Seventy years ago, soldiers from the United States, Great Britain and Canada stormed the Normandy coast of occupied France in a long-planned operation against the forces of Nazi Germany. The German fortifications were under the direction of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, one of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s ablest military commanders. It was a daring move for the Allied forces, under the command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, and a pivotal moment in the Second World War.
The University of Virginia’s Corcoran Department of History has historians who can comment on the period, discuss the importance of D-Day, the intricacies of what was involved and the affect it had on what came afterward.
• Stephen A. Schuker
William W. Corcoran Professor
Fields & Specialties: Modern Europe and international history
Quote: “The D-Day landings of June 6, 1944 took a combination of careful preparation, uncommon bravery, first-class intelligence and good luck. Planners had in mind the failure of the attempt to seize Gallipoli in 1915 and the lamentable outcome of the Dieppe raid in August 1942. American troops remained quite unskilled at the time of the North African landings of November 1942 and might not have succeeded if not for the cooperation of the Vichy French. By 1944 they had substantially improved.
“General Eisenhower and his staff assembled a huge armada in Southern England for the Normandy landings, and the plans required close cooperation of Army, Navy and Air Force assets and an unprecedented degree of logistical preparation. The American, British and Canadian forces worked together very well. Unfortunately, the so-called Free French under General de Gaulle declined to participate. The Russians had borne the brunt of the land war up to June 1944. They had 300 divisions in the field, compared with 32 for the Western allies in the initial landings. Nevertheless, the success of the landings (and of a secondary landing in Southern France later in the summer) marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. We justly celebrate the heroism of the men who climbed the steep cliffs off the beaches in the initial landings.”
• Philip Zelikow
White Burkett Miller Professor of History & Associate Dean of Graduate Academic Programs
Fields & Specialties: Modern world, 20th-century U.S., American foreign policy
Zelikow began his professional career as a trial and appellate lawyer. He was a career diplomat, posted overseas and in Washington, including service on the National Security Council staff under President George H.W. Bush. Since leaving government service in 1991, he has taught and directed research programs at Harvard University and at the University of Virginia, where he directed the Miller Center of Public Affairs from 1998 to 2005. In addition to service on government advisory boards, he has taken two public service leaves from academia to return full-time to government service: from 2003 to 2004, to direct the 9/11 Commission; and from 2005 to 2007, as counselor of the Department of State, a deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also advises the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s program in global development and is a member of President Barack Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
His books include “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft,” written with Condoleezza Rice; “The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” with Ernest May; and “Essence of Decision,” with Graham Allison.