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Planning Operation Overlord: Behind the Normandy Invasion

Evening Program on Zoom

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0604
$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
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U.S. troop advance over the seawall at Utah Beach, 1944


“Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies on the northern coast of France." —First Overlord communiqué, June 6, 1944.

From our vantage point of 77 years, the monumental Normandy invasion smoothly unfolded according to a meticulously detailed plan, with 3 million men, 47 divisions, and 6,000 ships piercing Nazi defenses in an inevitable and unstoppable march to Berlin. In reality, Operation Overlord was an almost-impossible political and logistical nightmare to conceive and execute, with the Allied high command weighing and discarding many options for landing sites, dates, and equipment, then pulling together the ultimate battle plan in secret. 

According to David Eisenhower, Germany’s unwillingness to risk the Luftwaffe in the early stages of any invasion meant that their aerial surveillance was almost non-existent in the weeks leading up to D-Day. As a result, they were left to make their calculations based on their knowledge of overall Allied strength and obsolete information regarding the actual troop numbers in southern England. Though they were not even watching the coast with U-boats, they did see the concentrations of troops and naval vessels gathering in southern England (the placement of troops there persuaded Hitler that Normandy was probably the Allied target). But the Germans did not detect the force when it headed to sea.

Before the invasion General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a now-famous memo to be released if Operation Overlord failed, saying the responsibility was his alone. Its success led to the liberation of Paris and hastened the end of the war in Europe. It opened a new Western front, striking a psychological blow to the German military.

David Eisenhower, director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, examines this daring cross-Channel invasion led by the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.


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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.