 June.

As the AEF rolled across western Europe, Eisenhower had to balance Allied priorities rather than pursue American interests. Anglo-American fortunes under Eisenhower were almost uniformly successful, excepting the ill-fated airborne assault into Holland in September and the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes in December. At year’s end Eisenhower was promoted to General of the Army. He was Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1944 and again received the accolade as president in 1959.

Despite his demonstrated success, Eisenhower’s overall strategy has been criticized. He seemed to lack a grasp of Blitzkrieg warfare—as practiced by such aggressive commanders as Joseph L. Collins and George S. Patton— in favor of a more measured approach. In focusing on destruction of the Wehrmacht, he missed opportunities to isolate major portions of the German army from Hitler and thereby hasten the end of the war.

Immediately following Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Eisenhower was faced with Soviet intransigence in not releasing Allied POWs ‘‘liberated’’ from German prison camps. He made at least one effort to convince the Truman administration to press the matter with Premier Joseph Stalin, but upon being rebuffed, he acceded to his superiors’ wishes. Consequently, thousands of American and other POWs remained Soviet pawns and hostages. Similarly, Eisenhower was accused of knowing about maltreatment of German prisoners, but evidence indicates that the deaths of large numbers of them had been due to insufficient food and shelter rather than a policy of eradication.

Returning to the United States in June, Eisenhower was feted wherever he went. He became army chief of staff later that year, succeeding George Marshall, and oversaw demobilization of millions of soldiers. He retired in 1948, became president of Columbia University, and wrote a best-seller, Crusade in Europe.

Eisenhower’s retirement was short-lived. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, commanding NATO from 1950 to 1952. However, the politically astute supreme commander already had been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. He declared himself a Republican and was elected thirty-fourth president of the United States in 1952. His immediate priority was concluding an armistice in Korea, which was accomplished in July 1953 with back-channel threats to use nuclear weapons. However, as commander in chief he was again faced with prospects of communist refusal to repatriate all POWs, and he may have left as many as eight thousand U.S. and United Nations personnel in captivity because the Chinese and Soviets would never admit to holding them.

Eisenhower was reelected in 1956. He left office in January 1961, succeeded by another World War II veteran, John F. Kennedy. Finally retired in fact as in name, he lived in Pennsylvania and wrote three more books, including the popular At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends (1967).

Eisenhower was portrayed by Henry Grace in The Longest Day. Grace, who was cast in the part because of his resemblance to Ike, appeared in no other films, though he was a set designer for more than twenty years.

D-DAY GENERALS AND COMMANDERS: BERNARD LAW MONTGOMERY

The British field marshal and Allied ground forces commander for Operation Overlord. As an American military encyclopedia of the 1970s mildly noted of Montgomery, ‘‘Modesty was not among his virtues.’’

Born into the large family of an Anglican bishop, Montgomery adopted a strict regimen that remained with him throughout his life. A teetotaler and nonsmoker, he was always known as a hard worker in any endeavor. He married at thirty-nine but lost his wife after barely ten years, being left with a son.

Montgomery entered the army in 1908 and served in France, where he was badly wounded. The appalling waste of men and materiel he saw in the Great War profoundly affected his military philosophy, and he applied himself assiduously to improving the British army. He attended staff college and gained some notoriety by rewriting the infantry training manual.

At the outbreak of the second war Montgomery was a major general commanding the Third Infantry Division, evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940. Montgomery’s talents were well spent in training programs over the next two years. He combined physical conditioning with mental toughness and was considered ruthless in weeding out substandard officers. Though he was involved in planning the disastrous Dieppe Raid of August 1942, he was posted to the Middle East before it was executed.

Now a lieutenant general, Montgomery assumed command of the Eighth Army that summer and immediately made his presence known. He enjoyed mixing with his troops, believing that combat soldiers should see their commander as often as possible.

With the priceless benefit of almost complete intelligence on German operations, Montgomery began planning his first set-piece battle. In lateOctober 1942 the Eighth Army smashed through Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s lines in eastern Libya, winning a notable victory at El Alamein. However, the ‘‘Desert Fox’’ eluded destruction with a skillful withdrawal. Axis forces in North Africa were pursued over the next several months, before complete Allied victory was achieved in Tunisia during early 1943

Subsequently Montgomery participated in the Sicilian campaign, clashing with his American Allies more than once. His fabled rivalry with Gen. George Patton was born in Sicily, though the Briton was usually one echelon above Patton (i.e., corps to army, army to army group). Next Montgomery led the Eighth Army into Italy in September, remaining until year’s end, when he was recalled to Britain.

In preparation for D-Day, Montgomery was given a dual responsibility— command of Twenty-first Army Group and overall Allied land commander for Overlord. As in Africa, he made a point of visiting each major command so he could see and be seen by the troops. Despite his usual caution and frequent personality clashes, he shared Eisenhower’s decision to launch the invasion on the night of 5 June (see: D-Day Timeline: The Invasion of Normandy). The difference was that Eisenhower reluctantly did so ‘‘Monty’’ was eager to step off, regardless of weather.

Montgomery went ashore on D+2, directing his formations toward Caen, which he pledged to deliver in days but that resisted for a month. Meanwhile, Gen. Omar Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group with Patton’s new Third Army broke out of the landing area, beginning an encirclement of major German forces in the Falaise pocket in August. Simultaneously Montgomery conducted a methodical advance toward the vital port of Antwerp, Belgium, and advance that took three months. Even then, German command of the Scheldt Estuary prevented Allied shipping from offloading until near the end of November. Consequently, Anglo-American logistics were complicated beyond expectations, and in September Eisenhower assumed the role of ground commander, a move the Briton resented.

Nevertheless, Montgomery was promoted to field marshal in September he became more intransigent. He insisted on a northern thrust into Germany, with his Twenty-first Army Group receiving most of the fuel and supplies available to the Allied Expeditionary Force. Bradley continued his advocacy of a broader approach, maintaining pressure along the front and seeking or creating greater opportunities. Montgomery’s firm advocacy gained sway, however, leading to Operation Market-Garden, the daring but disastrous air-ground attack in the Netherlands.

During Germany’s surprise attack over the Christmas season in the Ardennes, the Allies were hard pressed to contain the early advances. Because Montgomery assumed command of most American units north of the ‘‘bulge,’’ he publicly claimed that he had ‘‘saved’’ the U.S. force from destruction. He made a bad public relations situation worse by insisting that he regain his role as overall ground commander, but he soon realized he was fighting a losing battle. Subsequently he served well as Eisenhower’s subordinate.

Following Germany’s collapse Montgomery was named commander of the British occupation forces. A year later he became his nation’s senior soldier, as chief of the Imperial General Staff, a post he retained until the end of 1949. He spent most of the next decade as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, leading NATO in the depths of the Cold War. In 1946 he was created Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.

Montgomery retired in 1958 and devoted much time to writing. His self-serving Memoirs did little to endear himself to his former American colleagues. Some Britons also expressed dissatisfaction, most notably Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay, who faulted Montgomery for the delay in seizing the approaches to Antwerp.

In his own memoir Eisenhower was gentle on ‘‘Monty,’’ saying that his major strengths were the confidence of his troops and his ‘‘mastery of the prepared battle’’ (essentially the only kind Montgomery ever fought). Eisenhower regarded his colleague as cautious and noted that he ‘‘consistently refused to deal with a staff officer from any headquarters other than his own.’’ In summary, the supreme commander hedged his literary bets by declaring Montgomery as ‘‘acceptable.’’

D-DAY GENERALS AND LEADERS: SIR BERTRAM HOME RAMSAY

Bertram Home Ramsay enjoyed two careers in the Royal Navy, serving in both world wars. The son of an army officer, he joined the navy in 1898, at the age of fifteen. During the First World War he spent much of the conflict conducting the Dover patrol, attaining the rank of captain. He improved his professional standing with tours at Naval War College in the late 1920s and the Imperial Defense College during the early 1930s, his studies alternating with normal career duties.

Ramsay remained on active duty until 1938, when he retired as a vice admiral. However, his experience was badly needed when war began, and he was recalled to the colors. He found himself in familiar waters as Flag Officer Dover, and in that capacity he oversaw the tremendously difficult evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk in May–June 1940. The rescue of 338,000 allied troops brought Admiral Ramsay immediate attention he was knighted for that contribution to Britain’s defense.

Though still officially on the retired list, Ramsay was second in command of the British portion of the North African landings in Morocco during November 1942. His contribution to Operation Torch included a significant amount of the planning, and he was partly responsible for coordinating the staff work of the British and American navies. Ramsay’s previous experience was particularly helpful here, as he had been among the first in the Royal Navy to qualify as a staff officer. He continued his joint operations success in helping plan Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. During the landings he commanded one of the amphibious task forces.

Finally restored to the active list that year, Ramsay was recalled to Britain, where he was named overall commander of Operation Neptune, the naval portion of the Normandy invasion. It was a huge task, involving not only transporting elements of three allied armies to a hostile shore but arranging for shipping, scheduling, logistics, gunfire support, and myriad other details. Of all the senior officers at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, Ramsay received the least public acclaim, but he was content to continue working largely behind the scenes. Eisenhower considered Ramsay ‘‘a most competent commander of courage, resourcefulness, and tremendous energy.’’

By the end of 1944 Ramsay had moved his headquarters to Paris, where he could better conduct seaborne support of the advancing allied armies. On January 2, 1945, he was traveling to a joint-service conference when his aircraft crashed on takeoff. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was sixty-two years old. He was briefly portrayed by John Robinson in The Longest Day.

D-DAY GENERALS AND LEADERS: TRAFFORD LEIGH-MALLORY

Trafford Leigh-Mallory earned a Cambridge honors degree in history before joining the army. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and commanded an observation squadron in 1918 one of his pilots received the Victoria Cross. Leigh-Mallory’s leadership style was regarded as somewhat abrasive, but he proved he could get results. After the war he continued in Army Co-Operation Command, but his ambition was well known he was regarded as an astute service politician.

