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Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan

and the Genesis of Operation OVERLORD


Stephen C. Kepher


Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020

Hardcover. xviii + 300 pages. ISBN 978-1682475089. $40/£43.50


Reviewed by Robert T. Jones

US Army Cyber School

Fort Gordon, Georgia




First-time author Stephen Kepher provides an inside look at the planning effort behind the 1944 invasion of Normandy in his book COSSAC : Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan and the Genesis of Operation OVERLORD. This work spotlights the vital contributions to the war effort by the joint Anglo-American planning staff led by British General Frederick Morgan. From its bare beginnings, Kepher traces the efforts of Morgan and his staff to secure the political and military approval for what is arguably the single most significant military operation of the Second World War. Appointed by a Combined Chiefs of Staff directive in the spring of 1943, Morgan began his effort with an empty office, no staff, and no commanding officer to head up the effort. In Morgan’s words, he had taken possession of “a couple of desks and chairs. . . a few sheets of paper, and a pencil that someone had dropped on the floor” [42]. The ad-hoc organization even lacked a formal title, as one had not been specified in the original directive. Drawing upon some self-inspiration, Morgan himself crafted the somewhat grandiose acronym COSSAC – Chief of Staff, Supreme Allied Commander [xi, 41]. In existence for only nine months, beginning in the spring of 1943 and concluding in January 1944, Morgan and his COSSAC planning team developed the outline plan for the Normandy invasion. Working with very little planning guidance and at times confusing lines of official authority, Morgan’s team produced the plan that was ultimately executed with very little change in June 1944. By any standard it was a remarkable planning and administrative achievement.

Over the course of twelve chapters the author traces the evolution of the COSSAC plan from the Arcadia Conference (First Washington Conference, December 1941) to the arrival in Britain of General Dwight Eisenhower as he assumed the duties of Supreme Allied Commander (January 1944). Early in the book Kepher provides a short history of amphibious operations and outlines the challenges of coalition warfare as well as the often-conflicting strategic views of the Western Allies. Front and center in this debate was the “Mediterranean first” approach preferred by Churchill versus the direct cross-Channel assault advocated by the Americans. Also included are summaries of strategic planning conferences where decisions impacting COSSAC planning were made. Along the way Kepher injects interesting anecdotes of Morgan overcoming challenges both large and small. These ranged from simply organizing and staffing his team to overcoming general bureaucratic inertia. The author notes that Morgan labored without the benefit of historical precedent, as there was “no useful precedent for a multinational planning staff that was also intended to be the foundation of an operational headquarters” [45]. While not a biography, the author devotes Chapter 5 to a biographical sketch of Frederick Morgan and his American deputy Major General Ray Barker. The chapter provides useful insights into Morgan’s unorthodox approach to planning and problem solving. In Chapter 9, Kepher provides additional context by including the German perspective of their problems in defending continental Europe against the long-anticipated invasion.

A highlight of the book is Chapter 6, which examines the four-day high-level planning conference in late June 1943 where critical decisions were made. The conference dealt with a myriad of thorny issues including locations, timing, air and naval support, forces available, and the numbers and types of German defensive forces. Chief among these decisions was the issue of where to invade, specifically between the choices of Normandy and the Pas-de-Calais area. This decision involved much discussion and at times heated debate. However, by the end of the conference there was general agreement that Normandy was the better choice, and the Pas-de-Calais was finally laid to rest [93].

Stephen Kepher has produced a well written, thoroughly researched book on one of the lesser-known aspects of the Normandy invasion. He draws upon a well selected list of primary and secondary sources, including the diary and personal papers of General Morgan. Also included are useful appendices for the British and American command structures and the outline plan (abridged) for Operation Overlord. This volume certainly adds to the scholarship of World War II in general and to the Normandy invasion in particular. It will appeal to the general as well as specialist reader.


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