As the might invasion fleet sailed through the mine-infested English Channel on the even of Armageddon in the west, other Allied forces were sweeping through Rome; and the Red Army was massed along the eastern front ready to launch its shattering summer offensive. The tides of war were running strongly against the Germans as the full fury of the Western Allies was at last unleashed in an overwhelming triphibious demonstration of technical, logistical, and organizational superiority.
The Normandy Campaign
(6 June-24 July 1944)
In a single day, 6 June 1944, the combined power of the Allied air forces, navies, and armies struck with terrific impact against a fifty-miles sector of the French coast (Map 3). Beginning their work shortly after midnight, 1,136 heavy bombers of the R.A.F. Bomber Command unloaded 5,853 tons of bombs by dawn on selected coastal batteries lining the Bay of the Seine between Cherbourg and Le Havre. Next, the airborne troops began the largest airborne operation conducted up to this time. About 0130 hours, 6,600 men of the 101st Airborne Division began dropping behind UTAH Beach, and an hour later, the three parachute regiments of the 82d Airborne Division began their descent to the west of the
101st. At 0230 hours, two brigades of the British 6th Airborne Division were dropped east of the Orne River, between Caen and the sea.
At dawn, the Eighth Air Force took up the air attacks; and in the half hour before the touchdown of the assault forces (from 0600 to 0630 hours) 1,365 American heavy bombers, although hampered by the weather, dropped 2,746 tons of high explosives on the shore defenses. Then the medium and light bombers and the fighter-bombers of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force swarmed in to attack individual targets among the defenses. During the remainder of the day, the strategic air forces concentrated their attacks upon the key communication centers behind the enemy's lines; and the tactical air forces roamed over the entire battle area, attacking German defensive positions, shooting up buildings known to house headquarters, strafing troop concentrations, and destroying transport. During the twenty-four hours of 6 June, Allied aircraft flew 13,000 sorties, and during the first eight hours alone, dropped 10,000 tons of bombs. In contrast to this mighty Allied air assault, such reconnaissance and defense patrols as were flown by the Germans were mainly over the Pas de Calais area, while over the assault beaches and their approaches, only some fifty half-hearted sorties were attempted.*
Meanwhile, the Allied sea armada drew in toward the coast of France, preceded by its flotillas of mine sweepers. The bad weather and high seas having drive the enemy surface patrol craft into their harbors, the 100-mile movement across the Channel was uneventful. By 0300 hours, the ships were anchoring in the transport areas some thirteen miles off their assigned beaches, where a stiff wind and waves up to six feet high were making more difficult the complicated task of loading the troops into their landing craft (from the transports) and forming up the assault waves for the dash to the beaches. At 0550, the heavy naval fire-support squadrons began a forty-minute bombardment of the major coast-defense batteries, which were quickly silenced. As H-hour** drew near, the troops approached their beaches under the "comforting thunder" of fire support from destroyers that were closing in to bombard at close range the enemy pillboxes and strong points that commanded the beaches. In addition, each assault force had its own fire support
* Total German air sorties for D-day were about 500.
** The Allied assault forces used four different H-hours to meet the differing conditions of tide and bottom on the main assault beaches. The hour was 0630 at UTAH and OMAHA, while the British landings came between 0700 and 0800.
in the form of rocket batteries, tanks, and self-propelled artillery mounted in landing craft. As the assault teams neared the beaches, all htis tremendous weight of fire support from the sea and the air reached a climax.
The terrain behind the beaches generally favors defensive tactics and the whole is unsuitable for mobile warfare. in the VII Corps zone, the smooth and shallow beaches in the vicinity of Varreville are backed by sand dunes that extend inland 150 to 1,000 yards. Behind the sand dune, the low ground had been inundated from a width of one to two miles, restricting travel from the beaches to four easily defended causeways. Farther inland, the Merderet River, running parallel to the coast, and the Douve River, from which the ground rises northward to the hills around Cherbourg, restrict traffic to the established roads. Ste. M&egrae;re Eglise, St. Sauveur, and Barneville are key points on the road nets leading to Cherbourg. Southeast of UTAH Beach the Douve and Vire Rivers flow into the shallow, muddy Carentan Estuary, which marked the boundary between the VII and V Corps.
From Grandcamp, cliffs extend eastward to Arromanches with only two breaks, one in the Vierville-Colleville area (V Corps zone), where there is a beach five miles long, and one at Port en Bessin. The Aure River behind OMAHA Beach is a serious obstacle for a distance of ten miles from its mouth, near Isigny. From Arromanches to the Orne River (in the British zone), the beach is backed by sand dunes, low cliffs, or gently rising ground. Between the Orne and the Dives is a wide, marshy valley. Southeast of Caen there is an open, rolling plain that extends to Falaise; but between the Vire and Orne Rivers the area is covered to a depth of forty miles inland by bocage.* In this area, observation is limited, and vehicle movement is restricted to the roads. The highlands that extend across the invasion front, with a depth up to twenty-five miles, are broken with steep hills and narrow valleys. The dominant terrain is some eighteen miles southwest fo Caen, Although narrow, the roads in the entire area are generally metaled and good. Key centers in the road net, and therefore vital initial terrain objective, are the towns of Carentan, St. Lô, Bayeux, and Caen.
The area in which the landings were made was initially held by the LXXXIV Corps of the German Seventh Army, with one panzer
* As stated previously, land divided into small fields by hedges, banks, and sunken roads.
and five infantry-type divisions deployed between Cherbourg and Caen.* A panzer brigade, an infantry brigade, and a parachute regiment held the coast of the Gulf of St. Malo from Barneville to Avranches. On D-day, Field Marshal Rommel was absent from the front, being at his home near Ulm celebrating his wife's birthday.
The eight Allied regimental-brigade assault teams landed on the beaches generally as planned and joined up with most of the paratroopers. By the end of D-day, the four corps had established beachheads as shown by the blue phase line on the map. On all beaches except OMAHA, the opposition had been lighter than expected; and, although all the D-day objectives had not been secured, a foothold had been gained in western Europe.
VII Corps Landings.--The mission of the VII Corps was expressed in its field order, which read: "VII Corps assaults UTAH Beach on D-day at H-hour and captures Cherbourg with minimum delay." The 101st Airborne Division was to clear the way for the seaborne assault by seizing the western exits of the four causeways across the inundated area and organize the southern flank of the corps beachhead for defense and further exploitation. The 82d Airborne Division was to secure the western edge of the beachhead by capturing Ste. Mère Eglise, and it was to establish deep bridgeheads over the Merderet River to facilitate a later attack to the west to seal off the peninsula.** The 4th Division was to establish the UTAH beachhead and then advance on Cherbourg. Appendix 8a shows the airborne and seaborne landings and the major operations of the three VII Corps divisions on D-day.
The airborne divisions were preceded by twenty pathfinder crews that experienced some difficulty in marking the six drop zones. The 101st approached France in a tight formation; but from the coast to the Merderet, cloud banks loosened the formation, and east of the Merderet flak scattered the transport planes still further. In general, the division did not have a good drop. About 1,500 men were either killed or captured, and approximately 60 per cent of the
* The LXXXIV Corps was commanded by lieutenant General Marcks, whose headquarters was in St. Lô. The divisions, from west to east, were 243d, 91st, 709th, 352d, 716th, and 21st Panzer. The Seventh Army headquarters was in Le Mans.
** This represented a last-minute change in the corps plan, which had originally prescribed a landing by the 82d Airborne Division west of St. Sauveur to block the movement of enemy reinforcements into the western half of the Cotentin Peninsula. The identification of the German 91st Division in the area at the end of May necessitated employing the 82d farther east to insure the success of the beach landings.
equipment was lost when the bundles fell into swamps or into fields covered by enemy fire. Only a fraction of the division's organized strength could initially be employed on the planned missions, and many of the missions carried out were undertaken by mixed groups formed from the scattered paratroopers. Fifty-one gliders came in about dawn, and thirty-two more arrived at 2100 hours. In spite of the scattered landings, the sudden appearance of the Americans created such confusion among the Germans that it tended to offset the disorganization of the invaders; and by dint of considerable improvisation, the 101st was able to accomplish most of its initial missions.
A group of about seventy-five men from the northern regiment made for one of the division's main objectives, and enemy 150-mm coastal battery at Varreville, and found it deserted. They then pushed on and secured the two northern exits from the beach while other troops established defensive positions to the northwest. A force of about 3ighty men from the center regiment attacked the Germans holding the southern causeway, forcing them to surrender by noon. About 1230 hours, the first contact was established with the 4th Division when one of its infantry battalions advanced across the southern causeway. Other troops of the center regiment captured a German 105-mm battery. In the south, the bridges over the Douve north of Carentan were seized by fifty men about 0500 hours, and 150 others secured the lock in the river northwest of Carentan. Heavy fighting developed east of the Ste. Mère Eglise-Carentan road as the paratroopers tried to move to the southwest to destroy other bridges on the Douve. The Germans were bringing intense artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire on the Americans in this area, but a naval shore fire-control officer was able to contact the cruiser Quincy, whose 8-inch salvos neutralized the enemy fire. By evening, 2,500 of the original 6,600 men of the 101st were working together. The division had accomplished all of its initial missions except destroying the Douve bridges west of Carentan, and was assembling in the southern part of its zone to resume the attack to the southwest.
Of the 82d Airborne Division's three regiments, the two that were to land west of the Merderet had the worst drop pattern of all the airborne units. In contrast, the regiment that landed east of the Merderet had a very successful drop; and almost half of its 1,000 men were able to assemble rapidly. One battalion immediately started for Ste. Mère Eglise. The men were ordered to go directly into town without searching buildings; and they were told
to use only knives, bayonets, and grenades while it was dark so that enemy small-arms fire could be spotted by sight and sound. By 0430, the battalion had occupied the town and had hosted the same American flag that it had raised over Naples upon its entry into that city. Enemy counterattacks had to be beaten off during the day, but by nightfall the situation was well in hand.
