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June 6, 2009

Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:01 AM * 68 comments

Sixty-five years ago today:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Comments on D-Day:
#1 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 11:15 AM:


#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 11:22 AM:

On this day I chant: Utah Omaha Gold Juno Sword.

Some people get it. Others don't.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 11:24 AM:

i wouldn't have, without Google.

#4 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 12:09 PM:

Besides the sentiments themselves, what strikes me is the directness of Eisenhower's words. Reminds me of Obama in Cairo calling for government "that doesn't steal from the people."

Now that was strikingly clear language for a national leader, I thought. Jumped right out at me, especially said in a country where I assume the government knows little but stealing.

#5 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 12:09 PM:

Besides the sentiments themselves, what strikes me is the directness of Eisenhower's words. Reminds me of Obama in Cairo calling for government "that doesn't steal from the people."

Now that was strikingly clear language for a national leader, I thought. Jumped right out at me, especially said in a country where I assume the government knows little but stealing.

#6 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 12:15 PM:

To those who fought and died on that day in Normandy I give my thanks. To those who lived and won I give my cheers and my hopes for long and happy lives away from war. To all I give my pledge: I will work, as hard and as loyally as they did, to insure that no more of my loved ones, or anyone else's, will have to face the hell that they went through.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 12:26 PM:

As an exhortation to victory in battle, that's about as good as it gets.

#8 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 01:08 PM:

Xopher@ #2

I get it: US, US, UK, Canada, UK

#9 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 02:59 PM:

There were some remarkable scenes portrayed in The Longest Day, which is the D-Day movie I remember. The first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan are rightfully praised, but the rest of it is a mash-up.

After seeing the first movie I went out and bought a three-volume set of Cornelius Ryan's books about D-Day, Arnhem and Berlin, and that got me started as a WW 2 buff.

Steve Benen posted the video of Obama's speech at Normandy today. One of the vets who landed there 65 years ago made it back this year, walked the cemeteries, and passed away in his sleep at his hotel last night.

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 03:21 PM:

Linkmeister @ 9:

... and passed away in his sleep at his hotel last night

I'm not sure how I feel about that. Looked at from outside with a somewhat romantic cast, he revisited the site of his greatest achievement, mourned his fallen comrades, and went peacefully to join them in his sleep.

But how do we know how he felt about his own participation, even if he did celebrate those who were beside him? Maybe he would have preferred to have a more pleasant memory in the forefront of his mind on his last day.

Don't know, can't know, best to accept that we can only view people from outside, and believe the stories we make up about them. But it nags at me every once in a while: we aren't really only the sum total of how we seem to others, but how else can others take us?

#11 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Bruce @ #10, maybe his family will express what they think he was feeling after their initial grief has diminished a little. Not that it's really anyone's business but their own.

#12 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 04:02 PM:

I can guess at how he felt. Mixed emotions, and pride and a sort of nostalgic; and comfortable grief.

Rage and anger are less likely, but possible.

All in all, he was probably pretty content when he went to bed, and an easier passing is hard to picture.

I could live with going out like that.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 05:37 PM:

Here is what Eisenhower had written the day before. In case.

"Our landings have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."
#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 06:13 PM:

See Pratchett's Johnny And The Dead for one take on the death of an old soldier.

There's worse things than the thought his friends were waiting for him.

#15 ::: J MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Xopher @ #2, Linkmeister @ #9 mentions the movie my mother is watching as I type this, so your chant makes sense to me this morning as it might not have on some other morning.

#16 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 07:21 PM:

Having visited Normandy, having been to Pointe de Hoc .... I am in awe of what was accomplished.

#17 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 07:29 PM:

Linkmeister @9: One of the vets who landed there 65 years ago made it back this year, walked the cemeteries, and passed away in his sleep at his hotel last night.

I can't speak for anyone, but this is the thought that came with that story:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

#19 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Yesterday evening, because D-Day was coming up and because they were showcasing Spielberg films, they showed Saving Private Ryan on TCM. It's a strange feeling to have a movie one first saw on the big screen appearing on a classic movie channel.

#20 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 12:01 AM:

Did TCM censor the film? I remember reading that the movie specifically got a free pass from the FCC for its use of strong language.

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 12:35 AM:

Wyman Cooke @ 19... It's a strange feeling to have a movie one first saw on the big screen appearing on a classic movie channel.

It's not strange or rare if one is past a certain age.

#22 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 01:46 AM:


This old road goes somewhere from here,
To an abandoned house, or more
Likely to some concrete bunker,
Long forgotten since the War.

They made these roads in fear and haste
To places where they could watch the sea,
Hid themselves in the woods and hills
And waited for the enemy,

But the battle lines were far away
And the doors hang rusty that once were new.
Beachgrass grows where the men once marched
And deer walk where the flags once flew

And I will walk down this old road
Beneath the slender alder trees,
Pick a wild rose for remembrance,
And listen to the drowsy bees.

