Chapter 3: Plan for OVERLORD
As the Combined Bomber Offensive approached the terminal point set in the original plan, the question of how next the Heavy bombers should be employed – a subject already under vigorous debate – took on a new urgency. Paralleling the discussion of objectives and targets was an equally pressing problem of command and, as would be expected, the two questions were intimately joined one to the other. Time, if nothing else, argued that the issues must soon be settled, for there remained only two months, more or less, between the termination of the CBO and the invasion of France. The overshadowing importance of that impending invasion naturally held first place in the minds of all leaders and governed the conclusions they reached.
Plans for the Invasion
Planning for OVERLORD itself had assumed a more urgent aspect after the unavoidable interruptions occasioned by the shuttle of new commanders between the Mediterranean and the United Kingdom at the turn of the year. General Eisenhower’s headquarters was located on the southern outskirts of London at Bushy Park, Teddington, where USSTAF also had its headquarters.* To each of the various subordinate headquarters Eisenhower assigned the responsibility for working out detailed plans pertinent to its own organization, but tendencies toward departmentalization of the work were overcome by a remarkable spirit of informal cooperation which received every
* Because of a mischance more comical than serious, the U.S. authorities entrusted with construction of headquarters for SHAEF confused Bushy Park and Bushey Heath. The latter, which had been chosen for the site, was close to Leigh-Mallory’s headquarters while Bushy Park was miles away. (See Sir Frederick E. Morgan, Overture to Overlord (New York, 1951, pp. 256–57.)
encouragement from the supreme commander.1 Ground force plans were devised for the most part at Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery’s headquarters in St. Paul’s School, London, where air and naval officers were usually on hand to represent their commands. AEAF’s preinvasion study was performed at Leigh-Mallory’s headquarters in Stanmore and in Norfolk House in London where a staff remained until May 1944, when all air planning machinery was finally transferred to Stanmore.2 Officers of the Ninth Air Force participated in AEAF planning, drew up programs peculiar to their organizations, and kept in touch with logistical and ground force agencies. An AEAF group eventually known as the Combined Operational Planning Committee studied air support for the invasion while so-called planning syndicates specialized on such subjects as beach appreciation, weather, security, intercommunication, build-up, and many others.3
While the strategic air forces maintained liaison officers with other commands, it was not until General Spaatz complained on 15 April 1944 about the exclusion of USSTAF from OVERLORD planning that relations became close.4 That situation and the inconvenient geographical separation of the planning agencies were probably the major weaknesses of the preinvasion establishment.5
Also, ground force commanders sometimes found it awkward to deal with the several parallel air organizations.6 Nevertheless, the various headquarters and their staffs performed their exacting labors on schedule and always in the utmost secrecy. The extraordinarily high degree of cooperation that prevailed among the two nations and the several services was a matter of sober pride and of great credit to all concerned.
The COSSAC study OVERLORD* remained the fundamental document for invasion planning. That plan had outlined an initial assault by three divisions on the Caen–Bayeux sector of the Normandy coast to take place about 1 May 1944. Then would come the seizure of Cherbourg and the Brittany ports and, after sufficient build-up of forces, the capture of Paris and the Seine ports. After that the Combined Chiefs of Staff would have to set new objectives, for OVERLORD was not of itself an operation designed to win the war. The mission of the air forces was to overcome the disadvantages inherent in an over-water attack on a well-protected coast. So essential was this function that air considerations fairly dictated the choice of the invasion site to some point between Flushing, in the Netherlands, and
* See above, p. 3.
Cherbourg. In this area the Pas-de-Calais sector clearly offered the maximum opportunities to exploit Allied air capabilities, particularly where the short-range Spitfires were concerned. But the Pas-de-Calais was the best defended region precisely because it was the most vulnerable. Also, Allied ground forces would find it difficult to expand from the beaches there to ports as distant as Antwerp and Le Havre. Second best from the air point of view, but far more promising for the ground forces, were the beaches near Caen. This was the least defended area within Allied reach, the soil was suitable for quick airfield development, and it was near the excellent port of Cherbourg.7 All in all, the majority of invasion planners from early 1942 on had regarded the Cotentin beaches as the most inviting point for the assault, notwithstanding their considerable distance from English bases. And there was no reason afterward to regret this choice.
