Normandy landings of WW II

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1. Airborne operations although costly in personnel and materiel, offer outstanding advantages that no future belligerent with the necessary means at its disposal can be expected to forgo in combat.

2. Airborne operation makes it possible for the attacker to carry out vertical envelopment or to outflank front lines or lines with protected flanks; it also enables him to surmount terrain obstacles such as wide rivers, mountains and woods, which may interfere with the movement of ground forces.

3. Airborne operations can be launched from the depth of the attacker's zone. It develops with extraordinary speed and offers remarkable opportunities for surprise, with regard to time and place and therefore forestalls any counter measures by the enemy.

4. The psychological effect of vertical envelopment is considerably greater than that produced by horizontal envelopment. It can adversely affect the enemy's command and personnel solely by reason of its uncertainty of when and where an air landing might take place.

5. It must be emphasized that for commanders to derive maximum benefits from airborne operations, the attacker's air force should be so strong that, from the state of hostilities, it will either be wholly superior to the enemy's or will seriously weaken that force, paving the way for mastery of the air with regard to time and space.

6. It is importance to have a highly qualified specialized force for the execution of airborne operations. Air landings require tough fighters, eager for action, an intensive and diversified training, the best kind of equipment and ample air transport space.

7. As scholars of military studies and potential future military commanders, it is necessary to have an insight into the problems involved in airborne operations and the invaluable benefits to be derived from such operations when such problems are overcome through training and careful planning.

8. It is in view of this that members of syndicate 1 were asked to make a presentation on the Normandy Landings, operations that has created a myth about the 1944 Allied Airborne Landings.


9. The aim of this presentation is to outline the airborne phase of operation overlord during the Normandy Landings with the view to drawing lessons.


10. The presentation will cover the following:

a. Background.

b. Environment

c. Battle Field Intelligence.

d. Conduct of the Battle.

e. Assessment of the conduct.

f. Effect of the Environment.

g. Lesson learnt, I will then come back and conclude.


11. In May 1940, the German 6th Army invaded France after having invaded, conquered and occupied Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. By June 1940, the German Army had succeeded in occupying the whole of France, forcing the French to sign armistice with Germany on 25 June 1940. With the occupation of France, Germany's next strategic objective was Britain. Consequently, German 7 Panzer Division Seized Normandy Coast thereby maintaining control of the English Channel while denying same to the British. Between June 1940 and June 1944, Germany dominated the European continent against the wish of the allied nations. The close proximity of Normandy to Britain had continued to make Great Britain uncomfortable since Normandy is within her contiguous zone.

12. Normandy Landings refers to special operations conducted by the Allied nations of US, Britain and Canada to recapture Normandy as a prelude to the liberation of France and later the whole of Europe. The operation was conducted on 6th June 1944. The purpose was to liberate France and other Western European countries from German control, push the Germans out of Western Europe back into Germany, militarily occupy Germany and force her to surrender unconditionally. The operation was code name “Operation NEPTUNE”. It consisted of the use of the Allied airborne and amphibious forces on the Normandy coast of France. The D Day was 6 June 1944 and within 24 hrs, 4000 ships, 11,000 planes and 250,000 men landed in Normandy. The success of this operation resulted in the defeat of Germany in May 1945.


13. Normandy is a province in the Southern part of France overlooking the English the Channel. It is bounded to the North by Paris, to the South and West by the English Channel, and the East by the North Sea and Belgium. The name ‘Normandy' is derived from the Norsemen who invaded the area in the 9th century. It was inhabited by the Celtic, Iberian and Gallic tribes until the Norman invasion. After the Norman invasion, the British invaded Normandy in 1450 during the 100 years war. The proximity of the Normandy fine beaches to the English coasts was responsible for this invasion. From then, Normandy remained peaceful until the German invasion in 1940.

