Section 2: Invasion of Western Europe
Chapter 7: Normandy
When in the preparation of a military history one comes to an event so historically significant as the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, one naturally feels that the occasion calls for dramatic effect. But it is not always possible to achieve such an effect, and this is especially true in the narrating of air operations. So much of air’s contribution to the success of the Normandy landings depended upon the cumulative effect of operations extending back through the days, months, and even years which preceded D-day that D-day itself, though providing an obvious climax to this preparatory work, seems almost an anticlimax.
There was drama enough in the loading of thousands of paratroopers for a hazardous drop behind the enemy lines; in the difficult night assembly of hundreds of loaded troop carriers as they formed for the flight across the Channel; in the tense activity on scores of airfields as ground crews readied their planes for the big show; in the fighter sweeps sent out beyond the beaches to flush such of the enemy’s planes as might be within reach; and in the massive bombings of the beaches themselves just before the landings. But for all the unprecedented activity of a night and a day in which the American air forces alone dispatched more than 8,000 planes on missions directly related to the invasion, the day proved to be, in one sense, peculiarly uneventful. There were no great air battles so well had the preparatory work been done and so overwhelming were the Allied air forces that the Luftwaffe refused the challenge. The record of air operations in its most significant aspects points chiefly, therefore, to impressive evidence of a victory already won and to a massive effectiveness speaking first of the singularly undramatic skills of organization and planning.
The record speaks too of adherence to sound principles of air warfare.
Those principles, drawn from a wide and lengthening experience, gave to the air forces supporting the ground operations begun on D-day clearly defined tactical roles. In order of their priority, as fixed by FM 100–20 of 21 July 1943,* they were: (1) to establish and maintain control of the air in the critical area for the purpose of eliminating the enemy’s capacity to interfere from the air; (2) to isolate the battlefield by interdicting enemy movements of troops and supplies; and (3) to render immediate support to the ground forces on the battle front. Since the first task had been so largely accomplished in advance of D-day, the following pages deal primarily with activities aimed at the second and third of these objectives.
The great amphibious assault on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” had been scheduled for 5 June 1944, but forecasts of weather unfavorable to air operations caused a postponement of twenty-four hours. The date was irrevocably fixed as 6 June at a tensely dramatic meeting in the early-morning hours of 4 June. H-hour for the seaborne landings on the American beaches at UTAH and OMAHA was set for 0630 and on the British beaches at times from 0700 to 0730 hours.1
It had been a postulate in all Allied planning from AWPD-1 of September 1941 to the final draft of the NEPTUNE plan that the success of an invasion of the European continent would depend upon the establishment of supremacy in the air. For that purpose the greatest air armadas known to history had been assembled on British bases. Added to the resources of RAF’s Bomber Command and Second Tactical Air Force was the overwhelming power of two U.S. air forces. More than 4,000 aircraft of the Eighth Air Force were available for support of the assault. An equal number of planes, including 1,300 troop carrier aircraft, were at the disposal of General Brereton’s Ninth Air Force.2 There was work for all, and much of it would have to be accomplished well in advance of the beach touchdowns.
While RAF Bomber Command concentrated its attention on coastal batteries from the Cherbourg peninsula east to Houlgate in characteristic area bombings executed during the darkness preceding H-hour, the U.S. air forces staged the largest troop carrier operation yet undertaken. In the closing hours of 5 June great sky trains, carrying the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions of the U.S. Army, took off from fields
* See Vol. II, pp. 205-6.
ranging from Devon to Lincolnshire for drops behind UTAH beach. Plans called for a total lift of over 17,000 men together with requisite equipment, and to convince those committed to the operation of their full confidence in its success, Eisenhower and Brereton had visited units of the 101st during the evening and witnessed their take-offs.3
It was a tribute to training that over 900 planes and more than 100 gliders of IX Troop Carrier Command assembled in darkness, and that the outward flight west of the Cherbourg peninsula was executed according to plan and without incident. RAF night fighters and intruders furnished escort and attacked enemy guns and searchlights, while British Stirlings dropped Window to simulate the movements of airborne serials into an area well south of that in which the drop was to take place. There were no encounters with enemy aircraft during the operation. However, after the enemy coast had been crossed, difficulties swiftly multiplied. German radio gave warning of large formations of planes northwest of Cherbourg by 2354 hours on 5 June. It may or it may not have been heeded,4 but whatever the extent of surprise achieved, only the leading planes of any formation escaped continuous and heavy antiaircraft fire as they flew inland. Fog and cloud made visual observation uncertain. Formations tended to break up, and even the trained pathfinders experienced difficulty in identifying their drop targets. Parties dropped on two zones west of the Merderet could not mark them effectively with lights owing to the presence of the enemy, and no matter how well the zones were marked, the main drops (made between 0016 and 0404 hours) were generally scattered, A few planes, uncertain of their target’s location on their first run, circled back and dropped accurately, but others unloaded too soon or overshot their marks. There were gross errors. Yet some serials dropped accurate concentrations and a ground observer noted that the gliders accomplished “little short of a miracle,” since they had encountered heavy enemy fire before making hazardous landings on small and obstructed fields. Glider reinforcement on the afternoon of D-day and on the morning of D plus 1 had to land in an area where battle was already raging.
Losses in flight overland and from enemy fire at the time of landing added to the prevailing confusion among the paratroopers, while Normandy hedgerows multiplied their problems. The confusion of the attacking forces was not reduced, though it was in some measure offset, by the fact that the scattered drops confused the enemy as well,
both as to the extent of the operation and its objective. Dispersion was real only 2,500 of the 6,600 men of 101st Airborne were under unified control at the end of D-day, and two regiments of the 82nd had been widely scattered in marshy ground. But in spite of dispersion many vital missions had been accomplished, often by small and mixed units resolutely led. The bad drops of some units of the 82nd allowed the coveted area west of the Merderet to remain under enemy domination, but other elements of the same division, exceedingly well dropped, were able to assemble rapidly and take Ste.-Mère-Église, on the northern flank, by 0430. All four exits from the causeways across the inundations west of UTAH beach were secured by early afternoon, and the southern flank of the invasion area was reasonably secure even if all the desired bridgeheads over the Douve had not been won.
Such was the result of the airborne operation on D-day. Many of the difficulties encountered had been foreseen and accepted. The plan, resolutely adhered to by Eisenhower on 30 May, called for a night drop on a defended area studded with organized positions and was undertaken only because the supreme commander rated it essential to the success of the UTAH beach landings.* Together with the closely related missions on D plus 1, the operation included a total of 1,606 sorties by aircraft and 512 by gliders, with losses of 41 and 9, respectively. There was instant relief when it became known that losses were far below what the Allied air commander had feared they might be, and Leigh-Mallory was quick to admit the error of his own estimate and to congratulate Eisenhower on the wisdom of his difficult decision of 30 May.5 Considered judgments agree that “the success of the UTAH assault could not have been achieved so conspicuously without the work of the airborne forces.”6
As paratroopers hit the silk and gliders cut loose over the Cherbourg peninsula in the early hours of 6 June 1944, ground crews on scores of British airfields readied their planes for other tasks of no less critical importance. Striped invasion markings on the fuselages and wings of the aircraft signified the nature of the missions they were about to perform air cover for seaborne forces and for the invasion area; air support for the assault itself.
Continuous cover of the vast seaborne armada and of the beaches themselves was furnished exactly as planned. The Eighth and Ninth
* See above, p. 146.
Air Forces concentrated their P-38’s on the protection of the great convoys moving across the Channel toward Normandy; as the assault forces went ashore, the RAF furnished the low and Quesada’s IX Fighter Command the high cover over the beaches.7 Not only were covering operations successful but they proved amazingly uneventful. Three FW-190’s chased off by convoy cover were the only enemy aircraft sighted by covering formations during the day, and not until after nightfall, when twenty-two enemy planes attacked shipping, was an Allied vessel touched by air attack. Even then the damage was slight. An early-morning offensive sweep (Operation FULL HOUSE) beyond the periphery of the invasion area conducted by VIII Fighter Command had encountered no opposition.8 So effective had been the preparatory work of the Allied air forces that the greatest amphibious operation of history could be staged without challenge from the enemy air force.
A masterly predawn assembly had set up the Eighth Air Force’s three bombardment divisions for their planned strikes on coastal batteries and shore defenses chiefly those concentrated on OMAHA and the British beaches together with chokepoints in Caen. For the moment, the role of the heavies was that of close support, and since their number was so great and their attack was to be delivered in waves, the take-offs ranged from 0155 to 0529 hours. Weather forecasts indicated that bombing must be on instruments through overcast. It was, therefore, provided that the last bombs would be dropped no later than ten minutes before the touchdowns and, in the interest of greater safety and with Eisenhower’s approval, pathfinder bombardiers were ordered to delay up to thirty seconds after the release point showed on their scopes before dropping. The danger of shorts was stressed in all briefings. A total of 1,083 of the 1,361 B-17’s and B-24’s dispatched on this first mission attacked, flying in at right angles to the beaches in formations of six squadrons abreast with H2S pathfinders in the lead. With the loss of only a single plane to enemy action they dropped 2, 944 tons of bombs, largely with instantaneous fuzes to avoid heavy cratering which might impede motorized movement on, and inland from, the beaches.
For a moment, it had seemed that low cloud might force the Eighth, better provided than were other forces for nonvisual bombing, to undertake the missions originally assigned to IX Bomber Command against targets in the UTAH area. However, Brig. Gen. Samuel E.
Anderson sought, and received, authority to bomb visually under the 3,500-foot ceiling, and the project to divert the heavies from Caen was abandoned. Accordingly, the mediums took off between the hours of 0343 and 0500, flying in boxes of eighteen planes each. Because of continuing overcast the attacks went in at levels ranging from 3,500 to 7,000 feet. Attacks on outlying targets began at 0517 hours, but those on the UTAH beach targets were concentrated between 0605 and 0624 hours. The 278 aircraft dropped about 550 tons. Meanwhile, fighter-bombers of IX Fighter Command struck at their assigned targets: 33 planes bombed coastal batteries while 129 others attacked transportation targets, chiefly in the Cherbourg peninsula.
