Army Aviation

Operation: OVERLORD

Looking Back, June 2024
By Mark Albertson

80 Years Ago:
Operation: OVERLORD

“D-Day has come. Early this morning the Allies began the assault on the northwestern face of Hitler’s European fortress. The first official news came just after half-past nine, when Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force issued Communique Number One. This said: Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France. This is the BBC Home Service—and here is a special bulletin read by John Snagge.”[1]

* * * * *

The strategic significance of Overlord is greater than the standard popular narrative of the Longest Day; that of serving the vulgar Austrian corporal his eviction notice from France and the Low Countries so as to bring to a speedier conclusion Man’s greatest industrialized global conflict. For what transpired on June 6, 1944, as well as on December 4-5, 1941, followed two days later at Pearl Harbor, and August 6 and 9, 1945, are among those decisive military developments underscoring the changing nature of the global dynamics of power. For Man’s greatest industrialized war, Total War, did not commence on December 1, 1939; rather, by August 4, 1914.[2]

Map of the D-Day, June 6, 1944.

But Overlord, too, was a product of history: Spring 1862, General George McClellan was to land a huge Union Army on the Virginia Peninsula. According to the Assistant Secretary of War, John Tucker, “121,500 men, 14,592 animals, 1,150 wagons, 44 batteries, 74 ambulances, pontoon bridges, telegraph materials, and an enormous quantity of equipage, . . .

“In his account, McClellan’s quartermaster reflected Tucker’s report on the scale of the effort when he listed the craft utilized in the move to the peninsula: ’71 side-wheeler steamers, 57 propellers (craft equipped with propellers), 187 schooners, brigs and barks, 90 barges, making in all 405 vessels, of a tonnage of 86,278 tons.’”[3] Included, too, was a pair of balloons from Thaddeus Lowe’s Balloon Corps, providing McClellan with air superiority of a type. A monumental effort considering the time, perhaps, but, which only ended in failure. President Lincoln was seeking a knockout blow: Get to Richmond, the Confederate capital and end the war. Then, perhaps, be in a better position to enforce the Monroe Doctrine and evict the French from Mexico.[4]

The Peninsular Campaign was a failure, owing, in part, to a lack of intelligence as to an accurate strength of Confederate forces and the fact that General McClellan was a cautious plodder. This will enable the Confederates to concentrate the forces necessary under the command of Robert E. Lee and cause the evacuation of Union forces. The war would continue another three years.

April 25, 1915, a D-Day prior to Normandy will take place, on the Turkish peninsula, Gallipoli. This amphibious operation on the southern flank of the Triple Alliance was to accomplish a number of things: Circumvent the stalemate of the trenches on the Western Front and attempt a war of movement. Two, knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war and free up the Middle East. Three, persuade Greece, Rumania and Bulgaria to side with the Triple Entente. Four, open a needed artery into Czarist Russia and supply this ally on the Eastern Front and perhaps draw off German troops from the Western Front. Churchill even considered that some Turkish soldiers might agree to serve as mercenaries against their former German and Austro-Hungarian allies. Five, a naval control of the Sea of Marmara might well effect a combined effort by the Royal Navy and Russian Navy for an attack on the Danube.[5]

Ill-fated amphibious operation by the Allies against Turkey and Gallipoli, 1915.

The ill-fated British attempt to alter the course of the war failed. Like the Western Front, the campaign on the Turkish peninsula degenerated into a stalemate. Precious resources were squandered and men used up. And by early January 1916 the last of the invasion force was evacuated from Cape Helles, the most remarkable success achieved under the noses of the defending Turkish troops. The cost was some 256,000 Allied troops. The strategic cost can be seen with Czarist Russia. Failure to open up the artery of supply and gain control of the Black Sea will help to bring on the collapse of Czarist Russia as an Entente power and lead to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Bulgarians, seeing to the failure of the Allies in the Dardanelles and the decisive Austro-German victory over the Russians at Gorlice-Tarnow, May 1915, threw their lot with the Central Powers. Same will see to an Austro-German-Bulgarian campaign against little Serbia.

The political fallout shook the Asquith Government in Britain. Conservatives seeking equality in running the war resulted in Lord Balfour replacing Winston Churchill as head of the Admiralty. Lord Kitchener, now sporting a big political black eye, remained in the War Office, yet his control of munitions was transferred to a new ministry under the control of Lloyd George. And of course, British prestige was shaken with the withdrawal from Gallipoli.

