The cross-Channel attack that struck the German-occupied coast of Normandy on 6 June 1944 was by far the largest of the series of amphibious operations by which the United States and Great Britain came to grips with the German-Italian-Japanese Axis in the course of World War II. But it was more than just another attack. It was the supreme effort of the Western Allies in Europe--the consummation of the grand design to defeat Germany by striking directly at the heart of Hitler's Reich. One of the last attacks, it was the fruition of some of the first strategic ideas.
Before such an amphibious operation could be undertaken, much had to be done by the Western Allies. Time was required to mobilize the vast military potential of the United States, to work out involved strategic and operational plans, to ferry men and materials across the Atlantic to England, to destroy the German submarines, to develop a strategic air offensive over Germany, and to manufacture and assemble the truly enormous mass of matériel which the invasion of western Europe demanded. From the beginning, operations in Europe had a decisive influence upon the development of the American war effort.
The day that General George C. Marshall assumed his duties as Chief of Staff of the United States Army Hitler's forces invaded Poland, and two days later England and France declared war on Germany. At that time the United States Army consisted of about three and one-half divisions (approximately 50 per cent mobilized, and scattered among a number of Army posts) and an Air Corps of 17,000 men. During the next ten months there was a slow awakening in the American people of the necessity of augmenting our armed forces, but there was still insufficient public interest to prevent reductions in requested military appropriations.
In the spring of 1940 the Germans launched their campaign in the West; and in a few weeks the Wehrmacht defeated the armies of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and England. The coast of western Europe was then secure to the Axis from Spain to Narvik, and destructive air and submarine operations could be launched from numerous bases located throughout its entire length. In addition, bases could be developed for a direct attack on the British Isles. However, these startling Nazi successes across the Atlantic inaugurated a period of growing consciousness in the United States of the serious international situation. During the summer of 1940 Congress appropriated funds to more than double the strength of the Army, to organize an armored force, to increase the Air Corps to fifty-four combat groups, to build a "two-ocean" Navy, and to speed up the production of munitions. President Roosevelt completed his "War Cabinet" in July with the appointment of Henry L. Stimson as Secretary of War and Franklin Knox as Secretary of the Navy, two months after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain. During the summer, measures were adopted (at a Pan-American conference and in special discussions with Canada) to strengthen the defenses of the Western Hemisphere. On 2 September 1940 a deal was concluded whereby Great Britain leased to the United States for ninety-nine years six bases in the Caribbean in exchange for fifty World War I destroyers. In September the National Guard was called into Federal service, and the Selective Service Act was signed by the President.* On 11 March 1941 Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act to bolster the sagging defense of Great Britain.
After the collapse of France the strategic initiative everywhere rested with Germany. There were at least three possible lines of action, of which she might adopt one or more: First, she could undertake an assault on the British Isles; second, she could strike through the Balkans and North Africa to gain control of the Middle East; third, she could invade Russia. In a sense Germany undertook all three in an attempt to fulfill Hitler's concept of a greater German Empire on the Continent. The Battle of Britain aroused American sympathies still further, and the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 inaugurated a new phase of preparations in this country. At that time the Allied situation was extremely critical. Russia, the last strong power on the Continent that could
* This was the first time that we had adopted compulsory military training in time of peace. The act provided for the registration of all men between the ages of 21 and 35, with a proviso that not more than 900,000 were to be drafted in any one year.
oppose Hitler, was threatened with destruction; British control of the strategically important Middle East was seriously endangered; and the British Isles themselves, the last great Allied base in western Europe, were constantly threatened by German aircraft and submarines and by the hostile troop concentrations along the Channel. In the Pacific the menacing preparations of Japan were regarded as a possible preface to attacks upon British and Dutch possessions in the Far East and upon the Philippines.
Buy July 1941 the United States Army had grown to thirty-four partially equipped divisions and an air force of 20-9 incomplete squadrons. During the next six months more realistic field training and maneuvers were conducted by the new Army units, industry slowly began the quantity production of military matériel, the Navy began to participate actively with British and Canadian fleet units against the Nazi submarines in the Atlantic, and maximum effort commensurate with our military strength was taken to reinforce our oversea garrisons--the new bases in the Atlantic, the Panama Canal Zone, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
On 7 December 1941 the Army, after fifteen months of peacetime mobilization, consisted of about 1,600,000 men. Twenty-nine infantry, five armored, and two cavalry divisions had been organized. The Air Corps numbered some 270,000 men. The January 1942 troop basis assumed that by the end of the year the total Army strength would be more than doubled and the Air Corps more than tripled. On 9 March 1942 a major reorganization of the War Department was effected when three major commands were established under the direct supervision of the Chief of Staff--the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and the Army Service Forces.*
The Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor temporarily paralyzed United States naval strength in the Pacific, but it immediately unified the American people in a determination to defeat the Axis. Although belated, the entrance of an angry and unified United States into the struggle, coupled with Axis strategic mistakes and Russo-British success in defending vital strategic areas, forecast eventual victory for the Allies.
The German campaigns in Poland, Norway, France, and the Low Countries had developed serious differences of opinion between
* Commanding generals:
Army Ground Forces: Lesley J. McNair.
Army Air Forces: Henry H. Arnold.
Army Service Forces: Brehon B. Somervell.
Hitler and his general staff regarding the execution of strategic plans. For each campaign the general staff had favored the orthodox offensive, Hitler an unorthodox attack. In each case Hitler's views had prevailed, and the astounding success of the succeeding campaign had raised his military prestige to the point where his opinions were no longer challenged. His self-confidence became unassailable after the victory in France, and from then on he have little weight to the advice of his generals. Thus no general staff objection was expressed when he made the fatal decision to invade Soviet Russia.
During the Battle of Britain American observers in the United Kingdom had kept the top United States military and political leaders informed of the critical situation in Europe. By November 1940 these leaders had agreed on the basic American concept of World War II--to defeat Hitler first. This principle was expressed in the United States basic war plan, drafted in May 1941:
Allied Strategic Considerations
Since Germany is the predominant member of the Axis powers, the Atlantic and European war is considered to be the decisive theater. The principal United States military effort will be exerted in that theater, and operations of United States forces in other theaters will be conducted in such a manner as to facilitate that effort.*
During February and March 1941 a series of secrete conversations were held in Washington between representatives of the Army Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations and representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff. The purposes of these conferences were to determine the best methods of defeating Germany should the United States be compelled to resort to war; to coordinate plans for the employment of American and British forces; and to reach agreements concerning major lines of strategy, areas of responsibility, and command arrangements. The conclusions reached, known as the ABC-1 Staff Agreement, constituted the basis for Anglo-American cooperation during the war. Two basic principles for the control of combined operations were enunciated: (1) unity of command in each theater and 92) integrity therein of the forces of each nation. Born of bitter experience in World War I, these principles were cherished by both Americans and British. In August 1941 President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill conferred near the new American naval base of Argentia, Newfoundland, and promulgated the Atlantic Charter, an expression
* Samuel E. Morison, The Battle of the Atlantic (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1947).
of Allied war aims. Also in attendance at this meeting were the high military leaders, who confirmed what had been agreed upon at the earlier staff conferences.
Pearl Harbor abruptly ended the period of preliminary conversations. Prime Minister Churchill, accompanied by the Chiefs of Staff of the British Army, Navy, and Air Force, hurried to Washington to confer with the President and the American Chiefs of Staff. This meeting was the formal beginning of the most complete unification of military effort ever achieved by two Allied nations. The strategic direction of the forces of both nations, the allocation of man power and munitions, the coordination of communications, the control of military intelligence, and the administration of captured areas were all accepted as joint responsibilities.
The Combined and Joint Chiefs of Staff.--The Combined Chiefs of Staff was a committee of the following military leaders:*
Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the United States Army and Navy.
General of the Army George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander of the Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations.[þ]
General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, Army Air Forces.
Field Marshal Sir Alan F. Brook, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound (Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew B. Cunningham, October 1943), Chief of the Naval Staff.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles F.A. Portal, Chief of the Air Staff.
The headquarters of this group, consisting of the United States Chiefs of Staff (usually called the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and representatives** of the British Chiefs of Staff, was established in
* In order to save space farther on, the composition of the Combined Chiefs of Staff for the entire period of the war is gven here. The rank shown for each member of representative was the highest attained by him.
** The British representatives, called the British Joint Staff Mission (Washington), were:
Head of Mission--Field Marshal Sir John Dill (Field Marshal Sir Henry M. Wilson, November 1944).
Military--Lieutenant General G.N. Macready.
Naval--Admiral A.B. Cunningham (Admiral P. Noble, December 1942; Admiral J. Somerville, November 1944).
Air--Air Marshall D.C.S. Evill (Air Marshal W. Welsh, June 1943l; Air Marshal D. Colyer, November 1944).
þ The author is being somewhat coy here: Admiral King's title was "Commander in Chief, United States Fleet" -- unfortunately abbreviated as "CINCUS" until changed to "Cominch" after Pearl Harbor.
Washington; and there the day-to-day problems of the war were under continuous consideration. Representatives of other Allied nations and dominions attended the Washington meetings from time to time.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff assumed the responsibility of strategic direction of all theaters (except Russia), including the determination of specific operations, the allocation of resources to each theater, and their relative priorities. Responsibility for executive and operational direction of the conduct of the war in each theater was assigned by the Combined Chiefs to either the United States Chiefs or the British Chiefs. Thus, China and the Pacific were assigned to the United States Chiefs and the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia to the British Chiefs. The only exception was in the case of the European Theater, where General Eisenhower dealt on combined matters directly with the Combined Chiefs. A vital principle laid down by the Combined Chiefs of Staff was that of unity of command, which placed responsibility and authority for an operation under one commander who was responsible to the Joint or Combined Chiefs of Staff. The United States Chiefs were responsible directly to the President, the British Chiefs to the Prime Minister; and the Combined Chiefs were responsible to both, acting together.*
The Joint Chiefs of Staff was the President's agency to exercise strategic control of our armed forces, the result being that the Army and Navy operated as one national military force. The Joint Chiefs organized planning and advisory committees to assist it on such matters as strategy, operational and administrative planning, psychological warfare, intelligence, transportation, assignment of materials of war, communications, meteorology, weapons, and civil affairs. The Joint Chiefs' decisions were executed by the War and
* A decision of the Combined Chiefs could be implemented in three ways:
- By a directive from the Combined Chiefs to the supreme commander of a combined theater; for example, a Combined Chiefs' directive to General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander in Europe. [eg: OVERLORD Directive]
- By a directive from the United States Chiefs of Staff or the British Chiefs of Staff to the commander of a theater for which the United States or the British Chiefs were functioning as the executive agent of the Combined Chiefs; for example, a directive from the United States Chiefs of Staff based upon a Combined Chiefs' decision and sent to General MacArthur, Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area.
