Late in 1943, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill agreed upon the appointment of General Eisenhower as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force.* A statement of his mission was included in a formal directive that was issued by the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 12 February:**
Plans and Preparations for the Invasion
You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces. The date for entering the Continent is the month of May 1944. After adequate Channel ports have been secured, exploitation will be directed towards securing an area that will facilitate both ground and air operations against the enemy.
With the announcement of this fateful decision, the die was cast. The years of uncertain preparation were over, and the authority to get on with the supreme task was at hand. The basic strategic tenet of the Western Allies--to defeat Germany first and to accomplish this task by an invasion of France and subsequent large-scale military operations on the historic battlefields of western Europe--was at last to be put to the test.
The months preceding D-day were busy ones. The command organizations to control the huge military machine were developed; plans were reviewed, revised, and expanded to include every detail of the complicated operations; the air forces launched their offensive to secure air supremacy and prepare the way for the invasion; intensive special training was given the assault forces; and the build-up of troops and stocks of supplies and equipment in the United Kingdom was completed.
It will be recalled that a staff known as COSSAC had been formed in early 1943 to develop plans for operations in western Europe. This staff was later expanded; and, after the acceptance of its OVERLORD outline plan at Quebec in September, it began to assume executive authority in developing that plan.*** On 13 February 1944, the COSSAC headquarters was redesignated Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).
The Allied High Command
The internal organization of SHAEF was patterned on the closely integrated Allied establishment that General Eisenhower had maintained at Allied Force Headquarters in the Mediterranean. The guiding principle in building up the various staff sections was that
* General Eisenhower was notified of his appointment on 10 December 1943. He returned briefly to Washington from North Africa and arrived in London on 15 January 1944.
** The full text of this directive is given in Appendix 1.
*** COSSAC was headed by Lieutenant General Sir Frederick E. Morgan.
there should be equal American and British representation. In general, the combined staff was fashioned along the lines of a high-echelon United States Army headquarters. The more important duties in SHAEF were originally distributed as follows: a British Deputy Supreme Commander (Air Chief Marshal Arthur W. Tedder); and American Chief of Staff (Lieutenant General Walter B. Smith); two British Deputy Chiefs of Staff, one for operations (Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan) and one for administration (Lieutenant General Humfrey M. Gale); American heads and British deputies for the G-1, G-3, and G-4 sections; and British heads and American deputies for the G-2 and G-5 sections. Tedder, Smith, and Gale constituted a highly qualified and experienced team that had functioned together under General Eisenhower in previous campaigns and whose presence insured that SHAEF would be a closely integrated Allied headquarters. The continuity of the work performed by COSSAC was maintained by retaining General Morgan as Deputy Chief of Staff, together with other officers from COSSAC headquarters.
The Supreme Commander controlled and coordinated the planning and execution of OVERLORD as a whole while delegating to the ground, naval, and air commanders the responsibility for planning the operation in detail. Planning on a strategic level, issuance of operational directives or mission-type orders, coordination between units on the same level when such coordination between the units themselves was impracticable (as in adjustment of army group boundaries), allocation of equipment used by both Americans and British, and the transfer or armies or smaller units between army groups were the province of SHAEF. Subordinate unit commanders were given the widest possible latitude in carrying out assigned missions. The Supreme Commander did not have control of the administration and discipline of any but United States forces, since such matters could be left to the commander of the troops of each nation.
The integration achieved in SHAEF was greater than any obtained in previous Allied undertakings and reflected the integration of the Combined CHiefs of Staff, from which SHAEF's authority stemmed. Such integration at the highest level and down through SHAEF materially aided in the elimination of misunderstandings, in the cohesion of effort, and in the reduction of internal friction within the headquarters. Had integration not been achieved, it would have been necessary to organize the staff along parallel lines and with "opposite numbers," with the resulting loss in efficiency and an increased probability of errors and misunderstandings. After
the structure of SHAEF had become firmly established and the integration of the staff completed, the nationality of the Supreme Commander or any of his principal subordinates had little effect on the operation of the staff. Because of the difficulties inherent in language, thought, customs, matériel, and operating methods, it would have been difficult for us to carry integration as far with any other nation.
The Allied forces under General Eisenhower's command included ground, naval, and air forces of the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Norway. Control of this diverse command was exercised not only through SHAEF (predominantly a ground staff) but also through an Allied naval commander and an Allied air commander. General Eisenhower decided against a permanent Allied ground commander because he believed that he would be so intimately in touch with the army groups that an additional headquarters in the chain of command would be unnecessary. He makes this comment in his book on the war:
In a theater so vast as ours each army group commander would be the ground commander in chief for his particular area; instead of one there would be three so-called commanders in chief for the ground and each would be supported by his own tactical air force. Back of all would be the power of the supreme commander to concentrate the entire air forces, including the bomber commands, on any front as needed, while the strength of each army group would be varied form time to time, depending on the importance of enemy positions to the progress of the whole force.*
However, the initial assault was foreseen as a single battle requiring the supervision of a single battle-line commander; and the United States First and British Second Armies, which comprised the assault forces, were placed under the 21st Army Group for the invasion. General Bernard L. Montgomery was appointed commander of the 21st Army Group and was designated as commander of all the assault forces.** An American staff, composed of personnel from the 1st Army Group, was attached to the 21st Army Group during the planning and assault periods. Logistical support for the First Army; but as soon as possible, the Communications Zone, operating directly under SHAEF, would assume that responsibility.
* Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
** The 21st Army Group had been activated in England in the spring of 1943. On 1 January 1944, General Montgomery handed over command of the Eighth Army in Italy and returned to England to assume his new command.
In November 1943, the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force (ANXF) was formed with the appointment of Admiral Sir Bertram H. Ramsay as Commander in Chief and the establishment of a combined naval headquarters. Admiral Ramsay was the naval advisor to General Eisenhower, as well as the naval planning authority.
Also in November 1943, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF) was formed with the appointment of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory as Commander in Chief and the establishment of a combined tactical air headquarters. This headquarters was to exercise operational control over the tactical air forces that were subordinate to SHAEF and would provide the close air support for the ground forces. The major components of this command were the United States Ninth Air Force* and the British Second Tactical Air Force. The Ninth Air Force was administered by the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe and the British Second Tactical Air Force by the R.A.F.. (In October 1944, Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Air Force, was dissolved and an air staff was formed as an integral part of SHAEF.)
The system of integration of personnel followed in SHAEF was also applied in the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force and the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force. Since the SHAEF staff was primarily concerned with ground operations, the coordination of ground, air, and naval operations was accomplished by a joint planing staff that reported to General Smith. It included representatives from the staff sections of SHAEF, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, and the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force.
The strategic air forces were controlled by the Combined CHiefs of Staff, and as a matter of principle, were not made subordinate to General Eisenhower. He requested, however, that he be given control of these forces during the critical periods preceding and immediately succeeding the invasion. In April 1944, the Combined Chiefs of Staff acceded to this request, and the Eighth Air Force and the R.A.F. Bomber Command were placed under SHAEF. The control of the strategic air forces reverted to the Combined Chiefs in September 1944, with the understanding that the heavy bombers would be made available for ground support when considered necessary by the Supreme Commander.
While the enemy was preparing to thwart any attempt to invade the Continent, the High Command of the United States and the
* The Ninth Air Force was organized in Egypt in 1942 and was reconstituted in the United Kingdom on 16 October 1943.
British Commonwealth shaped its final plans and marshalled its resources to assure the success of the invasion. On the soundness of those plans depended the lives of many men and the fate of many issues.
The OVERLORD Plan.--Object of the Plan.--The object of the OVERLORD Plan was to mount and carry out an operation with the forces and equipment established in the United Kingdom in order to secure a lodgement on the Continent from which further offensive operations could be developed. it was essential that the lodgement area contain sufficient port facilities to maintain a force of twenty-six to thirty divisions and to accommodate follow-up shipments of three to five divisions per month. The Cherbourg-Brittany group of ports (from Cherbourg to Nantes) was selected for inclusion in the lodgement area, with the assault landing to be made over the Normandy beaches west of Caen.
Preliminary Phase.--All possible means, including air and sea action, propaganda, political and economic pressure, and sabotage, would be integrated into a combined offensive aimed at softening German resistance. Such action would be so designed as to avoid focusing attention on the Caen area. In particular, this program envisaged the reduction of the German air forces in the west, progressive destruction of the German economic system, and the undermining of the enemy's morale. (It will be recalled that this phase began in 1943.)
Preparatory Phase.--Just prior to D-day, air action would be intensified against the German air forces, especially in northwestern France; and attacks would be made against lines of communication directly associated with the movement of enemy reserves that might reinforce the Caen area. The assault forces would be assembled with naval escorts and loaded at ports along the south coast of England.
Assault.--The Normandy beaches between the Orne River and the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula* were to be the sites for the amphibious assaults. landing craft were provided to transport two British, one Canadian, and two United States divisions (one of which was composite), with attached units. landing craft and ships for two additional divisions were to be provided for follow-up on the second tide of D-day. Airborne landings would be undertaken by one British division near Caen and two American divisions
* The Cotentin Peninsula is the peninsula on which Cherbourg is situated.
in the Carentan area about six hours in advance of the amphibious assaults. Heavy air and naval bombardment of targets in rear areas and enemy installations on the beaches would precede the amphibious assault. A diversion would be launched in the Pas de Calais area to hold enemy forces in the north.
Expansion of the Beachhead.--The United States forces, on the right, would capture Cherbourg as quickly as possible and develop the beachhead to the south toward St. Lô in conformity with the advance of the British. The British, on the left, would develop the beachhead south of the line St. Lô-Caen and southeast of Caen to secure airfield sites and protect the Americans' left flank while the latter captured Cherbourg.
Securing the Lodgement Area.--Subsequent operations toward Germany would require the securing of additional ports and airfield sites. Accordingly, the plan provided for an eastern expansion of the beachhead along the lower Seine to Rouen, thence up the Eure River to Dreux; the simultaneous seizure of Chartres, Orléans, and Tours; and a drive south by American troops to cut off the Brittany Peninsula so as to pave the way for the opening of the Brittany ports and the development of a harbor at Quiberon Bay. The lodgement area would be cleared of the enemy as far south as the Loire before an advance would be made beyond Paris and the Seine ports. It was anticipated that a period of about three months would be required to achieve these objectives. (The map shows the planned development of OVERLORD from D-day to D plus 90.)
This final plan followed closely the COSSAC plan developed in 1943, with the exception of the size and employment of the assault forces. Because of the historical significance of this great triphibious invasion, a more detailed examination of some of the most important factors influencing the adoption of the plan and its major changes in worth while. A more complete discussion of the actual assault plans will be given later.
Factors Influencing the Plan.--In developing OVERLORD, the planners considered four major factors:
- The capacity of beaches and ports in the lodgement area.
- The possibility of attaining the air superiority necessary to provide effective air cover in the assault area with fighter aircraft based in England.
- The number of offensive divisions which the enemy could make available for counterattack in the assault area.
- The availability of landing craft and transport aircraft.
