Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan #3

The 1st Infantry Division-Operation Overlord

Webisode 3

Grade and Course: 9th-12th Grade U.S. History
Time Frame: (1 class period)


D-Day has been called the most important battle of World War II. While other battles on the German-Soviet front were larger, longer, and claimed more lives, the successful Anglo-American invasion of France on June 6, 1944 had enormous political consequences. Because the Soviets (with crucial American economic assistance, such as aviation fuel, food, steel, vehicles, etc.) contributed more than any other Allied power to the military defeat of Germany, and because Communists played a prominent role in the underground Resistance movements against Nazi rule, it is fair to say that on D-Day the future of free government was at stake. The Great Depression had seriously damaged faith in free enterprise and democracy, turning many people to put their hope in either communism or fascism/Nazism. If these soldiers had failed, the Soviets would have been able to claim a disproportionate share of the credit for victory (and even though they did anyway during the Cold War, this claim would have been even more credible), and could have posed as liberators. Thus without the Normandy invasion, one totalitarian regime might well have replaced another--not in half of Europe (the East), but in all of it. We can never know, of course. The development of atomic weapons might have changed the result, but then again a failure on June 6 could also have split the Anglo-American-Soviet alliance and given the Nazis renewed hope. But what we do know is that thousands of men fighting far from home gave "the last full measure of devotion" for freedom. Thus this day--and the tough fighting that followed--shaped the postwar world.

In this lesson, the third of a 5-day unit on the First Infantry Division, the instructor will continue explaining the Big Red One and their major battles, namely, Operation Overlord (D-Day). The students will learn the details and effects of this operation. This lesson uses documents, speeches, and photographs of the D-day to let students explore the most important battle in the war.

Topical Questions

Why were the challenges so great for the 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach?

Could anything have been done to prevent the mishaps on D-Day? How do leaders respond to failed plans?

Lesson Objectives

  1. Students will be able to read and understand maps (military).
  2. Students will be able to identify key turning points during the D-Day operation.
  3. Students will discover and explain the mistakes that were made in the battle.
  4. Students will explain the concept of "the fog of war"-that battles do not proceed according to plan, and will grasp how soldiers (enlisted men as well as officers) overcame mistakes in execution and heavy enemy resistance.

Teaching Procedures

Starting Activity: Strategy of War

The instructor will ask for volunteers to read their previous day's journal entries to summarize what was talked about the day before.

  • Ask students to imagine the worst possible conditions under which they could fight. Little food? Wet clothes? Cramped spaces? Covered in vomit? Then imagine enduring some of these conditions for extended periods and then facing one of the biggest battles to bring down Hitler. Have them think of an important event that's happened to them and ask how they felt. Nervous? Anxious? Nauseous? Now imagine feeling all of those with hundreds of fellow soldiers smashed together in a landing craft?
  • A quote from Stephen Ambrose's book "D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II" is in the PowerPoint.
  • "Lt. Charles Ryan of the 18th Regiment, 1st Division, had been on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) in an exercise, so he knew what to expect when his craft moved out into the open Channel. He described the LCI as 'a metal box designed by a sadist to move soldiers across water while creating in them such a sense of physical discomfort, seasickness, and physical degradation and anger as to induce them to land in such an angry condition as to bring destruction, devastation, and death upon any person or thing in sight or hearing. It combined the movements of roller coaster, bucking bronco, and a camel'." Ask the students to share their thoughts.
  • Another quote, that can be shared at the instructor's own discretion, describes equal squalor. "On Empire Javelin, a British transport carrying the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, 29th Division, off Omaha Beach, the davit lowering one craft [into the water] got stuck for half an hour halfway down the ship's side, directly beneath the scupper. 'During this half-hour, the bowels of the ship's company made the most of an opportunity that Englishmen have sought since 1776,' recalls Maj. Tom Dallas, the battalion executive officer. 'Yells from the boat were unavailing. Streams, colored everything from canary yellow to sienna brown and olive green, continued to flush into the command group, decorating every man aboard. When we started for shore, we were all covered in shit'."
  • You can also print out and distribute the Medal of Honor citations which are in the PowerPoints. These are powerful testimonies of heroism and painful reminders of sacrifice. Ask the students which they find most striking--the stirring example or the painful loss.

  • Powerpoint Presentation

    Like with Lessons 1 and 2, the students will be given a blank outline with questions. Following along with the PowerPoint, the students will answer the questions when randomly called upon.