The chief concern, however, of the 82d Airborne Division during D-day was around two Merderet River bridges west of Ste. Mère Eglise, where the bulk of the assembled forces were committed and where the enemy put up his strongest resistance.* A miscellaneous group of about 400 men from all regiments of the 82d launched an attack about noon and seized one bridge, but they were unable to consolidate a position on the west bank. About this time, the Germans launched a counterattack that recaptured the bridge and isolated the Americans west of the river. The enemy continued to attack across the bridge during the afternoon, but the 82d held the east bank. An attempt by the paratroopers to seize another bridge farther south was unsuccessful. Thus we see that at the end of D-day, the situation in the 872d Division area was not good. The failure to hold the Merderet bridge created a tactical problem that wsa to engage the major forces of the entire division for the next three days. Probably the weakest feature of the situation of the airborne division at the close of D-day, was the lack of communication between their own units and lack of information on the progress of the seaborne landings.
In the meantime, the 4th Division was making its assault on UTAH Beach with relative ease, much to the surprise of everyone. During the naval pre-invasion bombardment, 276 medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force dropped over four thousand 250-pound bombs on beach objectives in the assault area. While the first waves of the assault troops were 700 yards off shore, seventeen fire-support craft discharged their rockets. The first wave consisted of twenty LCVP's, each carrying a thirty-man infantry assault team, and eight LCT's, each carrying four amphibious (DD) tanks. Almost exactly at H-hour, the assault craft lowered their ramps,m and 600 men walked into waist-deep water to wade the last 100 yards to the beach. Enemy artillery fired a few shells, but otherwise there was no opposition. The tanks were launched form their LCT's about 3,000 yards
* This resistance was partially due to the fact that the 82d Airborne Division's regiments west of the Merderet had landed practically on top of the headquarters of the German 91st Division.
from the beach and landed about fifteen minutes after the first assault wave.* The only major divergence from the plan was that the entire force was landed 2,000 yards south of the planned landing area. This error may have been caused by lack of naval control vessels,** by the strong tidal current, or because the shore had been obscured by the smoke and dust of the air and naval bombardment. The error proved fortunate, however, since the defense in the south were found to be weaker than those where the landing was supposed to take place.
Army and Navy demolition teams following the assault infantry found the beach less thickly obstructed than anticipated, and the entire area was cleared in an hour. The work of demolishing the sea wall behind the beach and clearing paths through the sand dunes progressed rapidly. The infantry found enemy troops occupying field fortifications; but, apparently demoralized by the preparatory bombardment, they showed little fight. Beach opposition was soon cleaned up, and the assault troops reorganized for the advance inland. By 0800 hours, four battalions of infantry had crossed the flooded area on the three southern causeways and then advanced to the west to gain contact with the airborne troops. By evening, two battalions were on the Carentan road south of Ste. Mère Eglise, while the third battalion was compressing the large enemy pocket that separated the 82d Airborne Division at St. Mère Eglise from the rest of the corps. The other infantry battalions of the 4th Division came ashore about noon and began moving out to the northwest to enlarge the beachhead. Since all the causeways were already congested or under enemy fire, these troops had to wade through the waist-deep water in the inundated areas, somewhat delaying their advance. One of the most critical problems during the morning had been the vehicle congestion created on the beach because of the limited number of exits.
The landing at UTAH Beach met less opposition than any of the others, and the 4th Division's losses were astonishingly low. Its total D-day casualties were 197 men, including sixty lost at sea. No less noteworthy was the speed of the landings. The entire division (except one artillery battalion) landed during the first fifteen
* The thirty-two DD tanks played little part in the assault. One LCT struck a mine and sank; so only twenty-eight of the tanks reached the beach.
** Only one of the original four control craft was available to guide the assault wave because two had been sunk and one was bringing in the tanks.
hours, and by the end of the day over 20,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles had reached UTAH.*
D-Day on OMAHA Beach.--The mission of the V Corps was to secure a beachhead in the area between the Vire River and Port en Bessin, from which its troops would push southward toward Caumont and St. Lô, conforming to the advance of the British Second Army. The D-day mission of the 116th Regimental Combat Team, on the right, included the capture of Vierville and St. Laurent, and advance to the west to occupy the area between the flooded Aure River and the sea, and preparations to seize Isigny and make contact with the VII Corps. The 16th Regimental Combat Tea, on the left, would seize Colleville, cross the Isigny-Bayeux road, and take up defensive positions covering the southeastern section of the beachhead, from Trévières to Port en Bessin.** Follow-up regiments of the 1st Division would pass through the 16th Regimental Combat Team and establish contact with the British. The operations on OMAHA Beach will be discussed somewhat in detail because it was there that the Allies met their most serious initial resistance. Appendix 8b shows the terrain at Omaha Beach, the planned and actual landings of the first assault wave, some of the enemy strong points, and major V Corps operations during D-day.
In the OMAHA sector, the part of the beach regarded as suitable for landing operations in about 7,000 yards long, on a shore that curves landward in a very slight crescent and is backed with bluffs that merge into the cliffs at either end of the sector. The diagramatic cross-section in the appendix shows the principal features of the beach. The tidal flat of firm sand is exposed at low tide, but at the high-water mark it terminated in a bank of shingle (very heavy gravel that was removed after the landing) that sloped up rather steeply to a height of some eight feet. In places, the shingle embankment was as much as fifteen yards wide, the stones averaging three inches in diameter. On the eastern two-thirds of the beach, the shingle lay against a low sand embankment or line of
* The troops included, in addition to the 4th Division, one battalion of the 90th Division, an armored field artillery battalion, a tank destroyer battalion, a chemical mortar battalion, two tank battalions, and the 1st Engineer Special Brigade.
** The 11th and 115th Regimental Combat Teams of the 29th Division were attached to the 1st Division for the landing. Later in the day, the 29th Division was to assume control of operations on the right and the 1st Division on the left. This organization was designed to fit an operation that would develop from an assault by one reinforced division into an attack by two divisions abreast.
dunes that formed a barrier impassable for vehicles. On the western part of the beach, the shingle was piled against a sea wall. Between the dune line or sea wall and bluffs lies the beach flat or shelf. Very narrow at either end of the main landing zone, this level shelf of sand widens to more than 200 yards near the center of the stretch. The flat was marked by large patches of marsh and high grass, a road parallel to the beach, and some summer villas. Bluffs 100 to 170 feet in height rise sharply from the flat and dominate the whole beach area. Their slopes are generally steep, but in varying degree. Four valleys provide exits from the beach flat and were, inevitably, key areas both in the plan of attack and in the arrangement of the defense.
Realizing that OMAHA Beach was a suitable landing area, the enemy had prepared formidable defenses. In the tidal flat were three bands of heavily mined underwater obstacles consisting of element C's, heavy logs, and steel hedgehogs. On the shelf behind the shingle, liberal use was made of barbed wire and mines. Firing positions were laid out to cover the tidal flat and beach with direct fire, both plunging and grazing, from all types of weapons. Observation on the whole OMAHA area and flanking fire from cliff positions at either end were aided by the crescent-shaped curve of the shore line. Each strong point was a complex system of pillboxes, gun casemates, open positions for light guns, and fire trenches surrounded by mine fields and wire. These were connected with each other and with underground quarters and magazines by deep trenches or tunnels. Most of the strong points were situated near the entrances to the valleys, which were further protected by antitank ditches and road blocks. While machine guns were the basic weapons in all emplacements, there were over sixty light artillery pieces of various types. The heavier guns were sited to give lateral fire along the beach, with traverse limited by thick concrete wingwalls that concealed the flashes and made the guns hard to spot or destroy from the sea. All main enemy defenses were on the beach or just behind its, defenses beyond the beach depending largely on the use of local reserves in counterattacks.
The V Corps plans had been worked out in great detail; the assault landing teams had been built up to include every type of specialized technique and weapon needed to fight at the beach; and every unit, down to the smallest, had been trained to carry out a particular task in a definite area. Six companies ot tanks (including ninety-six tanks and sixteen tank dozers), eight companies of infantry (1,450 men), and twenty-four special Army and Navy engineer demolition teams would come in with the first wave.
Thirty minutes later, after the demolition teams had cleared gaps through the obstacles, the remainder of the two leading assault infantry regiments and two battalions of Rangers would begin to arrive. By H plus 90 minutes, the artillery and engineer special brigades would start landing.
The naval bombardment included 600 rounds of 12-and 14-inch shells from battleships and about 3,000 rounds of 4- to 6-inch shells from cruisers and destroyers, all directed against the beach strong points. The fire-support craft drenched the beach defenses with about 9,000 rounds of light artillery fire from H minus 30 to H minus 5 minutes; and when the assault waves were 300 yards from the beach, 9,000 rockets were fired.
As the landing craft neared the beach* at 0630 hours, there was every reason to hope that the enemy shore defenses might have been neutralized by the bombardment. But almost at once, many of the landing craft began to come under fire from automatic weapons and artillery that increased in volume as they approached the touch-down points. It was evident that the enemy fortifications had not been knocked out. The situation rapidly became worse when the assault troops hit the beach, which they found unscarred by the heavy air bombardment that had just been completed.** Only sixteen of the forty-eight tanks, in the 16th Regimental Combat Team sector survived the landing, and only three of the tank dozers arrived in working condition. The special demolition teams suffered 41 per cent casualties during the day--most of them in the first half hour.*** Most of the landing craft grounded fifty to a hundred yards out, sometimes in water neck deep. In crossing the 200 yards of open sand to the cover of the shingle and sea wall, the infantry suffered their heaviest casualties of the day from mortar, artillery, and converging machine-gun fire. Only one of the eight infantry companies in the first wave was ready to operate as a unit after crossing the lower beach.
The second assault wave began touching down at 0700 hours; but since no advance had been made beyond the shingle, and since
* As shown by Appendix 8b, a majority of the landing craft came in east of their appointed beach sectors, some being as much as 1,000 yards out of position. This made reorganization of units most difficult and caused much confusion.
