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Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the Air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
- Memo composed by General Eisenhower, 5 June 1944.

Today, we commemorate one the most glorious chapters of German arms: the lightning-fast response of 21 Panzer Division to Eisenhower’s overconfident thrust, a response that rolled up the British left flank and culminated in the annihilation of the British and American invaders.

How appropriate it is that, lacking the the confidence in race-destiny that comes so naturally to the Germanic peoples, the Allied commander had actually composed his memo taking responsibility for failure beforehand!

Despite the somewhat tense international situation, the commemorative ceremonies have proceeded with our customary German precision. It is certainly a sign of how the bitter memories associated with the dawning of the atomic age over Hamburg, Smolensk and Manchester all those years ago have faded that for the first time we have welcomed to our remembrance the President of France, speaking from Vichy by audio-visual link, and the General Secretary of the British Communist party speaking from London. Many have seen in this technical and political triumph a sign of a possible convergence between the two great systems, National Socialism and Communism, that currently dominate our world.

18 comments to Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold.

  • zmollusc

    Will Xavier March be at the ceremony?

  • David Gillies

    Hmm, interesting bit of counterfactual history there, but I don’t think it would have happened that way. The Allies could have withstood the failure of Overlord. It would have been horrendous, yes, and the loss of men and materiel would have been a terrible blow. But it would not have affected the eventual outcome of the war. Don’t forget that there were only 69 days between VE Day and the Trinity test. The nuclear age wouldn’t have dawned over Hamburg, Smolensk and Manchester, nor would it have dawned over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would have dawned over Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Frankfurt, Munich, Nuremberg and Dresden, and if the Germans had been daft enough not to capitulate it would have carried on dawning over every major population center in the Reich. By late autumn of 1945, the US had nearly two dozen warheads. It’s a sobering thought that if the Battle of the Bulge had been more significant in delaying the Allied advance, the first nuclear weapons would have been deployed against Germany. Indeed, many of the Manhattan Project scientists (especially the European refugees) were dismayed by the use of the bombs against Japan. They signed up with the explicit intent of developing a weapon to be used against the Nazis. The Nazis, on the other hand, were not even close to developing nuclear weapons (for a variety of interesting reasons, not least of which is that many of the best brains in the world at the time were a) Jewish and b) working in New Mexico).

  • David Gillies

    As a followup, it’s also fatuous for the anti-nuke types to bemoan the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. Given that Japan’s surrender was non-negotiable, the question is not whether nukes would have been used against Japan, but when and where (and how many). Even had the decision to undertake a combined-arms invasion of the Home Islands been made, it is inconceivable that nuclear arms would not have been used at least for battlefield preparation.

    Upshot of all this: barring a miracle, the Second World War would have been won in 1945 by the Allies.

  • The irony is that a convergence of communism and fascism actually does dominate the world.

  • I have always considered the statement Eisenhower prepared in case the D-Day invasion had been a massive failure a most remarkable document. It is reflective of his willingness to take personal responsibility for failure as well as his humility. Today, Eisenhower is overlooked. But in my estimation, he was one of the towering figures of the twentieth century, in part because of the very virtues this statement displayed. ((Link))

  • David Gillies:

    By late autumn of 1945, the US had nearly two dozen warheads.

    I was a little suspicious of this claim, so I checked up Dark Sun: The making of the hydrogen bomb by Richard Rhodes.

    On p261 of my copy, about half way down the page, it says:

    Nearly a year after the end of the war, the Bikini bombs used two of only three cores in the US stockpile.

    That doesn’t seem consistent with what you’ve claimed. I suppose it’s possible that the two dozen weapons were dismantled, but I don’t recall reading anything like that. They weren’t used in tests.

    What’s your source?

  • Jacob

    You also overlook the fact that the Russians were advancing strongly from the East, and the Germans had no way of stopping them.
    So it would not have been “possible convergence between the two great systems…”
    Just one system for the whole of Europe.

  • To be honest I don’t think the alternative history I used in the post is the most probable counterfactual.* I picked as providing the most striking dramatic reversal of what really happened. And if you are wondering why America isn’t mentioned, it’s because in this alternative world it is very, very isolationist.

    My husband commented when he saw the post that “the Allies would still have won, but the Iron Curtain would have been much further west.” I think he had it about right – but all the plausible counterfactuals which involve the failure of the D-day landings are pretty damn horrible, and that was my point.

    *”Most probable counterfactual” is a pretty odd concept, when you think about it. I recommend the interesting discussion of the paradoxical process of assigning probabilities to things that didn’t happen in Godel, Escher, Bach.

  • Drat! Second sentence above should read “…I picked it as providing the most striking dramatic reversal…”

    While I’m here:

    Come, come Ken! I trust you were joking. Bad as things are, they aren’t that bad.

  • David Gillies

    I can’t find my original source offhand, and I may have overstated the stockpile available, but both Hanford and Oak Ridge were fully on-stream by that point, and turning out enough fuel to manufacture several bombs a month. This source says by October ’45, monthly production would have been six plutonium bombs and four uranium bombs. I can only assume that my source was stating the amount of fissile material that was potentially available had wartime production continued. The physics and engineering had been done, so the bottleneck was opened. Perhaps the sources differ in the disposition of the fissile material. Once you’ve got a working bomb design and a good supply of fuel, cranking out extra bombs is easy. The time from delivery of the Hanford Pu239 to Trinity was short. And the whole point of plutonium production was that, once a suitable mechanism for its production had been established, its refinement was very much easier than that of uranium.

