The anniversary of D-Day and that of the attack on Pearl Harbor mark the nation’s primary points for reflection on World War II – the most profound conflict in human history.
That D-Day would endure as a symbol of the war for America makes sense. The amphibious attack was highly anticipated. When carried out, it proved to be a watershed moment in the European Theater.
Of course, the Soviet Union did most of the heavy lifting in taming the Nazi threat, but once America established a foothold in France, Nazi capitulation became inevitable.
But what if the invasion of Normandy had failed? What if U.S. forces had gained no footing in France? Would the Soviets have been able to defeat Nazi Germany alone? If not, then what would a Nazi-controlled Europe have looked like? And if the Soviets had prevailed, how much of the European continent would they have claimed for themselves? How far would the Iron Curtain have fallen?
According to the Department of Defense, D-Day almost was a failure.
“While the ultimate goal of liberating France and ousting the Germans did happen, a lot went wrong on D-Day – especially for the Americans, who were the first to launch the invasion,” the DOD website reads. “Thousands of U.S. paratroopers died during their drop behind enemy lines at Utah Beach, having been shot out of the sky by enemy fire or weighed down and drowned in flooded marshlands. Many also missed their landing spots, as did the seaborne forces, which landed more than a mile from their intended destination, thanks to strong currents.”
Further problems awaited the Allies at Omaha Beach.
“The Omaha offensive turned out to be the bloodiest of the day, largely in part because Army intelligence underestimated the German stronghold there. Rough surf caused huge problems for the amphibious tanks launched at sea; only two of 29 made it to shore, while many of the infantrymen who stormed off the boats were gunned down by Germans. Gen. Omar Bradley, who led the Omaha forces, nearly considered abandoning the operation. Somehow, though, both sectors of U.S. troops managed to advance their positions for overall success.
Historians have spent decades considering what failure on D-Day might have meant.
“Had D-Day failed, it would have been particularly costly for Britain. They were already running out of manpower, particularly the Army,” Professor Gary Sheffield told the BBC.
“Had D-Day failed, it would have given a major boost to morale in Germany,” Professor Soenke Neitzel added. “The German people had expected this to be the decisive battle, and if they could beat the Allies, they might be able to win the war. I think Hitler would have withdrawn his core division from the West to fight on the Eastern Front.”
In America, failure might have had significant repercussions, too. “Had D-Day failed, there would have been an agonizing reappraisal among the Americans who had pushed for a cross-channel invasion. Eisenhower would almost certainly have offered his resignation; it would almost certainly have had to be accepted. It’s also possible that US President Roosevelt could have lost the November 1944 election, so there could have been a change in administrations,” Professor Dennis Showalter said.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.