** The heavy overcast had forced the use of pathfinder instruments by the Eighth Air Force. With this technique and its greater range of possible error, it was necessary to push the center of the drop pattern farther inland to insure the safety of the assault craft.
[The HyperWar editor finds it curious that none of the officials histories of any of the services addresses the poor performance of the strategic air forces on D-day in the context of the over-reaching claims put forward by their proponents during the preceding 25 years ("winning wars by strategic bombing along", accuracy sufficient to "drop a bomb in a pickle barrel", etc. This volume, itself, often refers to the Eighth Air Force's "precision bombing" attacks -- "precision" meaning that half the bombs fell with 1-5 miles of the target! At a minimum, one has to ask how the choice of dates for the assault would have been affected if the value of the strategic bombers' contribution had been realistically assessed. -- HyperWar]
*** However, they did succeed in blowing six gaps through the bands of obstacles, although only one of them could be marked because of loss of equipment.
neither the tanks nor the scattered groups of infantry already ashore were able to give much covering fire, these later troops experienced the same difficulties as the first wave. Mislandings continued to hinder reorganization, and at 0830 the landing of vehicles was suspended. The following account indicates how critical the situation had become:
As headquarters groups arrived from 0730 on, they found much the same picture at whatever sector they landed. Along 6,000 yards of beach, behind sea wall or shingle embankment, elements of the assault force were immobilized in what might well appear to be hopeless confusion. As a result of mislandings, many companies were so scattered that they could not be organized as tactical units. At some places, notably in front of the German strongpoints guarding draws, losses in officers and noncommissioned officers were so high that remnants of units were practically leaderless. Bunching of landings had intermingled sections of several companies on crowded sectors like Dog White, Easy Green, and Fox Green. Engineers, navy personnel from wrecked craft, naval shore fire control parties, and elements of other support units were mixed in with the infantry. In some areas, later arrivals found it impossible to find room behind the shingle and had to lie on the open sands behind. Disorganization was inevitable, and dealing with it was rendered difficult by the lack of communications and the mislanding of command groups. However, even landing at the best point, a command party could only influence a narrow sector of beach. It was a situation which put it up to small units, sometimes only a remnant of single boat sections, to solve their own problems of organization and morale.
There was, definitely, a problem of morale. The survivors of the beach crossing, many of whom were experiencing their first enemy fire, had seen heavy losses among their comrades or in neighboring units. No action could be fought in circumstances more calculated to heighten the moral effects of such losses. Behind them, the tide was drowning wounded men who had been cut down on the sands and was carrying bodies ashore just below the shingle. Disasters to the later landing waves were still occurring, to remind of the potency of enemy fire. Stunned and shaken by what they had experienced, men could easily find the sea wall and shingle bank all too welcome a cover. It was not much protection from artillery or mortar shells, but it did give defilade from sniper and machine-gun fire. Ahead of them, with wire and minefields to get through, was the beach flat, fully exposed to enemy fire; beyond that the bare and steep bluffs, with enemy strongpoints still in action. That the enemy fire was probably weakening and in many sectors was light would be hard for the troops behind the shingle to appreciate. What they could see was what they had suffered already and what they had to cross to get at the German emplacements. Except for supporting fire of tanks on some sectors, they could count on little but their own weapons. Naval gunfire had practically ceased when the infantry reached the beach; the ships were under orders not to fire, unless exceptionally definite targets offered, until liaison was established with fire control parties. Lacking this liaison, the destroyers did not dare bring fire on the strongpoints through which infantry might be advancing on the smoke-obscured bluffs.
At 0800, German observers on the bluff sizing up the grim picture below them might well have felt that the invasion was stopped at the edge of the water. Actually, at three or four places on the four-mile beachfront, U. S. troops were already breaking through the shallow crust of enemy defenses.*
The outstanding fact about these first two hours of action is that despite heavy casualties, loss of equipment, disorganization, and all the other discouraging features of the landings, the assault troops did not stay pinned down behind the sea wall and embankment. At half a dozen or more points, they found the necessary drive to leave their cover and move out over the open beach flat toward the bluffs. In nearly every case where an advance was attempted, it carried through the enemy beach defenses. Some penetrations were made by units of company strength; some were made by intermingled sections of different companies; some were accomplished by groups of twenty or thirty men, unaware that any other assaults were under way. Various factors, some of them difficult to evaluate, played a part in the success of these advances. Chance was certainly one; destroyers' guns and tanks were called on for support and rendered goo service; combat engineers blew gaps through enemy wire and cleared paths through mine fields. But the decisive factor was leadership. Wherever an advance was made, it depended on the presence of some few individuals, officers and noncommissioned officers, who inspired, encouraged, or bullied their men forward, often by making the first forward moves. A characteristic of these early penetrations that influenced the rest of the action on D-day was that they were not made up the draws, as planned, but up the bluffs, as shown on the chart.
Conditions on the beach improved later in the morning. Fire from the main enemy strong points was gradually reduced as one gun emplacement after another was knocked out, often by tanks. Support from naval units, necessarily limited during the first landings, began to count heavily later on and became a major factor as communications improved between shore and ships. The first decisive improvement along the beach came at the draw northeast of St. laurent. About 1130, the last enemy defenses in front of it were reduced, and within half an hour engineers sere clearing mines in the draw and working dozers on the western slope to rush through an exit road. This road became the main funnel for movement off the beach, although traffic soon became jammed on the plateau at the head of the draw, since the ground was not cleared farther inland.
* Historical Division, OMAHA Beachhead.
No attempt will be made to describe the fighting inland during D-day. In general, the action centered around the town of Vierville, St. Laurent, and Colleville. In all three areas, assault units, usually in less than battalion strength, fought more or less uncoordinated and separate actions. For example, in the St. Laurent area, elements of five battalions spent the afternoon and evening fighting through an area of about a square mile that contained only scattered pockets of enemy resistance. The effectiveness of the attacking forces had been reduced by a number of factors, including lack of communications, difficulties of control, and the absence of artillery and armored support.
So in spite of continued enemy fire on the beach and the over-all confusion, progress was steady as the day wore on. The two support infantry regiments arrived about noon, and General Huebner and the command group of the 1st Division landed at 1900. By evening, thirteen gaps in the beach obstacles had bene made, and work was progressing on additional beach exit roads. One account summarizes the situation at the end of D-day as follows:
The assault on Omaha Beach had succeeded, but the going had been harder than expected. Penetrations made in the morning by relatively weak assault groups had lacked the force to carry far inland. Delay in reducing the strongpoints at the draws had slowed landings of reinforcements, artillery, and supplies. Stubborn enemy resistance, both at strongpoints and inland, had held the advance to a strip of ground hardly more than a mile-and-a-half deep in the Colleville area, and considerably less than that west of St-Laurent. Barely large enough to be called a foothold, this strip was well inside the planned beachhead maintenance area. Behind U. S. forward positions, cut-off enemy groups were still resisting. The whole landing area continued under enemy artillery fire from inland.
Infantry assault troops had been landed, despite all difficulties, on the scale intended; most of the elements of five regiments were ashore by dark. With respect to artillery, vehicles, and supplies of all sorts, schedules were far behind. Little more than 100 tons had been got ashore instead of the 2,400 tons planned for D Day. The ammunition supply situation was critical and would have been even worse except for the fact that 90 of the 110 pre-loaded dukws in Force "O" had made the shore successfully. Only the first steps had been taken to organize the beach for handling the expected volume of traffic, and it was obvious that further delay in unloadings would be inevitable.*
Casualties for the V Corps were in the neighborhood of 3,000 killed, wounded, and missing. The two assaulting regimental combat teams lost about 1,000 men each. The highest proportionate losses were taken by units that landed in the first few hours, including
* Historical Division, OMAHA Beachhead.
engineers, tank troops, and artillery. Whether by swamping at sea or by action at the beach, matériel losses were considerable, including twenty-six artillery pieces and over fifty tanks. About fifty landing craft and ten larger vessels were lost, with a much larger number of all types damaged.
The principal cause of the difficulties of the day was the unexpected strength of the enemy at the beaches. The German 352d Division had just moved into the area to reinforce the coastal troops. As a result, all strong points were completely manned, reserve teams were available for some of the weapons positions, and there were units close behind the beach in support of the main defenses. A most surprising feature of the day's action was the enemy's failure to stage any effective counterattacks. A determined counterblow of even battalion strength might have pushed the battle back to the beach; but, instead, the enemy's power had been frittered away in stubborn defensive action by small groups.
A subsidiary V Corps operation was an attack by Rangers on an enemy coastal battery of six 155-mm. howitzers at Pointe du Hoe, three miles west of OMAHA Beach. Three Ranger companies made a frontal assault on the position and, with the help fo ropes,* managed to scale the cliffs. The enemy guns had been removed from their casemated positions; but by 0900, the Rangers had discovered them some distance away, where they had been cleverly camouflaged and sited to fire on either UTAH or OKMAHA Beaches. The guns were destroyed; and the Rangers beat off counterattacks for the rest of the day while waiting for other Rangers to join them overland from Vierville, where they had landed with the rest of the V Corps assault troops.
Other D-Day Operations.--While General Bradley's troops were meeting with varying fortunes on UTAH or OKMAHA Beaches, the British Second Army was achieving good results in its zone. General Dempsey's D-day objective was to secure a beachhead extending generally from Port en Bessin through Bayeux and Caen and along the Orne to the sea. The airborne landings began at 0200 when six gliders silently landed "like thieves in the night" to seize the Orne bridges north of Caen. Half an hour later, two brigades of the 6th Airborne Division dropped east of the Orne. The Orne bridgehead was reinforce, and bridges over the Dives were destroyed. By 0500 hours enemy counterattacks began to develop;
* These ropes were anchored by grapnels that had been attached to rockets and fired from the landing craft.
but the position was stubbornly defended, and in the afternoon contact was established with seaborne forces.
