Posted on 10th June 2022
#ForgottenFriday – Eisenhower’s Unsent Message
Learn of the #Forgotten Letter from Eisenhower over the Day Landings!
Despite his confidence about the cross-Channel attack on 6th June 1944 – Operation Overlord – General D Wight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, remained concerned about the landings’ success.
As a student of the history of warfare and tempered by almost two years of experience as a theatre commander in Europe, Eisenhower knew how easily a well-planned operation could become a disaster and how hard it was to turn defeat into victory unless the enemy made mistakes.
Eisenhower had spent much of his career learning how to plan big operations. Although D-Day Landings had been prepared in detail and simplified where they would be, he faced uncertainties. In the first week of June, the Supreme Commander faced uncertain weather, and his concerns about the status of German panzer divisions in Normandy and some doubts about the air attacks and naval gunfire operations that would precede the landings.
He realised that he might have been sending three Allied airborne divisions to potential destruction. He weighed all the risks with care but commented to an aide: ‘I hope to God I know what I am doing’. Underneath his serious but outgoing persona, Eisenhower thought about his course of action should Operation Overlord fail.
After a long meeting with his British and American senior commanders and principal staff officers on 4th June General Eisenhower postponed the 5th June landing because of the bad weather. When more promising weather reports were received, he called the same officers in the conference room at 4.15pm on 5th June 1944 at his headquarters at Southwick House, just up the north of Portsmouth. He had his staff meteorologist, RAF Group Captain J M Stagg, present the latest forecasts which offered a window of moderating wind and rain on 6th June. Should the landing be postponed again, the expeditionary force would have to wait weeks for more favourable tides, moon phase and weather. The consensus of advice was to go. After a few minutes of pacing, Eisenhower said ‘Ok, we will go’.
“At this point Eisenhower could do little but await the results of the 6th June landings and parachute drops. He fretted through his routine paperwork and tried to calm his anxieties by chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking masses of coffee. Some time during the afternoon of 5th June he wrote a brief note to be used if the landings failed, in which he absolved everyone but himself for the failure. He did not, however, offer to resign, a telling sign in his confidence in his own commanded, Ike tucked the note in his wallet where it remained for a month until he pulled it out and gave it to an aide. Its message had been overtaken by victorious events.”
– ‘Objects of the Second World War’, 2012, Julian Thompson & Dr Allan Millett
The note was written on June 5th 1944, the day before D-Day, Eisenhower scribbled a note to be used in the event of failure on the following day, taking all the blame on himself. His state of mind can be gauged by his writing of the wrong date at the end, 5th July instead of 5th June.