USAA Member Community - Business Lessons from the D-Day Invasion


The D-Day Invasion that began on June 6, 1944 was a hallmark in the annuals of military history. The Allied invasion of German occupied France began the final march to the end of World War II in Europe. The D-Day invasion was without precedence in size, required incredible coordination & logistics, and involved nearly every category of military forces available to the Allies. What made the D-Day Invasion successful was not only the coordination, logistics, and overwhelming military firepower, it was ultimately leadership, bravery and creativity that made the invasion a success.


The D-Day invasion offers several leadership and business lessons that are relevant and useful today. Here are four of the major business lessons from the D-Day invasion.


Business Lessons From D-Day #1 – Mid Level Leaders Are The Key To Success. D-Day had the usual supply of great generals and admirals planning the mission and coordinating the logistics. When planning ends and the mission begins, the true success of the mission is determined by the leadership, agility, determination, and quality of mid-level leaders. A CEO sets the tone and strategy for a business. It is the mid-level managers that carry the task of executing a strategy to create success and ensure that the business wins with its customers. In the fight off the landing craft and over the beaches, it was the small team leaders of Sergeants and Lieutenants leading groups of Soldiers to accomplish their missions that won the day. Training mid-level leaders to accomplish a difficult set of tasks is what helped win D-Day and it helps businesses win with customers in the marketplace.


Business Lessons From D-Day #2 – Realistic Training & Rehearsals Carry The Day. The leaders and units involved in D-Day trained and rehearsed their missions for months. During the massive airborne parachute drop the night before and during the ferocious sea landings the next day, there were long hours of combat, confusion, and realities that were very different than the precisely staged and practiced rehearsals. The planning and rehearsals had focused heavily on the “why” missions were being accomplished. So, in the confusion, junior leaders adapted quickly to find and carry out new missions that accomplished the intent of the training they had prepared so rigorously. The secret of D-Day was that difficult training and thorough rehearsals allowed an even greater ability to adapt and triumph over chaos, unexpected challenges, and a determined foe.


Business Lessons From D-Day #3 – Innovation Must Be Tested Before Employment. The D-Day invasion is known for some spectacular innovation failures the day of the invasion. The famous “leg bag” issued to airborne parachute forces the day before the night drop to carry extra ammunition and equipment was not strong enough to endure the wind speed during the parachute exit and was ripped from the parachutist bodies. The famous “swimming tanks” that were meant to help on the crucial moments when the infantry emerged onto the beaches were no match for the challenging waves of the English Channel and sank. Other innovations in logistics worked very well, namely the partially built artificial piers that were towed from England and reassembled to provide the ability to dock and disembark entire ships of supplies on the landing beaches as an artificial port. D-Day reinforced the age old military concept that battlefield innovations must be tested, re-tested and improved so they survive and succeed in combat.


Business Lessons From D-Day #4 – Rethink The Possible Use of Every Available Asset. D-Day was a testament to what available assets can perform when initiative, imagination, and performance all come together at a critical time to save the day. We seldom hear of the USS McCook, a Navy Destroyer led by Lieutenant Commander Ralph L. Ramey assigned to provide gunfire support of the Omaha landing beaches. The USS McCook steamed only hundreds of yards away and parallel to the invasion beaches providing devastating fire on German positions, but also providing a perfect target for German artillery. The Sailors of the USS McCook never touched the sand of France that day, but were critical to the invasion success because they reasoned a way to use their ship differently to support the invasion. The US Army Air Corps used their heavy B-17 and B-24 bombers to provide air support for ground troops, one of the first uses of a heavy bomber directly supporting ground forces. The use of ships and aircraft in new ways helped the allies create success on the beaches.


The memory of the determination, sacrifice, and service of military personnel who served long ago serves as a constant lesson today of the long term lessons that their service still brings to us. Remember D-Day for the specific lessons of the importance of training, mid-level leadership, realistic rehearsals, the vital importance of testing innovations, and rethinking how to use available assets to find lessons for business and life that are just as applicable today.




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About the blogger:

Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published 200 articles in 100 publications on career, business, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics. Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better. Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at Creighton University. Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and