Friday, May 30, 2014

It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

YAY! My D-Day series is done!

Did I write this for a class, for Wikipedia, for a book? Nope. I wrote it just for myself, and to make all my ignorant, ignorant readers a bit smarter. (HEY! Who threw that tomato at me?)

It'd be fair to ask if I relied heavily on just one source.....say, Wikipedia. The answer would be no. In fact, I found Wikipedia's articles in this regard to be only marginally useful.

Wikipedia's articles on the Normandy invasion are nested. The main article is Operation Overlord. This provides an overview of the deception, preparations, pre-invasion test-raids (like Dieppe and St. Nazaire), the invasion itself, and the post-invasion breakouts. To follow the thread regarding the Normandy invasions, though, you have to go to an article nested within that, Invasion of Normandy. This article provides much of the same discussion, but includes more details on the naval operations (such as Operation Neptune), and the Allied and German order of battle. It's good and all, but highly repetitive. If you want to learn about the invasion proper, you have to read yet another nested article, Normandy Landings. It's not clear to me why the Landings are different from the Invasion, but Wikipedia seems to think so. Again, the order of battle is given (stop! make it stop!). If you want to read about the American airborne assault, British airborne assault, and action on each beach, you have to read nested articles on each of these.

These articles are all poorly cited. Wikipedia's policy is that any fact or opinion which may be challenged should be cited, but that policy is widely and repeatedly violated in these articles. Let's just look at the "Normandy Landings" article as an example. The section on "Operations" quotes the D-Day Museum (hardly an authoritative source). This section has a very long quote, and no other information (making one wonder why it exists at all). Only one fact in the entire "Weather" section is cited, and that fact concerns Rommel going home for his wife's birthday. (It leaves the impression that he was still in Germany on D-Day, which is not true.) The Allied order of battle section is well-cited, but nothing in the German order of battle section is cited. (Nothing in the "German Armored Reserve" section is cited at all!) There are some citations in the "French Resistance" section, but this section is all about the code words used to start sabotage and it contains nothing about the number of Resistance fighters, planning, dropping of supplies, actual sabotage actions taken, effectiveness, etc. The "Naval Activity" section is also largely uncited. Types and numbers of ships involved, when things started, when things ended, how effective things were -- this all goes undiscussed. The "Landings" section is completely uncited -- even quotations lack citations. The article ends with an uncited section on war memorials and museums. There is absolutely no discussion in the article of the effectiveness, fallout, impact, historical assessment, etc., of the Normandy invasions.

There are just 37 citations in the entire article. A tenth of them are to online Web pages which don't cite sources. Twenty percent of the citations are to the "Britannica Guide to D-Day" online article (another encyclopedia, not to primary documents like books, articles, biographies, etc.). Most citations are to minor facts in minor, original source documents (e.g., some foot soldier's war diary).

This is appalling. This article has existed on Wikipedia since June 25, 2003. It has existed in its present form largely since a major upgrade occurred on February 13, 2008. (The order of battle was copied from "Normandy invasion" into the article on April 22, 2008, adding a lot of text but no new information.)

Sadly, nearly all the Wikipedia articles on D-Day topics are just like this. Now, true, the Wikipedia articles are useful for getting an overview of what happened. But I realized that I could not rely on them for any details. Most of them had factual errors which required double-checking. Large amounts of information were useless. (Who cares about the flipping order of battle??? Who cares if D-Day is included in some stupid video game???????) I ended up using my own books at home for most of the details in what I wrote.
It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

The D-Day landings have been called a "very near thing" by a lot of the media.

Is that true?

No, not really.

Allied troops often had a 10-to-1 advantage in men and material over the German defenders. German defenses were static and non-replaceable, while Allied aggressors were mobile and had plenty of reserves (at sea and in England). German defenses also relied heavily on the French rail system for resupply, but this system had been heavily disrupted by Allied bombing in the month before the invasion.

The one advantage the Germans had was that they were able to build reinforced concrete strongpoints on which to place artillery. These strongpoints were able to cover the beaches very well, and hold the Allied troops on the beach.

