General Eisenhower meets a group of paratroops before D-Day

General Eisenhower meets a group of paratroops before D-Day

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The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]

The day before D-Day, Dwight Eisenhower wrote this famous message

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower originally planned for D-Day to happen on June 5. The 'unpredictable' English weather intervened. But Eisenhower still wrote a famous letter that day.

For US Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower – for the thousands of American troops bound for the Normandy invasion – June 5, 1944, was a day of waiting for their lives to change forever.

The landings on the coast of France should already have been underway. June 5 was General Eisenhower’s original D-Day. But the weather from England over the Channel to target beaches was bad and deteriorating.

“The weather in this country is practically unpredictable. For some days our experts have been meeting almost hourly and I have been holding Commander-in-Chief meetings once or twice a day to consider the reports and tentative predictions,” reads a secret Eisenhower memo dated June 3.

At a crucial meeting on the evening of June 4, Eisenhower’s weather team told him they believed the weather would improve just enough so the invasion could proceed in the next few days. Eisenhower decided to push back D-Day by one day and go ahead with the invasion on June 6.

That’s how “June 6” became US historical shorthand, a date that needs little explanation, like “September 11.”

Inheritance, fairness, and the billionaire class

Crucially, the Allied domination of the air made it easier for the US to gather meteorological information. The Germans were not as well informed. Their experts predicted continued storms. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the German Army group defending along the coast where the Allies planned to land, went back to Germany for his wife’s birthday.

In England, Allied junior officers began opening their sealed orders. Troop convoys began leaving the southern English ports. In the morning, Eisenhower watched troops embarking at Portsmouth. In the evening he visited the 101st US Airborne Division near Newbury. They were already prepared to leave for France.

The photos from that visit are iconic. Many of the men have already blackened their faces and donned camouflaged helmets. Eisenhower in contrast is immaculate and seems intent upon communicating something of importance with the unit.

On June 5, Eisenhower also wrote one of the most famous undelivered notes of US history. It’s known today as the “In Case of Failure Message.”

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” it began.

“My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone,” wrote the Allied commander in chief.

Eisenhower was quartered at Southwick House, a Georgian mansion just north of Portsmouth. The large wall maps used to plan the D-Day invasion in the house are still in place. Today the ships and troops on the map reflect where units were located at the time the attack began.

In the Channel, Monitor correspondent Richard Strout was on the heavy cruiser USS Quincy. On June 5 the warship was making way toward France.

At 7 p.m., a message from task force headquarters is read over the Quincy’s public address system. It urges the men to “put the Navy ball over for a touchdown.”

The chaplain offers a prayer. All over the ship men bare their heads and bow.

A Day Earlier

Dwight Eisenhower meets with 1st Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment prior to their night jump into Normandy (Image) Preinvasion bombing of Pointe du Hoc (Image). Private Ware applies last second war paint to Private Plaudo in England, June 1944 (Image) Fully Equipped paratrooper armed with a Thompson submachine gun M1, climbing into a transport plane to go to France as the invasion of Normandy gets under way. (Image. Credit: Center of Military History. U.S. Army)

3 thoughts on &ldquo What did Ike say to launch the D-Day invasion? &rdquo

The bottom photo was not taken from a barge. It was taken from a position above the engine compartment of a Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), more commonly known as a “Higgins boat.” A barge is a relatively large, flat-bottomed craft, typically used to move freight, and usually pushed or pulled by another vessel. The Higgins boat was small, had a conventional boat-style hull, and had its own motive power. Not only was the Higgins boat far more nimble than a barge, its integral bow ramp permitted troops and vehicles to disembark quickly directly onto a beach, something that could not be done from a barge. The development of the LCVP and other specialized craft revolutionized amphibious warfare.

Eisenhower and D-Day: His Role in Operation Overlord

Born in Texas and reared in Kansas, Eisenhower graduated sixty-fifth in the West Point class of 1915. It was called ‘‘the class the stars fell on’’ including Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, sixty-one of the class’s 164 second lieutenants achieved general-officer rank during their careers, an astonishing 37.2 percent ratio.

Lieutenant Eisenhower was assigned to San Antonio, Texas, where he met Mamie Doud, whom he married in 1916. During World War I Eisenhower was largely engaged in training units of the U.S. Army’s nascent tank corps. However, his considerable administrative and political skills were soon noted, and he was promoted to major in 1920—a rank he held until 1936. ‘‘Ike’’ was first in his Command and Staff School class, and he was an early selectee for the Army War College. His supporters and contemporaries included leaders such as Douglas MacArthur, George C. Marshall, Leonard T. Gerow, and George S. Patton.

Interwar assignments included duty in the Panama Canal Zone and France before joining MacArthur’s staff in Washington and the Philippines, where the former tanker and infantryman learned to fly. MacArthur said of Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower, ‘‘This is the best officer in the army’’ and predicted great things for him. Such praise from the megalomaniacal army chief of staff was almost unprecedented.

In 1940–41 Eisenhower commanded a battalion of the Third Infantry Division and served as division and corps staff officer. He was promoted to full colonel in March 1941, and as chief of staff of the Third Army he enhanced his reputation during extensive maneuvers involving nearly half a million troops in Louisiana. By year end he was a brigadier general—exceptional progress, considering that he had been a major for sixteen years. In the War Plans Division, Eisenhower renewed his acquaintance with Marshall, then chief of staff, reporting to him on plans and operations. Within a few months Eisenhower pinned on his second star and was addressing joint operations with the navy and other Allied forces. The foundation was being laid for Eisenhower’s eventual appointment as supreme commander for the invasion of France.

Meanwhile, Eisenhower represented the United States during British planning for bringing American forces in the United Kingdom. In June 1942 Eisenhower was appointed to command U.S. Army forces in the European Theater of Operations, but almost immediately he moved to the Mediterranean to conduct offensives in North Africa and Sicily during 1942–43. There he gained greater knowledge of U.S. and Allied forces and personalities, including Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Adm. Bertram Ramsay, and Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery.

