In the months between the Quebec Conference and General Eisenhower's formal assumption of the Supreme Command, COSSAC handed over to the commanders of the 21 Army Group, the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, and the Allied Expeditionary Air Force many of the detailed planning tasks for Operation OVERLORD. General Morgan retained for SHAEF, however, numerous administrative duties in addition to specific responsibilities for problems of a political or strategic nature. Most important, SHAEF advice was required on those broad questions of policy which had to be decided by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
SHAEF Revises Plans for the Attack
General Eisenhower, after relinquishing command of the Mediterranean theater in December 1943, went to Washington for conferences relative to the cross-Channel operation. To represent him in the United Kingdom until his arrival, the Supreme Commander sent his chief of staff, General Smith, and the newly appointed commander of 21 Army Group, General Montgomery. Before the British commander arrived in London on 2 January, his chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Francis de Guingand, and General Smith had examined the COSSAC plan for OVERLORD and were prepared to present their views to the 21 Army Group commander. Their reactions, which General de Guingand thought similar to those "of any trained soldier," favored a greater weight of assault forces, a quicker build-up, a larger airlift, and a less restricted area of landing. General Eisenhower was informed of these views by General Smith and General Montgomery before he left Washington. Montgomery was particularly insistent that General Eisenhower take personal action, saying that no final decision would be made until the Supreme Commander expressed his wishes, and asking, "Will you hurl yourself into the contest and what we want, get for us?"1
SHAEF now concentrated on means of strengthening the cross-Channel attack. All planning groups that had considered the OVERLORD operation were impressed by the fact that the Allies in the assault faced a potential enemy opposition far superior to the number of troops that could be landed in a few hours or days. Despite the great force located in the United Kingdom, the success of the operation depended on the number of men who could be landed in the assault waves and on the speed with which follow-up forces could be brought ashore and supplied. To gain the margin of victory, the Allies would have to limit the
movement of enemy reinforcements into the beachhead, capture ports rapidly, and prepare artificial harbors that would serve until natural ones could be seized. The earlier planners had foreseen these needs and had done what they could to prepare for them. But not until the commanders responsible for the actual battle were appointed was a completely realistic appraisal of the situation possible. A number of problems confronted the Supreme Commander in preparing for the cross-Channel attack: broadening the assault front, procuring additional landing craft, making better use of available landing craft, dropping or landing more airborne units, increasing naval fire support, and insuring the isolation of the beachhead by increased air operations.
As soon as the outline plan for OVERLORD was presented, the need for a wider invasion front and a stronger force than recommended by COSSAC in July 1943 was widely recognized. While suggesting a landing by three divisions in the assault and two divisions in the follow-up in the Caen area, the COSSAC planners had added that additional forces would be valuable in the cross-Channel attack. Churchill, Marshall, and Hopkins on seeing the COSSAC proposals at the Quebec Conference all declared that the assault should be strengthened. Similar statements were made by General Smith in October 1943 when General Morgan told him in Washington of the plan, and by General Eisenhower about the same time in Algiers when he was informed by Brig. Gen. William E. Chambers, a COSSAC staff member, of the essential provisions of the plan. Although Eisenhower and Smith did not realize the roles they were later to play in the operation, they expressed surprise at the weakness of the attacking force, inasmuch as they had used greater strength in the Sicilian landings. At the end of October, General Eisenhower, then being talked of as a possible commander of the cross-Channel attack, stated his doubts about the plan because it did not have "enough wallop in the initial attack."2
Strengthening and Widening the Assault and the Postponement of ANVIL
Mr. Churchill showed General Montgomery a copy of the COSSAC plan at Marrakech on 1 January 1944. The 21 Army Group commander also found the invasion front too narrow and the assault force too small. He was told to examine the COSSAC plan in detail when he went to the United Kingdom and to recommend changes necessary to the success of the operation.3
Before General Montgomery arrived in London on 2 January 1944, his chief of staff and the SHAEF chief of staff had examined the OVERLORD plan and were prepared to recommend a widening of the assault area. When the 21 Army Group commander was briefed in London on 3 January, he took strong exception to the narrowness of the proposed assault area. Pointing vigorously at various points of the
map on both sides of the Cotentin, in the areas of Dieppe, Le Havre, and Brest, he said, "We should land here and here." He also raised for the first time the proposal that Operation ANVIL, the landing in southern France, be dropped except as a threat in order that landing craft earmarked for ANVIL could be diverted to OVERLORD. General Smith, while privately of the opinion that a threat in the south of France would be as effective in the early stages of the cross-Channel attack as the proposed full-scale assault, declined to accede to the proposal until General Eisenhower could examine it.4
General Montgomery again stressed the need of broadening the assault front in his meeting with the British and U.S. army commanders on 7 January 1944. Speaking as a representative of the Supreme Commander, he insisted on changes in the COSSAC plan to strengthen the landing and follow-up forces. He no longer recommended landings around Le Havre or Brittany, but suggested an area from "Varreville on the east coast of the Cotentin to Cabourg west of the Orne"--approximately the same sector recommended by the Combined Commanders in March 1943. In order to permit the armies and corps to go in on their own fronts, he proposed a change in command arrangements by which a British army and a U.S. army would control the assault corps, thus requiring 21 Army Group instead of First U.S. Army to exercise command on D Day. The U.S. army on the right would capture Cherbourg and the Cotentin peninsula and subsequently develop operations to the south and west, while the British army would operate "to the south to prevent any interference with the American army from the East."5
Generals Montgomery and Smith. informed General Eisenhower and Mr. Churchill that there must be a stronger OVERLORD even at the expense of ANVIL. The Prime Minister reminded President Roosevelt that he had always hoped "the initial assault at OVERLORD could be with heavier forces than we have hitherto maintained." The case for strengthening OVERLORD at the expense of ANVIL was also supported by General Morgan who held that landings in the south of France could do little more than pin down three or four divisions of German mobile reserves, an effect which could be achieved as well by a threat. He believed the existing strategic conception involved "an unsound diversion of forces from the main 'OVERLORD' [assault] area to a subsidiary assault area, where they [were] unlikely to pay the same dividend." His views were reinforced two days later by a request from Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, Admiral Ramsay, and General Montgomery for half of ANVIL's two-divisional lift.