A favorable air situation above the invasion routes and the landing beaches was one of the essentials laid down for OVERLORD in COSSAC’s plan. This required, first of all, a degree of success by the campaign in reducing drastically German aircraft production and in compelling the enemy to concentrate his surviving fighters in the Reich instead of deploying them to meet the invading forces. Attrition of the German Air Force might be expected from the almost daily missions into enemy territory which would exact their price from Me-109’s and FW-110’s that attacked the bomber fleets. But it would not be enough to choke off aircraft production and shoot down fighters, for by prudent hoarding the Germans still might possess 1,600 airplanes in May 1944 to contest the invasion.8 Thus, all air-fields within a 150-mile radius of Caen should be so disrupted that the Germans would be forced to operate from bases as far back from the invasion beaches as the English airfields from which the Allies would fly. In addition, the enemy’s control and air warning systems would have to be dislocated by jamming and by the bombing of key installations.9
Aside from such specific considerations, COSSAC’s planners were fully aware that the disintegration of Germany’s cities and industries as a result of the air offensive would be a major if indirect contribution to OVERLORD.10
Given a favorable air situation, the invasion of Normandy would become possible, which it would not be if the enemy enjoyed air supremacy. COSSAC sketched out many important tasks for Allied air power shortly before and during the Channel crossing. Air
reconnaissance would have to be thorough. When D-day came, troop carriers would transport two-thirds of one airborne division to seize Caen and near-by river crossings in the initial assault.11 Bombers would conduct a short but very heavy attack on beach defenses just before the landing craft touched France.12 A vast umbrella of Allied fighters would protect the crammed LSTs and the crowded beaches from enemy air forces. During the remainder of D-day bombers would operate against hostile communications and airfields and would delay and harass land reinforcements.13 Allied signal units would get on the far shore as quickly as possible,14 and air engineers would begin the construction of landing strips so that fighter-bombers could furnish direct support to the ground forces.15 In all, the COSSAC plan of 1943 envisaged most of the air tasks for OVERLORD and provided a pattern for more detailed planning. Important changes were made in the light of new conditions and altered concepts, but the excellence of this basic invasion plan was widely appreciated.16
After the principal officers who were to lead the invasion took up their duties in England they insisted upon several significant revisions of the COSSAC plan. Since his first reading of the outline, General Eisenhower had thought that the three-division assault was insufficient and that the initial landing was in too much of a column and on too narrow a front.17 Other top leaders also held this view, and at the first formal meeting of the supreme commander and his commanders in chief on 21 January 1944 it was agreed to take steps to strengthen the assault.18 Accordingly, Eisenhower secured permission from the Combined Chiefs of Staff to employ five divisions in the initial landing. This meant that the front would have to be extended to the Ouistreham beaches in the east and the Varreville beaches on the Cotentin Peninsula in the west. Leigh-Mallory readily accepted the change, even though he thought it would become necessary for the air forces to provide two canopies of fighters instead of the single one contemplated in the original plan.19
But differences of opinion arose when the ground commanders demanded that airborne forces drop behind the Varreville (UTAH) coast line prior to the seaborne assault in order to block German reinforcements and counterattacks and to facilitate American advances in the direction of Cherbourg. Leigh-Mallory predicted that casualties in such an attempt would be prohibitive, later estimating that perhaps three-fourths of the paratroops would be lost.20 Churchill, Eisenhower,
Bradley, Montgomery, and Brereton were not convinced by the air commander in chief and vigorous efforts were undertaken to procure more air transports to strengthen the airborne operation. It was several months before final plans for the massive drop could be devised, and Leigh-Mallory’s opposition to the Varreville assault did not abate. On another airborne issue the air commander in chief had his way. This was in abandoning the COSSAC proposal to drop British paratroops into Caen; instead, bridges on the Caen Canal and the Orne River, but not the town itself, would be seized by this force.21 Meanwhile, Headquarters AAF submitted to Eisenhower over General Marshall’s signature a proposal to employ several divisions in a gigantic drop not far from Paris just before and on D-day to divert the Germans from the beachhead and to function strategically as a type of mass vertical envelopment.*22 But General Eisenhower, along with Montgomery and Bradley, regarded the plan as too ambitious and felt that such a force might be immobile if it landed deep in France before the coast line was secured.23 With some regret the AAF discarded the project.