14. The Normandy province enjoys temperate climate and the soils adequately drained by the English channel, the North sea and Network of rivers such as Toughues, Rhines, Dives, Orne, Vire, Seinne etc. The rainfall is high in most parts of the year and the weather foggy particularly during winter. The province's reputation for gastronomy and beautiful sand beaches encourage tourism in the area.

15. In realization of the strategic importance of Normandy to the control of the English Channel and any German Incursion into Britain, the province was seized by Rommel 7 Panzer Division in June 1940 and it remained under German occupation until June 1944. It is worth noting that Normandy lies within the British Airfields and that the German V2 bombardments of Britain were conducted from Normandy.

16. When the tide started turning against the Germans, and with the appointment of FM Montogomery as the supreme commander of the Allied Land Forces in Western Europe, the need to push the Germans out of the contiguous zone of Britain became vital in the Allied Plan. The idea of the Normandy Landing was hatched to gain control of the English Channel as prelude to the Liberation of France.


17. The mission of operation “Neptune” presented early February 1944 by the joint commanders of the Allied Expeditionary forces, was to secure a lodgment area on the European continent from which further offensive operations could be developed Normandy was chosen and this was part of a large design to defeat Germany totally during the second World War. This required Intelligence gathering on the terrain and the enemy's tactics.

18. The requirement was for a port large enough with facilities to maintain the large forces. Also the port should not suffer severe damages after the attack and not easily blocked Engineer intelligence studies made showed that the Belgium and channel coasts had the highest capacity for passing vehicles and stores inland. This could be done through Pas de Calais (area between Gravelines and River Somme) and the Caen - Contentin area (Caen area is area between river Orne and the base of contentin Peninsula and contentin area is the peninsula in which Cherbourg is situated). Of these, the Caen beaches were the most favoured as they are unlike the others, sheltered from prevailing winds.

19. Naval and air considerations however made the Pas de Calais area and the contentin as the most suitable for initial landing since troops could have close air/naval support and terrain afford rapid provision of airfields. But using the two beaches would be unsound. Further intelligence through air photographs revealed that Pas de Calais had enemy fighters well disposed in defense and maximum enemy air activity and fire could be brought to bear on the least movement of air forces. Thus Pas de Calais was the most strongly defended area on the French coast. Taking it will require very heavy and sustained bombardment from sea and air, penetration will be slow and enemy fire will affect the allied rate of build up. Using this approach, advance to Antwerp will be then across numerous water obstacles.

20. An attack against the contentin Peninsula, on the other hand, has a reasonable chance of success, and would ensure the early capture of the port of Cherbourg. Unfortunately, few airfields exist in the contentin and that area cannot afford rapid airfield development. Furthermore, the narrow neck of the Peninsula would give the Germans an easy task in preventing the breakout.

21. Then remains the attack on the Caen beaches. The Caen sector is weakly held, the defences lightly held and beaches are of high capacity and sheltered from the prevailing winds. Much inland, the terrain is good for airfield construction and the consolidation of troops and much of it was unfavourable for counter-attacks by the panzer divisions.

22. Both the allied and the Germans had other telecommunications equipments to collect information on each other. Also in the occupied territories there was the surveillance of underground activities using under cover agents to look for indications of imminent air landings, particularly of counter-espionage elements.

23. Intelligence gathering was directed at German tactics. This revealed that the German tactics against Paratroopers and air threat was the deployment of air defence weapons at key installations. Also they made use of panzers as mobile reactionary forces.


24. The Allied commanders had at the back of their minds that any chance of victory depended on their landing troops and supplies in Normandy faster than the Germans could reinforce their front. Realizing that the port could not be captured in the initial landings, they decided to build prefabricated harbours, codenamed “Mulberry” to be towed in sections across the channel. Apart from efficient administration they also decided on a major deception operation ‘Fortitude' and the need for air superiority. The deception plan was to convince the Germans that the invading force was twice the size and that an equal number was invading from the Pas de Calais area. The air operations had the objective of preventing the easy movement of German troops to the battle area. After these deep operations, the intention of the supreme Allied commander was to “land amphibious and airborne forces for the successful establishment of a beach head with adequate parts, to drive along the lines of Loire and Seine Rivers into the hearts of France destroying the German forces and freeing France. Based on these, General Montgomery, who was the land component commander, intended to launch the British and American troops east and West respectively, simultaneously and then link up with paratroopers to be dropped behind German lines.