In any event, it would be necessary to select a lodgement area which included a group of major ports if the large forces that would eventually be employed on the Continent were to be maintained. It had to be assumed that captured ports would be seriously damaged; therefore, adequate beaches and artificial anchorages, in addition to the major ports, were also considered logistical prerequisites to a successful invasion. Since the planners had early judged the securing of lodgements on the Danish and German coasts as impracticable, in the OVERLORD plan they limited their considerations to the coasts of Holland and Belgium and the Channel and Atlantic coasts of France. In this are, it was estimated that any one of six groups of ports would support an initial force of thirty divisions and allow further expansion, although additional ports would have to be captured later. These groups were the Dutch-Belgian group from Dunkirk to Rotterdam; the Pas de Calais-Belgian group from Boulogne to Antwerp; the Seine-Pas de Calais group from Rouen to Calais; the Cherbourg-Seine group from Nantes to Caen; and the Biscay-Brittany group from Bordeaux to Brest. The beachhead areas in these groups were then considered, and four were rejected for the following reasons:
The Coasts of Holland and Belgium.--Adequate air cover could not be provided so far from England; limited road exits made the beaches unsuitable for maintenance on a large scale; on the Dutch coast there is insufficient tidal range to dry out coasters; beaches in the Belgian sector, although having a high capacity, are backed by extensive sand dunes; the beaches are exposed to prevailing winds.
The Coastal Area Immediately Adjacent to the Mouth of the Seine River.--The Seine would necessitate the splitting of forces without prospect of an early junction; wide separation of beaches would disperse and weaken air cover; the good beaches south fo the Seine were covered by guns on the Cape of Le Havre; the beaches north of the Seine, being small and scattered, would subject the assault forces to defeat in detail if they were immediately counterattacked by German reserves.
The Brittany Peninsula.--The beaches are too small and scattered for an assault by a large force; adequate air cover could not be provided so far from England.
The Biscay Coast.--Adequate air cover could not be provided so far from England; the naval commitment would be too large.
This left the Pas de Calais and Caen-Cotentin as the most acceptable beachhead areas. A more detailed examination of these two will indicate some of the major reasons that influenced the selection of the Caen area.
It was known that the Pas de Calais was the most strongly defended part of the French coast and the pivot of the German coastal defense system. Although its beaches have a high capacity, they are exposed to the prevailing winds, are backed by extensive sand dunes, and south of Boulogne are dominated by high ground. Exits from the beaches are generally limited to stream or river valleys; and all exits were blocked by numerous obstacles such as concrete walls, mine field,s and antitank ditches. Inland, the terrain is flat to rolling limestone country, and there are no suitable natural defensive positions.
On the other hand, in the Caen area there are two large beaches within reasonable supporting distance that provide excellent landing facilities. These beaches are reasonably well sheltered from the prevailing winds, and their exits are more numerous than those in the Pas de Calais area. Inland, there are favorable features for defending the initial beachhead; and, except for an area between Caen and Bayeux, the ground is unfavorable for counterattack by armored divisions. large portions of the region are bocage--land divided by trees, hedges, banks, and ditches into many small fields and traversed by sunken roads lined by steep banks. The Normandy hills, some twenty-five miles from the coast and running southeast to northwest, could also provide some protection against enemy attacks.
The tow most important logistical factors were the mounting of the expedition and its supply and reinforcement. Western England did not offer satisfactory shore embarkation facilities, and eastern England already was burdened by air-force installations and operations. on the other hand, southern England offered many ports, suitable shore conditions, ample space for supplies and troops, and good road and rail facilities. However, the use of southern England for mounting the operation meant that great difficulty would be encountered in any attempt to move the assault force to a point north of Calais.
Since it was anticipated that most of the supplies and equipment would have to pass over the beaches while ports were being restored, the capacity of beaches to accept and move vehicles and stores was a major factor; and two artificial harbors that were to be constructed as early as possible required maximum protection from prevailing Channel storms.
A landing in the Pas de Calais area would permit a rapid turn-around of shipping; but the main ports in the area, Boulogne and Calais, were believed capable of maintaining only nine to twelve divisions after three months. In order to obtain the requisite port facilities to maintain thirty divisions, it would be necessary to expand the beachhead eastward to include the ports from Boulogne to Antwerp, or southwestward to secure those from Calais to Le Havre and Rouen. In the Caen area, since there are no sizable ports, it would be important to capture and develop Cherbourg as early as possible. After capturing Cherbourg, it would be necessary to drive either eastward to the Seine ports or southwestward to the Brittany group, the latter course being considered the more likely alternative. Cherbourg and the major Brittany ports were expected to be able to support thirty-one divisions after three months' development; or, if all minor ports were included, this force could be supported after one month's development; and forty-five divisions could be supported after three months.
The two main air factors governing the selection of a lodgement area were the provision of air cover during the assault phase and the rapid construction of airfields in the initial beachhead and later in the lodgement area as a whole. The necessity for air cover by land-based aircraft during the assault phase limited possible assault areas to that section of the coast between Flushing and Cherbourg. The best coastal area was that of the Pas de Calais. Eastward, the ease of providing air cover decreased rapidly toward Flushing. Westward, it decreased steadily as far as the Seine, reached its weakest point in the Caen area, and then increased slightly over the Cotentin Peninsula. Provision for Continental air bases was governed by the number of existing airfields and the general suitability of the terrain for the construction of new airfields. It was noted that the greatest concentration of existing airfields within a short distance of the coast was south and southeast of Calais. In the Seine area there were a few airfields near the coast, whereas in the Caen area there was only one airfield; but the terrain southeast of Caen is most favorable for rapid airfield construction. There were two airfields in the Cotentin area, but the terrain in that region does not lend itself to rapid construction of new ones. So it was concluded that, from the airman's point of view, the Pas de Calais sector was pre-eminently the most suitable for the initial beachhead. However, if the combat value of the German fighter and fighter-bomber force that might be brought to bear in the assault area could be reduced sufficiently, the Caen area was acceptable. our squadrons would be based originally at 190 airfields in
the United Kingdom. Of these fields, sixty-three were within a radius of 150 miles of the lodgement area and the remaining 127 were at an average distance of 185 miles. During the follow-up and build-up phases it would be necessary to establish airfields on the Continent from which our fighters, fighter-bombers, and reconnaissance squadrons could operate. Light bombers would continue to operate from England as long as they could reach their assigned targets, and heavy bombers would operate from England throughout the campaign.
Naval considerations gave great weight to the fixed seacoast defenses. The many long-range guns in the Pas de Calais threatened all shipping in the Strait of Dover and offset the advantages which that area offered in short turn-around periods and better air protection of naval craft. The Caen sector and the eastern Cotentin sector was protected by some coast artillery.
From the analysis of ground, logistical, air, and naval considerations, it was concluded that the assault should be made on the Caen beaches, utilizing the Pas de Calais for diversionary operations. The governing factors that led to this decision may be summarized as follows:
- The enemy's seacoast defenses and his numerical strength in the Caen area were weaker than in the Pas de Calais area.
- His capability of reinforcing his coastal defenses in the Caen area was less than that in the Pas de Calais area.
- The beaches and beach exits in the Caen area were more favorable for the operations of the assault and build-up forces than those in the Pas de Calais area.
The Caen area was chosen in spite of the fact that air cover could not be as effective as in the Pas de Calais and the turn-around time of landing craft and ships would be greater.
Major Changes in OVERLORD.--The original COSSAC plan had provided fro a three-division assault on the Caen beaches, followed the same day by approximately two more preloaded follow-up divisions; the seizure of Caen by airborne forces of about one division; and a D-day objective of the general line Bayeux-Caen. As forces became available, a thrust would be made to the south to gain depth for a turning movement into the Cotentin Peninsula; and when that drive was launched to seize Cherbourg, other forces would attack to the southeast.
General Eisenhower and his commanders had examined this OVERLORD plan on their arrival in England, and at their first meeting in January, all were in agreement that the assaulting force of three divisions (all that landing craft estimated to be available allowed) was insufficient. Eisenhower therefore modified the plan so as to increase the strength of the assaulting forces to five divisions, to widen the assault area to include the eastern Cotentin beaches, and to expand the D-day objective to include Carentan, Bayeux, and Caen. Two additional airborne divisions would be employed to support the troops assaulting the beaches north of Carentan.
The drive into the Cotentin Peninsula from the beachhead area, as contemplated in the original plan, would be difficult if the enemy should make use of the marshes and rivers at the neck of the peninsula as a defensive barrier; but the COSSAC planners had considered that an assault on both sides of the Carentan Estuary would be unsound in that it would expose our forces to defeat in detail. Nevertheless, the apparent key to any plan to capture Cherbourg quickly was a landing on the north side of this barrier; and since the early capture of the Cotentin Peninsula and Cherbourg was vital, General Eisenhower considered it advisable to extend the assault area.
The main problem created by this change in the OVERLORD plan was that of making additional landing craft available without a prolonged postponement of D-day. The new plan called for a total of seven preloaded divisions (five assault and two follow-up), and in order to transport the two additional divisions it was estimated that a total of 231 additional ships and craft would be required. By delaying the operation for one month, it was hoped that a substantial number of these landing craft could be produced in the United Kingdom. Others could be made available by reducing the number of vehicles allotted for administrative and technical purposes, but the remainder would have to be drawn from the Mediterranean area or from other sources. This postponement of the target date from 1 May to early June was also desirable from an air point of view because it would give an additional month of good weather for preparatory air operations and for training the necessary additional troop-carrier crews.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff approved General Eisenhower's recommendation for changes in the plan. Measures to obtain the landing craft for the additional assault divisions were then initiated, but continued to be a most serious problem. Finally (in March), the date of the landing in southern France was postponed, and the
greater portion of the extra craft for OVERLORD was provided form the Mediterranean Theater.
One other major modification was made in OVERLORD. In lieu of opening the ports of Nantes and St. Nazaire to support the logistical build-up in the lodgement area, it was decided to develop Quiberon Bay as a major port of entry for United States forces. however, since this plan, called CHASTITY, was never put into effect, we need not examine it further.
Another matter that received careful consideration was that of security. Since it was impossible to keep secret so vast an undertaking, General Eisenhower did not attempt to conceal the fact that there was to be an invasion. On the contrary, he broadcast it and thus engaged in a bit of psychological warfare that increased the strain on the waiting enemy armies and the German people. But tactical surprise had to be gained to insure the success of the assault; and if the world knew that there were to be landings in western Europe, the secret of where and when they were to be made was carefully guarded. From the Brittany Peninsula to the Zuider Zee is a stretch of 700 miles of coast line, and on the day of the invasion the Germans were still speculating as to where and when the blow would fall. They were also to be surprised by the great combat power thrown against them and the means used by the Allies in supplying and maintaining that power. Rigid security restrictions were enforced, various deceptive measures were employed, and frequent "dry-run" mounting exercises had even our own troops guessing as to when the real assault would begin. The success of the invasion attests to the effectiveness of these measures.
It will be recalled that the OVERLORD plan outlined definite missions for the air forces in the preliminary and preparatory phases of the invasion. In addition to POINTBLANK, the Combined Bomber Offensive against German industry that was growing in intensity every day, air superiority over the invasion area had to be secured; and air power had to isolate the lodgement area so that the enemy would be unable to bring up major reserves before the Allies had secured their beachhead.
The Allied Air Offensive
The Opposing Air Forces.--Allied Air Forces.--During the fall and winter of 1943-44, the air forces in the United Kingdom were reorganized and greatly expanded. The following extracts from
official reports describe the major components of the Allied air forces that participated in OVERLORD:*
Strategic Air Forces:
United States Eighth Air Force--a composite heavy bomber and long-range fighter force, commanded by lieutenant General James H. Doolittle. It comprised three air divisions (the 1st and 3d Divisions were equipped with B-17's, the 2d Division with B-24's) and operated primarily as a daylight precision-bombing force. This force was based in the United Kingdom, but later in the war two groups of its fighters used advanced fields on the Continent from which, when not engaged in escorting bomber forces, they operated as tactical fighters with the Ninth Air Force.