By 1940 Leigh-Mallory was an air vice marshal commanding No. 12 Group of RAF Fighter Command. Based on airfields north of London, 12 Group was dedicated to defense of the industrial Midlands as well as protection of convoys off Britain’s central east coast. Leigh-Mallory’s advocacy of ‘‘big wing’’ tactics to inflict maximum damage on the Luftwaffe resulted in serious disagreement with Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park, his opposite number in No. 11 Group. Park’s squadrons, based in Kent and along the south coast, relied on No. 12 Group to cover their fields while they intercepted inbound raids. The extra time necessary to assemble big wings often meant damage to No. 11 Group bases. After the Battle of Britain, LeighMallory’s political influence brought him command of No. 11 Group, with the transfer of Park to the Mediterranean and the retirement of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding as Fighter Command’s leader.

Leigh-Mallory worked closely with Dowding’s successor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas. They initiated an offensive policy, sending fighter sweeps and bomber escorts over France. Such an operation during the Canadian amphibious raid on Dieppe in August 1942 prompted one of the largest air battles of the war.

Late that year Leigh-Mallory followed Sholto Douglas as commander in chief Fighter Command. A year later he was named commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, which would support Overlord. However, as a ‘‘fighter boy’’ Leigh-Mallory came into conflict with the Anglo-American bomber commanders, Arthur Harris and Carl Spaatz, who were opposed to diverting Royal Air Force and Eighth Air Force bombers from strategic targets in Germany. Eisenhower said of LeighMallory, ‘‘He had much fighting experience . . . but had not theretofore been in charge of air operations requiring close co-operation with ground troops.’’

On 30 May Leigh-Mallory confided his doubts about the wisdom of the U.S. airborne phase of the invasion. Concerned about what he considered unsuitable landing grounds and German strength in the drop zones, he envisioned ‘‘a futile slaughter of two fine divisions.’’ Leigh-Mallory estimated casualties of 50 percent among paratroopers and 70 percent among glider infantry, losses that would leave the survivors too weakened to hold out until relieved by Americans from Utah and Omaha beaches.

Eisenhower considered the prospects soberly but decided that previous experience did not support so pessimistic an assumption. Consequently, he telephoned Leigh-Mallory and subsequently sent him a letter confirming the decision to drop as planned. Eisenhower’s judgment was proven correct though the airborne troopers were badly scattered, their casualties were sustainable.

In November 1944 Leigh-Mallory was named commander in chief of the Southeast Asia area of operations. On takeoff from England his transport plane crashed, and Leigh-Mallory was killed.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.

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Ramsey, Eisenhower and Montgomery on D-Day - History

On D-Day, Hitler misused his sole potential strategic weapon, just as he misused his tactical counterattack force. His interference with his commanders on the scene stands in sharp contrast to Churchill and Roosevelt, who made no attempt at all to tell their generals and admirals what to do on D-Day, and to Eisenhower, who also left the decision-making up to his subordinates.

Eisenhower was up at 0700 on June 6. His naval aide, Harry Butcher, came by his trailer to report that the airborne landings had gone in and the seaborne landings were beginning. Butcher found Eisenhower sitting up in bed, smoking a cigarette, reading a Western novel. When Butcher arrived, Eisenhower washed, shaved, and strolled over to the tent holding the SHAEF operations section. He listened to an argument about when to release a communique saying that the Allies had a beachhead (Montgomery insisted on waiting until he was absolutely sure the Allies were going to stay ashore) but did not interfere.

Eisenhower wrote a brief message to Marshall, informing the chief of staff that everything seemed to be going well and adding that the British and American troops he had seen the previous day were enthusiastic, tough, and fit. "The light of battle was in their eyes."

Eisenhower soon grew impatient with the incessant chatter in the tent and walked over to visit Montgomery. He found the British general wearing a sweater and a grin, Montgomery was too busy to spend much time with the supreme commander, as he was preparing to cross the Channel the next day to set up his advance HQ, but the two leaders did have a brief talk.

Then Eisenhower paid a visit to Southwick House to see Admiral Ramsay. "All was well with the Navy," Butcher recorded in his diary, "and its smiles were as wide as or wider than any."

At noon Eisenhower returned to the tent, where he anxiously watched the maps and listened to the disturbing news coming from Omaha. He called some selected members of the press into his canvas-roofed, pine-walled quarters and answered questions. At one point he got up from his small table and began pacing. He looked out the door, flashed his famous grin, and announced, "The sun is shining."

For the remainder of the day he paced, his mood alternating as he received news of the situation on the British and Canadian beaches and on Omaha and Utah. After eating, he retired early to get a good night's sleep.

The supreme commander did not give a single command on D-Day. Hitler gave two bad ones.

As dusk descended on Omaha Beach, intermittent shellfire continued to come down. Men dug in for the night wherever they could, some in the sand, some at the seawall, some on the bluff slopes, some behind hedgerows on the plateau. There were alarms caused by overeager troops, occasional outbursts of firing. There were no rear areas on D-Day.

Still, things had quieted down considerably. Lt. Henry Seitzler was a forward observer for the U.S. Ninth Air Force. He was taking "a lot of heckling and ribbing from the guys" because of the failure of the air forces to bomb and strafe the beaches as promised. "Of course, I had nothing to do with it they just wanted to needle somebody.

"My biggest problem was to try to stay alive. My work didn't really start till D plus three, and here I'd gone in at H plus two hours on D-Day and I had been in the thickest and hottest part of it, and I had no real work to do, no assignment, except as far as I could see to stay alive, because I had no replacement."

Late in the afternoon, Seitzler and some members of a beach brigade decided they were hungry. "So we went out and climbed on a burned-out LCI. We broke into the pantry. Boy, that was really something. It hadn't been damaged. We brought a lot of stuff out and ate it on the beach under the seawall. The Navy really lived fine. We had a boned chicken, boned turkey, boned ham. We had everything you could think of, and we made pigs out of ourselves because we were half starved by that time."

When they finished, they decided they needed to top off their picnic on the beach with some coffee. They built a small fire behind the shingle seawall, using wood they had scavenged from one of the blasted-out vacation homes, and made Nescafe.

For Seitzler, that turned out to be a mistake. When it was full dark, the rule was that every man should stay in his foxhole. Anything that moved would be shot. But the Nescafe had a diuretic effect on Seitzler.

"So it was quite a problem, I'll tell you. If I made any noise or anything, I could very well get shot. All I could do was get up, ease up on the edge of my foxhole, roll over a couple of times, use an old tin can to do my business, throw it away, and roll back, very slowly and quietly. I called it 'suffering for sanitation.' I have never been able to drink Nescafe since."

The next morning, Pvt. Robert Healey of the 149th Combat Engineers and a friend decided to go down the bluff to retrieve their packs. Healey had run out of cigarettes, but he had a carton in a waterproof bag in his pack.

"When we walked down to the beach, it was just an unbelievable sight. There was debris everywhere, and all kinds of equipment washing back and forth in the tide. Anything you could think of seemed to be there. We came across a tennis raquet, a guitar, assault jackets, packs, gas masks, everything. We found half a jar of olives which we ate with great relish. We found my pack but unfortunately the cigarettes were no longer there.

"On the way back I came across what was probably the most poignant memory I have of this whole episode. Lying on the beach was a young soldier, his arms outstretched. Near one of his hands, as if he had been reading it, was a pocketbook (what today would be called a paperback).

"It was 'Our Hearts Were Young and Gay' by Cornelia Otis Skinner. This expressed the spirit of our ordeal. Our hearts were young and gay because we thought we were immortal, we believed we were doing a great thing, and we really believed in the crusade which we hoped would liberate the world from the heel of Nazism."

Copyright © 1994 Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.


Day-By-Day Itinerary

DAY 1Overnight Flight to London

Book your overnight flight the day before you'd like to arrive in London.

DAY 2 London

Arrive in London on the morning of Day 2 and check into the hotel where the entire group will gather for an evening welcome reception. Our historian will treat us to our first lecture, with introductions all around.

DAY 3 London

The morning will feature key sites in London that figured prominently in the War. We then proceed to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground nerve center for Britain's war effort. We will also visit the Imperial War Museum, which houses authentic examples of World War II weaponry, tanks and aircraft and an exhibit of WWI trench warfare. We will have free time to enjoy London in the evening.

DAY 4 Portsmouth

Depart London for Bletchley Park where we will visit the nerve center for intelligence used in the Allied War effort, code name Ultra. Here we will see the place where the Enigma machine is housed and where the cyphers and codes of several Axis countries were decrypted during the war.

This afternoon we will tour Southwick House, the advance command post of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. In the months leading up to D-Day in 1944, the house became the headquarters of the main Allied commanders, including Naval Commander-In-Chief Admiral Ramsay, Allied Supreme Commander General Eisenhower, and the Army Commander-In-Chief General Montgomery.

DAY 5 Normandy

Following breakfast, we will board the cross-channel ferry and embark for Normandy as the troops did in 1944. In the afternoon, we will begin our visit to Normandy at Ste-Mere-Eglise, one of the villages where the American Airborne descended on D-Day. Here we will view and explore the iconic church where John Steele and his landing on the steeple are memorialized. We also visit La Fiere Bridge where the 82nd Airborne successfully delayed a German Panzer counter-attack against the Allied landing forces.

DAY 6 Normandy

We will begin The Longest Day at Brécourt Manor where Lt. Dick Winters with members of Easy Company successfully silenced German artillery firing on American troops landing at Utah Beach. From there we will visit Utah Beach itself, where the 4th Division landed, and the Invasion Museum that depicts their heroics. Next we will stop at Ste-Marie-du-Mont where still stands the unique Renaissance-style steeple used as an observation post by the Germans. From there, we will proceed to the town of Carentan where we will follow the exact steps taken by American Paratroopers during the Battle of Normandy. Finally, the day will conclude with a visit to Pointe-du-Hoc, where Rudder's Rangers scaled the cliffs to neutralize German heavy guns defending the expanse of beaches on D-Day.

