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    Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have 
    failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and 
    I have withdrawn the troops. 
    My decision to attack at this time and place 
    was based on the best information available. 
    The troops, the air, and the Navy did 
    all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. 
    If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt 
    it is mine alone.
    Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
    [message in the event the landing failed]

Cross Channel Attack

OVERLORD, the cross-Channel attack which hit the German occupied coast of Normandy on 6 June 1944, was one of the last and by far the biggest of the series of amphibious operations by which the United States and the British Empire came to grips with the German-Italian-Japanese Axis in the course of World War II. But it was more than just another attack. It was the supreme effort of the Western Allies in Europe - the consummation of the grand design to defeat Germany by striking directly at the heart of Hitler's Reich.

Ever since they were expelled from the European continent in June 1940, the British had contemplated a cross-Channel invasion to attack the Germans in northwest Europe. British military weakness in the face of overwhelming German military might made that idea unrealistic in the early war years and Britain turned her attentions elsewhere.

A decision was urgently required as to where US and British forces should first be concentrated. The agreement known as ABC-1 was taken at the conference held in Washington between January and March 1941 when the US War and Navy Departments agreed with the British to defeat Germany first while remaining on the strategic defensive in the Pacific. For Great Britain geography made the choice obligatory. American concurrence was dictated by reasons less obvious but scarcely less compelling. Germany was considered the dominant Axis member whose defeat would greatly weaken the war-making power of Japan. Only against Germany could the offensive power of both the United States and Great Britain be concentrated without uncovering the British Isles. The decision to take the offensive first against Germany was reaffirmed at the ARCADIA Conference in Washington on 31 December 1941 after the United States entered the war. It was reaffirmed without question despite the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

America's entry into the war brought American pressure for a cross-Channel invasion at the earliest possible date. In contrast to Britain's cautious approach and resulting indirect strategy, the Americans, led by US Army Chief of Staff Gen George C. Marshall, wanted to attack the Germans in a direct all-out assault on the coast of northwest Europe, followed by a decisive offensive aimed at Germany itself. The first look at the cross-Channel project discovered only a host of difficulties that seemed all but insuperable. So long as attention was focused on an attack in 1942 all plans were pervaded with the sense that to do anything at all would be to act in desperation, to accept abnormal military risks for the sake of avoiding ultimate disaster.

At the time of Churchill's first meeting with Roosevelt in August 1941, the British contended that Nazi Germany would be defeated without a landing on the Continent, and that continued blockading, heavy bombing, and skilled propaganda would destroy the Germans' will to fight. Marshall, the US Army chief of staff during the war and Roosevelt's closest military adviser, strongly disagreed with this position. The Victory Program defined strategic war aims, and how and where Americans would fight. John McLaughlin wrote "The Victory Program was completed in late September 1941... The critical provision relating to a cross channel invasion in the summer of 1943 was to have a difficult future, especially when it was introduced to the British.... The plan was presented to the President on March 25, 1942... [and] won the President’s backing for the cross channel attack (ROUNDUP) in the spring of 1943...."

Churchill was haunted by his failure at Gallipoli some three decades earlier, as well as memories of the dreadful losses at the Somme in the Great War and the more recent catastrophes at Dunkirk and Dieppe.

Churchill sent a wire to Washington on 8 June 1942: "No responsible British general, admiral, or air marshal is prepared to recommend Sledgehammer (the code name for the second front in France) as a practical operation in 1942". He sent another wire on 13 August 1942: "We will pay our way by bombing Germany". In other words, he would do anything but launch a secondfront in France. Churchill essentially wanted the Soviet Union to exhaust its forces in a one-to-one land battle with the Germans.

American military weaknesses and the dominance of British military influence in 1942 forced the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to put off the notion of a cross-Channel attack in 1942. Instead, the Americans reluctantly joined the British in a series of invasionsand land campaigns in the Mediterranean. The conclusion was that direct offensive action against Germany was unlikely at least until 1943.