    Anyway, the point is moot. Had the war continued beyond the summer of ’45, the fact that the Allies had the capability to mount the equivalent of a thousand bomber raid with one B-29 would have meant the capitulation or extermination of any enemy that chose to defy them. WW II was over in ’45, period.

    BTW Natalie, if you want to truly bend* your brain with counterfactuals, check out “A Model of the Universe” by Storrs McCall (ISBN 0198236220). One of the most delicious aspects of this book is how deeply it draws on that most neglected of English moods, the subjunctive. What he calls Type ‘B’** counterfactuals are neatly rendered in Spanish (e.g.) as a combination of the conditional perfect and pluperfect subjunctive: “if I’d known you were coming I’d have baked a cake” -> ” si hubiera sabido que venía habría cocido un queque” .

    *yes, split infinitive
    **Type ‘A’ is of the form ‘if you come I will bake you a cake’. They’re both counterfactual, but…ach, you have to read it

  • Excellent effort Natalie.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve stolen the entire thing for Silent Running.

    It’s a perfect end to our alternate-history liveblogging of D-Day as if the BBC of 1944 had suddenly been replaced by the BBC of today.

    Needless to say, the results were quite chilling

  • R C Dean

    I wouldn’t underestimate the impact a failed D-Day would have had on the war. The domestic political impact in America is unknowable, but there were not insignificant forces at all times arguing for a Japan-first strategy at all times. After all, it was the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor, not the Germans.

    If America had shifted away from the European theater, then the German Western flank would have been quiescent and significant forces could have shifted East. Could the unified German armies have stopped the Russians? No one knows.

  • If D-Day had been a disaster, then probably by August 1944, the Germans could have all but stripped France, the Low Countries and Norway of forces and sent them east. I think it is by no means clear that this would not have halted the Soviet advances or at the very least dramatically slowed them, and thereby bought enough space and time for the war to have developed very differently indeed. The Germans were catching up with several major Allied technical advances (centimetric radars for example) and were clearly overtaking the Allies in several other areas (better jets and the vastly better type XXI U-boats) and only needed space and time to deploy those in useful numbers… a disaster at D-Day would have given them both.

  • Natalie Solent write:

    Come, come Ken! I trust you were joking. Bad as things are, they aren’t that bad.

    Not at all. Don’t think things are that bad? Just take a look at the various things called for in the Communist Manifesto (bottom of the page). How many of those policies are now in place where you live? Here in the US many of them are either wholly or partially in place.

    As for the influence of fascism, keep in mind that it is simply a system in which private property is allowed but the government controls what may be done with that property. Here in the US we have a plethora of fascist acts and agencies: the Endangered Species Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EPA, the FDA, the SEC, etc. I don’t know the equivalents in the UK, so I’ll just ask this: if you were to start a business right now, today, doing anything you’re qualified to do, what government agencies would you have to deal with?

  • But Jacques Chirac would still be speaking at the 60th anniversary.

  • Euan Gray

    Could the unified German armies have stopped the Russians? No one knows.

    Given that in 1944 90% of German resources were already devoted to the Eastern Front and only 10% to the western, and that this didn’t change between D-Day and capitulation, it is reasonable to assume that had the invasion failed Germany would still have been defeated in 1945 or worst case early 1946, but in this case the Red Army would have occupied all of Germany and probably would have stopped in the Low Countries.

    Although Germany had many remarkable weapons available in 1944/45 such as 4-engine jet bombers, ballistic missiles, advanced submarines, etc., they had insufficient resources to develop them in meaningful numbers and they would not have made any significant impact.

    Man for man, general for general, the German forces in WW2 are generally reckoned to have been superior to anything they fought against. However, they laboured under insane political leadership and fatal strategic misdirection (specifically failure to capture the British and French armies at Dunkirk, the invasion of Russia, and the declaration of war on the USA). A German victory at Normandy, although just about theoretically possible, would not have changed this.

    EG

  • I’d read elsewhere that the Higgins boats and other, larger landing craft used in the Normandy landings were later shuttled to the Pacific Theater for use there (Saipan, Peleleiu, Philippines, Iwo, Okinawa, etc.).

    Positing a German repulse of the Normandy landings, one would have to assume heavy loss of landing craft. Without ready stock available to transship, and with the time required to build the lost stock from scratch, MacArthur’s and Nimitz’s offensives up the island chains would have been delayed by months. Japan’s defeat might well still have been inevitable, but it would have been at greater cost and length, and without the hammer of the nuclear option, because we wouldn’t have had bases close enough from which the B-29s could fly.

    And, correct, after Kursk the Germans were doomed. They could neither stabilise their Front, nor turn back Russian offensives, nor mount counter-offensives of their own — as they were able to do even after Stalingrad — and subsequent Russian offensives in 1944 destroyed two of the three Wehrmacht Army Groups deployed there, leaving only the depleted Army Group North to defend the Fatherland.

    Given what the Russians deployed against them at the end, it’s astounding that the Germans were able to hold on for two years after Kursk.

    –furious

  • A courageous and imaginative fillip… I see the bottom line as being the awareness that we’re living in an era when goodness, freedom, decency and self-determination are winning, but at quite some cost. Even a loss at Normandy could not have done more than delay the advance of freedom’s fine flag!

    But this does not, in my mind, excuse the BBC for its pathetic, defeatist, sniping, hyper-critical bias! For shame!