The five-division assault scheme underscored that war-long problem of the western allies: the shortage of landing craft. One method of obtaining more LSTs was to postpone D-day from 1 to 31 May, thus allowing more time for them to arrive from British and American shipyards. That this delay would mean risking less favorable weather conditions for OVERLORD was a disadvantage General Eisenhower felt it necessary to accept.24 And, of course, there was the danger that the Russians might be disconcerted. Another way to help fill up the deficit in landing craft was to withdraw LSTs from the projected operation ANVIL, the invasion of southern France supposed to be launched about the same time as OVERLORD. The British strongly urged the cancellation of ANVIL all along,25 but the Americans were willing only to postpone the southern invasion about sixty days. The delay of OVERLORD and ANVIL (subsequently DRAGOON) was a help to the air forces, which had more time for training and rehearsals, strategic bombing, and preinvasion operations.
The re-evaluation of invasion problems in the light of the wider front and the later target date appeared in the Initial Joint Plan, NEPTUNE, of 1 February 1944. The code name NEPTUNE,
* General Morgan has indicated that the inspiration for this proposal traced in no small art to General Kenney’s success with the airdrop at Nadzab in September 1943. (See this series, pp. 184–86; Morgan, Overture to Overlord, pp. 203–5.)
incidentally, almost supplanted OVERLORD in theater usage; it denoted a more restricted phase of the operation, the Channel crossing and seizure of the beachhead, and also it applied to the Normandy area itself. Prepared by air, ground, and naval staffs, the Initial Joint Plan rounded out many details which had been omitted or vaguely treated in the COSSAC study, such as planning procedures, command organization, training exercises, beach studies, build-up and mounting of forces, and various other subjects. The definitions of air tasks were in general conformity with those set forth in the COSSAC document except that they were more precise.
In several instances, however, the Initial Joint Plan embodied altered conceptions of air force employment, reflecting the ideas of Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory. One paragraph, which was promptly deleted, gave him control of strategic air operations in the weeks before the landing.26 furthermore, the bombing offensive against the Reich was implicitly subordinated to preliminary air activities in support of the invasion27 because Leigh-Mallory was convinced that air supremacy would be won at the time of the landing and not by continuance of the CBO-type of operations. Then, the prominent place assigned in the Initial Joint Plan to air attacks on Hitler’s secret-weapon installations28 was not in accord with most AAF estimates of the danger itself and the probable effectiveness of such neutralization.* Finally, the plan called upon the air forces to impose a general paralysis on the German railway system from the Atlantic coast to the Rhine.29 Very extensive disruption would be necessary, for the network was thick and complex and the Germans had at their disposal abundant reserves in labor and rolling stock.
The Transportation Issue
The proposal to reduce drastically the rail capacity of western Europe brought about a protracted controversy on the proper use of air power in support of OVERLORD. Only after an exhaustive examination of other possibilities was this program, the so-called transportation plan, accepted by General Eisenhower and finally implemented. The project involved diverting a large proportion of Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command effort from strategic targets in Germany to preinvasion objectives in France and Belgium. Perhaps it delayed the opening of the oil campaign which ultimately proved
* See below, pp. 97-104.
so decisive that men wondered why it had not been begun sooner. For a time the transportation plan threatened to jeopardize the attainment of air supremacy before D-day. Also, it complicated the unsettled questions of control of the strategic air forces and required a painful decision with regard to civilian casualties in the occupied countries. Long after D-day, there remained the sobering question as to whether the results of the plan were commensurate with the cost in air effort and the ruin inflicted on French and Belgian cities.
