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Task Force 122 – Appui aérien – Western Task Force

Task Force 122 – Appui aérien

After Action Reports
Western Task Force

AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS
INVASION OF NORTHERN FRANCE
WESTERN TASK FORCE
JUNE 1944

From: Naval Commander Western Task Force (Commander Task Force 122)

During the Preparatory Period (D-90 to D day) air bombing commitments included:

  1. Enemy aircraft factories and assembly plants, ball bearing and aircraft accessory plants, and aircraft on the ground.
  2. Strategic rail centers, and, in particular, those which include servicing and repair facilities essential to the enemy for the maintenance of rail communications in Northern FRANCE, the LOW COUNTRIES, and WESTERN GERMANY.
  3. Selected enemy coast defense batteries, CROSSBOW targets and Naval installations.
  4. Airfields and their installations, in particular those within 130 miles of CANN and in the BREST-NANTES area.

As D-Day approached, attacks by air were intensified and focused on key points more directly related to the Assault Area. Attacks on certain coastal batteries were included in this phase. To avoid disclosing the – – – – – – – – – Area, attacks on batteries in this Area were kept at one-third of the total effort against this type of target.

The maximum effort of pre-planned heavy, medium and fighter-bomber Missions were executed the night of D-1/D-day and the morning of D-day. Low ceiling on the morning of D-day precluded effective pre-H hour bombardment by heavy bombers of OMAHA BEACH, as scheduled. To the failure of this mission may be attributed a great deal of the difficulty experienced in gaining a foot-hold on OMAHA BEACH.

Only 42% of the Spotting Missions flown actually spotted naval gunfire. This was due to the following causes: Radio communications and engine failures, inability to locate or find suitable targets of opportunity, ships not in correct position to fire, weather, flak and action of enemy fighters. Thirty-seven (14%) of the two hundred sixty six missions that failed to spot failed because of breakdown in radio communications. Fifteen missions (6%) were aborted by aircraft failure.

Anti-Aircraft Defense And Aircraft Recognition.

During the Assault anti-aircraft fire discipline was excellent. After the Assault forces began their withdrawal, and the build-up of merchant types commenced, fire discipline deteriorated, particularly on merchant ships and small naval ships. As soon as one vessel opened fire during the dark many others would follow suit, irrespective of whether or not planes were seen or heard overhead, or hostile acts committed. Steps were taken to correct this situation. Rigid restrictions were placed on those vessels within the Assault Area. Merchant ships were restricted from firing at any time during darkness. Small Naval ships were prohibited from firing during darkness unless directly attacked. By D+7 day, the AA fire situation was well in hand, and thereafter discipline was again good. At all times the fire discipline of the Destroyers, Cruisers, and Battleships was excellent.

Barrage balloons flown by ships and craft in the Assault Area were kept close hauled until after the first landings were made. After H-hour balloons were flown at 1000 feet unless visibility was less than 1500 yards or cloud ceiling less then 1000 feet in which case balloons were flown at 300 feet.

Aircraft recognition officers were attached to all major men-of-war. Aircraft recognition personnel of the Royal Observer Corps were detailed to all transports and merchant ships participating in Operation – – – – – – -. Prior to the Operation, extensive training had been given to personnel of the smaller craft at the various landing craft bases. To aid in recognition, all Allied aircraft were painted with distinctive markings on D-day.

In spite of all these preventive measures, it is the fact that a few Allied aircraft were shot down by our forces.

Scale Of Enemy Effort.

The enemy air effort against the Shipping Lanes and the Assault Area during the assault phase, and subsequently, was on a scale appreciably less than had been anticipated.

The only air attacks directed against shipping in the Western Task Force Areas was during darkness. Enemy night activity was largely confined to minelaying. There was some night bombing. Flares (aerial and floating) were dropped nightly over the shipping and the beaches, but little follow-up was made.

As our air ascendancy mounted, confidence increased and it soon became common practice, when aircraft appeared in daylight, merely to ask which type of friendly plane was in sight — never to bother about their being “Jerries”.

Daily Summary.

D-1 (5 June). At 1600 day air cover reported on station and at 2300 was relieved by night cover according to plan. No direct support missions were originated or relayed by Flagships. On approach to the Assault Area enemy AA fire was observed on the beach. No enemy aircraft action was observed.

D-Day (6 June) — Day and night air cover operated according to plan. At 0721 radar and radio silence was broken and control of fighter cover in the Western Task Force Area was assumed by FDT 216. Five direct support missions were originated or relayed by Flagships of which four were flown. Enemy air activity in the Western Task Force Area was slight and consisted of mine laying, flare dropping and reconnaissance flights during darkness only. Two enemy aircraft were reported shot down, one by air cover and one by USS Maloy. Enemy aircraft attacks were countered by AA fire from ships. Advanced Headquarters, NINTH Air Force reported that paratroop drop had been successful. Commanding General NINTH Air Force, estimated the enemy air capabilities to be 360 LRB, 325 SEF, 100 FB, 200 TEF, and 60 reconnaissance aircraft.