This old road goes somewhere from here
To an abandoned house, or more
Likely to some concrete bunker,
Long forgotten since the War.

#23 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 01:47 AM:

And also:

#24 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 02:19 AM:

I was in Normandy in May 1997, on my first backpacking trip around Europe. Having done a lot of military history reading as a geeky teenager, it was a must-see destination.

I wound up meeting two American guys on the train to Bayeaux - we spotted each other's travel guidebooks - and we split the cost of renting a tiny Renault the next day.

Omaha Beach with it's bluffs and massive, massive American Cemetary was sobering - that's not a friendly area of real estate behind the beach.

We stopped at one of the British beaches - it must have been Sword, going by the geography.

Then we went to Juno, the Canadian Beach. Slightly easier terrain than Omaha, but it's traded bluffs for a town right there, a surprisingly large seawall, and water hazards right behind the beach. Some tradeoff.

We ended the day at the first (of many) Canadian WW2 cemetaries, a few km inland from Courseulles-sur-Mer. It's out in the countryside on a secondary road, surrounded by grain fields and maintained to the very highest Commonwealth War Graves Commission standard - which is very, very high indeed.

Every grave had flowers growing in front of it, the masonry wall that protected the site was a profusion of plants, many blooming... and at 18, I was exactly the same age as many of the Canadians buried in that quiet, beautiful spot.

I actually re-discovered that cemetary just now, via Google Maps. Here it is.

#25 ::: Omega ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 04:49 AM:

My Dad landed on Sword Beach. He was in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers and posted to a regiment of the Huzzars as part of the tank maintainence workshop. One of the jobs he had done in the run up for landing was building the floating tanks. He was also a canny blighter who managed to get to the beach dry by hopping on the back of a lorry and telling his officer he was going along with it to make sure the equipment landed safely.

I wish he had lived long enough to see the recent documentaries about them that backed up what he's dais all along about why they lost as many as they did. If the message had got through to all the units that they had to go in closer before launch because of the sea conditions more may have made it. The ones he was with did.

He never spoke much of that day but one of my fondest memories of visiting friends he made on that mad dash across France to Belgium and watching them watching The Longest Day on French TV with subtitles and commenting on it. A lot of the comments were not exactly complimentary and along the lines of "the bloody Americans weren't there, I was" but it was one of the few times I ever really saw how he felt about the war.

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 07:57 AM:

Omega, would that be the 13th/18th Royal Hussars?

#27 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 09:03 AM:

worth re-reading this:

it's no knock on the genuine heroes of wwii, to say that their genuine heroism was perverted into something ugly and grotesque by the bush administration.

#28 ::: Omega ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 11:39 AM:

I honestly don't know Dave and I'm not sure if Mum would know either. Looking at what is on wikki about them and D-Day it probably was though as it fits what he said about the DD tanks.

#29 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 12:55 PM:

Earl Cooley @ #20 - As far as I know, TCM takes great pains to present the films just as they were released to the theaters. In any event, TCM is a cable network and its content is not subject to FCC sanctions.

I watched the first segment and didn't notice anything missing.

#30 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 01:14 PM:

werelizard: The beach was more, and less, friendly in 44. The shingle which was all over it has washed away, so it's smoother, but smaller.

Omega: I cheer his participation in the Huzzars. :)

Honestly, having kept track of such things (order of battle is really important to my line of work), it's quite possible both the Americans and the Brits were in those places (esp. in the first day, when the paratroops and glider-borne hadn't been sorted out yet).

It was, however, more likely to be a weakness of making films.

#31 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 09:23 PM:

I am still amazed at how bad the D-Day plan was. It succeeded probably because Rommel was away and people around Hitler were afraid to wake him up; also because of the grit of the commandos who landed ahead of the invasion. The Allies "swimming tanks" were a bad gamble on a critical item. Close air support should have been much more intense. Failing to train pilots delivering paratroopers in handling flak was a major error. The fact that naval commanders weren't told to support the ground troops by whatever means necessary was foolish-- we're very lucky that one destroyer captain decided to risk his government issue to do so.

I am awed by the bravery of the men who took part in the attack, and a lot less so by the men who sent them.

#32 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2009, 09:33 PM:

Rob@17: I just finished preparing that script (playing 4 assorted French -- a relatively small number of lines in a cast of 10), and was a little appalled when another cast member said 11 out of 12 of her (6th-grade?) students had said Henry was justified; then I realized that the play without context sounds a lot better than the facts. I kept having bits of "Theory of Rocketry" popping into mind during the performance.

I suppose rhetoric has its place -- especially when you really are asking people to die to displace a monstrous evil -- but it still gives me an itch. The one saving grace is that both speak only of the task, and do not try to confuse the individuals with the leaders.

