Eisenhower’s D-day Decision

“When you appeal to force, there’s one thing you must never do—lose.”

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

Having pushed back the invasion of Normandy from May to June 1944 to allow more time for training and obtaining additional equipment, Eisenhower decided the attack would occur on June 4, when the tides would be most favorable for a beach landing.

On May 30, Leigh-Mallory told Eisenhower he was concerned about reports that the Germans were reinforcing the areas where the 82nd and 101st Airborne Troops would be landing. Leigh-Mallory estimated that only 30 percent of the troops would land safely and be able to fight. The airborne plan was a critical part of the invasion strategy, and it was required to ensure that the Allies kept pressure on the Germans from the rear as the landings occurred.

On Saturday, June 3, Eisenhower believed everything would go as on schedule. However, during the day, he began receiving forecasts of stormy weather for June 5. With the weather conditions continuing to deteriorate, Eisenhower decided to delay the invasion for twenty-four hours.

On the evening of June 4, as Eisenhower sat in the dining room with his commanders, Stagg came in to report a break in the weather. The rain would stop within two or three hours, followed by thirty-six hours of relatively calm weather and mild winds. Eisenhower sat quietly. Smith told him it was a “helluva gamble.” Eisenhower looked at Montgomery. “Do you see any reason for not going on Tuesday?” he asked.
“I would say—go!” Montgomery replied.
“The question,” Eisenhower said, was “how long can you hang this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there?” [1]

At this moment, Eisenhower was completely alone. It would either be now, or delay the landings until July, when the tides would be aligned again. But a July landing would allow for only a few months of fighting before the unpredictable autumn and winter weather months. At 9:45 p.m., as he stared out the window at the rain, Eisenhower calmly and thoughtfully weighed the alternatives. “I am quite positive that the order must be given,” he said. [2]

With this, the command was given to start moving five thousand ships toward France. With the weather getting worse, there was one more opportunity to stop the airborne operation and the invasion, and delay to July. At 3:30 a.m. on June 5, Eisenhower met with Stagg and his commanders again. The weather prediction was the same—a small window of opportunity for the invasion. As the meeting continued, the rain stopped and the clouds began to disappear.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eisenhower asked his team for their opinions. Everyone wanted to go, although Leigh-Mallory thought the conditions were below acceptable. Once again, it was Eisenhower’s decision to make. If the ships sailing into the Channel were to be called back, now was the time. Eisenhower thought for a moment, and then said, “OK, let’s go.” The commanders rushed out with their orders, and within a minute, the dining room was empty, except for Eisenhower. [3]

It was one of the most courageous and important decisions ever made by a leader. Later that day, Eisenhower went to visit the 101st Airborne for informal conversations and to wish them well. The men told him not to worry—one even offered him a job after the war. Eisenhower stayed until the last plane left. He went back to his headquarters to wait and listen for the results of the invasion.

[1] Pogue, Supreme Command, 170
[2] Tedder, With Prejudice, 546
[3] Ambrose, Supreme Commander, 417

Leadership and Respect

There is no such thing as human superiority.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

On a crisp autumn day at West Point as Eisenhower was walking to one of his third year classes he collided with a plebe who was running to carry out an order.  Although he wasn’t prone to participate in the hazing that occurred there, this time he made an exception. Collecting himself, Eisenhower sarcastically asked the plebe “Mr. Dungard, what is your previous condition of servitude? You look like a barber.”  The plebe responded meekly, “I was a barber, sir.”

Eisenhower was embarrassed. He didn’t say anything else to the plebe, and he went back to his room where he told his roommate, P.A. Hodgson, “I’m never going to crawl [haze] another plebe as long as I live. As a matter of fact, they’ll have to run over and knock me out of the company street before I’ll make any attempt again. I’ve just done something that was stupid and unforgivable. I managed to make a man ashamed of the work he did to earn a living.” Decades later it still bothered him that he didn’t apologize to the plebe for his rude behavior, but he learned a lesson that he took with him for the rest of his life – to respect each and every individual. “I learned the wickedness of arrogance and the embarrassment that can come about by the lack of consideration for others.” [1]

To get respect, you must give respect. Eisenhower was well known for not “engaging in personalities” – a phrase for his belief that it was always wrong to criticize a person’s motives or personality  regardless of the circumstances and the temptation to respond in kind. As President Eisenhower once told a speechwriter to strike out the word “deliberate” in a public statement because it amounted to an attack on a person. “When you said deliberate, what he had done, you were attacking his motives. Never, ever, attack a person’s motives” [2]

Respect and gratitude towards those who guide and follow you is also a trait among the greatest leaders. As rumors swirled regarding who would be appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe, Eisenhower was simply grateful to be in his existing role. Harry Butcher wrote “I have heard Ike speak of his gratitude to General Marshall, to the President, and to the country for the opportunity he has been given” as Allied Commander of the North African campaign. Eisenhower thought he “was the logical yet lucky choice” to lead the North African initiative. [3]

Eisenhower also had deep respect for the American citizen soldier. He enjoyed his assignments to train the troops, and as a commander he went to visit them as often as possible. “The trained American possesses qualities that are almost unique. Because of his initiative and resourcefulness, his adaptability to change and his readiness to resort to expedient, he becomes, when he has attained a proficiency in all the normal techniques of battle, a most formidable soldier. Yet even he has his limits; the preservation of his individual and collective strength is one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership.” [4]

[1] Eisenhower, At Ease, 17-1
[2] 25th Anniversary Reunion of the Staff of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, processed booklet, 1979, p.11.
[3] Butcher, My Three Years,  452
[4] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 453