The British Chiefs of Staff were not convinced at the moment of the wisdom of weakening or dropping the ANVIL operation. Admiral Cunningham believed that a landing in southern France would almost certainly force the diversion of enemy forces to that area, and Air Chief Marshal Portal declared that possession of the ports in southern France would increase the rate of build-up of U.S. forces on the Continent. When, however, on 12
HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE in London. Seated, left to right: Air Chief Marshal Tedder, General Eisenhower, and General Montgomery. Standing: General Bradley, Admiral Ramsay, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, General Smith.
January the Joint Planning Staff reported the feasibility of reducing the ANVIL assault to a diversionary attack, Field Marshal Brooke and Air Chief Marshal Portal agreed that the operation should not be permitted to stand in the way of OVERLORD'S Success. Admiral Cunningham, on the other hand, was reluctant to accept this view, pointing out in addition to other arguments that grave difficulties would be raised with the French who had intended that the bulk of their forces should participate in the southern landing.6 The British Chiefs of Staff on 14 January informed the Prime Minister that the ideal arrangement would be a stronger OVERLORD and a two or three-division ANVIL.7
General Eisenhower on his arrival in London was thus faced with the necessity of changing the plan for the assault and of securing the reallocation of resources intended for an operation in a theater other than his own. He promptly apprised General Marshall of his problems, assuring the U.S. Chief of Staff that he considered a serious reduction in the southern France operation justified only as a last resort. Since General Eisenhower's headquarters
in the Mediterranean had prepared both a diversionary plan for southern France in the fall of 1943 and the ANVIL outline plan as directed by the Cairo Conference at the end of the year, the Supreme Commander was aware of the importance of the ANVIL operation to the cross-Channel attack. He not only desired the southern France operation to draw away Germans from the OVERLORD area, but held that the landings should be made in order to keep the promise given the Russians at Tehran, to utilize French forces scheduled for commitment in ANVIL, and to make the best possible use of Allied forces in the Mediterranean.8
While stressing the value of preserving ANVIL, the Supreme Commander emphasized the critical importance of a stronger OVERLORD attack. On 23 January, he formally proposed that the number of divisions in the initial assault be increased from three to five. This meant that to the two British divisions and one U.S. division which COSSAC planned to land in the Caen area, there would be added a British division west of Ouistreham and a U.S. division on the east coast of the Cotentin. Besides an airborne landing in the Caen area, General Eisenhower wanted an airborne division to seize the exit from the Cotentin beaches, with a second airborne division to follow within twenty-four hours. This revised plan naturally required additional landing craft, naval fire support, and aircraft, with particular emphasis on LST's, LCT's,9 and troop carrier aircraft. Believing that OVERLORD and ANVIL should be viewed as "one whole," the Supreme Commander said that an ideal plan would include a five-division OVERLORD and a three-division ANVIL. He agreed, however, that if forces were not available for both assaults priority should go to OVERLORD. As the date for the attack he preferred 1 May, but he was willing to accept a postponement if that would secure additional strength for the operation.10
The British Chiefs of Staff, who together with the Prime Minister had become increasingly dubious over the prospects of launching ANVIL simultaneously with OVERLORD,11 promptly agreed that the cross-Channel attack should be given overriding priority. They also asked for postponement of the invasion until the end of May or the beginning of June in order to increase the chance that the Russian attack would have begun on the Eastern Front, and to gain an extra month's production of landing craft. The U.S. Chiefs of Staff, still insistent on a two-division ANVIL, accepted the postponement of the target date to a time not later than 31 May.12
While the Allied planners were seeking means to mount the OVERLORD and ANVIL. operations simultaneously, military events in Italy were working against their efforts. The Allies had launched an operation on 22 January 1944 at Anzio in the hope that their forces could shortly take Rome and drive northward to put additional pressure on the enemy. The Combined Chiefs of Staff had thought that
landing craft allocated to the attack at Anzio would be needed for only a short time and would then be available for the OVERLORD and ANVIL operations. After a hopeful beginning, the Allied forces met stiffened German resistance and determined counterattacks which forced them to use units intended for ANVIL. Continuance of the beachhead battle prevented release of precious landing craft. The British, lukewarm toward ANVIL, argued that the enemy decision to fight in Italy tied up divisions which would otherwise have been available for use against OVERLORD and thus served the diversionary purpose for which ANVIL was intended. They held that the strategic situation in the Mediterranean had changed since the Cairo Conference and should be re-examined.13
Thus far in the discussion of plans for widening the assault area, the ANVIL operation had been mentioned merely as an attack which must be weakened or postponed in order to get additional support for OVERLORD. About 1 February, debate over the landings in southern France entered a new phase. Apparently encouraged by the fact that the Italian fighting was creating a diversion of German units from the area of the cross-Channel attack, Mr. Churchill on 4 February opened a strong onslaught against ANVIL as a desirable operation. He declared that as a result of the distance between the areas in which OVERLORD and ANVIL were to be launched, the ruggedness of the terrain which Allied forces from the south of France would have to cover in a move northward, and the defensive strength of modern weapons which would oppose them, the ANVIL operation was not "strategically interwoven with OVERLORD." At his suggestion, the British Chiefs of Staff proposed that ANVIL "as at present
planned" be canceled and that the Mediterranean commander be directed to submit plans for the use of his forces to contain the maximum number of enemy troops in his theater. They believed that a shift of landing craft intended for ANVIL to OVERLORD would meet the full requirements of the cross-Channel attack, which would then be made ready by the first week in June.14 General Eisenhower, who still wanted the ANVIL operation, now concluded that developments in Italy created the possibility that forces there could not be disentangled in time to put on a strong operation in southern France. Privately, he expressed the doubt that ANVIL and OVERLORD could be launched simultaneously.15