#33 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 07:41 AM:

Charles #31,

Remember, the Allies didn't have a whole lot of experience in making opposed landings against the Germans. The one landing that was similar was Salerno, and they did learn a lot from that one.

Political time constraints forced a lot of compromises all over the plan. Shortages in landing craft and specialized vehicles, weather conditions, shipping, etc, all helped shape the entire landing plan as well.

Not knowing that the 352nd ID was occupying the Omaha beach defenses was probably the worst mistake made, closely followed by launching the DD tanks too far out. Bombers missing their targets should have been expected and planned for, but close air support when the two forces were yards away from each other? In that situation only accurate, direct gunfire is going to do the job, not some fighter/bomber pilot travelling 350mph 6000' above the target.

The entire Overlord plan was overly optimistic in its first day goals, but it did succeed. By the afternoon the Germans had little realistic chance to stop the invasion, and even then only if Hitler had authorized a full-scale counterattack by all his available reserves.

#34 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 10:16 AM:

Experience shows that the DD Shermans were a good gamble, in that they did the job they were intended to do at four of the five beaches. Good odds, I think. That they didn't succeed at Omaha is down to them being deployed too far out from the beach, for the most part, though being given bad navigation cues and an understandable lack of sea-going experience on the part of the tank crews contributed.

It's odd, I picked up a book a couple of weeks ago claiming that all the DD tanks sank, and none of their crews survived. The first part isn't completely true for Omaha, and not at all true for the other four beaches, and the second part almost completely false, in that all but five tank crew members were picked up by other boats. They must have a bad reputation because of Omaha, but I think it's undeserved.

The DDs worked, for the most part, getting infantry support onto the beaches without risking vulnerable tank landing craft to shore artillery.

#35 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 12:07 PM:

Omaha didn't have enough DDs, those it had were launched too far out, and, importantly, it didn't have the specialised armour for cracking the beach defences that the other beaches had. Instead of clearing mines with flail tanks and destroying pillboxes with petard mortars, the troops on Omaha had to clear the mines by hand, and destroy pillboxes with pole charges. (A charge, on a pole.) Bradley didn't trust the specialist tanks and didn't use them.

#36 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 12:30 PM:


Keith Marsden

Oh, we had to make the beaches from a lousy LCI,
And the landing ramps were swaying like a Portsmouth dockyard drunk.
She pitched us and she heaved us till we had to land or die,
And by the time we made it, half the tank support had sunk.
So a seasick, sodden rabble, we ran blindly everywhere
While the Germans thinned our numbers out at St Aubin Sur Mer.
Aye, the Germans thinned our numbers out at St Aubin Sur Mer.

We had practised, aye, we'd practised at the great invasion plan,
Storming undefended beaches on a friendly Dorset shore,
But when the tanks were grinding through the wounded in the sand,
We knew we weren't on Blighty exercises anymore,
And we grew up very quickly, moving out through street and square,
Shooting first and asking after in St Aubin Sur Mer,
Shooting first and asking after in St Aubin Sur Mer.

We had patriotic heroes. We had make-believe old sweats,
But none had come with nineteen-fourteen innocence for fun.
If we paid the bill again for them, this time they'd not forget,
And there'd be a golden future when the present job was done.
But heroes, sweat or dreamer, the Old Reaper didn't care,
As the Germans swung their scythe through us at St Aubin Sur Mer,
As the Germans swung their scythe through us at St Aubin Sur Mer.

And now I see the glories of the brave new world we've made,
From the slaughter and the sacrifice, the maiming and the pain,
And I see the lying leaders as they posture and parade,
And trample on the dead men's dreams and ride to war again,
So don't tell me I was lucky I came back from over there.
The lucky ones died with their dreams in St Aubin Sur Mer.
The lucky ones died with their dreams in St Aubin Sur Mer.

#37 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 01:07 PM:

ajay #35,

Not entirely true. A full battalion of Shermans (32 tanks) was scheduled to land on Omaha BEFORE any of the infantry waves would make it to the beach. Most if not all of them were to get there via DD apparatus, but only two actually made it and they were late. The ones that did land made it because their LST's kept them on board and dropped them right on the beach.

That, plus the 352nd' Infantry Division manning the Omaha defenses, made the infantry nothing but shooting ducks that morning. The specialized tanks ('funnies') were designed to deal with obstacles on the British/Canadian beaches; against what was on Omaha they would have been fairly ineffective. The pillboxes were on bluffs out of the reach of flamethrowing tanks and petard mortars, there weren't any seawalls or AT-ditches that needed filling, and with the rising tide and narrow beach there just wasn't room, available shipping or time to put more vehicles on Omaha.

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 02:48 PM:

Whatever went right or wrong with the landings themselves, Operation Fortitude, the operational deception plan, ran flawlessly and succeeded brilliantly.

