4-231 Editorial Note on OVERLORD and ANVIL

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on OVERLORD and ANVIL

January-February 1944

Preparation of strategic and tactical plans for the invasion of Normandy (OVERLORD) was complicated by the debate over the role of the southern France invasion (ANVIL) and the impact OVERLORD-ANVIL would have on the conduct of future operations in the Mediterranean theater. General Eisenhower’s planners in London agreed that in order to insure success the initial assault wave into Normandy must consist of five divisions—rather than three divisions originally planned—followed by two divisions on the first day of the assault. This plan required additional landing craft and supporting naval bombardment forces; thus the expanded OVERLORD plan presented the possibility of a reduced ANVIL or perhaps its total elimination. General Marshall believed that ANVIL was linked to the success of OVERLORD. Even though most of the planners at Eisenhower’s London headquarters, including Sir Bernard Montgomery and Walter Bedell Smith, agreed to a major reduction in ANVIL in early January 1944, Eisenhower would not consent to this, except as a last resort. Smith agreed with Montgomery and the British Chiefs of Staff that ANVIL should be reduced to a threat rather than viewed as an operation. Eisenhower wrote to Marshall on January 17 that “according to my understanding the British and American staffs at Teheran definitely assured the Russians that ANVIL would take place. Secondly, we have put into the French Army a very considerable investment. Since these troops, plus the Americans and the British, cannot profitably be used in decisive fashion in Italy, we must open a gateway for them into France or all of our French investment will have been wasted. Altogether there would be a great number of American and other forces locked up in the Mediterranean from whom we will be deriving no benefit.” (Papers of DDE, 3: 1652-53, 1661-62; quote on p. 1662.)

Eisenhower was prepared, however, to accept a postponement of the actual invasion into early June in order to collect the additional forces required. But he insisted that OVERLORD and ANVIL “must be viewed as one whole.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed on January 31 to the broader assault front and a postponement of the invasion date until June. (Ibid., pp. 1673-76.) The expanded assault plan required a larger naval and air support program, as well as a more complicated tactical plan for the initial assault. The new Allied operational plan for the cross-Channel invasion, code-named NEPTUNE, was issued on February 1, 1944. (The NEPTUNE Initial Joint Plan is discussed in Gordon A. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1951], pp. 173-97.)

The Mediterranean theater was an obvious place to obtain, in part, the necessary landing craft and naval support for an expanded OVERLORD. American planners regarded further Allied offensive operations north of Rome to be strategically wasteful and unlikely to produce significant results; consequently they insisted upon the retention of ANVIL in some form. The British came to oppose ANVIL in favor of continued offensive operations in Italy. On February 4 the British Chiefs of Staff supported Prime Minister Churchill’s position that the OVERLORD-ANVIL operations were not strategically interwoven because of the distance of rugged terrain between the areas and the defensive strength of modern weapons. The difficulties currently being experienced with the Anzio operation, an amphibious assault launched on January 22 north of the main Allied lines in Italy and designed to open the main road to Rome, also influenced British thinking. The British believed that events in Italy had altered the general strategic situation and there was more to be gained by further commitment to a ground war in Italy than in allocating troops to the ANVIL operation. The British Chiefs of Staff considered the retention of a one-division lift capability in the Mediterranean to assist continued offensive operations in Italy much more useful than collecting the massive support necessary for a one- or two-division ANVIL. The British believed also that the strategic result without ANVIL would be the same, that the Germans would be forced to retain divisions in Italy that could alternately be employed against OVERLORD. (Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1954], pp. 111-13; Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 168-69. For Churchill’s account of this debate, see Winston S. Churchill, Closing the Ring, a volume in The Second World War [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1951], pp. 511-14.)

As the views of the War Department and the British regarding ANVIL grew more divergent, Eisenhower found himself in a difficult position. He agreed that ANVIL was important, but he also was responsible for the success of OVERLORD and the possibility of a simultaneous two-division ANVIL appeared less feasible. On February 6 Eisenhower asked the chief of staff for his personal views because “I feel that as long as you and I are in complete coordination as to purpose that you in Washington and I here can do a great deal toward achieving the best overall results. . . . I honestly believe that a five division assault is the minimum that gives us a really favorable chance for success. I have earnestly hoped that this could be achieved by the 31st of May without sacrificing a strong ANVIL.” However, Eisenhower believed that “late developments in Italy create the possibility that the necessary forces there cannot be disentangled in time to put on a strong ANVIL. This is a factor that must be considered. Some compensation would arise from the fact that as long as the enemy fights in Italy as earnestly and bitterly as he is now doing, the action there will in some degree compensate for the absence of an ANVIL.” (Papers of DDE, 3: 1707.)

The next day General Marshall expressed his concerns over the ANVIL debate in the following message to Eisenhower (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-232 [4: 271-72]).

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 269-270.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 4-231

Rights: Public Information