- By a directive from one of the members of the Combined Chiefs to his own service; for example, a directive from General Marshall to the senior United States Army commander in a theater to turn over a certain number of tanks to the British forces in that theater.
Navy Departments, the more smoothly and promptly since members of their staffs had functioned on the joint committee whose studies had contributed to the decisions. Most of the joint committees worked with British counterparts, thus forming combined committees to advise the Combined Chiefs.
The pooling of the skills of these leaders and the authority that they exercised in applying the entire military, industrial, and technical resources of their two nations were responsible in large measure for the success of the Allies in the war. The Combined Chief of Staff and their advisors met periodically, often with their Chiefs of State, and at these conferences the major decisions of the war were made. Influencing most of these decisions were at least six general factors, essential to the main effort and basic in the implementation of early strategy, although in themselves they could not bring about a decision. These factors were:
- The necessity of supporting the Russians, in order to keep them in the war.
- Maintenance of the security and war-making capacity of the British Isles and the Western Hemisphere.
- Maintenance of the stability of the Middle East and prevention of an Axis drive to join Japan and Germany.
- Control of the sea lanes in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
- The necessity of stopping the Japanese before they advanced so far or became so securely entrenched as to prolong the war unduly.
- The need for keeping China in the war to contain Japanese forces and possibly provide bases for operations against Japan.
The factors did not change materially until very late in the conflict, when Axis power began to crumble. Although relative priorities between them could not be rigidly established, the minimum essential means were required for each, as failure in any one would have had global implications. For instance, a failure to halt the Japanese advance would have forced the United States to shift major resources to the Pacific, thereby seriously handicapping any major effort in Europe. The minimum demands of these vital undertakings were ever present and at time so urgent as to assume a priority higher than the main effort. In this situation, only the clearest judgment and the greatest determination on the part of Allied leadership kept plans and their implementation directed with maximum efficiency toward the main objective.
The Combined Chiefs' decisions governing operations in the Mediterranean and the Pacific have been discussed in other monographs of this series, but a review of the major decisions of the first two years of the war will show the development of the strategy behind the great Allied operations in western Europe in 1944 and 1945.*
Major Allied Decisions, 1942 and 1943.--In addition to establishing the organization to direct the Allied forces in the war, the Washington Conference of December 1941 (ARCADIA Conference) confirmed the important basic decision that Germany must be defeated first. Initially the Allies must close the ring on Nazi aggression and wear down German resistance by air bombardment and blockade. The security of the main areas of Allied war industry, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, must be secured; essential lines of communication must be maintained; and Japan must be held.
For the United States, stung by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the decision to defeat Germany first was difficult to make and still more difficult to implement. Once made, through, it was a lethal blow to the divide-and-conquer strategy of the Axis. It was an application of the most important principle of war, which requires the concentration of combat power against the major objective, in this instance, Hitler. As a corollary, the principle of economy of force had to be exercised elsewhere, especially in the Pacific, where the concept required active opposition to the Japanese, but with a minimum of resources.
The main reasons for the adoption of the Germany-first strategy may be summarized as follows:
- There were serious doubts as to the staying power of Russia. She needed prompt and effective assistance.
- Germany was much the stronger. Defeat her and Japan would be sure to fall; but defeat Japan and there would still be a long war ahead.
- Germany was nearer to the centers of Allied power.
- A longer time would be required to mount operations in the Pacific.
- It would be easier to contain Japan.
- There could be no unified effort int he Pacific prior to the defeat of Germany, since Britain and Russia could not participate.
* See Appendix 3.
Fortunately, unprecedented and unexpected Allied production eventually provided means to permit the assumption of a Pacific offensive before the final defeat of Germany.
In April 1942 the Combined Chiefs of Staff met in London. It was reaffirmed that, subject to necessary holding measures against Japan, all resources were to be concentrated upon the defeat of Germany. it was also accepted in principle that the Axis armies could be destroyed in europe only by an Allied victory on the Continent, probably in Germany itself. Russia would play a vital role, but the Western Allies would have to open a second front to make victory possible. To the Americans the obvious solution was an invasion of western Europe at a suitable time and place to close with the Axis forces and destroy them. General Eisenhower, in his memoirs, discusses some of the advantages of an attack launched from England rather than from another area:
To use American forces for an attack on Germany through the Russian front was impossible. The only lines of approach were through Murmansk on the north and the Persian Gulf on the south, via the Cape of Good Hope. These lines could carry nothing additional to the equipment and supplies that were necessary to keep the Russian forces in the struggle. . . . Plans for attacking through Norway, through Spain and Portugal, and even for not attacking with ground forces at all but depending exclusively on the effect of sea and air superiority, were all studied in infinite detail.
For a number of reasons the Mediterranean route was rejected as the principal avenue of attack. The first disadvantage was the distance of the North African bases from the heart of Germany. While conceivably Italy might readily be eliminated as an enemy, the heart of the opposition was Germany--an Italian collapse would not be decisive. The difficulty of attacking Germany through the mountainous areas on her southern and southwestern flanks was obvious, while we always had to face the fact that the full might of Great Britain and the United States could not possibly be concentrated in the Mediterranean. This could be done only in an operation which used England as a base. The remaining strength of her land armies and, above all, the air and naval strength required for the defense of England could by employed offensively only if it were hurled across the Channel directly at the continent of Europe. Moreover, between the coast line of northwest Europe and the border of Germany there was no natural obstacle to compare in importance with the Alps.
Another very important reason for making Great Britain the principal base from which to launch the attack was that the trans-atlantic journey from New York was shortest when terminated in the United Kingdom. This would permit the most rapid turn-around of ships and would utilize the great British ports, already constructed an in good working order. Selection of this base would save shipping in another way. The U-boat backs then infesting
the North Atlantic could best be combatted my means of heavy escorts. No matter what line of military operations might be selected, we still had to keep open Britain's life line.
By comparison with other possible avenues of approach, considering the need for concentration, quick access to the heart of the enemy country, avoidance of impassable terrain obstacles, and rapidity of build-up, the best choice was invasion of northwest Europe, using England as a base.*
However, there were many difficulties in the way of such an invasion. There were political considerations, such as the necessity for an early victory and for encouraging resistance movements in occupied areas. There were many conflicting factors to be resolved, such as the early liberation of France and the British interests in the Mediterranean. The great prestige of German arms did not tempt responsible Allied leaders to reckless or audacious schemes. Massive amphibious operations on an hitherto untried scale would be required, and military history provided no encouragement for the most difficult of all operations, an amphibious assault against a strong and vigorous enemy. In short, it was easy to prove that the task could not be done.
Nevertheless, a cross-Channel operation for the summer of 1943, known as Operation ROUNDUP, was discussed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in London. If a desperate situation on the Russian front demanded an early diversionary attack, a lighter and earlier assault, known as SLEDGEHAMMER, would be substituted for ROUNDUP--perhaps in 1942.
As the renewal of German drives on the Suez Canal and the Caucasus oil fields caused the Allied situation to deteriorate, Prime Minister Churchill and General Alan Brooke went to Washington, in June 1942, and reopened previous discussions of an operation in the Mediterranean. The emergency became critical as the Axis forces reached what later proved to be the high tide of the conquests (see phase line on map); so General Marshall and Admiral King went to London in July to continue the discussions begun in Washington, By that time it had become obvious that sufficient resources could not be massed in the United Kingdom for any substantial cross-Channel operation during the summer of 1942. The Combined Chiefs of Staff, with the American members agreeing reluctantly, therefore decided to abandon SLEDGEHAMMER, postpone ROUNDUP, and undertake TORCH--an invasion of North Africa in the fall of 1942.
* Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe. Copyright, 1948, by Doubleday & Co., Inc.
When the Combined Chiefs of Staff met at Casablanca in january 1943, the general strategic situation had improved, owing to limited Allied successes in North Africa, at Stalingrad, and in the South Pacific. Even though operations in the Mediterranean were proceeding with energy, it was accepted that the defeat of the German armies in western Europe could still occur only on the ancient battlefields of France and the Low Countries. Although some strategists continued to press for an Allied main effort through Italy or the Balkans, the general determination to undertake a cross-Channel invasion prevailed.
Decisions reached at Casablanca (the ANFA Conference) included the determination to intensify the antisubmarine war in the Atlantic, to intensify the strategic bombing of Germany, to continue the logistical build-up in the United Kingdom for ROUNDUP, to attack Sicily in July 1943, and to continue to assist Russia. These decisions marked a resumption of definite preparations for cross-Channel operations to take advantage of any sudden enemy weakness, or for an assault in the spring of 1944 if no previous opportunity presented itself. A combined planning staff known as COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander) was organized in London as an agency to make the estimate of the situation and the preliminary plans for the invasion. [See The Supreme Command, a volume in the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II series for details.]
Thus we see that definite combined planning and large-scale preparations for the invasion of western Europe began about one and a half years before the assault was undertaken, and at a time when Allied defensive efforts around the globe were just beginning to achieve success.
As the Allies gained strength enough to assume the strategic offensive throughout the world, the Combined Chiefs met at Washington, in May 1943. General Marshall commented on this conference in his Biennial Report:
This meeting, designated the TRIDENT Conference, may prove to be one of the most historic military conclaves of this war; for here the specific strategy to which the movements of the land, sea, and air forces of the American and British Allies conformed was translated into firm commitments. There were changes in detail and technique after the TRIDENT Conference, but the Pacific strategy was sustained; and the first great objective, the defeat of the European Axis, Germany and Italy, and their satellites, was accomplished.
At this conference it was decided to take all possible measures against the U-boats in the Atlantic, to intensify the strategic bomber offensive against Germany, and to concentrate sufficient forces in the United Kingdom to launch Operation OVERLORD (the
new code name for the invasion of France), with a target date of 1 May 1944. In Europe's innumerable wars no vigorously opposed crossing of the Alps had ever been successful; so, although operations would be planned against Italy or Sardinia after the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, General Eisenhower was directed (beginning in November) to send to the United Kingdom for OVERLORD seven seasoned divisions from the Mediterranean area. In the Pacific limited operations would be undertaken in the Aleutians, the Marshalls, the Carolines, the Solomons, the Bismarcks, New Guinea, and Burma.