Production of Landing Ship, Tank (LST) other landing ships and craft in the United States reached large volume only in the winter of 1942-43 and then rapidly falling off. This first wave of production was aimed originally at the now discarded plan for a cross-Channel invasion in spring of 1943 (ROUNDUP). The high rate of landing craft construction achieved late in 1942 had been obtained only by cutting across every single combatant shipbuilding program and giving the amphibious program overriding priority in every navy yard and every major shipbuilding company.

The decision at Casablanca in January 1943 to attack Sicily had ensured that the Mediterranean would continue to be the main theater in Europe during 1943 and that no cross-Channel invasion could be attempted until 1944 at the earliest. Since then British persuasion and the ineluctable logic of momentum had drawn the Allies deeper into the Mediterranean-into Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica-and a long, uphill struggle still loomed ahead in Italy. Most alarming to the Americans was the persistent effort of the British to broaden the Mediterranean front eastward-by pressure on Turkey to enter the war, by proposals to seize ports on the Dalmatian coast and to step up aid to the Balkan guerrillas Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin reacted furiously to news after the Casablanca Conference that there would be no second front in 1943. At Tehran he welcomed the new emphasis on an attack and pushed vigorously for the appointment of a supreme commander to head the operation. From then on, the Americans were able to argue that any postponement of the invasion would constitute a breach of faith with the Russians. Wrangling continued over the Italian campaign and a possible invasion of southern France, code-named ANVIL, the flow of men and supplies to the Mediterranean theater slowed and the final buildup for the cross-Channel attack began in earnest.

By the middle of 1943, with the first Russian victories in the east, victory in North Africa in hand, and the fall of Italy near, the Americans renewed their call for a cross-Channel attack. Churchill, resorting to all sorts of reservations, continued to occupy the same position in regard to the landing in France. Roosevelt agreed with Churchill in a letter to Stalin on 20 June 1943, but he had already sent J.E. Davies, former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, to Moscow to assure the Soviet Government that differences could be resolved. Roosevelt and Stalin planned to meet to discuss the second front. At first, Churchill tried to prevent. Later, on 23 October 1943, he wrote to Roosevelt: "Nor do I think we ought to meet Stalin, if ever the meeting can be arranged, without being agreed about Anglo-American operations as such.

When the meeting with Stalin was set for December 1943 in Teheran, Churchill insisted on a prior conference with Roosevelt at Cairo so that the Anglo-American partners could coordinate policy and present aunited front. But Roosevelt did not want such an arrangement. Instead, he invited Soviet representatives to Cairo, hoping in this way to disassociate himself from Churchill and the British sufficiently to gain a freer hand with Stalin. Churchill's references to the purely military reasons that allegedly necessitated the postponement of the Normandy landing were not seconded by Washington. Marshall's and Roosevelt's conclusions about the second front eventually led to a number of "decisions that were unpopular with Churchill. The fact that Churchill's postponement of the launching of the second frontin France was an attempt to control Roosevelt as well as Stalin was always known.

Under Churchill's influence, the British for a time continued to argue in favor of possible operations in the Balkans. The Americans, however, suspected that their ally was more interested in securing a postwar empire than in defeating Germany as soon as possible. Refusing further delays, they won agreement for a 1 May 1944 attack during the May 1943 Trident Conference in Washington. One month later, the Quadrant Conference in Quebec reaffirmed the decision.

A crash effort in the United States to construct shallow-draft landing vessels and long-range fighter aircraft had assured that at least minimum resources would be available to move a major force onto the beaches of France and to protect it from air attack. Meanwhile, the success of the anti-U-boat campaign in the Atlantic had guaranteed that the vast supplies of ammunition and provisions necessary for the invasion could move safely from the United States to staging areas in Great Britain.

On 12 February 1944, General Eisenhower received the famous directive to "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."

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Page last modified: 22-10-2014 19:34:11 ZULU