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The Strategy Of The Allies On D-Day

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In the years since 1945, it has become increasingly evident that the alliance between the British and the United States was often in disagreement over the correct strategy to insure the final defeat of the Axis powers. Early on, both British and American staffs could agree that Germany represented a greater military threat than Japan, but they did not often see eye to eye on the strategy that would most efficiently defeat them.

The Americans were early and persistent advocates of a direct strategy, a cross-channel attack that would first destroy German military in the West, and then drive deep into the heart of industrial Germany to end the war. The British, on the other hand, preferred to stage a number of small-scale attacks around the perimeter of fortress Europe. They thereby hoped to weaken German defenses before leaping precipitously across the channel into the teeth of the still powerful German Forces. The British simply could not afford the staggering losses entailed in a frontal assault on the northwest coast of Europe. British Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC), ststed that "Certain British authorities instinctively recoiled from the whole affair, as well they might, for fear of the butcher bill." It is not surprising, then, that the harder the Americans pressed in 1942 and 1943 for a firm commitment on a cross-channel attack, the more the British seemed to fight against it.

After a debate lasting through moat of 1942, the Americans agreed to postpone any cross-channel attack because of the landings in North Africa, Operation Torch. The strategic outcome of Operation Torch was what American Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall had predicted. Success in Tunisia, which was the first the Allies had experienced against the Germans, inspired Churchill and his Chief of the Imperial Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, to devise a strategy aimed at knocking Italy out of the war and at protecting British sea-lanes. It was not until the Teheran Conference in November 1943 that the British, encouraged by the Russians, reluctantly agreed to launch a cross-channel attack, code-named Operation Overlord, in May of 1944, and to allow President Franklin D. Roosevelt to name a commander for the operation. Although both Marshall and Brooke were contenders for the appointment, both even promised it, they were passed over. Instead, all favored in the selection of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was then commanding United States forces in Europe. On January 14 1944, Eisenhower, who was now Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, arrived in London to begin work on the final invasion plan.

The Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) planners proposed to land three divisions (two British and one American) abreast onto Normandy's sand and shingle beaches, followed immediately by two more and flanked on the east, near Caen, by elements of a British parachute division. Many details, including the exact landing date, were not specified by COSSAC in order to leave some flexibility to the Supreme Commander. The weather, tides, and light conditions required for the landing were outlined and calculated so that the precise calculations for H Hour on D Day could be made in the future. The plan also called for the pre-invasion strategic bombing of selected targets in Germany and France in an effort to destroy German tactical aircraft. Later air strikes would seek to intercept troop movements toward the lodgment area, and bombing patterns were carefully designed to avoid disclosing the actual landing sites. The landings themselves would be preceded by massive air strikes at the beach fortifications.

Throughout the winter and spring months of 1944, the details of Neptune (as the assault landing phase was now named) were settled and fitted into place. Planners at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force) picked an early June date for D Day, with the landings coming over five beaches code-named, from east to west, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah. Two American divisions, the 4th Infantry Division and the 1st Infantry Division (reinforced with the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division), were to land across Utah and Omaha beaches respectively. The veteran 82d Airborne Division was teamed with the green 101st to make the night drop on the Cotentin Peninsula behind Utah Beach. The 3d British Infantry Division, landing over Sword Beach, supported by the 6th Airborne Division to be dropped on the east bank of the Orne River, formed the east flank of the assault. Juno Beach was the D Day objective of the 3d Canadian Infantry Division. The 50th British Infantry Division was due ashore on Gold Beach, just east of Arromanches. The 3d British and Canadian divisions, with their reinforcements, formed I Corps, while the 50th Division was the spearhead of XXX Corps. Together, the two corps composed the Second British Army, commanded by Montgomery. The American assault divisions were the spearheads of two corps, V (lst Division) and VII (4th Division), organized into the First U.S. Army. For the initial assault and the period through the breakout, both armies were designated as the 21 Army Group. While this is happening thousands of American infantrymen were put through courses offered by the Assault Training Center at Woolacombe. The assault regiments were reorganized to reduce their overhead and increase their firepower. Two battalions of Rangers, the 2d and 5th, were attached to the 116th Infantry and given the specific task of destroying the six 155-mm guns thought to be dug in atop the Pointe du Hoc between the American beaches. Likewise, British forces included elite commando units-the 1st and 4th Special Service Brigades-assigned specific assault tasks on Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches.

Plans for air and naval bombing in support of the attack were as thorough as those for the infantry. Air bombardment plans called for the shifting of Allied strategic bombing efforts from targets in Germany to the French rail system and then to the Atlantic Wall defenses. A final air strike was to occur minutes before H Hour, when medium and heavy bombers of the U.S. Ninth and Eighth Air Forces and the British Bomber Command would bomb fortifications on Utah and Omaha beaches. Each of the five landing forces was provided with its own naval escort and fire support. Their fire would cover the landing craft during their hazardous passage to the beach and later be called in to destroy pockets of resistance. Neptune planners also placed a great deal of reliance on specially modified LCT's (transport boats), carrying tanks or 105-mm self-propelled howitzers in firing



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