At the First Quebec Conference (QUADRANT, in August 1943, the outline plan for OVERLORD was approved; and it became the basis for subsequent detailed plans. It was again agreed that operations against the U-boats must be intensified and that the bombing of Germany from the United Kingdom should be supplemented by strategic bombing from bases in the Mediterranean Theater, particularly Italy. The Combined Chiefs also recommended to the president and Prime Minister an additional landing in southern France (Operation ANVIL [later renamed DRAGOON) as a diversion for OVERLORD. Further offensives against the Japanese were also agreed upon at the QUADRANT Conference.
At the SEXTANT Conference, held in Cairo in November 1943, the invasion of southern France was approved; and it was agreed that OVERLORD and ANVIL should be given priority over all other operations throughout the world. At Teheran in December Marshal Stalin concurred in this program.
These decisions at the close of 1943 resolved a long-standing difference of opinion that had haunted most of the previous conferences. The British, championed by Prime Minister Churchill, had usually favored the Mediterranean approach to the Continent, while the Americans, under the leadership of General Marshall, favored the direct invasion of western Europe. The British had good grounds to fear a cross-Channel undertaking and possessed a natural concern for the Mediterranean Theater. "The Channel had been for centuries a barrier of special import; and if it had protected them so long, might it not now protect their enemies? Beyond the Channel lay France, where a generation before the British people a paid a ghastly price of youth and strength in years of massive stalemate. From World War II there were the further painful memories of Dunkirk and DIeppe. The British Prime Minister had himself been a farsighted and incisive opponent of the bloody futility of the western front in 1915 and afterward, and it was wholly natural that he should be fearful lest there be a repetition
of that slaughter. He said: 'We must take care that the tides do not run red with the blood of American and British youth, or the beaches be choked with their bodies.'"*
On the other hand, the Americans in their freshness and their vast material strength argued for the bold and forceful course. They were convinced that decisive results could be obtained only on the battlefields of western Europe, and that only there could the Western Allies honestly meet the Russian demand for a second front.
Of much greater significance than the original British reluctance to accept the cross-Channel operation was the courage with which they finally supported it. "The real lesson of World War II, therefore, was not to be found in any revelations of disagreement. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill established and sustained a wartime collaboration which grew ever stronger in the settlement of successive differences. . . . The two nations fought a single war, and their quarrels were the quarrels of brothers."* Such an attitude is essential for any successful combined undertaking.
It will be noted that in all the early decisions of the Combined Chiefs of Staff considerable stress was placed on the elimination of the German submarine menace in the Atlantic and on the strategic air offensive against Germany. These operations will now be discussed.
Of all the major military operations in World War II, perhaps the most monotonous for the participants, but at the same time one of the most vital to the success of the Allied cause, was the war in the Atlantic Ocean. This Battle of the Atlantic continued from 3 September 1939, when a British liner was sunk off the Scottish coast, without warning, by a German submarine, until 14 May 1945, when the last U-boats surrendered at American Atlantic ports. It was fought from the arctic ice fields to Capetown and from the Gulf of Mexico to Gibraltar; it was fought by combined naval and air forces of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, Russia, poland, Norway, and France.
The Battle of the Atlantic
Obviously, before any major Allied offensive could be undertaken in western Europe, the lines of communication from the United
* Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper & Bros., 1948).
States had to be secured to provide the logistical support. Thus the Battle of the Atlantic resolved itself essentially into a battle between Allied shipping and the German U-boats--a battle that became a war of wits and scientific devices in which new measures and countermeasures were constantly developed by the opposing navies. The following table outlines this struggle between shipping and the submarines and, with the map, shows the trend of the battle:
(a) Includes all types except midgets.
Year Allied Merchant Shipping
(In thousands of tons
Sunk New Construction Gains
U.S. Br. Total 1939 (4 months) 810 101 231 332 -478 9 15 +6 1940 4,407 439 780 1,219 -3,188 22 40 +18 1941 4,398 1,169 815 1,984 -2,414 35 196 +161 1942 8,245 5,339 1,843 7,182 -1,063 85 244 +159 1943 3,611 12,384 2,201 14,585 +10,974 237 270 +33 1944 1,422 11,639 1,710 13,349 +11,927 241 288 +47 1945 (4 months) 458 3,551 283 3,834 3,376 153 52 -101 Totals 23,351 34,622 7,863 42,485 +19,134 782 1,105 +323
Early Operations.-- When war was declared, the German surface fleet was not match for the British, not to mention an Allied combination* Because of the strategic important of the Baltic Sea to Germany, the British believed that the bulk of the German fleet must be committed to the control of those waters; and Britain could adequately cover the exits from the Baltic and still have sizable forces for action elsewhere--in the Mediterranean, the Far East, or the Atlantic. Grand Admiral Eric Raeder was in command of the German Navy; but the Allies' most formidable naval opponent was Admiral Karl Doenitz, commander of submarines. German
Table of Naval Strengths, 3 September 1939(d) Great
Germany France Italy Japan United
Battleships 12 2(b) 8 4 10 15 Battle cruisers 3 2 2 Pocket battleships 3 Aircraft carriers 7 1 6 5 Cruisers 64 8 50 22 38 36 Destroyers 184 22 28 59 113 181(c) Submarines 58 57 71 105 53 99(c)
(a) Including dominions.
(b) Completed in 1940.
(c) Includes over-age vessels.
(d) The figures given in this table are taken from The Gathering Storm, by Churchill (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1948).
strategy aimed at cutting off Britain's supplies, primarily by the use of submarines but with the assistance of surface raiders and aircraft. On the other hand, British naval strategy had a threefold object: to ensure the safe transport of supplies of all kinds to the home country, to prevent the landing of an enemy expedition on its coasts, and to provide the force whereby a British expedition could be landed and maintained on enemy territory. Long experience had taught Britain that these missions could best be performed by seeking out and destroying any enemy force that showed itself at sea.
When the German submarines started operations, Great Britain retaliated by immediately arming her merchant vessels, instituting the convoy system so successful in World War I, and launching counterattacks against the U-boats insofar as her limited resources allowed. Germany countered by declaring her intention of sinking all British ships without warning. For the next year U-boat activity was concentrated in the waters around the British Isles and south to Gibraltar, since at that time Hitler could not afford to risk any incident with the United States in the Western Hemisphere. The U-boats succeeded in sinking the British aircraft carrier Courageous in the Bristol Channel in September 1940, and the next month a submarine made a daring raid into Scapa Flow to torpedo and sink the battleship Royal Oak. In December a British cruiser squadron intercepted the pocket battleship Graf Spee, on a raiding mission in the south Atlantic, and forced it into the neutral port of Montevideo, where it was scuttled by its crew. German submarine activity against merchant shipping during this period is indicated on the map.
The sea fighting off Norway was costly to both the British and German Navies; and although Hitler gained the long Norwegian coast line and many fine harbors, at the end of June 1940 the effective German fleet consisted of no more than three cruisers and four destroyers. Although many of its damaged ships could be repaired, the German Navy was not strong enough to insure success for an invasion of Britain during the summer of 1940. However, after overrunning France, the Germans promptly developed U-boat bases at Brest, Lorient, St. Nazaire, and Bordeaux. The possession of the Bay of Biscay ports eliminated the long journeys to and from the hunting grounds that had formerly taken up much of the cruising radius of the U-boats. The sea routes were at the front door of the submarine command, resulting in almost doubling the number of U-boats that could be maintained on patrol stations. The undersea craft now began extending their fields of operations as far south as Freetown and west of Iceland.
Since the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk had cost the Royal navy eighty-five destroyers, it was in desperate need of more ships of this type; hence the destroyer deal with the United States in September.* As a further aid in the antisubmarine war the Royal Air Force's Coastal Command was placed under the operational control of the Navy and was used on an increasing scale for guarding shipping routes.
These measures made it more difficult for the U-boats to operate close to shore, and convoys were located less frequently. To counter these defenses the U-boat command instituted a method of group control that permitted wide dispersion of the submarines for search and heavy concentration for attacks. Once a convoy was located, headquarters would direct the assembly and mass attacks of the submarines. Coupled with these "wolf-pack" tactics, the Germans began their night surface attacks against British shipping.
One of the brightest acts of heroism in this early period of the war, which was illustrative of the great fortitude and resolution characteristic of the British Navy, occurred in the north Atlantic in November 1940. The British armed merchant cruiser Jervis Bay was escorting a convoy when the German pocket battleship Admiral Sheer was sighted closing for an attack. The captain of the Jervis Bay at once ordered his convoy to scatter and make smoke, while he steamed rapidly toward the raider and opened fire. It was evident from the first that the odds were hopeless; nevertheless he engaged the Admiral Sheer for nearly an hour and held the German vessel's fire. When at last the Jervis Bay, its guns awash, crippled, and in flames, sank beneath the waves, the merchantmen had had time to scatter, so that of thirty-eight ships in the convoy only four were sunk.
A new period of mounting tension began in 1941 when the passage of the Lend-Lease Act committed the United States to more positive action in the Atlantic to protect the shipment of its war materials. By the end of May three American battleships, one carrier, four light cruisers, and two destroyer squadrons had been transferred from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
* The six base sites leased by this agreement were Antigua, British West Indies; British Guiana (sites near Georgetown); Jamaica, British West Indies; St. Lucia, British West Indies; Great Exuma, Bahamas; and Trinidad. In addition, Great Britain without consideration made available two other bases--at Bermuda and at Argentia, Newfoundland. By April 1941 all fifty destroyers as well as ten Coast Guard cutters had been delivered to the British, and work was well along on the new American bases.
In April 1941 the Danish Minister signed an agreement by which the United States became the protector of Greenland. Although the Coast Guard had been operating special missions off Greenland since the previous spring, this agreement permitted the United States to build weather, radio, and radar stations as well as emergency landing fields.
In May 1941, the German battleship
Bismarck, on a commerce-raiding mission, was overtaken by elements of the British Home Fleet in the Denmark Straits. The British battleship Hood received a hit in a magazine and blew up; and the Bismarck, only slightly damaged, broke off action and withdrew to the southeast. The British force followed, attacking several times with torpedo planes, and three days later overtook and sunk the great battleship. This lesson made Admiral Raeder very chary of sending out commerce raiders.
