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


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

Supply at Normandy

The direction of the attack had been set by pre-invasion decision-making. For the 1st and 29th Divisions, that meant south from Omaha toward St.-L. For the 101st Airborne, that meant east, into Carentan, for a linkup with Omaha. For the 82nd Airborne, that meant west from Ste.-Mre-Eglise, to provide maneuver room in the Cotentin. For the 4th and 90th Divisions, that meant west from Utah, to the Gulf of St.-Malo, to cut off the Germans in Cherbourg.

The objective of all this effort was to secure the port of Cherbourg and to create a beachhead sufficiently large to absorb the incoming stream of American reinforcements and serve as a base for an offensive through France. SHAEF's detailed projections of future activity -- where the front lines would be on such-and-such a date -- were already wrong on June 7. That was inevitable. What wasn't inevitable was the Allied fixation with Cherbourg -- how heavily, for example, the SHAEF projections for August and September were based on having a fully functioning port there. So strong a magnet was Cherbourg that the initial American offensive in Normandy headed west, away from Germany.

Eisenhower and his high command were obsessed with ports. Whenever they looked at the figures on supply needs for each division in combat, they blanched. Only a large, operational port could satisfy the logistical needs, or so Eisenhower assumed. Therefore the planning emphasis had been on ports, artificial ones to begin with, Cherbourg and Le Havre next, with the climax coming at Antwerp. Only with all these ports could Eisenhower be assured of the supplies a final fifty-division offensive into Germany would require. Especially Antwerp -- without it, an American army could not possibly be sustained in Central Europe.

The Germans had assumed that the Allies could not supply divisions in combat over an open beach. The Allies tended to agree. Experience in the Mediterranean had not been encouraging. Churchill was so certain it couldn't be done he insisted on putting a very large share of the national effort into building two experimental artificial harbors. Russell Weigley has speculated that without the promise of these experiments, Churchill might never have agreed to Overlord. As experiments, the harbors were moderately successful (the American one was destroyed by the storm of June 19; the British one was badly damaged but repaired and soon functioning). But as it turned out, their contribution to the total tonnage unloaded over the Normandy beaches was about 15 percent.

It was the cargo and troop ships, supported by the LST (Landing Ship Tank) and the myriad of specialized landing craft, that did the most carrying and unloading. It was a hodgepodge fleet -- a British crew of old salts on a Higgins boat in the Canadian Navy taking GIs ashore at Utah; LSTs commanded by a twenty-two-year-old American lieutenant carrying British troops to Gold Beach; LSTs at every beach, their great jaws yawning open, disgorging tanks and trucks and jeeps and bulldozers and big guns and small guns and mountains of cases of rations and ammunition, thousands of jerry cans filled with gasoline, crates of radios and telephones, typewriters and forms, and all else that men at war require.

The LSTs at Omaha and Utah and the other beaches provide a symbol for the Alliance. British-designed, American-built, they did what no one had thought possible: they came into open beaches to supply fighting divisions with their needs. The LST was in fact the Allies' secret weapon, far more practical and effective than the secret weapon Hitler put into operation a week after D-Day, the pilotless radio-controlled fighter aircraft carrying a high-explosive bomb, called the V-1 (the V was for Vengeance).

Through June, the Germans continued in the face of all evidence to believe LSTs could not supply the Allied divisions already ashore, and that therefore Overlord was a feint with the real attack scheduled for the Pas-de-Calais later in the summer. A continuing Fortitude deception plan and campaign of misinformation put out by SHAEF reinforced this German fixed idea. So through the month, Hitler kept his panzer divisions north and east of the Seine River.

Hitler had recognized that his only hope for victory lay on the Western Front. His armies could not defeat the Red Army, but they might defeat the British and Americans, so discouraging Stalin that he would make a settlement. But after correctly seeing the critical theater, Hitler completely failed to see the critical battlefield. He continued to look to the Pas-de-Calais as the site where he would drive the invaders back into the sea, and consequently kept his main striking power there. To every plea by the commanders in Normandy for the panzer divisions in northwestern France to come to their aid, Hitler said no. In so saying he sealed his fate. He suffered the worst humiliation of all, the one with the most consequences -- he had been outwitted.

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

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