Operation Overlord was one the military campaign during the Second World War (WWII). It was a code name given to a significant amphibious assault by the Allied Forces across the English Channel that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe. It was conducted on the 6th June 1944, and it is better known as D-Day or the Normandy landing. A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August 1944.

The principles of war guide warfare at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Several principles can be employed in any particular operation concerned. The principles of war applied in Operation Overlord included security, surprise, the concentration of force, offensive action, cooperation and flexibility.

Security. Operation Overlord plan required the employment of many men – both in Britain and in France via the Resistance. Therefore, there was a need for total security for the plan. The Germans were surprised at Normandy as shall be discussed in the next paragraph, indicating that the Allies were successful in this.

Surprise. Surprise entails striking the enemy at a time or place or a manner for which it is unprepared. The use of the principle of surprise was achieved during Overlord planning and execution. Several deception plans were used to confuse the Germans as to the date and location of an Allied invasion. The Allies managed to break the encryption codes early in the war, thus could decode secret German messages. Thus, the Allies monitored German message traffic and determined whether deceptive efforts worked or not before their subsequent efforts.

Operation Fortitude, the D-Day deception plan, was a near-perfect plan used by the Allies during World War II to deceive the Germans as to the time and place of the Normandy invasion. Overlord is an outstanding example of the employment of surprise during the war. The Allies planners were extremely effective in making the Germans believe the operation would be launched in the de Calais area and that a feint or diversionary attack would precede the invasion.  Thus, the surprise was achieved by the Allies as they launched their invasion at the least expected five landing beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The concentration of force.The concentration of Forces entails the concentration the effects of combat power at the place and time to achieve decisive results. In the case of Operation Overlord, the concentration of force can be seen in the huge number of troops deployed, logistical and engineering efforts that were undertaken in order to achieve the aim of the operation. Massive supplies, personnel, and equipment were pre-positioned in England in preparation for Overlord. These efforts were complemented by the development of innovative engineering concepts and supporting specialized equipment. In 1944, the massive buildup of American troops resulted in 950,000 men, their equipment, supplies, and thousands of vehicles gathered on the southern part of Britain during the buildup. By D-Day, 3,000,000 were ready to support Overlord. The invasion included “over 4000 ships and craft of all types”, “176,475 men, 20,111 vehicles, 1500 tanks, and almost 12,000 planes.”

Offensive Action.The principle of offensive action was used effectively throughout Operation Overlord in the attack to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. During operation Overlord, the Allies achieved offensive action through substantial reduction of Germany air capabilities, destruction of lines of communication that prevented the timely deployment of the reserves, psychological operations to affect German morale, threatening to open a front in France from the Mediterranean, and a coordinated thrust in the Soviet front. The deception plan had the desired effect of tying important German forces in other geographic areas. The combination of these actions allowed the Allies to gain initiative through robust offensive actions. Therefore, they compelled the Germans to react instead of act.

These actions were supported by the offensive airborne assault and amphibious phases to secure the initial beachhead. The goal of the breakout was to seize the physical objectives for the operation. This included securing the lodgment area from which further offensive operations could be developed in the west (Cherbourg- Brittany group of ports). Offensive action kept the Germans off balance and brought them to culmination.

German lost the initiative and was forced into a defensive posture. The speed of Allied Forces buildup forced the Germans to plug gaps in their line, deploying regiments and panzer units wherever the danger seemed most significant at that moment. The Allied kept up the thrust until operational reach determined the temporary slowdown of the offensive to catch up with the logistics piece.

Flexibility. The principle of flexibility was employed throughout the planning and execution at both the strategic and tactical levels of war. The purpose of flexibility was to place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power. The effective manoeuvre of the Allied Forces kept the Germans off balance and thus also protected their friendly force. It contributed materially to exploiting successes, preserving freedom of action, and reducing vulnerability by continually posing new problems for the Germans.

Cooperation. The principle of cooperation or unity of Command was employed effectively throughout Operation Overlord from the planning to the execution of the operation.  All Allied Forces operated under a single commander. It required coordination and cooperation among part of the same command structure.

Among other things, operation Overlord complexities of large-scale combined amphibious operations required complete integration of a coalition under one commander; General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the European Campaign. He made sure he employed all aspects of the principle of cooperation. This is evident in the command and control structure he established. For instance, the Supreme Commander designated General Montgomery to command all Armies (British, Canadian, and U.S.).

On the German side, the situation was different. The German lacked unified Command, which the Allies had in SHAEF. There was a lack of trust between Hitler and his commanders. As a result, he continuously replaced high-ranking officers in influential positions. An attempt on Hitler’s life on 20th July further undermined the principle of cooperation. Consequently, many Senior Officers were court-martialed and executed, and others removed from their posts. The sum of these actions significantly undermined cooperation and certainly had a significant effect on the German response to Operation Overlord.

Next article I will look at lessons learnt.