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