That is -- they would have, had more of them been built. The fact of the matter is that most of the Normandy beaches had been only lightly defended by such strongpoints. Only Omaha Beach had any real defenses, and the Germans clearly did significant damage to the Allied landing there. Only at Omaha, with the combination of current, smoke, obstacles, mines, cliffs, and strongpoints, did the Allies seriously consider evacuating the beach. Had they done so, Gen. Omar Bradley simply would have put his troops ashore at nearby Gold Beach. And that would not have dented the invasion much.

Nazi Germany had no real way to hold France, in the end. Had it defended Normandy, the invasion would have come at Calais. It defended Calais, and so the invasion came at Normandy. Had Germany tried to hold both areas (Rommel and Von Rundstedt both agreed that resources should be divided equally between the two, but Hitler insisted on heavily fortifying Calais instead), the Allied invasion might have been a much nearer thing. Nonetheless, it seems the invasion would still have succeeded in establishing beachheads (but not much more than that) on D-Day. Breakouts into the interior would have been delayed a day or two, but not much more than that.

It is a myth that Adolf Hitler insisted on "keeping the tanks at Calais." First of all, the tanks were in Paris, not Calais. Second, the German High Command refused to wake Hitler when the invasion began, losing critical hours of response-time. Far more important was Hitler's insistence on defending all beaches, all the time. Rommel, for example, wanted to cannibalize his forces inland and at Cherbourg in order to attack the Utah and Omaha beaches with tanks and troops. Hitler refused him permission. True, Hitler did keep most of his tank forces in the rear, convinced that the Normandy invasion was a feint. In Italy, the Allies had landed Montgomery's Third Army in Calabria as a feint-in-force, while Lt. General Mark Clark's U.S. Fifth Army landed at Salerno. In hindsight it is easy to criticize Hitler's decision to keep the tanks at Paris. But at the time, there were many reasons to believe the decision was correct. Rommel's impetuousness had lost North Africa. And Hitler had listened to Rommel in Italy, and lost the chance to throw the Americans off the beach. Now Italy was lost. Why listen to him again?

One can criticize Hitler for not moving more quickly once intelligence reports from the Normandy beaches indicated that the action there was no feint. But then, one has to ignore all the intelligence coming in from Dover which indicated that General George S. Patton had a "First U.S. Army Group" there. This was a massive deception, of course, and it worked. Rommel and Von Rundstedt were ignoring the intelligence from Dover, and Hitler refused to do so.

So, in the end, it is a myth that Hitler "kept the tanks at Calais." Hitler had been deceived by some very good Allied counter-intelligence, while Rommel and Von Rundstedt seemed to be ignoring their own military intelligence. Rommel had lost Africa and Italy, and Hitler no longer trusted him. Recent Allied actions had shown the tendency to use feints, and Hitler relied on that. His decision provided disastrous, but it was not wrong.

Hitler did not release the tanks for three days. By that time, however, the Allies had broken out of the beachheads, and the tanks no longer mattered.

Had Hitler ignored his own intelligence services and released the tanks immediately, there is a possibility that they might have delayed the liberation of France by months. On June 7, a small group of German tanks actually counter-attacked and not only pushed the Canadians and British back to their beachheads at Sword and Juno, but even reached the beaches! The Panzers, however, pulled back out of a fear of being cut off and surrounded on the beach. Many armchair historians and fan-boys love to think that had the German tanks been released on June 6, the tanks could have made the trip down to Normandy and counter-attacked successfully. They are wrong. The trip would have taken three days, and by then the Allied troops were off the beaches. At that point, the tanks could only have played a delaying-game. Even if they had thrown the British and Canadians away from Caen (Montgomery bogged down there in mid-June), that would have left the Americans free to take Cherbourg and Brittany. Had the tanks gone around the British and Canadians and attacked the Americans, they would have saved Cherbourg and Brittany but left the British and Canadians in their rear to attack their supply lines, take Caen, and break out.

Moving the tanks in no way would have made a difference. The tanks had to be at the site of the invasion on the day the invasion started. Had they, for some impossibly psychic reason, been moved on June 3 to arrive on June 6, there is a possibility the Allied could have been thrown off the beaches. But that possibility beggars reason.

