The planning of Operation Overlord and its implementation on June 6, 1944 involved many different components. One of those vital parts was the presence of able leadership. These men were tasked with such decisions as how many men would land on each beach and which ships they would use to cross the English Channel. Landing soldiers on the beaches of Normandy was not the end of their planning however. Allied leadership had to devote considerable attention to issues such as supply logistics to ensure a sufficient amount of food and medicine and establish secure lines of communication. Everything had to be prepared prior to landing in Normandy, even before the ships left Britain to cross the English Channel. Having the right leadership in place was essential to the success of Operation Overlord.
After the Allies decided on Normandy as the invasion point at the end of 1943 and set a date for May 1944, they appointed Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe. The determined general faced an enormous task and only had a few months to plan the operation on which many laid their hopes for decisively ending World War II. Working with the various personalities in Allied leadership made his task more difficult. Eisenhower and President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not always agree, and Eisenhower even struggled at times in his relationship with Winston Churchill. As D-Day approached, Eisenhower finally convinced the British prime minister that he could not accompany the invading force across the English Channel into Normandy on June 6.
Eisenhower dealt with other difficult personalities besides Roosevelt and Churchill. Because planning such a huge operation could not be done by one person, various other military figures received appointments as naval, air, and ground commanders. Trafford Leigh-Mallory was appointed to command the Air Forces of Allied Expeditionary Forces. While planning the invasion, he advocated the Transportation Plan; the Allied aircraft would focus on destroying the railway system throughout occupied France to ruin German supply and communication lines. Although Eisenhower approved this plan, Leigh-Mallory clashed with other Allied leaders about his strategy and tactics.
Both Arthur William Tedder and Carl Spaatz disagreed with Leigh-Mallory. Tedder had served as Air Commander in North Africa and was named Deputy Supreme Commander of the Normandy invasion in early 1944. His efforts to have the dominant air power in France conflicted with Leigh-Mallory due to an overlap in duties. Spaatz commanded the U.S. Strategic Air Force in Europe, and advocated a different air strategy for France than Leigh-Mallory. Contrary to the Transportation Plan, Spaatz wanted to target German oil production and industry to cripple them. Eisenhower’s approval of the Transportation Plan over the Oil Plan likely did not elevate Leigh-Mallory in Spaatz’s opinion.
Leaders were needed for ground and naval forces as well. Bertram Ramsay was appointed Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force. He oversaw Operation Neptune, the amphibious landing of Operation Overlord. His position as Deputy Naval Commander in North Africa and Operation Husky in Sicily provided him with the experience to plan an amphibious assault on the Normandy beaches. Bernard Montgomery was placed in charge of the Allied ground forces for D-Day. Eisenhower’s preference was General Harold Alexander for that position, but he diplomatically gave the appointment to Montgomery and even approved his plan for expanding the invasion force and landing area. Montgomery commanded the British and Canadian 21st Army Group as well.
Other prominent military leaders involved in the planning of Operation Overlord were Omar Nelson Bradley, Miles Dempsey, and even George Patton. Bradley was appointed to command the 1st U.S. Army in the invasion, and Montgomery selected Dempsey to command the mixed British and Canadian 2nd Army. Because the Germans considered Patton central to any plan to invade Europe, the Allies made him a prominent figure in the deceptive Operation Fortitude. Through Fortitude, they successfully fed the Germans false intelligence including Patton’s name to throw them off the true preparation of Operation Overlord.
Even with exceptional leadership, planning and practice for such a large invasion does not always go smoothly. Eisenhower and the Allied leaders postponed D-Day from the beginning of May to June 5. They later postponed the invasion one last time just a few days before implementation due to bad weather. Lack of landing craft and supplies ended the hope of launching an invasion of southern France, Operation Dragoon, at the same time as Operation Overlord. Dragoon was postponed until later in the summer. Even rehearsal of the invasion encountered problems. On April 28, 1944, Exercise Tiger took place off the British coast at Slapton Sands. German E-boats intercepted the large convoy and hit three ships with torpedoes. Nearly 1,000 men were killed in the sinking or damaging of the three LSTs. Amidst the tragic loss of life in the rehearsal, Allied leadership worried that Allied soldiers might have fallen into German hands during the attack, and they nearly changed important operation details. Secrecy was so vital that families did not even know how their loved ones died. One British mother did not learn how her son really died until forty years later while watching a documentary about Exercise Tiger and making a connection between the dates. Operation Overlord remained a secret despite the disaster.
Despite the daunting task facing the Allies, the military leadership managed to plan and prepare for the eventual success of the Normandy invasion. Eisenhower skillfully navigated the various personality types of military commanders and politicians, and he approved the necessary plans for the operation. Montgomery, Tedder, Spaatz, Leigh-Mallory, and others carried out their portions of the operation as expected by their leader. Leadership maintained the secret of Operation Overlord, and the Germans remained oblivious to the true invasion site.