Caesar Alonso
Endre Enyedy
Dolores Noboa
Kimia Jackson

The Normandy Campaign Strategy

Flight Across the Sands of Time

The Goal of the Air Campaign

"As the allied troops prepared to embark, a huge storm blew up on the English channel. Eisenhower reluctantly postponed the June 5th invasion until the 6th. Rommel, believing that the weather conditions precluded a major invasion for at least another two weeks, left for Germany to celebrate his wife's birthday on the 6th. His timing could not have been worse. On the night of the 5th, 22,000 men of the British 6th Division and the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions set out for France. The British to drop behind the German lines and secure the Orne bridge in the east, the Americans to take St. Mere Eglise and retreat behind the western beaches. The paratroops landed early in the morning on the 6th, taking the Germans by surprise and meeting little resistance. Many, however, drowned in the swamps, rivers, and areas flooded by the Germans, weighted down by their heavy parachutes and equipment. Those that landed safely began preparing the way for the land forces arriving at the beaches at dawn, capturing bridges and destroying German communications. By dawn the Americans had liberated the first French Town, St. Mere Eglise, and the British had possession of the Caen bridge."


Initially the invasion of Normandy had been planned for May, but a landing craft shortage delayed it for another month. This gave the allied Air Force the entire month of May to extend their extensive "Transportation" Plan. Initiated on March 6, more than eight thousand
British bombers had dropped forty-two thousand tons of bombs on railway marshalling yards in France and Belgium. American bombers had dropped a further eleven thousand tons of bombs in May alone.

With the French northern railway thus destroyed by the Lancasters and Fortresses of the RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force during May, air strikes could be focused on the beach itself. On the night and morning of D-Day, Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force dropped an unprecedented 5000 tons of bomb over the German defenses in the immediate vicinity of the beaches; namely, the ten most important German gun batteries in the assault area.. This was accomplished by substituting long distance fuel tanks with bombs, a strategic advantage of launching from Great Britain.

12,000 British and American air force planes were to provide air support to the invasion itself. Of these 12,000, over 5000 were fighters, far outnumbering the 169 German planes of General Hugo Sperrle's Third Air Fleet. "The Allies' overwhelming air superiority guaranteed not only fire support at the moment of assault but security from surveillance beforehand. In the first six months of 1944 only thirty-two Luftwaffe daytime flights over England were recorded; there was only one in the first week of June - on 7 June, a day too late - and this at a time when allied intrusions into French air space were as common as the flight of swallows." (Keegan 379)

Bad weather had kept almost all of the German Air Force reconnaissance aircraft grounded on June 5th. A message sent by the German Air Force Command shortly before midnight on June 5 showed the extent of German weakness in the air as a result of fuel shortage addressed to the First Parachute Army based at Nancy, it dictated conservation of its consumption of aircraft fuel whenever possible. "With reduction of aircraft fuel by allied action, most essential requirements for training and carrying out production plans can scarcely be covered by quantities of aircraft fuel available. [Whenever possible, the supply of goods to air units and] duty journeys in general [must be made by rail]." (Excerpts from the letter, as quoted in Gilbert 532). Of course, the destruction of the French railway system beforehand hampered
matters.



Paratroopers. Was this an effective
innovation at the time?


"At 11:55 on the evening of June 5, British infantrymen, members of the 6th Airborne Division, landed by gliders at the village of Benouville, six miles north of Caen, thus heralding the beginning of Operation Overlord. By dawn of June 6, eighteen thousand British and American parachutists were on the ground in Normandy, capturing essential bridges and disrupting German lines of communication." (Gilbert 534). These men comprised three airborne divisions, spearheads of the glider battalions what were to follow, and had dropped across the lower reaches of the two rivers, Vire and Orne, that demarcated the bridgehead's outer flanks.

The British 6th Airborne Division, compactly released by experienced pilots on to open pasture, had dropped quickly and efficiently and moved rapidly towards their objectives, which were the bridges of the Orne, which were to be held, and those of its eastward neighbour the Dives, which were to be blown in order to prevent German armour from passing. The American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had less luck. Their pilots were inexperienced, and easily overshot the narrow neck of the Cotentin peninsula. To make matters worse, the valley of the Vire was heavily flooded deliberately as a method of defense by the Germans. Some American parachutist fell into the sea, many drowned in floods, while a vast number of otters dropped miles from their objectives due to bad navigation and fear of flak. Many men were left to roam for days behind enemy lines, refusing to surrender while their rations and ammunition lasted. Nevertheless, they managed to effectively cut off the battlefield.

By June 7 the German message regarding fuel shortages was finally brought to the attention of the British (the British Intelligence had decrypted the Enigma message). The following day the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, informed Churchill of this and emphasized the importance of this missive. The War Cabinet's Joint Intelligence committee suggested a strategic bombing offensive against the synthetic oil plants, and Churchill agreed. The next day General Spaatz, head of the American bomber forces, directed the United States Strategic Air Forces to set German oil plants as their first priority targets. "Henceforth, the installations for the most crucial element in Germany's ability to make war - fuel oil - were to be bombed with mounting force and effectiveness, a sustained aerial bombardment which was to be as instrumental in the defeat of Germany as the amphibious landings in Normandy." (Gilbert
536). Four days after the letter to Churchill, a British night bombing raid on the German oil installations at Gelsenskirchen was so destructive that the plant was rendered inoperative for several months, and five thousand tons of stored oil were destroyed.

The Importance of Timing

Eisenhower gives the order of the day "Full victory - Nothing else" to paratroopers in England just before they board airplanes in the first D-Day assault. What was the effect of this on troop morale?

"The launch date for Overlord was carefully chosen. A full moon was necessary to pinpoint targets for the advance paratroops which would land behind German lines slightly after midnight. But the moon had to set early to conceal Allied landing craft approaching the beaches shortly before dawn. At the same time, the landing craft had to arrive during low tide, when the hazardous beach obstacles planted by the Germans as part of their coastal defense could be easily detected and destroyed. All this conditions could be met on June 5th through the 7th. If Overlord did not take place on one of those days, it would have to be delayed for at least another month, a possibility which General Eisenhower found intolerable."

D-Day was set originally for June 5, with the preemptive air strikes on June 4. The weather, however, was not particularly favorable, and a fierce storm raged across the English Channel. The winds and waves made landing by sea or air impossible, so the airborne divisions stood down, the sea borne divisions turned back, and the main armada kept to harbor. It was not until the evening of June 5 that the weather was judged to have abated enough for D-Day to be set the following morning.

Works Cited

Gilbert, Martin. The Second World War. New York: Henry Holt and Company Inc. 1989

Works Consulted

Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. 1994.

Calvocoresi, Peter & Guy Wint & John Pritchard, Total War Volume 1: The Western Hemisphere. New York: Pantheon House Inc., 1989.

Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: The Penguin Group. 1990.

Middleton, Drew. Crossroads of Modern Warfare. New Yrok: Peter Bedrick Books. 1983.