As it was, the Allied invasion of Normandy was terrible. According to a post-war analysis by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, throughout the European Theater the casualty rate for Allied troops was 0.9 percent. In the Pacific Theater, it was 7.25 percent. On D-Day, it was 6.25 percent. While the Normandy invasion incurred exceptionally high casualty rates, it was nowhere near as deadly as the everyday fighting in the Pacific. Compared to the rest of the fighting in Europe, D-Day was a horror. But compared to the fighting in the Pacific, D-Day was not as bad. Interestingly, most of the D-Day casualties came from airborne troops, glider troops, and Omaha Beach. Casualty rates for airborne and glider troops approached 50 percent, and most of their mission objectives were not met. The casualty rate at Omaha was 41 percent, and most of their mission objectives were not met. But the casualty rate at Sword and Juno beaches was just 4 percent, and at Utah it was just 1.3 percent.

Even so, Allied war planners expected casualty rates to be 12 percent or higher. At Tarawa, it was 17 percent; at Guadalcanal, 20 percent; at Iwo Jima, 35 percent; and at Okinawa, 18 percent. In these battles, many Marine and Army units came close to hors de combat -- unable to function due to losses. In comparison, D-Day was a cakewalk.
It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Tuesday, June 6, 1944, was D-Day. That was exactly 70 years ago.

Planning for D-Day ended on May 12. After that, alterations simply could not be made due to the massive complexity of the plan. Aerial bombing targets began to be identified on May 15. Eisenhower confirmed June 5 as D-Day, and ordered all preparations to be complete by June 1. Troops begin moving from their barracks to embarkation points on May 18. Three days later, Allied planes began attacking rail lines and bridges in the interior of France. Troops finished arriving at the embarkation points on May 24, and all ports were sealed off. No one could enter or leave them, not even civilians. The same day, Allied planes begin bombing bridges around Paris, to prevent the German reserves from moving up to Normandy. On May 26, XIX Corps arrived in Britain to replace those troops at the embarkation point. XIX Corps was to be the reserve, sent to Normandy once the beachheads are secure. The Royal Navy sealed the English Channel on May 27, and mines were laid off the coast of France. All troops were now confined to their landing craft at night, to prevent any leaks. The "corn cobs" took to sea, as they were the slowest ships and needed eight days to reach Normandy. On May 31, loading of troops, equipment, and supplies onto landing craft began. The night of June 2, "Task Force O" -- the combined naval fleet which will protect the Normandy landings -- departed from Glasgow, Scotland.

Allied bombing of the French coast and interior began in earnest on June 2. This was part of "Cover" -- the attempt to fool the Germans into believing that Calais rather than Normandy was the target of the invasion. But "Cover" had to have a strategic and tactical aspect as well, because bombings had to occur at Normandy and those bombings had to be effective. On Friday, June 2, 521 B-17 "Flying Fortresses" and 284 B-24 "Liberators" hit V1 and V2 missile sites near Calais. That afternoon, 242 B-17s bombed railroad targets near Paris. About 350 B-26 "Marauders" and A-20 "Havocs" bombed V1 and V2 sites and coastal defense batteries along the English Channel, while P-38 "Lightnings" and P-47 "Thunderbolts" dive-bombed V1 and V2 sites, fuel dumps, railroad junctions, and bridges in Normandy. On June 3, 219 B-17s and 120 B-24s attacked coastal defenses near Calais in the morning, while 97 B-17s and 98 B-24s hit in the afternoon and 23 B-24s hit in the evening. The same day, 250 B-26s and A-20s bombed airfields, highway bridges, and coastal defense batteries in Normandy, while 400 P-38s and P-47s dive-bombed other targets. On June 4, 183 B-17s and 51 B-24s attacked Calais in the morning and 222 B-17s and 53 B-24s hit coastal defenses in the afternoon. Around Paris that afternoon, 263 B-17s and 185 B-24s hit airfields, railway junctions, and bridges. Bad weather cancelled the morning flights against Normandy, but that afternoon 300 B-26s and A-20s bombed highway bridges and coastal batteries while 200 P-47s and P-51 "Mustangs" dive-bombed bridges, railroad junctions, trains, and "targets of opportunity" (anything else that moved). On June 5, bad weather canceled many missions. But 423 B-17s and 203 B-24s bombed coastal defenses in the major French ports of Boulogne, Caen, Cherbourg, and Le Havre.

