War: the ultimate disruptive force
Unless you have been locked in a cupboard it has been very hard to not be aware that the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion of German occupied France on 6th June 1944 has recently passed us - the last significant year of remembering D-Day that veterans will be able to attend. The Normandy Invasion was and still is the biggest seaborne invasion to ever take place. It was a truly remarkable feat to land 156,000 troops in one day and to defeat the enemy without the modern wonders of technology and communication that we have today. There are many military words that are in common business usage today; campaign, tactics, and battle, to name a few. We can also look to the events of 70 years ago for examples of disruptive change that were exploited by one side to the detriment of the other, with the principles easily transferred to examples of business disruption.
Every business needs to keep abreast of new technology. The American and particularly the British and Commonwealth forces took full advantage of the most up to date technology around:
• Hobart’s Funnies. General Sir Percy Cleghorn Hobart of the 79th Armoured Division, not only had a fabulous name he also had a fabulous mind. His “unconventional’ ideas about tank warfare had unfortunately fallen foul of his superiors and by 1940 he had been dismissed and was languishing as a Lance Corporal in the Local Defence Volunteers. Winston Churchill however heard of this and reinstated him with Hobart eventually finding himself in charge of the 79th with the remit to assemble a unit of specialist and modified armour. The armour that was created by June 1944 was a real mix of ingenuity and British eccentricity. There was; the Sherman DD tank that could “swim” in the water, the Crocodile a modified tank that was a flamethrower, the Crab that had a flail fitted to detonate and clear mines, the AVRE which was a tank that could destroy concrete bunkers. The list goes on with various armoured vehicles capable of carrying bridges, filling ditches, laying a road, ploughing minefields, bulldozing obstacles, etc,etc. These “Funnies” contributed massively on the day overcoming problem after problem. The Americans however were not so taken with them and apart from using the DD tanks (with poorly trained crews) they ignored the new technology and paid dearly on Omaha beach with soldier’s lives.
• Mulberry Harbours. It was recognized that it was too dangerous to initially attack a harbour, but harbours would be required to unload men and materials. With fantastic ingenuity and the help of British engineering companies, two floating harbours called Mullberries were made and towed across the channel and moored off of the invasion beaches. The Germans believed that the Allies would have to attack a harbour when they invaded and thus wasted massive resources in improving the defences of harbours all along the coast from Norway to Spain.
• Higgins Boats. One of the unsung heroes of innovation was an American called Andrew Higgins. He invented the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel), which was a flat-bottomed landing craft that could deliver 28 fully armed men or a vehicle directly onto the beach. Eisenhower was quoted as calling him “the man who won the war for us”.
The British led the field in gaining intelligence on their adversaries. It was by knowing the opposition better than they knew themselves that the Allies could find and take advantage.
• Aerial Reconnaissance. The Allies spent a huge amount of time sending pilots on sorties in specially adapted fighters to photograph the German defences. By D-Day millions of photos had been taken which the experts at Danesfield House, RAF Medmenham analysed. From this information they were able to establish where the defences were at their strongest and weakest, routes to exit the beaches from and the general terrain of the area.
• Breaking Codes. The Aliies had cracked the German Enigma codes at Bletchley Park in England. Key information was now being intercepted and could be acted upon without the knowledge of the enemy.
• X Craft. Small 4/5 man submarines called X Craft were used in the build up to the Normandy Invasion. They sat off shore taking photos of the beaches, observing the Germans and making sound echo measurements. At night, divers would go ashore to survey the prospective beaches and take soil and sand samples to ensure that the designated beaches would be suitable for landing upon.
Probably the most important part of any business and military operation is decisive leadership that will take control, command and delegate.
• The Germans were crippled by their leadership platform. Hitler had by now taken direct control of many of the elite German units. When the Normandy Invasion took place Hitler was asleep and his officers did not wake him, delaying any response to the Allied assault. Even during waking hours the German chain of command was so long that potential advantages could not be taken.
• The Allies, however, had a far more efficient chain of command. Junior officers could make key decisions using the leadership skills that they had been taught in training. The Supreme Allied Commander; General Eisenhower built a command structure that was well balanced with senior officers in place that could act independently to resolve problems. Medal of Honor winners Brigadier Roosevelt and Lieutenant Jimmy Monteith were great examples of this leadership on the day.
By June 6th 1944 there weren’t any operational German agents in Britain. They had all been killed, captured or turned into double agents. Even though Industrial espionage is illegal it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try and find out as much as you can about the opposition.
• Operation Fortitude was an operation of deception: British double agents with names such as Garbo, Tricycle, Brutus, Treasure and Bronx fed the Germans with false information. It was so successful that even several weeks after the Normandy Invasion the Germans believed that the D Day landings were a feint and that the real invasion would come in the Calais area.
• The Resistance. Even though the role of the French resistance has been over glamourised in recent years they carried out vital operations destroying infrastructure and providing information that would aid the Normandy lnvasion.
If you are going to go into conflict or into the market you want to know that you have a supreme product. Before the Normandy Invasion the Allies had spent much time, effort and resources building their supremacy.
• Training. The allies had been training for years for the D-Day invasion. They had learnt their lessons after the debacle of Dunkirk and the disaster at Dieppe. Particular attention to training was carried out by elite forces such as paratroopers, glider borne troops, British commandos and US Rangers.
• Air Superiority. By 1944 the Allies were crippling the German infrastructure with day and night bombing. Their fighters such as the Thunderbolt, Mustang and Spitfire were superior to the German Luftwaffe and had effectively made the Luftwaffe an ineffectual force.
• Manufacturing. The American war machine was by now fully in swing and along with British production was making vast amounts of weapons, munitions, tanks, ships, planes, trucks and everything else that would be required.
Many historians today argue that the Normandy Invasion was always destined to succeed because of the overwhelming superiority of the Allied forces. In my opinion they ignore the fundamental work that was put in place to ensure victory. In many ways, what could go wrong, did go wrong on the day: the weather was poor, bombers missed their targets, naval bombardment was ineffectual, troops landed in the wrong places, paratrooper drops were scattered, and communications broke down. If it hadn’t been for the five items listed above; Technology, Intelligence, Decisive Leadership, Espionage, and Supremacy (TIDES) the outcome may have been very different. The success of June 6th 1944 really did signify the changing tide of the war in the Allies favour.