As a lieutenant general, Eisenhower commanded the Allied invasion of French Morocco in November 1942, pursuing the campaign to completion six months later. By then he was a four-star general, directing the conquest of Sicily in the summer of 1943 and landings on the Italian mainland that summer and fall. He was appointed Allied supreme commander for Neptune-Overlord on Christmas Eve of 1943 and, after extensive briefings in Washington, he replaced Britain’s Lt. Gen. Frederick Morgan at COSSAC, establishing SHAEF headquarters in London in January 1944. Many of the American and British commanders he had known in the Mediterranean assumed crucial roles in SHAEF, enhancing Anglo-American coordination.

Still, it was no easy task. Apart from Marshall (who had been promised the slot by President Roosevelt), Eisenhower may have been the only American who could have operated the sometimes testy coalition so well. (Assertions that the Allies might have fallen out except for Eisenhower’s acumen are gross exaggerations Britain was in no position to conduct the war alone.) Relations with Montgomery were particularly strained at times, but U.S. dominance in manpower and materiel required an American as theater commander. Though criticism was leveled at Eisenhower for his lack of combat experience and his highly political orientation, the results proved the wisdom of his selection. He was, after all, manager of perhaps the most political coalition of all time, involving as it did military and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

The original date for D-Day was 5 June 1944 (see the D-Day timeline), but unseasonably rough weather forced a reconsideration. Eisenhower accepted the optimistic assessment of Group Captain J. M. Stagg, the chief meteorologist, who called for about thirty-six hours of decent weather over the sixth. Though concerned that the first landing waves would be isolated ashore with insufficient strength to repulse German counterattacks, Eisenhower felt justified in proceeding with Overlord. The order was issued at 0415 on 5 June, and at that point the process became irrevocable. ‘‘No one present disagreed,’’ Eisenhower recalled, ‘‘and there was a definite brightening of faces as, without a further word, each went off to his respective post to flash out to his command the messages that would set the whole host in motion.’’

Eisenhower toured the Normandy beaches shortly after D-Day, observing the massive movement of U.S., British, and Canadian forces driving inland. He was accompanied by his son John, a newly minted second lieutenant who had graduated from West Point on 6 June.

As the AEF rolled across western Europe, Eisenhower had to balance Allied priorities rather than pursue American interests. Anglo-American fortunes under Eisenhower were almost uniformly successful, excepting the ill-fated airborne assault into Holland in September and the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes in December. At year’s end Eisenhower was promoted to General of the Army. He was Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1944 and again received the accolade as president in 1959.

Despite his demonstrated success, Eisenhower’s overall strategy has been criticized. He seemed to lack a grasp of Blitzkrieg warfare—as practiced by such aggressive commanders as Joseph L. Collins and George S. Patton—in favor of a more measured approach. In focusing on destruction of the Wehrmacht, he missed opportunities to isolate major portions of the German army from Hitler and thereby hasten the end of the war.

Immediately following Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Eisenhower was faced with Soviet intransigence in not releasing Allied POWs ‘‘liberated’’ from German prison camps. He made at least one effort to convince the Truman administration to press the matter with Premier Joseph Stalin, but upon being rebuffed, he acceded to his superiors’ wishes. Consequently, thousands of American and other POWs remained Soviet pawns and hostages. Similarly, Eisenhower was accused of knowing about maltreatment of German prisoners, but evidence indicates that the deaths of large numbers of them had been due to insufficient food and shelter rather than a policy of eradication.

Returning to the United States in June, Eisenhower was feted wherever he went. He became army chief of staff later that year, succeeding George Marshall, and oversaw demobilization of millions of soldiers. He retired in 1948, became president of Columbia University, and wrote a best-seller, Crusade in Europe.

Eisenhower’s retirement was short-lived. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, commanding NATO from 1950 to 1952. However, the politically astute supreme commander already had been mentioned asa potential presidential candidate. He declared himself a Republican and was elected thirty-fourth president of the United States in 1952. His immediate priority was concluding an armistice in Korea, which was accomplished in July 1953 with back-channel threats to use nuclear weapons. However, as commander in chief he was again faced with prospects of communist refusal to repatriate all POWs, and he may have left as many as eight thousand U.S. and United Nations personnel in captivity because the Chinese and Soviets would never admit to holding them.

Eisenhower was reelected in 1956. He left office in January 1961, succeeded by another World War II veteran, John F. Kennedy. Finally retired in fact as in name, he lived in Pennsylvania and wrote three more books, including the popular At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends (1967).

Eisenhower was portrayed by Henry Grace in The Longest Day. Grace, who was cast in the part because of his resemblance to Ike, appeared in no other films, though he was a set designer for more than twenty years.

This article on Eisenhower and D-Day is from the book D-Day Encyclopedia, © 2014 by Barrett Tillman. Please use this data for any reference citations. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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The Courageous General Who Led the Way to D-Day’s First Successful Assault

W hen Brigadier General Norman “Dutch” Cota landed on Omaha Beach at 7:25 a.m. on June 6, 1944, he saw death, destruction, and defeat. From the bluffs overlooking the shore, German machine guns and rifles raked the beach, and artillery and mortar shells added to the mayhem. Dead and wounded American soldiers lay sprawled on the sand and floating in the water. Discarded weapons, life vests, and personal effects were strewn about, and disabled tanks burned fiercely.

The dazed, dispirited, and exhausted soldiers who had made it across the beach huddled by the seawall beneath the bluffs, “inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action,” as a U.S. Army after-action report described, their weapons fouled by sand and water and their resolve shaken by the horrors they had seen. “The crusade in Europe at this point was disarmed and naked before its enemies,” Captain Charles Cawthon of the 29th Infantry Division recalled.

