D-Day Thesis Essay, Research Paper
D-Day, June 6 1944.
Air-Power: Significant or not?
A private who was aboard one of the first few gliders to reach Normandy expresses his feeling:
“I experienced an interesting psychological change in the few minutes before and immediately after take off. As I had climbed aboard and strapped myself into my seat I felt tense, strange and extremely nervous. It was as if I was in a fantasy dream world and thought that at any moment I would wake up from this unreality and find that I was back in the barrack room at Bulford Camp. Whilst we laughed and sang to raise our spirits – and perhaps to show others that we were no scared – personally I knew that I was frightened to death. The very idea of carrying out a night-time airborne landing of such a small force into the midst of the German army seemed to me to be little more than a suicide mission.
Yet at the moment that the glider parted company with the ground I experienced an inexplicable change. The feeling of terror vanished and was replaced by exhilaration. I felt literally on top of the world. I remember thinking, ‘you’ve had it chum, its no good worrying anymore – the die has been cast and what is to be, will be, and there is nothing you can do about it.’ I sat back and enjoyed my first trip to Europe.”
Yet another rifleman who was carried to the beach in the LCVP?s relates one of his incidents:
?I got on the gun. I set the gun up, and we?re looking, we?re looking. He says, “See if you can spot him.” All of a sudden I spotted him, about 200 yards away, and I?d say maybe 30 or 40 feet higher than me. He wasn?t firing at me. He was firing down across. So when he opened up again ? the Germans, when they fire, they fire fast, they don?t fire like we did, because they change the barrels of their machine guns in seconds. Ours were a pain. We had to take the whole gun apart and screw the barrel off, and then put another barrel on. They would get hot if you fired like the Germans. We only fired bursts of three or four at a time. The Germans put their finger down, they?d run a hundred off. Because they just push a button, the barrel falls out, and they put another one on. We couldn?t do that. We had to take the whole gun down, screw the barrel off, put a new barrel on, then loosen it three clicks, it was a pain. So he fired, I picked him up, I got about ten rounds in there, that sonofagun never fired any more. Some of the riflemen got up and they walked over and looked in the hole. They didn?t signal that there was anybody in there. They just looked in the hole and walked away…?
Background of D-Day:
The Second World War had started almost five years ear, on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. England and France had promised to defend Poland. But they were unprepared to fight, and as a result they were terribly beaten. by the next spring, France had fallen into German hands. The British army had to flee the Continent and escaped from the French port of Dunkirk with frightful losses. In the summer of 1940 the Germans, with their allies, the Italians, controlled all of western Europe. The German air force began its attempt to bomb the British Isles into rubble.
Nevertheless, the British began to think about getting back onto the continent. They started planning an attack across the Channel- even though it seemed more likely that they would become the invaded rather than the invaders.
Hitler threatened to invade England. He went so far as to assemble a fleet of barges along the French coast, planning to use them as assault boats. But he hesitated because he realized the risks of an amphibious attack. Also, he knew that the British navy would destroy itself, if necessary in an attempt to smash a German invasion fleet. Still the idea was tempting. The British knew as well as Hitler did that if the Germans could make the landing successfully, England would be lost.
Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighter pilots in their spitfires and hurricanes, lashed back at the great German air force. And British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British people looked forward to the day when England would attack.
Then Hitler postponed his English invasion plans. it was, from his point of view, one if his greatest errors.. He made another bad mistake in June 1941 by declaring war on Russia, until then his ally. His Italian and Japanese partners also made mistakes. They both attempted more than they had the strength to handle. Italy pushed the war into North Africa. Japan brought the United states into the conflict, on December 7th of that same year, by attacking Hawaii (Pearl Harbor) the Philippines and other American possessions in the Pacific.
American military strategists, like the British, began to plan for the day when the Allies would invade Europe to destroy the powerful German army.
