Skip to comments.D-Day: Eisenhower and Leadership on the Eve of Invasion
Posted on 06/05/2009 7:27:10 PM PDT by jay1949
Sixty-five years ago, Gen. Eisenhower prepared himself for D-Day with hope and trepidation. Having made the decision to go earlier on the day of June 5, he spent time during the afternoon with the paratroopers who would be the first to leave for France. Although he said that he found it hard to look men in the eye on the eve of battle, knowing that many of them would soon be dead, he forced himself to the task - - it was his responsibility; ultimately, all of what would happen the next day, for better or for worse, was his responsibility. Unlike many leaders, then and now, Eisenhower did not display narcissistic self-promotion and breezy self-confidence. Confidence and optimism, yes; and also great humility.
So Ike went among the men on the eve of battle, shaking hands, looking them in the eye, exchanging words of encouragement. Privately, back at his quarters, he wrote a note to be released in case the landings went badly. Eisenhower wrote in his own hand that "any blame or fault . . . is mine alone." His anxiety was such that he mis-dated the note "July 5." And at one point, he remarked to his assistant, "I hope to God I know what I'm doing."
(Excerpt) Read more at backcountrynotes.com ...
wonder what ike would think about comrade obama?
How did Eisenhower get ashore?
That’s a great vignette regarding a great man - The One could only HOPE that he could CHANGE his own lack of respect for the respect accorded Ike.
No way that it will ever happen — not now, not later, never!
I can only speculate; but Eisenhower was a staff officer for some years to Douglas MacArthur and while he respected MacArthur’s military skills, he personally did not care for him. MacArthur was a shameless self-promoter, not a quality that Ike would find endearing. So I speculate that Eisenhower would not care for Obama personally and would recognize Obama’s woeful lack of military skills.
Thanks - - but I think that change of that nature by The One is completely hopeless.
I posted this note to the story also.
D-Day: Eisenhower and the Paratroopers
The thesis Eisenhower was more than just a political general is certainly not new. However, I had not thought carefully about the subject until retirement. Now I get to pick a subject, like on WW II in Western Europe, and read all the books I have accumulated on that subject from estate and garage sales, and used book and thrift stores.
Eisenhower arrived in London with less than five months until D-day. That is one month less than I had as Finance Director to lead our college management team in preparing the annual operating and capital budgets. His experience occurred in another world I cannot adequately imagine.
A popular historical portrayal describes General Dwight Eisenhower managing a political/military alliance, but reminds us he never lead troops in combat. However, his leadership sustained many unprecedented initiatives for successful Normandy landings. The air assault examples the frightful uncertainties of many critical hazards run on this Day of Days.
The night before D-Day, 20,400 American and British paratroopers dropped behind the Normandy beaches from 1,250 C-47 aircraft plus gliders. This massive assault was attempted just 17 years after Charles Lindberg flew the Atlantic solo for the first time.
To the last moment Ike’s air commander, British Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, saw tragic forebodings reinforced by memories of American problems in North Africa and Sicily, and the German catastrophe on Crete. He anticipated hundreds of planes and gliders destroyed with surviving paratroopers fighting isolated until killed or captured.
The planes would arrive in three streams each 300 miles long, allowing the Germans up to two hours to reposition night fighters and anti-aircraft artillery for maximum slaughter of unarmed transports. Most pilots were flying their first combat mission. Leigh-Mallory had specific intelligence the German 91st Air Landing Division, specialists in fighting paratroopers, and the 6th Parachute Regiment had inexplicably moved into the area around St. Mere-Eglise, where American divisions were to land. Could these movements mean the deception plan directing attention to Pas de Calais was breaking down?
Ike remained strategically committed to airborne assault, but compassionately devoted to the men. The evening before D-Day, Eisenhower left SHAEF headquarters at 6 PM, traveling to Newbury where the 101st Airborne was boarding for its initial combat mission. Ike arrived at 8 PM and did not leave until the last C-47 was airborne over three hours later.
In My Three Years with Eisenhower Captain Harry C. Butcher says, “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”.
In Crusade in Europe General Dwight Eisenhower says, “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.
One of the first D-Day reports was from Leigh-Mallory with news only 29 of 1,250 C-47’s were missing and only four gliders were unaccounted for. That morning Leigh-Mallory sent Ike a message frankly saying it is sometimes difficult to admit that one is wrong, but he had never had a greater pleasure than in doing so on this occasion. He congratulated Ike on the wisdom and courage of his command decision.
The above represents only one of many crushing anxieties Eisenhower persevered through. President Roosevelt understood the enormous risks, and asked the nation to pray for the coming invasion. Resting today in the luxury of historical certainty prevents us from perceiving the dark specters hovering about nearly all invasion planning aspects.
It would be interesting to find out just how many men in that one photo never made it back home alive.
The current generation has little to no concept of the horrendous sacrifices made in just that one day alone. They truly were heroes.
On June 7, Ike went across to Normandy on the minelayer H.M.S. Apollo. The Army had put up docks by then, so I assume he took a launch into a dock and walked onto the beach.