RAD Bomber Command--a force of heavy and medium bombers under command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris. This force, primarily a heavy night-bomber force, also operated on many daylight missions in the final phases of the war. It was based throughout on airfields in the United Kingdom.
Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force--a composite of United States and British forces. It consisted of the United States Fifteenth Air FOrce, under command of Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining, and a R.A.F. unit (No. 205 Group), primarily a heavy night-bomber group. This force was based in Italy and was commanded by Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker.
Tactical Air Forces:
United States Ninth Air Force--commanded initially by Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton and later by Lieutenant General Hoyt S. Vandenburg. It comprised a strong medium bomber force, the 9th Bombardment Division, commanded by Major General Samuel E. Anderson; the IX Tactical Air Command under Major General Elwood R. Quesada, a force of fighters and fighter-bombers designated to cooperate with the United States First Army; the XIX Tactical Air Command under Major General Otto P. Weyland, a force of fighters and fighter-bombers designated to cooperate with the United States Third Army; and appropriate air service, aviation engineer, and air defense commands. All of these forces were based initially in the United Kingdom and rapidly moved to the Continent as soon as adequate facilities became available.
* The designations of various air units in World War II differed somewhat from present-day terminology, the principal difference being in the use of the term command. The following table shows the present and World War II terminology and the comparable command levels as established by Air Force and Army directives:
Army Units Current
Air Force Units
World War II Examples Army Group Air Command United States Strategic Air Forces, Allied Expeditionary Air Force Army Air Force Eight Air Force Corps Air Corps IX Tactical Air Command Division Air Division 9th Bombardment Division
R.A.F. Second Tactical Air Force--commanded by Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham. It comprised a day- and night-bomber force, No. 2 Group; No. 83 Group, a force of fighters and fighter-bombers assigned to cooperate with the British Second Army; No. 84 Group, a force of fighters and fighter-bombers assigned to cooperate with the Canadian First Army; No. 85 Group, a base-defense group operating fighters and night fighters; and appropriate maintenance and ancillary forces. All these forces were based initially in the United Kingdom and moved to the Continent as soon as adequate facilities were available.
Other Air Forces:
R.A.F. Coastal Command--a force of long-range patrol aircraft and torpedo- and rocket-firing aircraft. it was based principally in the United Kingdom, with some coastal reconnaissance units on Continental airfields. Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholot Douglas commanded this force, which operated with the Admiralty in the anti-submarine war.
R.A.F. Fighter Command--a day- and night-fighter force based in the United Kingdom and commanded by Air Marshal Sir Roderic M. Hill. Its chief function was the aerial defense of the Allied United Kingdom base; it also provided strike aircraft and fighter escort for the daylight missions of Bomber Command and Coastal Command.
Troop Carrier Forces--the IX Troop Carrier Command, commanded by major General Paul L. Williams; R.A.F. No. 38 and No. 46 Groups; and appropriate air service, maintenance, and ancillary units. . . . Shortly after D-day the IX Troop Carrier Command was assigned to the First Allied Airborne Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton. No. 38 and No. 46 Groups were never assigned to this army, but they were made available for the airborne operations. Besides troop-carrying operations, these units carried emergency supplies for both air and ground units to forward airfields under the auspices of a Combined Air Transport Operation Room set up in the G-3 section of SHAEF.
The control of these units, the strategic air forces by the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the tactical air forces (Allied Expeditionary Air Force) by General Eisenhower through his air commander, has already been described. One other higher air headquarters was formed that played a very important part in the air operations over Europe. This was known as the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSAF) and was commanded by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz. This headquarters was established in January 1944 to coordinate the activities of all American heavy bombers that operated over Europe. General Spaatz exercised operational control over both the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces, and in addition, he exercised administrative control over all United States air forces based in western Europe. Spaatz' and Doolittle's
experiences with Eisenhower and Tedder in the Mediterranean insured continued close coordination between the American heavy bombers and SHAEF. The Royal Canadian Air Force was integrated with the Royal Air Force and, although seldom mentioned separately in this account, contributed materially to the Allied air effort.*
The rapid expansion of the Allied air forces that operated over Europe during the nine months preceding D-day is indicated in the following table:
September 1943 May 1944 American British Total American British Total Average aircraft employed 5,236 11,897 17,133 12,025 13,391 25,416 Personnel 283,365 655,108 938,473 592,204 702,094 1,294,298 Bomb tonnage dropped 22,686 23,518 46,204 96,464 51,302 147,766
It will be noted that during this period, the American air forces grew from a junior partner of the R.A.F. to the hardest hitting component of the great Allied air team.
Not only were the air forces reorganized and expanded, but the many technical and tactical improvements that had been initiated in 1941 and 1942 had greatly increased the over-all efficiency. For example, improvements in weather forecasting, instrument bombing technique and equipment, and operating procedures had advanced so much that whereas in 1942 our bombers could operate on an average of only six days per month, in the last year of the war they averaged twenty-two days per month. Perhaps the greatest asset to the strategic bomber offensive was the increased range of fighter escort for the daylight bombers of the Eighth Air Force. Although even in late 1943 the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe and our lack of fighter escort still threatened to halt the American daylight precision bombing program over Germany, by early 1944 long-range fighters equipped with wing tanks were able to provide fighter escort for the B-17's and B-24's as far as Berlin.**
Thus, by January 1944, although three big obstacles--the weather, the German Air Force, and distance--were still present, the solutions to the problems were at hand. The Allied heavy bombers
* The Royal Canadian Air Force oversea contingent comprised forth-eight squadrons, including fifteen heavy bomber squadrons in the Bomber Command, seventeen squadrons of day fighters with the Second Tactical Air Force, six squadrons in the Coastal Command, four squadrons of night fighters and intruders, and six other miscellaneous squadrons. In addition, many thousands of Royal Canadian Air FOrce personnel served in other R.A.F. units.
** Later the fighters operated at even greater distances, the P-51 having the longest range. The P-38 and P-47 were also used, although they never attained the range of the P-51.
would soon be able to range over the length and breadth of Germany, day and night, with adequate escort over the entire route; and they had the ability to bomb with reasonable accuracy without visual reference to the ground.
German Air Force.--By early 1944, the air defenses of the Reich had been strengthened in three principal ways: increased production of aircraft, transfer of aircraft from other theaters to western Europe, and increased effectiveness in the employment of the German fighters. According to German reports, 15,556 aircraft were produced in 1942; but in 1944, the total wsa 39,807, about 65 per cent of which were single-engine fighters. in the fall of 1942, only 14 per cent of the enemy's single-engine fighters were employed on the western front, but during the last ten months of the war, this figure increased to 67 per cent. The efficiency of the German fighters was improved through increased armament; and the highest losses suffered by the Eighth Air Force to enemy aircraft occurred in March and April of 1944, when our bombers were lost at the rate of 17.7 per 100 sorties.*
Another peril the Allied air forces had to face was German antiaircraft artillery fire. As the air war progressed, the Germans grouped a large number of their heavy antiaircraft guns around important targets to achieve a dense concentration of flak against our bombers for the maximum length of time. This massing of fire proved very effective, as borne out by the fact that in 1943 flak accounted for one-third of the bombers lost by the Eighth Air Force and two-thirds of those that were damaged. From then on, there was a steady increase in the damage caused by flak until June, July, and August of 1944, when it accounted for about two-thirds of the 700 bombers lost and 98 per cent of the 13,000 damaged.
On the other hand, we now know that the German Air Force had failed to keep up with the Allies in size and in efficiency. Initially, the German High Command designed the Luftwaffe as purely an offensive weapon, to be used in attacking hostile countries and supporting the Army; and they pinned their faith on flak to defend the homeland. Through the early years of the war, until 1942, the Air Force underwent very little expansion. Apparently the easy victories in 1939 and 1940 fostered the belief that the Luftwaffe was adequate for any task. Production priorities for aircraft fell behind tanks and U-boats. Because of the low priority initially given air-defense activities, the development of new technical equipment
* In the fall of 1942, the rate had been 5.8 bombers lost per 100 sorties.
suffered a time lag of about two years.* As the Allied offensive developed in the east, in the south, and in the west, the German Air Force found itself overextended and unable even to give adequate support to the Army.
For operational purposes, the German Air Force was divided into five luftflotten (air fleets or air forces). One of these, Luftflotte Reich (General Stumpff), was charged with the air defense of Germany and controlled both antiaircraft artillery and fighter aircraft.** However, coordination between the artillery and the air units was never perfected, and the whole air-defense system lacked integrated staffs and competent air-defense commanders familiar with the problems and operations of both arms. In addition, the air defense of the Reich was handicapped by a deterioration in the quality of personnel. At the beginning of the war, those manning the flak guns were carefully selected; but as the war progressed, flak troops were transferred to infantry and armored divisions and were replaced by women, old men, prisoners of war, and members of the Hitler youth organization. Even more serious was the quality of the German pilots, which steadily declined as a shortage of aircraft and aviation fuels restricted training. Thus by 1944, although the Luftwaffe was still offering a formidable defense of the fatherland, basically it had decayed and was very vulnerable to the tremendous air power that was being concentrated against it.
Air Superiority.--The primary job of the Allied air forces--as it had been all along--was to win the air war with the Luftwaffe. The combined efforts of the strategic and tactical air forces were applied to this end; and the victory was won by a combination of three measures: an attack unprecedented in scale and inclusiveness on the enemy's aircraft production industry; the harrying, disruption, and destruction of his operational bases, including aircraft on the ground and forward repair facilities; and overwhelming pressure of combat in the skies. New target priorities were assigned the strategic air forces: fighter aircraft factories, fighters on the ground and in the air, and ball-bearing factories. The Ninth Air Force supported these operations by striking German airfields in attacks so timed as to reduce the concentration of enemy fighters that might oppose the heavy bomber formations, while diversionary fighter sweeps further dislocated the air opposition.
* Captured German documents show that a great many new technical and matériel developments for air defense (such as improved radar, ground controlled flak rockets, proximity fuses, and new types of jet-propelled fighters and bombers were due to reach the production stage in 1945.
** Luftflotte 3 was the operational air force in western Europe.
The decisive battle came sooner than expected. On 20 February 1944, there began six days of perfect weather that were utilized for a continuous assault on the widely dispersed German aircraft-frame factories and assembly plants. This sustained attack, called the "Big Week," seriously reduced the capabilities of the LUftwaffe. General Spaatz said: "In the minds of our air leaders the Big Week was the turning point in the war. That is, the success of the Big Week confirmed belief in the strategic air bombardment concept. We knew then that we could destroy the German capacity to make war."
General Arnold described this great air battle as follows:
On Sunday, 20 February, in the first good weather in weeks, we struck. Nearly 1,000 American bombers escorted by fighters attacked fighter-plane factories at Brunswick and Leipzig in our heaviest assault of the war up to that time. A large part of the force was directed at the Messerschmitt 109 assembly factory and aircraft component plants at Leipzig. Defenses there had been alerted by an R.A.F. attack the night before, and the Nazis rose in force. One gunner reported, "The Luftwaffe had all their planes up but their trainers." Another said: "We caught flak, rockets, and trailing attacks. Twenty-millimeter shells came zinging past with our names and rank on them, everything but our serial numbers." Enemy fighters attacked some bomber formations for three hours, making head-on attacks in groups of ten or more.
Bombing results were good.
Production was stopped at the Leipzig factories which had bene making 30 per cent of all single- and twin-engined fighters. Output at Brunswick fighter assembly plants had been interrupted by previous attacks, and Sunday's bombardment put them out of business for four more months.
The Royal Air Force bombed that night.
