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

Eisenhower’s Leadership by Walking Around

“In the Army, whenever I became fed up with meetings, protocol, and paperwork, I could rehabilitate myself by a visit with the troops.”                                                                                    

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Perhaps the most important relationship Eisenhower had during his military career was with his troops. ”A human understanding and a natural ability to mingle with all men on a basis of equality are more important than any degree of technical skill,” he wrote in his war memoir. [1]

Eisenhower practiced leadsership by walking around long before it was a trendy management term. He would make many trips to visit the troops, which always lifted his spirits. Among the troops, “talking to each other as individuals, and listening to each other’s stories,” Eisenhower wrote, “ I was refreshed and could return to headquarters reassured that, hidden behind administrative entanglements, the military was an enterprise manned by human beings.” [2]

His easy-going style would allow him to socialize with the men in an informal manner, and he was able to converse with many of the soldiers as they discussed their lives back home and winning the war. Eisenhower sincerely enjoyed being with his troops. He told his wife Mamie, “our soldiers are wonderful. It always seems to me that the closer to the front the better the morale and the less grumbling.  No one knows how I like to roam around among them – I’m always cheered up by a day with the actual fighters.”

Eisenhower visiting with troops

Eisenhower felt he had a special relationship with his troops. Despite numerous informal visits to the field, he always had something new to say to the men – he rarely repeated himself. He had an easy ability to communicate with any soldier, and an intuitive ability to ask just the right questions to create immediate trust and respect, regardless of what they did in the service or civilian life. [3]

D-Day training began in December 1943 with “a series of exercises … held at brigade, divisional, and corps level. Final rehearsals were held in late April and early May [of 1944] in the south of England. Activities included the concentration, marshaling, and embarkation of troops, a short movement by water, disembarkation, variation with naval and air support, each assault using service ammunition, the securing of a beachhead, and a rapid advance inland.” The exercises were meant to closely simulate the beach landings, and Eisenhower would often travel to the training facilities because it gave him an “excellent opportunity to see his troops in action and to find errors which would need elimination before D Day.” [4]

He believed many of the troops possessed “a great amount of ingenuity and initiative.” If they could communicate to their officers without restraint “the products of their resourcefulness become available to all.” This would also lead to “mutual confidence, a feeling of partnership that is the essence of esprit de corps. An army fearful of its officers is never as good as one that trusts and confides in its leaders.”

One afternoon Eisenhower visited with several hundred Infantrymen on the front. He was standing with them on a muddy hillside and when he turned to leave his legs flipped right out from under him and he fell flat on his back. “From the shout of laughter that went up I am quite sure that no other meeting I had with soldiers during the war was a greater success than that one. Even the men who rushed forward to help pick me up out of the” mud could barely contain their laughter. [5]

[1] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 210
[2] Eisenhower, At Ease, 243
[3] D’ Este, Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, 514
[4] Pogue, Supreme Command, 166
[5] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 314

Eisenhower’s Leadership Mantra: Teamwork and Optimism

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

In November 1945 George Marshall resigned from his position as Army Chief of Staff and President Truman appointed Eisenhower to take his place. In this role Eisenhower reported to the President, and was responsible for the all strategic and tactical operations of the Army. As he assumed his role he held three basic principles based on his experiences before and after the war.

First was he was convinced that the most effective structure to conduct military action was under the unity of command, and that the military institutions and training needed to emphasize coordination and cooperation of activities among the various services, under the direction of a single command.  Second, he believed that the country needed a strong peacetime army to quickly respond to any future emergency and avoid the problems of mobilizing an army in the midst of a crisis.  This required strong leadership throughout the services, with an emphasis on running an efficient organization and a unified program of military training. “Third, if such a crisis was to be avoided, there had to be cooperation among the former wartime allies.  Russia and the United States were the countries whose relations would necessarily be the prime determinants of world peace.” [1]

However, Eisenhower soon found that he had to adjust his thinking to reflect the reality of the times. After four years of war, the country was anxious to reduce military spending and accelerate the de-mobilization process.  There was constant in-fighting between the services for the allocation of scarce resources, and the relationship with Russia quickly deteriorated.

In contrast to his role as Supreme Commander where he could focus primarily on military objectives, Eisenhower now had to engage in political debates in areas he felt were important to national policies.  “He confronted situations that were far more complex and far less malleable than his administrative environment had been during the war and the occupation.” [2]

Eisenhower dealt with the complexity and ambiguity by bringing structure and order to those things he could control, and by persistent follow up and follow through on areas beyond his control, as he tried to influence the outcomes.   Shortly after assuming his new responsibilities Eisenhower held a session with his staff, to give some overall guidance and express his expectations.

He began by empathizing with the difficulty of their roles. “…no one knows better than I what tough jobs you have, how difficult your problems are to solve, and how you get irritated and resentful because of lack of progress due to circumstances over which you have no control whatsoever.”  But he urged his staff not to get down.