There was no question about the need to cripple the railway system in France to the point where the Germans could not build up their forces by land as fast as the Allies could pour theirs in by sea. But the method for accomplishing this aim previously had been expected, in the COSSAC plan and in other preinvasion proposals, to be interdiction: line-cutting, strafing, bridge-breaking, and the destruction of a few rail focal points-all part of the accepted pattern of isolating a battlefield.30 Now, however, Leigh-Mallory was proposing a long-term program of attrition to wear down and ruin the enemy’s railway capacity by attacks on rail centers in French and Belgian towns, attacks which would destroy rail yards, sidings, stations, sheds, repair shops, roundhouses, turntables, signal systems, switches, locomotives, and rolling stock. Through this plan he expected to produce a railway chaos in western Europe, and by concentrating on the repair organization the Allies could render the Germans helpless to recover from this destruction.31 The authors of the transportation plan may have been several civilian specialists in the Air Ministry, notably Solly Zuckerman and E. D. Brant, who had been meditating about such a program for some time.32 Or possibly it was Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Eisenhower’s deputy commander, who had supervised a less ambitious campaign of this nature in the Mediterranean theater.33 At any rate, Leigh-Mallory and Tedder were convinced by January 1944 that the transportation plan was vital to OVERLORD.
The plan took more definite shape in the meetings of the AEAF bombing committee, where Leigh-Mallory, Brant, and Zuckerman discovered more and more advantages in it notwithstanding the frigidly unreceptive attitude of the British generals from SHAEF and the Eighth Air Force representative.34 Zuckerman likened the railway network to a nervous system, damage to any part of which would affect the whole. He believed the attrition campaign would require ninety days and that it should bear most heavily on the routine rail servicing
centers in France and Belgium.35
The advocates estimated at first that 33, then 40, later 79, and finally 101 railway centers would have to be bombed. A veritable railway desert would be the result! Even if all traffic were not brought to a standstill, what was left could be canalized so that it could be strafed by fighters or stranded by line cuts. Thus the Germans would be unable to bring reinforcements into Normandy; nor could they supply their troops that would be isolated there. Leigh-Mallory insisted that this method of paralyzing German transportation was far preferable to the conventional interdiction program, for the latter gambled too much on good weather shortly before D-day and might reveal to the enemy the proposed invasion site.36
An AEAF study on the employment of bomber forces in OVERLORD, produced on 12 February 1944, brought out more points in favor of the transportation plan.37 Its statistics seemed to show that two-thirds of the railway capacity of western Europe was devoted to German military traffic. Any significant damage, therefore, would be calamitous to the enemy. Furthermore, the rail centers were accessible targets, most of them being in range of fighter escort and ground radar facilities. Nor were they large and resistant. Few of them covered as much as a 500-acre area, and an average of four 500-pound bombs per acre might suffice to turn a rail center into a heap of ruined trackage and equipment and burned-out facilities. That the transportation plan was within Allied capabilities seemed entirely likely. Between February 1944 and D-day bombers could drop some 108,000 tons of bombs, and transportation targets would probably require only 45,000 tons. Thus air effort would be available for a last-minute interdiction program, should it prove necessary, and for other target systems. But the only difficulty with respect to these calculations was the evident fact that the tactical air forces could not by themselves carry out the transportation program. Clearly, most of the tonnage would have to be delivered by USSTAF and RAF Bomber Command heavies, which would mean shifting them from strategic attacks on German industry to preinvasion operations at a much earlier date than had been contemplated in any of the invasion plans.
General Spaatz and Air Chief Marshal Harris of RAF Bomber Command thus came into the picture. On 15 February 1944 the two commanders explored the implications of the transportation plan with Leigh-Mallory. Spaatz at once declared that the whole program was at cross purposes with his directives.38 He felt sure that it would divert
the heavy bombers from vital POINTBLANK targets for a campaign of dubious value. Most important of all, he believed the transportation plan would endanger the winning of air supremacy before the landing,39 for the offensive against German aircraft production was just then at its climax. Air Marshal Harris sided with Spaatz, for he thought that the best support Bomber Command could give to OVERLORD was to intensify its attacks on German cities. And he criticized the transportation plan in sharp terms, saying that it was based on a fallacy, the false assumption that interdiction would not be effective.40 But Leigh-Mallory, who had once before aroused misgivings in Spaatz’s mind with his opinion on the need for air supremacy in advance of OVERLORD,* stood by his proposal. He made it clear that he intended for the strategic air forces to begin the rail center bombings under his own direction by 1 March 1944.41
Apprehensive that the destruction of German aircraft industries might be interrupted, Spaatz informed General Arnold, who replied that the transportation plan might have tragic consequences if it were implemented too early.42 The USSTAF commander also warned General Eisenhower that a premature shift of heavy bomber effort from strategic targets in Germany to rail centers in France and Belgium might result in a battle for air supremacy over the beachhead on D-day.43 The supreme commander was no less anxious than his air officers about assuring control of the skies before the landing, and he delayed his decision for more than a month. Meanwhile, the strategic air forces went ahead with their campaign against German aircraft production and won a momentous victory which, if not quite as overwhelming as it seemed at the time, nonetheless guaranteed Allied air supremacy for the rest of the war.
