Philip Padgett spent forty years working in national security and preparedness analysis in the military, government, and the private sector. His book, Advocating Overlord: The D-Day Strategy and the Atomic Bomb (Potomac Books, 2018), was published earlier this year. The following questions and answers are originally published on Padgett’s author website.
Why did you write this book?
As a teenager on a canoe trip, I learned about Roosevelt’s secret fishing trip in the same area of Canada only weeks before his August 1943 summit with Churchill. Time and again, during 40 years of supporting the intense work of national security policymaking, I would wonder how FDR could have taken off to go fishing at such a critical moment for the setting of Allied strategy for World War II. So, in retirement, I began to dig. Sure enough, a good story emerged.
What was OVERLORD?
OVERLORD was the name adopted in May 1943 for the Allied operation to thrust across Northwestern Europe into the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich and, together with Soviet armies advancing from the east, defeat the Nazis totally. OVERLORD was planned to begin with an assault across the English Channel (La Manche) to land on the coast of France.
D-Day happened on June 6, 1944, but the book refers to May 1, 1944. Why?
The target date agreed for beginning the cross-Channel assault to launch OVERLORD was May 1, 1944, and that date held throughout 1943, the time frame for most of the events in the book. In January 1944, the newly-appointed Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, ordered a review of OVERLORD planning. This led to an increase in the required number of Allied forces for the attack, something the planners had wanted all along, and an expansion of the landing beaches. To mount this larger operation, the date for the start of OVERLORD was moved to June 1944.
The book stops at the end of December 1943. What happened between then and D-Day, six months later?
By the end of 1943, the advocates for OVERLORD had won commitment to the operation irrevocably and the effort to assemble in the United Kingdom the forces for the cross-Channel assault (NEPTUNE) was well under way. Completion of that vast enterprise occurred over the months between the end of 1943 and D-Day.
What surprised you the most?
The biggest surprise did not come from within Advocating Overlord, but from how much the world changed over the eight years I spent researching and writing the book. When I began research in earnest in 2010, the international framework for security and cooperation, that first took root in the mid-1940s was under pressure but healthy, providing a good basis for facing the future. By 2018, when Advocating Overlord was released, all of that was under serious challenge. On both sides of the Atlantic, resurgent ethno-nationalism and authoritarian populism are combining to cast over democracy shadows of a kind not seen to be so dark since the 1930s. Concurrently, again on both sides of the Atlantic, the structure of international cooperation is being torn at by resentment and suspicion very similar to that which made trust between allies so difficult to restore 75 years ago. From that, I see two messages for our time in Advocating Overlord. The first is a warning: relationships between allies whipsawed by misunderstanding and narrowly-based grievances cannot—even in the face of an existential threat—be restored to cooperation just by throwing a switch. But second, an encouragement: new leaders with the courage to reject division can unite and act to make the impossible possible, as COSSAC’s “happy few” did so well in 1943.