Ike's Three Great Decisions That Shaped World War II

Article excerpt

In the 70 years since the United States embarked upon World War II, the reputations of many senior field commanders have ebbed and flowed. None has withstood the judgment of history more so than that of GEN Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Over the course of the European war, Eisenhower made numerous critical decisions involving the selection of subordinates, military strategy, and the cohesion of the Western Alliance, but three controversial decisions stand out and mark Ike as a great commander: the decision to launch D-Day, the broad front strategy and the redirection of Allied forces from Berlin toward the Southern Redoubt in April 1945. Ike's three critical decisions as Supreme Commander not only dictated the course of the war in northwest Europe, but also laid the foundation for the postwar world.

Two years from the day when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt informed Eisenhower that he was to command the Allied Expeditionary Force. Though the President had considered Army Chief of Staff GEN George Marshall for the appointment, Roosevelt felt he could not spare Marshall from Washington, D.C. Consequently, he appointed Eisenhower, whom he considered "the best politician among the military men. He is a natural leader who can convince other men to follow him, and this is what we need in his position more than any other quality. " Ike proved an inspired choice.

On February 12, 1944, Eisenhower received the formal directive from the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS): "You are hereby designated as Supreme Allied Commander of the forces placed under your_prders for operations for liberation of Europe from Germans. ... You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces." This mission statement formed the foundation of Ike's wartime strategy as he organized Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). Given complete latitude by the CCS, Eisenhower defined operations aimed at the "industrial heart" of Germany, the Ruhr and the Saar, concluding that such operations would lead to the destruction of the German armed forces because the Germans would defend the industrial heart with maximum forces available.

Though the British provided the details of D-Day and the proposed site of the landings, only the Supreme Commander could make the fateful decision to launch the invasion. On June 1, Ike transferred SHAEF (Advance) to Southwick House, Adm. Bertram H. Ramsay's headquarters north of Portsmouth. Weather and meteorological data dictated that the invasion must occur between June 5-7 or the next possible period in mid-June. In Eisenhower's own words, he felt that the only remaining great decision to be faced before D-Day "was that of fixing, definitely, the day and hour of the assault." It was at Southwick House that Ike made the decision that he was bom to make.

Following a one-day postponement due to severe weather conditions in the English Channel, the senior Allied commanders met to discuss the feasibility of designating June 6, 1944, as D-Day. Meeting on the evening of June 4, Bee sought recommendations from his principal subordinates. First up was Group Captain James M. Stagg, the chief meteorological officer for Operation Overlord, who predicted a temporary slackening in the inclement weather on the morning of June 6.

Then it was the commanders' turn. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commanding the ground forces, recommended proceeding with the invasion. Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who feared excessive casualties among the airborne troops, remained pessimistic. Ramsey opined that if the invasion were to go forward on June 6, an order had to be given immediately. Ike weighed all the alternatives and said, "I am quite positive we must give the order. I don't like it, but there it is. …