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Preparing for D-Day

The planning for the Normandy invasion began in earnest after the QUADRANT conference in Quebec in August 1943 and its timetable was established at the Tehran conference where Stalin sided with the Americans on the need for an invasion of France in the spring of 1944.[i] Prior to this there had been some planning by both the British and Americans for the eventual invasion initially named ROUNDUP including a large scale raid at Dieppe in 1942 which ended in disaster but which provided needed experience in what not to do in an amphibious assault on a heavily defended beach.   Dieppe also darkened the mood of the Allies, the British in particular to the success of such operations, bringing to mind the failed Gallipoli campaign of 1915 as well as the opposed landings at Salerno and the USMC experience at Tarawa.[ii] Despite this the Americans led by General Marshall pushed for an early invasion of northwest Europe while the Churchill and the British due to their weakness in land power pushed for land operations in the Mediterranean, and even in Norway as an option to the assault in France. The mindset of the Allies left them in the position of planning almost exclusively for the success of the initial landings and build up to the near exclusion of planning for the subsequent campaign, especially “the maze of troubles awaiting behind the French shore.”[iii]

Operation FORTITUDE: Dummy Sherman Tank

Despite this the Normandy landings planned for in NEPTUNE and OVERLORD moved ahead and with the appointment of Eisenhower as the commander of SHAEF and his major subordinates for Land, Air and Sea which caused consternation on both sides of the Atlantic,[iv] [v]and expanding the operation from the initial 3 division assault on a narrow front to a minimum 5 division assault on a broad front across Normandy[vi] supplemented by a strong airborne force.[vii] Overall the plan as it developed reflected a distinctly “American willingness to confront the enemy head-on in a collision which Britain’s leaders had sought for so long to defer.”[viii] It is ironic in a sense that the British avoidance of the head on attack was based on their known lack of manpower, especially infantry reserves to sustain the war effort and the Americans only late recognized their own deficiency in both quantity and quality of infantry forces on which their strategy depended.  That the western allies, so rich in material and natural resources would be so deficient in infantry manpower was a key constraint on the subsequent campaign in France and Germany.  The Germans too faced manpower shortages resulting in smaller divisions and the creation of many “static” divisions manned by elderly or invalid Germans, as well as “volksdeutsch” and foreign “volunteers.”

Germans building anti-landing craft obstacles. Many would be armed with artillery shells or land mines


Prior to the final decision to mount an invasion the Allied planners had first contended with the location of the assault in northwestern France.  The Pas de Calais while providing a direct route was rejected because it was where the Germans would expect the strike to occur and because it was where the German defenses were strongest, and the fiasco at Dieppe had provided ample proof of making the assault into a heavily fortified port.  Likewise the mouth of the Seine near Le Harve was rejected because of the number and quantity of landing beaches and because the forces would be split on both sides of the river.  Brittany was excluded due to its distance from the campaigns objectives in Germany.[ix] This left Normandy which offered access to a sufficient number of ports and offered some protection from the weather and which offered options to advance the campaign toward the “Breton ports or Le Harve as might be convenient.”[x] Omaha beach, situated on the center right of the strike would be crucial to the success of the assault situated to the left of UTAH and the right of the British beaches.

Rommel on Inspection Tour

Once Normandy was selected as the location for the strike Planning was at times contentious especially over the amount and type of amphibious lift that could be provided in particular the larger types of landing ships and craft to support the Normandy invasion and the planned invasion of southern France, Operation ANVIL.  The increase in OVERLORD requirements for landing craft did have an impact in the Mediterranean and resulted in ANVIL being postponed until later in the summer.