What Cota saw didn’t surprise him. He knew that landings rarely follow the script, and this was no ordinary landing. It was the largest, most complex invasion ever attempted and was, the planners conceded, “fraught with hazards, both in nature and magnitude.” As Cota scanned the beach, he saw that everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. He knew that it was up to him—and the men by the seawall—to somehow make the landing work.

Brigadier General Norman “Dutch” Cota called on experience, guile, and raw bravery to overcome the deadly obstacles facing assault troops at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. U.S. ARMY/NATIONAL ARCHIVES

THE ALLIES HAD BEEN PLANNING the invasion of France, dubbed Operation Overlord, for more than a year. They targeted spring of 1944 for the assault phase, Operation Neptune, choosing a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline as the landing site. British and Canadian troops would assault three beaches—Juno, Sword, and Gold—while American troops would hit two to their west, Utah and Omaha.

Four-mile-long Omaha Beach, also known as Beach 46, shaped up as the toughest nut to crack. Its terrain was ideal for defense. At low tide, invading troops would have to cross 300 yards of open beach to reach the cover of a four-foot-high seawall. Steep sandy bluffs, rising 100 to 170 feet, overlooked the shoreline and dominated the landscape. The Germans heavily fortified these bluffs, focusing maximum firepower on the beach. Gunners in eight casements— with concrete walls three or more feet thick and housing guns 75mm or bigger—85 machine-gun positions, 35 pillboxes, 38 rocket pits, and six mortar positions all trained their sights on the shore, while ditches, walls, barbed wire, and minefields blocked Allied troops and vehicles from climbing the bluffs. But Omaha Beach had to be taken to avoid leaving a vulnerable gap between Utah Beach directly to the west and the three British-Canadian beaches to the east.

In February 1943, Norman Cota, a 1917 West Point graduate, was given his first star and assigned to the Allied invasion-planning staff at Combined Operations Headquarters. As chief of staff of the 1st Infantry Division, he had helped plan and execute the successful North Africa landings in November 1942. He was all infantryman, as skilled at leading a squad as at planning an invasion.

As the planning for Neptune shifted into gear in June 1943, Cota warned his colleagues that the invasion plan must be “thoroughly honest and simple” and rely “on the experience of those who have tried this thing before.” Above all, he warned, it must include a sufficient margin of error—what he called “factors of safety”—for the unexpected mishaps that inevitably occur. The greatest danger, he believed, was overthinking the plan. A multitude of British and American army, navy, and air force officers had a finger in the invasion pie and, Cota said, “nothing can move so fast from the simple to the complex as a Combined Operation.”

Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower (seated, center) and other leaders of the Allied Expeditionary Force organized history’s largest invasion.© IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUMS, TR 1631

THE RESOURCES COMMITTED to the operation were staggering—132,000 soldiers and 23,000 paratroopers would land on D-Day alone, supported by nearly 12,000 planes and more than 6,000 ships. If the invasion failed, it would be many months, at least, before the Allies could gather the resources to try again. “We cannot afford to fail,” Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower emphasized.

The Allies had made successful landings in North Africa and Italy, but none had involved beaches as heavily defended as those in Normandy. The only attack on a well-fortified coast—the raid on the French port of Dieppe in August 1942—had failed, with more than half the attackers killed, wounded, or captured. No strong pre-invasion bombardment had preceded the Dieppe operation, and planners pegged that as the fatal flaw. In any future assault on France, warned British commodore John Hughes-Hallett, naval commander at Dieppe, “intensive preparations by means of air and sea bombardment are essential in order to soften the defences.”

The invasion architects had considerable firepower at their disposal, and they intended to use it. At Omaha Beach, the battleships USS Texas and USS Arkansas, three cruisers, and a dozen destroyers would blast the defenses, and 480 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were assigned to pound the German positions. The assault would also rely heavily on a new but unproven weapon: 64 duplex-drive (DD) amphibious Sherman tanks that would swim to shore to provide critical troop support.

The planners knew that firepower had limitations. U.S. Army Air Forces Brigadier General Robert C. Candee stressed that it would be “highly dangerous for me to promise in any way” that bombing could destroy the beach defenses. Likewise, U.S. Navy Commander Elliott B. Strauss warned that naval gunfire “cannot be depended upon to permanently reduce well emplaced and protected shore batteries.” The most that could be expected, the brass were told, was stunning the defenders with blast concussions, temporarily neutralizing them as the first waves of infantry stormed ashore.

These limitations steered the planners toward what Cota had warned of: a complex plan with little margin for error. On Omaha Beach, the first wave had to land before the dazed Germans regained their wits. To accomplish this, the 40-minute naval bombardment and the 25-minute bomber strike would end at 6:25 a.m., and the first assault troops would land at 6:31 a.m., only six minutes later. If the first wave of troops arrived too late, the defenders would be ready to meet them with withering fire, but an early arrival risked friendly casualties from bombs or naval shells that fell short. The air force estimated that as many as 8 percent of its bombs would drop in the water among the landing craft.

BY THE TIME THE PLANS were finalized, Cota was no longer part of the process. In October 1943, he was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division—with the 1st, one of the two divisions slated to hit Omaha Beach—as assistant division commander. Cota spent the rest of 1943 and early 1944 training the 29th, which had yet to see action. A rugged and stocky man, Cota was a ubiquitous presence on training exercises, encouraging and instructive. He was universally known as “Dutch,” a nickname he picked up playing high-school football in his native Massachusetts.

On April 9, 1944, two months before D-Day, an unexpected development complicated a plan that already had little room for error. Aerial reconnaissance showed the Germans constructing beach obstacles concentrated off Omaha Beach, something the invasion planners had previously believed the enemy lacked the resources to do.

By D-Day, these obstacles were many and varied. Farthest from the shore were about 200 Belgian gates, seven-by 10-foot iron barricades, many with mines attached. Next were about 2,000 wooden or concrete poles pointed seaward, again with mines or artillery shells often attached. The finishing touch was 1,050 hedgehogs—six-foot steel bars welded together at right angles—placed near the shoreline.

