General Dwight D. Eisenhower launches Operation Overlord - HISTORY
Year
1944

General Dwight D. Eisenhower launches Operation Overlord

On this day in 1944, now known as D-Day, future President Dwight D. Eisenhower, then supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II gives the go-ahead for a massive invasion of Europe called Operation Overlord. Back in America, President Franklin Roosevelt waited for word of the invasion’s success.

By the first week of June 1944, Nazi Germany controlled most of Western Europe. Allied forces, numbering 156,000, were poised to travel by ship or plane over the English Channel to attack the German army dug in at Normandy, France, on June 5. Eisenhower had a window of only four days of decent weather in which an invasion would be possible. When bad weather hit the channel on June 4, Eisenhower wrestled with the idea of postponing Operation Overlord. Weather conditions were predicted to worsen over the next two weeks and he had thousands of personnel and thousands of tons of supplies that were in his words, hanging on the end of a limb. After a promising but cautious report from his meteorologist at 9:45 p.m. on June 5, Eisenhower told his staff let’s go.

That night, from Allied headquarters in England, Ike, as he was later affectionately called, composed a solemn and inspirational statement that was delivered the next day as a letter into the hands of every soldier, sailor and airman set to embark on Operation Overlord. In a radio delivery of the message, Eisenhower displayed the confidence and leadership skills that in 1952 would clinch his election to the presidency. Reminding the men that the eyes of the world are upon you and that their opponents would fight savagely, Ike exhorted them to be brave, show their devotion to duty and accept nothing less than victory! In closing, he wished his troops good luck and sought the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. At the time, no one knew that, along with that statement, Eisenhower had also scribbled a note in which he accepted all blame in case the mission failed. The note remained crumpled up in his pocket.

Meanwhile, back at the White House on the afternoon of June 5, President Roosevelt waited for word of Operation Overlord’s commencement. According the Doris Kearns Goodwin in No Ordinary Time, Roosevelt had hoped to be in England with Churchill and Eisenhower for the monumental event, but his declining health made travel impossible. Instead, Roosevelt sat in his office tinkering with the speech he planned to deliver once the invasion began. At his daughter and son’s suggestion, Roosevelt turned the speech into a prayer entitled Let Our Hearts be Stout. First lady Eleanor tried to go about her daily business, but felt suspended in space. At 3 a.m. Eastern time on June 6, Roosevelt received the call that the invasion had commenced. He notified the nation by radio that night, saying at this poignant hour I ask you to join with me in a prayer.

On June 8, 1944, after years of planning, preparation and placating egos among his military peers, Eisenhower was able to report that the Allies had made a harrowing and deadly, but ultimately successful, landing on the beaches of Normandy.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Ashmolean opens

The Ashmolean, the world’s first university museum, opens in Oxford, England.At the time of the English Restoration, Oxford was the center of scientific activity in England. In 1677, English archaeologist Elias Ashmole donated his collection of curiosities to Oxford University, ...read more

James Meredith shot

James H. Meredith, who in 1962 became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, is shot by a sniper shortly after beginning a lone civil rights march through the South. Known as the “March Against Fear,” Meredith had been walking from Memphis, Tennessee, ...read more

Indian army storms Golden Temple

In a bloody climax to two years of fighting between the Indian government and Sikh separatists, Indian army troops fight their way into the besieged Golden Temple compound in Amritsar–the holiest shrine of Sikhism–and kill at least 500 Sikh rebels. More than 100 Indian soldiers ...read more

Battle of Belleau Wood begins

The first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I begins in Belleau Wood, northwest of the Paris-to-Metz road.In late May 1918, the third German offensive of the year penetrated the Western Front to within 45 miles of Paris. U.S. forces under General John J. ...read more

D-Day

Although the term D-Day is used routinely as military lingo for the day an operation or event will take place, for many it is also synonymous with June 6, 1944, the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the ...read more

William Quantrill killed by Union soldiers

William Quantrill, the man who gave Frank and Jesse James their first education in killing, dies from wounds sustained in a skirmish with Union soldiers in Kentucky.Born and raised in Ohio, Quantrill was involved in a number of shady enterprises in Utah and Kansas during his ...read more

The Ed Sullivan Show airs for the very last time

Sunday nights, 8:00 pm, CBS. Ask almost any American born in the 1950s or earlier what television program ran in that timeslot on that network, and they’ll probably know the answer: The Ed Sullivan Show. For more than two decades, Sullivan’s variety show was the premiere ...read more

Sex and the City premieres on HBO

On this day in 1998, the cable network HBO airs the pilot episode of Sex and the City, a new comedy series chronicling the lives and loves of four single women living in New York City.The show’s creator, Darren Star, was best known at the time for producing the long-running Fox ...read more

Train avoids cow, but kills 600

More than 500 passengers are killed when their train plunges into the Baghmati River in India on this day in 1981. The rail accident—the worst in India to that date—was caused by an engineer who was reverential of cows.The nine-car train, filled with approximately 1,000 ...read more

Union claims Memphis in naval battle

On this day, the Union claims Memphis, Tennessee, the Confederacy’s fifth-largest city, a naval manufacturing yard, and a key Southern industrial center.One of the top priorities for Union commanders at the start of the war was to sever the Confederacy along the Mississippi. In ...read more