DAY 7 Normandy

Well spend the morning at Omaha Beach where the Americans landed and faced the strongest German resistance of the day and incurred the greatest losses. We will walk the beach and visit some of the German defense fortifications. We explore these sands from the tide's ebb to the distant dunes to understand the emotions of the young soldiers of the 1st and 29th Divisions as they approached the gates of hell. We will pay our respects at the American Cemetery with its 9387 American soldiers' graves stretching along the top of the bluff overlooking the beach.

In the afternoon we will view the battery at Longues-sur-Mer, a fine example of the great defenses that made up Hitler's Atlantic Wall. We will proceed along the British Beaches from there to Pegasus Bridge where the first shots were fired on D-Day. Here the British Sixth Airborne led by Major John Howard with a miraculous glider landing carried out a surprise attack that yielded great success in overtaking this crucial bridge across the Caen Canal.

DAY 8 Paris

We arrive in Paris this afternoon. The Allies, preceded by Free French troops, symbolically reclaimed the French capital from the Nazis in August 1944. As did the American troops on leave, you may explore the city on your own. The evening is free.

DAY 9 Arnhem

After breakfast, we board a high-speed train to Brussels and begin our study of Operation Market Garden, the early attempt by the Allied forces to strike directly for Berlin. Control of the bridges at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem was essential for the push into Germany. We drive Hell's Highway where the 101st and 82nd Airborne broke through to connect with the British in Arnhem. We visit Nijmegen to see the daring crossing of the Waal River by the 82nd Airborne.

From there we proceed to Arnhem where again we cross the "Bridge Too Far." Our historian will recount the desperate three days that the British 1st Airborne under General John Frost held it. Afterwards, we finish at the Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek.

DAY 10 The Ardennes

This is where Hitler put everything he had into his final counter-attack in the Ardennes that became the Battle of the Bulge. On December 16, 1944, Lt. Lyle Bouck was one of the first people to see the German columns coming. We'll make our first stop in the Ardennes at Lanzereth, the town where Bouck and a platoon of 19 men held off a full strength German SS Battalion under the infamous Joachim Peiper for an entire day. Well visit the American positions and hear their story, a breathtaking tale of heroism.

On December 17, 1944, the second day of the offensive, the Germans had several breakthroughs and many Americans surrendered near the town of Malmedy. Outside the town, Peiper's SS lined up about 150 GIs and fired at them point blank. Less than half escaped alive. We will view the site of the massacre and the American Memorial at Malmedy. From there, we have a scenic drive through the Ardennes Mountains to our evening lodging.

DAY 11 Luxembourg

We continue our study of the Battle of the Bulge. After breakfast, we drive to Bastogne where the Americans rallied and stopped the German attack. Here we will view the route of the initial American retreat and the place where the 101st Airborne and elements of the 10th Armored Division held off fifteen German divisions for six days. Our group will visit key sites in and around this historic crossroads town. We will also go to General McAuliffe's HQ where he replied to German surrender demands with one word: "NUTS." After our visit, it is a short ride to Luxembourg. This afternoon affords some relaxing free time in the center of this bustling but charming old world city.

DAY 12 Frankfurt

We drive to nearby Hamm and the American cemetery and the site of General George S. Patton's grave. America's foremost WWII field general rests here among his men.

Well drive to the Siegfried Line to see remnants of the German communication trenches, pillboxes and dragon's teeth that American GIs fought so hard to take in late 1944. This evening we gather for a farewell dinner and discussion after an enriching campaign into history.

DAY 13 Flight Home

Early morning departure to the Frankfurt International Airport.

Post-Tour - DAY 1 Berchtesgaden

(Day 13)

We continue our journey toward the Bavarian Alps. We will visit Dachau, site of some of the most nefarious acts against humankind during the war, as we travel south through Bavaria. In total, over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries were housed in Dachau: notably Jews, resistance fighters, clergymen, politicians, communists, writers, artists and royalty. The second camp liberated by British or American forces, Dachau was one of the first places where the West was exposed to Nazi brutality.

Post-Tour - DAY 2 Berchtesgaden

(Day 14)

The morning begins with a city tour of Berchtesgaden and Obersalzberg where we will visit the Eagle's Nest and the remains of the vast Nazi Party complex liberated by the Allies in May 1945. Eagle's Nest was built as a 50th birthday present to Hitler from the Nazi party. Perched at 6017 feet, the complex and the road network leading to it were considered feats of engineering as they were completed in only 13 months time in 1937-38.

Post-Tour - DAY 3 Munich

(Day 15)

Today, the group will enjoy a city tour of Munich including the sites related to the rise of the Nazi Party. Farewell dinner.

Post-Tour - DAY 4 Flights Home

(Day 16)

Drop off at Munich Airport.

Tour Dates

  • September 4 - 16, 2021
  • September 16 - 19, 2021 Post Tour
  • May 31 - June 12, 2022
  • June 1 - June 13, 2022
  • June 12 - 15, 2022 Post Tour Berchtesgaden Extension
  • June 13 - 16, 2022 Post Tour Berchtesgaden Extension
  • July 22 - August 3, 2022
  • August 3 - 6, 2022 Post Tour Nuremberg and Berchtesgaden Extension
  • September 2 - 14, 2022
  • September 14 - 17, 2022 Post Tour

Recommended Reading

Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose
D-Day: June 6, 1944 by Stephen E. Ambrose
Voices of D-Day by Ronald Drez & Stephen E. Ambrose

Tour Includes

  • Itinerary designed by Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose
  • Full time historian and logistical escort
  • Educational road book full of maps and historical information
  • 3 or 4 star hotels accommodations
  • Rooms with private bath or shower, hotel taxes, porterage (where available) and service charges
  • Touring by private first class air-conditioned motor coach
  • 11 Breakfasts, 2 lunches 9 Dinners and a Welcome Reception
  • Channel crossing to Normandy via ferry
  • High-speed train from Paris to Brussels
  • Rhine River Lunch Cruise
  • All entrance fees to museums and attractions

Flights

  • Flights are not included in tour costs.
  • We are happy to help you book your flights.
  • If you purchase your own airline ticket, please know that Day 1 is the day that you fly, Day 2 is the day you arrive.
  • Before you purchase your airline tickets, please call us to confirm the recommended time of arrival.

Activity Level

As with all of our tours, we prefer to spend our time on the battlefields. There will be some museum stops, but please be prepared to walk on sandy beaches and cobblestone streets. There is a fair amount of walking, especially in Normandy.

Video

Photo Gallery

Historians

TRIP COST $5,490

Prices are per person based on double occupancy. For a single room add $1,050.

POST TOUR EXTENSION $1,490 per person based on double occupancy for post-tour single room add $350.


Ramsey, Eisenhower and Montgomery on D-Day - History

By Kevin M. Hymel

The invasion force was ready. All across the United Kingdom men waited in more than 5,000 ships and hundreds of landing craft. Pilots, crewmen, and paratroopers waited around fighters, bombers, and carrier planes. Jeeps, trucks, tanks, and every type of military vehicle in the Western Allied arsenal stood bumper to bumper, making roads almost impassable. Stockpiles of shells, small arms, and artillery pieces filled almost every field for miles around. The Western Allies were ready to spring across the English Channel and attack Normandy, France, beginning the long-awaited second front.

But before any pilots, sailors, or soldiers could begin their odyssey in the spring of 1944, they needed the “go” signal from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Operation Overlord, D-Day, would land an Allied army on the beaches of Normandy and drive for the heart of Germany. Eisenhower needed weather conditions to be as ideal as possible before he could release his dogs of war.

The conditions had to be, if not perfect, suitable to maximize Allied strength in the air and on the land and sea. Overlord needed six synchronized elements for a successful landing: a late-rising, mostly full moon for pilots to navigate to drop zones a low tide so frogmen and demolition experts could destroy the hundreds of German half-hidden beach obstacles calm seas to allow captains and coxswains to deliver the assault forces to the beaches southerly winds to drive smoke and dust toward the enemy an hour’s worth of good daylight accompanying the first low tide so bomber crews could plaster the beaches with their bombs and enough light during the second low tide to provide visibility to the follow-up forces.

Operation Overlord was so enormous that it would begin three days before troops actually hit the beaches. Ships in England’s northern ports pulling up anchors and heading south needed that much lead time. D-Day would require a favorable weather forecast at least 72 hours ahead of the landings and two days following. Those following two days worried Eisenhower and his commanders. It was just too hard to predict weather that far out.

WAAF and RAF radio operators record meteorological reports from aircraft and ships in the wireless cabin of the central forecasting station at Dunstable, Bedfordshire. The Dunstable team, along with the teams at Bushey Park and Southwick, provided Stagg with constant weather updates.

While Eisenhower and his team could coordinate the moon and tides, they had no control over the wind and clouds. The Allies wanted gentle breezes for the assault, 8 to 12 miles an hour—Force 3 winds. Force 4 winds, 13 to 17 miles an hour, would create breaking wave crests and make the airborne drop precarious but tolerable. Force 5 winds, 18-24 miles an hour, would create moderate waves, white caps, and spray and prevent any airborne operations. Force 6 winds, 25-30 miles an hour, would cause long waves, white foam crests, and more sea spray. Anything above Force 6 meant gale winds and very rough seas (the scale goes to 12, hurricanes).

Clear skies were just as important, but cloudy skies were tolerable as long as they were high enough for bomber crews to see the flare markers and sporadic enough for troop carrier pilots to identify their drop zones. Low clouds or a blanket of clouds, known as stratus clouds, would cancel the bomber and airborne forces. The troop carriers needed a cloud ceiling no lower than 2,500 feet, while the bombers needed at least 11,000 if they were going to spot their markers.

Of course, all of those requirements were nearly impossible to count on, but Eisenhower needed to come as close to the mix as possible. The invasion had already been delayed past May of 1944 to gather more landing craft. That put the earliest invasion date in June. Monday, June 5, Tuesday, June 6, and Wednesday, June 7 possessed both the correct tides and moonlight. Those conditions would not coincide again until the period between June 18 and 20.

To choose the exact date, Eisenhower gathered his air, land, and sea commanders at Southwick House north of Portsmouth for seven meetings to find the best launch window for Overlord. Attending the meetings were Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Eisenhower’s deputy supreme commander Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force General Bernard Law Montgomery, the commander of 21st Army Group and Admiral Bertram Ramsay, the Allied naval commander of the Expeditionary Force.