Accurate assessment of the effectiveness of these attacks is impossible. Earlier bombardment of some targets, naval and ground artillery fire on D-day and after, clearing operations, and inconclusive strike photographs frustrated later investigators. Fighter-bombers are known to have hit and destroyed the road bridges at Étienville, but they did little damage to the battery at Maisy, and elsewhere the evidence is limited to the pilots’ own inevitably indefinite claims.9 Where the effects of part of the mediums’ effort on UTAH beach could be later followed, 35 per cent of the bombs was reported to have fallen to seaward of high-water mark but 43 per cent within 300 feet of their targets.10 The deliberately cautious method of bomb release adopted by the American heavies only one instance of short bombing was reported and it proved harmless caused their main concentrations to fall from a few hundred yards up to three miles inland. An unexpected dividend was paid in the shape of detonated mine fields, but the beachlines from OMAHA east were left untouched. It is now known that the enemy had been forced to withdraw the threatening batteries at Morsalines, St.-Martin-de-Varreville, and Pointe du Hoe because of previous air bombardment.11 As for the batteries actually attacked on D-day, they offered no evidence of guns destroyed a result which had been predicted by air commanders earlier.* Army reports of fire from German batteries falling on the beaches refer in general, however, to batteries sited well inland and not subjected to air attack immediately prior to the assault.
The cost of taking OMAHA made inevitable the keen disappointment of V Corps that the beach had not been softened by air action, 2nd some of the resulting criticism was sharp.12 But the prior agreement
on the necessity for avoiding all risk of short bombing provides an obvious explanation, and it seems fair to insist that the air forces had realized their expectation of contributing heavily to the demoralization of enemy garrisons and to the destruction of their communications. The combined sea and air bombardment, which German prisoners rated as worse than anything they had experienced on the eastern front, appears to have produced both of these results. And if German morale was shattered by the sustained bombardment, to which air made its signal contribution, that of our own troops was heightened. Everywhere, save on the beaches themselves, there was evidence of air’s interest in and protection of them. “The moral effect was perhaps of greater value than [the] material results.”13
Since the war it has become the fashion to give the infantryman more of the credit he so richly deserves and at times to deprecate the air arm, perhaps in revulsion against earlier extravagant claims. But by whatever standards the Normandy landings be judged, the simple fact remains: their success with moderate losses was possible only because of the absolute air domination won by the AAF and RAF in the months before D-day.
The first American air attacks on D-day merely marked the beginning of tactical air action. Throughout that day both United States air forces were tactical, and both engaged in an all-out effort. After dropping warning leaflets for the benefit of the French population, 528 of the Eighth’s heavies were dispatched against chokepoints in towns such as Thury Harcourt, St.-Lô and Caen in the immediate vicinity of the assault area, but target-obscuring cloud, coupled with the lack of pathfinders, caused all save three groups to return their bombs to base. A third mission saw fifty-six B-24’s drop on Caen, where the destruction caused by this and other attacks left only a single bridge over the Orne intact and thus delayed the attack of the German 21st Panzer Division upon the British just west of that river. The fourth and final mission of the Eighth again sought out transportation targets proximate to the assault area, ranging from Coutances in the west to Lisieux in the cast, which over 550 aircraft bombed.14 IX Bomber Command operated feverishly, far exceeding its best previous rate of performance, with many crews flying two missions.15 Coastal batteries on both flanks of the invasion area and chokepoints in towns such as Falaise in the British and Valognes and Carentan in the American zone were hit by the mediums, while in pursuance of
the continuing attack on transportation targets they bombed four freight yards east of the Seine. In like fashion, VIII Fighter Command followed FULL HOUSE by STUD and ROYAL FLUSH-operations designed to interfere with enemy ground movements and to smash any action by the GAF. Moving transport was hit, and claims showed twenty-four enemy planes destroyed in the air and four on the ground.16 Second TAF was similarly active in its area of responsibility.
With an equal accent on the strenuous life, IX Fighter Command began its long career of close support immediately after flying its planned missions on D-day. As air support parties began to function, ground commanders were quick to make their needs known; the combined control center at Uxbridge received thirteen requests for air support before the day was out. Unavailability of aircraft, weather, or the late hour caused five of these requests to be refused, but the remaining eight led to eleven missions. Gun emplacements in the Isigny, Carentan, and Maisy areas, from which fire was being directed against the beaches, were hit as were transportation targets. If a transport column, the requested target, was not found, a railway train was, and promptly strafed. One call for an artillery-adjustment mission was answered.17 This first day’s experience disclosed that the control mechanism centered at Uxbridge, however logically it may have been planned, was too involved in operation for speedy provision of air support. Accordingly, the plan was revised to the extent that air alert squadrons were placed at the disposal of the air representative on board the Ancon, headquarters ship anchored off OMAHA beach. On the basis of intercepted reports of air reconnaissance or the radioed requests of air support parties on shore, he was able speedily to lay on armed reconnaissance of areas and quick strikes against pinpointed targets by messages to “Hoover,” “Skylark,” “Whisky,” or “Killjoy,” leaders in the air overhead.18
The D-day effort of the U.S. air forces was unprecedented in its concentration and phenomenal in its size. Exclusive of contributing flights to determine weather, drop leaflets, or continue essential reconnaissance, 8,722 aircraft were dispatched by the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. Losses for the day, which were concentrated in the VIII and IX Fighter Commands and included losses attributed to flak as well as to air combat, totaled seventy-one planes.19 Claims for enemy aircraft destroyed (a modest total of thirty-three) gave still more striking emphasis
to the slight opposition put up by the German Air Force, even in areas lying well back from the landing beaches.
A confused mass of German evidence discloses that the GAF on the western front was a negligible force, particularly in respect to fighters. Luftflotte 3 existed, with Jagdkorps II and Fliegerkorps XI as its conspicuous tactical units. They early learned of the invasion for, despite the restrictions imposed on their warning system by Allied bombings, the activity of American planes seeking weather data and the assembling of American heavies in the London area were reported late on D minus 1. These reports were followed by information that the invasion was under way, which Fliegerkorps II received at its Compiègne headquarters by 0800 hours on 6 June. But Fliegerkorps XI had no operational units. Planes from the reserve in Germany were on their way, but became badly scattered and reduced in number because of their pilots’ incompetence. OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe) had promised that ten wings would be provided for Luftflotte 3 to use against invasion targets when the landings came, but no reinforcements appeared until D plus 2 or later and the promised total was never furnished. German air commanders rated it essential to catch their enemy in the act of invasion, just as their ground commanders were convinced that the invaders must be defeated on the coast in the first twenty-four hours of the invasion period.20 But German statistics, with characteristic lack of agreement, give Jagdkorps II on D-day as many as 121 and as few as 50 fighters operational. In either case the total is pitifully low. Furthermore, the efficiency of these fighters was greatly reduced because of the general necessity to use damaged or hastily constructed fields remote from the battle front, thanks to repeated Allied bombings of permanent airfield installations. Under such circumstances, German statements that only twelve fighter-bomber missions were mounted on D-day, with all save two forced to jettison their bombs and fight before arrival in the battle area, or that the GAF attempted only 250 sorties against the landings, become fully credible. Eventually reinforcements arrived. But many of the new and inexperienced pilots had difficulty in finding their bases on returning from missions, and even when successful, they arrived in “badly plucked condition.” Combat losses continually attenuated the Luftwaffe’s resources.21
There had been errors in the planning of German aircraft production, and the Luftwaffe had been forced to fight on the Russian and
Italian as well as on the western front, but the Allied strategic bombing offensives probably merit chief credit for the enfeebled condition of the GAF on D-day. A continuing and mounting effort had forced the Luftwaffe to concentrate in home territory and to fight costly battles against RAF Bomber Command by night and the heavies of the Eighth Air Force by day the latter increasingly assisted by their “little brothers” of VIII Fighter Command and the Ninth Air Force in recent months. Systematic attacks on enemy airfields and communications had added to the attrition imposed on the GAF and completed the preparation for invasion, with the result that there were no great air battles to be fought on D-day. Instead, the Allies displayed an overwhelming and universally acknowledged air superiority in evidence of battles already fought and won. “Where is the Luftwaffe?” as General Arnold with pardonable pride later declared,22 would be a question constantly on the lips of the Wehrmacht from D-day onward.
