General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

On June 5, 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, issued an order of the day for the following day to all troops who were to participate in D-Day, the Allied invasion of the continent of Europe. Troops had been preparing for months to deliver a final blow to German forces that had occupied much of Western Europe during the previous four years. Filled with strong, exhortative language, Eisenhower's order aimed at building up the morale of the invasion force by pointing out the importance of the invasion to the Allied nations, to people under German rule, and to loved ones on the home front.

Summary Overview

On June 5, 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, issued an order of the day for the following day to all troops who were to participate in D-Day, the Allied invasion of the continent of Europe. Troops had been preparing for months to deliver a final blow to German forces that had occupied much of Western Europe during the previous four years. Filled with strong, exhortative language, Eisenhower's order aimed at building up the morale of the invasion force by pointing out the importance of the invasion to the Allied nations, to people under German rule, and to loved ones on the home front.

Defining Moment

Although the United States did not enter World War II until December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt and his top military advisers decided almost immediately after hostilities began that cooperation with the British would be essential for America's security. A grand strategy for assuring an Allied victory was developed as early as 1940; a key part of that strategy was an invasion by Allied forces across the English Channel.

The success of initial Allied operations in 1942 and 1943 against German occupation forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean region convinced Allied leaders, especially those in the United States, that a cross-channel invasion would be feasible sometime in 1944. Planning for this large-scale maneuver, code-named Operation Overlord, began in 1943. That summer a draft plan was submitted to US president Franklin Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill, who approved the concept and authorized preparations to begin. The initial target date was May 1, 1944.

Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that an American general would lead the invasion force, since the United States was providing the majority of the troops, equipment, and supplies. In December 1943, Roosevelt selected General Dwight D. Eisenhower as supreme Allied commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. Eisenhower had proven a capable commander in North Africa and established good relationships with senior British generals and admirals, two qualities that both Roosevelt and Churchill felt important to the success of this complicated and crucial mission. Eisenhower relocated from North Africa to England and began supervising the troop buildup, approving elements of the invasion plan, and selecting commanders for the ground, air, and naval forces to be deployed on D-Day, the date on which the invasion would commence.

Eisenhower understood the importance of troop morale to the success of any military operation. As early as February 1944, he directed his staff to prepare a message that would be distributed to all troops on the eve of the invasion. Eisenhower reworked the draft, adding his own touches to a message that would stress the historic nature of the soldiers' actions. During the months before D-Day, he and British Field Marshall Bernard Law “Monty” Montgomery, a popular field commander selected to lead the British forces on the assault, visited units to speak with junior commanders and individual soldiers. Their presence and optimism provided soldiers assurance that senior leaders understood the risks associated with this endeavor.

June 5 was initially chosen as D-Day, but predictions of bad weather forced Eisenhower to postpone the invasion for one day; even with the delay, there was a possibility that rough seas would make a crossing difficult. The chance that German forces would be waiting for the Allied invasion was also an ever-present worry, even though the Allies took great pains to create diversions and disguise the landing site for their main force. As late as June 5, Eisenhower visited with troops about to embark for the invasion. His order of the day for June 6, issued just as the troops were boarding vessels that would take them across the channel, carried his personal message to every participant.

Author Biography

Dwight David Eisenhower was born October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas. He attended the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1915. Although he remained in the United States during World War I, his service during the 1920s and 1930s under distinguished generals Fox Conner, Douglas MacArthur, and George C. Marshall led to increasingly important assignments. When World War II broke out in Europe, he was assigned to the Army's War Plans Division. Promoted to brigadier general in September 1941, within seventeen months he had risen to major general. In June 1942, General Marshall chose Eisenhower to be European Theater commander and the following month promoted him to lieutenant general and placed him in charge of the Allied invasion of North Africa. In December 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected him as supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force to lead the Allied invasion of Europe and subsequent operations to defeat Germany. After World War II, Eisenhower served briefly as the Army's chief of staff, president of Columbia University, and supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In November 1952, he was elected president of the United States and served two terms. Eisenhower died on March 28, 1969, in Washington, DC.

