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What if D-Day had failed?
This June, seventy-five years will have passed since the largest invasion fleet in the history of warfare landed on five beachheads in Normandy, France. On Tuesday, 6 June 1944, D-day kicked off the Allied operation to liberate Western Europe from Nazi control. As history tells us, Operation Overlord was a success as Allied forces managed to breach Hitler’s impregnable ‘Fortress Europe’. Within a year, the man himself would be dead and his forces defeated.
The supreme commander of the Allied forces, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had the final say on whether to launch D-day or not. When he gave the order to go, he simultaneously drafted a statement in the event the mission ended in failure. It read, ‘Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops'.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 upon 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 is attached to the attempt it is mine alone.’
What if Eisenhower had needed to issue that statement? What if D-day had failed, what would have happened next? Whilst one is faced with a myriad of possibilities when diving into the world of alternative history, here are three potential scenarios for you to ponder.
Scenario 1 - Allies launch a second offensive on to mainland Europe.
So the Allies have been repelled from the Normandy beaches. Whilst the ‘how’ is not the focus of our attention, let us presume that Hitler found out about the exact details of the operation in advance and was able to bolster his defences at the correct locations. Combined with high winds and stormy conditions hampering the Allied assault, the Germans were able to successfully defend their positions.
It’s likely, although not certain, that after the release of Eisenhower’s statement it is accompanied by his resignation, dashing his chances of becoming President of the United States in 1953 and changing the political landscape of America forever. British General Montgomery, the commander of the land forces involved in the D-day invasion and Prime Minister Winston Churchill face backlash at home. Whether or not it leads to any resignations is hard to guess.
Although D-day has ended in failure, the Allies are in no mood to give up and instead refocus their efforts on launching another land invasion on Continental Europe. The Allies are aware of Soviet aspirations of European dominance and know how vital it is to get a good foothold in Europe before it all turns red.
Ever since the Battle of Stalingrad ended in early 1943, the Germans have been in retreat. By the time D-day was launched, it was almost as much about liberating Western Europe from the Nazi’s as it was about scrambling to prevent the Soviets from turning it into a collection of communist puppet states.
The level of destruction levied upon the Allied forces on the Normandy beaches determines how long it takes them to regroup, for argument's sake let's imagine this takes months instead of years. Where exactly though do they intend to launch their second invasion?
Two days before D-day, American forces had liberated Rome. The Allies are making progress there and with troops already on the ground, the Italian Campaign could be the place for them to progress into Europe towards Germany.
On the other hand Operation Dragoon, the code name for the Allied invasion of Southern France, had been planned to occur in conjunction with Operation Overlord. A lack of resources led to its cancellation. In our timeline, the operation was eventually launched with great success in August 1944, so it’s highly likely that in this altered timeline Southern France becomes the location for the second Allied invasion. Subsequently, Operation Dragoon is launched in early-mid 1945.
By this time, the Soviets have been advancing towards Berlin from the East, albeit at a slower pace than in our timeline due to the reinforcement of German soldiers from the Western Front. Although D-day was a failure for the Allies, the Germans can still not afford to leave the ‘Atlantic Wall’ unguarded and so whilst they send men to the east, the numbers are not significant enough to turn the tide against the Soviets.
In the end, the result of the war is the same although the casualty count is vastly increased, especially on the Eastern Front since the war has dragged on for a year or two longer than in our timeline. The ‘Final Solution’, the Nazi plan for the genocide of Jews during WWII, is given more time to operate leading to the death of countless more Jewish people.
Although the military result is the same, the political outcome is quite different. Since the Allies and the Soviets are unlikely to meet each other at the same point that they did in our timeline, how much more ground do the Soviets cover? Do the German reinforcements from the west slow them down enough that they don’t even make it to Berlin before the Allies do? Or does the failure of D-day mean the Allies are delayed significantly enough for the Soviets to reach Berlin, or beyond, before them?
If the latter is the case then there is a chance the Soviets could take all of Germany, not just East Germany, in this altered timeline. Benelux and parts of Scandinavia might also fall under their influence.
The balance of power during the forthcoming Cold War is drastically changed
It’s unlikely they will reach France and even if they did, any sustained occupation will surely face reprisals from the U.S. for breaking predetermined occupation zones. The failure of D-day had no impact on the success of the Manhattan Project, meaning that with America now armed with nuclear weapons, Stalin still has to tread somewhat carefully.