In a Wehrmacht propaganda photo, a German soldier surveys coastal beach defenses in northern France prior to D-Day. The Germans erected multiple barricades in anticipation of an amphibious Allied attack. BUNDESARCHIV, BILD 101I-299-1809-14/PHOTO: SCHECK

These obstacles posed a serious threat because they could damage any landing craft that hit them, and those armed with mines or artillery shells could blow boats apart. At the very least, the barriers could delay or prevent landing craft from reaching the shore, upsetting the split-second timing needed for the men to land before the enemy had recovered from the bombardment. Until these obstacles were removed, troops under fire would have to wade more than 50 yards through water knee-deep or higher to reach the shore. Then, soaked, exhausted, and still under fire, they would have to cross the beach to the seawall.

To meet this threat, the planners assigned 24 demolition teams to blow 16 50-yard-wide gaps through the obstacles, but the timing was tight—perhaps too tight. The demolition teams would land at 6:33 a.m., only two minutes after the first wave, and would have to finish their work in less than half an hour, before the bulk of the assault troops began landing at 7 a.m. and before the rising tide submerged the barricades.

Nevertheless, Eisenhower was confident. “If our gun support of the operation and the DD tanks during this period are both highly effective, we should be all right,” he wrote on June 3, 1944. “The combination of under-sea and beach obstacles is serious but we believe we have it whipped.”

Cota had his doubts. His experience had taught him not to count on any landing going according to plan, and he was skeptical of this plan’s split-second timing because he knew “confusion and chaos are inherent in the very nature of the operation.” He wasn’t alone in this thinking. Colonel Paul R. Goode of the 29th Infantry Division briefed his regiment by tossing aside the bulky invasion plan. “Forget this goddamned thing,” he told his men. “There ain’t anything in this plan that is going to go right.”

On June 5, 1944, aboard the attack transport USS Charles Carroll, Cota gave his staff, self-dubbed the “Bastard Brigade,” a no-holds-barred briefing on what to expect the next morning. Cota anticipated that the air and naval bombardments wouldn’t meet expectations, and he assumed the landing craft would arrive late. Gaining a beachhead would be no easy task, he believed, but leadership, courage, and quick thinking would carry the day. “We must improvise, carry on, not lose our heads,” he emphasized. He knew that soldiers, not plans, win battles.

BY THE TIME COTA and his aides landed on the Dog White section of Omaha Beach the next morning, his predictions had come terribly true. The invasion plan had gone hopelessly awry, and the landings had become, said Neptune’s ground commander, British General Bernard Law Montgomery, a “very sticky party.” What began as an organized assault had “deteriorated into a struggle for personal survival,” according to one 29th Infantry Division after-action report.

Strong winds, rough seas, and overcast skies played havoc with the landings. Because cloud cover prevented bombardiers from seeing their targets, they had to bomb by radar. Air commanders lacked confidence in this method for close support of ground troops, so they ordered bombardiers to hold their payloads for an extra five to 30 seconds to avoid hitting friendly landing craft, which would be as close as 400 yards from the shore. This caused the B-24 Liberators’ 1,286 tons of explosives to fall far beyond the Germans’ beach defenses. A later investigation confirmed that there was “no evidence of bomb strikes on or near the target areas or anywhere in the vicinity of the beach,” something angry soldiers already knew.

A medic of the 1st Infantry Divison tends to wounded soldiers taking shelter at the seawall fronting Omaha Beach. NATIONAL ARCHIVES

“The Air Corps might just as well have stayed home in bed for all the good that their bombing concentration did,” Lieutenant Colonel Herbert C. Hicks Jr. complained in his after-action report, and one infantryman wrote home that the airmen “might have done better if they had landed their planes on the beach and chased the enemy out with bayonets.” The air force later conceded that the pre-invasion bombardment had “afforded little support to the landing operations.”

The Texas had fired nearly 700 14-inch rounds and the Arkansas more than 700 12-inch shells, but the navy neither destroyed nor neutralized the defenses. The thick concrete casements survived all the navy threw at them, and most “did not show signs of direct hits nor of any shells exploding sufficiently close to be effective,” noted Colonel E. G. Paules of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the following month. Many fortifications were so cleverly hidden that they were invisible to aerial or seaward observation, and all were “exceedingly difficult to detect,” wrote Admiral John L. Hall Jr., the naval commander at Omaha Beach, in a report directly after the assault.

Choppy seas caused the untried DD tanks to fail. Only about half of the 64 DD tanks made it ashore the others sank or were knocked out by artillery fire. The German defenders, thought to be of low quality, had been augmented with veteran troops. The beach obstacles remained in place because they were “much more numerous than Intelligence reports had indicated,” Admiral Hall reported, and because nearly half the demolition men became casualties. The biggest impediment to demolition, however, was that soldiers—many severely wounded—clustered behind the barricades to shelter themselves from the deadly small-arms fire.

Strong currents had prevented the first waves from landing as planned. “All semblance of wave organization was lost,” Admiral Hall noted, and boats landed individually—often late—giving the Germans time to regain their wits after the naval bombardment and focus their fire on the men leaving each craft. The first waves were slaughtered, with “men being killed like flies from unseen gun positions,” reported Major Stanley Bach, a member of the “Bastard Brigade.”

COTA ALMOST DIDN’T make it ashore. His boat, LCVP 71, hit a mined wooden pole. “Kiss everything goodbye,” he thought as he braced for the explosion, but the mine fell harmlessly into the water. Cota and his staff landed 50 yards from shore in knee-deep water and quickly came under fire. After briefly taking cover behind a tank, Cota made it to the timber seawall, where he found disorganized groups of soldiers taking cover. The seawall protected them from small-arms fire, but not from mortars shrapnel the size of a shovel blade killed a man near Cota.