Although the unfavorable progress of the Anzio operation gave some basis for the British proposal to cancel ANVIL, the U.S. Chiefs of Staff viewed the suggestion with suspicion. They saw in the proposed cancellation the continuation of what they described as the British policy of pushing operations in the Mediterranean at the expense of the cross-Channel attack. At the Washington Conference in May 1943, General Marshall had warned that operations in the Mediterranean would swallow the men and landing craft intended for the main operation in northwest Europe. He had agreed to the operation in Sicily because it seemed that no other use could be made of the forces in the Mediterranean at the moment. Salerno had followed, and
then Anzio, and now it appeared that more demands would be made on resources earmarked for OVERLORD. The Chief of Staff felt so strongly about the matter that, while agreeing to the cancellation of ANVIL if the Supreme Commander thought it essential to strengthen OVERLORD, he expressed fear that the British Chiefs of Staff might be influencing General Eisenhower's views. "I merely wish," he added, "to be certain that localities is not developing and that pressure on you has not warped your judgment."16
The imputation of "localities" to the Supreme Commander's views emphasized the difficulty of General Eisenhower's position throughout the ANVIL controversy. As a tactical commander desiring to strengthen the OVERLORD operation, he was sometimes receptive to proposals which the U.S. Chiefs of Staff opposed. He defended himself vigorously in this case against the suggestion of British influence, pointing out that he had advocated a broader front since the OVERLORD plan was first explained to him in October 1943 and insisting that he always fought for the preservation of the ANVIL operation.17
American skepticism regarding the British stand was due in part to the conviction that sufficient resources were present in Europe to provide a seven-division lift of personnel and an eight-division lift of vehicles. This the U.S. Chiefs of Staff believed to be adequate for both the OVERLORD and ANVIL operations. Neither the British nor the SHAEF planners agreed with the estimate, which they believed to be based on a faulty analysis of the number of men and vehicles that could be carried under combat conditions. In an effort to settle this disagreement and the whole problem of ANVIL, the Prime Minister invited the U.S. Chiefs of Staff to London to discuss the matter. They suggested instead that General Eisenhower act as their direct representative with the British, and they sent as his technical advisers Rear Adm. Charles M. Cooke,Jr., and Maj. Gen. John E. Hull.
Throughout February General Eisenhower attempted to find enough landing craft for both operations. The British and SHAEF planners stuck to their view that under combat conditions the landing craft available would not carry the number of soldiers and vehicles which the U.S. representatives showed mathematically the craft could hold. The technical observers from the United States were not impressed, one of them reporting that the British had no interest in ANVIL, since they believed that OVERLORD was "the only one that will pay us dividends."18
In an effort to meet General Eisenhower's wishes to save ANVIL, the SHAEF planners in mid-February came up with a plan to increase the size of loads and make more efficient use of the landing craft already available. General Montgomery, who believed that the landing craft allotment for OVERLORD was already too scanty, initially objected to the proposal on the ground that it would "compromise tactical flexibility, introduce added complications, bring additional hazards into the operations, and thus generally endanger success." After discussing
the matter with General Eisenhower, and with Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory and Admiral Ramsay, who agreed with some reluctance to accept the SHAEF proposal, General Montgomery withdrew his opposition. General Eisenhower now reported to the British Chiefs of Staff that by making sacrifices and accepting every possible risk it would be possible to launch the strengthened OVERLORD and at the same time save the two-division ANVIL operation. He admitted, however, that in the light of developments in Italy it might no longer be practicable to undertake the landings in southern France. Encouraged by this admission the British Chiefs of Staff called attention to the opportunity of "bleeding and burning German divisions" as a result of Hitler's decision to fight south of Rome, and argued that it would be "wholly unjustifiable to keep any formation out of Italy on the ground that it was going to be required for Anvil." They proposed to the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, therefore, that the existing state of uncertainty be ended and Anvil canceled immediately.19
The U.S. Chiefs of Staff, informed by their technical advisers in London that the Anvil operation was possible if the British would attempt it, held to the view that the landings in southern France should be made. They were willing, however, if the situation had not improved in Italy by 1 April, to review the situation in the Mediterranean and then decide if Anvil should be postponed. Arrangements made by General Eisenhower were to be supported by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, subject to the approval of the President. That there should be no doubt of his reaction, the President directed Admiral Leahy to remind the Supreme Commander that the United States was committed to a third power (Russia) and that he did not feel the Western Allies had any right to abandon the commitment for ANVIL without taking the matter up with that third power.20
The Supreme Commander's position thus became increasingly difficult as he attempted to decide what was best for him as the commander of OVERLORD and also tried to present as strongly as possible the U.S. arguments. His embarrassment was shown particularly in the discussions with the British Chiefs of Staff on 22 February. Speaking officially for the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, he opposed cancellation of ANVIL until the last possible moment for decision. He added that the U.S. Chiefs of Staff did not necessarily regard ANVIL as an operation involving an eventual use of two divisions in the assault and ten divisions in the build-up, although they did want a two division assault force in the Mediterranean. He felt they would accept as fulfillment of the commitment at Tehran a diversionary operation on the largest scale possible after the Mediterranean theater had met the requirements of the campaign in Italy.21
The British Chiefs of Staff agreed to continue ANviL planning under the interpretations given by General Eisenhower provided the Italian campaign received "overriding priority over all existing and future operations in the Mediterranean to contain the maximum number of the enemy." They asked that the situation be
reviewed on 20 March and that if ANVIL was found to be impracticable all craft in excess of the lift for one division should be moved from the Mediterranean. This proposal was accepted by the Combined Chiefs of Staff and approved by the President and Prime Minister.22