The commanders’ chiefs of staff also attended: Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff who went by the name “Beetle” Maj. Gen. Frederick de Guingand, Montgomery’s chief of Staff and Admiral George Creasy, Ramsay’s chief of staff. Leigh-Mallory had two deputy chiefs of staff: Air Vice Marshal James Robb and Air Vice Marshal Philip Wigglesworth. From Eisenhower’s staff were also his chief of operations, Maj. Gen. Harold “Pink” Bull, and his intelligence officer, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Strong. Maj. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, the deputy air commander and chief, also attended one of the meetings.

Eisenhower’s chief meteorological, Group Captain James M. Stagg, had the unenviable task of predicting the weather for D-Day.

But the most important man at all the meetings was the British Royal Air Force’s Group Captain James Stagg, Eisenhower’s chief meteorological officer. At six-foot-two, the tall, quiet, blue-eyed Scotsman towered over most men. Some found him dour while others considered him sharp minded despite his soft speech. Eisenhower trusted his judgment. When not addressing Eisenhower and his chiefs, Stagg spent most of his time hovering over weather charts for the English Channel, which he had studied as far back as 1894, looking for clues to his forecasts.

Stagg had the difficult task of reconciling three different weather teams: the U.S. Army Air Forces meteorologist group at Widewing, code word for their offices at London’s Bushy Park the Royal Air Force’s weather team at Dunstable and the Royal Navy’s team down the road from Southwick House. They would all receive the same information from reconnaissance aircraft and ships in the eastern Atlantic to make their predictions. If they did not all agree on the weather forecast, Stagg had to analyze the three groups’ results and deliver a consensus report to Eisenhower. On May 17, Eisenhower set the day for the invasion tentatively for June 5, but he knew that Stagg’s weather reports would decide the definite date.

Southwick House served as Admiral Ramsay’s battle headquarters. The early Victorian mansion sat nine miles north of Portsmouth on an isolated 360-acre park. While Ramsey occupied the house, Eisenhower, Montgomery, and their staffs occupied the park. Eisenhower lived in a large mobile trailer on the grounds in a wood but used the house as his advance command post. Montgomery had picked it because its surrounding trees disguised the Nissen huts, tents, and caravans that filled the area.

Eisenhower held his weather meetings in a large mess room on the house’s first floor across from a broad staircase. A mahogany table stood at one end of the room while a sofa and cushioned easy chairs filled the rest. Empty mahogany bookcases lined the walls. The officers did not sit around the table instead they leaned back in the chairs listening to weather reports. Eisenhower preferred the relaxed atmosphere to allow everyone to speak his mind.

The room’s relaxed state contrasted with Ramsay’s operations room next door, which buzzed with activity. Staff officers and British Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRENS) packed the room, coordinating the invasion’s movements once Eisenhower gave the word. A huge plywood map of the invasion filled the entire east wall. On it were the routes the Allied navies would take from southern England to Normandy, along with the locations of German minefields. Here the invasion would be tracked in exact detail.

The map had been constructed by the firm of Chad Valley Toys, but to keep the invasion location secret, the firm was asked to construct a map of Western Europe, from Norway to the Pyrenees. When the map sections arrived at Southwick House, the two delivery men were told to bring only the section that contained Normandy. Since the two men now knew one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war, they were detained in the house until after the invasion.

Eisenhower had begun hosting meetings in Ramsay’s headquarters as early as April to conduct “dry runs,” drilling everyone on how the decision to launch D-Day would go. But the final seven meetings decided the fate of D-Day. Beetle Smith later said of the men at the meetings: “They were not only trying to predict the weather, they were trying to make it.”

Eisenhower and his air, land, and sea commanders—as well as their chiefs of staff—wrestled with the invasion date. From left to right are Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, Admiral Bertram Ramsey, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Eisenhower, General Bernard Montgomery, Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, and Lt. Gen. Walter “Beetle” Smith.

FIRST MEETING (Monday, May 29, 10 am)

The first weather meeting took place on a perfectly sunny day. Captain Stagg reported that while the rest of the week should be operationally favorable there was a risk of minor, temporary disturbances during the weekend. Several of the commanders queried Stagg, asking him how long and how intense these “disturbances” would be. He calmly replied, “If the disturbed weather starts on Friday it is unlikely to last through both Monday [June 5] and Tuesday [June 6], but if it is delayed to Saturday and Sunday the weather on Monday and Tuesday could well be stormy.” No one was happy with the forecast.

Stagg knew that the men in the room wanted more definitive answers, but he could not provide any until he processed the next delivery of weather reports. Would they support or contradict his forecast? “Those were the questions that gnawed away inside me during Monday [May 29],” Stagg later wrote.

After the meeting, Stagg reviewed the latest weather reports. What he learned troubled him. Storms appeared to be forming over the Channel just when Overlord was supposed to launch. “I began to fear the worst.” At least Stagg would not have to appear before Eisenhower any time soon. Maybe conditions would improve before the next meeting, scheduled four days later.

As the next meeting drew closer, Stagg’s predictions seemed to come true. The winds picked up around the Channel, and clouds rolled in. He spent his time reconciling his three weather centers. The British Dunstable and Admiralty forecasters foresaw a dark weekend with low clouds varying from day to day through Monday, D-Day. Stagg’s own staff, as well as the Americans at Widewing, were more optimistic, seeing a front moving though the Channel by Saturday, followed by improved weather in the Normandy area “as a finger of high pressure [clear skies]” over the Channel would be protected by an anticyclone [a clockwise cyclone] over the Sea of Azores. Stagg could not reconcile the two outcomes.

SECOND MEETING (Friday, June 2, 10 am)

Friday dawned clear and sunny, just as it had been all week. In the meeting room, Stagg presented a hybrid account of the weather to Eisenhower. While he held close to the Dunstable findings, he did acknowledge the Widewing forecast, which he considered “almost undiluted optimism.” Clouds, he reported, would be prevalent and low while winds would be strong, especially toward the end of the five-day period. The commanders then asked Stagg to clarify his forecast as they sought a window to launch. Throughout the meeting, Eisenhower remained calm. He had time to wait for the weather to change. They were still three days away from D-Day.

After the meeting, Stagg’s meteorologists were still deadlocked about the weather. The Dunstable group foresaw three successive depressions [rains and unstable weather] moving east with winds heading southwest and west. If depression troughs backed the southwest winds, stratus clouds would persist over the Channel. The Widewing group held to their forecast that the ridge of high pressure from the anticyclone over the Sea of Azores would situate northeast though the Channel. This meant some clouds on the British side of the Channel but little on the French side, with no strong winds anywhere in the area. Stagg had to figure out which forecast was more accurate.

Captain Stagg’s weather chart for 1 pm GMT on June 6, 1944, shows a break in the storms raging over the English Channel.

THIRD MEETING (Friday June 2, 9:30 pm)

Eisenhower opened the meeting by asking, “Well Stagg, what have you for us this time?” Stagg reported that the situation from the British Isles to Newfoundland had now become “potentially full of menace.” He admitted the last 24 hours had not brought a clearer picture of the situation and that the weather over the Channel would not be what they hoped for. There would be heavy clouds until at least Tuesday, June 6, and maybe into Wednesday. Winds would be coming in from the west at Force 4 and up to Force 5. Maj. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg asked about weather conditions for the airborne troops. Stagg repeated the information on cloud cover.“It appeared the good weather might break at exactly the wrong moment for us,” recalled Tedder.

Then Eisenhower asked about the weather on Tuesday, June 6, and Wednesday, June 7. After a long pause, Stagg spoke up. “If I answer that, sir, I would be guessing, not behaving as your meteorological advisor.” With his dire forecast delivered, Stagg departed. Just as he had left the room, Rear Admiral Creasy quipped, “There goes six feet two of Stagg and six foot one of gloom.” The remark cut the tension in the room, and everyone laughed. Then Eisenhower addressed the men: “Okay gentlemen, I guess you are all agreed that we carry on until the next meeting.”

Operation Overlord was still on, although the 24-hour window for postponing the June 5 landings was narrowing. The next two meetings would decide the fate of June 5 as D-Day. All around northern England, Allied ships weighed anchor and headed out to sea. Each passing hour meant it would be all the harder to stop their momentum.

FOURTH MEETING (Saturday, June 3, 9:30 pm)

With some of the ships already heading to Area Z—also known as Piccadilly Circus—the zone where the ships would circle as they prepared to cross the rest of the Channel, Eisenhower had to decide whether or not to postpone D-Day. As everyone filed into the room, Stagg told Admiral Creasy, who had joked about his gloom the day before, “I don’t feel much better now.” Once everyone was seated, Stagg and his staff were ushered into the room. “Gentlemen,” Stagg began, “the fears my colleagues and I had yesterday about the weather for the next three or four days have been confirmed.”

Stagg went on to describe the deteriorating conditions over the Channel and across the region. The anticyclone that Stagg hoped would protect the Channel from the Atlantic depressions had given way and could not be counted on to push the depressions northward. Starting the next day, June 4, strong winds between Force 4 and Force 6 would blow to the southwest and west until Wednesday, June 7. Clouds for the next few days would be low, and visibility would be anywhere from three to six miles. Tedder later called Stagg’s presentation “most unpromising.”

American amphibious forces, packed elbow to elbow, wait for the “go” word from General Eisenhower, who knew he could not keep the men aboard their ships indefinitely.

No one spoke. Stagg’s gloom had spread to everyone in the room. Admiral Ramsay broke the silence. “Are the Force 5 winds along the Channel to continue on Monday [June 5] and Tuesday?” he asked. “Yes sir,” Stagg replied. Ramsay then asked about the clouds, but Stagg could not give him a definitive answer they were just too unpredictable. Tedder asked about weather conditions for June 7, to which Stagg predicted that the cold front should push most of the clouds away. Air Marshal Leigh-Mallory, who worried greatly about the airborne forces and his bomber crews, asked about the cloud ceiling. Stagg told him clouds would be down to 500 feet over France, way too low for bomber crews. General Montgomery simply commented, “I’m ready.”