In May, President Roosevelt declared an unlimited national emergency and announced that United States patrols in the Atlantic were being strengthened.
On 12 July 1941, 4,000 Marines disembarked at Reykjavik to relieve British troops that had been in Iceland since May 1940. From that time to the end of the war, the defense of Iceland was a primary responsibility fo the United States Army and Navy. Regular Army troops (a regiment of the 5th Division) under Major General Charles H. Bonesteel arrived in October 1941. The following spring the Marines returned to the United States [to organize the 1st Marine Division in preparation for the Guadalcanal invasion].
In September 1941 a German submarine made the first attack on an American naval vessel, the old destroyer Greer, about 175 miles southwest of Iceland.* Although two torpedoes were fired at the Greer and it in turn attacked the submarine with depth charges, neither vessel was damaged. As a result of htis incident, the President issued a "shoot-on-sight" order, and the United States Navy was unofficially in the war. In October, another destroyer (Kearny) was attacked but, although severely damaged, reached port. Two week later the destroyer Reuben James was sunk southwest of Iceland.
The Allied Defensive.--During the early part of the war, the United States Navy underwent several major organization changes. In February 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral Harold R. Stark) in Washington exercised over-all operational control over three fleets: the Atlantic Fleet (Admiral Ernest
* Several United States merchant ships had been sunk prior to this time.
J. King), the Pacific Fleet (Admiral Husband E. Kimmel), and the Asiatic Fleet (Admiral Thomas C. Hart). Admiral Kimmel was also designated Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. After Pearl Harbor, Admiral King succeeded Admiral Kimmel as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, and Admiral Robert E. Ingersol became Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (until November 1944, when he was succeeded by Admiral Jonas H. Ingram). In March 1942 the duties of Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, were combined under Admiral King; and Admiral Stark went to London as Commander of United States Naval Forces in Europe.
About the same time, the naval coastal frontiers were reorganized into sea frontiers, as shown on the map, and the United States assumed strategic responsibility for the western half of the Atlantic and the British for the eastern half. The Panama Sea Frontier operated under the Army commander at Panama, while the other Atlantic sea frontiers were directly under Admiral King. Army defense commands and departments maintained the ground defenses in these sea frontier areas. The sea frontiers assumed responsibility for antisubmarine measures in their zones, while the Atlantic Fleet had that responsibility for transatlantic troop convoys. The Atlantic Fleet also maintained a general reserve of capital ships to cope with enemy surface units and to provide additional; strength for special operations in the eastern Atlantic or Mediterranean. Another important mission of the Atlantic Fleet was to train and test for service elsewhere the large number of ships and landing craft built and manned on our east coast.
In March 1943, the Eighth Fleet (Admiral Hewitt) was established in the Mediterranean to support the Allied invasions in that theater. In the south Atlantic, the Fourth Fleet (Vice Admiral Ingram), with headquarters at Recife, Brazil, operated under the Atlantic Fleet. On 29 May 1943, the Tenth Fleet was established in Washington under Admiral King's direct command. This was a highly specialized administrative headquarters formed to coordinate the antisubmarine efforts of the various other commands. It also exercised control of convoys and shipping. By correlating antisubmarine training and matériel development, it contributed outstandingly to the success of our operations in the Battle of the Atlantic.
When the United States formally entered the war, after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the Germans began extensive U-boat attacks on shipping in the western Atlantic. These new attacks marked the beginning of the most critical seventeen months of the
Battle of the Atlantic--months during which the hopes, plans, and preparations for the invasion of western Europe hung in the balance. The following table shows that during the first months of American participation in the war, when the "battle of the communication lines" was the most critical Allied strategic consideration, the greatest activity was in the Atlantic, where German U-boats were sinking 55 per cent of the Allied ships lost from all causes throughout the world. It also indicates how pitifully ineffective our efforts were to counter this U-boat offensive at that time.
Losses of Allied and Neutral Merchant Ships Jan.-June
Total By Submarine: All Atlantic and Arctic areas 506 521 259 1,286 Mediterranean and Red Sea 9 18 30 57 Indian Ocean 37 23 6 66 North, Central, and South Pacific 5 4 7 16 Southwest Pacific 16 5 10 31 Total by submarine 573 571 312 1,456 From Other Causes (All Theaters) Aircraft 96 46 21 163 Surface ships 46 39 2 87 Enemy mines 37 8 18 63 Other unknown enemy action (a)137 2 139 145 Marine casualty 145 157 131 433 Total from other causes 461 250 174 885 Total losses from all causes 1,034 821 486 2,341 Losses of Axis Submarines German, including 21 64 55 140 U-boats sunk by U.S. Forces(b) (6) (10) (10) (26) Italian 7 14 8 29 Japanese 10 9 5 24
(a) This heavy loss occurred almost entirely in the Southwest Pacific; it includes Allied vessels scuttled or captured in the abandonment of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
(b) American kills were 12 by Navy aircraft, 8 by Navy surface craft, 5 by Army aircraft, and 1 by Coast Guard.
The map illustrates how the Germans shifted their effort to the North American coast during early 1942 and how effective they were in sinking thousands of tons of shipping practically within sight of our shores. By now the enemy had a larger number of U-boats, and by a system of resupply at sea (by large supply submarines called "milch cows") he was able to keep them operating
for long periods. At this time, Allied shipping along the Atlantic Coast had little protection. There were insufficient guns or gun crews to arm merchant ships, insufficient escort vessels of all types, insufficient radar and sound-detection devices to equip the ships, and insufficient airplanes to cover the shipping lanes. As production of escort vessels increased and emergency measures, such as converting private pleasure and fishing craft for convoy duty and utilizing all available Army planes, were put into effect, the submarine threat on our eastern seaboard was gradually overcome. The U-boats then moved farther south, where shipping was still relatively unprotected. The seriousness of the Allied situation in June 1942 is indicated by an extract from a letter General Marshall wrote to Admiral King:
The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort. . . . We are all aware of the limited number of escort craft available, but has every conceivable improvised means been brought to bear on this situation? I am fearful that another month or two of htis will so cripple our means of transport that we will be unable to bring sufficient men and planes to bear against the enemy in critical theaters to exercise a determining influence on the war.*
In his reply, Admiral King pointed out the Navy's problems and emphasized the importance of the convoy-escort program:
Though we are still suffering heavy losses outside the east-coast convoy zone, the situation is not hopeless. We know that a reasonable degree of security can be obtained by suitable escort and air coverage. The submarines can be stopped only by wiping out the German building yards and bases--a matter which I have been pressing with the British, so far with only moderate success. But if all shipping can be brought under escort and air cover, our losses will be reduced to an acceptable figure. I might say in this connection that escort is not just one way of handling the submarine menace; it is the only way that gives any promise of success. The so-called patrol and hunting operations have time and again proved futile. We have adopted the "killer" system, whereby contact with a submarine is followed up continuously and relentlessly--this requires suitable vessels and planes we do not have in sufficient numbers.
It is not easy to create an adequate and comprehensive escort system. Our coastal sea lanes, in which I include the Caribbean and Panama routes, total 7,000 miles in length. To this must be added the ocean convoy system to Great Britain and Iceland (which is already in effect) and extensions which should be made to protect traffic to the east coast of South America, not to mention our Pacific
* Morison, The Battle of the Atlantic.
Ocean commitments. An enormous number of seagoing vessels is required, as well as very large air forces. Aviation for ocean coverage must be taken along in auxiliary carriers. For convoys moving close to land the air should operate from shore bases. While observation planes can be used for certain limited missions, the bulk of the shore-based aviation should be of the patrol or medium bomber type. All planes must have radar. All must have crews specially trained in the technique of antisubmarine operations.*
In March 1942, Army aircraft, under what was later called the Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command, began to assist in the campaign against the U-boats. Operating under the Eastern Sea Frontier, the Army command continued its activities until September 1943, when Navy planes took over.
During the second half of 1942 and the first half of 1943, the crucial phase of the Battle of the Atlantic, marked changes in Allied tactics were adopted. By September 1942, the United States Navy had instituted an interlocking convoy system that provided escort protection for important trunk routes. This economized on escorts and enabled the merchant ships to run on schedules almost like train schedules. The first trunk route was established between Guantanamo and New York [GN/NG], the western terminus of the newly established New York-to-Londonderry [CU/UC?] transatlantic route. It proved its worth immediately, as evidenced by a record of no losses from u-boats in the Eastern, Gulf, or Panama Sea Frontiers during the last three months of 1942. The system was extended to Trinidad and on to Brazil in early 1943, and feeder lines to the main trunk routes were established. This system remained in effect for the rest of the war.
In the meantime, as a result of these new defensive measures, the U-boats moved out from the eastern seaboard to areas less strongly defended. They took a heavy toll of the shipping in the Trinidad area, then in the south Atlantic between Brazil and Africa, and finally back in the northwestern Atlantic. in this later area the U-boats could still operate against the vital transatlantic convoys in a region beyond the range of Allied air cover. But by spring of 1943, what proved to be the Allies' winning combination began to come out of the shipyards and make itself felt in the Atlantic. This combination consisted of small escort aircraft carriers and destroyers escorts that were used with the convoys operating out of range of land-based aircraft. Forming hunter-killer groups, the carriers' planes or long-range patrol bombers would hunt and seek out the U-boats and vector the destroyer escorts into position to administer the coup de grace. Their effectiveness was proved by
* Morison, The Battle of the Atlantic.
an increase in submarine killings from eighty-five in 1942 to 237 in 1943. A great contribution to these Allied successes was made by a group of leading civilian scientists, who not only developed many of the new antisubmarine technical devices, but also analyzed the U-boat methods of operation and recommended counter-tactics. [The date of this volume precludes discussion of the highly-classified Allied intelligence efforts that resulted in breaking the German ENIGMA codes, which resulted in making the radio traffic between Doenitz and the U-boats available to the antisubmarine effort. See HyperWar for a bibliography of intelligence studies on the Battle of the Atlantic.]