An imposing list of personalities and agencies opposed the transportation plan in February 1944, among them Churchill, Sir Alan Brooke, Portal, Doolittle, Fred Anderson, the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and others. Their arguments were usually along the lines of demonstrating the superior effectiveness of interdiction to attrition in attacking a railway system and of pointing out the attractions of other target systems. Nor did the opponents of the plan overlook the point that a shattered railway system in France might subsequently hamper the advance of the liberating armies across that country. SHAEF circulated an analysis by a French agent
who contended that the program would injure French civilian traffic far more than German military movements.44 A committee composed mainly of British railway experts employed by the U.S. embassy in London came out emphatically in favor of a short-term interdiction program on the ground that only one-fifth of the French railway system was devoted to German military traffic45 (as opposed to the AEAF estimate of two-thirds and the postwar conclusion of one-third).46 To wreak any serious interference upon German rail communications, the committee believed, some 500 rail centers would have to be demolished, and not the smaller number suggested by Leigh-Mallory and Tedder. At least half of those targets were large, well-constructed, and generally difficult to damage. Other opponents raised the point that a rail center was the worst possible place to break a line, for repairs could be effected within two days at the most.47 How much more effective and easy it would be to forego the attrition program altogether and seal off the Normandy area by interdiction, most of the arguments concluded, and to devote surplus bombing effort to worth-while campaigns. At one point the opponents of the transportation plan were so confident of winning out they considered how they could extricate Air Chief Marshal Tedder from his commitment to it without embarrassing him.48
Spaatz’s counterproposal for bomber support of OVERLORD came in the form of a “Plan for the Completion of the Combined Bomber Offensive,” which he submitted to General Eisenhower on 5 March 1944. This study repudiated the transportation plan with exhaustive documentation,49 showing how it involved an impossibly large undertaking and would not produce significant military effects in time to benefit the invasion. But the heart of the USSTAF plan considered positive means for injuring Germany. Now that the enemy’s air force was broken, the strategic air forces could attack two other vital target systems that lay within reach for the first time, oil and rubber.50 Maintaining that his calculations were conservative, Spaatz held that the air forces could bring about a 50 per cent reduction in German gasoline supplies within six months.51 From England heavy bombers could operate against synthetic petroleum plants in western and central Germany, and the Fifteenth Air Force could attack from its Italian bases the important crude oil refineries in Rumania and elsewhere in southern and central Europe. The effects of such bombings on German industry and troop mobility on all fronts would be so drastic that the enemy
high command might consider whether or not to oppose OVERLORD, or even to continue the war. Devoting first-priority effort to this oil campaign, the heavy bombers could police the German Air Force as second priority, attack rubber and tire industries as third, and, as a last resort, bomb rail centers in the Reich whenever bad weather shielded the primary objectives. Spaatz’s program called for fifteen days of visual effort by the Eighth and ten days by the Fifteenth Air Force. After fulfilling it, the heavy bombers could turn their efforts to direct tactical support of the invasion under a plan which SHAEF, the Air Ministry, and USSTAF might devise.52
Full of promise as this bold proposal was, the transportation plan was winning adherents. Leigh-Mallory made much of the danger of waiting until shortly before D-day to interdict communications into Normandy; to take chances with the weather in carrying out a short-term program seemed to him an unjustifiable risk.53 And the ground forces, of course, had to be assured of protection against German reinforcement of the invasion area. Somehow Air Chief Marshal Harris was won over to the transportation plan,54 and he altogether opposed the USSTAF project to bomb oil production, which he at first took to be another of the panaceas so frequently pressed on the air forces.55 General Brereton of the Ninth Air Force was in favor of the rail center program,56 and RAF Chief of Air Staff Portal began to lean to the plan. Probably the most effective champion was the deputy supreme commander, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, who opposed Spaatz’s oil program on the grounds that there was not enough time before D-day to damage production seriously and that the tactical air forces of AEAF and RAF Bomber Command could not take effective part in such a campaign. On the other hand, he believed that all air forces could work together successfully in dislocating the railway system of western Europe to the point that German military traffic could scarcely move.57