Eisenhower listened to all the questions and answers, gauging the reactions of the questioners. Finally, he addressed Stagg, recounting his forecast from the day before and asking, “Isn’t there just a chance that you might be a bit more optimistic again tomorrow?” Stagg had to tell him no, that the chance he saw previously had disappeared. “The balance has gone too far to the other side for it to swing back again overnight tonight,” he explained. Tedder asked if all the forecasting centers were in consensus about the report, hoping for some dissension. Stagg could not play along. “Yes, sir,” he said. “They are.”

With that information, Eisenhower announced that the invasion would be delayed on a day-to-day basis. Monday, June 5, would no longer be D-Day. But when would the invasion launch, the next day or in two weeks? Eisenhower decided that his final decision would be made in five hours, on June 4. One U.S. naval task force would be allowed to proceed to keep with the timetable and would not be recalled until after the next meeting, if necessary. There were no jokes this time, nothing to lighten the mood. The men filed out of the room with grave looks of worry.

When Montgomery got back to his trailer, he noted in his diary, “Tomorrow the final decision must be taken, and once taken must be stuck to everything will be at sea, and if it is to be turned back, it must be turned back then. Strong and resolute characters will be very necessary.”

FIFTH MEETING (Sunday, June 4, 4:15 am)

The Sunday meeting convened with some alarming news. An Associated Press teletype operator had been practicing on what she thought was an idle machine that night when she typed out “ASSOCIATED PRESS MYK FLASH—EISENHOWER’S HEADQUARTERS ANNOUNCED ALLIED LANDINGS IN FRANCE.” Unfortunately, the machine was live, and the message traveled across the Atlantic and to Moscow. It was cancelled 30 seconds later but no one knew if the Germans had intercepted it. That little flub by a low-ranking clerk only added to Eisenhower’s stress as he prepared to listen to the latest weather report for the biggest decision of his career.

Tension gripped everyone. Despite the sleepless nights waiting to see if they could launch, most of the officers hoped for an improved forecast. Eisenhower nodded to the serious, unsmiling Stagg who reported almost no changes from his last forecast. The only change: the cold front expected for Wednesday was pushing through faster than expected. It was now expected 24 to 36 hours earlier, but Stagg was not confident it would reach the Channel in time. Everything else—cloud cover, wind direction, and speed—was exactly as previously reported. D-Day would definitely not be on June 5.

Again, Ramsay spoke up first. “The sky outside here at the moment is practically clear and there is no wind,” he explained. “When do we expect the cloud and wind of your forecast to appear here?” Ramsay was ready to launch his fleet if Stagg gave him a window, but Leigh-Mallory interjected before Stagg could answer, explaining that his bombers could not attack through the predicted cloud cover. Bomber crews would have difficulty seeing flares marking their targets, making the bombings less than effective. Tedder agreed with Leigh-Mallory but observed that they had to make the most of the gaps between weather patterns.

Throughout the meeting Eisenhower remained particularly calm and asked fewer questions than before, for good reason. He had a secret he had not told Stagg: A member of Ramsay’s staff had checked with the naval forecasters to get their latest take on the conditions. Ramsay, in turn, had shared the findings with Eisenhower a few minutes before Stagg made his presentation, so Eisenhower was not surprised by the forecast.

Although the sea conditions were calm enough for the Allied ships to cross the Channel, cloud cover would prevent the air forces from completing their mission. Montgomery told Eisenhower he was willing to risk the assault without air support, imploring him, “We must go.” But Tedder disagreed, supporting postponement. Eisenhower agreed with Tedder, explaining that the Germans possessed greater strength in the Normandy area. The operation would only succeed with air superiority. Eisenhower asked if anyone disagreed with his view. No one replied. He then ordered the naval forces that had not yet departed their ports not to sail and the forces that had already sailed to be recalled. Eisenhower scheduled another meeting later in the day.

When the meeting ended, Beetle Smith raced to the communications building and sent the code word for the postponement to all commands. He then called 10 Downing Street, Winston Churchill’s residence, to tell the prime minister the news, and he notified the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

Word was also transmitted to the fleets that the invasion had been delayed and H-hour had been revised. Block and bombardment ships as far away as Belfast, Ireland, turned around and headed to port. But the message failed to reach a convoy of 138 ships headed for Utah Beach. Two destroyers were dispatched to retrieve them but could not find the flotilla. They ended up in a minefield, waiting for minesweepers. Finally, a Supermarine Walrus amphibious aircraft flying out of Portsmouth found the ships and dropped the return order in a canister on the deck of the lead ship. The convoy turned around, but because of the choppy seas one of the Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) capsized.The crew survived.

SIXTH MEETING (Sunday, June 4, 9:00 pm)

Throughout the day the winds picked up as clouds gathered above the Channel. Men packed aboard ships for more than 72 hours began to feel the strain. By nightfall the rains fell, and the wind blew furiously through the pine trees outside Southwick House.

A 138-ship convoy headed for Utah Beach two days early because of bungled communications had to be turned around by a Walrus amphibian aircraft.

Inside the meeting room the commanders drank coffee and chatted among themselves. Eisenhower stood tense, the gravity of the decision weighing on him. If he delayed for two weeks it could have a devastating effect on the men’s morale, and if he released them from their vessels they might inadvertently reveal the location of the attack. Even more, Moscow was impatiently awaiting the landings. If he did not launch in the next two days Soviet Premier Josef Stalin might think the Western Allies were not serious about relieving pressure on the Eastern Front. And then there were the Germans. An extra two weeks would give them time to beef up beach defenses and gather more troops. But Eisenhower refused to launch an invasion without a solid chance for success.

Eisenhower called the men to order as Stagg and his staff entered the room. “Gentlemen,” Stagg began as he always did, “since I presented the forecast last evening some rapid and unexpected developments have occurred over the North Atlantic.” He went on to explain that a cold front from one of the depressions had pushed farther south faster than expected. The front would pass over Portsmouth and across the Channel later that night, pushing most of the clouds out. The rain outside would stop in about two or three hours. The remaining clouds would hold at 2,000 to 3,000 feet, and winds would reduce along the French coast to Force 3 or 4. The improved conditions would last from Monday night and into Tuesday. Beyond that the weather would probably be unsettled and hard to predict.

But how long would it last? Stagg’s charts showed that the bad weather and high winds would return by the evening of June 6, and he had no idea how long it would last. Stagg could give Eisenhower only 24 hours of good weather, nothing more. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Strong could not believe it. He looked out the window to see rain pouring down heavily. “I could see no signs that conditions were improving,” he later recalled.

After the usual silence, Admiral Creasy asked about weather improvements from Wednesday, June 7, to Friday, June 9. Stagg put the chances at fair. Eisenhower asked if it was practical to predict the weather beyond Friday. Stagg replied, “Conditions must continue to be regarded as very disturbed.” But he stressed his confidence about the 24-hour forecast, telling the air officers that the clouds would be broken enough for moonlight to shine through the gaps and high enough for good bombing conditions from Monday night to Tuesday afternoon.

Eisenhower had a clear spot in the eye of a storm. The winds would not be south, as he wanted, only southwest. The sky would not be clear, but it would be clear enough. The seas would be satisfactory for the initial assault, but the followup troops might encounter rough conditions. There would be a full moon, but its power would be reduced by intermittent clouds. It was not the ideal situation, but it might be good enough. Eisenhower could risk setting his forces loose, or he could hold up and delay another two weeks and hope for better conditions.

Eisenhower polled the room. Admiral Ramsay reminded him that if D-Day were to be June 6, he would have to give the order to the fleet in the next half hour. If the fleet sailed and the date was delayed again, they would not be able to refuel for a Wednesday assault. That left a two-week wait for ideal conditions. Leigh-Mallory fretted that his bomber crews would not be able to see their bombing markers. Tedder agreed, saying the bomber operations would be “chancy.” Eisenhower then put the question to Montgomery.“Do you see any reason why we should not go on Tuesday?” Without missing a beat the British general announced, “No. I would say go.”

Again, Eisenhower polled the room. Everyone held to their previous concerns. Only Montgomery was confident. Eisenhower then turned to his chief of staff, Smith, who agreed with Montgomery and added that the high seas and moderate winds might trick the Germans into believing the Allies would never attack in such conditions. “It’s a helluva gamble,” Smith told Eisenhower, “but it’s the best possible gamble.”

With all the questions asked, Eisenhower sat silently on the couch for a few minutes while his commander waited on his word. Smith was taken aback by his boss’s huge responsibility. “I never realized before the loneliness and isolation of a commander at a time when such a momentous decision has to be taken, with full knowledge that failure or success rests on his judgment alone.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division before their jump into Normandy. Eisenhower delayed the invasion of Europe for one day to provide better weather conditions for the airborne drop.

Finally, Eisenhower looked up, his face free of tension. “The question is,” Eisenhower said to no one in particular, “just how long can you hang this operation at the end of a limb and let it hang there?” After a short pause he made the decision: “I’m quite positive we must give the order…. I don’t like it but there it is…. I don’t see how we can possibly do anything else.” He asked if there were any dissenting opinions. No one spoke up. D-Day was now set for June 6, but Eisenhower was not completely sold on the new date. He ordered one more meeting in six hours to make sure the weather would cooperate or if the ships and planes would have to be recalled.

SEVENTH MEETING (Monday, June 5, 4:15 am)

The atmosphere of the last meeting was decidedly somber. Sheets of rain beat at the side of Southwick House. Everyone was now in battledress uniform except Field Marshal Montgomery, who wore a light yellow turtleneck and corduroy trousers. The men took their seats with grave faces, and the room quickly grew silent. At least Eisenhower had slept fitfully, having been awakened by gale force winds beating against his trailer. It was a good omen that he had delayed the landings. If he had green-lighted the attack for June 5, the air forces would have been grounded, landing craft would have capsized, and airborne troops would never have reached the battlefield.