On Monday Lieutenant General Doolittle's Eighth Air Force heavies were over in force again. Tuesday they were joined by bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, in the first coordinated attack of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe. On Thursday the Eighth and Fifteenth struck another coordinated blow at German aircraft production. On Friday, for the fifth time in the week, we struck at aircraft factories. More than 2,000 planes from the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces set out for Regensburg, Augsburg, Furth, and Stuttgart. The operation set a new record for size; it climaxed five days of assault against one of Germany's most vital and well-protected industries, yet, significantly, official reports said, "Enemy fighter resistance was on a reduced scale."
Those five days changed the history of the air war.
From that time on the Luftwaffe, converted to a defensive air force, was non longer an effective defensive air force. It was still potent, but it could no longer challenge our aircraft anywhere and
everywhere we flew over German-held territory. From that day the Luftwaffe rose to battle only when it believed it had local superiority or when high-priority targets were under attack.
We paid a price for the air. We lost 244 heavy bombers and 33 fighter planes during the five days. The Germans lost 692 aircraft in the air and many more on the ground. Beyond that, they lost to a great extent the capacity to replace their losses.
The heavy bomber attacks seriously damaged the German aircraft assembly plant system, and subsequent attacks affected the entire aircraft industry. Production actually continued to increase slightly as a result of prodigious efforts of German industry, but these attacks frustrated plans for expansion of the German Air Force; and the aircraft industry never fully recovered. Continuous attacks on factories, airfields, and aircraft in the air and on the ground maintained Allied control of the skies over Europe to the end of the war. General Keller, last chief of staff of the German Air Force, noted in his diary an airman's reasons for Germany's defeat:
There are many reasons which caused Germany to lose the war, reasons brought about by our own mistakes in political, economic, and military matters. None of these reasons were singularly decisive; nor were they collectively decisive. However, the loss of air superiority was alone decisive.
A report of the Strategic Bombing Survey lists some salient facts with respect to German aircraft production and the defeat of the German Air Force:
First: The German Air Force was originally designed for direct support of ground operations, and lack of a long-range bomber force proved a grave strategic error.
Second: Due to overconfidence, no attempt was made to utilize the full capacity of the German aircraft industry until after the initiation of the Combined Bomber Offensive in June 1943.
Third: The attacks on German airframe production in the year 1943 and February 1944 contributed significantly to the winning of air supremacy in the critical air battles of the early months of 1944.
Fourth: An over-all shortage of aviation gasoline resulted in the curtailment of flying training as early as 1942; and this decision was reflected in a deterioration of quality of personnel, which was the principal cause of the defeat of the German Air Force.
Fifth: The German Air Force lost control of the air in the early months of 1944 and never regained it thereafter.
Sixth: Air attack on the German petroleum industry in the summer of 1944 prevented the possibility of revival of a German Air Force utilizing conventional-type aircraft; hence the increase in production of such aircraft which took place after D-day was of little military significance.
Seventh: Thereafter, the creation of a small force composed of high-performance jet-type aircraft manned by qualified personnel and operating on low-grade fuels was the only method left to combat the Allied air offensive. The development of htis type of force was not achieved in time to be a serious threat.
Some of the blunders committed by the German High Command that led to the collapse of the air defenses of the Reich are summarized in another report:
- The original tenet of the German High command in designing the Luftwaffe as an offensive striking force resulted in air defense having a very low priority.
- Because of this low priority given to air-defense activities, a time lag of two years resulted in the development of flak, radar, jamming, and fighters.
- The principle of dispersal, both of airfields and industry, was not practiced by the High Command.
- Aircraft warning and control systems were handicapped by a lack of essential radar equipment and by its vulnerability to jamming.
- No standardized methods of control of concept of mutual support was established between air-defense sectors.
- The Germans made the tactical blunder of not repeatedly attacking our fighter escort on making landfall on the Continent, which would have caused us to drop our reserve fuel tanks.
- The German High Command ordered German fighters to attack only the Allied bombers, leaving our escort fighters free to take the initiative in the air.
- The German fighter defense was not organized in depth; they did not attack our bomber streams repeatedly and in strength.
- Internal dissension slowed down considerably the production of the jet fighter, the Me-262, potentially the Germans' mot dangerous airplane.
- Germany sacrificed pilot quality for quantity.
By April 1944, air superiority, the indispensable prerequisite for full-scale air attacks on Germany, and indeed for invasion itself, had been achieved. The strategic air forces could then intensify the Combined Bomber Offensive against the German economic system with comparative freedom. It will be recalled that in 1943 it had been determined that of the many targets Germany offered to the strategic bomber, sox were the most important: submarines, aircraft, ball bearings, oil, rubber, and communications. Of these six targets, aircraft, oil, and communications became the three that were to occupy the continuing attention of the strategic air forces throughout the last fourteen months of the war.
The Pre-Invasion Air Assault.--With air superiority established, the Allies were able to carry on their program of preparing for the invasion. During April, the bombers of the Eighth Air Force alone flew over 16,000 sorties and the fighters over 17,000; in May more than 1,000 German aircraft were destroyed. The strategic air forces were placed under General Eisenhower's operational control on 14 April 1944 so that, although they would continue their strategic program, they would be available upon call for direct support of land and naval operations. Synthetic fuel plants and crude oil refineries became prime targets, the effectiveness of the attacks on them being admitted by Albert Speer, the German industrial czar in a letter to Hitler on 30 June 1944:
Our aviation gasoline production was badly hit during May and June. The enemy has succeeded in increasing our losses of aviation gasoline up to 90 per cent by 22 June. Only through speedy recovery of damaged plants has it been possible to regain partly some of the terrible losses. In spite of htis, however, aviation gasoline production is completely insufficient at this time. . . .
I regret having to inform my Führer of these tragic developments, and I beg you to issue all the necessary orders for additional protection of these plants.
The attacks on the German fuel industry were to exert a mounting influence, not only on the operations of the Luftwaffe but also on the mobility of the German Army.
The next immediate task of the air forces was to isolate the battlefield--to seal off the invasion coast from arsenals and troop centers in the interior of the Reich. Accordingly, from April until after the invasion, the operations of both the strategic and tactical air forces were merged in an all-out attack on the enemy's communications system.
In April and May the heavy bombers made a series of attacks on marshalling yards and airfields in France, the Low Countries, and western Germany, over an area large enough to preclude any indication of the precise invasion area. These attacks by the heavy bombers were coordinated with a violent tactical air campaign that was waged by the Ninth Air Force and the R.A.F. during the five weeks prior to D-day. The plan was to isolate the lodgement area by attacking key bridges and sections of railroads. This plan was devised to stop rail movement within the area bounded by the Seine, the Orléans-Paris gap, and the Loire; but the operations were carried on so as not to indicate the selected landing beaches. Marshalling yards also became the targets of the medium bombers. In May, the Ninth Air Force dispatched a daily average of more than 1,000
aircraft against enemy lines of communication supporting the Atlantic Wall defenses, both in the Calais and the Caen area, and against all types of enemy transport on rails, roads, and rivers. Late in the month, railroad bridges on the Seine and the Meuse Rivers were given first priority. By 4 June, all the rail bridges on the Seine between Rouen and Paris were knocked out, and all but one of the fourteen highway bridges were destroyed. On 6 June, Normandy and Brittany were effectively isolated from the Pas de Calais, and rail traffic in France had declined 60 per cent.
By June, the Allied iar forces had so successfully performed their missions of disrupting enemy communications that there was a chronic shortage of locomotives and cars,* repair facilities were inadequate, coal stocks were reduced to a six-day supply, and seventy-0four bridges and tunnels leading to the battle area were impassable. General Marshall said, "The effects of htis phase of the air assault were enormous, for transportation and communications are the life arteries of a modern industrial state engaged in total war." General Eisenhower concurred when he said, "The communications chaos thus produced had fatal effects upon the enemy's attempts at reinforcement after our landings."
In addition to the attacks on communications, our aircraft maintained operations against V-bomb launching sites in the Pas de Calais, launched precision attacks against large coast-defense guns in the Atlantic Wall, and flew reconnaissance missions over western Europe to keep our commanders informed of the latest developments in the enemy situation. All of these attacks were so planned that only one-third of the effort expended would be devoted to targets near the assault area, thus focusing the enemy's attention elsewhere. During these pre-invasion bombing operations, attacks were also continued on air bases and landing fields in France. These attacks forced the Luftwaffe to base its bombers so far back that they would have to use advance landing fields to reach the Channel coast. The sixty enemy airfields within a 130-miles radius of the assault beaches were so neutralized that by D-day the Luftwaffe was operating from bases as far from Normandy as were our own aircraft in England.
The Allied bombing effort on the Continent for the first five months of 1944 is compared to the total effort of the war in the following Strategic Bombing Survey statistics:
* During May, more than 900 locomotives and 16,000 freight cars were destroyed in western Europe.
(a) British, 1,307,117; American, 1,463,423.
Jan.-May 1944 1939-1945 American British American
Bomb Tonnage Distribution by Target System Land transportation 86,980 62,072 875,819 Industrial areas 27,520 74,309 698,415 Military 18,359 19,378 308,513 Oil, chemical, and rubber 7,732 967 264,232 Airfields and airdromes 41,761 3,841 189,415 Naval installations and transportation 12,005 413 111,821 Miscellaneous manufacturing 6,440 1,710 69,950 Aircraft factories 22,320 3,339 57,041 V-weapon launching sites 14,234 6,491 50,116 All others 23,370 532 145,218 Total 260,721 173,052 2,770,540 Bomb Tonnage Distribution by Country Germany 66,940 78,048 1,419,604 France 69,247 64,812 569,493 Italy and Sicily 71,124 15,319 378,891 Austria, Hungary, and Balkans 31,316 3,389 184,201 Other countries 22,094 11,484 218,351 Total 260,721 173,052 (a)2,770,540
By D-day, the Allied air preparation had been so successful that the excellent European communications system was incapable of fulfilling the demands soon to be placed upon it. Thus, the air preparations became a decisive factor in the success of OVERLORD--an accomplishment whose failure might have had frightening consequences, since the success of an amphibious operation hinges on the relative ability of the opposing forces to build up strength in the critical area. Even with favorable weather it would have required at least fifteen weeks for the Allies to land an many divisions as the Germans had available in Belgium and northern France in June 1944.
Four years after Dunkirk, the Germans still peered across the Strait of Dover. Time, however, had wrought a marked change in their situation. Whereas in 1940 the their eyes had measured the short distance to a goal of further conquest, they now measured the frightful nearness of the mounting threat of Allied arms, posed for an invasion that, together with Russia's might offensive, would bring a final decision. After 1943, when Germany lost the initiative on the sea, in the air, and on all land fronts, the policy adopted
Enemy Forces and Plan of Defense
by Hitler was one of determined defense, whatever the cost. General Jodl described this as a plan "to live upon the capital sum of space, which had been built up for Germany, by fighting along the periphery." We shall see later that Hitler's insistence upon this inelastic defense of all territory held by German forces resulted in huge losses that bled the Wehrmacht white.
The High Command.--The German High Command had steadily deteriorated since early in the war. The underlying cause was Hitler's mistrust of the general staff and, as the war turned steadily against Germany, his assumption of more and more direct control of all operations.
In 1944, the major headquarters and commanders were:
OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, Führer Adolf Hitler.
OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres), Supreme Command of the Army, Führer Adolf Hitler.
OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe), Supreme Command of the Air Force, Reich Marshal Hermann Göring.
OKM (Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine), Supreme Command of the Navy, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz.
