Aerial bombing in Normandy

The reasons for the bombing in Normandy

D-Day air operations

US B-26 Marauder bombers flying over the allied armada during Operation Neptune.
Photo: US National Archives

Before the beginning of the amphibious operations on the Norman beaches, the Allies decided to organize a series of bombardments on the coasts of northern France, in order to destroy a large number of German strategic strategic objectives.

While the Atlantic Wall was still under construction along the English Channel and Atlantic coasts, radar stations, numerous forts and coastal artillery batteries could disrupt the Allied offensive if nothing was done to destroy these key points.

Allied bombing in northern France increased considerably from autumn 1943 in preparation for Operation Overlord and the number of raids continued to raise until September 1944. These air operations were supposed to disorient the German forces with the destruction of military targets, but also of roads, railways, railway stations, industries and port facilities. Supported by sabotage actions carried out by the French Resistance, the German communication network had to be deeply destroyed.

D-Day operations

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, in the middle of the night, the 8th and 9th Air Force of the U.S.A.A.F. (belonging to the 2nd Tactical Air Force), supported by British and Allied bombers, were charged, as part of Operation Neptune, to silence all the important objectives identified during the preceding months. Thus, 360 heavy bombers supported by 269 light bombers flew over the warships and transport convoys enroute to the Normandy coast.

These aircraft attacked the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall, despite the presence of numerous clouds, which made it difficult to locate targets. 92 radar stations were bombed from Barfleur to Le Havre, so that the allied armada was not noticed by radio operators of the Kriegsmarine (German navy). 74 stations were destroyed by the aviation: the operation was rather a success.

But the bombing of some targets on the coast (artillery batteries, support batteries, fortified points) proved to be a relatively difficult operation. Indeed, 67 of the bombers cancelled their mission because of the bad weather conditions, while others managed to fulfill their mission.

The coastline between Ouistreham to the east and Asnelles-sur-Mer to the west, all the beaches planned for the landing of Anglo-Canadian troops (Sword Beach in the east, Juno Beach in the center and Gold Beach to the west), were bombed by allied aircraft, and many targets were destroyed or damaged. Utah Beach (American responsability) was also heavily bombed, including the Cotentin coastal artillery batteries located in Azeville and Crisbecq.

But between Longues-sur-Mer to the east and Grandcamp-Maisy to the west, the objectives were not reached, or very little, by the bombing. One landing beach is located in this area, Omaha Beach, where elements of the 1st and 29th American infantry divisions are supposed to land at dawn. According to the reports of different air groups deployed to bombard the area, the presence of clouds complicated their mission, and it took only one or two seconds for the bombs to be dropped several kilometers away from their objectives. For example, coastal artillery batteries near the towns of Longues-sur-Mer and Maisy were virtually intact despite the bombing, as were the 8 strongpoints around Omaha Beach. The Allies did not know it at that time, but the Germans did not suffer any damage in this area.

Bombing report

Since May 1944, bombings on the northwest quarter of France have increased, mainly targeting road and railway targets.

With the help of the destruction carried out by the French resistance, the Allies launched numerous raids over Normandy, which resulted in relatively small destruction compared to the involved means. Some sites were crushed under bombs, others did not have any scratch. These disparities became relevant in the hours following the bombing, when the Allied troops landed in front of the Atlantic Wall. Indeed, it was supposed to be fully destroyed, but some places were still in perfect condition.

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