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The Battleships of D-Day

The 14″ Guns of USS Nevada in action at Normandy

On June 6th 1944 Allied Forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. Six American, British and Canadian Infantry Divisions, three Airborne Divisions and numerous supporting units came ashore in landing craft or were airdropped into Normandy. Backing them was an immense Naval Task Force which provided naval gunfire support, screened the force from German U-Boat or surface naval forces and transported the massive ground force.  It was an amazing armada.

HMS Rodney bombarding German positions off Caen

It was an armada that also is forgotten by many who read about Normandy or whose only exposure to the landings are films such as Saving Private Ryan. Today I think it is fitting to remember Battleships that served at Normandy, USS Arkansas, USS Texas, USS Nevada, HMS Warspite, HMS Ramillies and HMS Rodney.

USS Arkansas off Omaha Beach

The naval gunfire support force included Battleships, Cruisers and Destroyers as well as specialized gunfire support ships.  The largest and most powerful ships were the six American and British Battleships.  These ships were important in providing the heavy firepower needed to destroy the strongest fortifications and shore batteries and to fire at targets far beyond the shoreline that were vital for German reinforcements.

However the ships involved were not the modern behemoths which were built in the 1930s and since the beginning of the war but rather among the oldest ships still active in either the United States or the British Royal Navy. At one time they had all been the hearts for their navies but now old, slow and with less than modern armament and fire control systems they were regulated to supporting amphibious forces or escorting convoys.

USS Arkansas BB-33

The oldest of these venerable ships was the USS Arkansas BB-33 which was commissioned in 1912. A Wyoming Class Battleship she mounted twelve 12” guns in six twin turrets, two forward, two aft and two midships. She displaced just over 27,000 tons. She had spent most of the war escorting convoys in the Atlantic before being assigned to the Normandy landings. She stood off Omaha Beach dueling with German shore batteries and pounding the German troops who were making Omaha a living hell for the men of the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions.  She would continue her valuable service off of Normandy and would do the same in to support the landings in Southern France before steaming to the Pacific where she would do the same at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

USS Texas BB-35

The USS Texas, BB-35 of the New York class had been in commission since 1914. She mounted ten 14” guns in 5 twin turrets, two forward, two aft and one midships and was slightly larger than the Arkansas.  More modern she was more extensively modernized between the wars than was Arkansas and was one of the first US ships to carry experimental radar sets.  She also conducted convoy operations but was used to bombard Vichy French troops and positions during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion  of North Africa.  At D-day she was in the western sector of Omaha and bombarded Point Du Hoc and cruised to within 3000 yards of the beach to clear the western exits of the beach near Vierville.  She remained in the area a number of days and would subsequently support the attack on Cherbourg, the invasion of South France and then serve in the Pacific at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

USS Nevada BB-36

The USS Nevada BB-36 was the first of a new class of battleships which set the basic pattern of US Battleship design through the ratification of the Washington Naval Treaty. Her main battery of ten 14” guns was mounted in four turrets, mounted fore and aft two triple and 2 twin turrets.  She was he powered by oil fired boilers as opposed to coal and   was designed with a longer cruising radius to meet the demands of War Plan Orange.  Nevada received major upgrades between the wars and on December 7th 1941 was moored on Battleship Row when Peal Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. The only Battleship to get underway during the attack Nevada was set upon by Japanese aircraft as she steamed toward the harbor entrance. Heavily damaged she was grounded off Hospital Point. She was re-floated and sailed to the United States where she was heavily modernized with a modern AA battery of twin 5” 38 caliber guns, and fire direction radars. She was modernized to the point that she no longer resembled the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor. After her repair and modernization she participated in the invasion of Attu Island and did convoy escort duty before reporting for the invasion of Normandy. Nevada supported the US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach and subsequently served with Texas and Arkansas in South France before going to the Pacific to support the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Had the war continued she would have been involved in the invasion of the Japanese Mainland.

