24 July 2015

What Can We Learn From D-Day?


We mark the 6th of June each year to remember what has become to be known as D-Day.  On this date in 1944, Operation Neptune was launched to reclaim the European Continent from the Germans.
It was a grand endeavor that utilized 6,939 naval vessels of various types; 195,700 Naval personnel; 11,590 Allied aircraft; and over 156,000 troops (initially).  By the end of D+5 (June 11), the Allies had 326,547 troops on the beach as well as 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies.
Casualties were high on both sides.  The total killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Normandy (June 6-25) for both sides totaled 425,000 (all stats are from:  http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/about-d-day-operation-overlord-facts-and-figures/)
There are a number of things we can learn from this vast operation.  I’d like to touch on a few of them.
1.      Operational Security
2.      Coordination of Forces
3.      Logistics
The first item to look at is operational security.  The Allies were able to keep Operation Overlord from the Germans, even though there was a huge build-up of men and materials in Great Britain.  How did they do that? In most history books, it has been mentioned that both deception and strict need-to-know access was wrapped around Operation Fortitude.  This was to create diversions and feints to the north (Norway) and northern part of France.  Only the top commanders knew all of what was to happen.  Field commanders were told enough information to train their troops.  A tight leash was also kept on all troops who were to take part and this caused some friction with everyone who knew that something big was in the works.
Next, coordination of forces was a very important aspect of the whole operation.  The Allies had naval, air, and ground troops from a dozen different countries (although, most were American, British or Canadian).  Coordination also had to take place with the Free French Resistance.  All elements had to be ready to move at the same time to allow for the most opportunity to succeed.  This was done almost flawlessly during the planning stages.  When execution of the plan came, all knew what to expect from them and there was little confusion, at least as to the plan.  Of course, the fog of war brings other issues to the table.
Lastly, logistics is the lifeblood of any fighting force.  It is one thing to get the troops on the beach and into the fight.  It is totally another issue to keep them supplied and sustained so that the operation does not falter.  One of the greatest portions of Operation Overlord was the ability to build “Mulberry Harbors” off the beach whereby store ships were able to offload their supplies and have them quickly trucked to the beach.  Each beachhead had logistics specialists that organized the supplies and got them to the units that needed them.  This kept the fight going and proved a major success overall for the operation.
So were the lessons from D-Day learned by today’s military?  If we look back to Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990/1991, we can see the coalition forces use many of the same tactics that were used during the Normandy Invasion.  Operational security was maintained, deception was used and the coalition supply lines were strong.  This brought about a very quick and decisive victory for the coalition and got the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.  General Schwarzkopf and his team took a page from the Operation Overlord book and were able to bring about this victory.
Fast forward to 2001 and through today, my goal here isn’t to dig too deeply into the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, but rather to open the conversation up to the RP members.  Did we take the lessons learned from D-Day 1944 and from the 1st Gulf War and utilize them to our advantage?  If not, what was done differently?  If so, what did we do that worked?  How, as leaders, can we learn from our past successes and our past failures and apply that to today’s battlefield?  What do we need to watch out for as we move to our next adversary? It should be an interesting discussion!

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