25. German Forces. Because there was no single supreme commander in the West, there was no unified plan to repel the allied invasion. Adolph Hitler's plan was that the allies would attack by the most direct route at the Pas de Calais, in the fine weather of late June or early July. The Commander of the Panzer Group West, Gen Von Schwe-penburg wanted his armoured divisions grouped backed from the coast to counter attack the allies as they advanced inland. However, the strategy was opposed by Rommel who believed that such mobile forces could not be used under allied air superiority. He believed that Pas de Calais was the most likely Allied invasion point and pressed for the German Armour to be deployed close to the beaches under his control.


26. The forces involved in the battle are as shown on the screen.


27. The Attack. The concept of joint operations was clearly manifested during the invasion of Normandy. The 1,300 km long beach stretch of France, between Cherbourg and Pas de Calais was divided into 5 main approaches codenamed UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD. The plan for the assault was itself codenamed FORTITUDE. On D-Day, five assault divisions were put together from West to East, two US divisions at UTAH and OMAHA as the vanaguard of US 1st army under Gen Omar Bradley; then one British division at GOLD beach and another at SWORD; one Canadian division at JUNO.

28. The assault started with 2 US airborne divisions dropping into the Contentin peninsula directly behind UTAH beach and then British airborne division immediately east of the Orne River downstream from Caen which were the decisive points in disrupting the German lines of Communication. For this operation there were nearly 1,400 troop carrier aircraft and 3,300 gliders. On D-1, silent columns of ships were overtaken by large formations of planes carrying 13,000 parachutists to France.

28. Infact, the British parachutists were the first to carry out deep operations. The US paratroops landed in a far too wide area, about 15 by 25 miles and found themselves dispersed to such an extent that they had great difficulties concentrating even against the few German troops in the interior of the Contentin. Though they failed in their main objective, namely to cut off the peninsula from the South, it took them two days to make contact with troops that had landed on the beach. The British troops were able to seize the bridges over the river Orne and the Caen canal.

29. The air landings and the bombardments had alarmed the German troops on the coast and when the first waves of landing crafts came in between 0630 and 0800 hrs, they met a stubborn resistance behind the thirty defended German coastline. The allied forces intent was to blow up the Pegasus Bridge over Orne and disrupt communications. This was closely supported by the British and Canadian fighter-bombers conducting close operations against the coastal batteries between Le Harre and Cherbourg.


30. The strength of allied forces laid in unity of Command, supremacy in air, sea power, and technical superiority, good cooperation and the forces and equipment available. Allied weaknesses were lack of flexibility in some phases, failure to lay out comprehensive communications system and inability to analyse the effect of weather. This rendered the allied airborne forces vulnerable to the German Forces. On the German side, the forces were vulnerable to allied deep operations, an unsound command structure and lack of cooperation at the highest level, material deterioration of the

31. The Allied strategic center of gravity prior to the invasions of Normandy was the vulnerability of the sea line of communication across the Atlantic. Operationally it was the ability to land troops at the beach and preventing counter attacks by German reserve forces. The German center of gravity was identified as their air power and lines of communications.

32. The capture of Normandy gave the allies access to direct route across a territory inhabited by a French population mobilized in the resistance against German Forces. It also led to the attainment of the overall allied End state, which was the destruction of the German Army and its eventual defeat. It opened the route into the heart of Germany to the allies. The End state of the German forces on the other hand, was the conquest of the whole of Europe and was finally overturned by the allied successful landing.


