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Why "Gen. Eisenhower threatened to quit just before D-Day": Because of Churchill

… Losing Ike at that point would have been devastating

Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower became president in 1953 because of his leadership in World War II. The Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe had the U.S. and its allies on the verge of a major victory in the war.

However, in order to have Germany and its despotic leader, Adolph Hitler, surrender, Eisenhower and the allied generals believed that they had to first take the Germans out of France. That led to the now famous D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, one that was brutal but started the fall of Germany just about a year later.

What is frightening from a historical perspective is the reality that Eisenhower threatened to leave his command a few months before D-Day because of a strategic battle with a politician: Winston Churchill of Great Britain.

Here is what happened, according to the facts presented by

Bombing the French

To actually attack one of your allies may sound counter-intuitive to many people, but Eisenhower realized that taking out the French railroads and bridges was essential to shutting off the Germans from a victory,

As the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe and leader of the D-Day invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower became legendary for his ability to get officers and armies from different nations to work together to defeat Nazi Germany.

But if needed, he was also willing to take a more confrontational approach.

In fact, just a few months before the critical D-Day invasion, Eisenhower threatened to quit his command and go back to the United States. Eisenhower had been in heated talks with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill over a controversial plan to bomb the French railway and road system ahead of the Normandy invasion.

Patrick J. Kiger, “Why General Eisenhower threatened to quit

just before D-Day,”, March 22, 2019

The problem was the Ike was battling the Air Force, both British and Americans, over the plan.

The “Transportation Plan”

The Air Force wanted to continue the bombing of Germany, hoping to bring it to its knees by their efforts. However, that put them at odds with the generals,

The so-called Transportation Plan, largely devised by British zoologist-turned-military strategist named Solly Zuckerman with the help of British Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, called for diverting Allied strategic bombers that had been hammering German industrial plants.

Instead, Eisenhower wanted them to temporarily shift to a new mission—crippling the transportation infrastructure that the Germans might use to move troops and equipment to the coastal region, thus hindering them from rushing to counter the Allied invasion force.

“Eisenhower wanted to use our heavy strategic bombers, the big four-engine planes that were built to destroy German cities and the economy, and send them to wreck the French roads and railway system,” explains Robert Citino, executive director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy and senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

For Eisenhower, the switch in bombing seemed like a no-brainer. He knew that landing a massive invasion force and overcoming the elaborate layers of defenses that the Germans had built along the coast would be an incredibly difficult task, and the consequences of a failure would be catastrophic.

Patrick J. Kiger,, March 22, 2019

Battle with Air Force — and Churchill

Eisenhower’s plan drew fire and had to be ultimately settled not by the British leader, but by his own country’s,

But Arthur “Bomber” Harris, head of the Royal Air Force’s strategic bomber command, and his American counterpart, Gen. Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, didn’t see it that way. They weren’t under Eisenhower’s command, and their crews were accustomed to attacking massive industrial plants and German cities, not railroad switches and stations scattered across the countryside. To them, it seemed like a waste of resources, a diversion from their real mission.

“They wanted to keep bombing German cities,” Citino says. “They thought that was the quickest way to end the war. That might seem like the height of naivete today, but people believed it at the time. The air forces wanted to prove that they could win the war on their own. You want to bomb Berlin, and instead you’re being told to bomb some podunk French village because it’s got a railway crossing.”

Patrick J. Kiger,, March 22, 2019

Churchill agreed with the Air Force,

“That was probably Eisenhower’s biggest frustration—his lack of control over the air forces, and their unwillingness to listen to him and desire to go their own way,” D’Este says.

To make matters even worse for Eisenhower, the Transportation Plan had another, even more powerful opponent—Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who already was feeling uneasy about the invasion, since the depleted British army—"they were running on fumes,” D’Este explains—couldn’t afford another punishing setback.

Added to that was another dilemma. Eisenhower wanted to drop bombs on France, an Allied country that the British and Americans were supposed to be liberating, and in addition to destroying the railroads, the raids ran the risk of inflicting casualties among the French civilian population.

Patrick J. Kiger,, March 22, 2019

FDR saved the day — again

Gen. Eisenhower was irate, and he was angry that the Air Force and Churchill did not understand the vital importance of the plan that the generals had devised,

On March 22, Eisenhower dictated a memo that detailed the history of the dispute. By the time that he finished it, he was so irked that he bluntly stated that if his opponents didn’t give in quickly, he planned “to take drastic action and inform the Combined Chiefs of Staff that unless the matter is settled, at once I will request relief from this Command.”

He made the threat more explicitly in a conversation with Tedder, the British officer who backed Eisenhower’s plan. “By God,” Eisenhower told him, “You tell that bunch that if they can’t get together and stop quarreling like children, I will tell the prime minister to get someone else to run this damned war. I’ll quit.”

Apparently, the threat worked. The prime minister did express his misgivings in a subsequent meeting with the British War Cabinet, where according to Ambrose, he warned that Eisenhower’s plan “will smear the good name of Royal Air Forces across the world.” But eventually, he too decided to sign off on the Transportation Plan, though he tried to diffuse the responsibility by putting the question to President Franklin Roosevelt for final approval. FDR told Churchill that military considerations trumped the humanitarian question, and that the bombing should proceed.

Patrick J. Kiger,, March 22, 2019

The rest, as they say, is history. Roosevelt informed Ike that his plan would proceed, and while it was a brutally fought battle, it ultimately brought down Germany and won the European theater for the Allies.

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