Thanks for this excellent post. Ike’s visiting with the paratroopers is a poignant and historical moment in history - - well worth remembering.
Correction: Ike did not go ashore on his first trip over. Later in June he flew in, I believe.
I am old enough to remember how many D-Day survivors from Omaha Beach simply couldn’t talk about it, even 20 years later.
Bedford, Virginia, is a day trip from my home, and is the location of the National D-Day Memorial. From the Memorial Foundation Web Site:
“Like eleven other Virginia communities, Bedford provided a company of soldiers (Company A) to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on 3 February 1941. Some thirty Bedford soldiers were still in that company on D-Day; several more from Bedford were in other D-Day companies, including one who, two years earlier, had been reassigned from the 116th Infantry to the First Infantry Division. Thus he had already landed in both Northern Africa and Sicily before coming ashore on D-Day at Omaha Beach with the Big Red One. Company A of the 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach as part of the First Division’s Task Force O. By day’s end, nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial here.”
As you said, the current generation has no concept, but visiting Bedford might help them get an inkling.
Reason I was asking is I’m writing a chapter on “Leadership” for a training manual. Eisenhower at D-Day would have made a great example, except I’m trying to work in the theme that “Leaders always lead from the front, by example.” In this particular instance, I wouldn’t be able to make that linkage.
It would have been ideal for the example if he had gone ashore somehow (parachute?) with the first wave.
I’ll probably use Patton or Slim or Lord Lovat for that particular illustration, and leave Eisenhower for another time: there was plenty of good things about Eisenhower so he won’t go to waste.
This statement is incredible. One of the first D-Day reports was from Leigh-Mallory with news only 29 of 1,250 C-47s were missing and only four gliders were unaccounted for.
That's a 2% casualty rate for the C-47's! Only 2%. I have read dozens of books on D-Day and literally hundreds on WW II. This is the first time I have encountered that number. Anecdotally, think of the WW II movies you may have seen; "Band of Brothers", "The Longest Day", etc. it sure seems like a lot more than 29 aircraft are going down.
Can anyone enlighten me on this topic? TIA.
The practical reason was for him to be close to the labyrinth of communications involving air, ground and naval forces. He also had to deal with Churchill you insisted he be on-board one of the British capital ships. The perplexing issue with this difficut man was eventually resolved when the King shocked Churchill into reality by presenting a similiar compelling logic about why he, the King, should be off shore on one of the battleships. Both of them stayed in England on the 6th of June.
My source for the number 29 is My Three Years with Eisenhower by Captain Harry C. Butcher, which actually is his day by day diary. The entry is found under Portsmouth, June, 6, 1944. Leigh-Mallory reported 21 American and 8 British missing.
(grin!) I can imagine that Churchill would probably want to go ashore himself — unlike most of Britain’s post-war Prime Ministers Churchill was the real deal, having been a soldier who fired shots in anger: he took part in Britain’s last mounted cavalry charge, in his younger days, and escaped from a Boer POW camp as well.
He also trained the entire Royal Family in the use of the Thompson machine gun, having set up a firing range at Buckingham Palace. And he’d had built a bunker which he would occupy should the Germans have landed. It was equipped with Tommy guns, too: he fully intended to go down fighting.
He was, as you say, a difficult man but in a very practical way.
I’ll be able to find a good use for Eisenhower as an example of Leadership: he also had to deal with Patton, whom he outranked after the Army was reorganized but to whom he had been junior prior thereto. Navigating that situation would have been very interesting.
“I am old enough to remember how many D-Day survivors from Omaha Beach simply couldnt talk about it, even 20 years later.”
True: My dad never talked about it. He also would never go to fireworks displays on July 4th. He said he saw enough “rockets red glare” on D-Day.
We knew his D-Day story, anyway, because he still had the write-up for his Navy Cross medal. President Truman himself presented the medal to Dad in a ceremony upon his return to the US. Dad was an ensign whose assignment was to detonate mines on Omaha Beach so the troops could land. When he and his men were done, he started rescuing soldiers who were foundering in the sea as they were coming ashore, and he carried wounded men to safety.
As far as he was concerned, he wasn’t doing anything heroic, he was just following orders.
I can’t answer your question, but the C-47’s dropped their troops from 400 feet above ground level at night (!) which would minimize their exposure to heavy anti-aircraft guns.
The loss of gliders seems small, but “accounted for” probably includes the gliders that crashed on landing with more or less lethal results.
“As far as he was concerned, he wasnt doing anything heroic, he was just following orders.”
In the circumstances, that may still qualify as heroic. Machine gun fire tends to raise the degree of difficulty considerably, I would think.
Although it is from Patton's point of view during the war, there is a lot of reference to between the war years. Ike was a good organizer, but not so much for being in the trenches, and knew a good fighter(Patton) when he saw it. Patton was a fighter who demanded his subordinate commanders be as close to the front as possible.
(grin!) Cheers for that, mate! I’m going to the library tomorrow.
After the debacle at Anzio, Ike was more for an attempt at Western Europe than extending his supply lines from Britain to the Dardanelles.
Churchill seemed to be stuck on the Dardanelles. Probably his WW-I experience with Gallipoli.
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