Stagg was ushered in. He had heavy bags under his eyes from lack of sleep. “Go ahead Stagg,” Eisenhower ordered. The weather officer delivered a forecast almost identical to the one earlier. He could report this time, however, that the weather from Wednesday to Friday would be variable, with completely overcast skies, clouds at 1,000 feet, and winds up to Force 5 or 6. The conditions, however, would be interspersed with fair periods with Force 4 winds and good visibility.

Everyone felt relieved. The followup operations could go ahead with a decent chance of success. To Stagg, the look on every face “was a joy to behold.” Eisenhower broke into a smile. “Well Stagg,” he beamed, “if this forecast comes off, I promise you we’ll have a celebration when the time comes.” The commanders asked a few questions about how Stagg had come to his conclusions and how far out he was willing to predict.

With everyone’s input delivered, Eisenhower got up and began slowly pacing the floor, his head down and his hands clasped behind his back. Finally, he stopped walking, paused, and turned to the men in the room. With a confident voice he announced, “Go!”

Sidebar: WHAT DID THE GERMANS KNOW?

Twice the Western Allies almost revealed the coming invasion to the Germans on June 4, when a typist accidentally sent out a message claiming Eisenhower had given the order, and when a flotilla of ships almost reached Utah Beach. To make sure they had not tipped their hand, Tedder called Group Captain Frederick Winterbotham to Southwick House.

Winterbotham, a Royal Air Force officer, supervised the distribution of Ultra intercepts to field commanders. Early in the war the British had cracked the German Enigma codes—communications between commanders—and used them to understand what the Germans knew or were intending to do on the battlefields. The deciphering program, known as Ultra, gave the Allies a great edge over Nazi Germany. If anyone knew what the Germans along the coast of Normandy were thinking in the early hours of June 5, it was Winterbotham.

The RAF captain reported to the house and waited at the bottom of the large staircase outside the meeting room as Eisenhower made his final decision. Winterbotham had information vital to the planners that might assist the men preparing to invade France.

Suddenly, the doors burst open and Eisenhower’s commanders charged out. Tedder spotted Winterbotham and nodded at him as he hurried by, saying, “Tomorrow.” Winterbotham, understanding this meant the invasion was on, responded, “Absolutely nothing.” There had been no communication among the Germans that they were bracing for an attack. They had no idea the invasion was coming. In less than 24 hours the first Allied soldiers would drop onto French soil, completely surprising the officers of Germany’s high command in Normandy. The Allies had kept the invasion a secret.

Sidebar: WHAT DID EISENHOWER SAY TO LAUNCH OPERATION OVERLORD?

There are several versions of exactly what General Dwight D. Eisenhower said in giving the “go” order in the early hours of June 5, 1944, to launch the Normandy invasion. Everyone who was in the room when he made the call seemed to hear something different.

Some of the British officers did not recall what Eisenhower said. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wrote in his memoir Normandy to the Baltic, “At 0400 hours on 5 June the decision was made: the invasion of France would take place on 6 June.” Air Marshal Arthur Tedder followed suit, simply writing in his memoir, Without Prejudice, “Overlord was launched beyond recall.” Group Captain Stagg, who had left the room prior to Eisenhower’s decision and was outside in the hall, later wrote in Forecast for Overlord, “General Eisenhower had made the final and irrevocable decision.”

Two British officers who did quote Eisenhower wrote completely different versions of the order. In his memoir, Intelligence at the Top, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Strong heard Eisenhower say, “Okay boys, we will go.” Major General Frederick de Guingand, however, gave Eisenhower a bit of a soliloquy in his memoir Operation Victory. According to de Guingand, Eisenhower came forward after everyone had expressed their opinions. “This is a decision which I must make alone,” de Guingand claimed Eisenhower said. “After all, that is what I am here for.” Then, as everyone waited, Eisenhower gave the order: “We set sail tomorrow.”

The one American in the room who later wrote about the meeting also heard something different. In his book, Eisenhower’s Six Great Decisions: Europe, 1944-1945, Lt. Gen. Beetle Smith claimed that Eisenhower gave the order, “Well, we’ll go.”

U.S. Army Historian Forrest Pogue tried to settle the matter for the Army’s official history of World War II. He collected statements from several participants and accessed reports written hours, days and years after the meeting. No two versions were the same. Finally, for his book, The Supreme Command, Pogue simply quoted Eisenhower as saying “Go.” Historian Stephen Ambrose also tried to solve the quote mystery, which he eventually wrote about in his biography, The Supreme Commander. Ambrose claimed that when he interviewed Eisenhower on October 27, 1967, Eisenhower told him that he was sure he said, “O.K., let’s go,” but Ambrose’s meetings with Eisenhower have lately come under question.

Eisenhower tried to settle the matter himself when he told reporter Walter Cronkite in a 1963 interview that he said, “Okay, we’ll go.” But the controversy was not over. In 2014, Tim Rives, the supervisory archivist and deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, researched the controversy and found that Eisenhower wrote five different versions of his own quote while editing an article he wrote for Paris Match. The only conclusion could be that Eisenhower himself did not remember exactly what he said and, therefore, his words are forever lost to history.


Bertram Ramsay – The Mastermind of the Dunkirk Evacuation Deserves Praise for More than Just Operation Dynamo

THIS MONTH MARKS the 80 th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation, the remarkable operation that saw the escape of more than 338,000 Allied servicemen.

The anniversary will be followed days later by another D-Day commemoration. Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery are among the names that come to mind when great events of the war in Europe are recalled. Yet one name is usually missing, that of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay.

Not only was Ramsay the mastermind of the exodus from the French port in 1940 and the Normandy landings four years later, he also played a key role in the invasions of North Africa in 1942 and Sicily the following year.

Why Ramsay has not received the public recognition he deserves is something of a mystery. He was killed in a plane crash on Jan. 2, 1945, never to see the ultimate victory in Europe he had helped to shape. The accident has never been fully explained. Yet unlike Montgomery, for example, the admiral was not a showman military leader. He disliked personal publicity, even dreading sessions with press photographers. Yet had fate not taken a certain course, Ramsay might never have even served in the Second World War.

The son of a baronet brigadier general, Ramsay joined the Royal Navy as a 15-year-old cadet in 1898. In the First World War he commanded a destroyer in the Dover Patrol. In the years that followed, he rose in rank and enjoyed an outstanding career. In 1935 he was promoted rear admiral and accepted the post of chief of staff to the commander-in-chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse. It proved to be a huge mistake.

Ramsay and Backhouse had been friends from their early days in the navy, but they soon clashed. Ramsay, obsessed with efficiency, felt he could not carry out his duties properly because Backhouse was a workaholic and effectively operated as his own chief of staff. Relations soured so much that Ramsay likened his superior in private to Mussolini. He soon asked to be relieved as chief of staff – a request that shocked the higher reaches of the service.

After that, Ramsay was left to wither on the vine, his career effectively over.

In July 1938, he was finally given the news he feared: He would be placed on the retired list in the rank of vice admiral.

As war loomed in 1939 fate intervened. Ramsay was too valuable to lose in a crisis. He was informed that if hostilities broke out he would be appointed flag officer-in-charge at Dover. And the person who made the appointment was none other than Backhouse, who had since become the First Sea Lord. Backhouse would be in his post for less than 10 months. Poor health forced the workaholic admiral to resign and he died soon afterwards.

The early months of the war saw huge numbers of troops and amounts of equipment being sent to France from England. Dover was one of the busiest ports in southern England. Ramsay’s headquarters was in Dover Castle, or rather below it in the labyrinth of tunnels that had been carved out centuries earlier.

The so-called phoney war ended abruptly on May 10, 1940 when Germany launched its invasion of France and the Low Countries, with Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers and Panzer divisions creating havoc. As soon as he learned of the offensive, Ramsay ordered four vessels from Dover to carry demolition teams to the Netherlands and Belgium to destroy harbour facilities that could be used by the Nazis.

The enemy advance was so swift that by May 22, the ports of Calais and Boulogne were soon in danger. Despite fierce resistance they fell days later.

Ramsay next switched his focus to the Dunkirk area, where British and French troops were being encircled by a German pincer movement.

With British forces in Europe facing certain annihilation, Ramsay honed plans for a massive seaborne rescue of the trapped army, dubbed Operation Dynamo.

At exactly 6:57 p.m. on May 26, the Admiralty ordered Ramsay to launch the evacuation of Dunkirk, with “the greatest vigour.” The most optimistic assessment was that up to 45,000 troops might be saved over two days, after which the enemy was expected to roll in and capture the remaining Allied soldiers.

In fact, Ramsay kept the operation going until June 4, saving 338,682 British, French, Belgian and Dutch personnel. Ramsay’s destroyers brought back the highest number, 103,399, followed by merchant ships, 74,380, and minesweepers, 31,040. Around 850 vessels of all shapes and sizes took part in Dynamo and nearly 240 were lost. Ramsay’s destroyer fleet paid a high price with six sunk and 23 damaged.

Rightly, Ramsey is seen as the saviour of Dunkirk. The evacuation could so easily have been a disaster its success is a reflection of the admiral’s character. To Ramsay, attention to detail always was paramount, in matters both great and small. Even as a junior officer, he was always immaculately dressed. He strove to make his ship the best in the fleet. He could even write pages on the art of painting a vessel. He chose his senior staff carefully. Anyone he inherited who could not live up to his high standards did not last long. Skilled at organizing, he also knew the art of delegating.

His later successes in organizing the invasion fleets for North Africa (Operation Torch) and Sicily (Operation Husky) led to him being appointed naval commander-in-chief for the Allied landings in Normandy. With more than 6,000 ships taking part, the maritime component of D-Day, dubbed Operation Neptune, would be the greatest amphibious offensive in history.

D-Day was originally set for June 5, but appalling weather forced Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, to postpone it. The Allied campaign in France was hanging in the balance Ramsay revealed the gravity of the crisis in a letter to his wife.

“We’ve been having a particularly anxious and trying time the last two or three days owing to the weather having turned sour and we’ve had to make some difficult decisions and accept considerable risks or rather take them,” he wrote. “I can only pray that they may prove justified for the lives of hundreds of thousands are at stake.”

