January 19th, 2015
The invasion of Normandy, also known as DDay or Operation Overlord, was one of the most memorable and important battles of World War II. A force of 156,000 Allied soldiers, drawn from a dozen countries around the world 1 , stormed the beaches of Normandy, on the northwest coast of Nazioccupied France, on the morning of June 6, 1944. It was the the largest land, sea, and air invasion in the history of the world, with over 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes included in the landing2 . The invasion succeeded due to several factors, including a vast numerical superiority in the Allies’ favour3 , Allied air supremacy 4 , and a lucky break in the weather5 . With much of the German Army deployed on the Eastern Front to fight the Soviet Union, the Allies’ victory on the beaches of Normandy opened a third front, ensuring Germany's eventual defeat. In addition to the strategic and tactical victory, it soon became one of the most iconic battles of the war, and enhanced the reputation of several Allied nations, The Canadian Army, who had already gained prestige as a nation during the First World War with their victory against the Germans at Vimy Ridge in 19176 , furthered their reputation as a formidable fighting force with their actions on Juno Beach. The skilled and fearless Polish pilots, flying in Britishmade Spitfires and Hurricanes, played a huge role in the success of the invasion7 . And the American 501st Airborne Division, the elite paratroopers that were later immortalized in the HBO television series Band of Brothers
, first made their
mark by parachuting behind enemy lines several hours before the beginning of the land invasion8 . However, despite the fame the battle has achieved, it has long been debated whether or not it truly was a turning point in the war. Had DDay failed, would the Allies have
http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/dday/ddayandthebattleofnormandyyourquestionsanswered http://www.dday.org/history/ddaytheinvasion/overview 3
Ford, Ken; Zaloga, Steven J. (2009).
Overlord: The DDay Landings
. Oxford; New York: Osprey
still won the war? Many factors must be taken into consideration in order to properly answer this question, such as the context of the war and the state of the Axis forces in 1944. With those factors considered, yes, the Allies would have still won the Second World War even if the invaders had been repelled into the English Channel on that stormy morning in June. Operation Overlord was not the difference maker between victory and defeat for the Allies, though it’s success did have a considerable effect on the map of postwar Europe. In order to understand DDay, one must understand the context of the war leading up to the invasion. By 1944, the tide of the war had clearly turned against the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan, and Italy)9 . From 1939 to 1941, the Nazis overran most of continental Europe, and the Imperial Japanese Army ran wild in the Pacific. However, both Axis superpowers soon committed a fatal error. In June of 1941, the Germans staged Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. After initially making huge territorial gains over the opening months of the invasion, the Germans were stopped at the gates of Moscow in October. They laid siege to the Russian capital for three months, but were beaten back by a strong Soviet counterattack, suffering heavy losses from the fighting and the infamous Russian winter. Once the Germans realized that their attempt to capture Russia failed, they diverted their attention to the Caucasus, where the oil fields would provide a sorely needed fuel boost to their army10 . This was where Hitler committed his fatal blunder; rather than send the full strength of his Army Group South towards the Caucasus, he split it into two11 . He then ordered one half to take the Caucasus, and then ordered the other to advance on Stalingrad, a symbolic rather than strategic maneuver to destroy Soviet morale, as the city was named after their leader, Joseph Stalin12 . It proved to be disastrous. Due to another harsh
http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005177 http://www.amazon.com/TheCaucasusOilGermanSoviet1942/dp/0921991231 11
counterattack and, once again, the harsh Russian Winter, the Germans lost over 800,000 of their best soldiers13 , as Field Marshal Friedrich Von Paulus was forced to surrender after Army Group South was surrounded by the Soviets. Five months later, the Germans lost another 200,000 men at Kursk. From that point on, the war in the east was one long retreat back to Berlin. Stalingrad is regarded by several historians as the turning point of the war in Europe, rather than DDay14 .
Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the Japanese Empire was continuing to grow. At it’s largest, it covered 7,400,000 square kilometers15 . However, due to the economic sanctions placed on it by the American government in response to the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria and their declaration of war on China16 , as well as the lack of natural resources in their home islands, they quickly began to run low on fuel (much like the Germans). By 1941, the Japanese were unable to buy anything from the Americans, who had formerly been their biggest provider of oil17