Operation Fortitude was designed to convince the German high command that the Normandy landings were a feint and the real invasion was to take place at Calais.

#39 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 04:05 PM:

I think the relatively greater casualities at Omaha were, as most of these things are, due to a concatenation of circumstances, some avoidable, some not.

There were more Germans in some places and fewer in others. Some tanks and landing craft failed, others didn't. Maybe one German machine-gunner struck "lucky" and pinned down a whole company for hours, his mate in another hole on another beach died in the first few minutes.

For whatever reason the initial bombardment didn't damage the defences at Omaha beach as much as at some other locations. Mayeb some Royal Navy ships were late or off-target. Maybe its because the weather made the US bombers less effective the night before. Maybe the bunkers were harder.

No-one knew *exactly* what or who they would face on each beach. Bradley and the other officers made choices about equipment and tactics that might have been good in some circumstances, not in others. There is some luck in it. Maybe more tanks woudl have helped, maybe tanls were a liability. No-one knew the truth of it the day before because no-one had ever done this before.

Its like that mythical game that turns up in some novels and films where you put you hand in a box no knowing whether the snake or the scorpion is in there. Or you got through a door into a passage knowing that there is a tiger in one of them.

#40 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 04:36 PM:

The other thing is that an amphibious assault on an entrenched position is an inherently difficult proposition -- D-Day was going to be bloody no matter what. The various island assaults in the Pacific weren't any prettier.

#41 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2009, 04:38 PM:

I heard that every D-Day landing party went off course. The weather was bad and the sea was rough. The Omaha Beach landing party went into the teeth of the German defenses. My my father in-law landed at Utah Beach, where they accidentally missed the defenses and walked on unopposed. They were very lucky. I walked out on Utah Beach at low tide. It's very flat and when I looked back from the water line it was a long way to the beach with no shelter.

I went to Normandy because we were going to be in France over the 4th of July. The main street in Bayeux was festooned with American flags. It was a funny feeling being there: very happy to be so warmly welcomed, but also aware that it wasn't because of me. I think every American should go there if they can. You can see how people remember us when we do something right. Plus there's the cuisine du terroir.

#42 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 01:47 AM:

John L says, "Remember, the Allies didn't have a whole lot of experience in making opposed landings against the Germans."

All this is true, John. But there was another war, where opposed landings were the norm, namely the Pacific campaign. Those battles began with Buna in November, 1942. It was in the island hopping campaign where close air support as a tactic was critical, since armor and land-based artillery were hard to deploy. And close air support could have done a great deal on D-Day-- certainly better than having naval ships shelling.

In Europe, many chances were missed. Quoting from Wikipedia's CAS article: "Six months before the invasion of Normandy, 33 divisions had received no joint air-ground training. In 1943, the AAF changed their radios to a frequency incompatible with ground radios."

#43 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 03:46 AM:

James @ 38: Operation Fortitude worked so well in fact that days later Hitler still believed that the actual main attack would take place at Calais. If he had freed up the troops there within the first week, history might have been different.

#44 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 07:12 AM:

Charles #42,

There was very, very little consultation between the Overlord planners and their Pacific Ocean counterparts. Certainly there had been opposed landings in the Pacific by 1944; the thought process in the Overlord planning team was "Germany is different", even though the basics would remain the same, and they didn't ask for advice or assistance even though it was offered.

But, nowhere in the Pacific did the Japanese ever fortify a beach with the kind of defenses the Germans had at Normandy, nor did the Japanese ever have a strong reserve available for a counterattack.

#45 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 08:18 AM:

Wyman Cooke @43: "... history might have been different."

Different, but I think the Nazis would still have lost. In a sense they had already lost. The Russians were coming.

This was nine months after Kursk. The Soviets had already recaptured all of Russia proper and most of Ukraine (Kiev was liberated from the Germans just before Christmas 1943, Leningrad, Smolensk and Odessa all in early 1944) and were fighting in Estonia and Belorussia and on the verge of moving into Romania and Poland. If the utter collapse of German campaign in the east started at Stalingrad it was completed in July 1944. Only a few days after D-Day the Russians smashed the Germans behind Minsk, with an army that outnumbered the Germans four to one. The Red Army lost 170,000 men in a month, (the scale of that war is unimaginable) and captured about that many Germans. The Germans lost count of their dead. It would have taken the Russians into Poland whatever happened in Normandy.

Even in the West the tide had turned against the Germans before D-Day. Rome was liberated on the 4th of June. Romania was on the verge of changing sides and Italy already had (though the German invasion had denied half of Italy to the newly Allied Italian government). Yugoslavia had more men in arms against the Germans than we landed at D-Day. Normandy wasn't the Second Front - it was the Fourth, after the Balkans and Italy.