The airborne assault teams departed Great Britain at about 11 p.m. on June 5. Just under two hours later, most of the "pathfinder" groups were dropped onto French soil. At about 1:30 a.m., the remainder of the 22,000 paratroops landed behind German coastal defenses and began to seize or destroy river bridges, highway junctions, and key high terrain points.

At 3:00 a.m., 659 B-17s and 418 B-24s bombed coastal targets throughout the Normandy landing area.

At 6:00 a.m., the naval bombardment of the Normandy beaches began. It lasted exactly 90 minutes.

At 5:40 a.m., 160,000 troops aboard more than 4,100 landing craft hit five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy near the city of Caen: Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah.

Sword Beach was the easternmost beach. Near the town of Ouistreham, it was almost five miles (eight km) long and assigned to the 28,845 men of British I Corps. The beach itself sloped gradually up to a low seawall, and then the town. The objective was to capture the town of Caen and the nearby Carpiquet airport, and link up with paratroops of the British 6th Airborne Division who were holding the bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal. The first troops came ashore at 7:25 a.m. They met little resistance, and the fighting was over in 45 minutes. By the end of the day, all 28,845 British troops had come ashore. The troops managed to move about five miles (eight km) inland. Nonetheless, Caen was not captured; I Corps was stopped about 3.75 miles (six km) short of the city. The sheer amount of personnel and equipment coming ashore bogged down the British advance. In the town of Ouistreham, British troops raced for a mile through the town to reach and disable a shore battery inside a casino. (This is captured in an amazing overhead shot that lasts five minutes in the 1962 film, The Longest Day.)

Juno Beach was four miles (6.4km) west of Sword Beach. Covering the seaside towns of Lion-sur-Mer, Luc-sur-Mer, and Courseulles, it was six miles (10 km) wide and assigned to the 21,400 men of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. Juno was the second-most heavily defended beach in the area (Omaha being worse). Like Sword Beach, June Beach sloped only gradually. But at the edge of the beach was a high, high seawall -- in some places, more than 12.5 feet (3.8m) high. Near Courseulles, the Canadian troops crossed the beach and invested the town within 15 minutes. But just a mile (0.6km) to the east, near the tiny village of Bernieres-sur-Mer, the Canadians ran 200 yards (182m) across the beach and were nearly wiped out by hidden German guns. Nonetheless, by 10 a.m., the entire beach was secure and by noon the entire 3rd Infantry and 2nd Armored were completely ashore. By the end of the day, the Canadians were 9.7 miles (15.7km) inland -- the furthest of all Allied troops. They had also linked up with Juno Beach to their left.

Gold Beach was 10 miles (16km) to the west of Juno Beach and was the center-most landing beach. It was five miles (eight km) wide, with a gently sloping beach leading up to the seaside towns of Arromanches and Port-en-Bessin. The 24,970 men of the British 2nd Army's 50th (Northumbrian) Division were assigned to the beach. The center highlands were marshy and only lightly defended, but either end was dry and hard. German artillery inland covered the beach. Strong winds, however, made the tide higher here -- so that engineers and sappers could not clear the mines and anti-tank obstacles now under water. The decision at Gold Beach was to run the landing craft right up onto the beach and let the submersible tanks out first. But the landing craft hit numerous mines and obstacles, and nearly all the were wiped out. A second wave of infantry, too, was badly hit by mines and only a limited number of troops got ashore. But the third wave, which contained tanks as well, managed to make it onto the beach -- albeit an hour late. Heavy shelling took a toll on the tanks and troops, but the British pushed inland through the center quickly. At 4 p.m., the British captured the town of Le Hamel on the British left. Sweeping inland and then west, they reached the outskirts of the city of Bayeux by 8:30 p.m. Fearing encirclement, the Germans begin to withdraw from Arromanches, and the British took the city at 9 p.m. At 11 p.m. the British linked up with the Canadians on Juno Beach, but failed to take Port-en-Bessin and its harbor.