The decision of 26 February marked a retreat by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff from their positive stand for a strong ANVIL to a tentative agreement that a decision would be suspended. The operation was left at the mercy of developments in Italy which, at the time of the agreement, were becoming increasingly unfavorable to the mounting of ANVIL. Gen. Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean, had reported on 22 February that continuous attacks by the enemy since the 16th of the month had inflicted heavy casualties and contributed to the exhaustion of his troops. He found it difficult to withdraw forces needed for ANVIL, and recommended cancellation of the landings in southern France. This suggestion seemed to make more likely the dropping of the ANVIL operation, but nearly a month's delay ensued before a decision was reached. Pressed by his commanders for a prompt decision, General Eisenhower suggested that he might get action by cabling General Marshall that ANVIL was impossible. General Smith, although favoring the postponement of ANVIL, felt this action was not necessary and would give the impression that they were changing their minds too quickly. The Supreme Commander agreed that Admiral Ramsay should inform the Mediterranean commander which ships he intended to withdraw from that area if ANVIL was canceled on 21 March. Nearly a month before the final review, the SHAEF planners clearly had little doubt that plans for landings in southern France simultaneously with OVERLORD would have to be canceled.23
A new element was introduced into planning for Mediterranean operations at the end of February when General Alexander requested additional craft for his troop movements, thus upsetting the timetable for the transfer from the Mediterranean of certain craft earmarked for OVERLORD. The British had now gone beyond suggesting that ANVIL be canceled as a means of aiding OVERLORD to proposing that landing craft be withheld from OVERLORD in order to insure the success of operations in Italy. To get immediate aid for operations there, they requested that LST's in the Mediterranean be left there, and be replaced in the OVERLORD buildup with landing craft dispatched directly from the United States. The U.S. Chiefs of Staff agreed to delay the movement of craft from the Mediterranean, but opposed sending additional craft to that area until a decision was made on ANVIL. This compromise afforded the means of saving the southern France operation, but it created a new problem for General Eisenhower. The effort to keep ANVIL alive, he stated flatly, had created a situation which was "actually militating strongly against the plans and preparations for OVERLORD." He saw nothing in the Italian situation which indicated "an increase in the likelihood of ANVIL on the two division-ten division basis." On the contrary, he believed it would be necessary to draw on
landing craft intended for ANVIL for the minimum lift for OVERLORD.24
By the time set for reviewing the situation in the Mediterranean, Generals Eisenhower and Wilson had agreed that landing craft in that area should be reduced to a one-division lift. General Wilson wanted these craft to support intensive operations up the mainland of Italy, while General Eisenhower asked merely that everything possible be done by threat, feint, and actual operations to keep enemy troops in the Mediterranean area. Yielding to the logic of the situation in Italy, and to General Eisenhower's view that "ANVIL as we originally visualized it is no longer a possibility either from the standpoint of time in which to make all necessary preparations or in probable availability of fresh and effective troops at the appointed time," the U.S. Chiefs of Staff agreed that ANVIL must be delayed. The British Chiefs of Staff gained only a part of their wish. Instead of the cancellation of ANVIL which they recommended, they received a counterproposal that a two-division invasion of southern France be made on 10 July 1944. The Americans were willing to underwrite this operation by diverting LST's and LCT's earmarked for the Pacific on the hard and fast condition that the British agree "that preparation for the delayed ANVIL will be vigorously pressed and that it is the firm intention to mount this operation in support of OVERLORD with the target date indicated."25
The strong U.S. demand for a positive guarantee of an ANVIL operation in July as a price for more landing craft in the Mediterranean was compared by Field Marshal Brooke to the "pointing of a pistol," as he indicated his unwillingness to give assurances for operations four or five months in the future. General Eisenhower
reminded the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff that, in view of the pressure of U.S. opinion and Congress for greater activity in the Pacific, General Marshall had made substantial concessions by agreeing to divert craft intended for the Pacific to the Mediterranean. Aware that General Marshall had softened his demands for ANVIL to "some sizable operation of the nature of ANVIL," General Eisenhower suggested that the U.S. Chiefs of Staff might be persuaded to accept a British reservation to postpone until July a decision as to the place of attack. Thus reassured, the British suggested that General Wilson be instructed to prepare not only a plan for ANVIL, but also alternative plans for containing the maximum number of Germans in Italy if the enemy continued to fight there.26
Dissatisfied with the British reluctance to name a definite target date, the U.S. Chiefs of Staff asked for a decision. The British then submitted a revised directive for General Wilson which was acceptable save for a provision giving priority to Italian operations over ANVIL. The Americans declared themselves "shocked" to see "how gaily" the British "proposed to accept their legacy while disregarding the terms of the will," and they refused to divert craft to the Mediterranean on the basis of the new proposal. Mr. Churchill
now joined the discussion. He urged the continuance of operations then under way in Italy to join the Anzio bridgehead with the main forces and asked postponement of the decision on whether to go all out for ANVIL or exploit the victory in Italy. Such an option would not exist unless the LST's intended for the Pacific were diverted to the Mediterranean. General Marshall declared that the choice depended on starting ANVIL preparations immediately. The United States, he explained, could not stop the momentum it had started in the Pacific "unless there was assurance that we are to have an operation in the effectiveness of which we have complete faith." This development distressed General Eisenhower. While agreeing that the U.S. Chiefs of Staff must take a firm stand, he regarded the decision not to divert craft intended for the Pacific to the Mediterranean as a "sad blow" for OVERLORD.27
