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D Day Summative Essay

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D Day Summative Essay
D­Day: Turning point? No way.

Zack Kiiffner
Ms. Lohleit
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

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


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 . In order to secure raw materials in the islands of the southern Pacific
(many of which were owned by the Americans), they attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl
Harbour, dragging the US into the war. Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese admiral who was ordered to carry out the raid on Pearl Harbour, famously predicted: “
In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.”18
Yamamoto, who had great respect for the Americans, believed that their economic and industrial power would eventually defeat Japan. Sure enough, his prediction came true. After capturing the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Borneo, Singapore, the Dutch


East Indies, and Burma, the Japanese Navy suffered their first defeat at the Battle of the
Coral Sea. However, the fatal blow didn’t occur until a month later, at the Battle of Midway.
This battle is regarded as the turning point of the Pacific War19 . Due to American codebreakers deciphering the Japanese code, the Americans ambushed and destroyed an invasion fleet headed for Midway Island. In one day, the Japanese lost 4 carriers, 2 battleships, and several irreplaceable pilots, sailors, and mechanics. From that point on,
American ships and planes dominated the sea and the air over the Pacific, and the Japanese
Navy was forced to fight a defensive war all the way back to Tokyo20 .
Though often overshadowed by the chaos on the Eastern Front in 1943 and D­Day in
1944, the Italian Campaign played another important role in the defeat of the Axis. Up until that point, the Soviets had been the only ones fighting a ground war against the Germans in continental Europe. After the defeat of Erwin Rommel and his famous Afrika Korps in North
Africa, the Allies successfully invaded Sicily on July 1021 and mainland Italy on September 322 .
Shortly after the invasion of Sicily, Italy’s
, Benito Mussolini, was deposed and arrested, paving the way for the Italian surrender to the Allies, with the Armistice of Cassibile23 . The
Italian government officially switched sides to fight alongside the Allies, but several Italians opted to continue fighting with the Germans24 . It wasn’t until Germany itself surrendered that the Italian Campaign officially ended.
When the first paratroopers landed on the ground in Normandy on the morning of June
6th, Germany was considerably weaker than they were five years ago, but far from defeated.
The Wehrmacht remained a formidable fighting force, and the war was most definitely not


over. In fact, in 1944, it was at it’s largest in terms of manpower, with over 12 million troops at their disposal, split into 185 infantry divisions25 . Most importantly, they still had 22 panzer
(tank) divisions available, which were of utmost importance in order to throw an invasion back into the sea26 . This was proven by the disastrous attempted raid on Dieppe by the British and
Canadians in 1942. Of the approximate 5,000 invaders, 3,300 of them were killed, proving that the Germans were more than capable of repelling a sea invasion27 .
However, while Germany was not yet defeated, it was already retreating on all fronts.
The Italians had already surrendered and joined forces with the Allies by the end of 194328 , and a German puppet government in the north of Italy was the only thing keeping the Allies from marching all the way up to the Alps29 . In the east, the Soviets were sweeping through
Ukraine and Belarus, regaining the territory they lost in Operation Barbarossa. By the fall of
1944, they will have launched Operation Bagration, an offensive that finally cleared the
Germans out of their land30 . And in the Pacific, the Americans were continuing to push the
Japanese back towards their home islands with their “Island Hopping” campaign.31 As the war in the Far East continued to rage on, Admiral Yamamoto (who was killed in 1943 when his plane was shot down) was proven right. The Japanese were unable to match the American industrial and economic might, and were losing ships and planes faster than the rate at which they could replace them32 . They began employing desperate suicide tactics, such as banzai charges and kamikaze attacks on American ships. Within a few months, the Japanese Home
Islands would stand within range of American B­29 bombers33 . The air raid campaign that

25 http://ww2­­1943.htm
Axelrod, Alan.
The Real History of World War II: A New Look at the past
. New York: Sterling, 2008.

ensued devastated the country, culminating in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. The German and Japanese armies were still very strong in 1944, but by then, it was all too obvious that they were quickly losing the war.
Though the Germans were definitely on the defensive, the last thing the Allies would have wanted to do was give them an opening to turn the war around. Had Operation Overlord failed, they may very well have gotten that opening. It was a huge gamble on the part of the
Supreme Allied Commander and future President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and, had several external factors not worked out in his favour, the invasion could have easily been doomed. Despite several reports to the contrary from his generals, Hitler believed that the invasion would occur at the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy, and stationed the bulk of his forces in France in that area. As a result, the commander of the Atlantic Wall, Erwin
Rommel, never received the armor support that he had requested. Even as the invasion was occurring, the Führer stubbornly held onto his belief that the real invasion would be staged at the Pas de Calais, and wrote the Normandy landings off as a diversion34 . After the failed
Dieppe Raid in 1942, it had taken the Allies almost two years to attempt to set foot in France again. With 47 divisions at stake for D­Day, another failed invasion would easily set them back another two years35 . Those two years would have been invaluable to the Germans. Not only would they have been able to concentrate more of their forces on the Russians in the east, they also would have been given more time to develop, manufacture, and use a couple deadly weapons that had been just recently added to their arsenal. In the summer of 1944, the V2 rocket, the world’s first ever long range ballistic missile, became fully operational. It was capable of flying over 50 miles above the earth, making it impossible to shoot down with anti­aircraft fire. The successful invasion of Normandy prevented the Germans from

