General presentation of the Allied Armada (page 2/2)
Operation Neptune – Normandy Landing
Crossing the Channel by the Allied Armada (continuation)
Eisenhower decides, due to an improvement in weather forecast, Sunday, June 4 at 4:15: “Overlord will be tomorrow, June 5”.
Eisenhower sets the date of the landing, the “D-Day”, to Monday, June 5, 1944, because the conditions of tides and full moon are favorable. Indeed, Allied sailors are ordered to land the infantrymen on the beaches at low tide so as not to send barges against the wall fortifications of the “Atlantic Wall”. Moon and tide factors are related, but they are only very rarely favorable at the same time.
Therefore, if the date of June 5th or June 6th is to be canceled, the military meteorologists think that an identical phenomenon will not happen again until June 19th. The Allies can not afford such a delay, certainly favorable to the Axis forces.
And it is at the dawn of June 4 that the invasion fleet starts. But it is recalled after a few hours, the weather having become execrable. Men must wait another 24 hours; as for the assault troops, who were already in their boats for 5 days, it is for them only a small additional delay.
|On June 4th, the order of the return to bases is given by allied planes with luminous signals. Photo: IWM|
For the supreme leader of the allied armies, the time is serious: if he rejects the landing in September 1944, who knows if the secret of the entire Overlord operation will not be discovered? And who knows what the military impact will be if 1,500,000 US troops and 1,750,000 Commonwealth soldiers, plus 40,000 units from Axis-occupied countries, will remain stranded on British soil without to count all the war material?
But the American general Dwight Eisenhower does not control the meteorology: the storm prevents him from ordering the departure with insurance.
However, taking full responsibility for the affair, he decides that the landing of Normandy will begin two days later, on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, and pronounces the famous phrase: “O.k., let’s go!” The next day, at dawn on June 5, 1944, the invasion fleet resumed the direction of Normandy and this time for good.
|The Allied draggers destroy in the Channel a mine located near the passage of the convoys. Photo: US National Archives|
The U-force (Utah), with 1,000 boats carrying 30,000 men and 3,500 vehicles, arrives first, and at 2:00 am on June 6, 1944, 15 km off its target, the beach at St. Martin-de-Varreville. During the crossing, the first buildings include the huge armada of a curtain of smoke that must protect it from German submarines and E-Boote stars.
However, the German officers of the General Staff are still unaware of the presence of this armada in the Channel.
Protection of convoys
During the crossing, the orders given to the officers commanding the warships are clear: they must open fire on all aircraft flying low over the fleet, whether friends or foes. Allied pilots are warned, they must not descend below a certain altitude.
To protect the various Allied Armada buildings from low altitude air attack, most ships are equipped with a tethered balloon flying several tens of meters above their structure. This balloon is connected to the ship by a steel cable. It is not the balloon that prevents air attacks but rather the steel cable that may cut the wings of aircraft.
|In this photograph it is possible to distinguish captive balloons used to protect Allied ships. Photo: US National Archives|
A large cloud of smoke used to hide the armada in an artificial haze is sent to the front of the allied fleet by speedboats.
Off Le Havre, several patrolling E-Boote emerge from the cloud of artificial fog and fall nose-to-nose with the Allied fleet and the S (Sword) convoy: immediately, they send their torpedoes, quickly make a half turn then disappear through the cloud of protection. One of the two Norwegian warships engaged in Operation Neptune, the Svenner, is touched and dark. Survivors are recovered by surrounding ships. This is the major incident of the crossing.
|The USS Thompson, which is to open fire on June 6, 1944 on the German positions of Omaha. Photo: US National Archives|
Meanwhile, 3,460 heavy bombers and 1,650 light and medium allied bombers dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on the Normandy coast, targeting the batteries and fortifications of the Atlantic Wall.
Starting at 5:10 am, as the sun rises at 5:58, the 200 Allied warships direct their cannons towards their targets in Normandy, located between Barfleur and Le Havre, and open fire. The view of the battlefield is terrifying, the shore burns as Allied soldiers reach the landing craft: stress squeezes their stomachs and gun shells, which fly a few meters above the barges the heads of the soldiers, make it difficult to breathe.
The barges move towards the five landing beaches, while the naval bombardment continues, until the landing. Some landing craft are equipped with rocket launchers to bomb the German positions until the first Allied soldier sets foot on the beach of Normandy he comes to release.
|These American soldiers join the barge that will lead them to the Norman shore. Photo: US National Archives|