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Why Was Churchill Against the D-Day Invasion?

Quite a few books have been published concerning the crucial relationship between FDR and Churchill relating to the conduct of Allied arms in WW2. Recurrent themes running through them all are:

1) FDR's instinctive distrust of long-term British motivations, especially as concerns British Colonialism and post-war spheres of influence.

2) American naiveté relating to Soviet intentions, and power politics in general.

3) In particular: The stated reluctance of Churchill to readily acquiesce in a cross-channel invasion of Western Europe, preferring instead to invade the European Continent as far East as possible; Italy, the Balkins, etc..

Below is an excerpt from the diary of James Vincent Forrestal, the last Cabinet-level United States Secretary of the Navy and the first United States Secretary of Defense. What is interesting about this excerpt is that Churchill's reasoning--so disparaged by the Americans during the war as reeking of old-style power politics out of step with the new world order propagated by FDR--is finally, many months after the end of hostilities, being appreciated by high American personages in the light of Soviet post-war actions.

December 2, 1945 Forrestal's Diary:

In reading Sir Maurice Hankey's description of the work of the British War Cabinet I recalled the fact that Churchill was extremely skeptical of the success of the Overlord operation--the D-Day invasion of the Norman coast on June 6, 1944. It is doubtful whether ... this operation would have been undertaken when it was if not for American pressure . . . . One factor in Churchill's reluctance may have been his readiness to listen to Air Marshal Harris, who always believed that Germany could be brought to surrender by mass bombing. [Note: This speculation by Forrestal is not born out by the documentation, though Churchill did sometimes utilize this false premise in his arsenal of argument against a second front in France.]

Churchill's conservatism, which is the outgrowth of the very heavy British casualties in World War I, may have been a salutary brake on American initiative in 1942 . . . . Churchill's eyes were always on the Mediterranean [See: What Was The Mediterranean Strategy & Could It Have Won The War For Germany?], and he was always endeavoring to secure American support in his plans for the invasion of Europe either through the Balkins or by an expedition up the Adriatic and into the Balkins . . . .

It is clear now that it was not timidity or lack of boldness on Churchill's part that influenced him to bring this pressure, but rather his fear of the spreading influence of Russia throughout the entire Balkin peninsula and his desire to have American troops, jointly with the British, appear in those countries as the conquerors of the Germans.

The American failure to appreciate Churchill's superior strategic grasp was, of course, due to the between-the-wars retreat to Isolationism of the United States. As a result, US diplomats and politicians just did not have the experience or background in Geopolitics necessary to rightly interpret foreign affairs with the insight or expertise of the power-wise British.

The other aspect is that, in terms of raw power, the US was potentially--and later in the war, the actual--possessor of superior force, far beyond anything the British could muster. In practical application, this disparity of power allowed the under-experienced Americans the lead role in decisions that proved to be beyond their understanding.

Post-war events bore out the plain fact that Churchill's conceptions of the real world proved far superior to that of his less-experienced allies. The fact is that they would have been better served to follow the British lead, as Forrestal belatedly admits in the above extract. The Cold War thus began with the Western Powers forced to play a game of catch-up that they were never quite able to pull off. Containment was the result, and the fifty-some year drag on Global Progress was the consequence.

It is clear from Churchill's correspondence with FDR, and from what he wrote in his memoirs (recommended reading), that his major consideration, as concerns the D-Day invasion, was to ensure that the Western Allies reoccupied territory conquered by the Nazis as far East as possible, thereby denying the Soviets as much territory in Eastern Europe as possible. This is why he preferred to fight the Germans in Italy and push up into the Balkans, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc., rather than having to march clear across Western Europe starting from the furthest point, the Channel. This would have avoided fighting for all of France, territory which the Soviets could not have reached in any regard.

And, arguably, it would have been a good strategy, especially when one considers how the war did end, with the Soviets in control of all of Eastern Europe. Would that sufficient resources had been devoted to Italy, and that the Generals in charge had been good ones. In the event, the Allied effort in Italy was too small and ill-led to be a game-changer. What could have been a strategic initiative to deny the Soviets an empire in Eastern Europe ended up being a counter-productive bone of contention with the USSR and an expensive side-show that achieved none of its intended goals.

The post-war occupation map was Churchill's number one concern, while that of the US was to defeat Germany as expediently as possible so that they could shift their focus to Japan. Before the Atomic Bomb was completed--and recognized for the war-changing weapon that it was--FDR was very concerned that he keep Stalin happy so that the Red Army would help against the Japanese. Churchill, eloquently utilizing such arguments as the 'soft underbelly' and post-war strategic concerns, managed to avoid the cross-channel front Stalin insisted upon for years. The Americans eventually forced him to go along with it in no uncertain terms. Churchill held out as long as he could, but the longer the war went on the less actual bargaining power he possessed.

The American preponderance in men and material won out over Churchill's strategic conceptions, which in hindsight put the West in a less advantageous position in the Cold War than it could have been, arguably, had Churchill's vision been given more weight. FDR had come to be distrustful of Churchill's anti-Soviet stance, suspecting that the PM was more concerned with maintaining the power and prestige of the British Empire at the expense of their Soviet Ally than defeating Hitler as quickly as possible. When FDR was warned that if the invasion of France were put off for yet another year Stalin would be tempted to make a separate peace with Hitler, he forced Churchill to acquiesce.

FDR was convinced that he had come to an understanding with Stalin on a personal level, and he was under the impression that post-war conflicts between the East and West would be settled amicably through his own statesmanship. Few men are able to recognize their own mortality in a timely manner, and FDR was not among those few. Perhaps he was correct that if he'd been around after Hitler's defeat he could have forged a lasting peace in conjunction with his partner Stalin, but of course he wasn't. Instead, Churchill's view of post-war realities proved to be prescient, but by then he was out of power and FDR was dead.

At least Churchill lived long enough to be able to say "I told you so," though I doubt that the satisfaction of eventually having been proved right mitigated, in any way, the tragedy that the Cold War proved to be for the millions of captured souls behind the Iron Curtain.

Conclusion: Churchill was long opposed to the D-Day Invasion of Normandy because he preferred that the Western Allies invade Hitler's Europe as far east as possible. He unsuccessfully championed this policy to deny Stalin as much territory in Europe as was practicable. But to his credit, when the decision was finally made, he threw all of his energy and eloquence into supporting the effort.
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