Operation OVERLORD – Three, of many, lessons…

Operation OVERLORD – Three, of many, lessons…

06 Jun 24
Posted by: The Editor
Message from the Editor

There are hundreds of lessons we have learned from the Second World War, here are three important ones to reflect upon today as we commemorate the 80th Anniversary of D-Day.

There is a widespread view that there are no votes in Defence and Security in the West – ‘it’s the economy stupid’!  Certainly, the UK is doing its best to prove the rule once again. As we commemorate the 80th Anniversary of Operation OVERLORD, what lessons will the great and the good, the media and the public at large take away? Here are three big ones to aid our understanding of war today. Ordinary People, Logistics and Control of the Sea win wars.

Ordinary People: “My Dad or my Grandfather, as well as great Aunty Doris were there, but for some reason they did not talk about the war, so I have very little real understanding of what they did.” The Second World War was a total war, a global event such that it was fought by all the men and women of the country, indeed of the world, doing extraordinary things – not professional armies. Look to Ukraine and Russia – it is everyday people who are now fighting that conflict. So maybe, no matter who wins the election, some form of UK National Service in whatever guise is not such a bad idea? To give our youth an understanding of service and duty in some form or other in today’s very dangerous world maybe no bad thing. To borrow a 1940s phrase, ‘if the balloon goes up’ – our professional Armed Forces of just 150,000 are not going to cut it. Ordinary people with minimal training fight wars.

Logistics: D-Day. This was the opening of a third front of the War in Europe, the others being the Eastern Front and the often-forgotten Southern Front in Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean. Not to mention the four theatres of war against the Japanese in the Indo-Pacific on the other side of the world. The Western Front which had been stationary since 1941, fixed after the Battle of Britain and the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic for over three years. So how were we able to achieve movement on the front? Three things, firstly the US entering the Second World War initially to fight Japan and then to fight Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. American industrial might, and a war economy beyond the range of enemy bombing provided the equipment, support and fuel necessary to sustain huge scales of military hardware and trained people to operate it along with providing the fuel to move it. The Allies on both the Eastern Front and the Southern Front were sustained by vital seaborne convoys to facilitate war fighting whereas the build-up of equipment, logistic support and people in the UK took over two years before D-Day became a possibility. So, Logistics win wars, again if we look to Ukraine without logistic support on a grand uninterrupted scale achieved at a rate considerably greater than the opposition, we cannot expect Ukraine to achieve its aims. The wider Russian leadership, not just Putin, are entirely comfortable to play a very long game and are moving the Russian economy onto a ‘war footing’, we need to decide whether we provide the logistics necessary to win or continue with a just enough just in time approach where eventually, we will run out of Ukrainians. It took three years to pull off D-Day where is the three year plan for Ukraine? (The Russians have one, in fact I bet they’ve got a 15 year one!)

Sea Control. Without hard won control of the sea it is impossible to win wars. The ultimate turning of the tide of both the surface and importantly the sub surface actions in the Battle of the Atlantic in favour of the Allies in 1943 enabled the continuous and then prodigious logistic support necessary to hold the Eastern front, enable steady progress on the much narrower Southern Front and ultimately get the Western front moving. There is a catchy phrase used today to explain the Red Sea scrap with the Houthis – ‘no ships, no shopping’, in the 1940s it was no ships, no support! This oft forgotten lesson – sea control was the key to winning the War both in Europe and in the Pacific. Sea control in 2024 is a more complex and a more nuanced subject being waged in more subtle and disturbing methods. Classically, it is enabling Ukrainian exports of grain through the Black Sea and in a different conflict keeping ‘the coalitions of the willing’ busy in maintaining freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. However, disturbingly, the lack of rules based bureaucratic sea control is also facilitating a ghost Fleet enabling Russian oil to be laundered across the world.

As we reflect on the three-year plan that became OVERLORD and the huge personal sacrifice of the 153,000 who landed in Normandy 80 years ago today and particularly the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice, let’s reflect on the wider lessons, here are just three, there are many, many more.