In January 1943, Admiral Doenitz replaced Admiral Raeder as the head of the German Navy, but U-boat losses continued to increase. Doenitz warned Hitler, "The war on shipping will fail if we don't sink more ships than the enemy can build." Coupled with the losses at sea, the expansion program for the U-boat fleet slowed down as Allied bombing of construction yards and the U-boat pens restricted new construction. Although the Germans could still replace most of their submarine losses, they could not replace their experienced crews; and the effectiveness of the individual submarine decreased. But even so, the U-boats continued as a major threat to the Allies, for the Germans still had over 400 submarines in commission in mid-1943. As stated by Admiral King, the submarines had only been reduced "from a menace to a problem."
Although the Major German naval effort was devoted to submarine warfare, Nazi shore-based aircraft were also a threat to shipping; and a small number of powerful surface ships had to be taken into account. In February 1942, the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen made a successful dash from Brest (through the English Channel) to German waters despite gallant attacks by British destroyers and aircraft. The new battleship Tirpitz,* based in Norway with cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and aircraft, constituted a continuing menace to Allied north Russian convoys, which had to run a gauntlet on every voyage. The protection of these convoys was the main task of the British Home Fleet, which was from time to time augmented by United States heavy ships. particularly vicious attacks were made upon these convoys to Russia in July and September 1942, and during the last quarter of 1942 the convoys were suspended because of the requirements of shipping and escorts for the North African operations.
Of the three principal cargo routes from the United States to Russia in 1942 and 1943, the transpacific line from our west coast to Siberia (using Russian ships) handled roughly 50 per cent, and the Persian Gulf route about 25 per cent. The Murmansk route was the shortest, but by far the most dangerous, not only because the arctic ice
* The Tirpitz was finally sunk by RAF bombers on 12 November 1944.
fields forced the convoys within range of German land-based planes, but also because Murmansk was within a short distance of German airfields in northern Norway and the ships were often under attack while in port. Out of the thirty-seven convoys (533 ships) that made the north Russian run in 1941 and 1942, sixty-nine ships were lost, about half of them being American vessels. As soon as the mediterranean was made safe for Allied shipping, the Persian Gulf route was much preferred to the northern route.
The Allied Offensive.--There were three general types of convoys employed in the Atlantic. The fastest (speed in excess of seventeen knots) luxury liners operated individually without escort, since they could outrun the U-boats.* Troop convoys employed fast (twelve-to-seventeen-knot) transports and were strongly escorted, often with heavy task forces from the Atlantic Fleet. The success of these convoys is attested by the fact that not a single loaded troops transport was lost on the United States-United Kingdom route. The third type of convoy, the slow merchant ships, was also escorted; but often the was woefully inadequate. These were the ships that took the beatings from the submarines until the production of escort carriers and escort destroyers was sufficient to provide adequate protection.
As has already been indicated, by mid-1943 the scales were turning against the U-boats. By the application of mounting pressure from surface craft and from the air, and by closer and more effective coordination, the Allies were gradually able to shift from a purely defensive to an offensive campaign. By late 1943, the Germans were forced to admit that the rate of submarine losses was too great for effective operations in most areas. They then began the development of an undersea craft that would have a relatively high submerged sped, that could reach great depths, and that would be able to operate beneath the surface most of the time. A few such submarines did appear in 1945, but they were too late and too few to cause much concern. More important were the alterations made to existing U-boats to increase their effectiveness. The major alteration was the "Schnorkel", or breather tube, which enabled the boats to stay under water indefinitely. The first Schnorkel-equipped submarines appeared in 1944.
Until all U-boats could be altered, the Germans hoped to minimize their losses by operating in weakly protected areas. So from late 1943 until May 1944, the U-boats were employed in the Caribbean,
* The Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary were examples of the type. These two ships alone carried almost one quarter of all troops shipped to Europe.
off Brazil, in the South Atlantic, and off South Africa. But there the United States Fourth Fleet and the British West African Command, with material assistance from the small Brazilian Navy, brought the enemy submarines under control. Of prime importance to the Allies in these operations were air and naval bases in Brazil and an air base constructed by American troops on tiny Ascension Island (a British possession).*
In spite of the German desire to minimize losses, the Allies destroyed nearly 200 submarines at sea during the period from July 1943 to May 1944.
The loss of France by the Germans forced the submarines to fall back on bases in Norway and in the Baltic. The long passage from these bases to the Atlantic shipping lanes absorbed a large portion of the cruising radius; and in the end, the U-boat operations resembled those of the early months of the war, when they hunted in the waters around the British isles. At first, the Schnorkel-equipped U-boats achieved considerable success, but eventually the weight of the Allied antisubmarine forces was too great; and the enemy submarines were forced from the British coastal areas.
During the war our Atlantic Fleet escorted 17,707 ships, sailed 3,732 escort trips to protect the convoys, and cruised more than 50,000,000 miles. Less than a score of ships in convoy were lost.
The contribution that our Navy made during the final year of the war is summarized in a report by Admiral King:
In the twelve months from 1 June 1944, 135 convoys arrived in United Kingdom ports from overseas with a total of 7,157 merchant ships totalling more than 50,000,000 gross tonnage. The escort of this shipping and the provision of trained naval armed guard crews aboard the merchant vessels were among the primary tasks performed by the United States Navy in the prosecution of the war in Europe. The Navy's antisubmarine campaign, with the British-United States integrated convoy system, was in great part responsible for the vital shipping necessary for the Allied land offensive which broke into the Fortress of Europe in 1944 and overwhelmed the Germans ashore in 1945.
The see-saw Battle of the Atlantic, in which the Allies won a final victory over the U-boats, did not come to an end until the German capitulation on V-E Day. It was won not only by the Allied armed forces, but also by American shipbuilding capacity and the skill of the topmost Allied scientists. A total of 782** U-boats had been sunk
* In October 1943, Portugal granted the British base rights in the Azores, rights that were shared by the United States.
** About 53 per cent of this total was sunk by air action.
with a loss of approximately 30,000 Germans.* But these men had sunk more than 23,000,000 tons of Allied shipping and two battleships, two aircraft carriers, and numerous destroyers and escort vessels. Admiral DOenitz stated that the Battle of the Atlantic was lost before it began. Germany, he said, was in no way prepared to fight a naval war against Great Britain (an obvious fact when we remember that Germany had only fifty-seven submarines on 3 September 1939). Had Germany adopted a realistic policy, she would have had 1,000 U-boats available at the beginning of the war, Doenitz concluded. Considering the depredations which their submarines committed on the Allies and how near to victory they were in the Atlantic, we can well imagine what the situation might have been had the Germans started with 1,000 undersea craft of the kind used during the greater part of the war, or with even a lesser number of thee type that was developed near the end.
Early in the war, while the Axis powers were expanding and consolidating their control of the Continent and the Allies were desperately struggling for time to mobilize their strength and secure their lines of communication, a new concept began to emerge in Allied strategic calculations. This concept was strategic air bombardment. It was a new concept in that it had never been employed on a grand scale--in cat, it was not given an adequate tryout by the Allies until the final eighteen months of World War II.
The Development of Strategic Air Power (1941-1943)
The theory and practice of strategic bombing began in World War I but did not advance beyond the rudimentary stage. Between the wars, when some strategists were giving great emphasis to the defense, airmen believed that the airplane could not only give greater mobility to the offense, but could also break the deadlock on the enemy's home front. Both American and British airmen shared these ideas, and the Royal Air Force staff college and the United States Air Corps tactical school focused attention on the necessity for a new means of offense to reach the vital centers of an enemy's war production. From these studies there was gradually evolved a new doctrine, based on the capacities of the airplane. By its ability to utilize increased fire power to enlarge rather than reduce the mobility of armed forces, air power would abolish the stalemate of positional war. By its independent strategic mission to force collapse of the national structure, it could shorten the term of hostilities.
* The total German U-boat forces numbered only about 38,000 men.
As developed by the British in 1940, this new concept of war was grounded in realistic appraisal of their current capabilities; and the prominence given to strategic bombardment in the ABC-1 Staff Agreement (which called for a sustained and decisive air attack) reflected the current weakness of British ground forces. In March 1941, it was realized that Germany would long remain too strong to be attacked frontally; the bomber offensive was viewed by most members of the Anglo-American staff committees as a means by which the German war machine could be trimmed down to size. Strategic bombardment, then, was a form of attrition to be used simultaneously with others--the blockade, economic pressure through neutrals, subversive activities, psychological warfare, and Commando raids. At the Atlantic Conference in August 1941, the British Chiefs of Staff went so far as to express hope that air war alone might bring about a German collapse and limit the role of ground forces to that of occupation troops. however, the major decisions of the Combined Chiefs of Staff never reflected such an optimistic opinion, although, as time went on, increasing support was given to the strategic bomber offensive. Before considering this major offensive in greater detail, let us examine the development of British and American strategic air power in the United Kingdom.
The Royal Air Force.--It will be recalled that the Battle of Britain was won largely by the skill and fortitude of the RAF Fighter Command, which was concerned primarily with the air defense of the British Isles. We have also seen that the Coastal Command was committed to the support of the Royal Navy in the antisubmarine war and in the defense of British sea commerce, a function that it performed throughout the war. The third branch of the RAF, the Bomber Command, was therefore the only major British air component available for offensive operations over the Continent. Like the Battle of the Atlantic, the strategic air offensive was a see-saw struggle in the development of new offensive and defensive measures. This time, however, the Allies were developing the new bombing techniques and tactics while the enemy was countering these offensive improvements by strengthening his defenses.
Although public opinion demanded that air attacks be launched against Germany in 1940, results were disappointing because adequate types and numbers of aircraft were not available, crews were not properly trained, navigation and bombing devices and techniques were crude, tactics were improvised, and, above all, the success of air operations was completely dependent on the weather. During 1940, only 15,000 tons of bombs were dropped (less than a single month's
tonnage in 1943); and the bombs, ranging from forty to 250 pounds, had little appreciable effect of German targets. The first attempt at a concentrated attack occurred in December 1940 when all of the Bomber Command's available aircraft (100) attacked Mannheim. Its daylight raids in 1940 resulted in prohibitive losses; so the Bomber Command turned to night bombing, which it continued for the duration of the war. Night operations introduced many problems in navigation and target identification, and as a consequence, the policy of attacking areas rather than precision targets was adopted. The British decision to follow a program of night area bombing was reached primarily because night bombing was believed to be more economical than day bombing. night bombers were cheaper to construct, carried a greater bomb load, required a smaller crew, and suffered lower operational losses.