Huddled by the seawall, Private William Stump craved a cigarette, but his matches were soaked, so he asked the soldier next to him for a light. When that soldier turned towards him, Stump was startled to see he was a general. “Sorry, sir,” he stammered. “That’s OK, son, we’re all here for the same reason,” Cota said as he lent Stump his Zippo lighter.

Staying by the seawall was suicide, so Cota looked for a way to get the men on the move. Although admittedly “scared to death,” he walked along the beach, seemingly oblivious to enemy fire while encouraging the troops forward. The prone soldiers took notice. “I guess all of us figured that if he could go wandering around like that, we could too,” said Sergeant Francis Huesser.

In one of the few photographs of troops in battle on D-Day, a U.S. Army Ranger who landed at Omaha Beach takes aim at the enemy. U.S. ARMY/NATIONAL ARCHIVES

Cota knew he, too, had to lead. He crawled past the seawall, found a good position, and put a soldier with a Browning Automatic Rifle there to provide covering fire. He had another soldier use a Bangalore torpedo to blow a hole in the double-apron barbed wire blocking access to the bluffs. The first soldier through the gap was hit by machine-gun fire, writhing on the ground screaming for a medic and his mother until he died. This rattled the already-jarred troops Cota knew something dramatic was needed, so he charged through the gap and made it. Others followed. A mortar shell landed nearby, killing two men near Cota and throwing him up the bluff. At 51, Cota was perhaps the oldest man on Omaha Beach, but he popped up unharmed.

Using a communications trench for cover, Cota led a small group up the bluff. At the top, machine-gun fire from across a field stalled the advance. Cota had several men lay down covering fire, and he tried to find a sergeant or lieutenant to lead an attack. “None of the leaders seemed to be in evidence, and his exhortations were not too successful,” noted Cota’s aide, Lieutenant Jack Shea. So Cota himself led the charge, and the Germans fled. This was, historians Stephen Ambrose and Joseph Balkoski believe, the first successful infantry assault of the Allies’ Normandy campaign.

Cota’s party advanced to the nearby town of Vierville-sur-Mer. About 500 yards from town, a machine gun opened up. Cota sent a patrol to flank the gun, and the Germans ran away. By 10 a.m., a few other troops had come up the bluffs. “Where the hell have you been, boys?” was Cota’s cheerful greeting.

Wehrmacht soldiers surrender to the advancing Allies. Cota and the men who followed him up Omaha’s bluffs took the first of thousands of German prisoners on D-Day. THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

By noon, Cota was concerned that no vehicles had come up from the beach to Vierville, so he led a five-man patrol back to the shore to investigate. Germans fired on them from a nearby cavern in return, a “dozen rounds of carbine and pistol fire sufficed to bring five Germans down,” Lieutenant Shea said. The prisoners were, one observer noted, a “sorry looking bunch in comparison to our well-fed and equipped men.” Continuing toward the beach, the patrol encountered mines. Cota had one of the prisoners lead his men through the minefield, with the Americans careful to follow the German prisoner’s footsteps. Cota’s patrol passed the bodies of more than 30 29th Infantry Division men killed trying to advance up the bluff.

Cota saw the reason for the hold-up: a thick concrete antitank wall blocked the road. Engineers said they lacked explosives to demolish it, but Cota noticed a bulldozer tank nearby loaded with TNT. When no one volunteered to drive the bulldozer to the antitank wall, he challenged the men. “Hasn’t anyone got guts enough to drive it down?” he asked. A young soldier came forward, and Cota slapped him on the back with a hearty “That’s the stuff,” adding, “Goddamit, get moving.” Soon, the wall was gone. Cota regretted not getting the volunteer’s name so he could put him in for the decoration he deserved.

On the way back toward the front, Cota had his first chuckle of the day when he came across a sailor—whose landing craft had been shot out from under him—carrying an unfamiliar rifle in his hands. “How in hell do you work one of these?” he asked, complaining that this was just why he had joined the navy, to avoid “fighting as a goddamn foot-soldier.”

By late afternoon, the acute crisis had passed. Troops, vehicles, and supplies were streaming ashore and advancing up the bluffs. By the end of the day, 34,000 men had landed on Omaha Beach and the crusade in Europe was back on track. The price, however, was high: 2,400 dead, wounded, or missing.

Within days of the first assault, tens of thousands of Allied troops and weapons came ashore the hard-won beaches of Normandy. U.S. COAST GUARD/NATIONAL ARCHIVES

THE SOLDIERS who were at Omaha Beach knew what had made the high command’s plan work. “Navy can’t hit ’em—air cover can’t see ’em—so infantry had to dig ’em out,” Major Bach wrote in notes scribbled that afternoon. To Colonel Paules, “those bluffs were captured and those exits opened solely through the plain undaunted heroism of those infantry teams of the 1st and 29th divisions and their attached engineer units…. The two cemeteries at Omaha Beach speak eloquently of the type of men who were there that day.”

What tipped the scales, Captain John C. Raaen of the 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion wrote in a letter home, was the “magnificent leadership of a few officers like General C.,” who put their lives on the line “when the chips were down.” Cota had improvised, carried on, and kept his head. On June 29, 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his “superb leadership, personal bravery, and zealous devotion to duty” in rallying the troops and leading them up the bluffs. But to Cota, it was the men on the beach who deserved the credit. “Believe me,” he wrote to a friend in 1949, “they were the only reason that enabled an old crock like myself to shake fear loose and ‘Roll On.’” ✯

Eisenhower and the Road to D-Day

The marshaling and training of the Allied forces that were to strike Hitler’s Fortress Europe on D-Day were collectively a massive undertaking. Airborne exercises took place throughout the winter and spring of 1943–44, including night jumps, since the operation was to take place in darkness roughly five hours ahead of the scheduled amphibious landings in Normandy.

Exercise Eagle, conducted on May 11–12, was intended as a dress rehearsal for the bulk of the troop carrier groups and both airborne divisions. The results of Eagle and follow-on exercises that extended to the end of the month were encouraging, although a number of the troop carrier pilots had never flown combat missions or had limited experience.