Of course, the landings eventually occurred on June 6. As many as 156,000 soldiers were put ashore that day millions more would follow them into France in the weeks to come.

But Ramsay’s role did not end with the success of D-Day. He remained heavily involved with naval operations as Allied troops fought their way through France, Belgium and Holland.

His fatal flight on Jan. 2, 1945, from an airfield near Versailles, should have taken him to Brussels for a meeting with Montgomery. His aircraft crashed shortly after take-off.

Ramsay’s wife, Margaret, received nearly 400 letters, 30 telegrams and many other messages. President Roosevelt and Eisenhower were among those who paid tribute. Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory also had been killed in an air crash in November 1944.

Field Marshal Montgomery paid tribute to both men:

“They were not to live to see the fruits of their labours, but when this business is all over, and the world is once more at peace, we must not forget the part that was played by Bertie Ramsay and Leigh-Mallory – a great sailor and a great airman …’


The D-Day Classroom

By Kim E. Barbieri

Dwight D. Eisenhower's name was forever enshrined in the history books on June 6, 1944, when the Allied armies under his command landed on the coast of France and began the long drive to defeat the Nazi army and hasten the end to World War II.

However, Eisenhower's decision to launch the long-awaited invasion of Europe on D-day was not one that was easily made. As the optimal meteorological window for the invasion approached, he received in his rural English headquarters constant updates about troop and equipment readiness, the movements of the German army in France, and of course, the weather over the English Channel.

Now, high school students whose parents were not even born on that day, one of the most historic of the 20th century, are able to experience what Eisenhower and his commanders in Operation Overlord experienced in the spring of 1944.

They can do it at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, in a program called "Five Star Leaders," named in honor of Eisenhower's five-star rank as General of the Army.

In Five Star Leaders, students visit the library for a half-day and assume the roles of Eisenhower and his commanders as they receive reports, in the form of facsimiles of the actual documents from 1944, that provide the information that Eisenhower used in making the decision to invade the continent with landings on Normandy.

The purpose of the program is to teach today's students about democratic leadership and decision making by immersing them in a scenario from the pages of history. Using role-playing, original documents, and dramatic re-creations, students practice newly acquired leadership and decision-making skills as they work their way through a crisis faced by historical figures decades before.

To date, more than 500 Kansas and Missouri students in grades 8 through 12 have traveled to Abilene to participate in Five Star Leaders. In addition, midlevel officers at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, have visited the library and participated in the program.

"Five Star Leaders, as well as the White House Decision Center at the Truman Library, are examples of the ways in which National Archives–related entities can make history education more exciting, more engaging, and more meaningful for students," said Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein. "These programs are enormously helpful in showing how we can strengthen the civic literacy efforts that are a pivotal priority of NARA's Strategic Plan for the coming decade."

Even though the climax of Five Star Leaders is the onsite visit at the Eisenhower Library, a good deal of work (Modules One through Four) is completed at the students' own schools before they come to to Abilene.

Module One and Module Two focus on learning about leadership theories and identifying examples in documents selected by archivists from the library's holdings. In all, 57 "leadership" documents, numbering more than 150 pages, were selected for use in the program. The documents vary in length, reading difficulty, and type—ranging from letters to speeches to reports and memorandums to leadership manuals to oral histories. Many members of the Eisenhower Library staff were involved in the research, development, preparation, and vetting of materials for the program.

Module Three materials feature background for Operation Overlord and biographies of those responsible for planning and implementing it. Students randomly select historical characters they will portray from a cast of 32 political and military leaders.

Each character belongs to one of six D-day "planning" teams. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) Team, for example, is made up of six members: General Eisenhower, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Adm. Sir Bertram H. Ramsey, and Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell "Beetle" Smith.

Students from Salina South Middle School in Salina, Kansas, portray U.S. and British officials looking over intelligence and deception matters. (Photo by Bob Paull, Eisenhower Library)

In Module Four, students divide into planning teams for information gathering, analysis, and synthesis. Each team receives approximately 15 high-quality scanned "top secret" Operation Overlord documents.

Because there is not sufficient time for students to examine each document with equal care, students must prioritize and distribute them among team members. They then summarize their findings and assessments in a "briefing report," which they will present at the Eisenhower Library during the re-creation of the May 15, 1944, "dress rehearsal" for Operation Overlord.

Module Five brings students to the Eisenhower Library in Abilene to experience the intense days in the spring of 1944 leading up to the D-day decision. A brief background video covering the period from January through mid-May 1944 quickly draws students into the experience.

Students next relive history in a dramatic re-creation of the May 15, 1944, final briefing for Operation Overlord. A student-narrator sets the scene, followed by inspirational oratory from students portraying General Eisenhower, Field Marshal Montgomery, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The six planning teams, each headed by a group captain, brief the assembled leaders on the status of the operation. After the briefing, each team is escorted to an unknown "top secret" location by an Eisenhower Library volunteer. There, a new packet of up-to-the-moment Overlord documents—boldly stamped in red "top secret"—is presented to the group captain.

From time to time, as team members work to decipher and analyze the latest documents, their deep concentration is interrupted by the crackle of a two-way radio delivering the latest intelligence updates. Each team emerges from the 90-minute session with a recommendation for General Eisenhower and his commanders: to launch Overlord for June 6, 1944—or to postpone.

Recommendations for General Eisenhower in hand, the teams convene in the library's auditorium to recreate the famous June 5, 1944, Commanders Conference. Stage props evoke the original scene in Southwick House in Portsmouth, England. As the narrator paints the scene, lighting and sound effects emphasize that this was a gloomy and stormy morning.

Group Captain James Stagg, chief meteorologist, delivers the all-important weather forecast. One by one, each group captain delivers a recommendation for the Supreme Commander. General Eisenhower may question his commanders, but it is he who must make the call.

Students from Royal Valley Middle School in Hoyt, Kansas, portray Eisenhower and British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder. (Photo by Bob Paull, Eisenhower Library)

Following his decision to go ahead with the invasion on June 6, Eisenhower composes his "In Case of Failure" message, sharing his thoughts with the audience as he writes. A sound recording of the "Order of the Day," in Eisenhower's own voice, resonates throughout a silent auditorium. General Eisenhower does have the option of postponing the invasion, which, to date, only one student, portraying Eisenhower, has exercised.

Either decision prompts a press conference at which Eisenhower and his commanders must defend the Supreme Commander's decision. Other students, former planners and commanders themselves, portray World War II war correspondents such as Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Morrow, and William Randolph Hearst, Jr.

As the day comes to a close, the "rest of the story" is revealed through actual film footage of D-day. A decision to postpone leads to a counterfactual history with disastrous consequences for the Allies and for General (and never-to-be President) Eisenhower.

Five Star Leaders traces its roots to the presidential libraries' flagship experiential-learning program: the White House Decision Center at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. There, students also use facsimiles of original documents to trace the evolution of major decisions made by President Harry S. Truman, such as the Berlin blockade in 1948 and the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.

The Eisenhower Foundation hired the same consultant who helped the Truman Institute develop the White House Decision Center, Linda Segebrecht, to collaborate with the author in developing Five Star Leaders. The D-day decision had been selected as the first historical scenario early in the process, and work on program development began in earnest in January 2004.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in France in late June 1944. (Eisenhower Library)

Teaching leadership through decision making was a good fit. Eisenhower's universal appeal as a role model for great leadership translated into strong symbolism for the program. His well-developed leadership style and decision-making preferences provided the foundations for Five Star Leaders.

Finally, an emphasis on democratic leadership and consensus-based decision making addressed the all-too-pervasive deficits in civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic dispositions endemic to the American populace today, particularly among young people.

A second scenario for Five Star Leaders, which focuses on President Eisenhower's actions during the Little Rock school desegregation crisis in 1957, is being developed.

In addition to Kansas high school students, active Army officers also benefit. Parts of the Five Star Leaders program have been adapted for students in the U.S. Army's School of Advanced Military Studies at nearby Fort Leavenworth. Majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels study facsimiles of the original D-day documents and have been able to apply some lessons to today's military situations.

The Kansas Highway Patrol Training Center has arranged to put approximately 100 lieutenants through Five Star Leaders this year.

Input from experienced classroom teachers has been essential, both to the development and the continuing refinement of the program. A group of nine Kansas secondary social studies teachers served on the Teacher Advisory Group. They also participated in piloting the program through the spring of 2005.

In addition, teachers who bring classes to Five Star Leaders complete an onsite evaluation, which is used to fine-tune the program. The program meets state standards for a variety of subjects and lends itself to team teaching and interdisciplinary courses. The program's instructional approach and learning activities earn high marks, as do the teacher materials and student handouts.

When asked if the program is worth the expenditures of money and time—all in short supply in schools today—teachers have responded enthusiastically with comments like, "Yes, most definitely" and "Yes—excellent learning experience."

The assessments of students who have participated in the program to date have been highly complimentary. (Only one student has responded that he or she would not recommend Five Star Leaders to other students.)

Student-participants represent a broad spectrum of interests, backgrounds, and abilities, including special education students, regular classes, and gifted and advanced placement students. Though the composition of each group is unique and each individual distinctive, at the end of the day, the anticipated transformation regularly takes place.

Through the power of an intense shared experience, students practice democratic principles and processes, explore personal responsibility and self-assessment, and learn how to build a consensus that promotes the common good—all the while immersed in the pivotal moment of history when the tide began to turn in World War II.

Dan Holt, director of the Eisenhower Library, said the Five Star Leaders program has far-reaching benefits. While study of original documents provides lessons in history, he said, it also offers lessons in leadership that will stay with the students long after they have forgotten the details of history.

"Participants learn how to apply those leadership principles to decision making as individuals and as members of a team," Holt said. "NARA is providing not only a history lesson in these programs but also leadership development for both young people and adults."

As a lesson in history, it seems to be working. As one student commented: "Now and in the future on June 6, I will think about what the men went through and thank them for what they did for our country."

Kim E. Barbieri is the education specialist for the Eisenhower Library and Museum. She holds a bachelor's degree in Spanish and a master's degree in political science from Kansas State University. Before joining NARA in 2002, she taught for 22 years in public secondary schools.


