History24 Nov 2008 12:51 pm
Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy across the English Channel, was the largest military invasion in the history of the world. Never before or since were so many troops and resources dedicated to a consolidated effort, and it would be hard to find another invasion that had such wide-ranging effects—the liberation of France, the collapse of the Nazi regime, and, within a year, the end of the European theater of World War II. The event was met with jubilation in France and across the West and in much of Germany, as well, where many ordinary citizens eagerly anticipated the end of the war. However, it was preceded by a bitter political struggle between British and American generals and politicians. In particular, there were significant disagreements about what role the Russian army should play in the invasion. There was no question that the invasion could not succeed without the massive Red Army, but there were also few illusions about what a Russian invasion of Eastern Europe would ultimately mean.
The particular issue that caused the greatest disagreement was allowing the Red Army to take Berlin (along with Prague). The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the decision was his to make. In the months leading up to the invasion, Eisenhower was intent on taking Berlin, but there still was no clear understanding about what such an operation would cost. By April 1945, according to a long consideration of the issue by Theodore Draper, Eisenhower was intent on taking Berlin, but only “cheaply” or at “little cost.” General Omar Bradley was, unlike Eisenhower, actually on the field of battle, and he didn’t think there would be nothing “cheap” about the invasion: he expected it to cost 100,000 American troops. Eisenhower thought the cost was too high, but many historians disagree.
There is a widespread belief that allowing the Russians to take Berlin initiated and ultimately prolonged the Cold War, at far greater cost. This was the view of many in Britain at the time, but Eisenhower had to make his decision based on actual lives rather than possible consequences decades later. It was the same mentality he would bring to the presidency, when he supported an invasion of Lebanon that helped the American-friendly government survive for decades longer, but pulled out of Korea and failed to support the Hungarian uprising, believing both enterprises to be doomed no matter what. He may have felt the same way about Berlin, though the issue will continue to be debated for decades to come.
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