The allied armada in Normandy – Operation Neptune
British landing craft (LCT) in front of the Normandy coast
Photo: US National Archives
General presentation of the allied armada (page 2/2)
Operation Neptune – Normandy landings
Continuation of the page Operation Neptune (1/2):
Eisenhower decided, due to an improved weather forecast, on Sunday 4 June at 04:15: “Overlord will take place tomorrow, June 5”.
Eisenhower choose “D-Day” to be Monday, June 5, 1944, as the conditions of tides and full moon were favorable. The allied sailors were ordered to land troops on the beaches at low tide so as not to risk loosing landing crafts against the beach fortifications of the “Atlantic Wall”. The moon and tide factors are related, but they were very rarely favorable at the same time.
Therefore, if the date of June 5 or June 6 is to be canceled, military meteorologists believe that an identical phenomenon will not occur again until the following June 19th. The Allies can not afford such a delay, certainly favorable to the Axis forces.
And it was at dawn of the 4th of June that the Allied Armada was order to go. But it had to come back only a few hours after, the weather having deteriorated. Men have to wait another 24 hours; as for the assault troops, who had already been in their transport ships for five days, it was no longer for them but a small delay.
|On June 4, the order of return to the bases is given by allied aircrafts using light signals. Photo: IWM|
For the supreme leader of the Allied armies, weather conditions became a serious matter: if he had postponed the landing by September 1944, who knows if the secret of the whole operation Overlord could have been kept? But General Dwight Eisenhower could not control meteorology: the storm prevented him from ordering the departure with confidence.
However, taking full responsibility for thismatter, he decided that the Normandy landing would begin on the following day, Tuesday, June 6, 1944 and pronounced the famous phrase: “O.k., let’s go!”. The next day, at the dawn of June 5, 1944, the invasion fleet resumed the direction of Normandy and this time for good.
|Allied minesweepers destroy a mine in the English Channel near the passage of the convoys. Photo: US National Archives|
The U (Utah) force, with 1,000 ships carrying 30,000 men and 3,500 vehicles, arrives first at 2 am on June 6, 1944, 15 km off its target, the beach of Saint-Martin-de-Varreville. During the crossing, the first warships hide the huge armada with a large smoke which is supposed to protect it from the German submarines and E-Boote.
However, the German officers of the General Headquarters are still unaware of the presence of this armada in the Channel.
Protection of convoys
During the crossing, orders given to the officers commanding the warships were clear: they had to open fire on all the aircraft flying over the fleet at low altitude, whether being friends or foes. Allied pilots were warned: they had to remain over a precise altitude.
To protect the various ships of the allied armada from any low-level air attack, most of them were equipped with a captive balloon flying several tens of meters above their structure. This balloon was connected to the ship by a steel cable. It is not the balloon that prevented air attacks, but rather the steel rope that could cut the wings of airplanes.
|This photograph shows the captive balloons aimed at protecting allied ships. Photo: US National Archives|
A large smoke screen used to camouflage the armada in an artificial haze is deployed in front of the allied fleet by speedboats.
Off the coast of Le Havre, several German E-Boots patrolling in the Channel encountered the allied fleet and the S Force (Sword) convoy: they immediately fired their torpedoes, then disappeared through the protective smoke screen. One of the two Norwegian warships engaged in Operation Neptune, the Svenner, was hit and sunk. Survivors were recovered by surrounding ships. This was the major incident during the crossing.
|USS Thompson, which is supposed to open fire on June 6, 1944 on the German positions of Omaha. Photo: US National Archives|
Meanwhile, 3,460 heavy allied bombers and 1,650 light and medium bombers dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on the Normandy coast, targeting batteries and fortifications of the Atlantic Wall.
Starting at 5.10 am, as day dawned at 5.58 am, 200 Allied war ships directed their guns to their Normandy targets, located between Barfleur and Le Havre, and opened fire. The sight was terrifying, the shore burnt and the allied soldiers who were reaching the landing craft could hardly breathe: the stress was tightening their stomach. Gun shells, flying a few meters above the landing crafts, created such air calls that it became difficult to breathe.
The landing crafts headed towards the five landing beaches, while the naval bombardment continued until the exact moment of landing. Some landing crafts were equipped with rocket launchers to bomb the German positions until the first allied soldier had reached the Normandy beach.
|These American soldiers embark in the landing craft which will lead them to the Norman shore. Photo: US National Archives|