Loading LST’s for D-Day

As part of their preparations the Allies launched a massive deception campaign, Operation FORTITUDE utilizing the fictitious First Army Group under LTG George Patton. Patton still smarting from his relief of command of 7th Army following slapping commanded an “Army Group” incorporating the use of dummy camp sites, dummy tanks, aircraft and vehicles, falsified orders of battle and communications to deceive German intelligence.[xi] The success of this effort which was heightened by the fact that all German Abwehr agents in the U.K. had been neutralized or turned, and the Luftwaffe limited air reconnaissance could only confirmed the pre-invasion build ups throughout England without determining the target of the invasion.[xii] The German intelligence chief in the west, Colonel Baron von Roenne “was deceived by FORTITUDE’s fantasy invasion force for the Pas de Calais.”[xiii] Despite this 7th Army commander recognized by 1943 that Normandy was a likely Allied target and efforts were made to shift 7th Army’s center of gravity from Brittany to Normandy.  The one potential German success in getting wind of when the Allied landings would occur was lost when German intelligence discovered two lines of Verlaine’s “Chason d’ Automme” in January 1944 which were to alert the French Resistance of the invasion.  The security section of 15th Army heard them transmitted on the afternoon of 5 June and notified General Jodl at OKW, but no action was taken to alert forces on the coast.[xiv]Allied intelligence was aided by ULTRA intercepts of coded German wireless transmissions though less so than they were during the African and Italian campaigns as more German communications were sent via secure telephone and telegraph lines vice wireless.[xv] Allied deception efforts were for the most part successful in identifying German forces deployed in Normandy, but were uncertain about the 352nd Infantry Division which had been deployed along OMAHA as it had taken units of the 709th Infantry Division under its command when it moved to the coast.[xvi]

Officers of 2nd Battalion 916th Infatry Regiment 352nd Infantry Division before the invasion

The Allied air campaign leading up to the invasion was based on attempting to isolate the invasion site from German reinforcements. Leigh-Mallory the Air Chief developed the “TRANSPORTATION PLAN” which focused efforts on destroying the French railroad infrastructure.[xvii] A more effective effort was led by General Brereton and his Ninth Air Force which was composed of medium bombers and fighters.  His aircraft attacked bridges and rapidly achieved success in crippling German efforts to reinforce Normandy.[xviii] Hastings gives more credit to the American bombing campaign in Germany led by General Spaatz and the 8th Air Force in destroying both German production capacity in oil and petroleum as well as the degradation of the German fighter force achieved in the American daylight raids, which so seriously degraded the German fighter force that it could not mount effective resistance to the invasion.[xix] Weigley too notes that Albert Speer the Reich Armaments Minister said that “it was the oil raids of 1944 that decided the war.”[xx]

Getting Tanks ashore was vital and the Dual Drive Sherman Tanks were integral to the American Plan at Omaha Beach

Planning and preparations for OMAHA were based around getting the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions ashore and them securing a beachhead “twenty-five kilometers wide and eight or nine kilometers deep.”[xxi] American preparations were thorough and ambitious, but the American assault would go through the most heavily defended sector of German defenses in Normandy with wide beaches bordered by dunes which were nearly impassable to vehicles and “scrub covered bluffs thirty to fifty meters high…rough and impassable to vehicles even to tracked vehicles except at a few places.  The exits were unimproved roads running through four or five draws that cut the bluffs.”[xxii] Dug in along those bluffs would be the better part of the 352nd Division. Compounding the selection of a difficult and heavily defended landing zone the Americans failed to take advantage of many of the “gadgets” that were offered by the British which in hindsight could have aided the Americans greatly.  The Americans made use of two battalions of DD (Dual Drive) tanks but turned down the offer of flail tanks, flamethrower tanks, and engineer tanks, the “funnies” developed by General Hobart and the British 79th Armored Division.[xxiii] Weigley believes that the American view of “tanks as instruments of mobility rather than of breakthrough power.” And the fact that American victories in the First World War were won by infantry.[xxiv] In this aspect the Americans were less receptive to utilizing all available technology than the British whose use of the Armor on the beaches to provide direct fire into German strong points lessened their infantry casualties on D-Day. Due to this lack of armor support on the beach American forces on OMAHA had little opportunity to exercise true combined arms operations.[xxv]

“Czech Hedgehogs” on the Pas De Calais

German preparations for an Allied landing in Normandy were less advanced than the Pas de Calais, although Field Marshal Rommel had increased defensive preparations along the front, including the Normandy beaches.  One of Rommel’s initiatives was to deploy Panzer Divisions near the coast where they could rapidly respond to an invasion however he did not get everything that he wanted rather than two Panzer Divisions deployed near the Normandy beaches, only one, the 21st Panzer Division was deployed near Caen in the British sector.  One wonders the result had the 12th SS Panzer Division been deployed behind OMAHA. [xxvi]