The British met the situation with a directive that neither fixed a target date nor mentioned additional landing craft. This tentative solution was accepted by Washington on 18 April, and on the following day the Combined Chiefs of Staff directed General Wilson to: (a) launch as early as possible an all-out offensive in Italy, (b) develop the most effective threat possible to contain German forces in southern France; and (c) make plans for the "best possible use of the amphibious lift remaining to you, either in support of operations in Italy, or in order to take advantage of opportunities arising in the south of France or elsewhere for the furtherance of your objects and to press forward vigorously and whole-heartedly with all preparations which do not prejudice the achievement of the fullest success in (a) above."28
The directive to General Wilson was at best a temporary solution which settled nothing definitely in the Mediterranean. The chief effect of the three-month discussion, so far as it concerned OVERLORD, was in the gain of additional lift for the initial assault at the expense of postponing ANVIL which had been designed to aid the Normandy landings. In the opinion of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, the loss of the effect of Anvil on D Day was compensated for only slightly by operations which might be carded out on the Italian mainland. They hoped, therefore, to get a positive agreement that ANVIL would be launched early enough in the summer of 1944 to aid the OVERLORD operations. The British on their side had succeeded in postponing an operation which they feared would interfere with Allied activities in Italy, and had left the way open for further advance on the Italian mainland. The failure to settle Mediterranean strategy before the OVERLORD D Day presaged further controversy between the British and U.S. Chiefs of Staff, added further complications to the OVERLORD operation, and increased the perplexities of the Supreme Commander. For the moment, however, he was able to breathe more easily in the assurance that landing craft essential to the five-division assault which had been accepted in early February would actually be diverted from the Mediterranean in time.
General Montgomery's proposals for increasing the width of the assault area included a landing by U.S. forces on the Cotentin peninsula. Both he and General Bradley agreed that this action was necessary to the early capture of the vital port of Cherbourg. The landing was made hazardous, however, by the nature of the terrain at the neck of the Cotentin. Marshy lands on either side of the Carentan estuary separated the areas in which the two main bodies of U.S. forces were to land. Worse still, the exits from the beaches of the eastern Cotentin were restricted to causeways along a flooded area. The Allied planners decided, therefore, that airborne drops in the Cotentin peninsula were essential in order to seize the causeways and prevent the enemy from destroying them, to prevent the enemy from sending reinforcements to Cherbourg, and to aid in the link-up with U.S. forces to the east. To carry out these plans, General Montgomery asked for two airborne divisions, in addition to the airborne division already earmarked for action east of Caen in the British sector.29
Increase of Airborne Units in the Assault
After considering these proposals for a time, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force commander, announced his opposition. With the aircraft then allotted, he said, a second division could not be dropped until twenty-four hours after the initial landing. He was especially concerned over losses which glider forces would take both because of the unsatisfactory landing fields in the area and because of the heavy antiaircraft fire he thought they would face.30
Backing for a greater use of airborne forces promptly came from both London and Washington. Mr. Churchill, "not at all satisfied" at the report that a lift existed for only one airborne division, asked General Eisenhower for a statement of the maximum number of these divisions he wished to launch simultaneously in the D Day attack. The Supreme Commander at once requested two airborne divisions in the initial attack with a third to follow twenty-four hours later. In the face of a cautious report from the chief of the air staff that the lack of trained crews made it impossible to furnish simultaneous lift for two airborne divisions, General Eisenhower reduced his demands. He asked for not less than "one airborne division and one regimental combat team (brigade) of a second airborne division, with sufficient depth to enable a second division to be dropped complete 24 hours later."31
The Prime Minister, concerned because the Supreme Commander's request for two airborne divisions was not being met, pressed the question at a War Cabinet meeting on 8 February. Portal warned that further increases in the lift would lower the quality of the forces. Leigh-Mallory added that, in view of the bottleneck which existed in the training of troop carrier crews, he thought it impossible to "increase the initial force by one more pilot." Disappointed at the list of difficulties and objections, Mr. Churchill asked that further studies be made on increasing the production of additional airlift. The discussion encouraged General Eisenhower
to hope that he would get at least his minimum demand.32
While the Allied airmen struggled with the problem of increasing the airborne lift to one and two-thirds divisions, Generals Marshall and Arnold proposed an even greater use of airborne troops than that asked by General Eisenhower and his commanders. Arnold was disturbed because Eisenhower's staff spoke only of assigning airborne forces tactical missions in the rear of the enemy lines. He felt that this would put them down in the midst of enemy reserve units. He proposed instead the use of airborne forces in mass (four to six divisions) some distance beyond the enemy lines where they could strike at German reinforcements and supplies.33
General Marshall shared many of General Arnold's beliefs. During the period when he had been thought of for the post of Supreme Commander, he had considered ways of properly exploiting air power in combination with ground troops and had determined to make better use of airborne forces even if, in the event of British opposition to his ideas, he had to carry them out exclusively with U.S. troops. During this period General Arnold had directed airborne specialists to prepare plans for General Marshall's use. In February 1944 Marshall sent members of his staff to London to explain these projects to the SHAEF planners. Of three proposals, he preferred one for the establishment of an airhead in Normandy generally south of Evreux which would require an initial drop of two airborne divisions by D plus 2, and the landing by glider of an infantry division by D plus 6.34 He believed this scheme, designed to divert the enemy from the bridgehead and pose an alternative strategic thrust, constituted a true vertical envelopment and would create a strategic threat strong enough to make the enemy revise his defense plans considerably.35