33. Good command and planning were important sources of strength to the allied forces. The launching of operation overlord in bad weather was one of the true decisions of military history. When the Allied airborne forces started landing at their various AOs, the German forces were caught unawares. Bad weather, lack of information and superior allied air power led to the successful surprise attack of the German forces. The allied organisation was simple, with clear responsibilities at every level unlike the Germans. Deep allied operations on German lines of communications were a decisive strength to the allies; the capturing of Orne and Caen bridges and the elimination of German batteries at Merville culminated in the allied final drive to defeat Germany.


34. A single day of successful airborne launchings was no guarantee for ultimate allied victory. The landings were largely unconnected and in some cases dispersed widely and this made them precarious and vulnerable, especially the 82nd Airborne division. Bad weather, strong wind and inaccurate map reading resulted in the 82nd airborne divisions dispersing over an area of 15km wide and 25km long area.

35. As a result some aircraft made tragic errors by dropping some troops during the night of June 5/6 beyond the drop zone and landed into the heavily defended village square of St Mere Eglise. They were all massacred. St Mere-Eglise is now a place of pilgrimage for the US parachute veterans of D-day. The 101st US airborne Division failed in their main objective of cutting the Peninsula from the South. It took days to make contact with troops who had landed on the beach.

36. Allied forces could not achieve their planned objective, which was considered a decisive point to the capture of German positions on the coast. Lack of effective command structure and divergence of opinion on probable place of the invasion made the German army more vulnerable to defeat. On the whole the Divisions managed to re-organize themselves and subsequently captured their objectives. Casualty and equipment losses were high.


37. The Allied Airborne forces conducted extensive rehearsals and briefings of their role in the landings in Normandy. The chief defect in the command and control arrangements was that there was no coordination of the operations of the 82nd, 101st and British airborne divisions' operations on the ground. Communications among the airborne forces was non-existent, even radio communications within the divisions were difficult.

38. Radio communications were so few especially in the American divisions that division commanders could not communicate with their brigade commanders. The entire operations depended on the success of brigades and battalions capturing their objectives.

39. Embedded in “OPERATION NEPTUNE” planning were many assumptions, most of which concerned especially the ability - or rather the inability of the Germans to form an organized resistance to the allies. Assuming, however, that weather and the enemy had behaved, the operations would have been jeopardized because of inadequate communications.


40. The plan for Normandy Landing underestimated the effect of weather on military operations. The first and second weeks of June 1944 were chosen for the operations. Unfortunately, the rainfalls were heavier than expected resulting in roads turning to bogs and parachutes not opening. High surf made beach landings, which were to follow the airborne operations dangerous. Fogs limited air operations resulting in pilots missing their drop zones and the Gliders being dropped at wrong locations. Reinforcements of the airhead were hampered for days and re-supply was limited.

41. In reaction to the effect of weather of the Normandy operations, FM Eisenhower said “Bad weather is obviously the enemy”. The planners of this operation failed to adhere to the admonition of Sun Tzu, “Know the terrain, know the weather, know your enemy and your victory will be complete”. The Allied planners did not know the weather and the terrain and this lead to the limited success of the operation.


42. From the beginning the logistic side of the operation was in some disarray as the military bureaucrats battled for ascendancy in controlling sprawling complicated supply organisation. Despite the fact that everyone knew the Allies would eventually be assaulting the French coast, the actual logistics planning for the Normandy landing (Overland) and the ensuing operation was compressed into a helter-skelter four-month exercise marked more by guesswork and speculation.

43. Furthermore, the tonnages of supplies that needed to be brought ashore to support the operation right from the start constrained the size of the force itself and limited the pace of the build up of combat strength. Every extra fighting man and weapon that came placed heavier strain on the logistics planners to find more landing crafts, more suitable space for supply dumps along the beaches, more vehicles to distribute the stores and more supply personnel to run the services of supply, all of which in turn increased the demand for more of the same.

44. Again logistics estimates were inaccurate. This led to critical shortages of artillery and mortar ammunition automatic weapons, and even rifle grenades.