The Supreme Command of the Armed Forces continued to function under its chief of staff, Field Marshal Keitel, although apparently he did not greatly influence th conduct of the war. A small group of OKW officers, known as the Armed Forces Operations Staff and headed by General Alfred Jodl, served as Hitler's closest military advisors. With them he held frequent conferences in which day-to-day operations as well as over-all plans and allocations of materials were decided upon. Since Hitler's assumption of personal command of the Army during the abortive Moscow campaign in late 1941, that headquarters (Supreme Command of the Army--OKH) had become more and more involved in Russia. By 1944, Hitler had made OKH directly responsible for operations on the eastern front, while OKW remained responsible for operations in all other theaters,* although he reserved all major decisions for himself.
After 1942, another major change in the German High Command occurred when the new Reich Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer, took over several important staff sections from OKW and began to function directly under Hitler. Gradually, this new ministry assumed complete charge of all war production and, through
* German theater commands, excluding Russia: Southeast (Balkans), Southwest (Italy), West (France and the Low Countries), Denmark, and Norway.
more efficient methods and a greater mobilization of industry, managed to increase the production of some armaments in spite of the growing Allied air attacks.
By June 1944, the Wehrmacht was deployed approximately as follows:
(a) Most of the aircraft in Germany were employed in the west.
Russian front 140 1,040 France and the Low Countries 58 1,100 Italy 23 260 Balkans 26 210 Denmark 5 50 Germany 13 (a)1,440 Total 265 4,100
ALthough the Germans realized that a major invasion was imminent, nothing was done to develop an over-all strategy or a real unified command for the land, sea and air defenses of western Europe; and this proved a fatal detriment to operations in the west because the field forces could never obtain a quick decision from the Supreme Commander (Hitler).
The Commander in Chief West, who was responsible for the defense of France, Belgium, and Holland, was Field Marshal Gert von Rundstedt.* The senior German field commander, he had been recalled from retirement in the spring of 1942 to assume this position. At that time, he had some thirty divisions in western Europe; but as the invasion threat became more serious, his force was almost doubled. It appears that the operations sections of OKW and OB West maintained close liaison and were in agreement on many major questions, but more often that not they were unsuccessful in persuading Hitler ot accept their common views; and Rundstedt personally did little to make his opinions known to the Führer.
Although Rundstedt was theoretically the supreme commander in the west, he did not in fact have full control. The SS** units were assigned to OB West for operations and supply only; for discipline and administration they remained under the control of Reichsführer
* Rundstedt's headquarters, known as OB West (Oberbefehlshaber West), was located near Paris.
** Within the German armed forces a sharp distinction was made between the ordinary Army units and the Schutzstaffel (SS) Units. The latter originally enrolled only specially selected members of the Nazi party, constituting a political and military elite that enjoyed special favors and privileges. The SS units were considerably stronger in both personnel and fire power than comparable Army units, and they contained the most fanatical German fighters.
SS Heinrich Himmler. The LUftwaffe in western Europe (the Third Air Force, commanded by Field Marshal Hugo Sperrle) was subordinate both operationally and administratively to OKL. The Navy (Navy Group West, commanded by Admiral Krancke) also operated independently. To heighten the difficulties of coordinating the defenses of western Europe, these various commands did not achieve even close cooperation with each other or with Rundstedt's staff of Army officers. A staff officer of Army Group B characterized the situation in these words: "The organization and the chain of command of the major commands in the west was somewhere between confusion and chaos; it corresponded to neither the timeless laws of warfare nor the demands of the hour."
In 1944, the command structure in the west was further complicated by the arrival of FIeld Marshal Erwin Rommel. In January, Hitler had directed him to inspect the defensive capabilities of the coasts of northwestern Europe. Rommel brought his staff with him and soon succeeded in having two-thirds of the German operational troops in the west placed under his command.* His headquarters, Army Group B, was not completely subordinate to OB West because on some matters Rommel corresponded directly with Hitler. Army Group B included the FIfteenth Army, along the Channel coast, and the Seventh Army, in Normandy and Brittany. More or less to balance the new army group in northwestern France, Army Group G became operational in May under the command of General Johannes Blaskowitz. It included the First and Nineteenth Armies, :on the Biscay and Mediterranean coasts of France.
Field Forces.--The following table shows the distribution of the divisions in the west on 6 June 1944:**
Types of Divisions Panzer Infantry Coast-Defense
Total Commander in Chief West (Rundstedt) 2 2 4 Army Group B (Rommel) 3 3 Fifteenth Army (Salmuth) 6 11 17 Seventh Army (Dollman) 7 7 14 Army Group G (Blaskowitz) First Army (Chevallerie) 1 1 3 5 Nineteenth Army (Sodenstern) 3 4 7 OKW reserve and Holland 4 4 8 Total 10 17 31 58
* This was Rommel's first operational command since his departure from Tunisia, nearly a year before.
** See Appendix 5 for an abbreviated German order of battle in the west for the period June-December 1944.
In 1944, the panzer divisions normally consisted ot two panzer grenadier regiments, a tank regiment, a panzer artillery regiment, and five battalions of supporting and service troops--a personnel total of 14,000. Actually, the strength of the panzer divisions in the west varied from 12,000 to 21,000 men, but they contained fewer tanks than our armored divisions. The panzer grenadier division was similar to a motorized infantry division, having more motor transport than the normal German infantry division and an authorized strength of 14,000. The infantry divisions consisted of three regiments of two battalions each, with an authorized strength of approximately 12,500 officers and men. Three-fourths of these divisions used horse-drawn transportation. The strongest of the various types of infantry divisions were the parachute divisions. Their men were carefully selected, trained, and equipped, though only a small percentage of them were trained as parachutists. They had an authorized strength of 16,000 officers and men and a larger allotment of machine guns than the normal infantry division. A whole series of the infantry units were designated as "static" or coast-defense divisions and were assigned little transportation. It will be noted that these and the training divisions made up more than half of Rundstedt's strength.
The quality of most of the German divisions left much to be desired. Although they were close to their authorized strength, most of the soldiers belonged to older age classes and were not physically fit. On three different occasions, the units and staffs in the west had been combed out for the sake of the eastern front. In return, the west received Volkdeutsche,* men with second-and third-degree frostbite, and in come case, men suffering from malaria and stomach ailments (a whole division of the latter was formed). Soldiers with heart trouble and officers with artificial limbs were not infrequent. Furthermore, Rundstedt had been forced to exchange twenty good German battalions for sixty battalions made up of non-German "volunteers" and prisoners of war of dubious military value.** In addition, many of the divisions were not in good condition, having come from Russia for rest, refitting, and reorganization. In contrast to the low quality of personnel in most of the infantry and static divisions, the men of the SS, parachute, and panzer divisions were young and in strikingly good physical condition.
There was grave anxiety over the lack of self-propelled assault guns, the inadequate supply of antitank guns, and the condition of
* Racial Germans, but citizens of a country other than Germany.
** Many of these were Russians, of whom there are reported to have been 75,000 stationed in France in June 1944.
the artillery. Together with German artillery of all types, there were, along the coast, French, Danish, Belgian, Polish, Dutch, Russian, Jugoslavian, and Italian guns of miscellaneous calibers, for some of which there was little ammunition and non prospect of more. A number of divisions had only horse-drawn artillery, and in some cases the fourth (150-mm. howitzer) battalion was entirely lacking.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the forces in the west was their lack of mobility, a situation greatly aggravated by the Allied air forces as the date for the invasion approached. Most of the vehicles were not of a modern, standard type. For example, in July 1944, the Germans were trying to use about 2,000 different types of German and foreign motor vehicles in France, Belgium, and Holland. Obviously, the problem of spare parts was insurmountable. The fuel supply was so critical that even regimental commanders were forced to use horses or bicycles for transportation.
However, Rundstedt's cardinal weakness was the lack of a fully mobile strategic reserve. Of the ten panzer-type divisions available on D-day, the 2d SS, 9th, and 11th were stationed in the south and were not available for immediate use elsewhere; the 2d, 21st, and 116th were under Rommel's control to back up his coast-defense units; and the 1st SS was under OKW control on the northern flank. (Six of these seven divisions were still in the process of reorganization.) This left only the 12th SS Panzer, Panzer Lehr, and 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions as a real strategic reserve. Before examining the plan for the employment of these units, let us investigate the fixed defenses along the English Channel.
The Atlantic Wall (Map 3).-- As early as 1941, the Germans had begun developing the coastal defenses that were known collectively as the Atlantic Wall. They assumed that an invader would have to secure a port, either in the initial assault or soon afterwards, in order to land the heaviest types of equipment and maintain their forces on the COntinent. Important harbors were therefore given first priority for defense, and in 1943 were designated "fortresses". They were assigned specially tried and tested commanders, each of whom took a solemn oath to defend his fortress to the death, and were stocked with food to withstand at least a three-month siege. (The fortresses are circled on the map.) The intervening coastal areas were defended by a system of strong points, made up of field fortifications and concrete artillery and machine-gun emplacements. All possible landing areas were prepared for defense to some extent.
After the successful Allied invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, the Nazi press tried to reassure an anxious German population
and to frighten the Allies by publicizing the "impregnability" of the Atlantic Wall in an extensive propaganda campaign. Hitler stated that he had decided to let the Allies attack so that he could beat them off "again and again, until the enemy should bleed to death." However, the German military leaders knew better.* The fortifications between the estuaries of the Scheldt and the Seine were as strong as Nazi resources permitted, but even the supercasemates that Organization Todt had built there were not impregnable. In Normandy and Brittany, the construction program was lagging behind schedule because labor and materials had been diverted to Germany to repaired the damage caused by the Allied strategic bombing.
However, in the spring of 1944, after Rommel took command of Army Group B, there was a general intensification of work on the beach defenses, particularly in the Fifteenth and Seventh Army areas. In the sector from the Seine to Cherbourg, numerous strong points were constructed, and the heavy gun positions were protected by concrete and armor. Remembering the lessons learned in North Africa, Rommel made extensive use of mine field,** wire entanglements, and obstacles to strengthen the positions. Low-lying areas in the coastal belt, particularly in the marshy country around the Carentan Estuary, were inundated to restrict landing sties and conserve forces; existing sea walls were strengthened and extended to form antitank obstacles behind the beaches; below the high-tide mark on the beaches were placed belts of under-water obstacles designed to halt landing craft and to destroy or cripple them by means of explosive charges attached to the obstacles. Anti-glider obstacles, consisting of vertical poles, were erected in the fields that were considered most suitable for landing gliders.
In Normandy, the German artillery defense consisted of long-range coast and field artillery. The former was sited well forward, covering in particular the entrances to Cherbourg, the Carentan Estuary, and the Seine. Heavy gun batteries located in the Cherbourg area and around Le Havre almost overlapped in range and presented the gravest danger to vessels approaching the Normandy beaches. Behind the coast artillery, some two or three miles inland, light and medium field artillery pieces of the divisions occupying the coastal sectors were sited.*** The task of these guns was to bring
* Able German officers have stated that an Atlantic Wall as strong as depicted by their propaganda could not have been built in less than ten years.
** From 1941 to 1944, over 2,000,000 land mines were laid along the coast. Rommel trebled this number.
*** Some field artillery pieces were located in concrete emplacement on the beaches.
fire to bear on craft approaching the beaches and on the beaches themselves. In all, the Allies had located prior to D-day some thirty-two battery positions capable of firing on the assault beach areas.
At the same time that the fixed defenses and field fortifications of the Atlantic Wall were being constructed, strenuous efforts were made to prepare the troops for the impending invasion. Map exercises, training maneuvers, and frequent alerts were held; traffic control plans were worked out to shift the panzer reserves to critical areas; special emphasis was placed upon a warning system and rapid countermeasures against an airborne attack; a zone along the coast was established in which the combat troops had full command authority; important towns behind the coastal zone received combat commanders; and detailed inspections were conducted by Rundstedt, Rommel, and Jodl.