HMS Warspite

The Royal Navy Battleships of D-Day were also elderly veterans. The eldest was the heroic HMS Warsipte commissioned in 1915 and a veteran of the Battle of Jutland and numerous actions during the Second World War including the slaughter of the German Destroyers at Narvik, the Battle of Cape Matapan and the invasion of Sicily and Italy.  The Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship mounted eight 15” guns in twin turrets and was extensively modernized between the wars. At Salerno Warspite was hit by three of the earliest guided missiles, the Fritz-X type launched by Luftwaffe Aircraft. She was heavily damaged and required major repairs before returning to service at Normandy. She supported British troops at Sword Beach and later Gold Beach. She again was heavily damaged by a magnetic mine and received temporary repairs to allow her to continue bombardment duties against German positions France and Belgium before being placed in reserve in January 1945.

HMS Ramillies

The HMS Ramillies was a Revenge Class Battleship commissioned in 1917. These ships were a compromise design that was smaller, slower and cheaper than the Queen Elizabeth Class but had the same main battery of eight 15” guns.  The compromises prevented them from receiving significant upgrades between the wars and limited their employment. Ramillies operated as a convoy escort and was also involved in action in  the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. She participated in the hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee and shielded Convoy HX-106 from the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and later took part in the hunt for the Bismarck. However she but was not engaged against any of the German ships but her presence prevented Admiral Lutjens from risking Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to attack the convoy. She took part in the initial battle between the Royal Navy and the Italians at the Battle of Cape Spartivento getting off several salvos before her slow speed forced her out of the action. She was heavily damaged by a torpedo from a Japanese mini-submarine in Diego Suarez harbor during the invasion of Madagascar in May 1942. Following repairs and the addition of extra deck armor and modern anti-aircraft guns she returned to action at Normandy were she supported British troops ashore and drove off an attack by German Destroyers. She stayed in action firing over 1000 shells at Normandy before supporting the invasion of Southern France. Too slow to be of use in the Pacific she was placed in Reserve in January 1945.

HMS Rodney

The youngest of the Battlewagons at Normandy on June 6th was the HMS Rodney which was commissioned in 1927. She and her sister ship HMS Nelson were to be the first of the post WWI super battleships and was designed as a larger and more powerful ship. With the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty the ships were “cut down” and reduced in size and speed. Her armament made her one of the most powerful battleships of period but her engineering plant was not always reliable. Since she was relatively modern she did not receive any major refits before the war and apart from a repairs to her engines in Boston in 1941 (before the US entry into the war) and a brief refit in 1942 she received no further refits during the war. With the HMS King George V she helped sink the Bismarck and would escort convoys and participate in the Allied invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Salerno before being assigned to the Normandy invasion force attacking targets near Caen.  Her sister HMS Nelson was held in reserve and joined the battle on June 10th but she was not present on D-Day.

Warspite aground and Rodney being scrapped (below)

Despite their age and limitations all of these ships and their performed heroically during the war. The post war period was not as kind to the ships. Arkansas and Nevada were used in the Atomic Bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Nevada survived and was expended as a target in 1948. All of the British ships were scrapped following the war due to their age, wear and damage incurred during the war. Warspite was being towed to the breakers when she broke a tow line and went aground. She ended up being partially scrapped in place.  Mementos of all these ships remain including a gun from Ramillies at the Imperial War Museum. The lone survivor was the USS Texas which became a museum ship and memorial at the San Jacinto battlefield in 1948. She is the last of the Dreadnought ships remaining. Other more modern US Battleships have been preserved but only Texas remains from those ships that at one time ruled the waves and pounded the Germans at Normandy.

The author aboard USS Texas in March 2011

The fire support provided by these proud ships and their consorts ensured the success of the Normandy landings. Without them it is very possible that the landings would not have succeeded and many more Allied soldiers would have died and the war extended.

To these great ships and all their heroic crews…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, world war two in europe

The Impact of Technology on the Organization, Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War

Introduction

World War II saw some of most rapid technological advances impacting military forces in history. The advances in technology impacted the organization and tactics of major power military forces, especially those of the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union and Great Britain.  These advances combined to revolutionize the way wars were fought and military forces have been organized to the current day.