Paratroopers of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division pose with a trophy of war, a Nazi flag captured during recent combat. The 101st experienced its baptism of fire in Normandy.

The lessons gleaned in the Mediterranean shaped the flight paths of the troop carrier serials to avoid German antiaircraft fire and minimize the possibility of potential friendly fire incidents. The preliminary flight plan was approved in mid April however, intelligence reports necessitated significant changes. The primary German field opposition to the American airborne assault was expected to come from the 709th Infantry Division, the 91st Airlanding Division, the 1057th Grenadier Division, and the 6th Parachute Regiment.

At the end of May, elements of the 91st Airlanding Division were detected perilously close to the drop zones of both the 101st and 82nd Divisions. The 82nd drop zones were pulled eastward, and Ste. Mere-Eglise, originally an objective assigned to the 101st, was switched to the 82nd.

The changes in drop zones required alterations to the flight plans. From various airfields around southern England, the first transports would rise into the night sky shortly after midnight on June 5. Flying a generally southern course, they were to proceed to a point over the open sea, execute a 90-degree left turn, and then fly 54 miles (87km) while passing between the Channel Islands of Alderney and Guernsey.

Along the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula at the Initial Point, code-named Peoria, the troop carriers with the 82nd aboard would proceed straight to their drop zones 11 miles (18km) inland just north of the village of La Haye. The C-47s carrying the 101st were to make a slight left turn at Peoria and reach the drop zones 25 miles (40km) away.

Along the way, the transport planes would be aided by navigational beacons and the Rebecca Eureka transponding radar system. Pathfinders would go in first and illuminate the drop zones. Once their drops were completed, the empty aircraft were instructed to turn and follow a reciprocal course back to their bases in England.


A first sergeant and a medical corpsman are among this group of paratroopers receiving last minute instructions on the ground prior to the airborne phase of Operation Overlord. Some of these troopers have camouflaged their helmets with vegetation.

Senior Allied commanders acknowledged that the entire invasion plan was incredibly risky. At worst, failure meant losing the war. At best, it meant months—possibly years—of recovery in order to try again. The airborne phase was particularly worrisome. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, senior commander at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), shouldered the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of Operation Overlord.

Eisenhower accepted his role and wrote a brief statement that, in the event of the unthinkable, was to be released to the media. It concluded with the frank statement, “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Amid the ongoing risk assessment, the airborne phase of Overlord came under increasing scrutiny. Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force for the invasion, was pessimistic about its chances for success. Casualties were expected to run high: Some estimates concluded that half the planes carrying American paratroopers and 70 percent of the gliders would be shot down by German antiaircraft fire. Leigh-Mallory urged in writing that the American airborne plan should be scrapped.

Eisenhower weighed his options and decided that the effort should proceed the airborne decision was just one of many that he wrestled with, taking advice from other members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff right up to the scheduled hour of departure.

When the worst weather in the English Channel in 50 years threatened to disrupt Operation Overlord, Eisenhower ordered a postponement from June 5 to the following day. According to a team of meteorologists headed by Group Captain James Martin Stagg, a narrow window of opportunity existed on June 6. The next available date with appropriate atmospheric conditions was two weeks later, June 19, and recalling the warships and vessels already loaded with troops while maintaining secrecy seemed impossible.

During a meeting at Southwick House just north of Portsmouth, England, in the early morning hours of June 5, Eisenhower asked the opinion of each of his lieutenants as to whether the invasion should proceed. When the last had expressed his thoughts, the commander-in-chief declared, “Okay, we’ll go!”

Eisenhower cared deeply about the men he was sending into battle and knew that many of them would be killed or wounded. He initially intended to visit units of the 82nd Airborne on the eve of D-Day, but Generals Ridgway and Gavin asked him to stay away, saying their troops would be distracted. Instead, the commander-in-chief traveled from SHAEF headquarters to Newbury and visited with troopers of the 502nd PIR at Greenham Common Airfield.

Laughing and joking with the paratroopers, he asked one of them where he was from. The trooper replied, “Michigan.” Eisenhower beamed and replied, “Oh yes! Michigan—great fishing there—been there several times and like it.”

Captain Harry Butcher, Eisenhower’s naval liaison officer and a close friend, remembered, “We saw hundreds of paratroopers with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump. Ike wandered through them, stepping over packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease. He was promised a job after the war by a Texan who said he roped, not dallied, his cows, and at least there was enough to eat in the work.”

When Eisenhower wrote his memoir of the war, Crusade In Europe, he recalled the evening. “I found the men in fine fettle, many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause for worry, since the 101st was on the job, and everything would be taken care of in fine shape. I stayed with them until the last of them were in the air, somewhere about midnight. After a two hour trip back to my own camp, I had only a short time to wait until the first news should come in.”

Airborne Insertion

Their faces blackened for the coming jump into Normandy, paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division gather around General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander in Europe. Eisenhower feared that the airborne troops would sustain high casualties and wanted to wish them well prior to departure.

The airlift missions for the 101st and 82nd Divisions were code-named Albany and Boston respectively and included the 432 planes carrying the 101st and the 369 transporting the 82nd. The planes were further divided into serials of primarily 36 or 45 planes. Formations remained tight as the aircraft made landfall. However, cloud cover, strong winds, and increasingly heavy flak caused them to loosen substantially.

While some troop carrier groups placed the majority of their sticks on or near the drop zones, others were widely dispersed. The second flight in the second serial of the 436th Group, for example, dropped elements of the 377th Parachute Field Artillery five to seven miles (8–11km) northwest of their assigned drop zone. Among the planes carrying 82nd Airborne troopers, 118 sticks were intended for Drop Zone O.

Of these, 31 came down within or close to the zone, while 29 more landed within a mile (1.6km), 20 within two miles (3km), 17 approximately five miles (8km) distant, three at least 14 miles (22km) to the north, and some were missing. Equipment was lost or damaged, some bundles sinking to the bottom of the flooded marshes.