In August 1942, when the United States was just beginning to turn its peacetime strength into military power, the British and Canadians actually made a small amphibious test raid across the Channel. it was aimed at the small French port of Dieppe. The raid was a disaster. nearly half the 6,100 British and Canadian soldiers who took part in it were killed or captured.
Yet, despite its frightful cost, the Dieppe raid taught the Allies a valuable lesson. This was that the built-up seaports, like Dieppe, were too well fortified to be attacked successfully, and that the great assault should aim for open beaches.
But a large invasion, depending on great quantities of ammunition, gasoline, food and countless other supplies, would need a port or excellent unloading facilities in France. So the raid inspired an idea that worked: the Allies would bring the port with them. On D-day they towed from England all parts of the temporary ports which they put together off the flat Normandy beaches. These included ships to be sunk as breakwaters, and floating piers, cranes and hoists.
Right after Dieppe, things began to go better for the Allies. in the fall of 1942 the British 8th army, commanded by General Bernard Law Montgomery, defeated the Germans and Italians in Egypt- the first in a series of defeats that was to drive them out of the North African desert. And farther west, nearer to the Atlantic side of Africa, a 1000-ship British and American invasion force had landed. As it advanced to meet Montgomery, the enemy was caught in a powerful two-way squeeze.
In January 1943, Prime Minister Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met at Casablanca in north Africa. By then they felt that the tide of the war had turned. the Russians had stopped the Germans at the Russian city of Stalingrad, and were pushing back from Volga River. The North African campaign seemed certain to be a decisive Allied success. While the next step was to knock Italy out of the war, no small matter, a joint staff of British and Americans started to plan in the earnest for the great cross-Channel invasion.
They hoped it would be ready by early 1944. In May 1943 they gave the project its code name and started preparations. It was to be known as Operation Overlord, and the day of the attack, more popularly known as
D-Day, although the term D-Day stands for any day of attack in a battle, it is more commonly referred for this particular attack on the European coastline.
How important was air-power for D-day?s success?
The assault troops in the boats- LCVP?s ( Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), generally understood the importance of what they were about to try to do at Normandy beach. But much of what had been going on was top secret. The men in the first boat sections observed the results of many actions they had heard practically nothing about.
They noticed for instance that there were no German planes in the sky, but they didn?t know why.
The answer involved a fabulous battle story- of air battle- an air battle that had been fought and won as one part of the D-Day preparations.
At this critical moment, the Germans had fewer than 200 fighter planes available for the defense of France. Most of what they had were not going to get off the ground- for lack of gasoline. most of those that took to the air were not going to fight- primarily because they were so heavily outnumbered.
That was a sign of one great job the Allied air forces had done. For two years the American bombers had been destroying Germany?s gasoline-refining and plane-manufacturing factories. This was just as important as meeting and defeating German planes in the air. In the two months before the assault, the allied airmen had set out to wreck the railroads the German army would need for a counterattack. In April and May 1437 French locomotives had been bombed or machine-gunned out of action. And the secret Allied helpers in France ? the men and women in the French resistance movement- had blown up another 292.
The Allies had already won the war in the air at the cost of thousands of British and American lives. Without that earlier victory, the assault would have been foolhardy.
So decisive was this victory that commander of the American air forces, General H. H. Arnold compared it to the Battle of Gettysburg for its importance in American history.
The leading ground troops merely noted the results. They were glad to see that all the planes in the sky had painted stripes like Christmas candy- meaning that they belonged to the Allies, not to the Germans. The men in the landing boats were delighted that the first steps of the assault had gone so smoothly!
It had been noted on a higher level that unless the fighter strength of the enemy could be broken ?it may become literally impossible to carry out the destruction planned?. A new plan was drafted. Operation ?Pointblank? raising the reduction of the German fighter strength to the first priority while retaining the ultimate object of the bomber offensive.