General Eisenhower said that he could not accept the Air Force proposal. He desired to commit the initial airborne forces in a manner that would permit their re~ grouping for other tactical purposes and would give them ground mobility in their early operations. While approving the conception of a mass vertical envelopment, he believed that it could come only after the beachhead had been gained and a striking force built up. He insisted that the Allies first had to get firmly established on the Continent and then seize a good sheltered harbor. Next, he wanted to make certain that no significant part of the Allied forces was in a position where it could be isolated and defeated in detail. Airborne troops that landed too far from other forces would be immobile until they could be reached by ground forces. The Supreme Commander recalled in this connection that the landings at Anzio had run into difficulties when the enemy, seeing that the Allied thrust "could not be immediately translated into mobile tactical action," had attacked instead of withdrawing.36
General Eisenhower continued with an exposition of the factors on which the existing airborne plan was based and which, he believed, compelled the Allies to visualize airborne operations "as an immediate tactical rather than a long-range adjunct of landing operations." Noting that General Marshall had complained that the only trouble with the plan for the strategic use of airborne force "is that we have never done anything like this before, and frankly, that reaction makes me tired," the Supreme Commander proclaimed that he himself was loath "ever to uphold the conservative as opposed to the bold." He promised to study the War Department ideas carefully "because on one point of your letter I am in almost fanatical agreement--I believe we can lick the Hun only by being ahead of him in ideas as well as in material resources."37
Generals Montgomery and Bradley agreed with General Eisenhower's views on the airborne proposals. The First Army commander argued that nothing should be allowed to deflect the Allies from the early capture of Cherbourg, and the 21 Army Group commander proposed that any additional airborne resources be used to hold the enemy away from Caen.38 General Marshall in sending the delegation to SHAEF to explain the plans for the use of airborne troops had concluded, "Please believe that, as usual, I do not want to embarrass you with undue pressure." General Eisenhower thus felt free to disregard the strategic employment of airborne forces for the moment and to press for their tactical use in the initial assault.39
The problem of getting additional airlift for the attack was linked, like the question of finding more landing craft, to the Allied decision on ANVIL If the invasion of southern France was undertaken simultaneously with OVERLORD, it would require all available airlift in the Mediterranean theater. The decision to postpone ANVIL helped to ease the situation. The planners in April set up a drop of the parachutists of the U.S. 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions in the Cotentin, and all but one battalion of the British 6th Airborne Division in the Caen area.
Provisions for an augmented airborne attack met increased pessimism from Leigh-Mallory. Because of the great importance attached to dropping three parachute regiments in the Ste. Mere-Eglise-Carentan area, he accepted the plan for dropping parachutists, but with reluctance. Losses to troop-carrier aircraft and gliders, he warned General Montgomery, were likely to be so high and the chance of success was so slight that glider operations could not be justified. The Allied Expeditionary Air Force commander advised General Eisenhower that the operation in its existing form violated official airborne doctrine on several counts and repeated many of the mistakes of the Sicilian campaign. In view of General Bradley's conviction, backed by General Montgomery, that the Cotentin landings should not be attempted without airborne operations, General Eisenhower decided to continue plans for both parachute and glider attacks.40
The airborne plans were further complicated in late May when the enemy was
discovered to be reinforcing the area where the 82d Airborne Division planned to drop. This intelligence required a change in the drop zones, which increased the difficulties for the glider units. Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, gravely concerned over this development, warned the Supreme Commander that it was probable that "at the most 30 per cent of the glider loads will become effective for use against the enemy." He concluded that the operation was likely "to yield results so far short of what the Army C-in-C expects and requires that if the success of the seaborne assault in this area depends on the airborne, it will be seriously prejudiced."41
General Eisenhower was aware of the dangers faced by the airborne forces and agreed with Leigh-Mallory as to the nature of the risks involved. He found it necessary nonetheless to heed the requests of his ground force commanders. The airborne operation, he decided, was essential to the whole operation and "must go on." "Consequently," he concluded, "there is nothing for it but for you, the Army Commander and the Troop Carrier Commander to work out to the last detail every single thing that may diminish these hazards." 42
The initial OVERLORD plan which SHAEF and the other Allied headquarters examined at the beginning of 1944 underwent many changes in the five months that followed. While the high-level questions of widening the assault area and strengthening the attack force came directly to the Supreme Commander and required his intervention with the Combined Chiefs of Staff, other Allied commanders were working out the exact details by which the operation was to be made effective. As early as 1 February 1944, the Allied naval commander, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force commander, and the Commander-in-Chief, 21 Army Group, had issued an Initial Joint Plan as the basis of planning by subordinate commanders. Detailed planning for ground forces was handed over to Second British Army and First U.S. Army, while naval and air plans were to be worked out by Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Air Force, and Allied naval headquarters.43
The Revised Plan
At every level the emphasis was on strengthening the assault. Plans to this end included increased air operations to destroy rail and highway communications into the beachhead area, heavier naval fire support to destroy the beach fortifications that would oppose the invading force, and augmented ground and airborne assault and follow-up forces to achieve the initial objectives quickly and establish a firm beachhead capable of resisting the most desperate enemy counterattacks. In many of these efforts, the planners at army, corps, or divisional level were able to work out their problems without calling on the Supreme Commander. When they did ask for help, they received it without stint. Less than a month after his arrival in London, General Eisenhower had written General Marshall that from D Day until D plus 60 the operation
would absorb everything the Allies could possibly pour into it. It was a warning he let neither the British nor the U.S. Government forget.