Omaha Beach was 5 miles (8 km) long, and extended roughly from Port-en-Bessin in the east to the town of Viercille-sur-Mer in the west. Rocky high cliffs anchored either end of the beach. The beach itself was a gently sloping 300 yards (275m) wide. An eight foot (2.4m) high beach of slate and gravel extended beyond that. In some places, the slate beach was 15 yards (14m) wide. On the eastern third of the beach, a seawall ranging four to 12 feet (1.5–4m) in height lay beyond the slate beach. On the western two-thirds of the beach there was no seawall, just a sand embankment. Behind the seawall/sand embankment was another 200 yards (180m) of flat sand. Finally, steep bluffs rose 100–170 feet (30–50m). In five places, the bluffs were pierced by narrow valleys filled with brush and trees. They were the only way off the beach. The western half of Omaha Beach was assigned to the green U.S. 29th Infantry Division and eight companies of the U.S. Army Rangers. The eastern half was assigned to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Altogether, 43,250 troops would hit the beach. The primary objective was to secure the beach and move five miles (eight km) inland, link up with the British at Gold Beach, and link up with the U.S. VII Corps at Utah Beach to the west. The commander in charge was General Omar Bradley, promoted to a four-star general just six months earlier.

Everything went wrong at Omaha.

Just underwater at the low-tide mark was a gap-toothed line of upright metal fencing with mines attached to the top of the fences. About 30 yards (28m) inland were punji sticks thrust into the sand, every third one capped with an anti-tank mine. Another 30 yards (28m) inland were 450 concrete ramps sloping towards the shore. Any flat-bottomed landing craft which hit a ramp would either hit the mine at the top of the ramp or ride up and flip over. At the high-tide mark were a solid line of "hedgehogs" -- the jack-like iron shapes which proved immensely effective at stopping tanks. The flat sandy beach between the shingle beach and the bluffs was also mined, as were the vertical bluffs themselves (to prevent anyone from scaling them).

Ten landing craft were sunk in rough seas before they even reached the beach. Large numbers of amphibious tanks also sank. A heavy current pushed the landing craft eastward, away from their scheduled drop zones. Few landing craft knew where they were headed, as smoke bombs -- meant to guide them shoreward -- obscured the cliffs and any visual landmarks they could have used to correct course. Units were scrambled once they got ashore, some missing their equipment (which ended up hundreds of yards down the beach). Many soldiers were killed or wounded as they moved horizontally on the beach, trying to get back to their assigned landing place. Major gaps between troops opened up, preventing the soldiers from effectively suppressing enemy fire.

On-site commanders, seeing how many tanks were sinking due to the rough seas, decided to drop their tanks right on the beaches. But this meant that many landing craft now struck the mines and anti-landing craft obstacles. Many of the troops were disgorged into chest-deep water, struggled through 50 yards of water, slogged another 30 yards through wet and sucking sand, and were barely walking by the time they hit the shingle beach. By then, most troops were too exhausted and demoralized to do more than cower.

As the troops at Omaha came ashore, they took heavy enemy fire. The average casualty rate was 30 percent dead and wounded. At either end of Omaha, where the cliffs provided the Germans with excellent vantage points, units lost half or more of their fighting strength to enemy fire. It quickly became clear that the bombing campaign the night before had had little effect, as the planes had dropped their ordnance too far inland (to avoid hitting the approaching landing craft). Engineers, who were supposed to blow up many of the anti-tank and anti-ship obstacles, found their own troops taking cover behind the obstacles instead. The heavy fire decimated the engineers (the casualty rate was a whopping 40 percent), and after an hour only six narrow gaps had been cut through the obstacles for oncoming troops and vehicles.

The second wave of troops began coming ashore at 7 a.m. They, too, came ashore in the wrong place, took heavy fire, and hit numerous mines and obstacles. As jeeps, half-tracks, and mobile artillery began landing on shore, they bunched up and became easy pickings for the German artillery.

But not all was lost. At 7:30 a.m., a group of Rangers scaled the cliffs on the far western end of the beach near Vierville and spent the rest of the day clearing out German defenders and securing the valley for the oncoming troops. At 7:50 a.m., troops cut their way through the barbed wire opposite the tiny hamlet of Les Moulins, and by 9:30 a.m. more than 600 troops had reached the cliffs, scaled them, and were moving inland. Just to their east, three rifle companies cut their way through the barbed wire and scaled the cliffs next to the Les Moulins valley.