However, the demands for fortifications and trained troops were incompatible because the troops were required to perform the labor to build the fortifications; and when they were so engaged, they could not undergo the training necessary to prepared them to meet an invasion. As a result, much was left undone, and the Germans considered only the Fifteenth Army sector to be in a condition of even limited defensive readiness; and that sector's strength was chiefly along the narrowest part of the Channel. The scarcity of troops for the extensive front (2,500 miles, including the French Mediterranean coast) not only hindered the development of the coastal fortifications, but their lack of mobility resulted in the available forces being deployed in a cordon defense that, almost without exception, lacked tactical--not to mention strategic--dispositions in depth. This situation and various plans to overcome it were the source of much argument among the various high commanders.
Defensive Plans and Considerations.--The following extract from a report of interrogation of Major General Buttlar* give what is probably as accurate and unbiased a discussion of German strategy as is now available. The basic German decision, to develop a defensive Atlantic Wall while continuing active operations against Russia, was made by Hitler in 1942. General Buttlar discussed the factors that influenced this decision:
When, at the beginning of 1942, the Supreme Command realized that it was going to be impossible to overrun or rapidly conquer Russia, Hitler--presumably influenced by suggestions from the
* General Buttlar was chief of the Army operations section of OKW's operations staff.
Chief of Staff of the German Army and the commanders on the eastern front--began to consider whether a permanent line of fortifications in the form of an "East Wall" should be built. This would have to be undertaken either in addition to or at the expense of the newly begun fortifications along the French coast (Atlantic Wall). For the following reasons Hitler rejected the idea of an "East Wall," in favor of the ever expanding and more accelerated construction of the Atlantic Wall:
- Germany's resources of man power and material were sufficient for the fortification of only one front at a time. The same limitations compelled the germans to avoid prolonged major battles on several fronts simultaneously. This would, however, only be possible in the west if, supported by a strongly fortified coast, they could destroy the enemy at the time of his landing. The battle for the coast had to bring about a decision within a limited time.
- The great depth of the operational area in the east allowed of mobile warfare, if necessary, even over a long period of time. Even in the event of serious reverses in the east, there was no fear that any vital centers of German resistance would soon become endangered. On the other hand, if an enemy landing in the west should succeed, the way to the centers of Germany's resistance potential were so short that these were bound very soon to be injured by enemy action. The protection afforded by strong fortifications was therefore of greater importance in the west.
- The road and rail net in the east was so underdeveloped in comparison with that in the west that it would be possible to bring up the necessary equipment and building materials into the construction zone only after spending much time and using considerable forces to expand the net. In the west, however, this problem presented no special difficulties, apart form the development of the situation in the air, which could not be foreseen at the time.
- From the point of view of terrain, the western coast, which was in our undisputed possession, offered more favorable conditions for defense than were to be found in the east, particularly since any fortifications on land have a natural advantage against attacks from the sea. This applied even in view of the very much greater freedom of action of the enemy in the west, who was completely unrestricted and could hardly be affected by us at all in the launching of his operations.
The result of these deliberations and of the Führer's decision in favor of the Atlantic Wall was, on the one hand, the ever increasing speed and scope of the construction of fortifications along the western coast, in which all our possibilities were fully exploited. On the other hand, it was decided to exploit these fortifications . . . to the fullest by conducting a static defense in them, with the coast as the main line of resistance. Existing ides to the effect that the coast should only be lightly guarded and the main body of the forces kept back inland, ready for mobile warfare in France, had to be abandoned as a logistical consequence of the decision to fortify the coast so strongly. Another factor which was also decisive was the agreement
of all the experts that the German armament industry was not capable of producing the matériel which the forces in the west would need for mobile warfare if it was going to supply, even incompletely, the requirements of the eastern theater.
In making this decision Hitler realized that even with the utmost effort of the forces available it would not be possible to bring the entire coast up to its maximum defensive capacity for years, with respect to construction, and the strength of the defending forces would probably never be completely satisfactory.
Once the decision had been made to construct an Atlantic Wall, the major argument, aside from controversies over the type and location of the defensive works, revolved around the employment of the field forces in the west. The mission Hitler assigned to Rundstedt was the unyielding defense of the coast. He was to prevent the enemy from making any landing or to annihilate immediately any forces that might land. Consequently, freedom of action was prohibited form the beginning; and no serious effort was ever exerted to prepare successive defensive lines in the rear. As the Allies gained strength and as their air offensive became more decisive, the plans to accomplish this mission were revised; and there gradually emerged two plans of defense, Rundstedt's and Rommel's. General Jodl and the OKW operations staff, generally speaking, agreed with Rundstedt, while Hitler leaned more and more toward Rommel's views.
In the autumn of 1943, Hitler informed Rundstedt that he expected an invasion of western Europe by 1944 at the very latest. Furthermore, since he expected the invasion to be launched on the Channel coast (Pas de Calais), the main German defensive effort must be located there. Rundstedt agreed that the Channel coast was the most likely spot for the invasion, his main reasons being its proximity to England and its strategic position as the beginning of the shortest route to the Rhine and Ruhr. He was convinced that the Western Allies would attack with tremendous technical and material superiority, that their preparations for the attack would be made meticulously, and that their training would be thorough. Therefore, the Allies' first attempt to get ashore would be successful; and everything would depend upon attacking and destroying them during the critical period when they had one foot on land and one on water. This could be done only if OB West had an adequate and mobile strategic reserve available for rapid commitment in the sectors under attack.
In January 1944, General Jodl made an inspection of the defenses in the west for OKW. He approved of Rundstedt's plan for meeting
an invasion by shifting all available forces to the threatened sector, Jodl said:
Moreover, I agree with the OB West intention to schedule the displacement, if possible, of all the elements committed for coastal defenses--apart from the fortress infantry battalions--to the sectors under attack. There, being as mobile as possible expedients will allow, they can at least be used away from the defensive centers of gravity, and for relief purposes.
In the event of an enemy landing everything must be immediately thrown in at the one spot--at any risk--in order to retrieve the situation definitely. Should the enemy land elsewhere later, then all forces must be shifted there in the greatest concentration possible.
It is a prerequisite of this plan that the Luftwaffe be in a position to cover the necessary troop movements. [This had been guaranteed by the Luftwaffe and was at the time believed possibly by Jodl.] A further prerequisite is that we succeed, by May, in considerably increasing the number of forces really capable of operational employment away from the fortifications.
General Jodl submitted the report of his inspection to Hitler, who approved Rundstedt's plan. However, during the spring of 1944 a change appeared in the attitude that Hitler had taken after hearing Jodl's report, a change caused by the influence of Field Marshal Rommel. The latter was convinced that the enemy would invade with his main effort in the Fifteenth Army sector and with markedly superior ground, air, and naval forces. To fulfill his mission of fighting at the Atlantic Wall in the face of the Allied air supremacy, he believed all his available reserves had to be positioned on the coast; and since the landings could not be prevented without armor, even his panzer reserves must be placed close to the beaches. He expressed the keynote of his defensive plan when he said, "We must stop the assaulting forces in the water, not only delaying but destroying all enemy equipment while still afloat."
Thus the basic difference in the views of Rundstedt and Rommel was developed: Rommel would prematurely tie up the bulk of the forces in the coastal defenses--in a linear tactical disposition; Rundstedt, viewing the matter from the strategic angle, wanted to do everything possible to preserve freedom of action. In spite of counterproposals by the Commander in Chief West, and corresponding representations by Jodl, Rommel's influence with Hitler gradually produced a disposition fo forces in the west that was based almost entirely on Rommel's views. The bulk of the available German field forces were concentrated between the Seine and the Scheldt, and they were located close to the coast.
General Buttlar also gave Hitler's estimate of Allied intentions during the three months preceding the invasion:
Beginning in march 1944 there was a considerable increase in the reports of the enemy invasion preparations. These were very carefully analyzed and evaluated . . . but they still did not yield a clear picture of the details of the enemy intentions. There was not a sector from Holland to the French Riviera which, if at all suitable, was not referred to in numerous reports as a possible invasion front. At the beginning of April 1944, however, from the frequency of the various reports and evaluation of their sources the following over-all picture of the enemy situation emerged:
- Preparations in England and in North Africa had advanced so far that the beginning of the invasion could be expected at any time, given suitable weather conditions.
- Judging from the frequency and estimated reliability of the reports, the most probable areas for invasion in force were:
- If launched form England, the Channel Coast and Normandy and Brittany.
- If launched from Africa, the mouth of the Rhone.
- It was to be expected that the invasion would include a large-scale air-landing operation, as well as feints and secondary operations.
This picture of the enemy underwent no essential change up to the beginning of the invasion. Even the surprisingly complete view obtained of the assembly of the invasion forces and resources in England did not give any further clue as to the probable location of the landing.
The Führer himself evidently had information going still further, the tenor and origin of which I do not know. It is certain, however, that beginning about the end of April Hitler devoted special attention to Normandy and the fortification of the coast there; he believed it necessary, and ordered, that the forces located there be doubled, although the special preparations in the Fifteenth Army sector were not to be weakened. At 1900 on 6 May 1944, the chief of the WFSt [Armed Forces Operations Staff], in a telephone call concerning the reinforcement of the Normandy and Brittany forces, pointed out to the OB West chief of staff that Hitler regarded the Cotentin Peninsula as the first objective of the enemy attack, although the Führer was not convinced that the main weight of the invasion would necessarily fall there.
The fact that Hitler did guess the approximate landing areas was to increase the difficulties of the Americans, because one German infantry division was sent in to the area northwest of Carentan and one into the area west of Bayeux during the latter part of May.
In summary, immediately prior to the invasion, Rundstedt, Rommel, and Jodl all expected that the main landing would occur in the Pas de Calais area; they recognized the danger of secondary attacks in Normandy (an event Hitler viewed with increasing alarm); they expected diversionary of secondary landings to precede the
main landings; and they all realized that the invasion must be repulsed by a decisive battle on the coast. However, none of these commanders were in agreement as to how the invasion would be repulsed, nor had they made any plan or any preparations for action in case the invasion succeeded. The available German field forces had been so committed that only three panzer divisions* remained as a strategic reserve, and they were held southwest of Paris under Hitler's control. Even at the very last, the west was still being bled in favor of the eastern front.** As June approached, the mounting air attacks on communications in France, a marked growth in the French resistance movement, and reports of Allied troops moving to the southern coast of England all pointed ot the fact that the invasion was near.
The display of Allied air strength before D-day filled Rundstedt with apprehension. Although he had the assurance of General Sperrle that his Third Air Force would make an all-out effort to aid in repelling the invasion, Rundstedt knew that he could not expect much. This force, which was the operational air fleet in western Europe, together with Luftflotte Reich (which, it will be recalled, was responsible for the air defense of Germany) totalled only some 2,000 to 2,500 operational aircraft; of these, the Third Air Force had only 200 to 300 in May and June 1944.***
The Germans failed to capitalize on their most potential threat in the air, the V-weapons. For some months prior to the invasion, they had created a diversion by constructing launching sites for flying bombs (V-1) and rockets (V-2) near the Channel coast, particularly in the Pas de Calais area. However, heavy bombing by the Allied air forces delayed until 12 June the initial launching of these missiles which, unimpeded, might have caused much more damage than they did.
