Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan and the Genesis of Operation OVERLORD
(Studies in Naval History and Sea Power)
Stephen C Kepher
Annapolis, Maryland, US: Naval Institute Press, 2020
Hardcover 336pp RRP $64.25
Reviewer: Roger Buxton, August 2020
By March 1942 the United States Army Chief of Staff Office (CSO) had determined that the ‘Germany First’ agreement between Britain and the United States required Operation ROUNDUP (later OVERLORD), an invasion of the Continent in the spring of 1943. This book tells the fascinating story of the planning for that operation.
Some planning was carried out by the British under General Paget, but as they favoured taking advantage of opportunities in the Mediterranean Theatre, and as Operation TORCH in North Africa required all the landing craft available in 1943, this planning led nowhere. The CSO, on the other hand, saw the Mediterranean as a sideshow and wanted an invasion in the west at the earliest opportunity. In March 1943 an American planning group led by Colonel – later Brigadier General Barker USA produced a plan for the invasion called Operation SKYSCRAPER, but this was rejected because the ‘bill’ of required forces was impossibly high.
In March 1943 Lieutenant General Morgan, a British corps commander, was directed to read the accumulated papers and make a presentation on the invasion to the British Chiefs of Staff (COS). This presentation was followed by his appointment, on 26 April, to produce a plan for a full-scale cross-channel assault in 1944 ‘as early as possible’. As time was short, Morgan successfully demanded that the COS specify the force levels involved and a definite target date for the operation, which was set as 1 May 1944.
As no commander was appointed, Morgan called both himself and his new organisation COSSAC (Chief of Staff Supreme Allied Commander). Brigadier General Barker USA became Morgan’s deputy and the two of them agreed that ‘any division along national lines should be abolished’ and the allied staff formed a seamless whole.
The absence of a commander, who would issue orders that a staff officer could not, and who would stamp his own authority on the operation, was a critical difficulty, but the Chief of Combined Operations, Admiral Mountbatten, cooperated with Morgan to hold a conference of the most senior commanders (Operation RATTLE) at the end of June 1943. RATTLE reached decisions on the essential aspects of the invasion and obtained – for the first time – support for the operation as envisaged by the planners.
The outline plan for OVERLORD was submitted to the COS in July 1943 and on 15 August the CSO directed Morgan to proceed with detailed planning ‘with full preparation’. There were now less than nine months to prepare the largest ever amphibious operation, and Kepher describes how this was done, including the deception plan (FORTITUDE) to make the Germans think the main attack would be in the Pas de Calais (or even in Norway) rather than in Normandy, the construction of the MULBERRY harbours (without which Morgan ‘would not recommend the operation’) and the expansion of the attacking forces and the landing areas when General Eisenhower was appointed as Commander. There are several useful appendices, including the outline OVERLORD plan in this very readable and highly recommended book.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.