35 http://www.dday­

extensively using these weapons, as the Allies overran the launch sites in France and the
Netherlands36 , but the V2 still managed to claim over 2,000 lives in the short time that it was used 37 . Also new to service in 1944 was the Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first ever operational jet fighter. With a maximum speed of 540 miles per hour38 , it could easily outfly the
Allies’ best fighter plane, the Spitfire, which could only reach a top speed of 360 miles per hour39 . Fortunately for the Allies, only 200­250 of these jets made it to frontline service, due to shortages of pilots, fuel, and parts40 . However, if given another two years to produce more Me
262s, it is quite possible that the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) could have experienced a revival due to the superiority of their planes. The fact that Allied pilots enjoyed complete control of the skies in Western Europe was a huge factor in their rapid advance through
France and the Netherlands41 . Had the pilots been up against planes that could fly almost 200 miles an hour faster than theirs, they may not have had that air superiority.
Despite the possibility of these new weapons, there is absolutely no evidence that suggests that they alone could turn the tide of the war for the Axis. It is arguable that they were doomed the instant that the Germans invaded Russia, or when the Japanese raided
Pearl Harbour. In the Soviet Union and the United States were the largest army in the world42 and the largest economic and industrial power in the world43 . The Americans produced more ships in 1941 alone and more planes in 1944 alone than the Japanese did in the entire war44 .
The main reason the Japanese had attacked American interests was in order to secure the


raw materials needed in order to fuel their armies. However, when the Americans opted to fight on rather than surrender in the wake of the Japanese conquests of late 1941 and early
1942, Yamamoto’s prediction was proven right. The “sleeping giant”, as he had dubbed the
United States45 , was their economic and industrial capabilities. The Japanese were simply incapable of maintaining the necessary production in order to fight a protracted war, an incapability that eventually did them in.
One result of D­Day that has not been disputed is the effect it had on the map of postwar Europe. There are many hypotheses about how the rest of the war in Europe would have unfolded had the Allies failed in their attempts to invade Normandy. Most of them involve the Iron Curtain falling on the Rhine rather than the Elbe, or even over France46 . However, this is not necessarily true. While there was strategic value to the invasion, politics played a significant factor in it, as well. Ever since the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin had been pressuring Roosevelt and Churchill to open up a second front in order to draw German troops away from the Eastern Front and alleviate the pressure on the Red Army47 . One of the reasons they complied was because they saw it as a necessity to receive Stalin’s postwar cooperation48 , rather than a strategic necessity. Known for being extremely anti­communist49 ,
Churchill had even begun drafting a plan to attack the Soviet Union after the Germans surrendered, which would kick off a de facto World War III50 . Had this plan been carried out to



50 ml 48

success, the western Allies would have been in a much better position in the postwar world.
The Iron Curtain could have been pushed eastward, or lifted altogether before it even fell.
However, there was a reason that this plan was codenamed “Operation Unthinkable” and was never carried out: there was virtually no chance that it would succeed. By the time Germany was sufficiently weakened to the point that an invasion was possible, the Soviets were already way ahead on the road to Berlin.
According to The War Cabinet, Allied strength in Europe on
July 1, 1945 consisted of 64 American divisions, 35 British and Dominion divisions, 4 Polish divisions, and 10 German divisions. At most, the Allies would have mustered 103 divisions, including 23 armoured ones51 . The Soviets, on the other hand, had a 2:1 manpower advantage over the Allies, with 264 divisions (a total of 6.5 million troops) at their disposal on the German border alone, 36 of which were armoured. Overall, the Red Army was 11 million strong52
. Even if D­Day hypothetically never happened, and the 47 Allied divisions53 deployed in it were transferred to the Eastern Front, the Soviets would still have 114 more divisions than the Allies. Short of a miracle, there was just about nothing that would have saved
Operation Unthinkable from ending in disaster, had it been carried out.
While D­Day remains one of the most memorable and iconic battles of the Second
World War, to say it was the turning point of the war would be grossly inaccurate. It was merely the final nail in the proverbial coffin of a doomed Axis power. In truth, the Axis had set themselves up to lose the war the moment they invaded the Soviet Union and the moment they brought the United States into the war, some three years before a single Allied soldier

51 ml 52
Dunn, Walter S.
The Soviet Economy and the Red Army, 1930­1945
. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995.

stepped foot in France. The only outcome D­Day truly had any effect on was the boundaries of the postwar world.

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