Close Support on the Beachheads
As the Battle of the Beachhead continued to rage from 6 June to 24 July, American air commanders were mindful of the third-priority mission assigned to tactical air forces by FM 100–20: “To participate in a combined effort of the air and ground forces, in the battle area, to gain objectives on the immediate front of the ground forces.” The need for such participation was particularly great in the OMAHA area. By the end of D-day the stiffest sort of fighting had carried penetrations at most a mile and a half inland. Schedules for the landing of supplies and supporting weapons were in arrears, juncture with other beachheads had not been effected, and the situation seemed precarious. It was essential that the beach be placed beyond enemy artillery range, that room be won for maneuver, and that the Allied beachheads be linked up.23
Late on D-day, Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, commanding V Corps, requested “continuous fighter bomber support to search out and attack enemy artillery firing on beaches,”24 and Quesada telephoned from the Normandy shore further to inform the Ninth and his own group commanders of the nature and significance of the mission. Since the front was fluid and knowledge of the enemy’s exact location was limited, no effort could be made to apply air power directly to the front lines with pinpointed targets assigned. Instead, with the
bomb line fixed on the Aure River, which parallels the coast between Isigny and Bayeux at a distance of from two to five miles inland, IX TAC was directed to provide planes to conduct continuous armed reconnaissance of the area Aure River–Bayeux–Airel in squadron strength from 0600 until 2230 hours on 7 June. The ensuing action involved 467 fighter-bomber sorties in the course of 35 missions flown by the 365th, 366th, and 368th Groups, most of whose squadrons flew four missions in the course of a long and hectic day. The cost was thirteen aircraft, with two pilots saved. Individual squadrons were in the air from two to three hours, but the distance separating their English bases from the battle area restricted the actual time over target of approximately half of the squadrons to less than an hour. In only two reported cases did the headquarters ship direct attacks on specific targets; the balance were upon those selected by squadron leaders. For the most part the targets were armor and trucks on roads and troop concentrations in Cerisy and Balleroy forests, but five batteries, which this day constituted priority targets, were spotted and attacked.25
On this as on other days until 12 June, when OMAHA beachhead had been driven inland fifteen to twenty miles and linked with those to east and west, Army requests were few, for the front remained fluid and communications were difficult. Weather blocked some air operations on 8 June and eliminated them on the 9th. But whenever possible air continued its close support.26 Thirteen minutes after the forward controller directed a squadron overhead to attack a battery holding up the Rangers on 7 June, the target was reported hit. Under the same control, crossroads near Port-en-Bessin were bombed on 8 June; that very day contact was made between American and British ground forces in that area.27 Armed reconnaissance by fighter-bombers continued to blast enemy positions and movement by road and rail with such effect that a German soldier was warranted in writing home that “the American fliers are chasing us like hares,” while the commander of Panzer Lehr Division later described the road from Vire to Bény Bocage as a “Jabo Rennstrecke” (a fighter-bomber racecourse).28
While the situation on the OMAHA beachhead was still serious IX Bomber Command struck at bridges and road chokepoints in towns proximate to the front lines, such as Caen, Isigny, and Aunay sur Odon. General Montgomery commended the 8 June attack on Caen bridges, but though bombings filled the streets of towns with rubble
the effect upon the enemy was small, since detours were easily established.29 In the Folligny freight yards, however, the full weight of the mediums’ attack of 7 June fell on two troop trains filled with young and inexperienced troops. Their loss of approximately 500 killed and more than that number of wounded was enough to have shattered their morale.30
At the end of D-day the UTAH beachhead was reasonably secure, although all objectives had not been reached. The VII Corps advance south to capture the key town of Carentan and make a firm junction with V Corps was successfully completed by 12 June. A simultaneous push to the north secured high command on Quineville ridge by the 14th, while four days later a drive westward had carried across the peninsula to the coast at Barneville.31 Except when weather interfered, the air forces gave consistent support.32 Fighter-bombers silenced a troublesome battery at Maisy on D plus 1, and between that date and 17 June attacked fifteen gun positions in the northern Cotentin. Evidence of their effect is, as always in such cases, difficult to obtain, but the Army rated those at Quineville and Crisbecq successful.33 Early attacks on near-by bridges and constant surveillance of roads leading into Carentan helped to force the German commander to call for air supply which came too late to save the town.34 Air likewise assisted in the taking of Montebourg station, Pont-l’Abbé, and Quineville.35 Fleeting targets were frequently hit and heavy casualties inflicted, even though later investigations showed the pilots’ claims to be excessive.36 Moreover, at the very moment when the German Seventh Army was broadcasting Hitler’s order that “the Fortress of Cherbourg must be held at all costs,” the commander of the German 77th Division was killed by roving fighter-bombers as he struggled to direct the escape of his troops to the south.37 Mediums of IX Bomber Command were directed to support ground action by attacks on Cotentin road centers, where results were devastating but tactically so unimportant that their “deeper significance” remained a puzzle to the enemy. Defense installations were also accurately struck, but later surveys disclosed that not even 2,000-pound GP bombs materially damaged their heavy cement structures.38
In pursuance of orders received on 13 June, V Corps limited its offensive action to aggressive patrolling after the fall of Carentan. But the offensive of VII Corps was sustained, and on 19 June, Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins opened the drive on Cherbourg, whose value as a port
of debarkation was heightened by the Channel storm which broke in full fury that same day. Progress toward the German defense perimeter, anchored on high ground well provided with permanent and field fortifications, was rapid; by the evening of 21 June it had been reached throughout its length and crossed at points on the east. The first phase of the attack was over. The second and final phase was scheduled to begin on the 22nd.39
The Drive to Cherbourg
It was in connection with preparations for the final assault on Cherbourg that Army made its first call for a major air support project since D-day. Such an action had been foreshadowed on the 17th, when Bradley, commanding the U.S. First Army, in conference with Brereton indicated his desire for a special application of air in the forthcoming drive. His expressed thoughts were confined to the suggestion of some signal demonstration by air, to be followed, for morale effect, by leaflet-dropping. Tentative arrangements were formulated on the continent in conference among Bradley, Collins, and Quesada, while in England A-2’s and A-3’s searched the files for information on enemy positions around Cherbourg and Brereton, anxious to conserve his fighter-bombers for the impending operations, fought off requests for their use as escorts. When American air and ground commanders met on the continent on the 21st, the possibility of naval cooperation was ruled out, Spaatz’s offer of his heavies was refused on the ground that there was no “crust” to break through, and tentative arrangements for air support were reconsidered in the light of Collins’ request for “air pulverization” of an area of some twenty miles. The purpose would be not so much the direct preparation for ground advance as demoralization of the enemy and disruption of his communications.40
Brereton returned to Uxbridge at approximately 1400 hours on 21 June. Time was of the essence, and conferences immediately followed with AEAF, Second TAF, and Ninth Air Force Advanced Headquarters, all of which were involved in the projected operation. A relatively simple scheme based on area saturation was adopted, despite grave misgivings as to the capabilities of fighter-bombers in such an operation. As fast as decisions became fixed, air units were informed in order that they might promptly begin detailed planning, and details relevant to ground action were forwarded to the continent with equal expedition as planning progressed. Between 0200 and 0300 on 22 June
Isolating The Battlefield
Ninth Air Force Communication
the over-all plan was completed, and at dawn it was flown to the continent by Brig. Gens. Richard E. Nugent and David M. Schlatter, who explained it to the ground commanders concerned. It should be emphasized, because the procedure stands in marked contrast to that followed in later air support planning, that no Army representative was present at Hillingdon House as the plans were firmed.41
H-hour had been fixed as 1400 of that same day, and beginning at H minus 80 minutes the air attack went as scheduled under clearing skies. Second TAF led the way after artillery had engaged in counter-battery fire on enemy flak and had endeavored to mark the south and west boundaries of the target area with white smoke. Four squadrons of rocket-firing Typhoons and six of strafing Mustangs delivered their area attack flying from west to east. Twelve groups of the Ninth’s fighter-bombers followed in their wake, bombing and strafing and striving to give special attention to six pinpointed localities. Between 1240 and 1355 hours wave after wave of fighter-bombers made their attacks, often disappearing into the dust and smoke of battle as they dived to levels as low as 200 feet. Time schedules were rigidly observed both by Second TAF’s squadrons and by the Ninth’s groups. Some fourteen British and twenty-four American planes were lost. Immediately after H-hour all eleven groups of IX Bomber Command swept in to attack as many defended localities. A single bomber was lost. Altogether 557 fighter-bombers and 396 mediums of the Ninth Air Force and 118 aircraft of Second TAF participated in the operation. Such enemy planes as were sighted refused encounter.42
The immediate tactical results of the operation were disappointing. Only a small fraction of the area attacked by air had been overrun by 0600 on the 23rd, but this included high ground near Chèvres which had been marked for attack by both fighter-bombers and mediums. Although ground formations had been ordered to withdraw until a distance of 1,200 feet separated them from the bomb line, some units were hit by friendly planes. Complaints were lively, but fortunately casualties were slight, and even these may have been in part attributable to the German trick of firing smoke shells over American positions to confuse the attacking pilots as to the bomb line’s location. It was evident, furthermore, that ground did not always coordinate its attack properly with that from the air, too great a time lag being permitted between the cessation of the air assault and the infantry’s advance. In one case, where later appraisal of the mediums’ bombing was
effected, the attack of the 410th Bombardment Group completely demolished an enemy position containing, among other guns, four dual-purpose 88’s. But this position was distant from the front lines, and the successful bombing could not immediately affect the situation there.
Pilots’ claims of neutralization of gun and machine-gun positions had justification, but the major result of air action on 22 June was to disrupt enemy morale. Some German officers lost control over their men during the attacks. If gun emplacements were not themselves destroyed, their apertures were in instances blocked and their garrisons often dazed. At the time American division commanders, and the corps commander himself, commended the operation if only because of the demoralization produced in enemy ranks. A later, and fully considered, judgment by VII Corps on the operation of 22 June states that the over-all effect on enemy morale and the destruction of his communications were worth while. The US. First Army (FUSA) agreed, but its report properly observed that many points of resistance were left in operation.43
In spite of disappointment on the 22nd, the operation against Cherbourg progressed with reasonable speed. The last stronghold in the city fell into American hands on 27 June, and the remaining sparks of resistance on the northern part of the peninsula were extinguished by 1 July. Missions related to these concluding operations were few in number. But it was becoming increasingly evident that mediums and fighter-bombers could do effective work against specified targets, even if the bombs released on Fort du Roule by mediums left its massive bulk unharmed, and if others delivered by dive bombers within fifty or seventy feet of a German gun might fail to inflict damage. The obstinate defenses at La Mare ès Canards target for both mediums and fighter-bombers on 22 June and for two subsequent dive bombings were reduced on the 24th when units of the 368th Fighter-Bomber Group scored eighteen direct hits in the target area and thereby helped a final attack to go through in an hour’s time. On the same day Army reported phenomenal bombing twenty-three of twenty-four bombs in the bull’s eye in a P-47 attack near La Glacerie, and credited fighter-bombers with assists at other points. The concussion produced by dive bombing of a fort on the Cherbourg breakwater was the immediate cause for its surrender on 29 June.44
Attacks on batteries west of the port succeeded less well, since fire
from them impeded ground’s advance until the very end, but batteries at Laye and Auderville were hard hit by mediums, while dive bombing speeded the occupation of Beaumont Hague.45 The later verdict of the 9th Infantry Division on these final air actions of the campaign is pertinent. “The results of Mediums and Dive Bombers varied from unsuccessful through very satisfactory to excellent. ... The effects and results were a lowering of enemy morale, and increase in the morale of our own troops, and partial to complete destruction of enemy positions. Overall results – greater ease and less loss of life in taking positions.”46
The development during June of more flexible controls for supporting operations promised much for the future. Air support operations initially had been directed by Ninth Air Force Adv. Hq. at Uxbridge, subject only to such modifications as might be effected by the controller on board the Ancon,* but on 10 June the 70th Fighter-Bomber Wing, based on the continent, took over the control functions hitherto performed on shipboard and beginning with 18 June IX TAC Adv. Hq., also on the far shore, assumed the major responsibility for the direction of air support. The latter headquarters filtered ground requests for assistance, ordered missions as it saw fit, and transmitted to Uxbridge only such requests as it could not meet with its own resources. This development was possible because of yeoman work on the part of Ninth Air Force signal units. A TAC headquarters required approximately as much in the way of signal installations for its strictly tactical purposes as did an Army headquarters for purposes both tactical and administrative. Members of IX TAC’s signal section had landed on OMAHA beach at the close of D-day, and within twenty-four hours of a delayed and inauspicious start the first cross-Channel contact had been made by 70th Fighter-Bomber Wing. More normal facilities were available a day later, and on 9 June a radiophone channel afforded service from the far shore to IX TAC’s Rear Hq. at Middle Wallop and to Ninth Air Force Adv. Hq. at Uxbridge. By the 10th,. IX TAC Adv. Hq. at Au Gay had been provided with most of the essential communications equipment, including switchboards and cipher devices, and on the following day the signal section of IX TAC proudly published its first continental telephone directory, which included the numbers of installations in FUSA Hq. with which links had already been established.47
* See above, pp. 139-40.