Though OVERLORD occurred in 1944, political and military concerns of a significant magnitude were as real as they had been in 1862 and 1915 and play a role in the weighty decisions of the period in question. And the part played by D-Day in these weighty decisions of the period in question can be better appreciated by remarks made by FDR in January 1940. For the Good Neighbor Policy with Central and South America not only jumpstarted U.S. trade in this American sphere-of-influence, but at the expense of Axis Powers attempting to make inroads in America’s backyard. But what about Britain? Well in the words of President Roosevelt, January 1940, during a press conference concerning Britain’s plight, he speculated on the prospects of the United States: “As you know, the British need money in this war. They own lots of things all over the world . . . such as tramways and electric light companies. Well, in carrying on this war, the British may have to part with that control and we, perhaps, can step in or arrange—make financial arrangements for eventual local ownership. It is a terribly interesting thing and one of the most important things for our future trade is study it in that light.”[6]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was cognizant of the changing nature of the global dynamics of power. After centuries of global political, economic and military dominance, the downward trend of the Europeans was hastening to its inevitable conclusion. And December 1941 was the turning point of Man’s greatest industrialized war.

* * * * *

On June 22, 1941, Hitler hurled 3,300,000 troops against the Stalin’s Russia. On the first day, the Luftwaffe destroyed 1,400 Soviet aircraft, 600 the next. In 48 hours, the frontline strength of the world’s largest air force was eradicated. On the first day, Hitler’s spearheads annihilated three Soviet infantry divisions and cut five others to pieces. 100,000 Soviet troops were off the board. In a week, Heinz Guderian, in command of Panzergruppe II, was already one-third the way to Moscow, some 200 miles deep inside the Soviet hinterland. In two weeks, the Soviets have more dead than the United States will lose over the entire conflict. In a month, the Germans have captured an area twice the size of their own country.

But the Russians were not the French. And, Stalin was certainly not another Edouard Daladier or Paul Reynaud. And by geographic comparison, France in Europe has two time zones, compared to eleven in Stalin’s Russia. And, of course, Russia has an ally, ever faithful to Russia be it Czarist or Stalinist, General Winter. And he will rise to the challenge to defend the Motherland in the Great Patriotic War against Hitler.

Turning Point

December 1941 was the turning point. Beginning on the night of December 4-5, 1941, with lead German spearheads no less than 15 miles from the Kremlin, General Georgi Zhukov launched a devastating counterattack in temperatures forty degrees below zero. Two days later, Japanese naval air attacks crippled the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Now it was truly a global conflict. A protracted clash of arms which both Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan could not afford to wage. Pearl Harbor was a defeat, yes. But it was a tactical defeat. But strategically it proved a boon to what will follow by 1945. For America and Americans will come together in a giant community scene not witnessed again since 1945.[7] But what had commenced in 1898, the Spanish-American War, the transformation of Manifest Destiny from an agenda of continental expansion to that of a program for globalism, had been achieved by 1945. Indeed, by 1942, the two nations that will eventually win the Great War were beginning to take control of it. For instance, the Soviet Union.

In 1941, losses in the face of the initial German onslaught were staggering: 3,137,673 killed and missing; 1,336,147 wounded and sick for a total of 4,473,820 casualties.[8] Yet despite such losses, the Soviets were slowly taking control of the land war by attrition. Take 1942, Germany produced 5,997 tanks and assault guns.[9] By comparison, the Soviets will produce—without assistance from its Western Allies—24,668 tanks and assault guns (including 13,500 T-34s, the best Allied tank produced).[10] After all, Chelyabinsk and the Urals was the world’s greatest tank producing combine, not Detroit.

Yet it is America that is the Arsenal of Democracy. An economic dynamo that will out-produce all comers in almost every category, except tanks and artillery pieces, again these categories go to the Soviets. However overwhelming American superiority is seen with warship production. An astounding 71,062 vessels were produced, from landing craft to aircraft carriers. As well as over 295,000 combat aircraft. And to add to an already weighty advantage, the United States and the Soviet Union were swimming in that one resource that is a requirement to wage and win mass industrialized war, . . . OIL. Or as Lord Beaverbrook (Baron Max Aiken) observed, The Kingdom of Heaven runs on righteousness; the Kingdom of Earth runs on oil. . .

1942 saw the United States beginning to change the course of the Pacific War, at Coral Sea and Midway. Then on August 7, the First Marine Division hit the beaches on Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo in the Solomons, America’s first offensive land action of the war. That same month, on the Eastern Front, the epic battle of Stalingrad began. Both Stalingrad and Guadalcanal were battles of attrition that Germany and Japan could not afford to wage. By February 1943, the Germans had suffered a devastating defeat, losing enough war materiel to equip one-quarter of the German Army. While by the same time in the Solomons, both the United States and Japan each lost 24 men-of-war in those horrendous naval battles for Iron Bottom Sound. To which, of course, Japan lacked the industrial capacity to replace such losses compared to the United States, as well as trained crews.