The road to D-Day: the masterplan

Landing successfully in Normandy and conquering Europe would require more than brute force. If the Allies stood any chance of success on D-Day, it would also take the combined efforts of scientists, military tacticians and the French Resistance to plot the route to victory – long before any bullets could be fired | By Paul Reed

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Published: June 4, 2019 at 8:14 am

On the afternoon of 16 January 1944, the midget submarine X20 approached the shoreline of what would later become Omaha beach on D-Day. While it was still daylight, X20 sat at periscope depth as its two-man crew surveyed the beach area. Then, when darkness descended, the submarine moved within 400 yards of the shore, allowing its crew members to swim in.

The men bore no explosives and their task was not to destroy or kill. Instead they carried scientific equipment to gather sand samples, along with condoms to place them in so they would not be damaged when taking them back. Once analysed on dry land, the samples would then be used to ascertain which beaches would be best to land on.

As demonstrated by the failure of tanks and equipment to get ashore during the ill-fated Dieppe raid in August 1942, the geology of the battlefield was shown to be just as important as knowing where the bunkers and barbed wire were located. And what these two naval officers did was just one small – but crucial – part of the complex steps taken to plan D-Day.

Indeed, successfully carrying out the largest amphibious operation in history did not happen by accident. It took years of planning, preparation, research, development and thinking beyond the norm to make the invasion possible. Operation Overlord was fought and won not just by men with bombs and bayonets, but also by ‘back-room boys’. It was the truly the boffins’ war, and scientists, engineers and planners were at the heart of it all.

Finding a way in

When Allied commanders were coming up with the best strategies to defeat Nazi Germany, the American view was that the quickest route to the heart of the Reich was to land in France, take Paris, and then advance through the Low Countries and into the Rhineland. However, such a proposition was not possible when the North Africa campaign came to an end in May 1943, as not enough men, specialist equipment or landing craft were available for an operation on that scale. Instead, the war dragged on in the Mediterranean, with the capture of Sicily in August 1943 and then invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno that September.

While some leaders like Winston Churchill hoped that Italy would prove to be the ‘soft underbelly’ of the Third Reich, in the end it became what veterans called ‘the tough old gut’. Despite drawing German troops away from France and Russia, it soon became apparent that victory would only become possible with an invasion of France.

But where to land? In the summer of 1940, the German high command had made plans for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain, intending to use the narrow English Channel as their route. This certainly offered the quickest way to France, but with the construction of a huge screen of beach defences known as the ‘Atlantic Wall’, this section of coastline boasted some of the strongest German positions, making any Allied landing potentially costly.

As a result, plans were put in place to scour the French coast and find an alternative site. RAF reconnaissance aircraft began by snapping thousands of aerial photos and carrying out low-level sweeps (not without suffering losses), while maps were produced to identify locations that had good road networks to allow an invasion force to move inland. The British government even made a public appeal for postcards of towns and villages on the French coast that could be used for intelligence purposes.

However, valuable input also came from members of the French Resistance, who helped create a record of German construction of Atlantic Wall defences, especially as they were beefed up following the appointment of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to oversee them. Gathering such information was highly dangerous and many Resistance members paid the price with their lives.

Along with the geological data gathered by submarine teams, the Allied commanders gradually managed to build a picture of which areas offered the best chance of success.

Gathering pace

The initial decision to land in Normandy was made by the chief of staff to the supreme allied commander (COSSAC) in 1943, Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan. His team ruled out the Pas-de-Calais region and saw a landing between the Cotentin peninsula and near to Caen as being the most suitable.

At this stage in the war, due to lack of men and equipment, Morgan recommended landing on three beaches along the Normandy coastline, but this was later expanded to five. The work of the Resistance had indicated that there were fewer defences in Normandy than in the Pas-de-Calais, with many bunkers containing antiquated firepower from the First World War. Indeed, some of the bunker complexes were only partially completed. The mapping had also demonstrated good roads to get landing troops off the beach area and inland, and to take them beyond on the long road to liberation.

With plans gathering pace, Churchill and President Roosevelt met in Quebec in August 1943 and confirmed these decisions in a secretive conference known as ‘Quadrant’. After some small changes, a provisional date of May 1944 was decided upon and Operation Overlord was born.

At this point it was evident that a supreme commander of allied forces needed to be appointed to oversee the operation. Churchill may have preferred a British commander such as Frederick Morgan, Harold Alexander or even Bernard Montgomery, but Roosevelt instead proposed General Dwight D Eisenhower. As the Americans were in many ways the more powerful of the two partners, the president’s recommendation was approved at a conference in Cairo in December 1943.

Catherine wheels and funnies

Having decided where to land, the means to affect the invasion now became a pressing concern. Eisenhower oversaw the build-up of British and Canadian troops, with some of the latter having been in England as early as 1939. By spring 1944, more than one million Americans had also arrived in the country, and along with the rest of the Allied forces, they too needed to be trained for the invasion.

Units like the US 29th Division in the West Country were drilled to such a level of efficiency they became the Allied armies’ experts on amphibious warfare. Mock bunkers and sections of the Atlantic Wall were built to help with their training, while along the coast of Devon, concrete landing craft were constructed so that GIs could train exiting them and hitting the beach time and time again.

But to break through Rommel’s Atlantic Wall, it became clear that manpower and firepower alone would not be enough. It seemed easy just to bomb the beach areas where the landings would take place, but it was realised this would create a ‘crater zone’ across the landing areas that could in fact impede progress. Precision bombing did not exist, so to get through the complex and varied defences that protected the D-Day beaches, specialist equipment would be needed.

Churchill and Eisenhower spent a lot of time in early 1944 being shown designs and mock-ups of all sorts of inventions to help achieve this. Some of them were rather fanciful, such as the ‘Catherine wheel’ – an explosive device that was meant to roll across the beach taking out the defences, but could easily go into a spin and return just as quickly to the troops who launched it.

Meanwhile, the British developed adapted tanks known as ‘funnies’ that could breach German defences or assist the men who would land on the D-Day beaches. A lot of these designs were based around British-built Churchill tanks, with the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineer (AVRE) being most common.

Thicker armour would help the vehicles survive anti-tank weapons, while their main guns were replaced by Petard spigot mortars firing what the British called a ‘flying dustbin’ that could demolish concrete structures. The tanks could also carry bundles of brushwood to drop in bomb craters so they could be crossed, scissor bridges to get over obstacles and walls, or bobbins of carpet matting to allow vehicles to cross easily over areas of soft sand.

In addition, the Valentine tank was adapted so it could float ashore using flotation screens, but this was eventually replaced by the Sherman Duplex Drive tank, which was implemented in large numbers by the time D-Day arrived. On the British landing beaches, the arrival of Shermans among the assault infantry often helped tip the balance and enabled men to get off the beach and make their way inland.

Assembling the armada

However, tanks, men and weapons were of no use if they could not be landed on the Normandy coastline. The supreme commanders knew that substantial investment in the naval side of Overlord – code-named Operation Neptune – was essential.

Under the command of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had presided over the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, Neptune comprised a naval force of nearly 7,000 vessels from eight different navies. Among them were landing craft of every shape and size, which would put tanks and vehicles ashore, launch rockets on the defences and take men in for ‘H-Hour’ – the time of the assault on each beach.

For the British, the most common craft was the Landing Craft Assault (LCA). This 41ft boat had a crew of four and could carry 31 combat troops. With a good speed and rapidly deployable ramp, it was ideal for the amphibious nature of D-Day’s combined operations.

In contrast, the Americans instead chose to deploy the US-made Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) or ‘Higgins boat’. Faster and shorter than the British LCA, it could transport 36 men and had a quick drop ramp at the front that allowed a rapid exit. These proved to be so successful on D-Day that General Eisenhower later said of the boat’s inventor: “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.”

One aspect that Lieutenant-General Morgan had highlighted during the early planning for Operation Overlord was the use of artificial harbours. No army can advance without fuel, food or ammunition, and all of this needed to be brought over, landed and then distributed. There was no port in the landing area suitable for the purpose, as they were all too small.

Instead the Allies would have to bring their own harbours with them, and thus the Mulberry harbour was devised. Perhaps one of the most amazing scientific achievements of the whole operation, its walls were made from massive floating concrete sections that could be towed across, flooded and then used to make what Churchill had said needed to be a port as “big as Dover”. One was available for the British sector at Arromanches and a second was built at Omaha beach after D-Day. A storm destroyed the American one, but the British harbour was repaired and kept open well into 1945, supplying the invasion and paving the way for -logistical success.

Fooling the enemy

As preparations for Operation Overlord entered their final phase, the need for deception was paramount. It was almost impossible to hide such a mammoth invasion force, so intelligence officers decided to exploit this fact by creating a dummy army made up of inflatable tanks and vehicles as part of an elaborate plan known as Operation Fortitude.

‘Led’ by the renowned US general George S Patton, the ghost army was positioned in the south-east, giving credence to the idea that an invasion force would really land in the Pas-de-Calais and anything else was a diversion. In addition, in the final 24–48 hours before D-Day, the RAF dropped tons of metal strips along the French coast. In great enough density, these would confuse enemy radar and stop the Germans from discovering the airborne armada that would bring in the men in the early hours of D-Day.

Dummy parachutists were dropped far away from the actual intended dropzones, in order to confuse the Germans as to where a main invasion would occur. These methods and many others were all part of arguably the most successful deception plan in military history and helped to ensure Allied success on the Normandy beaches.

On the night of 6 June 1944, Churchill and Eisenhower – both sitting in their war rooms – received messages that D-Day had been a success. More than 150,000 men were ashore, and while some of the landings had been easier than others, it seemed that victory was now finally in sight.

The bravery and tenacity of combat troops on the ground had made it possible, but it was also the scientists, engineers, factory workers, pilots and frogmen that helped make D-Day the crucial moment of the Second World War that it was.


Watch the video: CBS Reports 1964: D-Day Plus 20 Years - Eisenhower Returns to Normandy