Other features of the setup at IX TAC Advanced offered further assistance to the close coordination of air and ground activities. Bradley’s headquarters was only a hedgerow removed from that of Quesada, who took active command of IX TAC at Au Gay, and in such an environment the welding together of ground and air for the achievement of a common purpose was advanced by the intimate association of the respective commanders and by the closest sort of cooperation between their intelligence sections. Army’s G-2 and G-3 were often to be found in IX TAC’s operations tent. Mutual understanding and confidence ripened, and a steadily improving efficiency in operations was traced by the supreme commander to its source at Au Gay.48
Similarly, Air Marshal Coningham and General Brereton, who had been associated in the desert war,* developed an even closer relationship as one, detached from Second TAF, commanded AEAF Advanced at Uxbridge and the other directed the Ninth from its advanced headquarters in the same building. A comparable nexus brought together Quesada and Air Vice Marshal Harry Broadhurst, of RAF’s No. 83 Group. If for any reason the forces of one were not available in sufficient number when a call for action came, the other stood ready to furnish aid. They shared targets and exchanged intelligence information and operations orders for the sake of the better briefing of both British and American units. Direct communication between them was the rule, and occasionally the tactical units of one were under the operational control of the other.49
The provision of continental airfields was another outstanding development of the month. During the first days of the invasion the necessity of cross-Channel flights from British fields had prevented the full application of air’s power, as was conspicuously true in connection with the fighter-bomber missions of 7 June.† But the speedy work of IX Engineer Command in preparing continental strips quickly overcame this disadvantage and thus made possible more prompt dissemination of information and orders and a greater number of daily sorties. Not only might a five-minute flight now carry a plane from field to target but aircraft could operate from continental bases at times when weather had “socked in” the airfields of southern England. Allied
† See above, p. [. 194], and for a more complete account of the activities of IX Engineer Command, see below, Chapter 16.
commanders had desired and enemy commanders feared this development with equal reason.50
Aviation engineers had swarmed ashore with the assault waves on UTAH beach and, despite the distractions of combat, had hewed out an emergency landing field on D-day. Construction of more extensive installations began almost immediately. The engineers had occasion to lament the fact that “the phase line stubbornly refused to operate according to plan” and provide them with the real estate requisite for their planned construction,51 but they were not daunted by this fact nor by the requirement to construct runways longer than had been planned in order to permit all fighter-bombers to take off with full bomb loads. It was frequently necessary to work under fire, as at Cretteville, where the engineers left a hedgerow standing at the southern extremity of the field to screen their bulldozers. Beginning on 19 June fighter-bomber groups became operational on Normandy airfields, and even before that time construction of a few runways was sufficiently advanced to permit their use for roulement, a plan of operation under which the planes took off from a base in England, completed a first mission, and then flew one or more missions from a continental field before returning home. By no means incidentally, a transport field had been put in commission back of OMAHA beach by 8 June.* Though not planned, the field saw active service in the provision of high-priority supplies by airlift and in the air evacuation of wounded. The aviation engineers themselves profited, receiving critical spare parts by 20 June and on the 27th an air shipment of the first of 5,000 rolls of Hessian mat for runway surfacing.52
The Push South
Only two days after the occupation of the Cherbourg peninsula had been completed on 1 July, FUSA began an offensive push to the south. Its objectives were limited to winning elbow room and favorable ground from which to launch the contemplated breakout. VII and VIII Corps on the western flank pressed south into the La Haye-du-Puits area and beyond toward Périers and Lessay, while farther to the east XIX Corps drove southward to the high ground about St.-Lô. The well-emplaced enemy offered stout resistance, making notable use of artillery. Stream and contour lines on maps showed that the terrain was difficult, and on the ground these natural difficulties were infinitely
* See below, p. 563.
heightened by stout hedgerows which obstructed both movement and observation. In the early days of the attack Eisenhower, anxious to clarify his view of the battlefield, flew along the lines with Quesada as pilot and with a fighter-bomber escort.53
The operations begun on 3 July continued at a steady tempo until the 20th. Strongpoints, variously described as gun or machine-gun positions or dug-in tanks, figured most prominently among the targets which FUSA requested IX TAC to eliminate, Reputed enemy headquarters and observation posts (OP’s), moving columns and troop concentrations, together with dumps and bridges, also appeared in the lists submitted to the daily air-ground conference at Au Gay. The reports of many of the missions flown in response to such requests, and of roving armed reconnaissance as well, are of such a nature that no very definite conclusions can be drawn from them. At the time air felt the need for a better evaluation of targets and for more exact indication of their location,54 and, whatever the cause, it is clear that many missions failed to accomplish their intended purpose. In other cases, however, the evidence is precise and demonstrates that on critical occasions air support was exceedingly effective.
In the western area, German sources report that air spoiled a counterattack by elements of 2nd SS Panzer Division on 6 July, and that on the same day the 367th and 474th Fighter-Bomber Groups so punished and benumbed a strongpoint’s garrison that it could not put up an effective defense against the American infantry.55 Support given VII Corps on the 8th drew favorable comment from Collins, even though an attack had been delivered at a point on the fluid front where no bomb line had been established.56 Contemporary enemy comment on actions of this sort is valuable alike for its reflection of existing despondency and its indication of the major causes therefore. The war diary of the German Seventh Army records the situation on the front of LXXXIV Corps as particularly critical, “for enemy artillery and continual air attacks against our troops are causing heavy losses in men and material, and sooner or later the time will come when the steady decrease in manpower will make our positions untenable. So far our own fighter planes and antiaircraft artillery have not been able to ease the pressure.”57 Attacks on German headquarters and OP’s in this western area appear to have been singularly effective. Especially helpful was the destruction of two church steeples on high ground northeast of Périers, for in hedgerow fighting a good OP was invaluable.
In the XIX Corps area north of St.-Lô, as in that of VII and VIII Corps, adverse weather repeatedly hampered ground operations and exercised an even more limiting effect upon those by air. The weather canceled out all strikes planned for 11 June, and when one urgent request mission was flown against a target duly marked with red smoke, the results involved such danger to friendly troops that no further requests were made for the time being.58 An attempted mission by two groups of IX Bomber Command against St.-Lô positions on the 16th resulted in only two aircraft attacking, but the mission was rescheduled and delivered with some effect on the following day. Weather was occasionally so bad that German troops were moved in daylight with impunity. But these meteorological conditions had been anticipated. A study of weather conditions over a space of years had disclosed that a maximum of thirteen operational days per month was to be expected in the Calais area and only eight in the region of Le Havre.59 Moreover, Allied planes repeatedly demonstrated a knack for operating in bad weather, of which capacity they gave an especially effective display on the occasion of the strong counterattack launched by Pz. Lehr on 11 June a day that had opened with the cancellation of all missions because of weather.
A rude attack by fighter-bombers already had interrupted a staff conference gathered to plan this enemy thrust, and orders for daylight movement of the necessary forces had led to the destruction from the air of a number of self-propelled guns and trucks particularly the tank trucks for which Allied fighter-bombers had a special affinity. In the attack itself, where American artillery and tank destroyers played a most notable role, the German commander, who previously had observed with amazement that American aircraft operated in unfavorable weather, was given convincing proof of their skill during three consecutive missions flown into the threatened area that by the 366th Fighter-Bomber Group being laid on under a 1,000-foot ceiling. Claims for twenty-two tanks destroyed were fully substantiated by Army reports at the time and by later survey. The enemy’s counterattack was stopped in the vicinity of Pont Hébert and Le Desert after an entire panzer battalion had been engulfed, and Army was left in a mood to forgive the Allied strafing of a knot of its own tanks isolated in advance of the front lines.60 On 15 June, with the infantry slugging its way along the Martinville Ridge in a final stage of the drive, air sent several helpful strikes,
and on the following day, when signs of another German counterattack were observed at about 2000 hours, the Army requested air’s support. Isolated American infantrymen marked their lines with panels or their own undershirts, and the 404th Fighter-Bomber Group, briefed in air by the air support party (ASP), delivered a close-in attack at 2105 hours with marked effect. Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett, commanding XIX Corps, expressing his appreciation for air strikes delivered on time and on target, added a significant word: “The presence of our aircraft over the front line troops has an immeasurable effect upon their morale. When our aircraft are over the front line the use of close in artillery and mortars by the enemy stops.”61
On 6 and 17 June, and on request, fighter-bombers of the Ninth attacked bridges over the Vire in places proximate to the battle line. The result threatened to cut off the German 352nd Infantry Division and blocked the movement of heavy weapons. Previous to these attacks needed reinforcements for Panzer Lehr, lax in their march discipline during a daylight movement, had suffered heavy casualties and were badly shaken by a swift bombing and strafing attack.62 Relentless pressure by ground and valuable strikes by air had secured St.-Lô and brought the Americans to positions just north of the lateral highway Lessay–Périers–St.-Lô as the attacks were slackened in the period 14–20 July to allow for the mounting of the coming breakout.