1943, the Soviets will defeat the German Army in history’s greatest air-land battle, Kursk. More than 3,200,000 troops fitted out the orders of battle for both sides. This monumental Soviet victory charted the land campaign for the rest of the war. Meanwhile, the Western Allies had won in North Africa, taken Sicily and by September were on the Italian Boot. And, the Allied navies had decided which side would win the battle of the Atlantic, insuring the lifeline of supply to Britain.

The Tehran Conference, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met, November 28-December 2, 1943. Among the many issues discussed was that of the Allied invasion of northwest France. “The Big Three agreed on the Anglo-American plan to mount the second front between May (the preferred date) and early July, 1944.”[11] Two weeks afterwards, Stalin would launch an offensive on the Eastern Front.

June 6, 1944, 156,000 Allied troops dropped by parachute, crash landed by glider and hit the beaches on a front some 50 to 60 miles across along the Normandy coast. Thousands of ships and thousands of aircraft supported the landings in the greatest amphibious invasion in history. The Germans were now facing two Allied armies in Western Europe, in France and in Italy. And in concert with the bombing campaign against the Reich, Germany’s resources and ability to wage war was being ground down by the unremitting attrition by an economically superior coalition. Yet the bad news continued for Hitler and, certainly did not allow for any respite.

June 22, on the third anniversary of Operation: BARBAROSSA, Stalin launched Operation: BAGRATION, the largest Allied land offensive thus far in the war. Four Soviet armies struck on a front 450 miles across, later broadened to 650 miles.

Operation: BAGRATION, June 22, 1944, the largest Allied land offensive in thus far in World War II. Lead Soviet units will be on the Vistula River, on the approach to Warsaw. Stalin’s troops were only 350 miles from Berlin.

German Army Group Center had been a force of 52 divisions totaling 800,000 men, 553 tanks and assault guns, 9,500 artillery pieces and mortars and 839 combat aircraft. For their attack, the Soviets had an array of 118 infantry divisions, eight tank and mechanized corps, six cavalry divisions, 13 artillery divisions, upwards of 2,500,000 men, 4,070 tanks and assault guns, upwards of 28,000 artillery pieces and mortars and over 6,000 combat aircraft.[12]

On June 22, 1944, a thunderous barrage opened up the massive Soviet onslaught. And in eight weeks, some 28 German divisions were destroyed and upwards of half the manpower lost. German Army Group Center no longer existed. Not only was Belorussia liberated, but the Red Army was on the Vistula River, just outside Warsaw. Soviet tank armies were only 350 miles from Berlin. This was the prelude to overrunning Eastern Europe including Poland and then to taking Prague and Berlin.[13] And such was the object of the exercise.

In episode 25, The World at War, narrated by Sir Lawrence Olivier, showcased U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averell Harriman. Harriman referenced a conversation he had had with Stalin following the defeat of Nazi Germany:

“Marshal, this must be a great satisfaction to you, after all the trials you’ve been through, the tragedy you’ve been through, to be here in Berlin.” The generalissimo eyed Harriman with a face as bland as the floor and replied, “Czar Alexander got to Paris.” Referencing, of course, Czar Alexander following the defeat of Napoleon.[14]

Despite the fact that agreements that had been rendered delineated where the armies would eventually halt, owing to the Nature of Man, none of what was agreed to mattered since it all depended, in the end, on to how long the struggling German armies could hold out. So landing troops at Normandy followed by the subsequent drive across the Continent into Germany assured that Western Europe would remain in the Allied camp in the postwar period. For France had a sizable Communist Party. Italy had a sizable Communist Party. Spain, despite Franco, had a Communist Party. Picture, if you will for a moment, how the Cold War would have looked with T-34s sitting on the Pas de Calais. Those men who risked life and limb at Normandy not only ended Fascist tyranny in Western Europe, they won the first big battle of the Cold War.

For it is as Joe Stalin observed, when in conversation with Joseph Tito and Milovan Djilas, “. . . whoever occupies territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise.”[15]


[1] See page 9, “Introduction,” D-Day: ‘Neptune,’ ‘Overlord,’ and the Battle of Normandy, by John Falconer.

[2] There is no World War I or World War II, only the Great War, 1914-1922; 1931-1945. Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 and the Versailles Treaty, June 28, 1919, bought merely a respite from conflict in Western Europe. However in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, conflagration and war still raged.