Slowly, the few remaining officers on the beach began to organize remnants of various units into new fighting groups. These groups began to crawl up the beach, over the shingles, and across the flat sand toward the cliffs. They were supported by naval gunfire. At first, naval units were fearful of coming too close to shore, because they didn't want to come under fire from shore defenses and because they worried about running aground. But many American destroyers ignored the risks. Some came within 1,000 yards (914m) of the shore, their hulls scraping the bottom. Their gunners followed the fire of tanks on shore, and slowly they began to take out the shore batteries. At one point, the USS Frankford crossed the beach, guns blazing. Then it backed up, taking another run at the German artillery.

At 8:30 a.m., naval commanders suspended all further landings at Omaha. Landing craft began to bunch up at sea, many of them swamping in the heavy swells. Landing craft with tanks were ordered to land to provide suppressing fire for the troops and protect them as they pushed toward the cliffs. But hours passed as the tank-laden landing craft had to push through a mass of other ships and creep through the few clear channels to the beach.

Finally, at 11:30 a.m., the valley leading to the village of St. Laurent was seized by the U.S. forces. At 1:00 p.m., the Rangers announced they had seized the valley near Vierville. In the valley farthest to the east, originally considered too steep to use, Army engineers actually laid down a road under fire, and traffic began flowing off the beach at 8 p.m. Landings on Omaha were permitted again at 2 p.m., and slowly more obstacles, mines, and wire were removed from the beach -- widening the existing clear channels and creating new ones.

By midnight, U.S. troops had barely penetrated a few hundred yards inland. Omaha Beach was still under constant artillery fire. The last ships, scheduled to come ashore in mid-morning, did not arrive until 11 p.m., and even then suffered 50 percent casualties. Instead of 2,400 tons of equipment and ammunition, only 100 tons had come ashore. It took U.S. troops at Omaha another 48 hours to achieve their Day One objectives.

Utah Beach was about 3 miles (5 km) long and separated from Omaha Beach by the River Douve. A gently sloping beach led up to numerous and dunes, beyond which was very swampy marshland. The 32,000 men of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division were assigned to the beach, with a mission objective of coming ashore and capturing the port of Cherbourg (up the coast to the northwest) as quickly as possible. As at Omaha, strong currents pushed the invading forces to the southeast. Smoke intended to guide the forces to their proper landing zones instead served to hide the visual landmarks on the shore, making course corrections almost impossible. Instead of landing opposite the hamlets of Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and Saint-Germain-de-Varreville, the landing forced ended up a mile southeast opposite the seaside town of La Madeleine. Luckily, Utah Beach was only lightly defended. The Germans had relied heavily on flooding the marshlands behind the sand dunes, allowing invading forces to establish a beachhead and seize roadways in force. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (at 57, the oldest soldier to make a landing with the troops at Normandy) came ashore at La Madeleine. Realizing the problems his troops would encounter, he personally made a reconnaissance behind German lines and returned safely to his forces. He hastily drew maps, made assault assignments, and sent his forces inland. Another factor aiding the assault at Utah was that the landing craft disgorged their amphibious tanks much closer to the beach. This allowed them to swim against the current, keeping them from swamping in the rough seas and allowing them to land closer to the troops than at Omaha. By 3 p.m., nearly all the troops were ashore, and by midnight the 4th Infantry had captured Carentan, Périers, St. Lô, Coutances, Valonges, and Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte.

Overall, 10,000 casualties had been incurred (6.25 percent casualty rate). This was about half the number that had been estimated.

During the D-Day landings, 325 B-17s made bombing runs just behind the German lines to disrupt troop movements and communication as well as the movement of supplies. Naval bombardment of the interior was also carried out as airborne troops and troops moving inland directed warship fire. German General Von Rundstedt considered the naval bombardment the most effective element in delaying the German response.

Two Mulberry harbors were created on June 9. One was at Arromanches and the other at Omaha Beach. A severe storm destroyed the Mulberry at Omaha on June 19, and it was not rebuilt. By this time, American troops had raced across the Cotentin Peninsula and cut off Cherbourg. (The deep-water port was captured on June 26; however, German sabotage made the facilities unusable until mid-August.) By August 1, 629,000 troops, 95,000 vehicles, and 218,000 tons of supplies can been brought ashore.

The first PLUTO line to France was laid on August 12, 1944. It led from the Isle of Wight through the English Channel to Cherbourg. After the liberation of Calais, 17 other lines were laid to provide additional fuel to Allied troops in Europe.
It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Hey there! You're about to invade a continent. But how?