Rommel with gunners of the 21st Panzer Division’s Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment. The SP Guns were locally built by the Division using captured French Tanks and German artillery

Tomorrow: D-Day


[i] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981 p.33

[ii] Ibid pp. 34-35

[iii] Ibid p.35

[iv] General Montgomery 21st Army group and Land Forces, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey as Allied Naval Expeditionary Force and Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory as Commander in Chief Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Weigley p.43

[v] Max Hastings in Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984, comments that many in Britain wondered if Eisenhower with the lack of actual battle experience could be a effective commander and that Eisenhower was disappointed in the appointment of Leigh-Mallory and Ramsey, and had preferred Alexander over Montgomery, pp. 28-29.

[vi] Ibid. Weigley p.40.  Montgomery was the first to object to the 3 division narrow front invasion rightly recognizing that seizing Caen with its road junctions could provide a springboard for the campaign into open country.

[vii] Ibid. p.37

[viii] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.29  Hastings finds the irony in the selection of the British officers to execute the plan that reflected the American way of thinking.

[ix] The Germans agreed with this in their planning leaving Brittany very lightly defended.  See  Isby, David C. Ed. “The German Army at D-Day: Fighting the Invasion.” p.27 The report of General Blumentritt, Chief of Staff OB West noted that only 3 divisions were assigned to Brittany.

[x] Ibid. Weigley, pp. 39-40

[xi] Ibid. p.73

[xii] See Isby p. 69.  General Max Pemsel of 7th Army noted that “During  the spring of 1944, Seventh Army received only tow good photographs of British southern ports, which showed large concentrations of landing craft.”

[xiii] Ibid. Hastings p.63.  Hastings comments also about the success of using the turned Abwehr agents.

[xiv] Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. Pp.422-423

[xv] Ibid. Weigley pp. 53-54

[xvi] Ibid. p. 67

[xvii] Ibid. pp.57-64  Weigley spends a great deal of time on the wrangling between Eisenhower, Leigh Mallory and Spaatz on the nature of the plan, the allocation of forces both strategic and tactical assigned to carry it out and its success, or in the light of postwar analysis the lack of effect that it had on German operations.

[xviii] Ibid. p.67-68.

[xix] Ibid. Hastings pp. 43-44 In large part due to the long range P-51 Mustang which accompanied the American bombing raids beginning in 1943.  Another comment is that the campaign drew the German fighters home to defend Germany proper and prevented their use in any appreciable numbers over the invasion beaches.

[xx] Ibid. Weigley p.69

[xxi] Ibid. p.89

[xxii] Ibid. pp. 88-89

[xxiii] Ibid. p.87

[xxiv] Ibid. Weigley also talks about the rejection of General Corlett’s ideas to use Amtracks used by the Marines in the Pacific to land on less desirable, but less defended beaches to lessen casualties on the beaches and the need for additional support equipment even on smooth beaches.  One of Corlett’s criticisms was that too little ammunition was allotted to supporting the landings and not enough supporting equipment was provided. pp. 46-47

[xxv] Hastings notes that with the strength and firepower of the German forces on OMAHA that many of these vehicles had they been employed would like have ended up destroyed further cluttering the beachhead. “Overlord” p.102

[xxvi] The battle over the deployment of the Panzer Divisions is covered by numerous historians.  The source of the conflict was between Rommel who desired to place the Panzer Divisions on the Coast under his command due to the fear that Allied air superiority would prevent the traditional Panzer counterthrust, General Gyer von Schweppenburg commander of Panzer Group West (Later the 5th Panzer Army) and Field Marshal Von Rundstedt who desired to deploy the divisions order the command of Rundstedt for a counter attack once the invasion had been launched, a strategy which was standard on the Eastern Front, and Hitler who held most of the Panzer reserve including the SS Panzer Divisions under his control at OKW.  Hitler would negotiate a compromise that gave Rommel the satisfaction of having three Panzer Divisions deployed behind coast areas in the Army Group B area of responsibility.  21st Panzer had those duties in Normandy.

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