American Support of British Drives on the Caen Front
Air power is inherently flexible and, under centralized command, capable of great concentration. “From one base it can strike out at a wide variety of targets over a wide area; conversely, from widely separated bases it can strike at a single target. ...”63 Operations in the Caen area in July 1944 on the part of the air forces under Eisenhower’s command afforded striking examples of both of these capabilities. The British and Canadian armies had been held on the city’s outskirts by a heavy concentration of German armor, backed by ample antitank artillery and other defenses of such strength that Arnold was led to express the hope that Caen would not prove to be another Cassino.64 In preparation for a major attempt on 8 July to break through the enemy’s obstinate defenses, both RAF Bomber Command and IX Bomber Command struck at concentrations south of the city, while some of the Ninth’s mediums blasted Caen bridges and Second TAF operated continuously in the area.65 In immediate
preparation for the 8 July attack air was called in at Montgomery’s request and with Eisenhower’s approval, even as the big guns of the fleet were brought into play. The absence of the GAF had for some time permitted RAF’s heavies to operate in daylight, and now toward dusk they laid down a bomb carpet on Caen beginning at 2150 hours on 7 July. Early on the 8th, five groups from IX Bomber Command were dispatched to add their weight to the attack, but only two groups and parts of two others were able to bomb, and the ground attack jumped off at 0420 hours with the disadvantage of a time lag separating the assault from the major part of its air preparation. The strength of the enemy’s resistance and heavy cratering produced by air and naval bombardment prevented the full exploitation of the preparatory attacks, but the greater part of Caen soon fell into British and Canadian hands. Such were the results of Operation CHARNWOOD.66
Operation GOODWOOD of 18 July had as its purpose a breakout from Caen, to be followed by a push toward Falaise, and like its predecessor, it had its “air prelude.” RAF Bomber Command began with a bombing attack by nearly 1,000 heavies at first light on the 18th; the Eighth Air Force followed with 571 of its heavies attacking three areas; and IX Bomber Command sent all 11 of its medium groups against five gun positions. The RAF reported that its bombing was well concentrated and the Eighth recorded that a moderate percentage of its missiles fell in the assigned target areas, but the Ninth’s bombers found their targets obscured by the smoke and dust of previous bombardments and their reporting was correspondingly hazy. By arrangement between the commanders of Second TAF and IX TAC the latter “kept the ring” throughout this action, leaving the former free to develop its full energies in the battle area.67
Ground forces moved over the 3,000 yards separating them from the nearest bomber target immediately the mediums’ attack was completed. Initial gains, which carried straight through the battered enemy crust, were most gratifying. Most of the prisoners taken in the forward positions remained stone-deaf for a period of twenty-four hours in consequence of air’s bombardment. But beyond the crust Allied armor ran into a heavy antitank screen, which intelligence had not reported, and as infantry took over, the enemy recovered his capacity for resistance. Gains were made up to seven miles, but GOODWOOD’s declared objectives had not been reached when the offensive
mired down in the heavy rains which began on 20 July.68 Both ground and air commanders were concerned that no more substantial result should have been produced by the heaviest single bomber effort of the Normandy campaign, for a total of 7,700 tons had been dropped by the more than 1,600 heavies and 350 mediums committed.69
Allied leaders might have been in some measure consoled had they known of the German reaction. On 21 July Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, who had succeeded von Rundstedt on 3 July, wrote directly to the Führer. The marked optimism, so evident upon his sudden arrival to take command in the West two weeks before, had faded. To the Führer he reported: “My conference with the commanders of the units at Caen, held just after the last heavy battle, forced me to the conclusion ... that there is no way in which we could do battle with the all-powerful enemy air forces ... without being forced to surrender territory. Whole armored units ... were attacked by terrific numbers of aircraft dropping carpets of bombs, so that they emerged from the churned up earth with the greatest difficulty, sometimes only with the aid of tractors. ... The psychological effect on the fighting. forces, especially the infantry, ... bombs raining down on them with all the force of elemental nature, is a factor which must be given serious consideration.” His letter cannot possibly have quieted the shaken nerves of Hitler, who on 20 July had himself so narrowly escaped the blasting effect of another type of bombing effort, and von Kluge’s parting words to the staff conference at Caen could hardly have proved heartening. “We must hold our ground,” he said, “and if nothing happens to improve conditions, we must die an honorable death on the battlefield.”70
The Interdiction Programs
If questions had been raised regarding the effectiveness of some parts of the immediate tactical support rendered to the ground forces, there was little room for doubt as to the success with which the air forces met their responsibility, prescribed in FM 100–20, “to prevent the movements of hostile troops and supplies into the theater of operations or within the theater.” Indeed, there is good reason for believing that the Allied air forces made their most important contribution to victory in the Rattle of Normandy through the performance of their
function of isolating the battlefield or, to use the term more popular at the time, through interdiction of the lines of communication upon which the enemy depended.
Widespread attacks on the German transportation system, begun in March, had been with a view to reducing its over-all resources and crippling its vital functions. In April and May other attacks were delivered against targets so specific and so related that they constituted a clear-cut interdiction line.* The targets were bridges. The intent of the attacks upon them was to isolate the chosen Normandy battlefield, hence bridges over the Seine were of special moment. But in the period prior to D-day assaults were directed against others east of that river as well, in order to disguise Allied intentions, and for the same reason the bridges over the Loire were not touched. As mention of a general attack on rail transportation facilities and the selection of special targets on a river line suggest, interdiction was a word which came to be used in both a broad and a narrow sense. Narrowly interpreted it involved the establishment of a definite line of destruction to isolate the battlefield by smashing bridges, viaducts, and other critical points on the battlefield’s periphery. Rail bridges over the Seine from the environs of Paris to Rouen, rail bridges and viaducts in the Paris–Orléans gap from Mantes on the Seine to Orléans on the Loire, and Loire bridges from Orléans to Nantes were the clearly specified targets here.71 The broader use of the term embraced these points and added a wide variety of targets which were attacked by the Allied air forces with identical purpose. Freight yards within and without the interdiction line figured as prominently in planned attacks after D-day as before. Attacks on rolling stock, especially on locomotives, in those yards and on the lines radiating out from them received like accent in both periods. Rail-cutting was given heavy emphasis after the assault cuts within the line of interdiction being designed to prevent movement within the theater of operations, those beyond it to prevent movement into it. Supplementing these attacks on rail transportation were those on all forms of traffic on the highways of the battle area. All parts of the program were closely interwoven. Its over-all effects were both widespread and pervasive, for the actions producing them were long sustained and on a grand scale. Begun before D-day, they continued in mounting crescendo through June and July and into the early days of August 1944.
The American planes most frequently employed in executing the interdiction program functioned under the immediate direction of Ninth Air Force Adv. Hq. at Uxbridge, which retained control over interdiction when IX TAC Adv. Hq. took over the primary responsibility for tactical air support. The planning and scheduling of operations presented a complex problem. Targets differed in character, they must be sought over a wide area, and attacks on them must be successful. The program, like that of air support, was given the highest priority. To be effective it must be sustained. If bridges essential to the enemy were destroyed, he was certain to attempt their repair. The repairs must not be allowed to proceed to a point where interdiction would be rendered ineffective, and hence repeat missions were in order. Attacks on rails must be regarded in the light of similar logic, and since their repair could be speedily effected, repeat operations were always required. Attacks on freight yards and rolling stock were of more significance for their cumulative than for their individual effects. And always it was necessary to bear in mind that a great rail complex, with many alternative routes, was available for enemy use. Establishment of interdiction was a “must” ; the complete maintenance of interdiction was equally mandatory. Constant vigilance was required on the part of the planners not only to bring down bridges but to keep them down, if rail cuts were to be maintained at a level which would stop traffic. It was also essential to spot any marked enemy movement, particularly on lines alternative to those which had been put out of action. The task of the planners of interdiction, and of other operations as well, was in some measure simplified by the early establishment of a tactical area whose outer boundaries lay well behind the enemy lines. The region within its limits constituted the special preserve of Second TAF and the Ninth Air Force, and operations beyond its boundaries became the special, though not exclusive, task of VIII Fighter Command and the heavy bombers of the Eighth and RAF Bomber Command.72
The success of a continuing program of interdiction depended heavily upon the provision of accurate information as to the existing status of targets on the lists. Strike photographs recorded the bomb-falls of heavies and mediums, although they did not always permit a correct estimate of the damage done. Fighter-bombers, so frequently employed in interdiction, provided no such photographic evidence but merely the reports by the pilots of attacking planes or by those
waiting their turn to dive. Continuous photographic reconnaissance of a multitude of targets over a wide area was therefore at a premium. But at times in June, and more markedly in July, adverse weather denied activity to photographic reconnaissance (PR) units. For example, no PR was available on the Grande Ceinture rail nexus about Paris from 15 to 19 June,73 and in the absence of clear evidence as to the status of interdiction objectives, the staff was often forced to reassign targets for attack simply because the estimated time needed to effect their repair had passed. Admittedly, such a policy might involve a waste of effort, as later evidence was to suggest, but during the Battle of Normandy the stakes involved in the interdiction game were high. In spite of possible waste commanders were forced to act on the principle, “when in doubt, take the trick.”
Fortunately, great resources were at their disposal. The heavies of the RAF and of the Eighth Air Force were on call, and their escorts, whether from Second TAF, VIII Fighter Command, or the Ninth Air Force, at times were able to double as attack planes. Increasingly, as the heavies began to resume strategic operations in mid-June, the mediums of IX Bomber Command were employed. Throughout the period the fighter-bombers of both the Eighth and the Ninth were omnipresent, attacking vigorously within and without the interdiction line. Only a part of IX Fighter Command’s resources had been committed to IX TAC, and the July activities of the latter afford some index to the intensity of the interdiction effort. In 24 flying days this one command flew over 150 interdiction missions, normally in group strength. The daily average was 6.3 missions, and the command celebrated the 4th of July with a record of 20. IX TAC’s groups on occasion added their contribution to the destruction of road targets, and VIII Fighter Command concentrated on rails with incidental attention to the highways. Pilots were often assigned specific targets but frequent armed “recces” served the purposes of interdiction equally well. Within an area assigned for offensive patrol, the pilots were free to choose targets on the basis of their own observations. No useful distinction can be drawn between a specific mission assigned to “Rail cutting La Hutte–Colombières–Le Mans” and one assigned to Armed recce Alençon, Chartres, Cloyes, Le Mans.” In both cases leaders of the mission determined the targets to be bombed and strafed; in each case those chosen were certain to include bridges, rails, rolling stock, and road transport singly or, more usually, in combination.
