[September 23, 2019] Planning for the Allied invasion of the European mainland on June 6, 1944 to overthrow the Nazi regime began many months before the landings at Normandy, France. This was to begin the greatest military assault in history. For everything to work, however, it required tremendous collaboration among the Allies.
The magnitude of the invasion and follow-on military effort staggers the imagination. It included air, ground, and sea forces of more than 20 nations, including the French underground. It integrated a herculean logistical effort, reconnaissance, weapons’ redesign, mapping, intense secrecy, and deception. The requirement to destroy the German war machine required the combined efforts of many nations.
The success of the collaboration resulted in a stunned enemy and a surprised world on D-Day. Lessons from previous landings from Dunkirk, Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, and many others were integrated into the planning effort. It was complex and no one knew for sure if success would be achieved. But it worked.
“Everything proceeded according to plan. And what a plan!” – Prime Minister Winston Churchill commenting on the D-Day invasion
Collaboration was the key to making this effort possible and it was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower who was selected to pull it all together. Collaboration is no easy task even when everyone agrees upon the mission and strategy. Every stakeholder will have strong views on “how” plans are designed and carried out and each has a different cultural-historical view of it.
The first and most important thing Gen. Eisenhower did was to build trust among the many Allies. Today, we look back and give Eisenhower’s effort a quick comment in passing but the success on the battlefield was the result of the incredibly complex job of gaining the trust of senior-level leaders that intrinsically did not trust one another and among many who hated each other.
Collaboration is what makes leadership. It is a rare leader who can pull people together to agree upon a common goal, decide what to do and when to do it, and then orchestrate a combined effort to get things done. In the First Gulf War Coalition there were 35 nations and more than 90 nations in the Iraq War. Cultures do clash and language barriers accelerate misunderstandings, it is a wonder that WWII for any war since produced a successful outcome.
For many decades to come, these wars will be studied to learn how allies and coalitions were created and held together. That lesson should never be lost.