The organization of the British assault teams, and their naval and air support, was similar to that of the American teams. (Appendix 8c includes a schematic diagram of one of these teams.) They also experienced unfavorable weather and seas, but the German beach defense was less spirited than at OMAHA. Infantry of the two brigade assault teams of the British 50th Division, followed by DD tanks, landed east of Arromanches about 0725; the Canadian 3d Division's two brigades touched won astride Courseulles about 0800; and the British 3d Division landed just east of Lion sur Mer at 0725 hours. Once clear of the beaches, steady progress was made, although some enemy strong points were by-passed. Probably the most severe opposition occurred in the afternoon north of Caen, where an enemy counterattack by infantry and some twenty tanks of the 21st Panzer Division was stopped by the British 3d Division and some armor.
By the end of D-day, the Allies had breached the Atlantic Wall all along the invasion coast, and all assaulting divisions were ashore. Apart from the factor of tactical surprise, the comparatively light casualties that were sustained on all the beaches except OMAHA were in large measure a result of the splendid equipment (amphibious tanks, modern types of landing craft, rocket boats, etc.) that we employed. The greatest and longest step toward the destruction of the German armies in the west had been taken.
Initially dazed and confused by the pre-invasion air and naval bombardment and the air landings, and with his communications disrupted throughout the invasion area, the enemy was unable to diagnose the extent of the invasion or to react quickly with effective countermeasures. The German reaction ins well described in the following account that has been pieced together from captured documents and prisoner-of-war interviews:
At 0130 on 6 June the German Seventh Army received word from LXXXIV Corps that landings from the air were under way from Caen to the northern Cotentin. By 0230 Army felt able to designate the focal areas as the Orne River mouth and the Ste. Mère Eglise sector. In contrast to Seventh Army's views that the Allies were attacking to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula, Army Group [B] and Western Command [OB West] were of the opinion that a major enemy action was not in progress.
Despite further reports of parachute landings at inland points all through western Normandy, at 0400 General Marcks (LXXXIV Corps) confirmed the first impression that the focal points were the Caen sector and around Ste. Mère Eglise. He reported that the
915th Infantry [a regiment of the 352d Division], corps reserve, had been ordered to occupy the Carentan area with the mission of maintaining communications throughout that point. Army Group alerted the 21st panzer Division, attached it to Seventh Army, and ordered it to attack in the Caen area with main effort east of the Orne.
At 0600 Corps reported heavy naval gunfire from Grandcamp to the Orne; at 0645 Army told Army Group that the Allied intentions were till not clear and expressed an opinion that the naval gunfire might be part of a diversionary attack, to be followed by the main effort in some other area. Not until 0900 did Army hear from LXXXIV Corps that heavy landings from the sea had taken place from 0715 on; the sectors reported were from the Orne to northeast of Bayeux and at Grandcamp. At 0925, Corps reported the situation as very threatening north of Caen, with Allied armor reaching artillery positions, and asked for a mobile reserve to be constituted at once west of Caen. Penetrations in the forward positions of the 352d Infantry Division were reported at this time but were not regarded as dangerous.
Corps reported at 1145 an Allied bridgehead 16 miles wide and over 3 miles deep north and northwest of Caen; no information was on hand from the 352d Division, and communications were out with the eastern Cotentin area. Both Army and Corps were convinced that the Caen landings presented the main threat; the 21st Panzer Division was headed for the beachhead both east and west of the Orne. At noon Corps stated that attempted sea landings from the Vire to the coast northeast of Bayeux had been completely smashed and the only critical area was that near Caen.
The 352d Division advised Army at 1335 that the Allied assault had been hurled back into the sea; only at Colleville was fighting still under way, with the Germans counterattacking. At 1500 Army Group decided to put I SS Panzer Corps in charge of the Caen area. The 12th SS Panzer would move at once from the Alençon area toward Caen; Panzer Lehr was to come behind it. The 21st Panzer Division had elements north of Caen by 1600 and was expected to enter the battle at any moment.
At 120 Army gave Army Group a general estimate of the situation. The situation in the Cotentin was noted as reassuring, and German forces on hand there were regarded as adequate. Army expressed its surprise that no landings by sea had supported the airborne troops, and hazarded the view that the Allied operation in this sector was diversionary. Twenty minutes later this conclusion was upset by word from Corps that sea landings had taken place just north of the Vire mouth. At 1800 more bad news came from the 352d Division: Allied forces had infiltrated through the strong points, and advance elements with armor had reached Colleville. As for the evening attack of the 21st Panzer Division, that unit had at first made progress and nearly reached the coast [near Douvres]; it then met heavy resistance and was forced to yield ground.
By midnight Seventh Army and Army Group had made plans for a heavy panzer counterattack on 7 June against the British landing
area by I SS Panzer Corps, with the 716th Division attached. The 21st Panzer DivisionI would attack east of Caen; 12th SS Panzer and Panzer Lehr west of Caen. Steps had been taken during the day for setting in motion other units to reinforce the battle area. Battle groups from the 266th and 77th Divisions were put in a state of readiness, and those from the 265th Division> were started by rail transport as reinforcement for LXXXIV Corps. All these units were in Brittany, and some hesitation was felt by Army Group in taking too much strength from that area before Allied intentions were fully clarified.
At the end of D-day the German Seventh Army had decided that the landings near the Orne constituted the main threat and had taken steps to commit its strongest and most readily available reserves in that sector. The situation in the Cotentin was not causing particularly worry. Information as to the OMAHA Beach sector had been scanty throughout the day, and both Corps and Army tended to pay little attention to developments there.
When Hitler, on 6 June, received word of the invasion he announced, "It's begun at last." He was confident that all measures were being taken to meet the crisis and that by 13 June counterattacks would wipe out any beachheads.*
Operations, 7-12 June.--During the next five days, the Allied concentrated their efforts toward joining up the beachheads into one uninterrupted lodgement area and bringing in the supplies of men and materials necessary to consolidate and expand their foothold. General Bradley's first concern was to strengthen his tenuous hold at OMAHA Beach, launch attacks to secure Isigny and Carentan--to join the V and VII Corps beachheads--and establish firm contact with the airborne divisions so that the VII Corps could begin its drive for Cherbourg. The gap between the British and Americans also had to be closed, and General Dempsey planned to develop his operations with all possible speed to capture Caen. On 8 June, slow progress was made on all fronts. Enemy artillery fire continued to harass beach operations, and scattered enemy groups still held positions within the perimeter of the beachheads.** The Allied forces had not yet recovered from their D-day disorganization, and in many cases, units were not only understrength but lacked even the infantry heavy weapons that were necessary for any effective attack. However, since the Allied build-up continued at a faster tempo than the enemy could shift reserves to the threatened positions on the beachhead perimeter, the situation gradually improved along the entire line.
* Prepared by Historical Division, Department of the Army.
** The largest of the strong points was at Douvres in the British zone, where the Germans held out until 17 June in installations 300 feet underground.
By 9 June, the VII Corps had secured most of its D-day objectives. The 4th Division had advanced about three miles toward Cherbourg, but was meeting stiff resistance from German coastal fortifications northwest of Varreville. In the center, the 82d Airborne Division had been stalemated at the Merderet Bridges on the 7th, but by evening of the 9th, had fought its way westward to establish a bridgehead that included the elements of the division that had been isolated since D-day. But it was on the left that General Collins' chief concern lay. Here, similar to the early situation at Salerno, an eight-mile gap remained between his left flank and the right flank of the V Corps. General Bradley designated as first-priority missions the capture of Carentan by the VII Corps and Isigny by the VI Corps.
General Collins directed the 101st Airborne Division to capture Carentan, and the division launched a coordinated attack on that objective early on 8 June. By evening, the 101st had advanced to the Douve River; but further progress was difficult because any attack from the northwest was canalized along the Ste. Mére Eglise-Carentan causeway, the only approach to Carentan over the inundated countryside. A new attack was launched during the night of 9-10 June, with one force directed to cross the Douve on the causeway, by-pass Carentan, and seize the high ground southwest of the city. A left-flank force of the 101st was to cross the Douve on the bridges that had been held since the 6th, establish contact with the V Corps between the Vire and Douve, and press in on Carentan from the east. A bitter two-day battle developed on the causeway, but by evening of the 11th, the paratroopers had gained control of that important stretch of road. At the same time, the left-flank force made more rapid progress to the east; one company established contact with the 29th Division on the morning of the 10th, and the rest of the force pressed on against Carentan. During the night of 11-12 June the town was set ablaze by artillery and naval gunfire; and early the next morning, the 101st closed the pincers on Carentan, which was seized by 0730 hours. The paratroopers immediately organized defensive positions southeast of the town to meet impending counterattacks from the German 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which was just arriving in this critical area.*
In the center of the VII corps zone, General Collins decided to commit the fresh 90th Division through the 82d Airborne's Merderet
* The position of the 101st Airborne Division at Carentan remained precarious until 13 June, when it was reinforced by one combat command of the 2d Armored Division (V Corps).
bridgehead in an attempt to break through to key terrain in the west. The 90th launched its attack early on the 10th; but enemy artillery fire on the Merderet bridges, strong defensive position on high ground to the west, and persistent counterattacks held the new division to gains measured in hundreds of yards. By the 12th, the 90th was still making only slow progress in its attempt to cut the peninsula. The 4th Division had captured the enemy forts barring its advance, and by the 12th, was approaching its objective, a ridge running through Montebourg to Quineville; but enemy resistance increased as the German 77th Division was committed near Montebourg, and it threatened to block this drive on Cherbourg.
In the meantime, in the V Corps zone isolated enemy strong points were cleared on the 7th, and all exit roads from the beach were opened by noon. The 29th Division became operational and took up the attack to the west but made little progress the first day. On the 8th, however, this division scored remarkable gains as one regiment relieved the besieged Rangers on pointe du Hoe and moved on to seize Grandcamp and enemy artillery batteries that had been firing on the beaches. The center regiment advanced twelve miles, capturing Isigny and a bridge across the Aure River by 0800 hours on the 9th. The left-flank regiment closed up along the Aure. The 1st Divisions' attack carried across the Isigny-Bayeux highway and struck an enemy pocket south of Port en Bessin. During the night of 8-9 June, the Germans evacuated this pocket with considerable losses, and early the next day, the 1st Division established contact with the British along the Bayeux highway. So by early morning of the 9th, the V Corps had also reached most of its D-day objectives, and artillery fire on the beaches had been practically eliminated.