There were two limitations to the use of available resources for interdiction purposes: in general the Ninth’s commitments to air support and other missions prevented the use of its entire power; and, for a time, the distance at which Loire bridge targets lay from the mediums’ English bases militated against their employment. Not until 7 July were the mediums brought into play against these more distant targets and then only because it was considered essential to block the entry of German reinforcements into the battle area from the south.74 When so employed many planes were forced to refuel on continental fields or accept the risk of flying directly back to their bases on the minimum supply which remained in their tanks.
A plan so far-reaching and involving such heavy commitments did not prevail without challenge. From late May until mid-August the suggestion was repeatedly advanced in AEAF conferences that a crippling offensive blow at Luftwaffe bases was so desirable that the interdiction program should be momentarily relaxed to provide for the necessary mass attack, a suggestion growing out of concern lest the Luftwaffe be allowed to develop again its offensive power. The main protagonists of such a diversion from the interdiction program were Doolittle and Spaatz, with Harris on occasion supporting them. In the latter’s opinion, the bombing of freight yards was a process involving continued attacks, as indeed it was, and the effort had failed to produce decisive results. Tedder at times agreed in principle, but generally held that the interdiction program had shown its worth. Leigh-Mallory and Coningham expressed confidence in the ability of fighter-bombers to deal with anything that the GAF might put into the air. By mid-July the Eighth had evolved a project for simultaneous attacks on fields in France and Belgium which would require the full available strength of all Allied air forces, but not until August was there agreement on the project’s execution.75 Even then the attack, on 14 August, was limited by the Ninth’s commitments in the battle area and by weather which blocked off some of the fields in the Low Countries.
The interdiction plan thus prevailed and its offensive rolled on irresistibly throughout the entire period of the Battle of Normandy. On D-day itself IX Fighter Command made two dive-bombing attacks on the Seine bridge under repair at Oissel and inflicted serious damage, while IX Bomber Command attacked freight yards east of the Seine. On that same day VIII Fighter Command included a heavy toll of locomotives and rolling stock in its claims. On D plus 1, RAF Bomber
Command continued its strikes against freight yards, including targets such as Dreux and Évreux which lay within the tactical area. Likewise, on D plus 1 the Eighth began its work of extending the interdiction line down the Loire from Orléans by bombing bridges, and continued its daylight attacks on freight yards.76 The tempo thus set was stoutly maintained thereafter. Fighter reaction by the GAF on occasion strongly suggested that the targets which it sought to defend were highly prized.77 Missions were regularly flown against points in the Paris–Orléans gap, fighter-bombers of the Ninth worked over complicated “ladders of interdiction” vital sections of rail lines within the Seine–Gap–Loire boundaries, and the planes of VIII Fighter Command in their rovings beyond these boundaries developed the trick of dropping fuel tanks with detonators attached to set fire to stalled trains.78 Highways were relentlessly patrolled. With RAF and the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces cooperating, attacks on freight yards alone involved over 15,000 Allied sorties and nearly 35,500 tons of bombs dropped in the period from 6 June through 31 July. In the same period, Allied planes flew over 16,000 sorties and directed more than 24,500 tons of bombs against bridge targets.79
The French railway system was admittedly below par before the interdiction program went into effect. German controls were inefficient, and while earlier drafts made on French locomotive stocks had been atoned for, in some measure, by replacements from Germany in May, all was not well in that particular. The damage inflicted on the system in advance of D-day, measured statistically, had not reduced rail capacity to less than the enemy’s total needs, but the system nevertheless had been hit at critical points.80 Through lines in freight yards might be restored to use within twenty-four hours of their bombing, but spur tracks and many repair shops had been damaged or destroyed, as had facilities for coaling and watering. Service was further disorganized by such extensive damage to signal apparatus that hand signals had to be employed for control of train movements, and German figures show an alarming rise in the percentage of locomotives damaged by air and a startling diminution in the amount of all types of traffic.81
Of more immediate tactical significance was the destruction of rail bridges on the Seine line of interdiction. By D-day all nine of the bridges from Maisons-Lafitte on the western outskirts of Paris to Rouen had been destroyed, chiefly as a result of Ninth Air Force
action, and to heap higher the measure of the enemy’s discomfiture, a dozen road bridges between Conflans-Ste.-Honorine and Rouen had been demolished. The enemy rightly rated the rail bridge at Le Manoir as of no importance, and he early decided not to attempt the repair of three more, but he did attempt to rebuild other rail structures or to provide emergency substitutes for them in an effort destined to be completely nullified by later bombings. Conflans, where reconstruction began on 9 June, was so badly hit on the 12th that a pier was destroyed together with all the new pilings that had been put in place. The bridge was probably “serviceable” again by 15 July, but only in so shaky a condition as to make its use negligible.82 The third span to be destroyed at Le Manoir, nearer the battle area, was demolished on 14 June and a temporary structure there later suffered the same fate. The crossing at Oissel, to which the German engineers devoted much time, suffered damage when a single-track emergency bridge was hit in air attacks of 6 and 7 June. Fighter-bomber pilots returning from a mission against Oissel on 29 June reported “no results observed,” but actually they had destroyed three recently completed spans of the bridge. As the enemy persisted in his repairs, a bridge at this point later became available long enough to permit the crossing of one train. But French railway records indicate that this was the only train to cross the Seine interdiction line during the battle west of that river.83
When D-day brought an end to the need to conceal Allied intentions from the enemy, selected points on the Loire were opened for attack.* Eight of the nineteen highway bridges between Tours and Nantes, though none were officially listed for attack, had been demolished before it was determined to abandon such targets altogether on 17 June. All nine railway bridges between Tours and Nantes, together with three upriver from Tours to Orléans, were subjected to methodical assault. Since the Army considered it essential to stop all enemy movement across the Loire, attacks were recurrent and added steadily to the effects earlier produced by the smashing of freight yards at Tours, Orléans, Angers, and Saumur. Only four of the Loire bridges were reported standing on 13 June, and whereas 400 trains had crossed from the south in the first week of April, no more than 14 did so in the week ending on 16 June.84
The German obviously set store by most of the Loire bridges, for
* See above, p. 158.
he increased his flak defenses and engaged in strenuous efforts at repair, despite successive frustrations. “Tallboys” dropped by the RAF on the night of 8/9 June had blocked a rail tunnel just north of the river bridge at Saumur, and before the tunnel was restored to service IX Bomber Command had rendered the bridge impassable. The structure at Les Ponts de Cé, impassable since 1940, was hurriedly repaired by the enemy in July, but it was demolished on the very afternoon that it was opened for traffic and before any train had passed. Further attacks on 31 July and 1 August negated later repair efforts. At Tours-la-Riche, after an attack of 8 June, reconstruction made the bridge passable at the end of nine days for single cars without locomotives “pushing operations” was the graphic phrase used by the bedeviled Germans to describe their passage. Renewed air attacks on 23/24 and 25 June forced the enemy to attempt further repairs, with the limited purpose of restoring single-track traffic for light locomotives. This hope was for a time fulfilled, but four attacks by mediums between 7 and 31 July, coupled with a dive bombing on the 30th, denied the enemy any effective use of the bridge. On one occasion it was destroyed a half-hour after the chief transport officer of the Seventh Army had completed an inspection. Nine of the sixteen arches of the bridge at Orléans had been destroyed in one attack on 8 June, but its repair was not attempted “because no engineer forces were available.” Indeed, available forces were stretched so thin that “pushing operations” formed the modest goal of German railway troops as they strove to rebuild the bridges at Nantes, Chalonnes, and Cinq Mars. The enemy complained too of a shortage of antiaircraft defenses, as in the following entry in the war diary of the German Seventh Army: “On the evening of July 19 four bridges over the Loire were eliminated because of the lack of antiaircraft artillery.” The reference was to attacks by mediums between the hours of 1920 and 2002 on Nantes, Chalonnes, Les Ponts de Cé, and Tours-la-Riche for which IX Bomber’s claims were considerably less than the results thus acknowledged by the enemy.
