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Operation OVERLORD

The purpose of this guide is intended to assist cadets with their HI 302 writing assignment.

Introduction to Operation OVERLORD, The Normandy Campaign, June-August, 1944

For a considerable span of time, Allied leaders and military strategists engaged in deliberations regarding the when, where, and how of deploying troops in northern Europe. Initial groundwork for an eventual cross-Channel operation began as early as 1942, but due to resource limitations and strategic adjustments in the European theater, the Allied invasion of the continent, it wasn't until December 1943, with the appointment of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, that preparations for the upcoming operation, codenamed OVERLORD, kicked into high gear. While the invasion lacked a definite timetable, a significant influx of American troops to Great Britain occurred in 1943. By the close of May 1944, the United Kingdom hosted an impressive contingent of over 1.5 million US Army personnel, all primed to participate in or support the forthcoming cross-Channel action.

As a result of the remarkable success achieved by Operation FORTITUDE, the German High Command became convinced of the deceptive information it conveyed, firmly anticipating an Allied landing at Pas de Calais. However, planners had, in fact, chosen a 50-mile stretch of Normandy coastline for the operation. This grand undertaking was divided into two key components: NEPTUNE, which encompassed the naval phase and the assault operation involving the movement of tens of thousands of Allied troops across the English Channel, landing them on the designated beaches, and providing crucial gunfire support. The broader plan, encompassing the invasion and subsequent Battle of Normandy, was known as OVERLORD.

Approximately 160,000 Allied soldiers were tasked with landing across five beaches, each assigned a code name—Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah. Concurrently, British and American paratroop and glider forces were deployed inland. Over time, these forces would converge at each beach, establishing a vital beachhead from which to launch further advances into the heart of France.

Prior to starting your research, familiarize yourself fully with the assignment instructions and any specific guidance you have received from your instructor.  Follow those instructions.  The contents of this help guide are relevant to all HI 302 sections with a WR2 assignment on Operation OVERLORD, the Normandy Campaign 1944, but some instructors may have provided cadets in their section(s) with specific additional and/or modified instructions.  Therefore some of the resources on this help guide may be also linked from any written guidance you received, but in many cases this guide provides additional explanatory notes, etc. for those resources as well as additional ones.

Starting Your Research

One way to begin research on a topic is to build background knowledge or understanding of the context. Seek materials that provide an overview of the topic such as books (notice the headings in the table of contents and chapter titles), timelines, lists of major campaigns, etc. Then, narrow your topic and seek sources that are more specific. Before you conduct research with primary source materials, you will need a general understanding of the basic course of the campaign. Read several scholarly secondary sources (Guide to Evaluating Sources) to gain an overview of the general course of events, the overall strategic setting, the commanders and units involved, and the main issues each side faced. By doing so, you will gain an understanding of the historical context of the primary sources you will examine and analyze in your WR2 Paper.

A very general overview of the Normandy campaign is available in the relevant section of your textbook, West Point History of Warfare.  After reading that you should move on to more detailed scholarly secondary sources. Several useful ones are available from the U.S. Army Center of Military History.  

Once you have identified a research question and specific topic for your paper, it may be helpful to read more deeply on parts of the campaign relevant to your topic. Useful secondary sources for this stage is Forrest C. Pogue's The Supreme Command and Martin Blumenson's Breakout and Pursuit, the Center of Military History "Green series" volumes on the Normandy campaign (see under "Additional Secondary Sources"  tab at the top of this page.

Another relevent text is:

Orders of Battle for the United States Army in World War II

When searching for unit records, make certain that you understand the hierarchical organization of the various units involved in Operation OVERLORD.  For example, if your topic requires you to examine some phase of the operations of the 4th Infantry Division, you should learn which subordinate units were assigned to it and to which higher-level organizations it belonged.   Then search collections of unit records for documents related to those subordinate units.  To learn this kind of information, consult an Order of Battle.


Bibliographies are lists of books and other materials on a topic. In addition to providing titles of sources, reading through a bibliography can be useful for generating search terms and subtopics. One effective research strategy, is to refer to the bibliographies of relevant sources you've already vetted. They are bound to provide further scholarly materials specific to your research.

The U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center (USAHEC) is part of the United States Army War College, and it maintains collections that support scholarly research about the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army War College, USAHEC, and USAHEC's predecessor, the U.S. Army Military History Institute. Listed below are several bibliographies from USAHEC Subject Bibliographies and Unit Histories from their Reference Bibliography Digital Collection that you may want to browse. Don't limit yourself to what is listed on the guide, there are bibliographies that go as detailed as to the battalion unit. The suggested titles you could then search in SCOUT to see if they are available in our library, and if not, may be available through our Interlibrary Loan Services.


U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center: Bibliographies


Armoured Divisions

Infantry Divisions

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