World War II: D-Day


Join Active Minds for a look this crucial turning point in World War II.  We will examine the dynamics that led up to the Invasion of Normandy, the complicated and challenging preparation process, and the decisive impact this battle had upon the outcome of the war.

Key Lecture Points

  • D-Day, so named using the military convention of planning an operation with an undetermined specific date, was the beginning of the crucial battle for the Allies in the European theater during World War II.  In establishing a foothold on the western beaches of Nazi occupied France, D-Day forced Germany for the first time to fight a two front war in Europe.  As such, this battle marks the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.
  • D-Day was the result of years of planning, begun soon after the US was drawn into the war after the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor.  Codenamed Operation Overlord, the preparation for the attack on Normandy was a logistics marvel, involving hundreds of thousands of troops, as well as thousands of ships, planes, tanks, and other materiel.
  • D-Day should also be viewed in the broader context of European history, dating back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  19th Century European affairs were marked by efforts to prevent war on the continent via a delicate balance of major powers.  The unification of Germany under Bismarck upset that balance, putting the France and Germany on the path to three separate wars in 1870, 1914, and 1939.  Germany’s occupation of France in 1940 solidified its control of the European Continent.  D-Day created the breach in Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”, putting the continent (first the Western part, and later the east) back on the path toward a peaceful balance of power that it has enjoyed since the end of WWII.
  • Under the command of US General Dwight D. Eisenhower and comprised predominantly of American forces and supplies, D-Day also marks the full establishment of the US as global power.

Exploration Questions

  • At present, after years of engagement in Afghanistan and the Iraq, the US appears to be leaning more toward isolation from conflict abroad.  As it relates to the debate over engagement, what lessons can be drawn from D-Day as we reflect upon it 70 years later?
  • At times, the US and British planners were at odds with each other about strategy leading up to D-Day.  How might events have differed if decisions had gone in other directions?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever visited the Normandy battlefield or know of anyone that has? How did it make you/them feel?
  • Many movies have attempted to capture the events of June 6, 1944.  Which ones have you seen and how did they convey the experience?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1944, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1998.
    Click here to order
  • Kershaw, Ian. Fateful Choices; Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941, The Penguin Press, NY, 2008.
    Click here to order
  • Ryan, Cornelius. The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1959.
    Click here to order
  • Perry, Mark. Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace, The Penguin Group, NY, 2007.
    Click here to order