At noon on the 9th, General Gerow launched a new attack with three divisions abreast, the 2d Division having taken over a 5,000 yard zone in the center. On the 9th, the greatest gains were scored on the right by the 29th Division, which crossed the Aure and cleared out the area east of the Vire. As we have already seen, contact was made with the 101st Airborne Division on the 10th; and on the 11th, the V Corps' right flank was further strengthened by the arrival of elements of the 2d Armored Division. In the center, the 2d Division initially met strong resistance around Trévières; but on the 10th, strengthened by the arrival of much of its missing equipment, it moved rapidly ahead to clear Trévières and most of the Forêt de Cerisy as the remnants of the German 352d Division collapsed. On the left, the 1st Division gained momentum to the south as the corps' attack was renewed on the 12th to gain the high
ground near St. Lô and Caumont. The 1st Division reached the edge of Caumont by evening, and the 2d Division secured the high ground south of the Forê de Cerisy; but as the 29th Division approached the hills north of St. Lô, it met resistance that indicated the importance the Germans attached to that key road center. in its first week of fighting, the V Corps suffered 5,846 casualties, of which 1,225 were killed; it captured about 2,500 prisoners and practically destroyed the German 352d Division.
The British Second Army also scored good gains on its right, entering Bayeux on the 8th and Port en Bessin on the 8th. The British 50th Division then pressed on to the south abreast of the American 1st Division. The British 7th Armored Division came into action near Tilly on the 10th, but increasing enemy resistance and heavy counterattacks by elements of the Panzer Lehr and 12th SS Panzer Divisions halted progress in the British XXX Corps zone. in the Caen area, the Canadian 3d Division advanced across the Caen-Bayeux road but then met heavy counterattacks by the 12th SS and 21st Panzer Divisions that stopped further progress. The British 3d Division made little headway against the strong German defensive positions covering Caen. In the Orne bridgehead, the 6th Airborne Division withstood persistent counterattacks while the British 51st Division was arriving to launch an attack toward the eastern outskirts of Caen.
By 12 June, the entire Allied beachhead was continuous and securely held. The Allies had landed in France and had staked out their claims. It was now evident that they were there to stay. With sixteen divisions already in the beachhead, supported by a steadily growing amount of nondivisional artillery and armor, the danger of a decisive enemy counterattack was fading from reality.* Three airstrips had already been built in the American zone, and others were under construction.
It is almost impossible to comprehend the stupendous logistical difficulties that were overcome by the Allies during the days following the landing. The details of this effort, far beyond the scope of this account, will make kan epic story, for on the outcome of the battle of supply depended the success of the invasion of western Europe. With the elimination of enemy artillery fire from the beaches, the supply situation improved rapidly despite continuing unfavorable weather conditions. By the 12th, the beaches were cleared of debris and working smoothly, construction of the artificial
* On 12 June, the Germans had only thirteen understrength divisions in Normandy.
harbors had begun, and the beach maintenance areas were being established. Although behind planned discharge schedules during the first six days of the operation, 326,547 men landed and 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of stores were brought over the beaches.
Even though hampered by poor flying weather during the entire week, all records were broken by the Allied air forces. The Eighth Air Force and the R.A.F. began to work on the Loire River bridges while the Ninth Air Force went after the railroad bridges between the Seine and the Loire. Marshalling yards and other traffic centers received due attention. From the 6th through the 11th, over 37,000 tons of bombs were dropped, and 55,000 sorties were flown. Within an arc extending from the Pas de Calais through Paris to the Brittany Peninsula, 16,000 tons of bombs were dropped on coastal batteries, 4,000 tons on airfields, and 8,500 tons on railway targets. Complete Allied air supremacy was maintained over the beachhead, with only a slight increase in enemy air activity (mostly nighttime mine-laying operations in the Channel) being noted.
The map indicates the time of arrival of enemy divisions in Normandy, but it cannot depict the delays encountered en route. As the Allied air attacks on bridges, roads, railroads, and moving columns began to take effect, the German divisions negotiated the distance to the battle area with more and more difficulty. Consequently, units arrived piecemeal, lacking essential weapons and vehicles and short of fuel and ammunition. The increasing Allied pressure on the ground forced the enemy to commit these divisions as they arrived. He was kept so busy plugging the gaps that his much-discussed major counterattack had to be postponed repeatedly. By 12 June, his golden opportunity to crush the invasion had passed, and the Allies definitely held the initiative. During this first week, the Germans lost some 150 tanks and 10,000 men as prisoners. As yet, no divisions had arrived from the Fifteenth Army area in the Pas de Calais, a very significant fact. Rundstedt's entire strategic reserve* had been committed, and three** of the seven divisions in the Brittany Peninsula and the II Parachute Corps had already been shifted to the north. By committing his strongest reserves at Caen, Carentan, and Valognes, Rommel clearly indicated where he most feared Allied advances; and the concentration of panzer forces around Caen demonstrated his particular concern over that important area, whose loss would effectively break the connection with the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais.
* 12th SS Panzer, Panzer Lehr, and 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions.
** 77th, 3d Parachute, and 265th Divisions.
The Capture of Cherbourg
After the establishment of the beachhead, the next major mission of the 21st Army Group was to drive forward before the enemy could recover his breath. Toward the end of July 1918, Marshal Foch wrote: "material forces are veering in our favor. Moral ascendancy we have always had. The moment has not come for us to pass to the offensive." A similar moment had arrived for the Allies in June 1944. They needed elbowroom for the ever increasing flow of reinforcements and supplies and maneuver room for large-scale offensive operations.
The most important initial step in the accomplishment of this purpose was the capture of Cherbourg, in order to win essential port facilities for the vast build-up and supply of our forces. Other objective would be Caen and St. Lô, both key road centers of great importance to either side. But before all these objectives could be secured, six weeks of grueling hedgerow fighting was to take place.
After the capture of Carentan, the Germans launched panzer counterattacks against that important link in the Allied beachhead, but the American paratroopers (reinforced with armor) held firm and even expanded their foothold southwest of the Douve. At the same time, three enemy divisions were ordered to hold the Montebourg-Quineville Ridge at all costs to stop the 4th Division's drive on Cherbourg. With the bulk of the enemy's available forces on the Cotentin Peninsula committed in these two areas, General Bradley resolved to exploit the weak center and to cut off the peninsula preparatory to an all-out attack on Cherbourg.
Accordingly, General Collins launched a new attack through the Merderet bridgehead on the morning of 14 June. The reorganized 82d Airborne Division attacked along the Douve toward St. Sauveur; and the veteran 9th Division, which had just landed, was directed on Ste. Colombe. In spite of the difficult terrain, the appearance of a new enemy division in front, and persistent counterattacks against the 9th Division's right flank, the attack progressed well. By the evening of 16 June, the 82d Airborne Division securely held St. Sauveur, west of the Douve. About the same time, leading elements of the 9th Division also established a bridgehead across the Douve, at Ste. Colombe. These gains broke the main enemy resistance; and while the 82d pivoted to the south to protect the corps' left flank, the 9th continued its attack to the west, debouching through both the Douve bridgeheads. Early on 18 June, the 9th Division occupied Barneville, and by evening, the VII Corps had driven a corridor five miles wide across the peninsula. The enemy
north of the corridor counterattacked in a vain effort to reestablish contact with the Germans to the south and then fell back in some disorder toward Cherbourg.
Protection of the south flank gradually fell to Major General Troy H. Middleton's VIII Corps, which became operational on 15 June. On that day, it took over the 101st, and on the 19th, the 82d Airborne Division. Later, the 90th Division also came under its control With these adjustments, the VIII Corps was free to concentrate on its drive on Cherbourg.
On the 18th, Generals Bradley and Collins decided to use three divisions for the attack to the north. The 4tgh Division launched a surprise night attack near Montebourg, and the 79th and 9th Divisions began their northward advances early the next morning. That evening, as the 4tgh and 79th closed in on Valognes, the Germans decided to withdraw to the strong defensive perimeter they had established in the hills around Cherbourg. By evening of the 20th, the VII Corps reached this position, which consisted of well-prepared field fortifications reinforced by permanent structures of concrete.
An ultimatum for the Germans to surrender having expired, General Collins launched a coordinated attack on the afternoon of the 22d, which was supported by 1,000 aircraft of the tactical air forces and heavy artillery fire. However, no real breakthrough was achieved; and the VII Corps was forced to resort to a methodical reduction of strong points. Not until 24 June were the main defenses cracked. The next day, all three divisions, supported from the sea by a heavy naval bombardment force,* reached the outskirts of the city; and the 79th Division captured Fort du Roule, the formidable bastion whose 280-mm. guns dominated the entire harbor area and sea approaches. On the 26th, the Germany Army and Navy commanders surrendered, having previously exacted no-surrender pledges from their men; and the next day, all organized resistance within the city ended. However, the excellent port installations had been so thoroughly demolished and the harbor, which could provide anchorages for over a hundred ships, had been so heavily mined and blocked by sunken ships, that it was 19 July before unloading could begin, and late August before large ships could be brought alongside the docks. By 1 July, the 9th Division had cleaned out the last German resistance in the northwestern tip of the peninsula.
* Including three battleships, four cruisers, and eleven destroyers.
The capture of Cherbourg marked the attainment of the first major Allied strategic objective in western Europe. The VII Corps had suffered over 22,000 casualties, including 2,800 killed; but the enemy had lost 39,000 captured in addition to an undetermined number of killed and wounded. Even Rommel had to admit that, with Cherbourg in our hands, elimination of the beachhead was no longer possible. His plan of frustrating the invasion at the beaches had failed, and the next few weeks were to see the enemy making a frantic but unavailing effort to create a mobile striking force under Rundstedt's control.
