Thursday, June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Europe by the Allied forces in World War II. That monumental battle, code-named “Operation Overlord,” was the definitive turning point which led to the total defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich less than one year later.
The invasion was the result of many months of meticulous planning combined with fortuitous events both in the battlefield arena and the political atmospheres of both the Allied and Axis powers. The victory at the beaches of Normandy was also the result of incredible valor by the warriors who fought against the heinous enemy, thousands of whom gave their lives and are today memorialized on those very beaches.
However, with all of these factors put together, on the very eve of launching this enormous attack, it looked like “Overlord” might not be carried out at all. It required a last-minute and very small window of a mini-weather-miracle for “D-Day” to go forward.
The Planning, Peril, and Politics of “Overlord”
Planning for the D-Day invasion formerly began in June of 1943, after the May 1943 “Trident Conference.” Prior to then, there was much disagreement between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt about launching an invasion at all.
Churchill at first did not favor a massive invasion force taking the fight directly to Hitler’s forces. He instead wanted to conduct a campaign of smaller attacks against the Nazis from the sea.
The Trident Conference in May 1943 featured another confrontation over the invasion of Europe. This time, Roosevelt got his way (for the most part): Churchill committed Britain to an invasion of France by May 1944. There was little to the agreement other than a very loose timetable and the questions of who, where, how and when were left very open.
However, the cooperation between the allies, especially when dealing with Russia as the other large country against the Axis powers, was initially rocky at best. The one, unshakeable factor that united them all was summed up by Roosevelt’s announcement at the Casablanca Conference in January of 1943.
FDR made a surprise declaration at the conference that this war would only end with the “unconditional surrender,” of Germany. Both Churchill and Stalin agreed with that goal.
The third nation of the Axis, Italy, had already begun to crumble and later in 1943, they would surrender. This made both the opportunity and urgency for an invasion paramount.
A successful landing and foothold in France would force Hitler into a two-front war. An eventual allied victory was assured from that point on.
The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was responsible for the military planning and execution of “Operation Overlord.” The success of the plan was basically dependant on two things.
It had to be a surprise attack, and it had to be an attack with overwhelming force. How the D-Day invasion was planned and conducted is summarized well in the following video from Prager University.
The Legacy of D-Day
The legacy of D-Day is multi-faceted to be sure, however, perhaps the most important facet is discovered by something President Roosevelt had in mind when he determined that Germany must submit to “unconditional surrender.”
Roosevelt pushed for unconditional surrender to avoid the political mixup that followed the First World War. In 1918 Germany sued for peace on the basis of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, but the Versailles Treaty proved much harsher. This fostered the “stab in the back” myth in Germany that helped bring Hitler to power. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed that this time the Germans should have no illusions and no excuses.
World War II was the first truly worldwide war. Every continent was touched even if not directly attacked during the conflict, which was not the case during the First World War.
It was also a ‘last of its kind’ war, in several ways. One; WWII was the last war in which America participated that could claim a complete and decisive victory.
Two; WWII was the last declared war America has fought. Three; It was the last war before the creation of the United Nations.
By the way, I don’t believe those three are unconnected, especially considering the current nature of the U.N. Finally, WWII was the first, last, and only war requiring the use of nuclear weapons to secure its end.
World War II began only 21 years after the end of the First World War! It has now been almost 75 years and counting since the end of the Second World War.
While that is a good piece of news, it should not deceive us. Terrible, though smaller, conflicts all over the globe are still happening.
Moreover, for the past two decades, we have been both fighting against and witness to horrific jihadist terror campaigns worldwide. No, WWII did not teach us to never fight in a war again.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of D-Day is what I call the “Overlord” factor. The invasion was the first action to back up the statement that only unconditional surrender was acceptable and only a complete allied victory would rightly end the war.
Any other result cheapened the sacrifice of blood spent on the battlefield. War is too serious and destructive to be conducted hoping the enemy will negotiate.
Which is why war must only be considered after all other alternatives are exhausted, including negotiation. The single acceptable negotiation in a real war is the surrender of the enemy.
D-Day put feet to the axiom of General Douglas MacArthur that in war,
There is no substitute for victory.
Many of us might never see the likes of another worldwide conflict in our lifetimes. However, I feel confident that another “world war” is coming and it will truly be the ‘war to end all wars,’ for it will mark the return of Christ and the ultimate final victory over the enemy of our souls.
The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Revelation 11:18 [ESV]
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
The World in the 20th Century, vol. 1, The Rage of Nations, by Edward R. Kantowicz, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, Simon and Schuster, N.Y., 1960
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Dennis Larsen’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Pere Ubu’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Martin Kramer’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text
Originally published in TIL Journal