Many of the weaknesses of the Germans have been revealed since the war; in June of 1944, they were not so obvious to the Allies across the English Channel. They had to assume that the WEHRMACHT was ready for the invasion. One thing that the Allies did know--and which later events confirmed--was that seldom had the Germans had to apologize for the professional performance of their Army. Even in retreat, their troops had always fought fiercely and had been resourceful and self-possessed.
* The 12th SS Panzer, Panzer Lehr, and 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division.
** Two panzer divisions were transferred to Russia in May.
*** Effective strength, according to statements made by German officers after the war.
The Invasion Force.--The land, sea, and air strength of the Allied Expeditionary Force on 6 June 1944 was 2,876,000 officers and men. The ground forces included thirty-nine divisions available in the United Kingdom:
Final Allied Preparations
Infantry Armored Airborne Total United States 13 5 2 20 British 9 4 1 14 Canadian 2 1 3 French 1 1 Polish 1 1 Total 24 12 3 39
With attached antiaircraft, tank destroyer, and tank units, these divisions approximated 17,000 men each. In addition, there were hundreds of corps and army units, such as field artillery, engineers, signal, quartermaster, and ordnance, that were to be employed primarily to support these divisions. There were also heavy contingents of base troops, transport units, ground crews, hospitals, and every type of repair and maintenance organization. Furthermore, about forty divisions would be ready to sail from the United States as rapidly as ports in Britain or on the Continent could receive them; and ten divisions, some of them French, were scheduled to join in the attack from the Mediterranean area.
In addition to the divisions tabulated above, the following higher ground-force headquarters were also in the United Kingdom: the United States 1st Army Group, First and Third Armies, and V, VII, VIII, XII, XV, XIX, and XX Corps; the British 21st Army Group, Second Army, and I, VIII, XII, and XXX Corps; and the Canadian First Army and II Corps. There were also contingents of about a brigade each of Dutch, Czech, and Belgian forces.
These troops, with their weapons, vehicles, equipment, and supplies, comprised the world's most massive concentration of military power. The stock pile of matériel and supplies for the American troops alone, over and above basic loads and organic equipment, was 2,500,000 tons. All of htis was superimposed on a densely populated and highly cultivated countryside about the size of the State of Colorado. General Eisenhower says in his book:
By the time the cross-Channel assault was launched, the United Kingdom was one gigantic air base, workshop, storage depot, and mobilization camp. It was claimed facetiously at the time that only the great number of barrage balloons floating constantly in British skies kept the island from sinking under the seas.*
* Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
The assembling of this huge force in the United Kingdom, mostly accomplished during the nine months preceding D-day, comprised the final phase of the Anglo-American BOLERO logistical operation. This was too complicated and gigantic a project to permit description here; but the efficiency of the pre-invasion build-up is exemplified by the speed with which units, landing in Britain at the rate of about 150,000 men per month, were provided with their essential arms and equipment. Eventually, by means of preshipping and storing, the supply agencies were able to have equipment distributed and waiting for units upon their arrival. Within thirty days after debarking, most divisions were fully equipped and ready for action.
The units arriving in the United Kingdom from America were well trained, especially in fast-moving corps and army operations over large areas; those coming from the Mediterranean were battle tested. Nonetheless, everything possible was done during their staging period in the United Kingdom to increase their combat efficiency despite the limited terrain available. The troops which were to make the assault landings maneuvered realistically on beaches and ground that approximated the target areas. Beginning in April, joint exercises of the ground, sea, and air forces that were to make the assault were held along the southern coast of England. These were the full-dress rehearsals.
The basic problem facing the Allies in the spring of 1944 was to organize these forces and develop detailed plans to that full weight of the available strength--ground, air, and sea--could be concentrated and coordinated in getting the assault troops ashore and in assisting them in their task of breaking through the Atlantic Wall. The modified plan for the landing was issued on 1 February 1944. This directive formed the basis for the detailed joint planning by the subordinate commanders.
As the final loading schedules were drawn up, it was found that there were sufficient landing craft for only six reinforced divisions and enough additional shipping for five other divisions. The landing zones were divided into five beaches, as indicated on the map. On the right, the American First Army's VII Corps would land on UTAH Beach and its V Corps on OMAHA; on the left, the British Second Army's XXX Corps would land on GOLD and the British I Corps on JUNO and SWORD Beaches.*
* The Americans were placed on the right (Atlantic) flank since they would ultimately be supplied directly from the United States through Cherbourg and the Brittany ports. The British were on the left (Channel) flank since they would ultimately be supplied from the United Kingdom through the Channel ports.
The Allied navies were responsible for transporting and landing these forces. To accomplish this mission, the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force was organized into two task forces, the Western (United States) Task Force and the Eastern (British) Task Force. These were, in turn, broken down into assault forces, three American and four British, which contained the necessary transports, bombardment ships, landing craft, escort craft, gunfire-support craft, mine sweepers, and control craft. The heavy naval gunfire support was to be provided by six battleships, two monitors, twenty-two cruisers, and ninety-three destroyers.* Altogether, over 5,000 Allied ships and 4,000 additional ship-to-shore craft were to be engaged in the Channel operations during the assault and build-up periods. The United States naval forces along comprised about 124,000 officers and men who were to participate directly or indirectly in the invasion.
The troops that were to make the invasion were classified into four types according to the order in which they were to be moved. The assault force, as the name implies, was the spearhead. A meticulous loading plan and a definite preallocation of landing craft and ships had to be made well in advance for the operation of this force. The assault follow-up force was that part of the force that was to land immediately after the initial assault. A definite preallocation of ships and landing craft and a loading plan for this force was also made well in advance. The preloaded build-up force was that part of the force other than the assault and follow-up for which shipping could be provided in advance of the operation. The normal build-up force was that part of the force that had to depend on returning ships and craft. The mounting of these units would be affected by enemy action, casualties in craft, weather, and many other contingencies.
The Allies intended to land over 20,000 vehicles and 176,000 men on D-day and D plus 1--a task of the greatest magnitude. The vehicles included 1,500 tanks, 5,000 other tracked fighting vehicles, 3,000 guns of all types, and 10,500 other vehicles from jeeps to bulldozers. In addition to the eight regimental (or brigade) combat teams in the initial assault, a variety of attached troops were required. These included Ranger and Commando units, special assault engineers, and amphibious tanks. The assault units were also authorized an overstrength of about 25 per cent ot replace early casualties.
* These included the old United States battleships, Arkansas, Texas, and Nevada.
[For details of the planning and operation of the Western Task Force, see United States Naval Administration in World War II · Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Volume V: Operation NEPTUNE. -- HyperWar]
The magnitude and complexity of the movement is indicated by the following excerpts from accounts of the landings:*
The VI Corps was organized for the assault on OMAHA Beach as follows: Force O numbered, 34,142 men and 3,306 vehicles; and its combat strength, the 1st Division, had as its chief components its own 16 and 18 RCT's, the 116 RCT and 115th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division, and a provisional Ranger force of two battalions. To life and land Force O alone required 7 transports, 8 LSI's, 24 LST's, 33 LCI's, 36 LCM's, 147 LCT's, and 33 other craft. Its escort, gunfire support, and bombardment missions employed 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 105 other ships. Force O also included 33 mine sweepers and 585 vessels used in service work. The follow-up force (Force B) was scheduled to arrive of OMAHA Beach after noon on D-day and numbered 25,117 men and 4,429 vehicles. It included the 29th Division, consisting of the 175th Infantry Regiment and (attached form the 1st Division) the 26 RCT. Scheduled to arrive on D plus 1 and D plus 2, the pre-loaded build-up contingent had as a main component the 2d Division and totalled some 17,500 men and 2,300 vehicles.
Force U, which was to land the 4th Division on UTAH Beach, comprised approximately 865 vessels and craft in twelve separate convoys. Most of the convoys contained three or four sections which sailed from different ports and had to make precise rendezvous. Naval fire support for Force U was provided by a bombardment group of 1 battleship, 5 cruiser, 8 destroyers, and 3 subchasers and a support group of 33 craft variously equipped with rocket launchers and artillery to deliver close-in supporting fires on the beaches.
The three Allied airborne divisions would be mounted form airfields** in southern England on the night of D minus 1 and precede the amphibious forces to the assault by a few hours. Priority of the air lift was given to the United States 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions because of their vital mission of securing the beach exits and facilitating the advance of the 4th Division from UTAH Beach. These two divisions would come under control of the VII Corps when contact had been established between them and the 4th Division. Paratroops elements of the two airborne divisions, including six infantry regiments with supporting artillery and engineers and totalling 13,000 men in 925 C-47's, would be dropped early on D-day; an additional 4,000 men, consisting of glider infantry with supporting weapons and medical and signal units, were to arrive in 500 gliders later on D-day and on D plus 1; and seaborne echelons were to join the divisions on D plus 1. The British 6th Airborne
* Historical Division, Department of the Army, OMAHA Beachhead and UTAH Beach to Cherbourg.
** The two American divisions alone were to use fifteen airfields.
Division would land east of Caen to seize bridges over the Orne River and guard the left flank of the British Second Army against anticipated enemy counterattacks. Altogether, 1,662 aircraft and 512 gliders of the IX Troops Carrier Command and 733 aircraft and 355 gliders of the R.A.F. would participate in these airborne operations.
In addition to the air preparations on the Continent, already discussed, the tactical air forces perfected their plans for close support of the ground forces as soon as operations should begin. Preparations were made to send in engineers to construct new airfields as soon as their sites were secured, and close liaison was established with the ground forces. During the assault, it was planned to maintain a sustained density fo ten fighter squadrons ato cover the beach area--five over the British sector and five over the American. An additional six squadrons were to be maintained in readiness to support the beach cover if necessary. Over the main naval approach channels, a sustained density of five squadrons centered at sixty miles and three at eighty miles from the southern coast of England was to be maintained. In addition, a striking force of thirty-three fighter squadrons was to be held in reserve for use as the air situation might require, subsequent to its initial employment as escort ato the airborne formations. The total fighter aircraft allocated for the D-day assault was as follows:
Squadrons Beach cover 54 Shipping cover 15 Direct air support 36 Offensive fighter operations and bomber escort 33 Striking force 33 Total 171
Over 2,000 heavy bombers of the strategic air forces would also join in the assault by adding their power to the fire support to be provided by the naval vessels.
As shown by the map, the British forces were to utilize embarkation points east of Poole, and the Americans the ports to the west. The assault forces were to use all available port facilities in southern England, but the troops coming in later would be moved principally through the Southampton, Portland, and Plymouth areas. The main part of SHAEF remained near London, but General Eisenhower established his tactical headquarters at Portsmouth with General Montgomery and Admiral Ramsay. General Bradley's First Army, the Western Task Force, and the IX Tactical Air Command established their headquarters at Plymouth, while General
Dempsey's Second Army, the Eastern Task Force, and the R.A.F. Group No. 83 were at Portsmouth. Because of communication problems, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory maintained the Allied Expeditionary Air FOrce headquarters at Uxbridge.* The assault corps and naval force commanders would have their headquarters afloat during the initial stages of the invasion.
Mounting Procedures.--The mounting phase, for the American units, was the responsibility of the Services of Supply, ETOUSA. It assigned the mission to its Southern Base Section. This mission included moving all field forces, air forces, and service forces, with their impedimenta and supplies, form their home stations in the United Kingdom to the ports and loading them aboard ships or landing craft in such a manner that all personnel would embark in a state of maximum fighting efficiency. It planned, constructed, operated, and administered all facilities necessary to accomplish this movement.** These facilities were established in concentration, marshalling, and embarkation areas.