In the Paris–Orléans gap, where some eight points were marked as interdiction targets, a comparable race between destruction and construction developed. Bridges at Chartres were struck by mediums flying in on six occasions between 14 June and 9 August. The Ninth’s fighter-bombers delivered seven attacks on the Chérisy viaduct between 12 June and 18 July, knocking out several spans. The Todt
organization was able to base steel trusses on the piers which remained standing, but these piers were attended to by the French Forces of the Interior after a final dive bombing had merely destroyed the superstructure. German records show that the 391st Bombardment Group’s attack on the long viaduct at Maintenon on 6 July interrupted service on the through line to Chartres, and it is evident that a repeat attack again ended its usefulness on the 25th.85 A more perfect knowledge of the French rail network and of its current use by the enemy might have enabled equal results to have been obtained in this area with greater economy of effort. But although alternative routes were at times available, major hurt was done the enemy, for the six rail routes in the gap were fully closed for 56 per cent of the battle period.86 Successful attacks were also made on bridges at Pontorson and Pontaubault, and at points in Brittany. On 18 July the enemy recorded that five spans of the enormously high viaduct at Laval had been destroyed. This was the work of IX Bomber Command, and in a repeat mission of the 21st the mediums destroyed the still incomplete repairs.87
Other targets related to the objectives of interdiction were not neglected. Saturation bombing by heavies and follow-up blows by fighter-bombers so flattened freight yards that it was later estimated that these attacks alone had effected by mid-July a 57 per cent reduction in the volume of German traffic.88 By no means incidentally, these blastings destroyed the normal communications channels used by the German railway administration, which was forced to extemporize a radio substitute for phone service and to send officers out to carry orders and to superintend the entrainment and detrainment of troops. Women clerks at headquarters broke under the strain.89 The enemy acknowledged the loss of 551 locomotives in June from bombing, strafing, and sabotage. Although many freight cars were destroyed, he experienced no general shortage, save by special types, but “pushing operations” over the single-track bridges at Tours created a grave situation. Movement northward engrossed the full capacity of the bridge, and empties (among them special cars for carrying tanks) accumulated and stagnated north of the river, though badly needed elsewhere. Persistent Allied policing of rail lines by fighter-bombers forced the Germans to issue a strict order that trains be placed on sidings at daybreak, with cars separated and camouflaged, and after 21 June daylight traffic was permitted only on special order.90
In rail-cutting operations the American pilots made excessive claims but their work was effective enough. The enemy showed himself resourceful in running shuttle trains on sections which remained passable and engaged in such strenuous effort to maintain repairs that in bad flying weather repair might overtake the work of destruction. But problems of section maintenance were increased by the loss of a bridge or tunnel, and slow speeds were forced upon his engine drivers even where traffic was restored. Cuts also caused traffic jams which offered rewarding targets for attack,91 and Allied planes, including armed recces, were quick to spot a target of opportunity. After V-E Day, von Rundstedt described the results of the Allied rail interdiction as “katastropha” and in terms of a “traffic desert,” which soon embraced the entire network of related highways as well.92
It is not always possible to measure exactly the effects of interdiction operations, but it is clear that the net result placed the enemy squarely between the upper and the nether mills tones. He could not use the rails of northwestern France and the roads there offered a far from satisfactory substitute. Travel by night was the only safe procedure, and at that season of the year daylight prevailed for sixteen hours in each twenty-four. Moreover, night travel forced the wide spacing of convoys on the roads and the use of low speeds, at the very time when the ever increasing distance of railheads from the front increased the mileage which trucks must negotiate.93 Not even the pooling of truck resources of all arms of the Wehrmacht could overcome the difficulty, for the Germans had entered the struggle with insufficient truck transport and heavy losses increased the scarcity, which became so marked that as early as 7 July German Army Group B insisted on the provision of more trains because of the pinching shortage of trucking.94 The first report in enemy records that individual cars were not safe from attack on the roads was made on D-day, and German staff cars soon found the roads so perilous that they used spotters, fore and aft, to give warning of the approach of Allied planes.95 Coningham noted in early June that enemy movement in small concentrations made it difficult for Second TAF to find lucrative road targets, and in July the Ninth’s fighter-bombers submitted few claims of road transport destroyed. Possibly this was because of their concentration on rails at that time; more probably it was occasioned by the absence of road traffic.96
For the purposes of emphasis it may be useful at this point to note
the illuminating postwar comment of the US. VII Corps, for the exact converse of the situation which it describes prevailed on the enemy’s side of the front, where the appearance of a solitary motorcyclist was the occasion for remark, and attack, by Allied pilots. “We would never have been able to move so fast and as far as we did if we had had to string out our columns to the extent theoretically required for passive defense against enemy aircraft. Much time was also saved by not having to disperse vehicles and bivouac to the extent that would have been necessary had we not had almost complete air superiority. Same for camouflage. Not having to worry about these things takes a load off the mind of ground troops which is of genuine intrinsic value.”97 The comment serves also to emphasize the extent to which the Allied air forces had met their primary responsibility for the furtherance of ground operations to establish and maintain a control of the air that would guarantee freedom from interference by the enemy air force. Anyone who saw the Normandy roads north of the battle front in July 1944 carries with him a vivid picture of close-packed vehicles whose spacing seemed to be determined only by the amount of dust kicked up ahead. The Allies required no “broomstick commandos” of the sort employed by the enemy to wipe out the tracks made on roads and fields when their vehicles sought daytime safety under such cover as they might find or improvise.98
The Test of Tactical Results
Constant surveillance of roads and rails, repeat blows at targets on the lines of interdiction, and repeated attacks on freight yards as close to those lines as Évreux and Argentan and as far removed as Belfort and Saarbrücken brought results that were both varied and massive. There can be no question that the enemy sustained great physical damage. But since the entire interdiction program was designed to affect the situation on the battlefield, the measure of its success can be determined only by an analysis of the tactical results achieved. Fortunately, the availability of a mass of German evidence makes such analysis possible.
Immediately the landings of 6 June indicated the focal points of Allied attack, von Rundstedt’s Seventh Army and Rommel’s Army Group B were faced with the necessity of moving troops to reinforce those called upon to face the assault. Their staff officers later remarked that the only real chance for forward displacement existed during
the opening days of the invasion. The situation at that time was bad enough, but it became progressively worse.99
The enemy’s problem and its development can be illustrated by specific examples. One of the crack units at his disposal was the 3rd Parachute Division, which was located in the Brest area on D-day. Its motorized elements left for the front on 7 June and, to their commander’s astonishment, moved to Caumont with reasonable speed and without being subjected to air attack. The remainder of the division took up its march on D plus 1, moving by night on secondary roads as a precaution against air attack. Confiscated bicycles provided some assistance, as did also horse-drawn carts, and on the 16th one reinforced regiment was welcomed by Rommel at St.-Lô. Other elements straggled in later, after a march of some 200 miles which consumed from two to ten days.100 They were to learn of air’s power immediately after their arrival, for dive bombers hit the newly established divisional command post on that same day and inflicted casualties. The 265th Infantry Division was in its garrison area near Quimper on 6 June when a Kampfgruppe (combat group) was alerted for movement north. Trains were not available until the 10th, but were then loaded under the supervision of an officer who had been rushed out by road from Le Mans because communications with transport headquarters had been broken. The trains could proceed only in darkness and by way of forced detours. The movement stopped entirely on the 12th, when one train was completely isolated and others were held up by rail cuts; it got under way again on the 14th, but not until two days later did all elements arrive in the Rennes area still some distance from the battle lines. Although the Kampfgruppe is described as poorly equipped to march, it had to continue its journey by road, after a full week had been consumed in covering less than 100 miles by rail.101
Tanks were at a premium in the battle which had been joined, and were indispensable if a counterattack was to be mounted. To provide needed armor the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, which earlier had been released from the western command for use on the eastern front, were ordered back from the Lwów area in Poland, where they were refitting. Starting on 7 and 10 June they moved with speed from Lwów to Metz. Thence, because overstrained rail capacity would allow no more, only the actual armored units moved by rail to Paris. The balance had to take to the roads, and consumed as much time traveling 200 miles to the battle front as they had spent in covering
1,300 miles by train. Elements of these much-needed divisions did not appear on the Normandy front until late in June.102 The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division had been based at Thouars, south of the Loire. Since it was under the immediate jurisdiction of OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), the division began its movement on the very day of the assault. Tracked elements gained nothing from the flowery code name of MIMOSA bestowed upon their movement by rail transport officers, and after a single day on the rails, cuts produced by bombing forced several sections to detrain at various points from La Flèche in the north to one below Saumur in the south. Other elements, proceeding by road, had hardly begun their march before the “Jabos” twice dived at them and inflicted heavy damage to vehicles, guns, personnel, and morale. Thereafter, the march was continued along secondary roads and only at night. It took five full days to cover the 200 miles separating Thouars from Périers.103
Parts of a fourth panzer division played the leading roles in a later epic of frustration. Tracked elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division left Limoges on 11 June, and its Panther (tank) detachment set out from Toulouse several days afterward. The Maquis made the journey through southern France anything but tranquil, but the real trouble began when the nine trains employed in the movement reached the line of the Loire at dates between 14 and 16 June. Broken bridges forced detrainment on the south bank of the stream, whence the units moved across to Angers as best they could. While the only cars north of the river which were capable of carrying tanks no more than the equivalent of two trains were forwarded to Angers to freight the armor, some elements of the division moved on by road. Other elements got as far as the rail center at Le Mans by train on dates ranging from the 17th to the 23rd, though not without considerable difficulty occasioned by the work of saboteurs and Allied planes. An attempt to continue the rail movements to Le Mans on the 24th ended with the blocking of two trains in open country, and that, so the military chief of railway transport noted, “completed the rail movement.” Thereafter, and with important elements of the division still to be moved out of Angers, the order for all was a road march.104 Not until the closing days of the month were elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division identified on the fighting front.
Such a “pilgrim’s progress” was the lot of many other organizations headed for the battlefield. In general, rail movement originating east
of the Seine ended not far west of the French capital. Approximately half of the troops coming in from the south detrained below the Loire barrier, and those who got across advanced no more than 50 miles farther by rail. The German summary of troop movements in June indicates that few trains reached their destination; “Landmarsch” is the laconic entry which ends most of its quick descriptions of movement, and on the well-nigh inevitable road march motors could average 30 miles per day and foot 15 miles.105 In retrospect, von Rundstedt hazarded the opinion that even had a greater number of divisions been available for his use the net result of any effort to bring them into action could only have been an increase in the confusion which prevailed.106 An entry in the war diary of the Seventh Army has even greater tactical significance, since it was made on 11 June, when the American beachheads had not been firmly joined: “Troop movements and all supply traffic to the army and within the army sector must be considered as completely cut off.”