Otto von Bismarck’s once vaunted Teutonic Corporate State was in its death throes in 1919, what with the Rightist Freikorps on the streets combatting the Communists, while at the same time fighting vengeful Czechs and Poles on Germany’s eastern frontiers. The Russian Revolution had degenerated into civil war, 1918-1921. Newly-minted Poland, a short-term experiment of the horse-trading carried on at Versailles, desired more territory and invaded Ukraine, slaughtering Jewish people in a spreading pogrom as its army moved east; a preview, to be sure, of Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen in 1941 The Poles will be thrown back at Kiev by Trotsky’s Red Army. The vanquished Ottoman Empire saw its former holdings carved up and parceled out between the exploitive British and French, producing such colonies as Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan (Jordan), Palestine, and Iraq. Syrians rose up in 1919 to eject the French, but were crushed by 1920. Sunnis, Shias and Kurds in newly-minted Iraq rose up to throw out the British in 1920. They, too, were utterly defeated by 1921. Anatolia had been divided up by the greedy Italians, Greeks, British and French in a 20 th century crusade that will inflame the Muslim Turks. And in the 1919-1922 Turkish War for Independence, Kemal Ataturk and his army will kick out the Greeks, Italians, British and French and eliminate such colonial satrapies as Kurdestan and Armenia. And for good measure, the Afghans saw to the eviction of the British in 1922. 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne will fashion much of what we see today as the modern Middle East.

But it is the Japanese who will jumpstart the second chapter of the Great War with their invasion of Manchuria, September 7, 1931. Hitler assumed the Chancellorship of Germany, so as to become the ultimate heir to the Kaiser, January 30, 1933. 1935, Italy’s Sawdust Caesar, Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia. That same year Hitler expanded the German Navy with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, June 15, 1935 and, announced the Luftwaffe and expansion of the army, in violation of the Versailles Treaty. March 7, 1936, Hitler occupied the Rhineland, in violation of the Versailles Treaty. And in 1936, the Spanish Civil War, a tune up for 1939. 1937, Japan invaded China, precipitating an eight-year war that would kill some 15,000,000 Chinese. 1938, Hitler was able to absorb Austria and the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia into his expanding Reich. Then in March 1939, he dismembered the rest of the Czech state. Then on September 1, 1939, Hitler—with Stalin’s connivance—invaded Poland. And the second chapter of Man’s grandest industrialized war unfolded, enabling Levee en Masse to blossom, as if on steroids.

It was a conflict which transformed the global dynamics of power. No longer were the White Christian colonial powers of Europe able to dominate the globe. Only two nations were able to wage industrialized war, on the size and scope upon which Total War could be waged, the United States and the Soviet Union. For it will be the Soviet Union which will win the land war by crushing the German Army. Leaving the United States to virtually do almost everything else. To which a new balance of power will be created. Many who lived the era of this new balance of power called it the Cold War.

[3] See page 24, “A Talent for Logistics: McClellan and Grant Sustaining the Army of the Potomac in 1862 and 1864,” Leavenworth Papers No. 25, by Curtis S. King, Ph.D.

[4] The situation with the French will not be addressed until following the defeat of the Confederacy. President Andrew Johnson will send 50,000 battle-hardened troops down to the Texas border, under the command of Phil Sheridan. But events in Europe will prevent war between France and the United States. In 1866, Otto von Bismarck’s war against Austria to unite the German states under Prussia’s tutelage proved successful. Napoleon III knew now he had a united Germany on his eastern frontier. He evacuated troops from Mexico so as to bolster his army at home. And the French satrap, Emperor Maximilian, will fall to Don Benito Juarez.

[5] See pages 134 and 135, Chapter 7, “Stalemate and the Search for Breakthroughs,” The First World War, by Martin Gilbert.

[6] See page 311, Chapter 14, “The War Before the War (I),” The Forging of the American Empire, by Sydney Lens, 1974.

[7] Per the VA, total number of American service members, 1941-1945, amounted to 16,112,566. 405,399 would be killed. See page 1, “America’s Wars,” Department of Veterans Fact Sheet.

[8] See page 164, Chapter 9, “Conclusion,” Stalin’s Keys to Victory, by Walter S. Dunn, Jr. And these figures do not include civilian dead.

[9] See page 212, “Appendix 4: Production Statistics 1939-44,” German Tanks of World War II, by F.M. von Senger und Etterlin.

[10] See page 180, “Soviet AFV Production,” Russian Tanks, 1900-1970, by John Milsom.

[11] See page 31, Chapter 3, “The Road to Tehran,” Such a Peace, by C.L. Sulzberger.

[12] See pages 22-33, “The Opposing Armies,” Bagration 1944, by Steven Zaloga.

[13] It cost the Red Army 100,000 dead and 200,000 wounded to subdue the seat of Nazi gangsterdom. A major inducement for Churchill and Roosevelt so as not to risk the lives of Anglo-American troops.

[14] See episode 25, The World at War, narrated by Sir Lawrence Olivier.

[15] See page 114, II, “Doubts,” Conversations With Stalin, by Milovan Djilas.


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