This isn't a board game, fellas. You can't marshal your forces in Kamchatka and then sweep across North America with a few good rolls of the dice. You have to think about what you want to do, what your enemy is going to respond with, and then how to stop that response. You have to think two or three steps ahead, and plan -- with exceedingly limited resources -- how to deal with things. All while leaving room for the impossible, the improbable, the bad roll of the dice.

The success of any amphibious landing depends on the establishment of a beachhead, securing that beachhead, building up a well-supplied force, and then breaking out of your encircling enemy's lines. The most dangerous phase is during and immediately after the landing, when the invading forces are most vulnerable to enemy counterattacks. Allied forces had nearly been thrown off the beaches during the invasion of Italy in September 1943. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring opposed the Americans, and was one of the Luftwaffe's ablest commanders -- a tactician who knew the power of combined air-land operations in the way few German officers did. But Adolf Hitler denied Kesselring the right to draw on reserves, believing (as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel did) that Italy was lost from the get-go and that Germany should only attempt a delaying action there. Had Kesselring been able to commit his reserves, the Fifth U.S. Army would have been ejected from Italy, the British Eighth Army would have been trapped on the Calabrian peninsula, and the Allies would have suffered a major defeat. The Allies had learned a lot of lessons from the landings in Italy. The most important was that they absolutely must slow or eliminate Germany's ability to organize and launch counterattacks.

Airborne operations were the key here. Paratroops could be inserted behind enemy lines and seize bridges, road crossings, and terrain. If held, these could permit the invaders to more easily penetrate into the interior. If they could not be held, these structures would be destroyed to prevent the enemy from moving up reinforcements to throw the invaders off the beach. Paratroops could also disrupt enemy forces and operations, making it easier for the invading forces to fight their way off the beaches. And they could also destroy key enemy installations such as coastal batteries or supply dumps.

To provide support for the Allied invasion of Normandy, three major airborne operations were planned. Two American airborne divisions -- the U.S. 82nd and U.S. 101st -- were assigned to the western part of the invasion route. The 82nd Airborne would be dropped west and southwest of the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Their mission was to seize crossings over the Douve River (which roughly paralleled the coast, six miles away). The 101st Airborne would be dropped east and west of Sainte-Mère-Église. Their mission was to capture and hold bridges and roads which led to the beaches, preventing the enemy from moving its troops up quickly. The newly-formed British 6th Airborne Division was assigned to the eastern invasion zone. It had three missions: First, capture the bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River; Second, destroy the coastal artillery battery at Merville; and Third, advance four miles and destroy the bridges over the River Dives.

* * * * *

Training for the airborne assault began in early 1944. But in mid-May, Rommel moved large numbers of German reserve forces into Normandy. This caused military planners to change the location of their drop zones. This meant training for the new drop zones was minimal for both pilots and paratroops. The training did not go well, in any case. Numerous accidents occurred. Errors were common. The pilots did not know the terrain well, and few had dropped paratroops before. Training had occurred at night, but always in clear weather -- and never under poor conditions such as haze, fog, or rain. Allied commanders were so nervous about the training that the tails of the paratroop planes were painted with black-and-white stripes so that their pilots would tell who their formation-mates were.

Allied planners tried to overcome the limitations of the paratroop training. "Pathfinder" paratroop groups of 14-18 men were created. These pathfinders were to be dropped a half-hour before the main body of the troops. Their mission was to locate the drop zone and illuminate it so that additional oncoming planes would know where to drop the troops. They were also equipped with rudimentary "Eureka" radio transponders. The idea was that, even though the "Eureka" beacons were short range, paratroop planes could home in on the "Eureka" beacons and more accurately drop their troops.

To achieve surprise, the troop transport planes were to fly at 500 feet (150m) over the English Channel (to avoid German radar). They were to fly far past the beaches and inland drop zones, turn west again, and then reach their drop zones. The idea was to confuse German defenders, who would not expect the paratroops to be dropped during the return leg.

The U.S. 101st Airborne was assigned drop zones A, C, and D, and the U.S. 82nd Airborne was assigned drop zones N, O, and T. The British 6th Airborne was assigned drop zones K, N, V, X, and Y.