During 1941, the results of the air offensive was still ineffective on Germany industry, although the tonnage of bombs dropped was more than tripled.* For example, photographs taken during the summer showed that of those aircraft reported to have attacked their targets in the Ruhr industrial area, only one in ten got within five miles of the target.
In February 1942, Air Marshall Arthur T. Harris became the head of the Bomber Command (a position he retained thoughout the remainder of the war). At that time, this command had an average force of 250 medium and fifty heavy bombers. The priorities in equipment and personnel enjoyed by the Coastal Command, the Fighter Command, other theaters (particularly the Mediterranean), and training units, all militated against the expansion of the Bomber Command into an effective strategic air force at that time. In addition, Harris was required to divert much of his strength from his strategic mission to assist the Royal Navy by mining German coastal waters and attacking submarine pens.
However, 1942 saw the development of radio and radar navigation aids, improved target location and identification techniques, larger and better bombs, and improved four-engine bombers (particularly the Lancaster**) that made the night operations of the Bomber Command much more effective.
During the summer, it was decided to attempt a great mass air attack against a major industrial target in Germany. By utilizing
* Of the 46,000 tons of bombs dropped by the Royal Air Force in 1941, approximately 32 per cent was dropped on industrial areas, 24 per cent on land transportation, and 22 per cent on naval installations and transportation.
** This British heavy night bomber, which sacrificed defensive armament to bomb load, was the greatest load carrier of the war in Europe.
every available aircraft, including trainers, it was possible to concentrate 1,047 planes for a raid on Cologne on the night of 30-31 May 1942. The attack was a complete success. In an hour and a half, over 1,400 tons of bombs were dropped, and this single attack caused almost as much damage in Germany as all the Bomber Command's previous attacks taken together. Losses were lighter than expected (3.3 per cent as compared to an average of 4.6 per cent for all operations in similar weather during the preceding twelve months), and the operation boosted Allied morale tremendously. After three years of defensive war, a weapon had finally been developed that could carry the offensive into Germany. Air Marshall Harris remarked: "My own opinion is that we should never have had a real bomber offensive if it had not been for the 1,000-bomber attack on Cologne, an irrefutable demonstration of the power of what was to all intents and purposes a new and untried weapon." Similar raids were made two nights later on Essen and a month later on Bremen. These three raids were the only major mass attacks launched during 1942, because improved enemy defensive tactics and techniques again began to exact a prohibitive toll of British aircraft.
In spite of the fact that by the end of 1942 the total bombs dropped represented less than 5 per cent of the Allied tonnage dropped during the war, technical and tactical improvements in the use of heavy bombers had developed sufficiently to insure the future of strategic air power as a major weapon against Germany.*
The United States Air Forces in Europe.--Shortly after World War I, United States air leaders began to formulate ideas for the use of air power. These ideas gradually assumed the status of air doctrine--the basis of the United States version of the strategic concept. The strategic plans of the United States Air Corps envisaged precision bombing from high altitudes in daylight. The prohibitive losses incurred by the German and British daylight missions were to be avoided by placing more and heavier guns on the bombers and by the use of tactical formations that would provide an intense concentration of protective fire power. As early as 1935, with the successful test of the B-17, the Air Corps had the matériel prerequisites for precision bombardment--a long-range plane of unusual stamina that was capable of flying above the effective range of flak, and bombsights of unrivaled accuracy. (The relatively small bomb load of the plane enhanced the need for accuracy.) During the next few years
* In 1942, the Royal Air Force dropped 74,500 tons of bombs. of this total, 59 per cent was on industrial areas, 13 per cent on military targets, and 9 per cent on land transportation.
tactical producedures were refined, with special emphasis on pattern bombing from tight formations.
At the time of Pearl Harbor, our Air Corps faced war in Europe and the Pacific without the means of putting its concept into operation. Like the rest of the Army, its strength was meager. However, it did have the advantages of time to prepare while our Allies maintained the battle, of an enormous national industrial establishment for forging the weapon, and of a vast reservoir of youth capable of being trained in air techniques. DUring the first two years of the war, the Army Air Forces, under the leadership of General Arnold, built a strong striking force. Their strength, which was about 43,000 men and 2,500 planes in 1940, was expanded to 2,300,000 men and 80,000 aircraft in early 1944. The increase in strength was accompanied by the production of new equipment--the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers and the P-38, P-47, and P-51 escort fighters.
In March, 1942, the Eighth Air Force was earmarked as the nucleus of the American strategic air force in Great Britain. Prior to this time, Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command, and a small staff had gone to England to prepare the way for the Americans. The British agreed to turn over airfields north of London, and in this area and adjacent parts of East Anglia, the American heavy bombers remained throughout the war. Negotiations were begun to establish three great air depots that were eventually to serve as the heart of our air force supply and maintenance in the European Theater of Operations.* Airfields in North Ireland were set aside for training units. The British agreed to assume responsibility for the air defense of American fields, leaving our fighter forces free for the escort of bomber strikes against the Continent. It was also agreed that American fighter squadrons would be stationed with RAF fighters in southern England. The British were extremely cooperative during those early and difficult days. They lent us personnel when we had none; furnished clerical and administrative staffs; furnished liaison officers for intelligence, operations, and supply; furnished transportation; housed and fed our people; answered promptly and willingly all our requisitions; and in addition, they made available for our study their most secret devices and documents.
During May and June 1942, the first large water shipments of airforce personnel began to arrive in the United Kingdom, and on 1 July
* These depots were located at Burtonwood, fifteen miles east of Liverpool; Langford Lodge, in North Ireland; and Warton, twenty miles north of Liverpool.
the first American operated tactical aircraft to reach the British Isles by air landed at Prestwick. Although the British had been ferrying bombers across the Atlantic since 1940, and the Air Corps Ferrying Command (later the Air Transport Command) had begun the development of a North Atlantic Ferry Route,* no large tactical units had yet attempted such a flight. However, by the end of August, 386 bombers and fighters had crossed to the United Kingdom by this route; and by the end of 1942, approximately 700 of the Eighth Air Force's aircraft had made the crossing. on 5 May 1942, Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz was appointed commander of the Eighth Air Force, and on 18 June, he established his headquarters in London. In August 1942, General Spaatz was assigned additional responsibilities as theater air officer.
The first American air unit to engage in combat in Europe was a light bombardment squadron. Flying British planes, six American crews joined six RAF crews in a daylight attack against four airdromes in Holland on 4 July 1942. However, the operational life of the Eighth Air Force began on 17 August 1942, when twelve B-17's attacked the marshalling yards at Rouen, France. The B-17's, with General Eaker in one of the bombers, were accompanied by four squadrons of RAF Spitfire fighters. Visibility was excellent; and all twelve planes attacked the target, dropping some eighteen tons of bombs from a height of 23,000 feet. The bombing was fairly accurate for a first effort. Approximately half of the bombs fell in the general target area, and one of the aiming points was hit. The bombers came through with no losses and only slight damage.
The significance of this small raid was far-reaching. Both strategic and logistical planning, insofar as they involved air power, depended to a great degree on the ability of the Allied air forces to prove that they could bomb Germany successfully. Moreover, precision daylight bombing was a basic prerequisite to the invasion of western Europe itself. General Eisenhower says in his memoirs:
A great factor in my own calculations was the degree of dependence I placed upon the operation of the precision bomber in preparing the way for a ground invasion of France. This was the keynote of the invasion plan. Unless accurate daylight bombing was feasible, I believed, large-scale invasion of the Continent would be exceedingly risky. Therefore, I maintained that even if we could carryon precision bombing only to the extreme range of our
* Presque Isle, Maine--Goose Bay, Labrador--Bluie West 1 (Narsarssuak, Greenland) or Bluie West 8 (Sandre Stromfjord, Greenland)--Reykjavik, Iceland--Prestwick, Scotland. Later, the more direct route between Gander, Newfoundland, and Prestwick was used.
[See Early Plans and Operations, January 1939 to August 1942, by Craven and Cate [THE ARMY AIR FORCES IN WORLD WAR II, Vol. I] for a full history of the ferrying operations. -- HyperWar]
fighters, we must continue to develop the United States forces on that basis, so as to have available the great force that would be needed to carry out the preparatory work in the areas selected for invasion.*
Sound long-range planning by the Army Air Forces depended on the ability of the Eighth Air Force to show that it could do its job of daylight precision bombing and do it economically enough to make it a practicable operation of war. So far, the confidence of American and British airmen in the soundness of their strategic and tactical doctrines arose out of deep faith in the potentialities of air power rather than from an adequate store of experience. The German effort to cripple Britain in 1940-41 had demonstrated what ought not to be done, rather than what might reasonably be expected from strategic bombardment. On the other hand, the bombing of Germany by the RAF had as yet been conducted on a scale too limited and in a manner too specialized to answer conclusively the opponents of air power. As for the Americans, their doctrine of daylight bombardment remained entirely an article of faith so far as any experience in combat under European conditions was concerned.
The experiment begun on 17 August culminated during the following year in the Combined Bomber Offensive, a campaign which could have been attempted only after all major doubts regarding the use of heavy bombardment forces had been removed. From its humble beginning, the Eighth Air Force became the most potent agent of destruction that our Air Forces produced in World War II, having a striking force of about 2,000 bombers and 1,000 fighters at the peak of its activity.þ
Even before the first heavy bomber mission of the Eighth could be flown, Operation TORCH had cast its shadow over the hopes of the Army Air Forces for a major share in the strategic bombardment of Germany. With the decision to postpone ROUNDUP and undertake operations in Africa instead, most of our available air strength in the united Kingdom had to be diverted to the new enterprise; and it became the chief task of the Eighth Air Force during the fall of 1942 to prepare the new Twelfth Air Force for the invasion of Africa. "Junior" was the name pinned on the new air force, but "Junior" outgrew its parent in less than three months. During the first eight months of Eighth Air Force operations, only fifty missions were flown over the Continent, and only five of these were against targets in Germany territory.** The major effort was against U-boat bases in
* Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
** The United States Army Air Forces dropped total of only 2,000 tons of bombs during the entire year of 1942.
þ [This statement flatly ignores the Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific, not to mention the handful of B-29's of the 509th Composite Group armed with atomic bombs!