One entire stick of paratroopers from Company A, 502nd PIR, was dropped into the English Channel and drowned. Others actually came down on Utah Beach or in the surf, shedding heavy equipment packs and swimming or wading to the shore. Some troopers came down in flooded areas and struggled with parachutes and gear in water over their heads.

Father Francis Sampson, regimental chaplain of the 501st PIR, came to earth in deep water and cut his equipment away before his parachute dragged him to a shallow spot. Ten minutes later, he swam back to his original drop point and made several dives to locate his Communion set.

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy by Allied
forces on June 6, 1944, included landing more than 130,000 men by sea and a further 24,000 by air.

Radioman Hugh Pritchard came down with 140 pounds (63kg) of equipment and his radio in a leg bag. He went straight to the bottom of a marsh and was then dragged some distance by his billowing parachute. Only the collapse of the parachute saved him from drowning.

Fifty-one gliders assigned to the 101st were to land in darkness on the morning of D-Day, and Brigadier General Don F. Pratt, assistant commander of the division, was killed when his glider crashed.

Troopers of the 101st groped in the darkness individually or in small groups, click-clacking dimestore “cricket” toys that were distributed to the men for recognition purposes. The 82nd had declined to use the crickets and instead relied on the recognition sign “Flash,” and the appropriate response, “Thunder.”

General Taylor searched for half an hour before finding any of his fellow paratroopers. He stumbled across a lone private, and the two embraced with relief. Riding in with the 505th PIR, General Ridgway was making his fifth parachute jump, actually qualifying for his silver wings. General Gavin, accompanying the 508 th PIR, came down in an apple orchard about two miles (3km) from his drop zone, with no idea where he was. It took him an hour to become oriented.

MICHAEL E. HASKEW is the editor of WWII History Magazine and the former editor of World War II Magazine. He is the author of a number of books, including The Sniper at War, Order of Battle, and The Marines in World War II. Haskew is also the editor of The World War II Desk Reference for the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. He lives in Hixson, Tennessee.

2030: Eisenhower meets the men of the 101st

1st Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel, who survived the night and subsequent week of fighting without injury. He died in 1999. The 502nd jumped into Normandy with 792 men. After six days of desperate fighting, only 129 were still standing and able to make the roadmarch back to St. Come-du-Mount. Strobel later recalled: He (Eisenhower) asked my name and which state I was from,” Strobel related. “I gave him my name and that I was from Michigan. He then said, “Oh yes, Michigan, great fishing there. Been there several times and like it.

The decision having been made to go, there was little left for the Supreme Commander to do but wait and watch the whole elaborate scheme unfold. At around 1800 he left his temporary headquarters at Portsmouth and travelled to Greenham Common airfield near Newbury. Here he mingled with the men of the 101st Airborne Division who were just a few hours away from departure. He was accompanied by his Naval Aide, Harry C. Butcher:

We saw hundreds of paratroopers, with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump.

Ike wandered through them, stepping over packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease.

He was promised a job after the war by a Texan who said he roped, not dallied, his cows, and at least there was enough to eat in the work. Ike has developed or disclosed an informality and friendliness with troopers that almost amazed me, I not having been on many of his inspection trips in England.

We concluded the tour with C-47s growling off the runway, carrying the jumpers and their Major General, Maxwell Taylor, to their uncertain mission — one that Leigh-Mallory went on record against as being too dangerous and costly, and to which Ike also went on record, ordering the deed to be done, as it was necessary to help the foot soldiers get ashore.

We returned to camp about 1:15, sat around the nickel-plated office caravan in courteous silence, each with his own thoughts and trying to borrow by psychological osmosis those of the Supreme Commander, until I became the first to say to hell with it and excused myself to bed.

Strobel later wrote this account of the photograph:

The picture was taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944. My 22nd birthday.

It was shortly before we were to leave the tented assembly area to which , for security reasons, we had been confined for about 5 days. We had darkened our faces and hands with burned cork, cocoa and cooking oil to be able to blend into the darkness and prevent reflection from the moon. We were all very well prepared emotionally for the operation.

The drop packs, that were to be attached to the planes and contained our machine guns, mortars and ammunition, had been prepared earlier, marked with our plane numbers and delivered to the plane. Our plane number was 23 and I was the jumpmaster of that plane. This fact accounts for the sign around my neck in the picture which carries the number 23. The planes and jump sticks were so numbered for ease in locating the planes and crews as well as the attachment of the drop bundles to the correct planes.

We were waiting for orders to leave for the planes when the word was passed, “Eisenhower is in the area.” At that point in time this did not cause a great deal of excitement because all of us had seen him before when he had visited the division and, in addition, we were all pretty well preoccupied with our thoughts of our equipment and the operation ahead.

A short time later we heard some noise and we all went into the streets between the tents to see what was going on. Down the street came the General, surrounded by his staff and a large number of photographers, both still and movie. As he came toward our group we straightened up and suddenly he came directly toward me and stopped in front of me. He asked my name and which state I was from. I gave him my name and that I was from Michigan. He then said, “Oh yes, Michigan great fishing there – been there several times and like it.”

He then asked if I felt we were ready for the operation, did I feel we had been well briefed and were we all ready for the drop. I replied we were all set and didn’t think we would have too much of a problem. He seemed in good spirits. He chatted a little more, which I believe was intended to relax us and I think that all of us being keyed up and ready to go buoyed him somewhat.

You must remember that the men of the 101st and the 502nd Parachute Infantry especially were exceptionally well trained. We all felt we had outstanding senior and field grade officers. We had the best arms and equipment available and we had been very well briefed for the operation. We were at a peak physically and emotionally. We were ready to go and to do our job.

While I think the General thought his visit would boost the morale of our men, I honestly think it was his morale that was improved by being such a remarkably “high” group of troops. The General’s later writings confirmed this.