The Concentration Area.--This was the area in which units assembled prior to the start of their journey to embarkation points, the minimum stay being about one week.*** Here equipment was completed and packed for cross-Channel shipment and vehicles waterproofed.
The Marshalling Area.--This was the area in which units were broken down into craft and ship loads preparatory to being called forward for embarkation. Messes were operated by the marshalling area personnel, which also performed all other housekeeping duties. It was intended that a unit would remain there about forth-eight hours. There were a total of six marshalling areas along the southern coast of England completely operated by United States Army personnel and two area jointly operated by British and American personnel. These areas comprised seventy-seven camps
* The American and British tactical airfields were scattered throughout southern England.
** This included constructing facilities that varied from brick cantonments, which were also potential hospital areas, to tent camps. In addition, existing roads had to be repaired and new roads laid out and constructed; communication facilities had to be installed between all headquarters; aid stations, hospitals, and recreational facilities had to be provided; hard standings for thousands of vehicles were required; and depots and dumps for the storage and issue of vast quantities of equipment and supplies had to be provided.
*** Some divisions had been in the concentration area for months, having trained there.
with a total capacity of 125,000 troops and 24,000 vehicles. In addition, there was one area operated entirely by the British, it having a capacity of 29,000 men and 4,500 vehicles.
The Embarkation Area.--Here, as the name implies, were located the embarkation points--loading docks and "hards", the latter being paved sections of beach where landing ships loaded. The troops remained in the embarkation area only a few hours, at the most, not being called from the marshalling area until ships were about ready to receive them.
The master valve that controlled the flow of personnel through these various areas or reservoirs and on to the ships was an organization known as the Build-up Control Office (BUCO), located at Portsmouth and consisting of British and American military and naval personnel.
The problem of supplying the Allied forces on the Continent required a tremendous amount of planning and preparation. In the American zone, the general plan was for the First Army to coordinate the logistical work of all United States forces for the period D to D plus 14. The agency to assume the supply responsibility initially was to be a group of three engineer special brigades, assisted by army service troops. Two brigades were to operate at OMAHA Beach and one brigade at UTAH Beach. They were to land early on D-day, behind the assault waves, and commence establishing shore installations. Their initial mission was to prepare for and assist in the unloading of the follow-up vehicles and personnel and prepare the beaches for unloading cargo. As cargo and supplies were moved in, the special brigades were to establish temporary beach dumps. As the next stage logistical development, the Advance Section of the Communications Zone, under the 1st (later named 12th) Army Group, would be responsible for logistical coordination from D plus 15 to D plus 41. It was hoped that by that time sufficient room would be available in the lodgement area for a forward echelon of Headquarters, Communications Zone, to take over control of an area behind the First Army rear boundary and assume responsibility for the logistical support of all United States forces.
After the preparatory logistical planning had been completed, detailed requisitions were made up, these being governed by the tonnage limitations laid down for each day. The main difficulty lay in arriving at the tonnage allocations. The capacity of the beaches for receiving supplies would be limited, and the Navy would not permit any ship or craft carrying troops and vehicles to
carry bulk supplies. Also, the supply-ship tonnage originally allocated was insufficient to meet minimum requirements of the force at the rate of build-up made possible by the allotment of troop and vehicle-carrying craft. This difficulty was finally overcome and a balance reached between the tonnage requirements of the forces, the capacity of the beaches, and the shipping allocations. Requisitions for supplies, phased by days, were then prepared on this basis and submitted to the Services of Supply during the latter half of April and the beginning of May. For D and D plus 1, the requisitions were broken down into individual vessel loads so as to insure the best distribution of risk during the first crucial days.
As finally scheduled, the build-up was to provide a seven-day reserve of supplies and seven units of fire of ammunition by D plus 20. In the assault forces, each individual would carry one K and one D ration, not to be consumed prior to arrival on the far shore; and each unit would carry sufficient C or K rations to provide a three-day reserve in its train. Vehicles were to keep gasoline tanks filled from the time of alerting and were to carry sufficient five-gallon cans to provide 150 operational miles in addition to their filled tanks. Additions to basic ammunition loads were prescribed for the artillery.
It was assumed that the engineer special brigades could start the second phase of their operations by about D plus 3, when they would begin to establish permanent inland dumps, replace temporary beach installations, expand transit areas, stabilize communications, and improve the road network. Prior to D-day, 144,000 tons of supplies were preloaded on merchant ships and coasters, ready to move to the Continent.
Having acquainted ourselves with most of the preparations for the invasion, let us briefly consider three other items of vital importance to its success: subversive activities, deceptive measures, and the time for launching the assault.
Subversive Activities.--Subversive activities in France and other countries had been nourished by the British since the German occupation. By the time planning for OVERLORD was begun, the British S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) had highly trained agents and teams strategically placed throughout occupied EUrope, all tied into London by an effective radio network. They gathered intelligence, instructed resistance groups, designated targets for sabotage, and in general sparkplugged the operations of the resistance organizations. American O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services) personnel
went to London early in 1942, where they were trained by the British S.O.E. By D-day, the O.S.S. was an equal partner with the S.O.E. in clandestine operations on the Continent.
A Special Force Headquarters was established under SHAEF to draw up plans and orders for all agents, teams, and operational groups in the field. Fifty teams were to be employed in direct support of OVERLORD. Their tasks included cutting railroad lines into the beachhead area, disrupting enemy wire communications, counter-demolition work, and harrassing the movement of German strategic reserves into the assault area. These teams were to be parachuted into France at night from special aircraft that had bene flying such missions for over a year. To provide liaison, special operations detachments were attached to each of the Allied armies and army groups. When an army commander required the execution of a mission by clandestine agents behind enemy lines, the request would be forwarded by the special operations detachment to the Special FOrce Headquarters in London, which would send appropriate orders to its agents in the field.
The number and nature of the French resistance movements were as many and as varied as the complexities of French political cleavage. in general, they fell into two categories: the underground, or those patriots who carried on their normal civilian activities by day and their clandestine activities by night, and organizations of the Maquis type. The latter were full-time sabotage and guerrilla groups, most of which were controlled by a single organization called the French Forces of the Interior (F.F.I.). The F.F.I. were commanded by General Koening, who had his headquarters in London.
Deceptive Measures.--While all possible means were taken to maintain secrecy in the actual planning and preparations for OVERLORD, elaborate deceptive measures were also employed. Various cover and diversionary plans had been in effect since American troops first landed in England, and these were coordinated with activities on the other European battle fronts to keep the Germans alerted in every theater. But as the date for the invasion approached, it was impossible to conceal the fact that the Allies intended to launch an attack against the Continent from the United Kingdom. Therefore, the cover plan developed for OVERLORD was designed to confuse the enemy as to exactly when, where, and in what strength this attack would be launched.
Prior to D-day, the enemy would be led to believe that the invasion was to be launched in the Pas de Calais area; after D-day, he would be encouraged to think that the landings in Normandy were
a diversion to the main attack, which would still be launched across the Strait of Dover. General Eisenhower explained in a report:
We thought that to the German High Command an assault upon the Pas de Calais would be the obvious operation for the Allies to undertake. Not only was this the shortest sea journey where the maximum air cover would be available, but a lodgement in the Pas de Calais would lead the Allies by the shortest road directly to the Ruhr and the heart of Germany. Such an operation would have to be mounted mainly from southeast England and the Thames area. . . .
Acting on the assumption that this would be the German estimate, we did everything possible to confirm him in his belief.
Troops and shipping ultimately destined for Normandy were concentrated in eastern and southeastern England so as to indicate an assault farther to the east than that actually intended. Camps which might have bivouacked thousands of troops were set up in East Anglia,* and dummy landing ships appeared in the Thames. In the Dover area, dummy hard standings, full-scale embarkation signposting, and the presence of reserve American and Canadian troops lent credence to the idea of a major embarkation from that area. As we have seen, the pre-invasion air operations were designed to focus attention on the Pas de Calais by maintaining the heaviest concentration of bombing in that area. Other diversionary operations were also launched, either as a part of the cover plan or in conjunction with the main landings. Some were carried out in the Strait of Dover by specially equipped naval craft and airplanes that gave the same picture to the enemy's radar as would a real invasion force. At the time of the airborne landings in Normandy, dummy paratroopers were dropped in other areas to confuse the enemy and delay or disperse his efforts to meet the real landings.
The most important result of these deceptive measures was that the Germans overestimated the Allied strength in the United Kingdom by as much as one-third and for the first six weeks after the landing in Normandy held nineteen badly needed divisions of the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais, awaiting the anticipated "main landing" by General Patton.
Selection of Time.--During the OVERLORD planning period, a most important question was the exact timing of the assault. The requirements of the land, sea, and air forces conflicted in certain respects, and a compromise solution had to be found. From the point of view of the ground forces, a night landing was desirable to reduce
* Actually these camps were dummy tent cities, given semblance of life by enough men to keep the fires burning.
the effectiveness of enemy observation, but it was decided to launch the assault in daylight. This decisions was influenced principally by the fact that the Navy would require daylight in order to be reasonably certain that the assault forces would be landed at the proper points and to be able to give adequate fire support. A daylight landing also would favor air action against the coast defenses.
The height and flow of the tides was another controlling factor. Beginning about three hours after hight die, the tide on the Normandy coast runs out so fast that landing craft would not have sufficient time to discharge their personnel and pull away from shore. On the other hand, at low tide, the landing craft would be grounded so far out that the assault troops would be force to advance across a wide strip of exposed beach. A landing at extreme high tide had many advantages, but these were offset by the fact that the underwater obstacles were so emplaced as to offer maximum interference at high tide. The low tide must be late enough in the morning for an hour's good daylight to permit the saturation bombing of defenses that would precede the landings, but it must come early enough in the morning so that a second low tide would occur before darkness set in .Without the second low tide, the follow-up divisions could not be landed. The best compromise solution was decided to be three hours before high tide and one hour after first light.
It was also desirable to have a moonlight night to facilitate the airborne drop and the visual bombing of the beach defenses. A late-rising full moon was needed so that the pilots could approach their targets in darkness but have moonlight in which to pick out the drop zones. Above all, the success of the hazardous operation would hang on the weather, because the naval craft and transports would require a reasonable sea and good visibility to reduce the perils of navigation in crowded waters and to keep troops from arriving at thee point of assault so seasick they could not leave their ships. Finally, we hoped for a fair wind blowing inshore to drive the smoke and dust of battle toward the enemy.
Since the invasion had already been postponed to early June, the period 5-07 June was calculated to be the time when the most favorable moon and tide conditions would coincide; and the date was tentatively set for 5 June. But on 4 June, the forecast of sea and wind conditions was so unfavorable that General Eisenhower postponed the invasion for twenty-four hours. That night the weather forecast indicated some improvement from late afternoon of the 5th to the afternoon of the 6th, followed by an indefinite period of unfavorable wind and sea conditions.
General Eisenhower than had to choose between initiating the operation forthwith or postponing it for some time, for it would be approximately four weeks before proper conditions of tide and moon would appear again; such a long postponement would, of course, reduce the period available for operations before the onset of winter. Moreover, many of the troops were already aboard ships (with some even at sea); and many more were in marshalling areas ready to embark. General Eisenhower describes the situation as follows in his memoirs:
All southern England was one vast military camp, crowded with soldiers awaiting final word to go and piled high with supplies and equipment waiting transport to the far shore of the Channel. . . . The might host was tense as a coiled spring, and indeed that is exactly what it was--a great human spring, coiled for the moment when its energy should be released and it would vault the English Channel in the greatest amphibious assault ever attempted.*
At 0400 hours, 5 June, he directed that the operation proceed the following day.
* Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
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