D-Day 70 Years Later: a Moment for Reflection
Today marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of northern France at the beaches of Normandy. It is one of the most well-known, and celebrated victories had by the western Allies. For military historians and buffs, it remains the largest seaborne invasion ever conducted and it provided the Allies with the jumping off point to fight into Germany. It has been immortalized in movies and shows such as Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, and Band of Brothers while hundreds of books have been written devoted to it. On the 70th anniversary, it’s important that we look back on it and understand its true significance.
The invasion of Normandy saw over 150,000 men, 11,000 planes, and several thousand ships take part in one of the most complicated invasions ever attempted. Its goal was to open a second front on Hitler's Reich in part to offer relief to the Soviets who were fighting on the Eastern Front. The Soviets at this point were on the offensive but regardless, the Eastern Front was essentially a meat grinder and Stalin sought for the western allies to open a western front to draw off German forces and to further weaken the Reich. The western allies had for several years been fighting Axis forces. Initially in North Africa where British and Commonwealth forces were already engaged, then with Operation Torch and the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. After driving the Axis out of North Africa, the allies invaded Sicily and then mainland Italy. The Italian campaign though would essentially turn out to be sort of a dead-end as the terrain, geography, and weather limited what could be accomplished. In so much, another route into continental Europe was needed.
Eventually, the Allies built up their strength in Great Britain in preparation for an invasion of Northern France. It would be on the beaches of Normandy that the western allies would gain the foothold needed to allow for the liberation of France, the Benelux countries, and to ultimately enter Germany itself. As we know, the invasion was a staggering success and was accomplished with less than 15,000 Allied casualties. In the days that followed casualties would increase as resistance stiffened but the invasion was an unarguable success. Unfortunately, I believe we tend to take that success for granted. What if it had failed?
There were numerous instances where Overlord could have failed given its complexity and overall scale. If it had failed, the Western Allies would have faced quite a predicament. The beaches at Normandy were the least defended in Northern France, a fact which cancelled out several other possible invasion spots. Another invasion of Northern France would've been ruled out with Southern France the most likely future option (Southern France was successfully invaded with a smaller force in Operation Dragoon two months later). Despite that, it would take what some have estimated at a year for the Allies to prepare for a second invasion. In that year, we can only speculate on what might have happened.
A failure at Normandy would have allowed the Germans to commit more forces to the Eastern and Southern fronts where allied advances would've slowed. Would the Soviets still have been able to advance into Germany, perhaps and that is the route I will take here. Consider the morale issues created by a defeat at Normandy. General Eisenhower would have been finished, and Churchill and Roosevelt would have lost the confidence of their populations while the Free French movement might have fallen. What would have occurred then at Allied war conferences? The western allies would lack a bargaining chip to be used against Stalin in planning for the post-war vision of Europe. If Overlord had failed and the Soviets ultimately defeated the Germans, many believe post-war Europe would be dominated by the Soviet Union as there would be nothing to stop the Soviets from advancing past the Rhine. Imagination and an understanding of history is all that is required to envision what the Cold War would have been then.
Alternate history is all about what ifs but we should always examine them. Operation Overlord could have failed for a number of reasons, many of which could've easily happened. Overlord had to succeed; western allied strategy was based on it succeeding and without it, that strategy would have been worthless. When we look back and reflect on D-Day and at what transpired on those cold, wind-swept French beaches, do so with the understanding of the absolute importance of that day. May the sacrifices made by those who were there never be forgotten or disregarded.Posted by SPBrooker at June 6, 2014 12:45 AM