1944 was also the year of serious uprisings against the Nazis. Warsaw is much the most famous (the Polish national revolt of August 1944, I mean, not the Ghetto revolt which people often confuse it with) but there were others. Parts of France (especially in Brittany and the south-west) and also much of northern Italy were all but in open revolt against the Germans. In Italy there were communist provisional governments set up in some cities - which the Germans managed to crush even with D-day being a success. On a smaller scale, acts of clandestine resistance increased in the Netherlands and in Denmark (which for various reasons hadn't had a large-scale resistance movement before 1943) and of course Norway (which was barely governable anyway) Nazi rule was unsupportable, literally. Europe couldn't bear the cost in death and destruction. They were on their way to collapse.

Even the German High Command had concluded that their only chance of keeping Russia out of Berlin would be to ally with the Americans and British. Hitler, I think, had no longer any illusions of or desire for a German victory - he wanted Germany to go down in flames, he was aiming for Gotterdammerung, he wanted to ride the horse of Germany onto his funeral pyre. D-day made that happen sooner than it might have, and it gave time for the British to get to the Baltic and the Americans to Austria (we just made it to Lubeck, your lot got to Linz), which gave us more cards to play with in the next round of power-politics, but I think Germany was on the way out anyway. And I suspect that the Soviets would no more have taken France or Italy than we would have been likely to take Hungary or Poland had we invaded a year earlier. Germany was in the way - and once Germany went down, there was nothing to stop the Allies walking into whichever country was nearest. A Russian army that had conquered all of Germany all on its own would probably have met the Americans on the Rhine rather than the Danube, but they would still have met the Americans.

#46 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 08:55 AM:

And, in 1940, the Japanese were way ahead of the Germans in the basic tech of amphibious assault.

Some of the equipment in service at Gallipoli was ahead of what the Germans had in 1940.

And I think we forget just how much experience there was in Europe, from raiding such as Vaagso and Bruneval to major invasions such as Torch and Husky.

There were certainly things which could be learned from the assaults in the Pacific, but one big difference was that when the USN turned up, the Japanese defenders were cut off from reinforcement. The attackers could take their time on the initial bombardment--three days at Peleliu--whereas for Overlord everything had to be done in a few hours. Would Omaha have been different if UDTs had been able to work for three days?

Do that in Europe, and even Hitler would have started to move troops.

D-Day involved about 10 divisions landed on the first day (One US division only landed a Regimental Combat Team, on Utah beach, but two brigades of Commando troops were landed on Gold/Juno/Sword}.

It would have been better if more of the bombarment at Omaha had even managed to hit France.

#47 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 09:24 AM:

Close air support during an amphibious assault is nearly impossible. The two combatants are too close together, there's too much confusion, and smoke/haze/dust obscures everything from the air. The fighters did what they should have been doing; interdicting supplies and reserves from reaching the battlefront, attacking artillery positions behind the line, and assisting the paratroopers in taking their objectives. Having the airforces provide CAS to troops on the beach would have just caused more Allied casualties.

The only naval gun support that was really effective came from the destroyers that risked grounding and came as close as they could to the shore to deliver point blank, --aimed-- gunfire at some of the strongpoints holding out along the beach at Omaha. The battleships fired interdiction missions once the troops were on shore, and helped break up the armored counterattack by 21st PzDiv in the British sector that afternoon.

#48 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 12:22 PM:

The first two episodes of Band of Brothers focus on D-Day, and are highly recommended.

#49 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 03:39 PM:

Late to the defense of overlord: It was about as well done as it could have been.

Omaha would have been different had the tide race been as expected. The Navy was doing support fires (to second Jim, the battleships were firing blind into designated targets, 10-15 miles inland; with the expectation they would be plastering the counterattacks the undertrained pilots had prevented by dropping the paratroops all over the place).

The destroyers did yeoman service (a couple completely draining the magazines of their 5-inch guns), and the cruisers did what they could, but the problem was the same for them (the cruisers) as it was for the Air Forces of the Allies... the combatants were too close together. The kill-zone for a 5-inch shell is measured in the tens of meters. For an 8-inch, or 10-inch there wasn't a safe place to put any of those larger shells.

The invasion was a gamble, and a gamble it was going to remain, no matter when it was attempted.

As gambles go, it was taken with a pretty good estimate of the risks. The casualties were actually less than planned for.

#50 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 04:10 PM:

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."

-- Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke

#51 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 05:31 PM:

"Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face."

--Mike Tyson

#52 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 05:35 PM:

'Plans are useless, but planning is indispensible' -Dwight D. Eisenhower

On that basis, the Allies did far better than the Germans - Allied airpower had wrecked any chance of them getting forces to the beaches unless they were actually parked in the dunes. And once that opportunity was gone it became a battle of the buildups, where the vastly superior Allied logistics system and tac air could crush the German forces - even offloading directly onto beaches after the Mulberries were severely damaged.