In this observer's humble opinion, this account, as well as the official Army Air Force history, virtually ignore the mismatch between doctrine and potential vs. the outcome of actual operations. The fantasies of winning wars through strategic bombing alone have not panned out as late as the operations in Afghanistan in 2003. Arguably, the tactical fighter-bombers of the Ninth Air Force played a more significant role in the Normandy invasion--destroying bridges, trains, German assembly areas and fortifications--than the strategic bombers of the Eighth Air Force, reluctant to bomb German positions behind the beaches, for fear of hitting the invasion armada miles off shore! I willingly concede that strategic bombing played a major role in defeating Germany; but more than 80 years after Douhet and Mitchell began arguing that strategic bombing could win wars all by itself, it has yet to happen. The downside of this philosophy, has been the starvation of tactical air support. Just ask any soldier in the field if he would rather have support from the Air Force or a Marine Corps Air Wing... -- HyperWar]
the Bay of Biscay, which were attacked in order to protect convoys to North Africa.
Although this first period of air operations in Europe was one of experimentation, of trial and error, of testing theories, tactics, matériel, and men; and although these operations did little more than inconvenience the enemy, we learned many things that only experiments could reveal:
- Daylight precision bombing was tactically sound.
- Air superiority was necessary if bombers were to penetrate to vital targets. This could be made possible only by the development of a long-range fighter.
- Larger forces were needed in order to split the enemy's fighter defense.
- With certain logical improvements in tactics, technique, and aircraft, the bombers and their crews could do the job.
- Weather was a most serious factor; some means would have to be found which would permit all-weather operations.
- There was a crying need for an all-out strategic plan, approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, which would permit concentration of effort where it would hurt the enemy most and which would provide the best possible integration of effort between the RAF and the United States Army Air Forces.
The Combined Bomber Offensive.--On 21 January 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued the Casablanca Directive, which defined the mission of strategic air power as "the progressive destruction and dislocation of German military, industrial, and economic systems and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened."
To implement this directive there was drawn up the Combined Bomber Offensive Plan. This plan, approved by the Combined Chiefs on 10 June 1943, was issued to the commanders of the Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force.* The order of target priorities first established was (1) submarine construction yards and bases; (2) aircraft industry; (3) ball-bearing industry; (4) oil industry; (5) synthetic rubber plants; (6) military transport vehicle industry. However, this order was changed as the Combined Bomber Offensive progressed. The RAF was given the assignment of weakening the general economic system and civilian morale by area bombing of
* Major General Eaker assumed command of the Eighth Air Force on 1 December 1942, when General Spaatz went to North Africa with General Eisenhower.
cities. It would work the night shift of the relentless round-the-clock air assault on the Reich. The Americans were to concentrate first on the destruction of German air power by bombardment of the aircraft industry and by attacking the Luftwaffe on the ground and in the air. As soon as the air battle was won, the attack would turn to vital industries whose destruction would have an immediate effect on Germany's ability to wage war. There was to be a progressive build-up of forces and, in turn, an increase in both intensity of attacks and depth of penetration. (Map 2). The map shows the increasing range of operation in the development of the American strategic bombing of germany and some of the primary and secondary targets selected for the Combined Bomber Offensive. Though not mentioned in the plan, every effort was being made to take care of the remaining needs: modification and improvement of aircraft, design of all-weather bombing instruments, and production of a suitable long-range fighter.
In 1943, the Bomber Command increased the effectiveness of its heavy night raids by inaugurating the pathfinder technique, by which radar was used to enable a specially trained advance party to locate the target and mark it with distinctive ground or sky markers. This system permitted effective bombing on dark nights when Germany night-fighter opposition was least effective. During this period bigger and better bombs (8,000- and 12,00-pounders) were also introduced.
The BOmber Command began its main offensive during the spring with heavy attacks on the Ruhr that proved much more effective than the 1942 raids. In July, the Lancasters launched long-range operations, using new radar navigational aids. In a series of three attacks on Hamburg, over 70 per cent of the heavily built-up area of the city was destroyed. The use of "Window" (scattered strips of metalized paper) proved very effective in jamming the German radar so that enemy fighter control, antiaircraft artillery, and searchlights were hopelessly confused. The enemy reacted to these innovations by improvising a fighter defense system based on radio reports from an observer corps that enabled them to plot the approach of the main bomber streams. The RAF countered by jamming the enemy's radio and dispatching their bomber streams on two or more routes. By fall, heavy attacks were being directed on several large German cities, particularly those that were centers of aircraft production. As the year ended, the Bomber Command was engaged in the Battle of Berlin, a series of sixteen major attacks on the German capital that began in November 1943 and ended in March 1944.
Although Berlin itself was scarcely ever seen by the bomber crews, the new techniques and devices developed by the British made such long-range night attacks possible. During 1943, the Bomber Command used an average of 570 heavy bombers in each attack, a figure that was to be almost doubled in 1944.
A summary of the total Allied bombing effort in Europe for the year 1943 (including aircraft operating from the Mediterranean Theater as well as from the United Kingdom) is given in the following table, extracted from a report of the Strategic Bombing Survey:
Bomb tonnage distribution by target system: Land transportation 33,609 21,216 875,819 Industrial areas 12,036 150,069 698,415 Military 9,938 8,179 308,513 Oil, chemical, and rubber 3,956 2,448 264,232 Airfields and airdromes 26,855 9,207 189,415 Naval installations and transportation 18,819 10,833 111,821 Miscellaneous manufacturing 4,431 7,892 69,950 Aircraft factories 5,639 498 57,041 V-weapon launching sites 1,525 2,256 50,116 All other 16,281 479 145,218 Total 133,089 213,077 2,770,540 Total, American, 1939-45 1,463,423 Total, British, 1939-45 1,307,117 Bomb tonnage distribution by country: Germany 26,728 150,535 1,419,604 France 21,710 20,792 569,493 Italy and Sicily 59,642 27,354 378,891 Austria, Hungary, and Balkans 5,920 357 184,201 Other countries 19,089 14,039 218,351 Total 133,089 213,077 2,770,540
The rising scale of RAF night bombing of industrial concentrations, augmented by American daylight attacks, led to German countermeasures. In 1942, they began to move their aircraft factories to the deep interior, and they planned a large increase in their monthly output of single-engine fighters. During 1943, the enemy became much more aggressive as he shifted his fighters from the eastern front and the Mediterranean to western Europe. The German day fighters continually harassed the American heavy bombers, sometimes following them far out to sea on their withdrawal. It became apparent that fighter escort must protect the bomber formations, but the limited range of the fighters restricted the depth to
which the bombers could penetrate. It was about 550 miles to Berlin; and the radius of the P-47, which was then the chief escort fighter, was only 375 miles. P-38's, with a radius of action of 520 miles, were available in small numbers in October 1943; and in January 1944, a few P-51's began to appear.
When the P-47's first joined the Spitfires in providing escort, they flew a tight top cover--the RAF "umbrella". Before long, however, the P-47 pilots began to drop down and engage the enemy fighters. They then opened out somewhat to add flexibility and to increase the number of guns that could be brought to bear on the enemy. The process continued throughout the war; as the B-17 and B-24 formations were compressed into smaller and smaller air space to take advantage of the heavy defensive armament of the bombers, the escort opened out more and more until it became a huge net to envelop the enemy.
The Eighth Air Force began its offensive for control of tghe air by an attack on the Focke-Wulf plant at Bremen in April 1943, but the main attacks against he aircraft industry did not get under way until summer. On six successive days of late July it attacked the German aircraft industry so successfully that production, which had reached twice the output of 1942, started downward. But operations against Regensburg and Schweinfurt in August and October 1943 demonstrated more conclusively than ever that the protection of fighters was mandatory for sustained daylight heavy-bomber operations. The Schweinfurt raid, which had considerable significance at that time because the Americans were still trying to prove the feasibility of daylight precision bombing, was described as follows in a report of the Strategic Bombing Survey:
On 14 October 1943 there occurred the most shattering raid on Schweinfurt, the raid which caused the severest damage and the greatest disorganization of production in the German bearing industry. It shocked the Reich officials into immediate action and led directly to the appointment of a czar for the bearings industry. It precipitated, also, the dispersal of tghe industry from Schweinfurt, forced the expansion or construction of old and new plants, and accelerated the problem of substitution and redesign in order to reduce the excessive, and often luxurious, use of bearings in many types of equipment.
This crucial raid was made by a force of 228 heavy bombers, and there ensued one of the greatest battles in Eighth Air Force history. From the German frontier at Aachen, where the fighter escort had to leave the bombers, to Schweinfurt and return, wave after wave of enemy fighters attacked the bombers. Flak over the target was intense, but good visibility enabled the Fortresses to make an accurate bomb run; and more than 450 tons of high explosives
and incendiaries were dropped in the target area. Heavy damage was inflicted on the major plants, particularly in the ball-manufacturing departments. Some 350,000 square feet of buildings were destroyed and more than 1,000,000 square feet damaged. Ten per cent of the machinery was destroyed or damaged and 20 per cent of the finished stocks rendered useless.
The cost to the attackers, however, in men and planes was also severe. Of the original 228 bombers engaged, 62 were lost and 138 damaged in varying degrees, some beyond repair. Personnel casualties were 599 killed and 40 wounded. Such losses could not be sustained. Deep penetrations without escort were suspended, and Schweinfurt was not attacked again for four months. Thus here was lost that continuity of attack which is necessary to destroy--and keep destroyed--any industry. The Germans were given time to take countermeasures, which they did with great energy and skill.
Other targets on the Combined Bomber Offensive priority list were bombed with some success by the Americans; however, by the end of 1943, only reductions in German surplus industrial capacity had been effected. Weather, distance, and the German defenses had precented dropping on priority targets more than one-fourth of tghe total bombs expended. By January 1944, strategic daylight precision bombing was still a question mark. Although our forces had been built up in accordance with the schedule outlined in the Combined Bomber Offensive Plan, results were still far from heartening. The Luftwaffe had recovered from the attacks of the previous summer and was a serious threat to all operations; weather had been uniformly bad, and the early efforts at instrument bombing had left much to be desired. Fortunately, however, the start of 1944 was to reveal omens of better days to come.