While the VII Corps was capturing Cherbourg, the rest of the First Army regrouped to the south and, with the British Second Army, initiated a series of limited-objective attacks designed to gain additional maneuver room and the key terrain features considered essential for a line of departure for a general offensive. The XIX Corps, Major General Charles H. Corlett commanding, became operational on 14 June and immediately launched an attack between Carentan and St. Lô. Some progress was made toward St. Lô, but on the right, the attack was halted along the canal that connects the Taute and Vire Rivers. On 21 June, an active defense was assumed on the fronts of both the XIX and V Corps, and there were no further appreciable changes in the front lines during the rest of the month. This lack of action was partially dictated by the critical logistical situation that had developed on 19 June, which had forced ammunition expenditures to be cut to one-third of a unit of fire per day.
In the British Second Army zone, the XXX Corps succeeded in entering Villers Bocage on the 13th with an armored division, but the sudden arrival of strong panzer forces caused the British to give up the town the next day. Farther east, bitter fighting developed around Tilly, which was captured on the 19th. The British I Corps' attacks on Caen from the north and from the Orne bridgehead made little progress against tightening German resistance. General Montgomery then planned an all-out British offensive to capture Caen. Originally scheduled for 18 June, bad weather forced a postponement until the 25th, when the British XXX Corps began attacks that were designed to envelop the city from the southwest. Fierce resistance held the XXX COrps to small gains, but the British VIII Corps* launched the main effort the next day with an armored and two infantry divisions. On the 27th, the armored division secured a bridgehead over the Odon River that was enlarged during
* The British VIII Corps, Lieutenant General R.N. O'Connor commanding, had arrived in France on 15 June.
the next two day. However, by the 29th it had become apparent that the enemy had concentrated most of his available strength in this area; so Montgomery decided to hold the ground won and regroup for a renewed thrust farther to the east.
In contrast to the infantry-artillery fighting around Cherbourg, the battles in the British zone were mostly armored engagements. By the end of the month, the Germans had committed practically all of their strongest reserves, their panzer divisions, in this area. Moreover, the constant pressure around Caen had prevented the withdrawal of any of their panzer units for a counterattack that might have seriously threatened the Allied beachhead.
Whereas the Allies had landed twenty-five division (including five armored) by the end of June, the Germans had been able to concentrate only twenty division (including nine panzer=-typed divisions) in Normandy; and the bulk of four of these had been cut off and captured by the VII Corps. Rommel's reinforcements included two of the three panzer divisions from the Fifteenth Army sector, but only one infantry division from north of the Seine. Elements of most of the divisions in Brittany had been shifted north, and two SS panzer division, the 9th and 10th, had been recalled from the eastern front. The fact that these two divisions had taken so long to move from eastern France to Normandy as from Poland to the French frontier was indicative of the effectiveness of the Allied air operations. The destruction of the Seine bridges below Paris and the principal crossings of the Loire had virtually isolated Normandy except for the routes leading through the Paris-Orléans gap, and there the congested roads were offering rich targets for bombing and sabotage.
On 17 June, Hitler suddenly appeared in norther France (his first and only visit to the west after 1940). By that time, Rommel and Rundstedt were in agreement that their only hope was to withdraw from Caen to a strong defensive position that could be held by infantry while the panzer divisions were refitted for a powerful counteroffensive against the Americans in the Cotentin Peninsula. Characteristically, Hitler refused to consider such a proposal and insisted that the line beheld at all costs. The German Seventh Army commander, General Dollmann, died on 28 June from a heart attack and was replaced by Lieutenant General Hauser (the first SS officer to command a field army).* About 3 July, von Rundstedt
* Hauser had boasted that he reveled in the assignment of impossible tasks. General Montgomery was reported as countering with the remark that such was an essential qualification for any general who took command of the German Seventh Army at this time.
was relieved by Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge as Commander in Chief West. From then on, Hitler's personal interference in the strategy and tactics of the campaign was unchecked.
The greatest detriment to the Allied build-up had not been the enemy, but the weather. It will be recalled that two of the great Allied "secrete weapons" planned for the invasion were the artificial harbors that were to be installed at St. Laurent and Arromanches to provide the logistical support for the ground forces until large French ports could be captured. The placing of these installations began on D plus 1; and by 19 June, the American harbor, which was designed to provide moorings for seven liberty ships and twelve coasters, was about 90 per cent complete. The map inset shows the plan for this harbor, which was called MULBERRY A. But from 19 to 22 June, one of the worst summer gales in Channel history hit the Bay of the Seine. Unloading operations were virtually stopped, the floating steel caissons broke adrift and sank, the concrete caissons shifted, ferry craft broke loose and smashed into the piers, and the beach was strewn with some 800 stranded and damaged craft. Although the line of sunken ships held together fairly well, the American MULBERRY as a whole was irreparably damaged.* Fortunately, the DUKW's were still available; and by their efficient use, plus emergency measures such as "drying out" the landing ships and coasters so they could be unloaded directly onto the beaches, operations were soon under full swing again. General Eisenhower comments as follows on his visit after the storm:
There was no sight in the war that so impressed me with the industrial might of America as the wreckage on the landings beaches. To any other nation the disaster would have been almost decisive; but so great was America's productive capacity that the great storm occasioned little more than a ripple in the development of our build-up.**
In spite of the appalling damage wrought by the storm, by 26 June, OMAHA Beach was discharging 122 per cent of its planned cargo capacity; and thereafter, operations over the beaches continued to surpass our best expectations as supplies and personnel moved inland at an ever-increasing rate. By the 26th, 268,718 men, 40,191 vehicles, and 125,812 tons of cargo had been discharged over OMAHA Beach along.
* The British MULBERRY was less seriously damaged, and by using salvaged material from St. Laurent it was soon repaired. It operated effectively during the summer and autumn.
** Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
Expanding the Beachhead
By 1 July, the Allied commanders were not worried as much about a German counterattack that would threaten their beachhead as they were over the possibility that the enemy might bring in sufficient reserves to create a stalemate in Normandy. We still needed more room to maneuver; and we needed mor time to build up reserves of men, tanks, and supplies to support a sustained offensive toward the Seine. The general strategy for the breakout (which will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter) called for the main effort to be launched by the Americans on their right with the Allied line pivoted around the British at Caen, who would attempt to hold the bulk of the enemy strength in that area. Consequently, the period 1-24 July involved a struggle for limited objectives in which the First Army fought its way out of the restricted terrain at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula and into more open country west of St. Lô, and the British Second Army established strong forces southeast of Caen.
After the capture of Cherbourg, the VII Corps moved to the south and took over the portion of the First Army front around Carentan. Regrouping was completed by 3 July; and on that date the VIII Corps, on the right flank, began Bradley's offensive by launching an attack toward La Haye du Puits with three divisions.* In the fighting that ensued, slow progress was made through the marshlands and bocage country, where every field was a fortress and every hedgerow a German strong point. The VIII Corps converged on La Hay du Puits, capturing the town on the 7th; and by the 14th, Middleton had reached his initial objectives, around Lessay, where he was ordered to halt. On the 4th, two divisions of the VII Corps began an attack that met increasing resistance as it progressed along the Carentan-Periers road. On the 12th, this drive was halted, since it had gained the high ground southwest of Carentan; but General Collins continued to attack with his left, which was reinforced by two more divisions. By the 18th, the VII Corps had reached the Periers-St. Lô road and held the key terrain for the breakout to the south.**
The XIX Corps joined the First Army offensive on the 7th, when it struck across the Vire River and to the southwest. It then turned
* VIII Corps: 79th, 82d Airborne, 90th Divisions. The 82d Airborne Division was released to army reserve on 8 July and was replaced by the 8th Division.
** VII Corps: 4th, 83d, 9th, 30th Divisions. The 83d Division had relieved the 101st Airborne Division, which was placed in army reserve at Cherbourg. The 3d Armored Division was in corps reserve.
over the right of its zone to the VII Corps and on the 13th drove toward St. Lô with its two remaining divisions.* In spite of a strong counterattack, the XIX Corps closed in on St. Lô from the north and east and completed the occupation of the key road center by evening of the 18th. Since General Bradley's plan called for the greatest advance to be made on his right, the V Corps** remained relatively inactive. During the period 1-18 July, the First Army had gained its jump-off positions and had regrouped its divisions for the breakout that was scheduled to begin on 19 July. However, bad weather, which had limited air operations during the entire period, forced a postponement of the big attack until the 25th. During the difficult fighting in the marshlands and hedgerows, the enemy had put up a stubborn defense and had even shifted some of his strength from in front of the British, particularly the 2d SS Panzer Division,I to stop the Americans. in his book, General Eisenhower summarizes the significance and character of these operations as follows:
The Battle of the beachhead was a period of incessant and heavy fighting and one which, except for the capture of Cherbourg, showed few geographical gains. yet it was during this period that the stage was set for the later, spectacular liberation of France and Belgium. The struggle in the beachhead was responsible for many developments, both material and doctrinal, that stood us in good stead throughout the remainder of the war. . . .
* * * * * * * * * *Although the nature of the terrain and enemy resistance combined with weather to delay the final all-out attack until July 25, the interim was used in battling for position and in building up necessary reserves. . . . The artillery, except for long-range harassing fire, was of little usefulness [because of limited observation]. It was dogged "doughboy" fighting at its worst. Every division that participated in it came out of that action hardened, battle-wise, and self-confident.***
In the meantime, fierce armored battles had continued in the Caen area. if the American breakout was to succeed, it was essential that Dempsey contain most of the enemy's panzer forces on the Allied left; so Montgomery had directed the British Second Army to continue its offensive tactics. On 1 July, the Germans made their last and strongest effort against the British positions when elements of five SS Panzer divisions launched repeated, though not simultaneous,
* XIX Corps; 35th, 29th Divisions.
** V Corps: 2d, 5th Divisions. The 2d Armored and 1st Divisions were withdrawn into assembly areas in preparation for the next operation.
*** Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
attacks. Fortunately, the attackers were engaged by British massed artillery with telling effect, and were dispersed.
On the 8th, the British I Corps launched an attack Caen from the north, employing three infantry divisions supported by armor. To assist in this attack, the strategic air forces were called upon to blast an area on the northern outskirts of Caen, as shown on the map,* and heavy naval and artillery preparations were fired. By evening, the British I Corps had closed in on the outskirts, and by the end of the next day, had occupied that part of the devastated city west of the Orne. From 10 to 18 July, Dempsey continued to attack, maintaining pressure on as broad a front as possible. Considerable regrouping was also undertaken as the British XII Corps (Lieutenant General G.G. Simons commanding) took over the Caen sector from the British I Corps. Attacks by the British XXX and XII Corps failed to gain much ground, but they succeeded in forcing the enemy to keep his panzer units in the line.
On the 18th, the British VIII Corps launched a powerful attack to the south, using three armored divisions. This attack, assisted by another heavy air preparations** and naval bombardment, and supported on the right by the Canadian II Corps and on the left by the British I Corps, was pressed forward until the 21st, when rain turned the battlefield into a sea of mud. This last attack had been intended as a diversion to the main (American) breakout offensive, which, we have seen, was scheduled for the 19th but had to be postponed because of the weather. Although the British VIII Corps attack had gained only four miles--east and south of Caen--it had succeeded in drawing additional German forces to the east, destroying many enemy tanks, and placing the British in position to threaten seriously the strategic flank of the German forces in Normandy.
During the period between the capture of Cherbourg and the beginning of the breakout offensive, the bad weather continued to
* Six hours before the ground attack was launched, 460 aircraft of the R.A.F. Bomber Command dropped about 2,300 tons of 500- and 1,000-pound bombs on an area approximately 4,000 yards wide and 1,500 yards deep in the first "carpet-bombing" operation of the campaign.
** Some 1,700 heavy bombers of the Bomber Command and Eighth Air Force and 400 medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force took part in this preparation. The medium bombers were assigned a target area directly in front of the British VIII Corps, while the heavies were given targets a little farther away.
handicap air operations to some extent; but, as already indicated, the Allied air forces were able to offer strong support to the ground forces. A Ninth Air Force report describes the operations of the tactical air forces during this period:
The chief contribution of fighter-bombers was the almost total restriction of enemy movement and reinforcement during flyable daylight hours to a depth of approximately thirty kilometers behind the lines. Von Rundstedt reported to Berlin that "whenever assembly areas are detected, an attack by fighter-bombers is launched without delay." The planes were successful in attacks on strong points, troop formations, self-propelled guns, tanks, armored vehicles, and field fortifications at the fighting front and drastically reduced the volume of enemy artillery fire by their mere threatening presence over the battle area. The "Jabos," as the German troops called fighter-bombers, were indeed the Allies' "most terrible weapon."
During the first three weeks of July, the enemy, still fearful of a landing in the Pas de Calais, continued his half-hearted attempts to reinforce the battered units in Normandy by calling up divisions from southern France and Holland. Alarmed by the fall of Cherbourg, hitler ordered that every coastal fortress be reinforced and prepared for a long seige; and likewise, he ordered that every sizable town (such as St. Lô and Caen) be defended to the last. The explanation that OB West later gave for this hold-at-all cost policy of Hitler's was that, if everything else failed, he hoped to destroy enough Allied forces so that finally only the famous "one German battalion" would be left.*
During this period, several changes were made in the German High Command in the west. A new army, the Fifth Panzer, was organized in July with Lieutenant General Eberbach as commander.** On 17 July, Allied fighter-bombers attacked a car in which Rommel was visiting the front, and the German commander suffered a bad skill fracture.*** Field Marshal Kluge was directed to take over the post of commander of Army Group B in addition to his duties as Commander in Chief West, and he immediately established his personal headquarters with the army group staff.
* Hitler had once said that it did not matter so much how the war was fought or who won the battles if at the end the one battalion left was German.
** This headquarters had formerly functioned as Panzer Group West controlling the panzer divisions in Normandy.
*** Rommel recovered at his home in Ulm but, being implicated in the plot against Hitler, was given the choice of going to Berlin for interrogation or taking poison. He chose the latter and died on 14 October.
The invasion of western Europe constituted the long-awaited "second front" and proved that the Allies could seek the enemy out, engage him in combat, and defeat him on his own ground. It showed that we could do against the Continent what the Germans had not been able to do against England, that is, execute an amphibious assault on a well-defended hostile shore and secure a lodgement. In this most complex of military operations,k requiring the closest coordination of air, naval, and ground forces, painstaking and untiring efforts in the planning had borne fruit in successful operations. Undoubtedly, some details of planning and execution could have been improved; but, gauged by final results, OVERLORD was a success in every respect.
The Normandy campaign officially ended on 24 July. That date marked the successful conclusion of the greatest amphibious operation--an achievement that will undoubtedly have a profound influence on the art of war. It showed that beach maintenance can be relied upon under almost all conditions. By this means, there is conferred on the amphibious assault complete liberty regarding the point of attack, provided suitable beaches are available; and thus increased opportunities for surprise are obtained. Prior to 6 June 1944, the Allies had already demonstrated the practicability and effectiveness of amphibious operations in the Mediterranean and the Pacific, but it was in Normandy that we conclusively proved that large military forces could be landed and supported on a strongly defended hostile shore. in Normandy, the Allies landed and supplies thirty-four divisions across the beaches* during the first seven weeks of the campaign. The millionth man stepped ashore in France on D plus 28, and by D plus 38, a million tons of supplies and 300,000 vehicles had been landed.
The greatest advantage (aside from the top priority on most Allied resources) that OVERLORD enjoyed over most other amphibious operations of the war was the proximity of a great base--the United Kingdom. This factor enabled land-based aircraft ot maintain complete air superiority over the invasion area and the at the same time conduct a powerful air offensive against the enemy. For example, during good weather over 1,000 United States heavy bombers by day** and 1,000 British heavy bombers by night could be
* In Italy, the Fifth Army had supported about eight divisions over the beaches as Salerno, and later in the war, the Sixth Army supported about eleven divisions over the beaches of Luzon.
** On 12 June, the largest force of heavy bombers hitherto airborne on a single mission, 1,448 B-17's and B-24's, launched a mass attack on French air fields.
dispatched against strategic targets, while the Allied Expeditionary Air Force flew as many as 4,000 tactical sorties a day. In contrast, the Luftwaffe's activities were normally limited to defensive patrolling behind German lines, with an average of 300 to 350 sorties per day. Our naval victory in the Battle of the Atlantic had been so complete and our sea forces based in the British Isles were so strong that the biggest problem facing the Allied navies was the mines that the enemy managed to lay off the transport anchorages.* The logistical accomplishments would have been impossible, or would have required a fantastic number of ships, if the supplies had not been so readily availabe.
On the other hand, the invasion was no "push over." In order to use the close base, the Allies were forced to assault a strongly defended coast. The efficient Germans had had four years in which to build their much-propagandized Atlantic Wall; the geography of northwestern France favored the rapid transfer of troops to the threatened area; the enemy had available in France on eof the finest communication systems in the world, with its resultant advantage of interior lines; and strong armored units were available to counter any attempteed invasion. But overwhelming air superiority overcame all these disadvantages.
Another handicap to the Allies was the atrocious weather that persisted until August in plaguing the operations of the navies, the air forces, and the troops on the ground. A special proglem created by the very immensity of the project was the planning, organizing, and coordinating of the resources of two Allied powers. Perhaps the successful solution to this problem wsas th outstanding factor in the Allies' success; we know that dissension in its High Command contributed mightily to the collapse of Germany.
Unity of command had already been established as the best means of achieving coordination among the different services of one nation, but never before had such close cooperation between Allies been achieved. montgomery comments as follows in his book on the operations in western Europe:
it should be remebered that this highly complex Anglo-American oerganization set up for launching OVERLODRD had little more than five months for the completion of its task, from the time the higher command was finally settled. Events have amply shown that a splendid spirit of cooperation was established between the
* During the three months following D-day, the number of mines swept off the invasion ports totalled one-tenth of those swept in all theaters combined from the beginning of the war to 6 June.
British and American services and that under General Eisenhower a strong, loyal team was quickly brought into being, while the varoius components of the great invasion force were welded into a fine fighting machine.*
The lessons the Allies had learned in the Mediterranean were indeed well applied.
Certain features of the landing are of special interest:
- The airborne troops were employed on a hitherto unmatched scale. In spite of the difficulties they encountered, they demonstrated that, under conditions that are favorable for the use of parachute and glider units, the beach assault troops do not have to meet fresh enemy local reserves after exhausting themselves in overcoming the beach defenses, as was the case in the April 1915 landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Now, as happened in Normandy, the beach defenses and local reserves can be engaged simultaneously, the latter by airborne troops.
- Naval gunfire, although failing to knock out the beach strong points prior to the assault, provided effective support for the ground forces. Fire from destroyers that came in close to shore was particularly effective in attacking enemy beach strong points, and the larger ships provided heavy artillery support ** for the advance inland until heavy field artillery could be landed.
- Although they suffered heavy casualties, the early landing of tanks gave much needed strength to the assaulting infantry.
But the most important reason for the success of the landing must not be pushed into the background. W must not lose sight of the fact that, in spite of the intense pre-invasion air and sea bombardment, for the first few critical hours the issue rested squarely on the shoulders of those "few brave men"*** selected to set foot first on the soil of France. Overwhelming material superiority, the most detailed plans, and the most meticulous preparations could not insure the success of the operation without the bravery and determination of the officers and men who first advanced across the fire-swept beaches.
* The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Normandy to the Baltic (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1948).
** The two divisions that landed on OMAHA Beach on D-day were each supported by a naval fire-support group of a battleship, one or two cruisers, and four destroyers; and each infantry battalion was accompanied by a naval shore fire-control party.