Historical Document

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940–41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

[Endorsement]

Document Analysis

The issuance of an order of the day, distinguished from general orders or standing orders that commanders issue to govern troop activities over long periods, has been part of US military practice for more than two hundred years. Orders of the day routinely provide specific directives to govern actions for a single day. On occasion, however, commanders have used the order of the day as a proclamation to exhort troops or build morale, especially on the eve of a battle. In times when armies were smaller, commanders often delivered exhortations directly to their troops; in modern times, however, commanders have resorted to printed or broadcast messages in order to reach every soldier, sailor, and airman about to engage in combat.

Eisenhower's order of the day for D-Day has all the hallmarks of a traditional exhortation. He begins by aligning the Allies' mission with that of the great crusades of the Middle Ages, launched to free the Holy Land that had been conquered centuries earlier by Muslim forces. In 1944, a reference to a “crusade” would not have carried the negative connotations that have come to be associated with the word in the twenty-first century. The Allies' operation is described as “great and noble,” being carried out by “brothers-in-arms,” a term meant to remind soldiers of the camaraderie felt among those in military units. They are “free men” fighting for “liberty-loving people”—a reference to their family and friends at home. Their success will bring “security for ourselves in a free world.” Appealing to the religious faith of many of the troops participating in the invasion, Eisenhower uses phrases like “hopes and prayers” and “let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God” to tap into that reservoir of psychological support.

By contrast, the words that describe the enemy are impersonal. The soldiers are confronting “the German war machine” and “Nazi tyranny”—clear attempts to dehumanize those against whom the Allies will fight. The Nazis, not the German people, are the enemy; soldiers are reminded that they are fighting to free “the oppressed peoples of Europe”—that is, the civilian populations under Nazi rule.

To make certain the message is not too idealistic, Eisenhower includes an acknowledgement of the enemy's fighting capabilities; but this admission is quickly countered by pointing out that Allied efforts have reduced the enemy's ability to fight. The superior equipment provided by “the Home Fronts” assures them of having the upper hand in this important engagement.

Essential Themes

Approximately 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops went ashore at Normandy, France, on D-Day. Though resistance from German forces stationed along the French coastline on D-Day was not heavy by military standards, the Allies suffered 10,377 casualties; American casualties exceeded 6,000, including nearly 2,500 in the airborne divisions that parachuted inland as part of the invasion. Despite these losses, the Allies managed to secure a beachhead where reinforcements could land and move further inland to begin the liberation of Europe.

One cannot attribute the success of the invasion exclusively to the morale-building done by Eisenhower and other leaders of the Allied invasion force, but the value of giving soldiers a reason to endure the hardships and hazards incident to such an operation should not be understated. Troops scheduled to land on the beaches received their copies of the order as they embarked on the ships that would carry them across the English Channel. Others received it at airfields before boarding planes taking them to drop zones inside France. The document was printed on small sheets that could be folded and placed in pockets or wallets, allowing troops to carry the order into battle as a constant reminder of the importance of their mission.

The exceptional responsibility for command of such a large and dangerous operation is masked by the encouraging words of Eisenhower's order of the day. Although he was inspiring and enthusiastic in his message to the invasion force, Eisenhower recognized the possibility that the landing could fail and that the extensive casualties sure to be suffered by the Allies would then be for naught. In a private moment before the invasion began, he drafted a second message intended for distribution to Allied leaders should the troops not secure a beachhead at Normandy on June 6: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” Fortunately for Eisenhower and the Allies, he did not have to send this message.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Ambrose, Stephen E. The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Garden City: Doubleday, 1970. Print.
  • D'Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life. New York: Holt, 2002. Print.
  • Eisenhower, David. Eisenhower at War: 1943–1945. New York: Random, 1986. Print.
  • Wukovitz, John. Eisenhower. New York: Palgrave, 2006. Print.
  • Yellin, Keith. Battle Exhortation: The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2008. Print.
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