Heinz Guderian’s Theories of Mechanized and Combined Arms Warfare and His Organizational Genius Revolutionized  Land Warfare

The technical developments and their relationship to military organization and tactical applications began in the years following World War I as various writers began to analyze that war and formulate ways not to repeat the grist mill of trench warfare that dominated it.  The writers looked at tactical innovations, new technology and enunciated ways that technology and tactics could be combined with organizational changes to revolutionize the ways that wars were fought.  Chief among these writers were General Fuller and Captain B.H. Liddell Hart in Britain, Colonel Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel in Germany.  Airpower theories were dominated by the strategic bombing theories of Italy’s Guido Douhet and tactical air theories of American Marine General Roy Geiger as well as the pioneers of tactical air support in the Luftwaffe.   In the United States General George C. Marshall helped initiate doctrinal changes that would change the way that the U.S. Army would fight.

Among the common elements found in the works of these men was the necessity to apply technology to overcome the pitfalls that all of the armies which fought in the First World War found themselves.

The Mechanization of Ground Forces

Mass Speed and Firepower: The Germans Would Pioneer the New Style of Warfare

There were a number of major technological advances between the wars and during the war that helped change the nature of warfare.  One of the earliest was the mechanization of armies which began toward the end of the First World War and continued between the wars to varying degrees in each country.  All the major armies experimented with mechanized forces to one degree or another. In Britain these got the earliest start with some formations being 100% mechanized by the early 1930s.  France was more circumspect about mechanization only slowly converting forces as they were focused on a defensive strategy based on the Maginot Line.  Many in the German high command resisted Guderian and other innovators regarding the mechanization of the Wehrmacht as well as the development of the Panzerwaffe.

The Soviet Union Would Turn the Tables on the Germans using their own Tactics

The Soviet Union had a large number of mechanized and armored formations prior to the war though they were not proficient in their use and had not developed doctrine to match the forces that they controlled.  The Untied States also resisted efforts to mechanize its Army but seeing the results of the German Blitzkrieg quickly overcame years of resistance to become an Army that save for 2 Cavalry Divisions was 100% mechanized.  The development of Airborne formations added the possibility of vertical envelopment to ground operations. These developments impacted nearly every campaign in Europe and North Africa and to a much lesser degree the Pacific theater. German performance in the early Polish, French, North African and Balkan Campaigns as well as the initial foray into the Soviet Union were all successful due to the proficiency of their combined mechanized, Panzer and tactical air forces.  The Soviets would develop and become very effective at this type of warfare on a much large scale than the Germans could have imagined beginning with the Stalingrad counteroffensive and especially in the destruction  of the German Army Group Center in the summer of 1944.

Though Using Lighter Armored Forces the Americans Would become Proficient in the New Type of Warfare by the Summer of 1944

The Americans became proficient at mobile operations during the war, especially during the “dash across France” and the breakout in the Saar-Palatine campaign in 1945,  but many times uninventive commanders squandered the advantage and allowed themselves to be sucked into battles of attrition that their forces were not made for.

Communications

A key development that accompanied and accentuated the mechanization of ground forces were advances in tactical wireless communications which made it possible for commanders to keep up with fast moving formations and react in near real time to changing tactical situations.  The Germans were the first to become very proficient in this as they not only developed communications for ground forces but also for coordination between tactical air forces and ground forces.  This made the German Blitzkrieg the first example of modern air-ground combat cooperation.  The Americans, British and Soviets would follow suit but it was the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe that pioneered the communications revolution.  As the war went on communications capabilities increased and armies became more dependent on tactical and long range wireless communications.  The dependency of military forces on communications networks became a major factor in operational planning and the success of the Allies in breaking Japanese and German codes gave them an advantage in anticipating German or Japanese moves.

Armor, Firepower and Mobility: The Tank Comes into its Own

World War Two Saw Tanks become Deadly Instruments of Modern Warfare

Mechanization was a major factor in the war and the most decisive component of the mechanization of ground forces was the development of the tank as well as specialized formations which employed tanks in close cooperation with other arms, such as mechanized infantry and artillery.  The development of such forces really began with the British but the best example of this was the German Panzer Division.  The Panzer Division was a totally mechanized and integrated force of all arms which was employed in mass and capable like all German units to be task organized into Kampfgruppen to optimize tactical flexibility.  British Armored Divisions were tank heavy and infantry light which made them far less flexible organizations.  Soviet Armored forces were slow to develop but they became masters of large level operational maneuver using mechanized and tactical air forces to a deadly effect against the Wehrmacht.  The Americans delivered a light and flexible armored formation and became very proficient in combined arms warfare though the divisional structure often proved too light and not as resilient as German formations.  It was in this environment that the tank truly came into its own to dominate the battlefield in a way that many could not have imagined prior to the war. Firepower, protection and mobility advantages gained through technological advances increased the lethality and survivability of the tank and forced each side to develop better ways of neutralizing tanks through more powerful anti-tank guns, sabot rounds and shaped charges.

