The American War Model during the Normandy landings (3/3)
Battle of Normandy files
Part Three: Testing the American Model Against the Atlantic Wall
A. The use of lessons learned from experiential experiments / The course of D-Day
Airborne operations. The aim of the parachutists is to disorganize the German troops, to prevent or make difficult the arrival of reinforcements and to secure axes allowing to extend the heads of bridge realized by the troops which disembark a few hours later. The first paratroopers are scouts who mark the jumping zones shortly before midnight. In the early hours of June 6, waves of transport planes and gliders loaded with men and equipment followed one another over Normandy, east (6th British Airborne Division) and west (82nd and 101 US Airborne Divisions) of the landing beaches.
The bombing. First the aviation (from one o’clock in the morning) and then the navy (starting at five o’clock in the morning) have the mission to destroy and disorganize by a series of massive bombardments the German installations on the coast and within the Norman territory. These operations of destruction must be carried out all night long and stop at the exact moment when the troops landed at dawn on the beaches.
The landing. At 6:30 am for the Americans (on the beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha) and then at 7:30 am for Anglo-Canadians (on Gold, Juno and Sword), the amphibious assault begins, the difference between the two schedules being explained by the adaptation to tides. Fast and efficient on almost all the sectors involved (which stretch over a distance of nearly 100 kilometers), the Allies face serious difficulties in two points: in Omaha, where the 1st and 29th American infantry divisions are trampling In the face of the relentless resistance of the 352nd German infantry division, and Juno, a sector dedicated to Canadians, where swells are flooding with barges and landing craft.
The junctions. Once the landings and coastal defenses are under control, paratroopers must join the troops disembarked, and dismounted troops must make their junctions between them. They then participate in the consolidation of the bridgehead.
B. Limited success
A precarious situation on the evening of 6 June 1944.
There is a clear difference between the objectives originally planned and the situation on the evening of D-Day. Indeed, as an example, the city of Caen was to be under the control of the Allied soldiers on 6 June 1944. However, An unequal progression between the infantry and the cavalry, the Allies must stop a few kilometers to the north of the city. Total control of Caen will not be done until 21 July, 45 days after the D-Day.
In Omaha, where the landing almost failed, the Americans controlled at midnight a bridgehead only one kilometer deep inland. No junction was made with the soldiers landed in Utah and Gold. This situation is particularly alarming for Allies who have several flaws within their system.
If the initial targets are still far from being reached, the situation allied on 6 June at midnight is not as precarious as the most pessimistic forecasts. It still depends on the speed of the arrival of the reinforcements and the German reaction.
First gaps in the preparation and conduct of operations.
On a material level, the means are still largely perfectible. Here are some examples to illustrate this.
The bombing by the allied aircraft has unevenly reached their targets: the coastal defenses of Omaha Beach have been almost entirely spared by American and British bombers, the bombs fell a few kilometers further south. The cloud mass misled the pilots, who missed their targets for only a few seconds of delay.
This had disastrous consequences for the American assault waves on this beach, the Germans being perfectly capable of defending their positions.
Allied paratroopers experienced identical problems insofar as a large number of parachute drops failed. Some American paratroopers were even dropped at forty kilometers from their targets: parachutes were a less exact science at the time than they are today.
The special tanks, the famous “funnies” of General Hobart, were not very successful with American strategists who adopted only the amphibious tank (duplex drive), while the British adopted all the models. Approximately fifty “floating tanks” were launched off Omaha but due to the swell, and some of them flooded, sometimes with their crew. Unable to navigate in bad weather, they were unable to accomplish their mission of supporting the infantry on the beach. Some transport ships preferred to run aground on the coast to disembark their tanks rather than watching them sink. In addition, the lack of other special equipment has exacerbated the situation: US troops would have welcomed with great relief possible demining tanks, deckhandlers or flamethrowers.
On a human level, efforts in the intelligence field have not been able to address all the shadowy tasks of the enemy. Much information that would have been vital to the Allies had not come to them. As an example again, in 1944, the Germans had sent the 352nd Infantry Division north of Bayeux. On return from the Russian front, it was a seasoned unit which had proved itself in the east. The French resistance has sent several messages to warn London, but these never succeeded. Higher military means would have been sent if the Allies had been aware of this last-minute change, which turned out to be a major factor explaining the difficulties encountered by the Americans at Omaha Beach.
The key points of the American war model are based on four major effects.
– Careful preparation, benefiting from a maximum of lessons learned from previous experiences. Even if this preparation, which consisted of an anticipation of the means, needs and reactions of the adversary, was particularly advanced, the factor of the chance of the war could not be fully controlled. However, its effects have been limited.
– Concentration, quantity and quality of the means to effectively and rapidly reduce the operational capacity of the adversary. While much of the equipment was innovative, it should be noted that Americans have often preferred quantity to quality.
– The audacity: it was necessary to carry out such an operation against so many hazardous parameters (and despite the intensity of preparation upstream). This is part of the effect of surprise: they strike where they are not expected.
– The will to conquer. Allied forecasts provided for a particularly high rate of casualties in the “fortress Europe” assault and the chances of success were fairly meager, but they nevertheless launched into the battle. If the first reports proved terrifying (especially for paratroopers and soldiers landed at Omaha Beach), the will of the men and their leaders on the ground led to victory.