*** Mr. Churchill once spoke of "the countless hours of work the enormous amount of time and effort that must be expended by thousands of people, in order that a few brave men can rush on to the beaches of France and plunge their bayonets into the bowels of the enemy."
Analysis of the lessons to be learned from the Normandy campaign brings out nothing more startling that the realization that the broad principles of troop leading and staff functioning as developed in the past are sound. The meter of success continues to be the ability of commanders to apply these principles. Unit of command, an aggressive spirit, coordination in amphibious and airborne operations, air-ground cooperation, infantry-tank coordination, and supply discipline are basic requirements for success in any military operation. OVERLORD confirmed all of these old lessons and brought out some new ones. Meticulously coordinated planning and frequent full-scale rehearsals are essential and eradicate many of the "bugs", making an operation as nearly sure-fire as possible; but in the actual assault, nothing will take the place of aggressive, intelligent leadership by all commanders* to overcome the inevitable difficulties, unforeseen and unpreventable, that arise in every tactical and logistical situation.
In his report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff,** General Eisenhower discussed the reasons for Germany's failure to stop the invasion:
Lack of infantry was the most important cause of the enemy's defeat in Normandy, and his failure to remedy this weakness was due primarily to the success of the Allied threats leveled agasint the Pas de Calais. . . . The German Fifteenth Army, which, if committed to battle in June or July, might possibly have defeated us by sheer weight of numbers, remained inoperative throughout the critical period of the campaign; and only when the breakthrough had been achieved were its infantry divisions brought west across the Seine--too late to have any effect upon the course of victory.
A certain amount of reinforcement of the Normandy front from other parts of France and from elsewhere in Europe did take place, but it was fatally slow. The rate of the enemy's build-up in the battle area during the first six weeks of the campaign averaged only about half a division per day. . . . This process of reinforcement was rendered hazardous and slow by the combined efforts of the Allied air forces and the French patriots. . . .
The consequence of these attacks upon enemy communications was that the Germans were compelled to detrain their reinforcement troops in eastern France, after a circuitous approach over a disorganized railway system, and then to move them up to the front by road. Road movement, however, was difficult by reason of the critical oil shortage, apart from the exposure of the columns to Allied bombing and strafing. Whole divisions were moved on seized bicycles, with much of their impedimenta on horse transport, while the heavy equipment had to follow as best it could by rail, usually arriving some time after the men. . . . Traveling under such conditions, the reinforcements arrived in Normandy in a
[* "Commanders" suggests, at a minimum, battalion-level officers and above. I believe a close look at the operations would show that lieutenants and sergeants were the ones who supplied the aggressive and intelligent leadership that cracked the German defenses and made the landings a success. -- HyperWar]
** Report by The Supreme Commander To the Combined Chiefs of Staff On the Operations in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945.
piecemeal fashion, and were promptly thrown into battle while still exhausted and unorganized. By mid-July, units had been milked from Brittany, the southwest and west of France, Holland, Poland, and Norway; only the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais, waiting for a new invasion which never came, was still untouched. . . .
[The] continuing failure by the enemy to form an armored reserve constitutes the outstanding feature of the campaign during June and July; to it we owed the successful establishment of our lodgement area, safe from the threat of counterattacks which might have driven us back into the sea. Every time an attempt was made to replace armor in the line with a newly arrived infantry division, a fresh attack necessitated its hasty recommittal. These continual Allied jabs compelled the enemy to maintain his expensive policy of frantically "plugging the holes" to avert a breakthrough. So long as the pressure continued, and so long as the threat to the Pas de Calais proved effective in preventing the move of infantry reinforcements from there across the Seine, the enemy had no alternative but to stand on the defensive and see the Seventh Army and Panzer Group West slowly bleed to death. All that he could do was play for time, denying us ground by fighting hard for every defensive position.
In defending against an invasion from the sea, there are certain sound principles of land warfare that may be applied. The most desirable procedure, of course, is to repel the invaders on the beaches; but it is seldom that a long coast line can be so strongly defended. If too many troops are committed to the defense of the shore line, the result will be a cordon defense, with insufficient reserves held out for a counteroffensive. So the best that can usually be done is to make the landings costly and contain the enemy within a small area while reserves are being assembled to "drive him into the sea." Properly timed, and with sufficient reserves available, the counteroffensive should be successful, for the invader is at a serious disadvantage during that early stage. Prior to the capture of a port, his supply problem is difficult; he can usually bring in only a limited amount of heavy material; and under ordinary conditions the follow-up divisions cannot come in as fast as the defender can assemble his reserves. So if the counteroffensive is made while the invader has one foot in the water and one on shore, it should have a good chance of success.
There are, however, two important points that apply to the counteroffensive. The first is that since the reserves must not be committed against a subsidiary or secondary landing, the commander must be able to recognize the main landing. If he attacks at the wrong place, it will probably be too late to rectify the mistake. The second point is that the reserves must be so located, and the road
and rail net such, that they can be assembled quickly at the proper place.
These principles were,of course, well known to the German High Command. Why then did it fail? The answer may be found in German documents that describe the situation on D-eay as understood by OKW:
The picture of the situation corresponded entirely to the [operations staff's] expectations with regard to the first phase of a large-scale invasion. It left the question open, in the [operations staff] as well as in OKL and OKM, as to whether this was a tactical diversion, a strategic landing with a limited objective, or the prelude to the decisive main effort. . . The picture of the situation at the time did not justify the opinion that the enemy's main landing operation had already begun. The choice of location, extent evident up to that moment, and prevailing weather conditions all indicated with much greater likelihood that this was a diversion or a holding attack, without any major strategic objective. . . Hitler, therefore, was still convinced on the afternoon of 6 June that the main landing was yet to come (either on the Channel coast or--in close cooperation with the landing between the Orne and the Vire--on the west coast of Normandy, or in Brittany).
The impression had not changed by 9 June, as we see from the following:
Evaluation of the information about the enemy and reports in the possession of OKW showed on 9 June that the enemy had not as yet committed in Normandy even 20 per cent of the combat units which, according to evidence on hand, he was presumed to have in England.
Even if it were assumed that Montgomery's group of armies was more or less tied down for the continuation and reinforcement of the battle in Normandy, the enemy still had at his disposal for further landings from England the whole group of armies under Patton, and for further landings from North Africa another group of some 15-20 combined-arms units. There was no reliable evidence as to the planned commitment of Patton's group of armies or of the North African group.
At that time the [operations staff] believed it fairly certain that the enemy would land his African group on the southern coast of France, since an attack against the deep flank of OB Southwest in Italy would mean excluding these Allied forces from the decisive battle in France, for the sake of a secondary operation. The question of where Patton's group of armies would attack still remained open.
It is apparent that German intelligence was not what it should have been and that the disruption of signal communications and the
general confusion in Normandy gave the High Command a distorted picture of the landings already made.
By 13 June, a rift in the German High Command was beginning to develop, as shown by the following:
The p[operations staff] submitted a brief estimate to Hitler, to the effect that one of the chief reasons for the unsatisfactory combat situation in Normandy was the conduct of operations in the west up until then, particularly the failure to stick to the principle established and approved before the invasion: [Once the enemy has landed, concentrate all forces against that one spot--regardless of risk--and destroy him there." The [operations staff] suggested that, regardless of the obscurity surrounding the intentions of Patton's group of armies and of the North African group, the risks involved on other coasts be accepted, the combat front in Normandy be reinforced by all forces available in the west, and, in addition, forces be transferred to France from other theaters on as large a scale as possible, the combat missions of these other theaters being altered accordingly. This would have meant a definite shifting of the main weight of our over-all effort to France.
The [operations staff] made this suggestion with the conviction that if the invasion in France could be wiped out in its present (first) phase, then time and forces would be available at a later date to make good the disadvantages and reverses now accepted on other fronts.
Hitler only partially approved this view. in particular, he could not bring himself--probably chiefly for political and economic reasons--to agree to a decisive weakening of other theaters of operations. . . . Hitler, who in those day again inclined to the opinion that Patton's group pf armies would make the second landing in the Fifteenth Army sector after all, ordered that the enemy's intention of preventing our commitment of strong forces in Normandy, by transmitting false radio announcements, was to be frustrated by concentrating our forces as much as possible and destroying the enemy beachhead little by little--the weakening of other fronts in the west must be accepted. But at the same time Hitler exempted the one really strong army int he west, Fifteenth Army, from giving up any appreciable number of troops.
Field Marshal Rundstedt reported as follows on a conference with hitler that he attended on 30 June:
After Rommel and I had given an exhaustive exposition of the complete untenability of the situation, no clear decision was reached. Always: Hold! Hold! New weapons are coming, new fighter planes, more troops--and the same old talk. Here again we said that now something political must happen. Icy silence.
I left the conference without any hope, arrived in St. Germain [Paris] after an eighteen hours' journey by automobile, and found the situation there had become still more acute.
The next day I was dismissed.
Finally, an OB West report includes a realistic account of the German situation in July:
The fighting raged on without pause, forcing Army Group B to constantly expend forces at the front, so that there could never be any real formation of a large reserve, let alone any planned relief and rehabilitation of units behind the front or any extensive construction of positions for sealing off Normandy. The field forces suffered incredibly under the massed air attacks, which we were powerless to engage in the air. Supplies were stalled, delivery of fuel had become particularly difficult, and, in the last analysis, all tactical measures of the panzer units were dictated by the amount of fuel available. These were the factors at the end of July 1944 which were to determine the outcome of the Normandy battle for the Western Allies.
In summary, some of the factors that contributed to the failure of the Wehrmacht to repel the invasion were as follows:
- Rigid adherence to a preconceived idea of the High Command (that the main landings would occur in the Pas de Calais).
- Lack of effective combat intelligence, which enabled the Allies to gain tactical surprise.
- Complete combat inferiority, particularly in the air.
- Lack of a strong, mobile strategic reserve.
- Dissension in the High Command, which resulted in a lack of a positive defensive strategy or authority to initiate prompt and effective countermeasures.
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