D+1 (7 June) — Day and night air cover operated according to plan. Armed reconnaissance missions flown by aircraft of the air cover and the unexpectedly slight enemy air activity reduced the number of air cover sorties. Sixteen direct support missions were originated or relayed by Flagships of which nine were flown. The enemy repeatedly jammed the Aircraft Movement Liaison Broadcast Channel. The enemy operated approximately fifty aircraft over the Western Task Force Assault Area near midnight. Night fighters destroyed one Ju 88. Mines were laid. Enemy bombing results were negligible. Commanding General NINTH Air Force estimated that the disposition of the German Air Force would be completed by dawn 8 June. fighters and bombers from northwest Germany were being transferred to France and Belgium.

D+2 (8 June) — At 0430 day cover reported on station relieving the night cover. At 1600 cover was reduced because of weather. By 2210 all cover was withdrawn because of bad weather which delayed the reporting of the night cover. Twenty-six direct support missions were originated or relayed by Flagships of which fifteen were flown. There was some duplication of requests. Only seven requests were actually refused. During darkness three attacks were made on shipping in the Assault Area by a total of approximately fifty enemy aircraft. Flares were dropped and mines laid. Bombing results were negligible. The attacks were countered by AA fire, which brought down one enemy aircraft in the Assault Area. The USS Ancon reported that Me 109s and Fw 190s were using Allied Special Identification Markings. The Air Support party of the 101st Airborne Division on shore established radio communication with Direct Support Aircraft and Air Force Headquarters.D+3 (9 June) — Weather improved and at 0010, night cover reported on station. At 0430 night cover secured but no day cover reported because of weather. Weather prevented a continuous patrol of day cover. At 2330 night cover reported on station. Thirty-one direct support missions were originated or relayed by Flagships of which none were flown because of weather. Approximately fifty enemy T/E bombers, mostly Ju 88’s, were estimated to have operated against the unloading points on the beachheads during darkness. Bombs were dropped. Mines were laid within the screened area. Enemy fighter reconnaissance missions were flown both during the day and night in the Assault and Approach Areas. A night fighter shot down one Ju 88. Commanding General, NINTH Air Force estimated capabilities of enemy Air Force as five hundred plus fighters and three hundred sixty bombers.

D+4 (10 June) — Day and night air cover reported on station according to plan. Naval Commander Western Task Force advised the day air cover to stay clear of Assault Area until daylight because of heavy flak. From 1405 until 1447 there was no air cover because of weather. Twenty-seven direct support missions were originated or relayed by Flagships of which twelve were flown. Approximately twenty plus enemy bombers operated over the Western Task Force Area during the night. Flares were dropped resulting in heavy AA fire.

Bombs were dropped with negligible damage. One enemy aircraft was shot down by ship in area screen. One Ju 88 was reported shot down by a friendly fighter. Commanding General, FIRST U.S. Army left the Augusta to assume command ashore as of 102300B.

Because of the extremely light enemy air activity in the Assault Area and the increased number of requests for armed reconnaissance, the number of sorties in the air cover decreased rapidly. After 12 June requests for air support were being sent directly from the Army Command Posts on the Continent.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

Coordinated planning and preparatory training exercises involving the Army, Navy and Air Force participating in a combined operation are essential to good performance.

Exchange of representative liaison officers is desirable.

Low altitude dive bombing attacks are more effective than horizontal bombing attacks against batteries and other point targets.

During darkness aerial mining in anchorages and shipping lanes is more economical for an inferior air force and generally more effective against ships than aerial bombardment.

In an area where enemy aircraft and heavy anti-aircraft fire can be expected, Fighter/Observation aircraft, either shore based or carrier based, are more suitable than combat ship based seaplanes for spotting Naval gunfire.

Shore based air control centers are considered preferable to ship based centers in the control of air cover and air missions, when such shore based control centers are readily available. In a large operation it appears desirable that the control of fighter cover should be divorced from flagships and delegated to ships specially fitted for the purpose.

IN THE PACIFIC, CONTROL OF SUPPORT AIRCRAFT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED SATISFACTORILY FROM AMPHIBIOUS FORCE FLAGSHIPS (AGCS) AND OTHER S HIPS OF THE ATTACK FORCE FITTED WITH CICS.

Naval authorities must be given ample warning of contemplated air operations over shipping, in order that detailed information can be disseminated to the ships concerned.

IN THIS REGARD CURRENT TACTICAL ORDERS AND DOCTRINE FOR U.S. FLEET AIRCRAFT PROVIDE THAT:

“Commander Support Aircraft

    1. Commander Support Aircraft commands all Aircraft on station over the area of operations of the

Attack Force at the Objective during the amphibious operation. Prior to reporting on station and after departure for base, the Support Aircraft are under command of their respective carrier, group, unit or base commanders.

  1. In order that the Commander Support Aircraft may be cognizant of all aircraft operating in the vicinity of the area of operations of the Attack Force at the Objective, search planes, transport planes, ambulance planes, and other itinerant aircraft shall report to Commander Support Aircraft prior to entering the area.”

In a large operation, where both friendly and enemy aircraft may be expected to operate, a rigid and simple set of anti-aircraft firing rules should be promulgated for each type of ship or craft in the area. It appears desirable that merchant ships and small Naval ships be directed not to fire during darkness.

For a large operation, such as the one just concluded, new and distinctive markings on friendly aircraft for the operation is a valuable aid to recognition.

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