#53 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 06:14 PM:

John L says, "the thought process in the Overlord planning team was "Germany is different",

And that's what the problem was. An unwillingness to learn lessons.

All the things that people mention have merit. As Dave Bell says, Allied air had much less time to soften up the landing beaches than in the Pacific-- and it was impossible to cut off the Germans from reinforcements. As Ken Brown said, the main show was in the East. Normandy was, by comparison, a sideshow. As John L said, close air support during an amphibious assault is nearly impossible. Doable, but only with difficulty. Take a look at Bechtold to see that it was not impossible, and indeed was done in the days following Normandy. It was also done in the Pacific even when combatants were close, using aircraft equipped with lighter and more accurate weapons.

#54 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2009, 08:37 PM:

Charles: reading the abstract I'm not sure the book really proves your case.

However, as the campaign progressed, the First Army and IX Tactical Air Command were able to shed the encumbrances of theory and doctrine, and through experience develop an empirical response that considered the actual level of training of the personnel involved and the tactical conditions encountered. Though previous American theory and experience indicated that a centralized close air support system was the ideal, operations in Normandy proved the opposite and led to the improvisation of a decentralized system.” – Introduction, p. 2-3.

It seems an ignorance of how to do it was no small part of the problem; which ignorance probably related to the lack of change in doctrine.

The Marines/Naval Air had a much stronger reason for being willing to entertain the loss in planes/Marines/soldier, which is the support fleets were much more vulnerable while they were in support, which led to a much higher willingness to take casualties.

Normandy required the flights to be made from Britian, to a battlefield which was really fluid, and an airspace which was being used by naval guns.

Once the beachheads were established a sense of the lines was easier to convey to pilots, and the intermediate airspace was no longer perilous because of support fire.

#55 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 12:05 AM:

Terry says, "It seems an ignorance of how to do it was no small part of the problem; which ignorance probably related to the lack of change in doctrine."

Terry, this is the very point I have been trying to make. Starting as early as 1942, close air support was being used in the Pacific. The Normandy planners refused to learn the lessons of the Pacific and had to re-invent it all in Europe.

Terry also says, "Normandy required the flights to be made from Britian, to a battlefield which was really fluid, and an airspace which was being used by naval guns."

You know, I wonder about that. Why could they not have put aircraft carriers off of Normandy, reducing the turnaround time for refuel/relaunch? If that were possible, they could have tightly covered the sector with a blanket of air power to suppress fire from the beach defenders and prevent any movement of armor inland. Does anyone know the British home fleet roster for June, 1944?

#56 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 01:54 AM:

Terry, this is the very point I have been trying to make. Starting as early as 1942, close air support was being used in the Pacific. The Normandy planners refused to learn the lessons of the Pacific and had to re-invent it all in Europe.

The record shows that's how everyone had to do it that way; even when they had good practical evidence on how it had been done by themselves in other theaters. The Germans sent the Condor Legion to Spain. They still had to redesign the whole system again in 1939/40. The Russians had troops in Spain. They watched the Germans training in 38/39. They saw Poland and France fall.

They had to start, basically from scratch in 41/42.

The British had the lessons from the fall of France, the Battle of Britain and the North African Campaigns. What they got from those was simple; the close air support planes (e.g Ju 87/88, Bristol Beaufighter) needed air superiority, at the very least, to actually have much effect.

The changes the larger fighters the US brought to the table couldn't be evaluated in a vaccuum (and absent the needs of combat developing a practical system is really hard, esp. from scratch; which, contrary to your belief about the ability to map island tactics to the continent is pretty much the case).

The difference between useless, on target, danger close and friendly fire is all less than a second. In the run up to that the plane is vulnerable to lots of things. In the absence of need, no commander is willing to risk his troops, and no pilot is really willing to commit to the real risks of that sort of flying. Too many things to go wrong (look at the casualty rates for US planes. Ground fire on "rhubarb" missions accounts for most of them; if you could factor in the landing problems and "pilot error" which were the result of damage from those missions the number would be higher).

Then we look at the demands on the time/resources. Two types of bombing (day/night), each with a need for escorts. The logistics of the invasion. Training for the invasion. The need for air superiority. The lack of effective basing. Command and control of the Close Air Support (CAS) assets while they are in the brief window of loiter. Keeping the airspace between the front and the rear from becoming too clogged. The need to plan for the damage to those planes which do engage.

The expected confusion of lines, units, and objectives.

Add all that up, and then pile an untested doctrine on top. It's a recipe for disaster. The military mind is conservative for a reason. The tried and true are comfortable because one can make educated guesses about the butcher's bill. I wouldn't say refused. I might say they didn't make the right extrapolations from what they learned, but they were a trifle busy.