USSTAF adduced further arguments in favor of an oil campaign and a brief interdiction program. It contended that the Germans needed only from fifty to eighty trains per day to move their reserves into the invasion area – a mere fraction of their capacity which would remain available no matter how many rail centers were destroyed. Spaatz stressed the success of interdiction in previous campaigns, and he predicted that the Germans would not even defend their rail centers, thus not allowing the Allies to deplete GAF fighter strength. As for Tedder’s point that USSTAF, AEAF, and RAF Bomber Command
could all operate in fulfilling the transportation plan, Spaatz rejoined that three wrongs did not make a right. Nor was he unmindful of the expected high casualties among friendly civilians who lived near the rail centers in occupied countries and the disadvantages of making the French railways difficult to use when the time came for the Allies to advance toward the Reich. Finally, he regarded it as most important to open the oil campaign promptly, since only fourteen plants were turning out 80 per cent of Germany’s synthetic petroleum, most of which was used for gasoline. Those plants required no more bombing effort than a corresponding number of rail centers. Yet the loss of fourteen synthetic oil plants might be catastrophic to the Germans, who could easily spare fourteen rail centers.58 Spaatz pressed his case with vigor and sent to the MTO for General Eaker, who strongly advised Eisenhower not to adopt the transportation plan.59
A decision had to be made. The differences of opinion arose from varying interpretations of experiences in Sicily and Italy and were derived from the same intelligence data on the European railway system. The divisions were not along national lines, nor of the RAF and the AAF, but, in Mr. Churchill’s phrase,” criss-cross between them.”60 Several British agencies favored oil and interdiction, while others supported the transportation plan. Among the AAF generals in England considerable variance of opinion prevailed, and while Headquarters AAF tended to follow Spaatz’s views, it declined to commit itself on the ground that this was a matter for General Eisenhower to decide.61
At a conference at WIDEWING on Saturday, 25 March 1944, all views on the issue were aired. Tedder supported Leigh-Mallory’s proposal. Harris and Portal raised a few doubts but gave it qualified approval. General Eisenhower said he thought there was no real alternative; the transportation plan was the only one which offered a reasonable chance for the air forces to make an important contribution to the land battle during the first vital weeks of OVERLORD. General Spaatz made his final plea: the GAF would fight to defend oil installations but not the rail centers; an oil campaign would have decisive effects within six months, but the transportation plan could not be decisive within any measurable length of time.62
On the following day Eisenhower officially made his decision – in favor of the transportation plan. As he wrote General Marshall a few weeks later, he was convinced “there is no other way in which this tremendous air force can help us, during the preparatory period, to get
ashore and stay there.”63 In choosing this plan, however, the supreme commander left the way open for an early beginning of an oil campaign and the inclusion of an interdiction program near D-day. And, as will be seen, he settled the command organization for the rail center bombings in a way that pleased Spaatz, who agreed that, in view of all the factors involved, Eisenhower’s decision was justified.64
A formidable obstacle remained before the transportation plan could go into effect. The British War Cabinet, and especially the Prime Minister, were appalled by the number of French and Belgian casualties likely to result when the rail centers were bombed. Some estimates ran to 160,000, and it was feared that disagreeable political and diplomatic reactions might ensue, that there would arise among the French a serious revulsion against Britain and America over what might seem to them a ruthless use of air power.65 General Eisenhower gradually overcame the hesitations of the British cabinet and even of French officials by insisting resolutely on the sober military necessity of making a successful landing and driving the enemy out of France as quickly as possible.66 On 7 May 1944, after a few bombings had been carried out, Churchill wrote the President that he was by no means convinced of the wisdom of the transportation plan67 But General Arnold and the War Department were resolved that Eisenhower should be left with freedom of action in the matter.68 The transportation plan was to be regarded as one of the prices of liberation which, even with 10,000 casualties,69 proved much less terrible than had been anticipated.