The enemy concentrated the full of his transportation facilities on the movement of troops during the first three weeks of the Battle of Normandy. By the end of that time the demands of units in action forced him to a strenuous effort to replenish supplies exhausted by continuous battle and to provide stocks which the hoped-for counterattack would require. Rommel in the Caen–Bayeux area and Marx in the Cotentin clamored for resupply, but on 26 June the Seventh Army was forced to confess that it could not guarantee a regular flow of supplies in support even of current operations. The breakdown of the railways and a continuing shortage of road transport were cited as the causes for this tactically perilous situation.107 Special priorities were created for the movement of ammunition and fuel, and transportation officers were charged both to expedite the shipments and to enforce the security regulations against air attack which experience had shown to be so necessary. Small wonder that the enemy took all possible means to assure the rapid unloading of precious freight that did reach its destination, and that he lamented the fact that the unloading was generally measured by days rather than by hours.108
Although it cannot be said that the recently inaugurated strategic bombing campaign against oil refineries* had as yet affected the enemy’s situation on the Normandy battle front, it is clear enough that fuel was regarded there as in short supply. In order to aggravate that
* See above, pp. 172-79.
shortage and to strike also at supplies of ammunition, AEAF sent repeated attacks against the forested areas sheltering the enemy’s forward dumps. Fighter-bombers of the Ninth were frequently employed on such missions, but the mediums of IX Bomber Command constituted the main weapon. Navigators of B-26’s and A-20’s, as they strove to supplement the work of interdiction, became bitterly familiar with the map locations of the Foréts de Senonches, d’Ecouves, de Conches, and above all, the Forêt d’Andaine. Target areas were generally well hit, but the German’s methodical dispersion of his stocks reduced the extent of bomb damage. Exact measurement of the contribution thus made to the enemy’s critical shortages can never be determined, but beyond doubt his distress was aggravated. The destruction of two million liters of gasoline at Rennes by mediums and fighter-bombers and the firing of fuel supplies at Vitré and of storage tanks at Tours certainly involved no small local losses.109
Since it is an established fact that combat-troop demands for vital supplies were not met, attempts to measure the effects produced by actual destruction of dumps is in a way irrelevant, save for the planner of future operations. What counts is the net result of the total effort, and that is easily demonstrated. The needs of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, for example, were such that fuel was ordered flown to its relief on 13 June. Yet, its chiefs were forced two weeks later to report their regret that “the attacking panzer units cannot bring up all their tanks owing to the lack of fuel.”110 Restrictions had been placed on the use of ammunition, even against air attacks, before the invasion and official restrictions on the use of fuel had forced commanders to use horses or bicycles when visiting their units.111 After the Allied landings, the phone log of the Seventh Army is replete with complaints of shortages, requisitions impossible to fulfil, and notes of planned improvisations for relief. In the face of critical front-line needs, the movement of fuel and ammunition trains in daylight had to be forbidden on 18 June “to prevent their annihilation,” and Rommel’s last situation report shows conditions unimproved in July.112 The best that the enemy could do with the three trains he might be able to move into the Seine–Loire area each day, and with the Seine barges which he pressed into service, was to carry some 3,000 tons per day of vital supplies when the quartermaster’s demands totaled 7,000 . Some shreds of relief may have been afforded by the stocks of both fuel and ammunition carried by incoming units, but in view of the transport difficulties they encountered
it is unlikely that their stipulated eight-day stock of munitions and gasoline for movements of seventy-five miles or more ever constituted a reserve after their arrival at the front.113
The supply of ammunition and fuel was a particularly critical problem for the panzers, whose tanks could not work effectively unless provided with a diet rich in oil and munitions. Claims for tanks destroyed on roads by fighter-bombers were the frequent cause for congratulation to pilots, and congratulations were very much in order in the case of those who participated in the attacks on rails near Mantes on 23 and 24 June, when trains loaded with tanks were hit and fired. But hardly less important was the wear and tear imposed on tanks which managed to reach the front by a Landmarsch. There is a limit to the life of treads, and Allied intelligence indicated that German tank engines had an effective lifetime of only 600 hours. Both at the time and later, the enemy stressed the fact that his panzers wore out their tanks on marches to the battle zone. Such was the experience of the units of 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, after detraining at Paris in June; and the extraordinary effort to move the Panthers of the 2nd SS Panzer Division from Angers* by rail rather than by road was explained by the desire “to save fuel and the already badly crippled motors of the heavy tanks.”114 Von Rundstedt made the additional observation that even when tanks were not hit on the road, their journey became both hazardous and wearing because of the craters produced by air bombardment.115
The accumulated difficulties of the tankers exhibit in impressive manner the vicious circle into which air’s interdiction had placed the enemy. Armored units were forced from the rails to the roads at points distant from the battlefield. Their Landmarsch wore them down, and repair became the more difficult because air kept repair depots at inconvenient distances from the front. Once the tanks had reached the front and been committed to action, their appetites added to the loads that sadly depleted rail and road transport were called upon to bear. And thus demands that units and supplies be brought closer to the front mounted at the very time that German transportation resources were being progressively diminished.
The losses, risks, and delays involved in rail and road transportation made it difficult for German staffs to use their resources for major tactical effect. Battle action is seldom as orderly on the field as it appears
* See above, p. 218.
to be in after-action accounts, but the enemy’s inevitable confusions were the worse confounded because of the effects of air action. Uncertainty as to the time when units would be at his disposal made it impossible for him to predict his capabilities with accuracy. On 22 June, for example, Rommel’s Army Group B knew that infantry brigades were on their way from Germany but could only guess at the time of their arrival. Later, on 6 July, the Seventh Army could not tell when the balance of the 275th Infantry Division could be brought up. And always there was the problem as to how much transport space might be available and how best to apportion the probable total between troops and supplies of fuel and munitions. Repeated compromise and adjustment were always necessary, for the enemy was well aware that his full needs in both particulars could not be met.116 Although march tables could be drawn up, there was no assurance that their provisions would be fulfilled, and since Allied pressure on the ground was sustained, the enemy was driven to follow a policy of piecemeal commitment, with elements of units fed into the lines as rapidly as they appeared at the front. As a German authority later observed, “Fighting without pause caused Army Group B constantly to expend forces at the front and prevented any formation of a large reserve, let alone planned relief and rehabilitation of units behind the front.”117 In the midst of the battle, the enemy’s hard pressed transportation chief in the West had deplored the fact that movements consumed double the anticipated time, with the result that troops could not be assembled in the strength required for a decisive counterattack “but had to be thrown into combat piecemeal immediately upon their arrival.”118 Casualties were severe, and replacements were as difficult to provide as were reinforcements. Unable to synchronize the arrival of technical equipment and units trained in its use, the enemy was driven to employ the specialized personnel of signal, engineer, artillery, and panzer units in an infantry role. General Montgomery had prophesied that in Normandy, as in the African desert, Rommel would continually assault with any available forces from division down to company, and air’s action left him no real alternative save a further demonstration of his natural tactical bent.119 But he was denied the opportunity for a major counterattack.
It would be unfair to attribute the enemy’s failure seriously to challenge the Allied invasion entirely to the effects of the interdiction program. Equally conspicuous in the causes therefore were the initiative,
courage, and perseverance of the Allied ground soldiers who promptly applied and constantly maintained a relentless pressure at critical points on a growing front. The enemy had been caught off guard in Normandy and his subsequent concern for a second landing prevented his effective redeployment of such forces as were available for reinforcements.120 For this Hitler himself was in no small part responsible, a fact reminding one of the rotund rhetoric of Goering’s later declaration, “You had a great ally in your aerial warfare – the Führer.”121 Although Hitler had anticipated the Allied assault in Normandy,122 he also cherished the opinion that another landing was in the offing after the Normandy beaches had been stormed. On 6 June he briefly delayed the use of panzer divisions from reserve by Seventh Army, and at a Soissons conference of 16–17 June he rejected the withdrawal proposed by Rommel and von Rundstedt but still refused to permit their substantial relief from the resources of the Fifteenth Army. Even at the end of June, when he admitted that the possibilities of counterattack were limited, and during the first week of July, he continued to refuse permission for a shortening of the lines to create a reserve or for recommitment of the Pas-de-Calais garrison. As for the transportation chaos created by interdiction, he offered a simple solution – “men of iron courage” should be found to restore order.123
While Hitler stood fast and air applied its interdiction, the Allies won the build-up race upon which the success of their entire operation depended. General Morgan in November 1943 had warned that if the French rail and road network were left intact, the enemy would be able to achieve a faster build-up rate than could the Allies;124 and while the air forces were striking at enemy communications, the port battalions, naval forces, and beach parties worked their miracles to overcome the menace. It was heartening for Allied leaders to note as early as 10 June that the German build-up was lagging behind Allied estimates and to record a week later that German strength, which the planners had anticipated would be twenty-five divisions by that date, actually amounted to only fourteen full-strength divisional units. By 4 July 1944, the Americans had four corps on the front and the millionth Allied soldier had landed.125 In pointing out the critical importance of the build-up race, the supreme commander was later to affirm that the greatest Allied assets in overcoming the enemy’s natural advantages were air and sea power.126
The Battle of Normandy had been marked by a signal demonstration
of air power’s versatility and flexibility. American air forces employed in a tactical role had accomplished the missions set forth in FM 100–20. They had made their special contribution to the establishment of air superiority, they had reduced to the lowest possible terms the enemy’s capacity to move troops and supplies into and within the battle area, and by indirect and direct means they had assisted the ground forces to attain the lines held on 25 July. Allied commanders acknowledged their debt to air in all three particulars.127 But German opinion on these same points, free from conventional courtesy of victorious generals, affords an even more effective appraisal of the Allied airmen’s work. Luftwaffe authorities averred that “the most damaging effect ... resulted from the paralysis of the railway network, the destruction of all bridges across the Seine [below] Paris, and the considerable dislocation wrought in our aircraft reporting services.”128 Von Rundstedt stressed his inability to mass and to maneuver with Allied planes overhead and, in a singularly intimate interrogation directed by an American air commander, insisted that from his point of view as commander in chief in the West, the devastating “clockwork” attacks on French railroads and road communications were more dangerous than those against front-line installations and troops.129 He admitted, however, that a field commander might place a different value on the “annihilating effects” of air attacks on tactical units, and it may be well in closing to quote from a contemporary report by Gen. Freiherr Heinrich von Lüttwitz, commanding general of the 2nd Panzer Division: “The Allies are waging war regardless of expense. In addition they have complete mastery of the air. They bomb and strafe every movement, even single vehicles and individuals. They reconnoiter our area constantly and direct their artillery fire. ... The feeling of helplessness against enemy aircraft ... has a paralyzing effect, and during the [bombing] barrage the effect on inexperienced troops is literally ‘soul shattering.’”130
The date of this top-secret report was 17 July 1944, and at that time SHAEF was perfecting plans destined to give the Germans further occasion to develop their commentary on Allied air power. The breakout at St.-Lô would soon follow.