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THE MAN BEHIND OPERATION OVERLORD

On The 80th Anniversary of D-Day, We Look At The Man Who Made The Plan
















 

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL FREDERICK E. MORGAN:

When Frederick Morgan was appointed COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander), in the spring of 1943, there was no approved plan for a cross-Channel attack or commander. There was no agreement about when the re-entry into the Continent would occur. The Western Allies were in the midst of a great debate about the strategy or strategies to defeat Nazi Germany. Lieutenant General Morgan's primary task was to create a plan that the inter-allied Combined Chiefs of Staff would approve.

 

To gain that authorization, Morgan had to decide where the attack was to take place, address the need for improvised shelters for the transport ships until a port could be captured, and create all the structures necessary for a multi-national force that would liberate countries, not occupy them, and convince his superiors that it could be done with the limited forces they were willing to provide.

 

Morgan offered vital contributions to developing the OVERLORD plan. His leadership was surprisingly fearless, problem-solving unorthodox, and his willingness to disregard or modify orders he thought wrong was very surprising. By constantly taking the initiative to move the discussions forward, Morgan secured the needed political approval of a concept for the Normandy landings that Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower would modify into the D-Day operational plan.

 

DEVELOPING OPERATION OVERLORD

The complexities of organizing an amphibious assault on such an unprecedented scale are hard to comprehend. Morgan's efforts to coordinate the multifaceted aspects of the invasion—ranging from deception strategies to detailed logistics to the synchronization of land, sea, and air forces—are breathtaking in scope and depth. The establishment of COSSAC was a response to the need for a unified planning body, and Morgan's leadership was crucial in navigating the political and military intricacies of the Allied coalition.

 

Morgan and his team developed many drafts and different plans, reflecting the evolving nature of the strategy as they responded to intelligence reports and the dynamic situation in Europe. The meticulous planning process included creating detailed deception plans, such as Operation Bodyguard, which aimed to mislead the Germans about the invasion's true landing sites and timing. These efforts were essential in securing the element of surprise and reducing German resistance during the initial landings.

 

Morgan's interactions with key Allied leaders, including General Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, showcase the diplomatic skill required to manage and align the differing priorities and perspectives within the Allied command. His ability to present a cohesive and convincing plan ultimately led to the operation's approval and the subsequent detailed planning by SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) under Eisenhower's command.

 

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO YOUR BOSS?

Imagine being the man in charge of developing Operation Overlord.  Something so massive is hard to conceive. Understanding the requirements alone would take an exceptional mind, but to have the political savvy to navigate the titanic egos of the generals and politicians required a general of exceptional skill.  Lieutenant-General Frederick E. Morgan embodied so much of what is expected of general officers and British gentlemen of the day.

 

To plan something of such importance and magnitude would be an awesome responsibility, so what did Morgan think of what was accomplished using his ideas? If he could write a letter to the Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower, what would he say about what they accomplished?  Eighty years after their great gamble began in Normandy and ended in Berlin, it’s worth considering how the father of the plan would explain the victory to his boss.

 

The following is an imagined letter from Morgan to Eisenhower that attempts to capture the success and challenges that started long before forces landed on that French beach:

 

 

 

DECLASSIFIED 1 MAY 1965

 

1 May 1945

 

Lieutenant-General Frederick E. Morgan

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force

 

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force

Office of the Supreme Commander

 

Dear Ike,

 

As we stand on the cusp of victory, I felt it pertinent to reflect on the colossal endeavour that has been Operation Overlord, from its inception to the present day. In particular, I wish to outline what has worked well and where we faced notable challenges, providing a comprehensive view of our strategies and their outcomes.

 

The conception of Operation Overlord was a monumental task, necessitating meticulous planning and coordination on an unprecedented scale. The primary success lay in our ability to bring together a diverse coalition of forces, each contributing their unique strengths to the overall mission. The initial deception strategies, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were remarkably effective in misleading the enemy about the true location and timing of the invasion. The use of fictitious armies and misleading radio traffic played a crucial role in convincing the German High Command that the Pas de Calais was our target, rather than Normandy.

 

The fortitude of our troops during the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, particularly at Utah and Gold beaches, exemplified the best of Allied cooperation and bravery. The airborne operations preceding the landings, involving the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, were instrumental in securing key bridges and disrupting enemy communications. This ensured that our beach landings could proceed with reduced opposition, despite the formidable defences of the Atlantic Wall.

 

Furthermore, the establishment of a secure beachhead in Normandy was critical. The Mulberry harbours, although one was severely damaged by a storm, provided indispensable logistical support. The rapid construction of these artificial ports enabled us to sustain the flow of troops, vehicles, and supplies, ensuring the momentum of our advance. The PLUTO (Pipeline Under the Ocean) project, which supplied fuel from Britain to France, was another logistical triumph, facilitating our mobile operations as we pushed inland.

 

The air superiority achieved by our forces also played a crucial role in isolating the battlefield and crippling German reinforcements. The strategic bombing campaign against key infrastructure and transportation hubs severely hindered the enemy’s ability to mount effective counterattacks. The tireless efforts of our naval forces in maintaining control of the Channel and providing bombardment support were equally vital.

 

However, not all aspects were without significant hurdles. The delays in the initial breakout from the bocage country of Normandy tested our resolve and highlighted the challenges of fighting in such treacherous terrain. The dense hedgerows provided natural defensive positions for the enemy, necessitating a slow and methodical advance. The Battle of Caen, intended to be a swift capture, turned into a prolonged and costly engagement, demonstrating the fierce resistance and tactical ingenuity of the German forces.

 

Our subsequent operations to encircle and liberate Paris were fraught with logistical complexities and required constant adaptation to changing circumstances on the ground. Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy, marked a turning point, enabling us to exploit the weakened German defences and advance rapidly across France. The liberation of Paris in August 1944 was a significant morale boost, yet it also underscored the challenges of managing liberated territories and coordinating with various resistance groups.

 

As we progressed further into the heart of Germany, the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 was a stark reminder of the enemy's resilience. The surprise counteroffensive required immediate and decisive action, showcasing our ability to rapidly reorganise and repel the assault, ultimately turning a potential crisis into a defining moment of Allied solidarity and strength. The bitter winter conditions and the tenacity of the German forces made this one of the most challenging battles of the campaign.

 

The final push across the Rhine and into Germany was a testament to the relentless drive and coordination of our forces. The swift advances made by Patton's Third Army and Montgomery's 21st Army Group encapsulated the success of our combined arms strategy. Despite the logistical challenges and the determined resistance faced in the Ruhr Pocket, the encirclement and eventual surrender of German forces marked the effective end of organized resistance. The capture of key cities such as Aachen and the subsequent crossing of the Rhine at Remagen were pivotal moments that demonstrated the effectiveness of our strategic planning and execution.

 

In closing, Operation Overlord's success can be attributed to our unwavering commitment to a unified command structure, meticulous planning, and the extraordinary bravery of our troops. The lessons learned from our setbacks have only strengthened our resolve and adaptability. As we prepare for this conflict's final stages, I am confident that our shared vision and relentless pursuit of victory will soon bring about the desired peace in Europe.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Frederick E. Morgan 

Lieutenant-General 

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force

 

 

DECLASSIFIED 1 MAY 1965


 

 

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