Command of the Heavies
The question of fitting the strategic air forces into the invasion command lay in the background of nearly all air considerations that came up from time to time. Neither the American nor the British staff had changed its opinion since the discussions of November 1943.* The U.S. Joint Chiefs were still determined to give General Eisenhower command of all air forces for the critical period of OVERLORD. The British still wished RAF Bomber Command to retain its semiautonomous position without falling under Eisenhower’s control. Shortly after he arrived in England, General Eisenhower received a letter from General Arnold reminding him of the AAF’s desire to do everything possible to bring the air forces under the supreme command.70 In thanking Arnold for his support Eisenhower said he was “perfectly willing
* See Vol. II, 737-38.
to avoid terms and language that might startle anyone,” but he wanted full power to determine missions and priorities for all forces without having to negotiate in the heat of battle.71 General Spaatz was entirely in favor of placing USSTAF at the disposal of the supreme commander; in fact, he had advocated such an arrangement when he first heard about OVERLORD.72 And at lunch one day in January 1944 he and Tedder privately agreed that whatever organization was decided upon, they would conduct air operations in the way that had proved so successful in the Mediterranean campaigns-under Eisenhower’s direction.73
During the early weeks of 1944 Prime Minister Churchill and the Air Ministry continued to resist American pressure to bring RAF Bomber Command into the invasion structure on the same terms as USSTAF. Bomber Command should assist OVERLORD at the critical period, of course, but otherwise it might operate as the British desired.74 Another element in the situation was the attitude of Leigh-Mallory, who, as air commander in chief for OVERLORD, intended to play a considerable part in directing strategic air force operations; the imposing headquarters which he was assembling at Stanmore aroused concern at USSTAF that he might succeed.75 Leigh-Mallory’s ideas concerning air supremacy before the invasion and the bombing of rail centers evoked the reverse of enthusiasm in Spaatz, who strongly opposed endowing that officer with any significant degree of control over the Eighth Air Force.76 Even the British were not anxious to confide their bombers to the air commander in chief.77 The final settlement of the transportation issue on 26 March 1944 took into consideration Spaatz’s wishes regarding the command structure for that program. Eisenhower stipulated carefully that Tedder and not Leigh-Mallory would direct the transportation campaign and that USSTAF and RAF Bomber Command would be parallel to AEAF in its execution.78
That proved to be the pattern for adjusting the air command question: the equal stature of AEAF, USSTAF, and Bomber Command within the supreme commander’s organization. It was reached when Prime Minister Churchill yielded to Eisenhower’s views after the latter threatened, as General Marshall reportedly had once said he would do under the circumstances,79 to “go home” unless he commanded the air forces during the invasion.80 With Churchill’s opposition surmounted, Eisenhower, Portal, and Spaatz worked out an agreement
which placed the strategic air forces under the supreme commander with the understanding that Tedder would supervise OVERLORD air operations for SHAEF, that the security of the British Isles (against the robot-bomb and rocket threat),* might take precedence over all air priorities, and that the command organization would be reviewed after the Allied armies were established on the continent.81 These arrangements were acceptable to Headquarters AAF, although General Arnold took the precaution of adding a proviso which gave the Combined Chiefs of Staff power to review and approve the final plan for strategic air force participation in OVERLORD before it went into effect.82 Lastly, a question of terminology arose. The British wanted to charge Eisenhower with “responsibility for supervising” air operations, while the supreme commander himself insisted upon the phrase “command of” so there could be no doubt of his right to control such operation.83
The final wording of the directive, devised in Washington before Eisenhower’s recommendation arrived, gave the supreme commander “direction of” air operations out of England.84 Eisenhower began to exercise his new power on an informal basis by the last of March 1944,85 and at midnight 13/14 April 1944 he officially assumed control.86 Thus Eisenhower commanded or directed AEAF (Ninth Air Force, Second Tactical Air Force, Air Defense of Great Britain and several assorted RAF groups), RAF Bomber Command, USSTAF (Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces, with only the Eighth really under Eisenhower’s direction), U.S. 1st Army Group, 21 Army Group, and Allied Naval Forces altogether a most formidable aggregation of forces. Tedder coordinated the operations of the three air commands and supervised their strategical operations in support of OVERLORD. Actually, it seemed to some American officers, he enjoyed the enviable position of possessing authority without responsibility.87 Leigh-Mallory was officially the air commander in chief for OVERLORD and chief of AEAF; he was also allowed to supervise heavy bomber operations that were purely tactical. He was not to assume rigid control of the strategic air forces until 1 June 1944, and then only for a short time.