“There is one thing in any situation that I believe is always applicable, and that is optimism and a grin.  Long faces are not going to be a bit of help.  Just as in war, we have to keep our heads up. Keep grinning, and keep plugging.”  He expressed his desire to implement a military organization where each of the three services were equal, and under a unified command.

“We want to make certain that in establishing that kind of an organization we do not become guilty of duplications” of facilities or functions. He stressed that “we must have faith in each other. We have to depend each upon the other and believe that the other is going to perform the functions we expect of him and that each will deal with the other on a basis of fairness….So in solving problems….let us proceed on the basis that…cooperation will be as great as possible.”

Eisenhower also knew that one of the best ways to fight through complex issues was by encouraging teamwork, honesty and communication.  “I could never face a body of officers without emphasizing one word – teamwork … Our attitude one toward the other has to be that of a friend expecting assistance and knowing that he will get it. If we will always remember that the other fellow is trying to fulfill our common purpose just as much as each one of us is, I think no more need be said about teamwork.”

Solving difficult problems while under extreme pressure required some finesse and “considerable tact.  Above all it demands integrity and fairness. If we are honest in handling the whole problem we are certainly not going to get the War Department into a jam.”  He felt that everyone needed to “act according to our own good judgment after having examined every aspect involved,” and that “tactfulness, trying to understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and using salesmanship instead of a club, seems to me to be called for…Patience is something we can’t lose on the job. So we must be fair.”  [3]

[1] Eisenhower Papers (EP), Introduction, xiv
[2] EP, Introduction, xv
[3] EP, No. 533

Eisenhower’s Common Sense Leadership on National Security and the Economy

“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”              

 – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Ladies and gentlemen, there is no amount of military force that can possibly give you real security, because you wouldn’t have that amount unless you felt that there was almost a similar amount that could threaten you somewhere in the world,” Eisenhower told reporters early in his Presidency. “Now, you finally have to make certain very tough decisions. I know of no better way to express it than George Washington did, many years ago. He said this country must always be careful to have a reasonable posture of defense.”

With this new conference in March 1953 Eisenhower began the long pursuit of balancing between fiscal responsibility and the proper level of defense for the country during his Presidency. Eisenhower hated waste, and having served in the military most of his career, he knew there were opportunities to save money without risking the safety of the country. He was “dedicated to one idea, which is to get less money spent for overhead and” eliminate “certain duplications and unnecessary expenses, and to get out of that same money more combat strength.” [1]

John Foster Dulles was an American statesman w...

John Foster Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Achieving a balanced budget was a priority for Eisenhower, despite the Cold War and despite calls for tax cuts. And since the defense budget was the largest component of the Federal Budget, Eisenhower was determined to get it under control. Unlike many military men of the past, he understood the need to prepare to fight the next war, not the last one.

The game had changed the moment the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949.  He wanted a fresh look at America’s defenses, and established five principles to guide him and his team: when attacked, America did not have to respond “in kind” (e.g. if Europe was invaded with troops, the U.S. did not have to use troops, it could use other weapons); since a nuclear war would be catastrophic, America needed enough strength to deter a conflict; “military and economic strength were intimate and indivisible”; modern armed forces were essential, since we could “no longer afford the folly … of beginning each war with the weapons of the last”; and lastly, the need for alliances since America’s resources were finite. [2]

It was also necessary to conduct a horizontal analysis — a strategic look across all the services to optimize the allocation and deployment of forces at home and around the world. The guidelines and analysis resulted in Eisenhower’s “New Look” – a defense program which reallocated resources between the armed forces, with a greater reliance“ on the deterrent and destructive power of improved nuclear weapons, better means of delivery, and effective air defense units.”  More resources would be moved from the other services to the Air Force, and an overall reduction in conventional services would occur, with the greater emphasis on nuclear deterrence. [3]

As he expected, Eisenhower received pushback from many quarters, from the Army, the Navy, from Congress on the closing of bases, and even within his own administration. When his Secretary of State John Dulles protested that the priority for a balanced budget would put the country at risk Eisenhower disagreed, once again telling his cabinet that security required a sound economy, which required a balanced budget.

For the rest of his Presidency, Eisenhower stood firm against pressure from the Pentagon, Congress and others to increase defense spending in his goal to achieve the balanced budgets required for a sound economy. In his first Federal Budget for 1955 he was able to reduce overall defense spending from $48.7 billion in 1954 to 44.9 billion. In three of his eight years in office, Eisenhower managed to deliver a small budget surplus (1956, 1957, 1960). The country did go through two recessions during his administration, one he inherited in 1953, and the other in 1957. But overall, the economy thrived under his leadership.

America had the strongest economy in the world in the 1950s. Business and manufacturing thrived, with exports at all time highs, and U.S. GDP grew from $284.6 billion in 1950 to about $500 billion by the end of the decade. The country prospered in large part because of Eisenhower’s leadership and insistence on the proper allocation of resources and fiscal responsibility, especially his resistance to increase defense spending and reducing taxes.

[1] PP, 31 – The President’s News Conference of March 19th, 1953, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu
[2] Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, 446
[3] Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, 451