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Opinion

June 7, 2014

Column: D-Day lessons for today

From ancient times, amphibious military invasions are rightly regarded as particularly difficult. This is the seventieth anniversary of the greatest such operation, the Allies’ invasion of France in World War II, on June 6, 1944 — D-Day.

The Normandy invasion combined thorough planning, mobilizing vast matériel, and great imagination. When the operation already underway was publicly announced, a U.S. newspaper highlighted a front-page drawing of invading soldiers cascading into Europe, as a terrified Hitler fled. A year of extremely brutal, almost continuous combat, lay ahead, but the end of Nazi Germany was in sight once the beaches were secured.

The rule of Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was crucial. Ike demonstrated great executive ability in supervising an unprecedented logistical challenge, and his remarkable interpersonal skills welded and held together the most diverse military alliance in history. Related to this, he was able to establish overall unity of command. This was never achieved even among the American military in the Pacific, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur pursued one strategic vision, while Navy admirals implemented a different approach.

Extensive bombing of transport routes and supply depots in France was viewed by Eisenhower as crucial preparation for the land invasion. Such air action would bring an estimated minimum of 60,000 civilian casualties, and perhaps far more. For that reason, many American and British air commanders resisted this widespread destruction, arguing for a much more limited effort.

Eisenhower was adamant about the absolute need for extensive bombing, arguing that less would put the invasion at severe risk. He was able to turn to the leader of the Free French, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, whose nation was the target. De Gaulle agreed completely, and gave unequivocal support. Uniquely among senior Allied commanders, Ike had managed to establish an effective working relationship with the demanding, difficult French leader.

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