We remember D-Day as a heroic assault on a strongly defended coast. At the cost of over 4000 Allied lives, the invaders won a foothold that began the rollback of the Nazis from Western Europe. We remember this as a bloody success that was worth the price – a marked contrast to our memory of futile offensives of the First World War.
But D-Day could have been a disaster. Breaching Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was only possible because of deception on a grand scale, making Hitler believe the true assault was coming somewhere else, because of overwhelming air and maritime power that had been won at terrible cost, because of vast logistical buildup, and because of a break in the weather. It took cumulative victories elsewhere, trickery, and luck.
So even successes that look inevitable in hindsight actually were a near run thing. On several occasions in recent times, we have waged wars presuming they would be easy, believing it was a matter of will above all. But capacity, competence and fortune also play their part. There’s more to victory than faith in the cause.