Within minutes of his visit we gathered our equipment and walked to our planes. I especially remember that as our plane took off at dusk and as I stood in the open doorway of the plane I could see a group of men watching and waving at the planes and I understood later that it was General Eisenhower and his staff.

I forgot about the incident because of our activity during the next few weeks. Later when we were in a rear area I happened to look at a copy of a “Pony” edition of Time Magazine and I saw a very poorly printed copy of the picture. I couldn’t make out the faces but I saw the 23 sign around the next of one of the men and I realized it was the picture taken the night before D-Day when we were ready to take off.

See History Addict for the full account.

For the full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with Commander 502nd Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, Lt. Col. Robert Cole. Eisenhower’s naval aide Harry Butcher stands behind him .

Iconic Eisenhower & 101st AB Paratroopers Rise in Bronze

This tableau was inspired by a famous photograph of Gen. Eisenhower talking to the men of the 101st Airborne Division before they took part in the battle for Normandy.

In the early morning light, two giant bronze statues lie on the ground waiting for a crane to gently lift them into position, in front of a carved limestone panel portraying a scene from the D-Day landings.

Engraved on the panel are the words “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!” spoken by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The statues have been sculpted by master sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov, who also oversaw the installation of the sculptures in the tableau set up to receive them.

Eylanbekov, who works from his studio in Pietrasanta in Italy, first sculpted the images in clay after studying portraits of Eisenhower and photographs taken of him during the war.

The clay models were used to create moulds that were used to cast the bronze statues that are on display today. After final finishing and polishing, the figures were shipped from Italy to Norfolk, ready for installation in front of the carved stone background.

(Original Caption) 6/9/1944-England- General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, gives the order of the day “Full Victory–Nothing Else” to paratroopers somewhere in England.

In the evening hours of the 5th June 1944, Gen. Eisenhower clambered over a barbed-wire fence, making his way to a group of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division.

He spent some time chatting with the men before they prepared to board the planes that would take them to France as part of the battle on the 6th June 1944.

In the photograph, Gen. Eisenhower is talking to the troops who are all from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were based at Greenham Common in England.

The men are all standing with their battle gear on, faces blackened and packs bulging before being airlifted from England to the beaches of Normandy.

The tableau is very similar to the photograph. There are three groups of figures.

General Dwight Eisenhower (centre) talking to Prime Minister Winston Churchill (left) in the back of a car during World War Two, circa 1943. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The first, weighing in at around 500lbs, is of Gen. Eisenhower on his own, standing tall with his trousers showing a distinctive, military, knife-edge crease and with his fist raised, as if emphasizing a point.

The two groups of soldiers are not sculpted of any specific person they are intended as a general representation of the men that fought.

The groups of soldiers are imposing figures as the first group has four images, and the second has two models. Both weigh many thousands of pounds each.

Even though the images of the paratroopers were not based on any person, Eylanbekov relates a story where an elderly lady saw the statues in his studio in Pietrasanta.

She had lived through the fierce battles fought in Italy, and when she told him that she had seen one of the men depicted, he felt humbled by her tears.

Allied leaders at the end of World War Two: (L-R) Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, Marshal Zhukov, General Dwight Eisenhower and General Koenig, saluting as allied flags are raised, Berlin, September 4th 1945. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Eylanbekov said that the feeling that he wanted to portray was that of soldiers following a daring general and doing something so basic fighting for the future and for freedom. He did his best to represent the intensity of the moment.

He exaggerated the size of their hands and exaggerated the size of the folds in their uniforms. Everything is designed to show the tension in the men, the way they are standing close together, and the expression in their hands, faces, and eyes.

Eylanbekov, wearing a hard hat and jeans along with a bright yellow safety vest, supervised the installation of the statues.

These images came from his soul, and he said that he used every bit of his talent to create these magnificent castings.

As an immigrant from Russia and a new citizen of America, he was enormously inspired and honored to undertake this commission.

The massive bronze statues had to be carefully raised from their shipping pallets and craned into a position where the bolts fixed into the feet of the figures were lowered into holes drilled into the floor of the tableau.

It was the first time that he had seen his work in its final position and all the elements of the tableau working together.

The carved limestone backdrop, also designed by Eylanbekov, depicts the boats floating on a calm sea while landing on the beaches of Normandy.

The backdrop carving is intentionally quiet as a contrast to the tension in the bronzes.

This entire tableau is part of the $150 million memorial that covers four acres of Independence Avenue.

Originally the monument was designed by Frank Gehry, an architect, in 2010, but it was not approved by Eisenhower’s family nor by the United States Congress.

After many revisions and arguments, the final design was adopted in 2017, the year that also marked the ceremonial ground-breaking of the memorial.

Eylanbekov looked over the entire tableau when the statues were finally in place and declared that he was satisfied. After almost a decade in the making, they were finally in the place they were supposed to be.

The dedication of the memorial is scheduled to take place on the 8th May, which is the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

Over the next few weeks, statues of Gen. Eisenhower as a child and as the 34th President of the United States will be erected to complete the entire memorial.

Eisenhower's Speech to Troops on D-Day

This order was issued by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to encourage Allied soldiers taking part in the D-day invasion of June 6, 1944. By May 1944, 2,876,000 Allied troops were amassed in southern England. The largest armada in history, made up of more than 4,000 American, British, and Canadian ships, lay in wait, and more that 1,200 planes stood ready. Against a tense backdrop of uncertain weather forecasts, disagreements in strategy, and related timing dilemmas, Eisenhower decided before dawn on June 5 to proceed with Overlord. Later that same afternoon, he scribbled a note intended for release, accepting responsibility for the decision to launch the invasion and full blame should the effort to create a beachhead on the Normandy coast fail. Much more polished is his printed Order of the Day for June 6, 1944, which Eisenhower began drafting in February. The order was distributed to the 175,000-member expeditionary force on the eve of the invasion. He also repeated the order in a speech to the troops.

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