By the end of May 1944, the initial COSSAC plan had been changed from an attack by three infantry divisions and part of an airborne division in the assault, plus two in the follow-up in the area between the Orne and the base of the Cotentin, to an attack by five infantry divisions and elements of three airborne divisions in the assault, plus two follow-up forces--already afloat--in an area some fifty miles wide between the east coast of the Cotentin and the Orne. To put these forces ashore, the number of landing craft and naval ships had been heavily reinforced both from the Mediterranean and from the United States. To make certain that the enemy could not readily reinforce the assault area with men and supplies, a strengthened tactical and strategic air program was being developed to wreck the railway and highway communications leading into northwest France.44
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (5) * Next Chapter (7)
1. Maj. Gen. Sir Francis de Guingand, Operation Victory (New York, 1947), pp. 340-44; Montgomery to Eisenhower, W-4918, 10 Jan 44, SHAEF SGS 560 Vessels.
2. Interv with Smith, 9 May 47. Eisenhower Memo for Diary, 8 Feb 44; Eisenhower to Marshall, 8 Feb 44. Both in Diary Office CinC. General Eisenhower's statement as to the lack of "wallop" was made to Captain Butcher on 28 October 1943, Diary Office CinC. For earlier views on the size of the invasion forces by General Eisenhower, see CCS, 58th Mtg, 16 Jan 43, Casablanca Conf Min; Mtg of JCS with President, 16 Jan 43; Algiers Conf Min, 29, 31 May 43.
3. Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic (New York, 1948), pp. 5-6. Cf. de Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 338; Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 217. See also Diary Office CinC, 16 Jan 44, 8 Feb 44.
4. De Guingand, Operation Victory, pp. 340-44, tells of the work done by General Smith and himself. Brigadier McLean, who briefed Montgomery on the COSSAC plan, gave the author on 11 March 1947 a summary of the discussion. For Smith's view, see Smith to Eisenhower, W-9389, 5 Jan 44, Eisenhower personal file.
5. 21 Army Group Memo, "Notes taken on meeting of army commanders and their chiefs of staff at Headquarters, 21 Army Group, 7 Jan 44" OCMH files.
6. Memo, Morgan for Br COS, 6 Jan 44, Reply 10 JPS Questionnaire on Implications of Proposed Modification of Operation OVERLORD, 8 Jan 44; Br COS 5th Mtg, 7 Jan 44; Rpt of JPS on ANVIL-OVERLORD, 12 Jan 44; Br COS lOth Mtg, 13 Jan 44. All in SHAEF SGS 370.2/2 Opn From Mediterranean in Support of OVERLORD, I.
7. Br COS to Prime Minister, 14 Jan 44, Eisenhower personal file.
8. Montgomery to Eisenhower, W-4918, 10 Jan 44, SHAEF SGS 560 Vessels., II; Eisenhower to Marshall, 17 Jan 44, Eisenhower personal file.
9. Landing Ship, Tank, and Landing Craft, Tank.
10. Eisenhower to Marshall, W-9856, 22 Jan 44; Eisenhower to CCS, B-33, 23 Jan 44, Eisenhower personal file.
11. Admiral Cunningham still held that his colleagues perhaps underestimated the value of even a weak ANVIL on the enemy. Br COS 21st Mtg, 24 Jan 44, COS (44) Min.
12. Br COS to JSM, COS (W) 1094, 26 Jan 44; JSM to Br COS, JSM 1478, 1 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 560 Vessels., II.
13. Minute, Ismay for Churchill, 2 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 370.2/2 Opn From Mediterranean in Support of OVERLORD, I.
14. 35th Mtg, 4 Feb 44, COS (44), SHAEF SGS 370.2/2 Opn From Mediterranean in Support of OVERLORD, I; Br COS to JSM, 4 Feb 44, COS (W) 1126, COS (44) Min.
15. Eisenhower to Marshall, W-10786, 6 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file; Diary Office CinC, 7 Feb 44.