However, the Soviets will have increased influence over post-war negotiations, since they have more to show for their efforts than the Allies do. This leads to more successions from the Western Allies and potentially more territory under Soviet influence.
As such, the balance of power during the forthcoming Cold War is drastically changed. With the Soviets now commanding a significantly increased strategic position in Europe, accompanied by vast economic resources now contributing to the advancement of communism, the Cold War drags on a lot longer than in our timeline.
Scenario 2 - Allies focus on aerial bombardment.
D-day has proved costly for Allied forces. The loss of men and equipment has shaken an already casualty-adverse and war-weary Britain, who now pushes for a change in tactic. The Allies still have air superiority and this gives an increased platform to the voices of those, such as Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, who believes that strategic bombing on German cities will be enough to bring an end to the war.
With the Americans facing a reappraisal of their tactics, since they had pushed for the failed cross-channel invasion, Operation Dragoon and other plans for a secondary land invasion are scrapped and Allied attention turns to the sky.
Bombing raids are ramped up considerably leading to even more death and destruction in Germany than in our timeline. Whilst this is going on, the Soviets continue their fight in the east. Upon hearing about the failure in Northern France, Stalin is angered that his Western Allies have not upheld their part of the deal and opened up another front to relieve the pressure on his forces. Even so, the Red Army pushes on against a reinforced German side. However, the Germans are still wary of another land invasion by the Allies and so do not free up all their resources to the Eastern Front.
The tactical bombing hampers German infrastructure and gradually the Nazi war machine begins to run out of resources, although there is still no clear end in sight. The Holocaust continues unabated leading to the death of many more Jewish people than in our timeline.
The success of the Manhattan Project in mid-1945 leads to a sliding doors moment in this scenario. If the U.S. decides to drop atomic bombs on German cities, reducing them to nothing but rubble and ash, it will demonstrate that a German victory at D-day might have come at too great a cost for their country.
It’s likely the Germans will quickly sue for peace, leaving the Allies in a strong position to negotiate with the Soviets in post-war discussions.
If the U.S. refrains from using atomic bombs on Germany then the result of this scenario is likely to follow that of the previous one - the Red Army advances through much of Western Europe and claims victory against the Germans.
Scenario 3 – Allies retreat and consolidate, the Nazis move resources to the Eastern Front and hold on long enough to successfully sue for peace.
By claiming victory at D-day, the Germans have been given a significant morale boost. However, the single act of victory in this battle doesn’t mean they can go on to win the war. As already mentioned, they had long been fighting a defensive war by the time D-day came along. So, in most likely scenarios, if not all, a German victory on the beaches of Normandy still leads to an overall military defeat for them.
It could be argued though, there is a small chance that if they are able to hang on long enough militarily, they might be able to secure a peace. It will still depend on a lot of chips falling in their favour:
Chip Number One – the Americans go into isolation after D-day
After the failure at Normandy, Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the November 1944 elections. His replacement takes a different view on the war in Western Europe, causing America to slip into isolation or at the very least turn its attention solely to the Pacific and defeating Japan, leaving the fate of Europe in the hands of the Soviets. Without American support, Britain refuses to commence a land invasion on mainland Europe. Atomic bombs are also subsequently kept away from German cities since American attention is elsewhere.
Chip Number Two – the reinforced German forces are able to hold off the advancing Soviets.
Since America is now out of the European conflict and focussing its efforts on Asia, the threat of land invasion from the west is now completely gone. A significantly reinforced German army is able to slow down the Soviet advance. The time gained has allowed them the opportunity to further develop and deploy their V-2 rocket, combined with additional chemical weaponry, the Germans are able to bring the Soviet advance to a halt. With the Eastern Front now locked in a stalemate and without an end to the war in sight, negotiations between the key players commence – peace without victory is now the most likely outcome.
The Americans drop the atomic bombs on Japan but does it have the same effect as in our timeline? There is a growing theory amongst historians that it was the threat of invasion from the Soviets that forced the Japanese to surrender, not the American atomic bombs.
In this altered timeline, Stalin is unhappy with the lack of participation in Europe from the Western Allies and so refuses to help America with the Japanese. How long the fight for the Pacific now goes on for one can only speculate, but American global influence will almost certainly not be what it is in our timeline.
With the continued existence of Nazi Germany, will the world slip into a Cold War with three countries involved? If it does, the Europe of today will be unrecognisable.