These conclusions, with their notes of pessimism, were not shared by the bomber commanders, and were echoes of a new problem of immense significance. Air power, and particularly the bomber, had introduce a new dimension into warfare. Despite results which were at best, inconclusive, and the continued growth of enemy fighter strength, the Commanders of the Allied Strategic Air Forces had reached the conclusion that they controlled the decisive instrument; that they could achieve victory alone. General Spaatz, commanding the United States Strategic Air Force (USSTAF), believed simply that ?Overlord? was unnecessary. Air Chief Marshal Harris, his British opposite number, agreed with him. General Arnold, the representative of the US Air arm on the Joint Chiefs of staff had reached similar conclusion. None of these commanders ?objected? to ?Overlord? or its demands upon their forces. They believed simply if they continued with their bombing strategy the demands would be met.
Nazi Germany was being dissected, and destroyed behind its armies. The vast concentrations of heavy industry in the Ruhr and Saar valleys, coal, oil, synthetic fuels, ball bearings, roads, railways, cities and hamlets were all being steadily reduced to rubble at the whim of this man or tat. The bomber chiefs were agreed on their missions, but not on their choices of targets. Oil, General Spaatz believed, was the essential upon which a modern nation at war must depend. ball bearings, said another. Communications and morale, yet others. These beliefs made the commanders of the strategic bomber forces careless of the tactical demands of armies. Strategically, they declared that the bombing was winning the war, and not the air-power!
Summary of D-Day events:
D-Day was, probably, the most decisive battle of the Second World War. It was the largest amphibious invasion of all time; over 155,000 Allied troops were disembarked on the first day. When launched on June 6, 1944, it came as a total surprise. Over the three months that followed, the Germans lost most of France, despite having an enormous superiority on D-Day. Ultra was key in causing this rapid success.
The success of D-Day depended on three prerequisites: Allied air and naval supremacy, and the dispersal of German troops throughout Western Europe. By mid-1944 the first two did not pose much of a problem; the Allied bombers pounded Germany unmercifully and the U-boat threat no longer existed. The third one, however, was of major concern. Had the Germans ever discovered that Normandy was the launching site for D-Day, the Allies would have faced a disaster of the first magnitude. This did not happen, however, due to many reasons.
The most important reason was the development of an extensive deception plan, which was named Bodyguard. It had two major objectives; 1) to confuse the Germans about when and where the invasion was to take place, and 2) to cripple the Germans once the invasion began. It was the most complicated deception plan of the entire war, if not of all time.
The plan was put in operation using Ultra. In 1941, the British broke the Abwehr (the German Secret Service) codes. As a result, they knew the identities of all German agents, and were able to capture them. Some were executed or imprisoned, but many were successfully turned into double agents. Throughout the rest of the war, these agents sent the Germans misleading information which was accepted as being accurate.
The centerpiece of the deception plan was to convince the Germans that the invasion would occur in the Pas de Calais area. This proved to be relatively easy. As early as October 1943, Field-Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (the Commander of the German Armies in France) became convinced that the Allies would invade there, an opinion he sent via Enigma to OKW (the German military headquarters).
To keep the Germans preoccupied with Pas de Calais, the Allies created the mythical 1st United States Army Group (FUSAG). It was “placed” opposite the Germans in Dover, and “commanded” by US General George C. Patton. From October until the end of July 1944, when this deception was finally dropped, it remained a primary focus of Bodyguard. At all times, it was imperative to keep the Germans convinced that the invasion site was Pas de Calais.
Luckily for the Allies, a significant amount of Ultra was being deciphered by the Allies in 1943 and 1944. This made it easy to measure the plan’s effectiveness as it was being carried out. During the Spring of 1944, Ultra was thorough enough to offer a nearly complete picture of the enemy. On May 29 (one week before D-Day) a message, regarding fuel allocations to Atlantic Wall construction projects, was intercepted by Bletchey Park. It started out by saying that the fuel allocations from OKW was:
approximately 20 percent less than applied for on basis of summer programme. There would be sufficient for the concrete envisaged in the programme provided that it could be carried out without considerable disturbance (emphasis mine) . . . . C-in-C West (von Rundstedt) therefore requests that as a precautionary measure a fuel reserve be made available for the construction . . . . recourse would only be had to this reserve if after the first ten days of June the situation can be reviewed as a whole.
