D-Day, June 6, 1944, looms large in both popular and historical imaginations as the sin qua non
, or single defining moment, of the Second World War. Though there were other d-days launched across multiple theaters throughout Europe, Africa, and the Pacific, only one endures as a potent symbol for the war in its entirety: the D-day that saw 156,000 American, British, Canadian, and allied soldiers storm the Normandy beaches and punch an irreparable hole in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Over the subsequent seventy-five years, novelists, memoirists, filmmakers, journalists, and historians have followed the allied combat units from the landing craft, across the obstacle-strewn sand, through the hail of bullets and shells, up the high cliffs, and on to the bocage, Pegasus Bridge, Saint-Mère-Église, and the liberation of Paris. In all these narrations, the cross-Channel assault appears as an inevitability, the success of operation OVERLORD a fait acomplis
. Yet as Stephen C. Kepher reveals in COSSAC: Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan and the Genesis of Operation OVERLORD
(Naval Institute Press, 2020), the Normandy landings were anything but a foregone conclusion.
Infantry, Kepher observes, did not simply materialize on Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches on the morning of June 6, 1944. Rather, their ambitious amphibious assault was the result of a lengthy and often fraught planning process that began in earnest in early 1943, when British Lt. General Sir Frederick Morgan inherited the daunting task of preparing for an allied return to the Continent. Using Morgan and COSSAC—the innovative planning and operational organization Morgan built—to redirect our gaze away from the face of battle on Omaha beach and onto the highly complex and contingent contexts within which operation OVERLORD took shape, Kepher forcefully countervails the traditional historiographic narrative. OVERLORD, Kepher convincingly argues, was a near-run affair in more ways than one: the operation was under-resourced, caused friction between Britain and the United States, and, until the very end, was devoid of a commander vested with the authority to approve its execution. By shedding light on these concerns, COSSAC
offers a significant contribution to our understanding of that most venerated of d-days; it is a requisite read for any and all seeking to comprehend the genesis of operation OVERLORD and the genius of its primary planner, Lt. General Sir Frederick Morgan.
Stephen C. Kepher received his MLitt (with distinction) in War Studies from the University of Glasgow and holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California. A former US Marine Corps officer and current independent scholar, Kepher has presented papers on COSSAC at the Society for Military History's annual conference and at Normandy 75, hosted by the University of Portsmouth, UK.