16. JSM to Br COS, JSM 1494,6 Feb 44; Marshall to Eisenhower, 78, 7 Feb 44. Both in SHAEF SGS 370.2/2 Opn From Mediterranean in Support of OVERLORD, I. At one point during this period, the U.S. Chiefs of Staff asked the British not to discuss certain points with General Eisenhower before he had a chance to give Washington his opinion.
17. Eisenhower to Marshall, W-10786, 8 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.
18. Gen Hull to Gen Handy, 15 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 560 Vessels., II.
19. For the detailed debate over loadings and the efforts to increase the use of the available craft, see Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, Ch. V. Montgomery to Eisenhower, 16 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 560 Vessels., II; 5th Mtg, 18 Feb 44, Min SAC's Conf. Memo, Eisenhower for Br COS, 19 Feb 44; COS (44) 52d Mtg, 19 Feb 44; Br COS to JSM, COS (W) 1156, 19 Feb 44. All in SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I.
20. JCS to Eisenhower, 153, 21 Feb 44; JCS to Eisenhower, 151, 21 Feb 44; Leahy to Eisenhower, 154, 21 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.
21. 54th Mtg, 22 Feb 44, COS (44).
22. COS to JSM, 23 Feb 44, reproduced as CCS 465/11, 24 Feb 44, CCS files; CCS to Eisenhower, FACS 13, 26 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file; JSM to Br COS, JSM 1538, 25 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I.
23. Wilson to Br COS, MEDCOS 41, 22 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I; 6th Mtg, 26 Feb 44, Min of SAC's Conf.
24. Wilson to WO, 28 Feb 44; Wilson to Br COS, 29 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I; fir COS to JSM, COS (W) 1184, 1 Mar 44; JSM to Br COS, JSM 1558, 4 Mar 44, SHAEF SGS 560 IV ([Vessels], III; Eisenhower to Marshall, B-245, 9 Mar 44, Eisenhower personal file.
25. Eisenhower to Marshall, 21 Mar 44; JSM to Br COS, JSM 1594, 24 Mar 44, Both in SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I.
26. 12th Mtg, 27 Mar 44, Min of SAC's Confs; Marshall to Eisenhower, W-1407B, 25 Mar 44, Eisenhower personal file; Br COS to JSM, COS (W) 1241 , 28 Mar 44, SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I.
27. Handy to Eisenhower, W-16455, 31 Mar 44, Handy to Eisenhower, W-18619, 5 Apr 44, SHAEF SGS 381 OVERLORD-ANVIL, I; JSM to Chiefs of Staff, FMD 183, 1 Apr 44, OPD Misc File; Prime Minister to Dill for Marshall, 1895, 12 Apr 44, SHAEF SGS 370.2/2 Opn From Mediterranean in Support of OVERLORD, I; Marshall to Eisenhower, W-22810, 14 Apr 44, Eisenhower personal file; Diary Office CinC, 18 Apr 44.
28. Dir, CCS to Gen Wilson, COSMED 90, 19 Apr 44, SHAEF SGS 370.2/2 Opn From Mediterranean in Support of OVERLORD, I.
29. Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 8; Bradley, A Soldier's Story, pp. 232-34.
30. 3d Mtg, 24 Jan 44, Min of SAC's Confs, SHAEF SGS 387/11; Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 234.
31. SHAEF file COS (44) 96 (O), 29 Jan 44; COS (44) 135 (O),6 Feb 44; Memo, Smith for Br COS, 7 Feb 44, sub: Airborne Forces for OVERLORD, SHAEF SGS 373/2 Employment of Airborne Forces in Opn OVERLORD, I. Quotation with italics from Smith memo.
32. SHAEF file COS (44) 40th Mtg (O), 8 Feb 44; Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 9 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.
33. Arnold, Global Mission, pp. 520-21.
34. The other two included: (1) the use of airborne troops in three groups to block the movement of hostile reserves as then located, which he rejected as placing too few men at critical points, and (2) the establishment of an airhead near Argentan to seize airfields and restrict hostile movements, which he opposed as failing to constitute a major strategic threat to the enemy.
35. Marshall to Eisenhower, 10 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file; Arnold, Global MIssion, pp. 520-21; Mtg at Hq 21 A Gp to discuss revised airborne plan for Opn NEPTUNE, 18 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 373/2 Employment of Airborne Forces in Opn OVERLORD, I.
36. Eisenhower to Marshall, 19 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.
37. Eisenhower to Marshall, 19 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.
38. Mtg at 21 A Gp, 18 Feb 44, SHAEF SGS 373/2 Employment of Airborne Forces in Opn OVERLORD, I.
39. Marshall to Eisenhower, 10 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.
40. Ltr, Leigh-Mallory to Montgomery, 23 Apr 44: Ltr, Leigh-Mallory to Eisenhower, 23 Apr 44. Both in SHAEF SGS 373/2 Employment of Airborne Forces in Opn OVERLORD, I, Eisenhower Memo dtd 22 May 44, Diary Office CinC, 23 May 44.
41. Ltr, Leigh-Mallory to SAC, 29 May 44, SHAEF SGS 393/2 Employment of Airborne Forces in Opn OVERLORD, I.
42. Ltr, Eisenhower to Leigh-Mallory, 30 May 44, SHAEF SGS 373/2 Employment of Airborne Forces in Opn OVERLORD, I.
43. Neptune Initial Joint Plan by ANCXF, AEAF, and 21 A Gp, 1 Feb 44, as revised 2 Mar 44, SHAEF files.
44. Eisenhower to Marshall, W-10786, 8 Feb 44, Eisenhower personal file.