    Optional Approach

    If the students understand the material and seem under stimulated, this alternative can be followed. During the presentation, have the students formulate one or more additional questions. Have a volunteer read the questions and put them back to the students to come up with answers. The instructor will collect these at the end of class. (NOTE: On slide 10, "Struggling to get ashore", an optional demonstration could be to have a bag filled with objects that, in total, weigh up to 60 pounds. This would show the amount of weight that the soldiers had to carry on their person and also show why many of the men who embarked from their landing craft in water over their head drowned).

    Hands on Demonstration

    Optional Extra

    Ike's Letter Transcription-from PowerPoint

    Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops have been withdrawn. This particular operation My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone. July 5


    For Class discussion:

  • Why are the deletions significant?
  • Why is I HAVE WITHDRAWN THE TROOPS different from HAVE BEEN WITHDRAWN? (Eisenhower is taking sole responsibility for the actions and results of the operation).
  • Assessment/Review

    Do a verbal "fill-in-the-blank" with the students for a quick review, ask questions of the class and call on individual students.
  • Today we talked about what? (Operation Overlord)
  • Why was this battle so important? (Marked the beginning of the end for Germany, the mistakes that were made were training points for the units, the amount of lives lost)
  • Where did this operation take place? (France)
  • Students will turn in the information sheet that they made during the PowerPoint presentation to the instructor.

    Journal Assessment/Review

    Entry #3-You have learned about the struggles and victories of D-Day. Now write about what you would feel as a member of the Big Red One. Find photos and quotes to paste into your journal. Examine especially the Medal of Honor citations. What would be some of your feelings while waiting on the landing craft before the invasion? How would you handle being shot at and not being able to hide? What explains such bravery?


    If the students appear to be getting lost in the miscellaneous facts, slowing down and discussing/explaining each fact in more detail would help.

  • For those students who seem to be ahead of the material, the instructor will ask them to share what they already know with the class rather than the instructor presenting the information.
  • Materials and Resources

  • Military Map
  • Notes and PowerPoint
  • Screen and Projector
  • Handouts

  • Discussion Questions

    1. What role did the Big Red One play on June 6, 1944? What is the nickname given to this day?
    2. What is significant about the draft letter General Eisenhower wrote on June 5? What does this suggest about his leadership skills? What does his broadcast suggest about his leadership skills? What are the key attributes of leadership displayed in the broadcast and the draft letter?
    3. What was the name of the beach where the soldiers landed? Trace the First's path from England to France. Why was traffic coordination so vital? Why was this particular beach so much more difficult to take than any other?
    4. What were the positives and negatives about going ashore in landing craft? How did these affect soldiers? Why were landing craft necessary (why couldn't the soldiers simply land in a port and unload?)
    5. What were some of the obstacles and problems that the Big Red One came across as they approached shore and landed?
    6. What were some of the ways in which the original plans for the invasion were not implemented? Why is weather an important factor in warfare? What were the key elements in the Big Red One's improvisations to adjust to changed conditions? If the reality of war always contrasts with the plan in some way, why are plans still prepared?
    7. Why did the Big Red One suffer a significant percentage of Allied casualties on June 6, 1944?
    8. What is the significance of the choice between Antwerp and Arnhem? What were the costs and benefits balanced? How did this choice affect the men of the 1st Division?
    9. Why is June 6, 1944 significant, not only for the Big Red One, but for the future of America's role in the world and for the future of democracy and capitalism? What might have happened if the invasion had failed?

    Academic Standards

    US History 5.2, 5.3


    Identify and explain the importance of key events and people involved with the causes, course, and consequences of World War II.

  • Example: Events - Pearl Harbor (1941), Battle of Midway (1942), D-Day Invasion of Normandy (1944), and related battles
  • USH.5.3

    Explain how the United States mobilized its economic and military resources to achieve victory in World War II. (Economics; Civics and Government)

    National History Standards, Era 8: 3B

    The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed. Explain the major turning points of the war and contrast military campaigns in the European and Pacific theaters. [Draw upon data in historical maps]

    Historical Thinking Standards: 2B, 2G, 4A, 5F

    2B-Historical Comprehension-Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage.

    2G-Historical Comprehension-Draw upon data in historical maps.

    4A-Historical Research Capabilities-Formulate historical questions.

    5F- Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making-Evaluate the implementation of a decision.