[as an aside, the same relearning/redesigning was done in Korea, and then Vietnam. It's been reshaped since then; and the command/control problem is still causing friction in Afghanistan: the problems, seventy years later still aren't solved]

You know, I wonder about that. Why could they not have put aircraft carriers off of Normandy, reducing the turnaround time for refuel/relaunch?

Because the channel is a terrible place to try that trick

Because the carriers were all in the Pacific.

Because the only service which had carrier based aircraft of suitable sort was the USN, and those planes were in short enough supply in the theater they were in (and the best plane for the job, in fact pretty much the only suitable plane, was the F4/F4U Corsair, and it was a right cranky bitch to land on carriers, in the best of circumstances. The 2800 WASP radial had so much torque a ham-handed pilot would flip it over, and punch a hole in the decking. That's why it was land-based for [IIRC] about 18 months, while the Navy figured out how to avoid that problem).

Because shorebased artillery would have pounded the crap out of them (the guns the Germans were firing across the channels to hit the British coast could have played merry hell with the fleet, and there's not a bit of air-cover in the world can stop a 20" shell at terminal velocity).

Because adding the problem of Army/Navy interaction (which we already knew, from Guadalcanal was problematic, at it's best) to the problems of having one ally supply the air cover for all the rest would be one more headache.

Because the planes from one carrier would be not enough to make a real difference. (carriers are much slower than land based airfields at sorty turnaround, because of the need to move the planes from the deck to the hangar, and then back again. Even with the overmanning of naval vessels the crew is overworked/understaffed. This problem wasn't really solved until the angle deck [and that merely reduced the recovery/relaunch time, not the manpower problem]. It's part of why the Japanese lost the battle of Midway).

If, given the storm that ripped across the channel, the carriers needed had been there, the question we'd be asking is what damnfool thought having them in those waters in the hieght of summer was a good idea. As a consideration this isn't just case of 20/20 hindsight. Eisenhower took a gamble on 48 hours of guesstimated clear weather to slip in during the June tides. They knew the weather was dicey. They were right.

#57 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 04:23 AM:

I'm just wondering, in the Pacific assault landings (and there were not all that many before D-Day), just how far from the objective the carriers were. That is, where would the equivalent of Tonkin Station have been.

And don't forget that the Kriegsmarine was based very close. And those carriers have to turn into wind for flying ops. The German U-boats might have already lost the Battle of the Atlantic, and the Allied Navies did keep them out of the Channel, but would you have taken that risk?

The air support did come from carriers for some of the operations in the Mediterranean, and people such as Eisenhower had been in charge there. This particular choice was not made out of ignorance.

Now, I think the Fleet Air Arm had Corsairs by then, but the pilots were not trained for CAS, and they wouldn't have been available unless you shut down RN carrier operations. No arctic convoys? It was the USMC who established the CAS reputation of the Corsair--there were other good planes in Europe, including the P-47, and what really matters is the pilot training and the griound-control procedures.

And if I were a British soldier I think I'd prefer the Royal Artillery over the RAF or RN.

#58 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 04:42 AM:

Dave Bell wrote:

"And if I were a British soldier I think I'd prefer the Royal Artillery over the RAF or RN."

And most certainly over the USAF. (Who managed to accurately bomb a field hospital several miles behind the Allied front line in Italy - during daylight.)


#59 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 12:07 PM:

Cadbury Moose: And screw-ups happen. Bombing is a lot less simple than folks think.

Were those CAS planes? Attack Bombers (such as the A-26)? See above, all the issues of having to learn, almost from scratch, the problems of Close Air Support (which isn't tactical bombing, which isn't strategic bombing).

Were I of a mind I could certainly find instances of the RAF and RNAF making similar blunders.

Since none of us were there, blanket condemnations like that seem more parochial than probative. I'd rather have US Marine Air than any other CAS assets in the world right now. I'd rather have had P-47s of the USAF than pretty much anyone else after Sept. 44. I'll pass on having much of anyone provide tacsupport with strat bombers, until the command and control of B-52s by AWACS (Arclight notwithstanding)

Now, if you want to get me ranting about KBR, well that's personal. The Korean War vet I was talking to yesterday is perfectly entitled to rant about things which happened then, because he was affected by them. Me? Not so much, and certainly not with a smug superiority which seems to imply, "our boys" could never do something like that.

Because it's not as if the Ox and Bucks didn't shell a German Hospital, mostly because they were bored, and had a field gun handy, after they captured Pegasus Bridge.

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 05:42 PM:

Terry @ 59:

The problem with close air support is rarely the aircraft in use, but much more often pilot training (since CAS is a much lower priority for USAF command than for USMC) or C³ failures like different ground and air communication systems that require a 3rd party to connect them or lack of good target discrimination at either the intel level or at the point of sortie planning.