Organization of the European Theater.--While the Allies were developing the strategy that culminated in the invasion of western Europe, the Americans began their build-up of troops and supplies and the development of the organization in the United Kingdom that would control the proposed Continental operations. Headquarters, United States Armed Forces in the British Isles, was organized in London on 8 January 1942.* It replaced the Special Observer Group that had been organized in May 1941 as a part of the United States Embassy staff. The European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA) was established 8 June 1942, and on 24 June, Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in London as its new commander. Eisenhower
Early Developments in the United Kingdom
* Major General James E. Chaney was then in command.
retained this command, in addition to his assignment as Allied commander of the North African operations, until January 1943, when the reorganization of tghe High Command in the Mediterranean relieved him of his responsibilities in the European Theater. Lieutenant General Frank M. Andrews then assumed command of ETOUSA, and upon his untimely death in an airplane accident in Iceland in May 1943, he was succeeded by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers. By the end of August 1943, when the Combined Chiefs of Staff at the QUADRANT Conference definitely committed the Allies to the invasion of France the following spring, the major American organizations in the United Kingdom were the theater headquarters and three subordinate commands: the EIghth Air Force, the field forces, and the Services of Supply.
Initially, the field forces were controlled by the V Corps, whose chief mission was the training and preparation for combat of the ground forces. In October 1943, this responsibility was assumed by the 1st Army Group (later redesignated 12th Army Group) and the First Army. Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, whom we last saw as commander of tghe II Corps in Sicily, acted in the dual capacity of commander of the First Army and the 1st Army Group. Like the air forces, the build-up of ground forces in the United Kingdom prior to 1944 was retarded by operations in the Mediterranean. But beginning in August 1943, new impetus was given to the build-up, and by the end of the year there were eleven American divisions in the United Kingdom, four of which had recently arrived form Sicily.
The Services of Supply, Major General John C.H. Lee commanding, had been activated int he United Kingdom on 24 May 1942.
When General Eisenhower returned to the United Kingdom in January 1944 (about which we shall learn more later), he resumed command of ETOUSA, in addition to his duties as Supreme Commander. Desiring to reduce the number of headquarters and the personnel performing theater administrative functions, he combined the theater headquarters with that of the Services of Supply; and General Lee was made deputy theater commander, in addition to his other duties. Even while he commanded three army groups in France, General Eisenhower continued to "wear two hats", one as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, and the other as commander of ETOUSA, a purely American administrative organization.
The Logistical Build-up.þ:--Meanwhile, the logistical build-up of United States forces and supplies in the British Isles had been progressing under an American-British logistical program called
þ [See Logistical Support of the Armies, Vol. I: May 1941-September 1944 [UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II--EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS] for a detailed history. -- HyperWar]
BOLERO, which had been adopted in 1942 by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. This program was greatly affected by the operations in the Mediterranean, the world-wide shortage of shipping and supplies, the priority given the air offensive from England, and the indecision as to whether the major effort against Europe should come form the south or west. The following extract from an official report outlines the development of BOLERO:
During the spring of 1942 a BOLERO Combined Committee was set up in London, comprising representatives of tghe British ministries and armed forces and the American Army, Air FOrce, and Navy. Major matters of policy requiring decision or arbitration were referred to this committee. A second BOLERO Committee was set up in Washington in connection with the Combined Chiefs of Staff to settle matters requiring consideration on a governmental level. The decisions of the London BOLERO Committee, as well as complete aspects of the over-all plan for accommodating United States personnel and supplies in the British Isles, were issued in a series of four BOLERO Key Plans. These Key Plans were published by the British War Office with the concurrence of appropriate United States authorities and constituted directives to the various British agencies concerned with the United States requirements. Headquarters, Services of Supply, published basic planning directives, which were the nearest American equivalents to the BOLERO Key Plans.
The basis of the various Key Plans and a few of their important provisions are outlined below to indicate the fluctuating factors forming the foundation for logistical build-up in the British Isles:
The First BOLERO Key Plan, 31 May 1942, was based on an over-all United States build-up of 1,-049,000 men and an invasion date of spring, 1943. Among its more significant provisions was the decision to clear British troops out of the southern part of England, except for those engaged in air defense and certain other types of specialized work, and to use the area for the accommodation of the majority of the United States forces. These forces in turn were responsible for protecting the area against invasion and raids.
The Second BOLERO Key Plan, 25 July 1942, was based on an over-all United States build-up of 1,147,000, with the invasion date remaining unchanged. It gave further details in line with the basic decisions of the first plan. Included in it were provisions for receiving 120 shiploads per month of supplies for United States forces, one-fourth of which was estimated to be vehicles and two-thirds of which were estimated to require covered storage. To handle this load at the ports the United States was to supplement British dock labor with port and service battalions. It was anticipated that the British rail system would have to provide 300 passenger and baggage trains per month and sixty freight trains per day.
The Third BOLERO Key Plan, 11 November 1942, was an interim plan based on the unexpected diversion of United States personnel and supplies to Africa and the indecision on governmental levels as to the future role of the British Isles as an invasion base. While
emphasizing that the second BOLERO plan was only temporarily set aside, it directed planning for only 427,000 United States troops through May 1943, provided for no further supply build-up, and indicated an uncertain future.
The Fourth BOLERO Key Plan, 12 July 1943, changed the invasion date from the spring of 1943 to the spring of 1944 and called for a build-up of 1,340,000 men. It required handling a maximum of 150 shiploads of United States cargo per month. An amendment to the plan, published on 30 October 1943, changed the troop basis to 1,460,000.
General Marshall wrote as follows of the magnitude of these BOLERO projects:
This build-up was to be one of the most tremendous logistical undertakings in military history. It required provision for the transportation, shelter, hospitalization, supply training, and general welfare of 1,200,000 men, who had to be embarked in the United States and transported across the submarine-infested Atlantic to the United Kingdom. The hospital plan alone, for example, called for 94,000 beds in existing installations, conversions, and new construction. The program was later increased by tent accommodations for 30,000 more beds. Living quarters had to bed furnished for the assault forces and their supply troops. There had to be provision for 20,000,000 square feet of covering, storage, and shop space, and 44,000,000 square feet of open storage and hard standings. Parks for 50,000 military vehicles were planned; 270 miles of railroad had to be constructed. more than 20,000 railroad cars and 1,000 locomotives were to be shipped to the United Kingdom. The Air Forces required 163 fields, seven centers for combat crews and replacements, accommodations for 450,000 men, and 8,500,000 square feet of storage and shop space.
Two thirds of the vast program of air installation required new construction by British and United States engineers. At the same time the invasion operations required detailed planning for the installations we would have to build once ashore in France--hospitals, depots, shops, railroads, pipe lines, and bridging materials. There was stored in the United Kingdom, for example, all the construction materials necessary to rehabilitate completely the port of Cherbourg, the destruction of which was inevitable.
The transportation of the huge quantities of supplies from the United States was facilitated by the fact that cargoes were discharged through established ports and over established rail lines in the United Kingdom. In addition, large quantities of materials for the invasion were made directly available from British resources.* By July 1943, some 753,000 tons of supplies were pouring through English ports each month, and this amount reached 1,900,000 tons
* Of the total United States Army tonnage assembled in the British Isles by D-day, 39 per cent had been procured from the English.
in the month preceding the invasion. At the end of 1942, there were approximately 242,000 American troops in the United Kingdom, but by the end of February 1944, this total had grown to over 1,093,000.
The build-up in the United Kingdom was truly a combined enterprise, but this experience taught American logisticians that certain factors definitely limit the extent to which inter-Allied pooling of logistical support is feasible. For example, the following factors should be considered:
- Pooling arrangements which result in the substantial lowering of the supply standards of one group will invariably result in serious repercussions when differences exist in quality and quantity of consumer-type goods such as rations.
- Pooling which involves free exchange of supplies results in serious maintenance and spare-parts difficulties.
- Pooling of personnel to the extent that troops of one nationality are integrated into organizations of the other tends to cause dissatisfaction among the minority and to lessen their ability to operate independently.
Nevertheless, BOLERO was the beginning of the great logistical undertaking that permitted the Western Allies in Europe to be better equipped and supplied than any other military forces in the history of warfare.
British Amphibious Raids.--During the defensive period of the war, when the Allies were primarily concerned in preparing the united Kingdom as the base for future operations against the Continent, and the Americans were just beginning their logistical build-up, the British conducted a few small Commando raids that provided valuable experience for future operations on a larger scale. The earlier raids had as their main target the fish-oil plants in Norway that were being used in the making of glycerine for explosives. The first raid was carried out by British Commandos, light naval forces, and Norwegian marines near Narvik on 7 March 1941. In 1942, Commando operations* were switched to the Atlantic shores of occupied France. The first was on the night of 27 February at Bruneval, near Le Havre, where the secrets of the radar station formed the main objective. Some parachute troops contributed to the success of this small operation. A more ambitious one was attempted at St. Nazaire on 28 March when a small naval and Commando
* These Commando operations were carried out under the British Director of Combined Operations, Captain the Lord Louis Mountbatten.
force did considerable damage to the harbor works, through at the high cost of 64 per cent of the attackers killed or missing.*
A much larger operation was attempted at Dieppe on 19 August 1942. Officially described as a "reconnaissance in force," it furnished useful lessons for the future in the problem of invading a well-defended coast. Although the cost was high, it showed the possibility of achieving a large-scale landing under modern conditions, while bringing out mistakes that were to be avoided. The main assault was carried out on the beaches of Dieppe by a force of about 7,000 men of the Canadian 2d Division. Tanks were employed for the first time in such an operation, though their efforts were seriously obstructed by a sea wall. nearly half the assaulting force was lost, largely as prisoners; and losses in landing craft and aircraft were also heavy. The greatest success was scored in the air, where the RAF Fighter Command maintained an umbrella of 1,000 fighters over the beach. The operation attracted most of the German aircraft along the Channel, and the Fighter Command inflicted heavy casualties upon the Luftwaffe.
Late in 1942, the Commandoes were being used in the large-scale amphibious operations in the Mediterranean; and by the close of 1943, British and Canadian, as well as American, troops in the United Kingdom were training intensively for the great amphibious assault against "Fortress Europe."
This brief summary of preliminary developments brings us to the close of 1943. During this extended period of early preparations for the invasion of western Europe, a number of long-term projects were initiated that played an important part in the success of the operations. The design and production of landing craft and artificial harbors, the evolution of the technique for assaulting defended beaches, and the collection and collation of an immense volume of geographical and geological data concerning the invasion coast and its hinterland were some of the tasks undertaken months and even years before D-day.
* In this action HMS Campbeltown, an old American destroyer, boldly steamed into the locks at St. Nazaire, where it was scuttled by its British crew and blown up by delayed-action charges that destroyed the dry dock. This raid temporarily neutralized one of the best German naval bases on the Atlantic.
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