Tactical and Strategic Air developments

The Americans and the British Would Develop the Concept of Strategic Bombing against Germany

With the technical revolution came revolution in the skies both at the strategic and tactical levels.  Modern bombers with good navigational gear guided by radar and assisted by modern bombsites such as the Norden developed by the United States would wreak havoc on industrial and civilian centers. Advances in aircraft technology saw fast and more lethal aircraft being fielded by all powers as the war progressed and while Jet propulsion developed during the war would doom piston powered aircraft as first line assets.

The P-47 Thunderbolt Would Serve as both a Long Range Bomber Escort and as Seen Here as an Excellent Ground Attack Aircraft

Tactical air developments would be led by the Germans but as the war went on the Allies developed sophisticate tactical air forces that dominated battlefields when the weather permitted. The Germans pioneered the use of ballistic missiles as well as the cruise missile while the United States and Britain developed the Atomic Bomb.  Specialized types of tactics and organizations were developed for strategic, tactical and naval air forces. At the strategic level there were the dueling schools of precision versus area bombing while at the tactical level the developments were as much predicated on air-ground communications as they were the aircraft flown.  Specialized aircraft were developed or modified as tank-killers while fighter forces became more specialized to into interceptors, bomber escorts and night fighters.

The Obselecent Junkers JU-87 found New Life on the Eastern Front as a Tank Killer armed with 2 37mm FLAK cannon

The influence of air assets, especially at the tactical level would become more pronounced as the war went on.  Allied air superiority ensured that the landings in France and the breakout in Normandy succeeded and tactical air dominance by US Navy and Marine air forces in the Pacific aided ground operations as well as sea battles.

Amphibious Warfare developments

The US Navy and Marine Corps Would Perfect Amphibious Operations in the Pacific

Technology came to the fore in amphibious operations with the development of specialized landing craft, beach clearing equipment and naval gunfire support.  This effort was led by the United States with the most advanced force being the Marines.   The combined use of air, land, sea and naval air forces to include the use of Aircraft Carriers revolutionized how the campaign in the Pacific would be fought to a conclusion long before anyone thought that it could be.

General Naval Developments

At sea ship design advanced new and better classes of warships as technologic advances in radar, sonar, gunnery systems, torpedo and ant-aircraft technology made warships far more formidable than those built only years before the war.  This was nowhere more apparent than in submarine development especially that of Germany’s U-boat arm with the development of streamlined hulls and “schnorkel” technology.  The use of U-Boats and later American submarines in the Pacific into “Wolf Packs” increased the lethality of submarine forces to a near decisive state in the war.  Naval tactics were influenced by the use of air and surface search radar as well as sonar.

US Fast Carrier Task Forces Would Dominate the Pacific War and Naval Warfare to the Present Day

The development of the US Navy into the dominant Naval Power of the next 65 years was built upon the success of the Navy in the Second World War.  The largest and some of the bloodiest sea battles in history were fought in the Pacific with decisive results in that theater of operations.  Operationally the major Navies all were influenced to one degree or another by the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Summary and Conclusion

The course of World War Two was determined by the strategic and operational theories developed in the inter-war years. These were applied correctly by some powers and not by others.   The use technological advances and more effective organizational structure developed in the inter-war years and refined by the experience of war impacted the war on land, at sea and in the air in every theater of war.  The use of combined arms and joint operations revolutionized the manner in which wars would be fought.  If the technology, theory and force structure had not come together when it did the war might have been fought much as the First World War.  Instead warfare became faster and more lethal than ever and would lead to even more advances in the years to come.

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Filed under History, Military, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific