London, England · June 4, 1944

Tomorrow, June 5, 1944, a Monday, was to have been the big day, the Allied in­va­sion of a 50‑mile stretch of Ger­man-occu­pied beach on the French Nor­man­dy coast. The in­va­sion, code­named Oper­a­tion Over­lord, had been pushed from May, when the weather had been perfect, to June to allow another month’s buildup of landing craft. But gloomy weather reports pre­dicted un­suit­able con­di­tions for an amphi­bi­ous landing in early June: launching landing craft from mother ships in strong winds and high seas would be nigh to im­pos­sible. Supporting Allied war­ships and air­craft would be ham­pered by low clouds and bad visibility.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Com­mander Allied Expedi­tion­ary Forces, had ten­ta­tively selected June 5 as the start date (D‑Day) for the long-rehearsed assault on Fes­tung Europa. But now he ordered Allied troop con­voys already at sea to take shelter in bays and inlets on the south coast of Eng­land for the night. It seemed en­tirely pos­sible that the cross-Chan­nel in­va­sion would have to be delayed two weeks, and the ship­borne troops, para­troopers, and glider-borne infantry­men ready to embark must return to their embarkation camps.

At a meeting late on this date, June 4, Over­lord’s meteo­ro­logist, Group Cap­tain James Stagg, cau­tiously pre­dicted im­prove­ment for June 6. British Gen. Ber­nard Law Mont­gomery, over­all ground com­man­der for the in­va­sion, and Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisen­hower’s chief of staff, pressed Eisen­hower to proceed. On the strength of Stagg’s fore­cast, Eisen­hower ordered the invasion to proceed one day later, on June 6.

Mean­while the enemy took com­fort from the existing poor weather con­di­tions, which were worse over North­ern France than over the Eng­lish Chan­nel, and believed no Allied in­va­sion was pos­sible for sev­eral days. Some Ger­man troops stood down and many senior offi­cers were away for the week­end. Field Marshal Erwin Rom­mel—the man entrusted with defending the French coast between Nor­man­dy and the Pas-de-Calais—took a few days’ leave to cele­brate his wife’s birth­day back in Ger­many, while dozens of divi­sion, regi­mental, and bat­ta­lion com­manders were away from their posts con­ducting war games just prior to the in­va­sion. Their absence and that of large armored units close by meant that the 24‑hour period Rommel had given himself to defeat the invaders had no chance of happening.

Carlo D’Este’s Decision in Normandy provides stunning insight into the Allied high com­mand during the 1944 Normandy Cam­paign. What makes D’Este’s account of British General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Law Mont­gomery’s leader­ship so effec­tive is his analy­sis of the historio­graphy that has muddied the waters of Normandy for histo­rians. D’Este reveals how the poli­tical cli­mate of post­war Europe forced Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Com­mander Allied Expedi­tion­ary Forces, to up­hold the myth (in D’Este’s eyes) that Monty, in com­mand of all Allied ground forces, had been the archi­tect of vic­tory in the Normandy Cam­paign. Harboring presi­dential am­bit­ions, Ike was unwilling to upset Anglo-Ameri­can rela­tions in the atmo­sphere of the Cold War by criti­cizing Britain’s most beloved general. D’Este there­fore demon­strates how the counter­argument was sup­pressed by the very man who had the most cause to criti­cize Monty. Indeed, after having pro­mised far-reaching results, Opera­tion Good­wood (July 18–20, 1944), a British opera­tion east of Caen and just south of the Normandy beach­heads, failed to achieve the break­through Mont­gomery had promised his boss. Eisen­hower evidently came close to losing his patience with Mont­gomery over this, exclaiming that “only seven miles were gained—can we afford to drop a thou­sand tons of bombs per mile?” Besides his fas­ci­nating analysis of the history of Monty’s leader­ship as well as the prob­lems that plagued him (a short­age of infan­try reserves, the inade­quacy of British tank design, and the offi­ciousness of Prime Minis­ter Win­ston Chur­chill), D’Este proves how in reality the British Army cannot be said to have played the key role in liberating Normandy.—John Merrington

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Erwin Rommel: Planning the Defense of Festung Europa, January–May 1944

Rommel (left) and von Rundstedt (middle), Paris, December 1943Rommel (right) and Chief of Staff on inspection tour, April 1944

Left: Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief West Gerd von Rund­stedt (center, age 68) and Erwin Rom­mel (left, 52) at a staff con­fer­ence in Paris, Decem­ber 19, 1943. Hitler sent Rom­mel to von Rund­stedt to pre­pare plans and make sug­ges­tions for the best ways of strength­ening the coastal defenses of the Atlan­tic Wall. Rom­mel’s en­tire staff, over 200 offi­cers and men from Army Group B, trekked much of the length the Atlan­tic Wall from Pas-de-Calais, imme­di­ately oppo­site the Eng­lish coast, to Nor­man­dy further south in early 1944 right through the end of May.

Right: Rommel (right) and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hans Spei­del use a map to in­spect poten­tial in­vasion beaches at Pas-de-Calais, April 18, 1944. Almost all Ger­man gen­erals believed that the Pas-de-Calais, where the con­ti­nent was closest to Eng­land (just over 20 miles away) and the sea voy­age short and air cover sim­pler, was the most likely site for the anti­ci­pated Allied in­va­sion. Intui­tion led Hitler to think Nor­man­dy was where the in­va­sion would come, but he, too, believed that the Pas-de-Calais was the Schwer­punkt, prin­cipal target.

Rommel (hands in front) near Caen, May 30, 1944Rommel (left) near Sword Beach, end of May 1944

Left: Rommel inspecting troops and a half-track trans­porter of the newly intro­duced 80mm mul­tiple roc­ket launcher (Nebel­werfer) at Riva Bella in Nor­man­dy near Caen, May 30, 1944, a week before the cross-Channel invasion.

Right: Rommel and an officer observe artil­lery shells falling into the sea at Riva Bella, about 10 miles north of Caen in the area that would become Sword Beach, the eastern­most D‑Day landing site, end of May 1944.

German Newsreel Showing Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Inspecting Atlantic Wall Defenses, January 1944 (in German)