45. As part of the logistics plans for the Normandy operations, cheap, easy to assembly gliders were made that could carry troops, jeeps and other equipments Significant among these glides were Hamilcar and Horsa. Horsa gliders were made to carry troops, jeeps and even anti-tank guns. The bulkier Hamilcar gliders could also carry two jeeps complete with trailers or two Bren-gun carriers.

46. Modifications were done in jeeps to make it more suitable for use with Airborne division. These were essential in order to make the jeeps actually fit into the gliders.

47. The use of gliders to fly in men, weapons artillery and jeeps proved invaluable on June 6 1944 (D-day) of the operation. Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, did not pay enough attention to logistics. Important ports like Brittany, Channel port that would have helped the allies to store or hold logistics to support the operation were not planned for capture. As a result the Allied Forces had to rely on long distance road haulage to supply the front troops. As a result drivers intentionally damage trucks to gain respite from unrelenting pace of convoy driving and also to avoid the highway carnage of sloppy young truck drivers sailing off the road.


48. Selection and Maintenance of Aim. The Allied maintained their aim of launching amphibious operations since 1942 that it was jointly decided upon. The Germans however, could not select their aim and maintain it due to numerous interferences from higher hierarchy.

49. Co-operation. The Allied enjoyed excellent cooperation right from the grand strategic to the tactical level. The Germans on the other hand had varied views of the defence of Normandy, hence could not come out with a concrete plan to ward off the Allied invaders.

50. Concentration of Force. During the operation, all available forces were concentrated at the chosen area supported by firepower to secure the beach head. This was made possible by ensuring faster rate of re-enforcement of personnel and supplies as compared to the Germans who could not re-supply their forces.

51. Surprise. The Allied achieved surprise by carefully carving out a deception plan to portray that the attack was to take place at Pas-de-Calais instead of between Cherbourg and Caen thereby forcing the Germans to station their forces at Pas-de-Calais.

52. Flexibility. Flexibility was exhibited in the Normandy landing.

53. Offensive Action. The Allied offensive action provided maximum number of fighting formations on the 5 beaches simultaneously which contributed to the defeat and formation of the bridgehead. The British and American paratroopers who landed behind German lines also added punch by blowing bridges and disrupting the enemy lines of communication.

54. Joint Operation. The Normandy operations re-emphasized the concept of jointry in achieving an objective in a well-coordinated manner where various component commanders were seen performing their roles effectively.

55. Night Paradropping. Normandy landing revealed that paradropping by night over an uncertain country or terrain could be disastrous as witnessed by the American parachute battalion, who were scattered on their mission and had to take them days to reform.

56. Airpower. The Allied air strategic bombing and subsequent destruction of the Luftwaffe and their lines of communication contributed immensely to the success of the entire operation. This vividly demonstrates the importance of airpowers in most military campaign, the absence of which could be disastrous.

57. Weather. The military planners of the Normandy operation underestimated the effect of weather and they paid a price. There is therefore the need to know the weather to achieve success.


58. Normandy is a province found in the Southern Coast of France. It lies within the military contiguous zone of Britain. It was occupied between June 1940 and 1944 by the German Army.

59. The idea of Normandy landing was conceived to push the Germans out of the military contiguous zone of Britain and as a prelude to the liberation of France and the rest of Western Europe. It consisted of Airborne and Amphibious landings. The D-Day was 6 June 1944.

60. The Commanders involved in the Allied side were Gen Eisenhower, Field Marshal Montgomery, Admiral Ramsey and Air Marshal Mallory. On the German side the key commanders were Adolf Hitler, Field Marshal Von Runstedt and Field Marshal Rommel.

61. The Allied put in place an effective plan which included a deception and succeeded in launching an amphibious operation at 5 beaches namely UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO, and SWORD after strategic airborne operations. Normandy landings were huge success and laid the foundation for the final defeat of the Germans in May 1945. The battle brought out key lessons the most prominent of which was the effect of weather on military operation.

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