Instead of being worried about the impending invasion, the Germans, as shown above, were as Ronald Lewin put it, “calmly discussing concrete and fuel and improvement of defenses as though unconscious of time and danger.” This complacency was deeply reassuring to the Allies.
On June 6, the Allies invaded Normandy with almost total surprise. Although some German troops put up heavy resistance, the German leadership acted as though nothing significant had happened. Hitler and his generals remained convinced that the landings were only a diversion, and that the real invasion (the Schwerpunkt) would take place later and in the Pas de Calais area. The 15th Army (the largest army in Western Europe), instead of moving south to encounter the Allied forces, remained in Pas de Calais. Had this not been the case, the Allies might have faced a disastrous situation. Thanks to Bodyguard, it did not happen.
Bodyguard was not the only reason, however, for D-Day’s success. Among the others was the weather. Before the U-Boat threat was removed in May 1943, the Germans maintained several weather stations throughout the Atlantic. After May 1943, the Germans were largely ignorant of Atlantic weather patterns. In contrast, the Allies were aware of much of the weather on the Continent, mainly through Ultra encrypts. This disparity was a distinct disadvantage for the Germans.
Because of Overlord’s strict landing requirements, there were only three days on which the invasion could have occurred: June 5, 6, and 7. It was imperative that the weather was good on at least one of these days. Otherwise, the invasion would have to have been delayed until the end of June or the beginning of July. By this time, it probably would have been too late, as the Germans would have been better fortified. Thus the invasion had to take place in June, at the very latest, if it were to be assured a reasonable chance of success.
A massive Atlantic storm beginning of June 4 forced D-Day’s postponement. It appeared that the weather would prevent the landings from taking place. On the next day, however, a short break in the weather pattern emerged, leading Eisenhower to give the go-ahead for D-Day. The Germans were unaware of this break; all they saw was the bad weather hitting the shores of Normandy. This ignorance was fatal to the Germans, as the Allies were able to land in almost total surprise.
Ultra was just as significant in the fighting after the landings on June 6 as before. By the time of the Normandy invasion, Bletchey Park was reading Enigma extensively and in “real time.” The Allied generals were provided every conceivable piece of information about the Germans; their military command structures, the identity and operational strength of divisions being sent to Normandy, and German strategy.
In the first week of the invasion, Ultra was of crucial importance. As the Allies struggled to advance beyond their beachheads, they were aware that the Germans were suffering from acute fuel shortages. This encouraged them to launch immediate offensives after their beaches became sucured. These offensives, although costly, managed within two weeks to conquer the French port of Cherbourg and the entirety of the Cotentin peninsula. Even after one of the worst storms ever to hit Western Europe hit in late June, the Allies became entrenched enough to avoid being driven “into the sea.”
It is at this point that Hitler lost the war. The Germans were forced to fight a two-front war again (three with Italy). This had proved disastrous during the First World War, and it proved to be again during the Second as well. This was realized by some in the German military who started to display defeatist attitudes. The assassination attempt on June 20, 1944 against Hitler was a natural outgrowth of these attitudes.
By the end of August, most of France was liberated. Paris fell on August 25. The Germans, however, hung on for another nine months. They launched one “last hurrah,” the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944; this surprised the Allies but did not affect the outcome of the war. By this point, it was a foregone conclusion that the Germans had lost. Four months later, Adolf Hitler ended the “Thousand Year Reich” with a bullet to his head.
- D-Day R.W. Thompson.
- World War- II ? Milton Dark
- The Story of D-Day- Bruce Bliven, Jr.
- Microsoft Encarta 99 Reference Suite.
- D-day website: http://normandy.eb.com/