And sometimes the supporting unit just doesn't care enough to do it right. I once sat in a bunker for almost half an hour waiting for helicopter support that was supposed to arrive within 8 minutes. Because this was Army on Army, somebody took the trouble to take the failure up to I Corps command, and somebody got a nice new hole ripped, but if it had been Air Force on Army, I doubt we'd ever have heard about it again. Until the next time they were late.

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2009, 10:56 PM:

Bruce (StM) That's a problem now. In the forties there was a very different problem. The Spit was a terrible CAS bird. The Hurricane was a bit better (the difference being the arrangement of the guns).

Since neither of those birds were designed with external hardpoints machine guns was all they had, which is a really limited means of air to ground.

Since the Spit was so-so on steep descent, that means it was only useful for shallow strafing. In the invasion area that wasn't going to be good for much (esp. with the German low level AA).

The P-47 wasn't really useful until the 5" rockets got figured out (which was part of what made the Typhoons as potent as they were. They were built with an air-to-ground function as part of the design).

We incorporated a lot of the lessons from that to the planes we made after that (to include the dense array of guns in the F-80 F-86, so as to keep the beaten zone tight. It's an open question as to whether this was for air-to-air or air-to-ground, as both benefit from it).

#62 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2009, 10:27 AM:

Terry, there's too much there to respond to, but there are at least two points that are simply incorrect.

First, close air support was used in Italian campaign, though never as effectively as in the Pacific. Immediately after D-Day, it started being used by Elwood Quesada. There was a real hardheaded refusal to learn lessons.

I asked for the British naval roster, which I don't know. But US carriers were NOT all in the Pacific. They were used to suppress U-boats and there were assets in theater. You may be right about turnaround time, especially in weather, making them a less useful alternative than land-based aircraft. But the Normandy invasion only required a very brief window to get the troops safely to land.

The Normandy invasion was a must-do. If it had failed, Europe might still be part of the Soviet empire. Friendly fire incidents are horrible. But leaving men exposed on a beach for many hours under intense fire, as happened notably at Omaha, is even worse.

#63 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2009, 11:05 AM:

Charles @55: Why could they not have put aircraft carriers off of Normandy [..]

Perhaps aircraft carriers off of Normandy would have made it too obvious that the real invasion was going through Normandy, and not Calais. Per James D. Macdonald @38, the Germans expected the attack at Normandy was a feint, and kept resources tied up at Calais (IIRC, some for a couple of days).

#64 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2009, 05:07 PM:

The carriers in the Atlantic were not divertable: and they were't "assets in the theatre" The Essex class escort carriers were in a different theater (The Atlantic). They were providing the screening for the sea-lanes to Britain.

Bringing them in would have made the dates of the invasion plain. The Condors being used to spot for convoys would have spotted them as they headed back to home waters. They were based out of the US East Coast (Norfolk Road, and Newport News). They didn't have support facilities in England. Perhaps they could have been brought to Scapa Flow, but that would have put them in range of Germany's limited ability to attack Britain.

As has been pointed out, the channel isn't suitable to carrier operations. Steaming full-speed into the wind for a couple of hours at a strech for launch and recovery makes them vulnerable, when near shore, and the channel doesn't really have room to do that. The Germans didn't really have air assets to attack them, but that's not to say shore-based arty could be play havoc with their ability to launch/recover.

And a flight of He-111s, or Ju-88s might get lucky.

Could it have been better? Probably. Was it the result of an active disinterest? No. They were doing a lot. They were doing (though it obviously isn't enough for you), their best.

It was good enough.

In war, both of those are things to be grateful for.

#65 ::: Dudu Dlodlo ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 08:58 AM:

should the US have sent Americans on shore on D-Day?Would it have been better to have waited for a better,less deadly idea to present itself??

#66 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 10:26 AM:


Well sure, the 8th AF and RAF could have kept on bombing Germany until they were only bouncing rubble, and let the Soviets do the heavy lifting of destroying the German army. Of course, we would have been looking at a Soviet occupied Europe up to the French border, and a seriously pissed off Stalin behind his armies.


While the Typhoon was no doubt the best CAS aircraft the western Allies had, the P-47 wasn't a slouch at it either, even before rockets were added. It could carry several thousand pounds of bombs and had 8 heavy MG's, and was a very rugged aircraft capable of surviving hits that would have brought down a lesser built plane.

BTW, there were quite a few escort carrirs in the Atlantic at the time of D-day. Most were on ASW roles and others were ferrying planes, but IIRC none were at D-day because they weren't needed. As you said, land based airstrips could handle far more planes than a carrier or two off the coast (btw, Essex class carriers are the big ones, not CVE's).

#67 ::: Naomi Parkhurst sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2011, 09:47 AM:

witty remark here.

#68 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2011, 10:19 AM:

Open the spam sluice and turn on the firehose!

...or something. (There seems to be a lot of it about today, has someone resurrected their botnet?)

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