Today marks seventy-six (76) years since the conduct of operation Overlord. In this write up, I share some salient points of this operation.
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.
Operation Overlord provides modern armies with several valuable lessons. Modern militaries have borrowed a great deal from this operation, particularly, in the way that amphibious operations are orchestrated across services lines with each service playing a vital role in a single operation. Therefore, Operation Overlord provides an ideal study for joint military campaign planning. This operation allows modern military officers to draw some lessons from the planning and execution of Joint Operations. It must be noted that the Allies’ attention to detail in their planning and preparation led to the defeat of Germany and Allied victory in Europe.
At a strategic level, in late 1943 at Tehran conference in Iran, the three Allied leaders Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin formally agreed to go on the offensive against the Germans in the western front. The strategy was to encompass two major challenges: to cross some hundred miles of open water with a vast army and then fight a battle on a scale never attempted before. Thus, the US and its Allies built up the necessary troops, ships and equipment to fight a total war.
At the operational level, there was a need to come up with operational commanders. Therefore, in November 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Cairo to come up with the outline plan and command structure. The US chose Gen Dwight Eisenhower, and the British chose Gen Bernard Montgomery to plan and conduct the invasion. Operation Overlord was also meant to open up a second front in Western Europe that would overwhelm the Germany Army already engaged on the Eastern Front and in 1944. Thus, the Allied Forces decided to execute Operation Overlord. This was an elaborate plan that was successfully kept secret until it was launched on 5th June 1944.
The 6th June 1944, was the first day of Operation Overlord, which saw the invasion of five Normandy beaches by Allied Forces namely Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno. The attack combined air, navy and ground forces and it was a turning point for the WWII that would end almost a year later, on 8th May 1945.
In November 1943, the German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was in charge of Germany’s efforts to forestall such an incursion. Hitler directed Field Marshall Erwin Rommel to carry out reconnaissance of the French coastline and start setting up obstacles to guard against a seaborne attack. By December 1943, Rommel felt acquainted with the area, and he reported to Adolf Hitler that the invasion would likely be launched in the Pas de Calais area. Pas de Calais offered the Allies the shortest sea route and the most accessible to French ports likely to be utilised as their supply lines. By 1944, the German Army had laid about 6 000 000 mines and installed around 517 000 foreshore obstacles which were designed to wreck ships and landing craft.
German had become increasingly concerned that all their preparations could prove fruitless if the invasion were made through Normandy. This possibility suddenly began to appear to be more realistic to the German commanders because the great port of Cherbourg might constitute the Allied objective. However, Rommel still felt that the rocky coastline here would hamper the landings. The German forces, however, went ahead and began to install defences. Rommel experienced one of his primary difficulties because he was not in command of the region which he was supposed to be defending. He was subordinate to Field Marshall von Rundstedt who was a respected general and cunning strategist though he had given up hope of defeating an Allied invasion. Erwin Rommel knew that his only hope of success was to defeat the invaders on the beaches on D-Day itself.
The Allies through offensive action achieved 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. Germany was defeated.
Operation Overlord or the Normandy Campaign ended in August 1944. It is estimated that the total number of casualties that occurred during Operation Overlord, from 6th June to 30th August was over 425,000 Allied and German troops. In the next article will look at the principles of war applied in this operation.
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