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Normandy After D-Day: June 7-30, 1944

Allied Air Supremacy

Converted for the Web from "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany" by Stephen E. Ambrose

Allied fighter pilots owned the skies over Normandy. On June 15, Eisenhower crossed the Channel by plane to visit Bayeux. Every airplane in the sky was American or British.

Thanks to air supremacy, the Americans were flying little single-seat planes, Piper Cubs, about 300 meters back from the front lines and some 300 meters high. German riflemen fired at them, ineffectively. Still, the bullets worried the pilots. Like all men at war, they feared above all getting hit in the testicles. Ground maintenance men eased their worry by welding steel plates under their seats.

When the Cubs appeared, all German mortar and artillery firing stopped. As Sergeant Sampson described it, "They didn't dare give their positions away, knowing if they fired our pilot would call in and artillery would be coming in on them, pin-point. The results could be devastating."

Sgt. Günter Behr was a radioman with a German artillery battery. Because of spotter planes, two of the guns were blown apart within minutes of the first time the battery shot at Americans. From then on, Behr related, "as soon as we fired our guns, we had to run again, and look for a good place to hide. We were hunted. Always afraid. If you could not run, it was over. Like eagles and rabbits."

Air supremacy also freed Allied fighter-bombers, principally P-47 Thunderbolts, capable of carrying two 500-pound bombs, to strafe and machine-gun and bomb German convoys and concentrations. From D-Day Plus One onward, whenever the weather was suitable for flying, the P-47s forced nighttime movement only on the Germans, at an incalculable cost to their logistical efficiency.

During the day, Germans caught in the open quickly paid. The Jabos would get them. (From the German "Jäger Bomber," or "hunter-bomber.") Fifty years later, in talking about the Jabos, German veterans still have awe in their voice, and glance up over their shoulders as they recall the terror of having one come right at them, all guns blazing. "The Jabos were a burden on our souls," Corp. Helmut Hesse said.

The B-26 Marauders, two-engine bombers, continued their all-out assault on choke points in the German transportation system, principally bridges and highway junctions. Lt. James Delong was a Marauder pilot who had flown in low and hard on D-Day over Utah Beach. On June 7, it was a bridge at Rennes, on the Seine. On the 8th, a railroad junction near Avranches.

These were defended sites. "We were being met with plenty of flak from enemy 88s," Delong recalled. "That Whomp! Whomp! sound just outside with black smoke puffs filling the air was still scary as hell, damaging, and deadly." But there were no Luftwaffe fighters, partly because the B-26s flew fight formations and stayed low, discouraging fighter attacks, but more because most German pilots were on the far side of the Rhine River, trying to defend the homeland from the Allied four-engine bombers, and the Luftwaffe was chronically short on fuel.

Almost exactly four years earlier, following the RAF withdrawal from the Battle of France, the Luftwaffe had ruled the skies over Normandy and all of Europe. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's air fleet struck terror in the hearts of its enemies. But in June 1944 it was not even a minor factor in the battle. One German soldier, while being interrogated after being made prisoner, said, "Yah, I saw the Luftwaffe. Seven of them, 7,000 Jabos."

In Normandy in June 1944, German soldiers learned to always look up for danger. GIs seldom had to look up. So total was this dominance that the Germans became experts in camouflage to make themselves invisible from the sky, while the GIs laid out colored panels and otherwise did all they could to make themselves plainly visible from the sky. They wanted any airplane up there to know that they were Americans, because they knew without having to look that the plane they heard was American.

German Gen. Fritz Bayerlein of the Panzer Lehr Division gave an account of how the Jabos worked over his division on June 7: "By noon it was terrible; every vehicle was covered with tree branches and moved along hedges and the edges of woods. Road junctions were bombed and a bridge knocked out. By the end of the day I had lost forty tank trucks carrying fuel, and ninety other vehicles. Five of my tanks were knocked out, and eighty-four half-tracks, prime movers and self-propelled guns." Those were heavy losses, especially for a panzer division that had so far not fired a shot.

Without doubt, the Jabos had a decisive effect on the Battle of Normandy. Without them, the Germans would have been able to move reinforcements into Normandy at a rate three, four, five times better than they actually achieved, in both quantity and speed. Two examples: the 266th Division left Brittany for Normandy on June 10. Unable to use rail transport or major roads, the division marched, at night, averaging less than sixteen kilometers a day. It took more than two weeks to get to the front. The 353rd Division left Brittany on June 14 and finally marched into Normandy on June 30, having advanced to the sound of the guns at a pace slower than a typical Civil War march eighty years earlier.

Copyright © 1997 by -Tubbs, Inc. Afterword copyright © 1998 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

Click to Amazon to purchase "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany" by Stephen E. Ambrose.

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