Why bombing in Normandy
Battle of Normandy
To make the difference in an armed struggle against opposing forces, it is essential to seek to prepare the battlefield and then to isolate it after the first fighting: bombing, especially aerial actions, To this result.
The tactics of the bombardment have several effects: destruction of all or part of the adversary, hindering its possibilities of reinforcement, exfiltration or counter-attack, and even psychological wear and tear. The Allies benefit in Normandy from almost total supremacy of the airspace: they can carry out bombardment actions day and night and use massively their operational potential of fighter-bombers.
The Allies decided to weaken the German defenses from March 1944 until the beginning of operation Overlord by applying the Transport Plan. Adopted on 10 January 1944, it specified the targets (75) and the locations (the northern coasts of France and Belgium) of air strikes for the rest of the war. The aim is to hit most of the railway nodes which, after disembarkation, can be used to transport troops to Normandy: this is to isolate this area by bombing stations, yard centers, civil engineering structures. However, the Allies do not want to arouse suspicion about Normandy and they carry out identical bombardments also in the neighboring regions until Germany.
Many of these targets are located in or close to French towns and civilian casualties number in the hundreds. On the night of 9-10 April 1944, for example, the Allies bombed Villeneuve-Saint-George station and Lille, killing 687 civilians and wounding 799 others. Rouen is also the target of an air raid on the night of 18 to 19 April 1944 during which 812 civilians are killed. All the road nodes, railway junctions, bridges (apart from Asnières) and other works of art were destroyed in the Seine valley at the end of May 1944. The works of the Atlantic Wall are largely bombed.
Why are cities targeted by air raids?
In order to prevent the arrival of reinforcements on the front line, the Allies destroy all the key points allowing a possible crossing of the opposing troops. The cities and some villages are located at places of passage, both by road and by rail: Carentan is for example the link between the Cotentin and the Calvados, Caen is an essential passage to cross the river Orne. These are road junctions of strategic importance for the continuation of the fighting.
The bombing also has more modest goals, at the tactical level. These cities and towns have bridges which are therefore priority objectives for the Allies. In addition, the ruins of the buildings and dwellings littered the streets as a result of the air raids paralyze traffic in the localities.
Throughout the battle of Normandy, certain localities fell in turn into the hands of the various adversaries, and the bombardments were repeated several times, leaving behind them piles of ruins. Two choices are open to the civilian population: to go on the roads or to shut themselves up in the cellars. But this underground protection is not usually enough for allied bombs.
Why are aerial bombardments so imprecise?
The notion of collateral damage is not in 1944 the one it has become today. Civilian casualties are not as much relayed by the media, and the Allies consider the death of civilians as one of the costs to pay for the success of liberation. Their efforts are more focused on the success of the mission than on possible collateral damage. And although the techniques and means of bombing are not precise, these raids continue throughout the war.
The precision of the bombardments is very approximate and the Allies supplement the quality by the quantity: they sometimes need several hundred bombers to achieve their ends. Meteorological conditions sometimes contribute to an increase in collateral damage: a cloud layer is enough to reduce almost completely the accuracy of an air raid. To these phenomena must be added the necessity for the pilots of heavy bombers to fly at very high altitude in order to escape the firings of the antiaircraft batteries adverse.
If bombs were left in the bunkers of their aircraft, bomber pilots rarely landed with such cargo for obvious reasons of safety. Most often, they bombarded pre-designated secondary goals before returning to their base. Some pilots have dropped their bombs in areas as deserted as possible near airfields just before landing, and unfortunately these bombs reach civilian homes.