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IWP commemorates D-Day with panel discussion

The Institute of World Politics commemorated the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy with a special event featuring flag rank officers of each of the services involved, including BGEN Jack Nicholson, RADM David Rogers, and Brigadier General Walter Jajko.

General Jajko, IWP Professor of Defense Studies, helped frame the discussion. He quoted Churchill, who said that the “fate of Western Civilization” was at stake on D-Day. General Jajko described the strategic run-up to the invasion. Going all the way back to 1940, he said that the invasion could not have happened without the Battle of Britain; there would have been no launching pad, and the war in the west would have been basically over. The United States had wanted to launch a “Second Front” much earlier, in 1943, but it had to wait until 1944 for the Allies to amass enough supplies, training, and experience to contemplate an attack on the continent. By 1944, the Allies were stronger, and Germany had been weakened by its defeats on the Eastern Front, which made an invasion possible. Nonetheless, the landings themselves had a very narrow window. They had to overcome Hitler’s formidable Atlantic Wall to penetrate “Festung Europa.”

Turning to a favorite example of IWP professors, he described the importance of preparing an apparently fake invasion in the Pas-de-Calais area, complete with dummy tanks, a false order of battle, and General Patton. This deception plan, called FORTITUDE, helped draw off German forces from the main landing sites.

Rear Admiral Dave Rogers, an IWP trustee, described the invasion as an example of the statecraft which is studied at the Institute. Admiral Rogers described the situation in the run up to the invasion. On June 4, 1944, there was little situational awareness as it is understood today. General Dwight Eisenhower had to make his decision on the invasion, in conjunction with his British deputies, using the methods and information available. He had over 1200 staff working on invasion planning, and multiple disciplines were involved in preparing the operation. Admiral Rogers described the artificial harbors, or mulberries, as an example of the kind of creative, non-traditional thinking the Allies had to use to overcome their problems. He also commented on the command structure, pointing out that Roosevelt and Churchill left their commanders a free hand in running the invasion. He, like General Jajko, also commented on the importance of deception. Summarizing, Admiral Rogers said that the lessons learned from the invasion were “as long as your arm,” but wanted to stress that it employed both hard and soft power together.

General Nicholson, also an IWP trustee, began his comments with a personal reflection. He described hearing the church bells ringing in his small, Midwestern town to indicate the invasion was on. He showed a brief video that he had had made during his time on the American Battle Monuments Commission, which showed America’s cemeteries abroad, including Normandy. Most of the visitors to the servicemen’s graves are natives of the country that hosts the cemetery. The cemeteries help convey, in a dramatic way,  the sacrifice and work the United States has done to protect freedom throughout the world.

General Jajko shared a few additional comments, this time focusing mainly on the role of air power in the invasion. The effort of the US Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force was essential, but supportive. General Eisenhower demanded full control of heavy bomber forces for the invasion, which the air forces resisted because it would detract from hitting German cities and industrial centers. With the backing of Roosevelt and Churchill, Eisenhower was able to secure command of the air forces he needed and implement a plan to bomb transportation hubs. This delayed the German response on the day of the invasion. It was also coordinated with the deception effort, as the Allies hit the Pas-de-Calais area much harder then they hit Normandy. Concluding, General Jajko summarized the variety of factors hat made the invasion successful, including the air effort, the leadership of General Eisenhower, the deception effort, and the poor leadership of Hitler.

D-Day Panel, June 2012