Battle of Normandy: Allied Forces Training & Morale
The British and Americans devised a plan to take France away from the
Germans. The first half of this plan, which outlines the expected contribution
of all naval, air and ground forces, was called Operation Neptune. Later, Eisenhower "directed a planning that seemed
infinite in scope..., complex almost beyond description, and on which
the outcome of the war depended. As a result, Overlord was the most
thoroughly planned amphibious operation in history" (Ambrose 107).
Operation Overlord, then further specified the location, date and strategy.
"No matter how brilliant the plan, no matter how effective the
deception, no matter how intense the invasion sea and air bombardment,
Overlord would fail if the assault squads did not advance. To make sure
they did, the Allies put tremendous effort into training" (Ambrose
105). Since this was to be an amphibious operation, it required the
transportation of troops through the air and sea. This was a big effort,
as men had to be both mentally and physically prepared for the requirements
of this kind of assault. The men trained for two years and re-enacted
"this scenario, countless hundreds of times" (Van Fleet quoted
in Ambrose 131).
Through the intense training that the men underwent, they "learned
basic lessons infantry men must learn; to love the ground and how to
use it to their advantage, how it dictated a plan of battle, above all
how to live in it, for a day at a time without impairment of physical
efficiency. They were taught to see folds in the terrain that no civilian
would notice. They attacked towns, hills, woods. They dug countless
foxholes. They had fire problems, attacking with artillery, mortars,
machine guns, crashing into their objectives. They concentrated single-mindedly
on offensive tactics" (Ambrose 134).
Everything was done to make the training for Operation Overlord realistic.
As mentioned before, this was an amphibious operation, and because of
the location of Normandy Beach on the Cotentin coastline, Allied ground
troops were trained for every possible situation. Training focused on
this tactic, done in symphony with the naval and air forces.
Lt. Col. Paul Thompson, commanded the US Assault Training Center at
Woolacombe. He established training areas at suitable beaches, of the
most extensive was Slapton Sands in Devonshire on the South coast (Ambrose
136). Along with Slapton Sands, there were eight other locations for
the training of each of the Allied forces, used "for battalion
training, an assault range for company training, a beach range for firing
artillery and mortars against a hostile shore from the landing craft,
an artillery range, a wire-cutting range for training in the use of
bangalore torpedoes and other devices used for breaching wire, an infantry
demolition range for training in using satchel charges against pillboxes
and the breaching of underwater and land obstacles, an obstacle-course
area, and a multiple-purpose range for practicing in the use of flame-throwers,
rockets and grenades" (Ambrose 136).
The soldiers in the ground forces underwent extensive training in all
aspects of the battlefield, including familiarizing themselves with
the territory and with the equipment. Lt. Thompson, like other lieutenants
in charge of training, broke down the training into four phases.
After undergoing extensive training for Operation Overlord for more
than two years, the Allied troops were more than ready to fight the
Germans. Their mind and body were conditioned for D-day. However, while
Allied troops were very disciplined, there was no training that would
mentally prepare them for what they were going to see during the Battle
of Normandy. Like in any other war, fatalities ran high. Paul Fussell,
the author of Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, in an interview
aired through PBS, talks about his personal experiences in the war and
provides insight into a soldiers mental state.
War conditions weighed heavy on soldiers, both physically and emotionally.
The story of the 16th Regiment at Omaha Beach demonstrates the conditions
of battle for most of the assaults on the Cotentin Peninsula:
"Like the 116th, the 16th landed in a state of confusion,
off-target, badly intermingled, under intense machine gun, rifle,
mortar and artillery fire from both blanks and the front, schedules
were screwed up, paths through the obstacles were not cleared, most
officers-the first men off the boats-were wounded or killed before
they could taken even one step on the beach" (Ambrose 346).
Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day. June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of
WWII. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY, 1994.
"Online Newshour: Gergen Dialogue" PBS Online, Internet, 13
Goldstein, Dillon and Wenger. D-Day Normandy: The Story and Photographs.
Maxwell McMillan Company: New York, 1994.
"Normandy: 1944" Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Internet,
10 March 1999.