The command settlement was a successful compromise of various conflicting interests and points of view. Yet it imposed several awkward relationships on USSTAF. For example, while Spaatz and Tedder were close, only one American officer sat on Tedder’s nine-man
* See below, Chapter 4.
council for air matters. Thus USSTAF and Eighth and Ninth Air Force headquarters were sometimes overlooked in secondary matters.88 The primacy in priority given the robot-bomb and rocket threat sometimes proved irksome to USSTAF. And there remained the disturbing AEAF situation. The largest component of that organization, Ninth Air Force, was under Leigh-Mallory for operations and Spaatz for administration. A belated effort to reduce friction within AEAF was made in May 1944 by assigning Maj. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg as deputy commander. The Fifteenth Air Force in Italy was one of the twin pillars of USSTAF and therefore was responsible to Spaatz for strategic operations, but the MTO commander, General Wilson, had the power to put the Fifteenth on tactical tasks in the land battle if he declared an emergency; however, he used this prerogative with admirable restraint.89 Finally, the Combined Chiefs of Staff granted authority under British pressure and over Spaatz’s objections to permit the MTO commander to order heavy bomber attacks on political objectives whenever he thought such blows might do some good.90 This meant in fact the bombing of the capitals of those nations in southeastern Europe, Mr. Churchill’s “Balkan jackals”,91 which at that stage of the war always seemed to be tottering but would not fall.
Opinion in Headquarters AAF tended to be critical of the air organization for the invasion, although it was pleased that USSTAF and RAF Bomber Command had been brought under Eisenhower’s direction.92 General Arnold occasionally toyed with the idea of elevating Spaatz to a command which would embrace all U.S. air forces in Europe, thus giving him a position practically parallel to Eisenhower’s except for the critical period of the invasion.93 Early in 1944, Spaatz discouraged the proposal since Eisenhower asked him not to press it in view of the delicate negotiations then in progress with regard to Bomber Command.94 Toward the end of April, however, after he had seen air units nominally under his control ordered on diverse missions by a half-dozen different headquarters, Spaatz informed Arnold that the full potential power of the American air forces was not being realized. Thus he privately recommended the “progressive integration of all U.S. air forces operating against Germany,” to be effected after the invasion.95
This combination of the American air forces, a project often considered, was not to be achieved before the European war ended. There was no serious possibility of “marrying” the RAF and the AAF, for each possessed very large forces and was devoted to different operating
methods. Also, American officers disliked serving under British command, an attitude which was undoubtedly reciprocated. But Spaatz thought it was imperative to free the air forces from all commanders whose primary interest lay in other directions than the air war.96 Long before97 and long after D-days98 he contended that a properly conducted strategic air war would eliminate the need for the invasion by land forces, or at least reduce it to a mere occupational operation. Such an air offensive was not to take place, however; it had very early been determined to subordinate air power to the more conventional types of warfare, thus making the victory in the last analysis a land victory won with the support of the air forces. Both Spaatz and Arnold were reconciled to this situation and did their best to make things easier for Eisenhower at the time of his historic responsibility. Hence the AAF agreed to suggest no changes in the command structure until after the invasion forces were securely established in France and then, as it turned out, it was not disposed to revise the system at all.
The organizational machinery for the invasion was not really as unwieldy as it appeared, as Spaatz pointed out after V-E Day,99 nor as tangled as it looked on charts. Actually, it functioned exceedingly well, not so much because of its structure as because of the good sense and proper spirit of top British and American commanders as well as the intense conviction all down the line that the invasion had to succeed.” It will, I think, be considerable time before anybody will be able,” General Morgan has observed, “to set down in the form of an organizational diagram the channels through which General Eisenhower’s orders reached his aircraft.”100 But reach them they did, and to good effect.