Omaha Beach – Air support
After Action Reports
Western Task Force – D-Day – Battle of Normandy
INVASION OF NORTHERN FRANCE
WESTERN TASK FORCE
From: Commander Assault Force “O”
Air Support and Defense.
Operation (INVASION NORTHERN FRANCE) differed from previous amphibious assaults in which the Force Commander has been engaged in that the Air Force participating in the operation joined in the planning not only on the highest level, but down to and including the Assault Force Commanders. This was a distinct help.
The Air Plan provided for heavy bombing of specific targets in the beachhead area on D-1 day, and subsequently as necessary to assist Naval gunfire in destroying or neutralizing coast defenses. In addition bombing of the beach defenses was scheduled for delivery between H – 30 minutes and H hour. As far as is known, the attacks scheduled for delivery on D-1 were carried out. Visual evidence indicated that during this attack, or others carried out intermittently over a period of months before the actual assault, the enemy battery on the POINTE du HOE which had caused the Force Commander some concern was damaged to such an extent that four of its guns had been removed to a new site about a mile inland. The attack scheduled for delivery on the beaches did not materialize, and there was no evidence that the beach defenses had been bombarded from the air prior to the assault. The cloud ceiling over the beach area was low in the hours immediately preceding the assault, and it is probable that this prevented the delivery of the scheduled attack, or required that heavy bombers bomb through the cloud with consequent inaccuracy.
Air cover throughout the entire period of this report was excellent. There were continuous fighter patrols over the beach area on three levels between 5000 and 32000 feet. As a result of this, and probably of the continuous campaign which had been waged against the Luftwaffe for months beforehand, Force “O” was unmolested both during the approach and the assault. Commencing on the night of D day and continuing practically every night thereafter, there were air raid alerts among the vessels at anchor off the beaches and in the beachhead area. In most of these no attack developed, and when it did it was made by relatively few planes and usually appeared to be directed more at the beaches than at the ships in the assault area. As far as is known from time of arrival of Force “O” in the Assault Area until H+21 when the Force Commander left, only one ship, LCI(L)-219, was damaged by bombing. There were no daylight attacks.
Most of the enemy air effort directed against the naval phase of the operation took the form of minelaying by aircraft. For some reason the anchorage area off OMAHA BEACHES was relatively free of this form of attack. However, vessels approaching through channels which had previously been carefully swept and in swept areas occupied by other assault forces were mined, but with the exception of a few landing craft which struck antipersonnel mines while beaching, no mine damage occurred in the OMAHA Assault Area, and no mines were swept there. This despite a number of reports of objects seen falling during the almost nightly alerts.
Anti-aircraft fire discipline among the merchant vessels and smaller landing craft was not too good. Despite strict orders to the contrary some gun crews persisted in opening fire with automatic weapons at night with no targets in sight, on one or two occasions, planes definitely recognized as friendly were fired on during daylight. Fortunately such occasions were rare. Strenuous efforts, including specific directives and limitations as to the conditions under which anti-aircraft fire could be opened, and a visual signal to indicate that friendly aircraft were overhead resulted in a distinct improvement in fire discipline as time passed.
That in planning for air support in amphibious operations, whenever possible, intensive air bombardment of enemy defenses be carried out previous to D day. This, because of the uncertainty as to the ability of the air arm to deliver an attack at a specified time immediately prior to or during the assault.
FOLLOWING IS QUOTED FROM CURRENT TACTICAL ORDERS AND DOCTRINE U.S. FLEET AIRCRAFT.
“Strike and Troop Support Aircraft. Strike and Troop Support missions may be flown by all types of aircraft. Strike missions are flown against the Objective prior to and simultaneously with the landings by the Land Force. Troop Support missions are flown in direct support of the advance of the Landing Force ashore on request of the Landing Force unit commanders through the Air Liaison Parties. All strike missions occurring during the presence of the Attack, together with all troop support missions, are controlled by Commander Support Aircraft until relieved. It is desirable that direction to Support Aircraft on Strike or Troop Support missions should be given by an experienced aviator.”
That plans for bombing of beach defenses be included in the assault plan, but in view of the limitation mentioned above, this be done with the knowledge that weather may prevent its delivery, and that hence, plans be so drawn that the success or failure of the attack is not contingent upon bombing beach defenses at a particular time.
That the Naval Commander make every effort to ensure proper anti-aircraft fire discipline by orders specifically defining the conditions under which AA fire may be opened, and by continuous instruction and indoctrination of anti-aircraft gun crews. That particular attention be given to the lesson learned in numerous operations, that indiscriminate anti-aircraft fire at night serves no purpose other than to mark the ship’s position and enable enemy aircraft to select it for a target.