D-Day was the largest naval, air and land operation in the history of warfare. Codenamed Operation Overlord, D-Day marked the beginning of a long campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation. 

Discover key figures involved in the complex campaign, the roles they carried out and their contribution to the significant Allied success of Operation Overlord.


General Dwight D Eisenhower

General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, during a five day tour of the Normandy fighting front.
© IWM (NYP 31355)

General Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969) was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SCAEF) for Operation 'Overlord' in late 1943 and headed SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force), which oversaw the entire liberation of Nazi-occupied north-west Europe. Eisenhower was in charge of making all final decisions relating to the invasion and although he is sometimes criticised for focusing too heavily on politics, he was a skilled administrator known for his tact and diplomacy. He tried to ease tensions between members of SHAEF and to place the needs of the alliance above national interests. He also took his responsibility for the lives of his men very seriously. In the days before D-Day, he secretly wrote a message to be released if the invasion failed, in which he accepted full blame.


Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder (1890-1967) served under Eisenhower as the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. He worked closely with RAF Bomber Command and the US Strategic Air Forces in Europe, who often clashed with the other members of SHAEF. He was also the go-between for Eisenhower and SHAEF's three service commanders: General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay.

This was particularly important in the case of Montgomery, who had a tense relationship with Eisenhower. Tedder was largely responsible for British air strategy and organisation during the invasion. He believed that air power should support all aspects of Allied strategy and encouraged its use to target German transportation and communication links, as well as industrial and administrative centres. Tedder was also influential in shaping the bombing campaigns of late 1944 and early 1945, in which he applied his strategy - nicknamed the 'Tedder Carpet' - of supporting land forces using concentrated carpet bombing.


General Bernard Montgomery

General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976) was Commander in Chief of the Allied Ground Forces for the invasion and made major contributions to the shape of 'Overlord' and the overall campaign in north-west Europe. Despite his popularity with soldiers and civilians, Montgomery was perceived by many military leaders as tactless and arrogant - he was difficult to work with and did not get along with other commanders. He aggressively tried to protect British interests within the international alliance, which caused conflict with the Americans, and he thought Eisenhower was ill-equipped for the task at hand. But he was a skilled commander who had a genuine concern for the welfare of his men. 

He was a key figure during the campaign in north-west Europe and received the unconditional surrender of the German forces in north Germany, Holland and Denmark on 4 May 1945.


Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891-1944) was appointed in 1943 to oversee the development of German coastal defences - the 'Atlantic Wall' - in anticipation of an Allied invasion. Defences at this stage were incomplete and poorly manned, but Rommel was able to significantly improve the situation and by June 1944 over half a million beach obstacles were in place. Rommel's initial successes in the North Africa Campaign of 1941-1942 won him fame as the 'Desert Fox' and earned him the rank of Field Marshal. In the run-up to D-Day, he clashed with Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, who insisted that efforts against any invading forces should be concentrated further inland. During the invasion, Rommel could not access the troops he needed and failed to defeat the Allies on the beaches. On 17 July 1944, Rommel was severely injured and returned to Germany to recuperate. Three days later, German Army officers attempted to assassinate Hitler. Rommel was implicated in the 'July plot' and, rather than face trial, he committed suicide in October 1944.


Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory

Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (1892-1944) was Commander in Chief of the Allied Air Forces for Operation 'Overlord' and was responsible for coordinating air support for the invasion. Leigh-Mallory was unable to work well with the Americans and clashed with Tactical Air Force commanders and RAF Bomber Command. However, the forces under his command contributed greatly to Allied success on D-Day and throughout the Battle of Normandy. During the Battle of Normandy, he was influential in directing Bomber Command for tactical support of ground troops, which was very effective throughout the campaign. Leigh-Mallory was reassigned Allied Air Commander in South-East Asia but was killed in a plane crash en route to his new post in November 1944.


Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay (1883-1945) was Commander in Chief of the Allied Naval Forces for Operation 'Neptune', the naval component of 'Overlord'. He had previously been responsible for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk in 1940 and was the chief planner of amphibious landings in North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943. On D-Day, Ramsay controlled one of the largest fleets in history and the experience and skills gained throughout his 46-year naval career greatly contributed to the invasion's success. Ramsay continued to play a part in planning operations throughout the campaign in north-west Europe. He was killed in a plane crash on his way to meet Field Marshal Montgomery on 2 January 1945.


Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan

Lieutenant-General Frederick Morgan (1894-1967) was the principal planner of Operation 'Overlord'. In early 1943, Morgan was appointed Chief of Staff to the then-unnamed Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) and it was his job to produce a plan for the invasion of Europe. Morgan's plan identified Normandy as the best invasion site and he recommended the use of artificial harbours to allow for the build-up of men and equipment in France after the initial landings. 

Because of anticipated shortages of men and supplies, Morgan's original plan recommended an assault along three beaches, but this was later increased to five at Montgomery's insistence. Morgan submitted his team's plan for 'Overlord' in July 1943 and it was accepted a month later. When Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander, he brought with him his own Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, and Morgan was reassigned as Bedell Smith's deputy. Morgan retired from military service in 1946, and then worked on Britain's atomic energy programme.


Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt

Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt who commanded the invasion of Poland, the Low Countries, France and Russia. Later he was made Commander-in-Chief, West and was responsible for the defence of Hitler's 'Fortress Europe'.
© IWM (MH 10132)

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (1875-1953) was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the German forces in western Europe in 1942. Von Rundstedt had been retired from military service in 1938 but was recalled for the German invasion of Poland in 1939. After the Battle of France in 1940, Rundstedt was promoted to Field Marshal and in 1941 he was given command of Army Group South during Operation 'Barbarossa' - the invasion of the Soviet Union. Although he was relieved of his command in December 1941, Rundstedt was once again called to active service and put in charge of coordinating German forces in western Europe. On D-Day, disagreements over defence strategy and Hitler's interference in military matters greatly hindered his efforts. Shortly after, Hitler removed von Rundstedt from command, but reinstated him again for the Ardennes Offensive in December. The offensive was a hard-fought failure and he was once again relieved of command and retired for the last time in March 1945. He was captured by the Allies and taken to Britain to face war crimes charges. However, the investigation was abandoned due to von Rundstedt's failing health. He remained in British custody until 1949 before returning to Germany, where he lived until his death in 1953.


Group Captain James Stagg

Group Captain James Stagg (1900-1975) was responsible for advising SHAEF on the weather conditions ahead of the Allied invasion. Stagg was a leading civilian meteorology expert when he was appointed to the 'Overlord' planning team in 1943. Weather played a crucial role in the planning and execution of the invasion. Those responsible for planning the invasion of Normandy had to consider a number of factors when assigning a date for 'Overlord', including general weather conditions, the phases of the moon, and tide patterns. D-Day required the best combination of these factors, which restricted it to two sets of possible dates: 5-7 or 18-20 June 1944. D-Day was originally set for 5 June, but on 4 June Stagg predicted weather conditions would deteriorate and Eisenhower delayed the invasion by 24 hours, with the possibility of further delay due to continuing bad weather. Stagg then predicted a temporary improvement in the weather and, based on this information, Eisenhower ordered that the invasion should proceed on 6 June.


Major-General Percy Hobart

Major-General Sir Percy Hobart (1885-1957) designed a series of modified armoured vehicles needed for the cross-Channel invasion. Hobart was an expert in tanks and had strong and outspoken views on armoured warfare, which led to his forced retirement early in the war. After his dismissal, he joined the Local Defence Volunteers (later the Home Guard) but in 1941 he was recalled to service and given command of the 11th and then 79th Armoured Divisions. The 79th Armoured Division was a unit created to provide tank support for mine-clearing and other specialised engineering tasks. The vehicles he developed became known as 'Hobart's Funnies' and were crucial to the Allies' success both on D-Day and throughout the Battle of Normandy.

Related Content

Troops storm ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) during Exercise 'Fabius', a major invasion rehearsal on the British coast, 5 May 1944. Nearest landing craft is LCA 798.
© IWM (H 38244)

These Incredible Photos Show The Allies Preparing for D-Day

Discover IWM's fascinating collection of photography showing the Allies preparing for D-Day.

Troops of the US 7th Corps wading ashore on Utah Beach.
© IWM (EA 51048)
Second World War

The 10 Things you Need to Know about D-Day

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France. Codenamed Operation 'Overlord', the Allied landings on the Normandy beaches marked the start of a long and costly campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation.

The Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 1944
© IWM (TR 1629)
Second World War

Why D-Day Was So Important to Allied Victory

The invasion of northern France in 1944 was the most significant victory of the Western Allies in the Second World War. The German Army suffered a catastrophe greater than that of Stalingrad, the defeat in North Africa or even the massive Soviet summer offensive of 1944.