The planes took off at 11:30 p.m. on June 5 and assembled into formation over England. Each plane contained 15-18 men and their gear, weapons, and equipment (often artillery). Each "flight" of nine aircraft flew 1,000 feet (300 m) behind the "flight" ahead. Flights were organized into "serials" of 36, 45, or 54 planes. Interior lights were turned off. Navigation lights were turned down to their lowest acceptable level. The planes flew southwest at first to get out of German radar range. Then they descended to 500 feet, made a sharp turn right, and flew southeast toward France.

Problems quickly cropped up once the "serials" reached France. Nearly 60 percent of the aircraft lacked navigation devices (transponder beacons, radar, etc.), forcing the pilots to navigate by visual dead-reckoning. But heavy fog covered the ground, making visual navigation almost impossible. Strict radio silence had been ordered, so that pilots could not be warned about the bad weather. German antiaircraft fire drove some plans off-course, and strong winds pushed others away from their drop zones. Pilots struggled to find their drop zones for the pathfinder troops. Some made two, even three passes over an area, searching for their drop zones. Some were so desperate to make their drops that they flew too far above or too far below the 700 foot (200m) drop altitude, or in excess of the 110 mph (180 km/h) drop speed. Some of the green pathfinder troops hesitated to jump in the night, meaning that they jumped only after the plane had left the drop zone several miles behind.

The pathfinders of Drop Zone A, 101st Airborne, missed their drop zone entirely and set up a mile away. They were unable to get either their lights or "Eureka" beacon working within the allotted half-hour. By then, the drop of the remaining troops was already in progress. The pathfinders of Drop Zone C, 101st Airborne, were dropped pretty much on target. But their lights were lost in the drop. They used a hand-held signal light instead, which was not seen by many of the other pilots. The planes carrying the pathfinders assigned to Drop Zone D, 101st Airborne, got lost following the physical terrain and flew several miles past the drop zone. The pilots turned around, but got lost even more in the dark. These pathfinders were dropped 10 minutes late and a mile (1.5 km) off-target. Unfortunately, this was an area infested with Germans, and they were not able to turn on their lights or "Eureka" transponder.

The pathfinders of Drop Zone N, 82nd Airborne, were brought to their target. But the pathfinders dropped late, and landed a mile to the southeast. Between them and their target was a massive German armored division, and they remained trapped behind enemy lines -- unwilling to turn on their lights or transponder for fear of misleading the other troops off-course. The pathfinders of Drop Zone O, 82nd Airborne, dropped near their drop zone but dropped late after the plane was driven off course by weather. These pathfinders set up their lights and transponder immediately. The pathfinders of Drop Zone T, 82nd Airborne, were dropped on target. But with German troops nearby, they could not turn on their lights and had to rely on transponders alone.

Pathfinders for Drop Zone N, 6th Airborne, landed off-target and were unable to set up either lights or beacons. Pathfinders for Drop Zone K, 6th Airborne, accidentally dropped onto Drop Zone N and set up beacons and markers that caused a number of troops to drop in the wrong area. The pathfinders of Drop Zone X, 6th Airborne, landed on target and lit their drop zone. The pathfinders for Drop Zone V, 6th Airborne, were scattered over such a wide area (some 10 miles off target, in some cases) that they never established a drop zone. The pathfinders of Drop Zone Y, 6th Airborne, landed on target and lit their drop zone.

As the "serials" with the main body of paratroops began to arrive over their drop zones shortly after midnight local time, additional problems cropped up. Many pilots who were on course could not find their drop zones, because the pathfinder lights and radio beacons were not turned on. Confused, they began to circle, delaying their drops or dropping off-target. Due to the fog, many began to rely heavily on the "Eureka" transponders to locate their drop zones. Off-course pilots assumed that the closest beacon was their beacon, which may or may not have been the case. Again, some paratroops hesitated (some even jumped too early!) and drops were made miles off-course and some planes dropped too high or too low (causing more off-target drops). Worse, many of the large vehicles and artillery pieces carried by the planes had drag parachutes to slow their speed as they came off the aircraft. As these chutes caught the wind, the aircraft would be thrown off-course -- worsening the drop problems. Shifting centers of gravity aboard the aircraft also threw many planes off-course as they made their drops, as pilots struggled to control their planes.

Paratroops of the 101st Airborne Division ("Screaming Eagles") were the first to jump. Their drops occurred between 12:48 and 1:40 a.m. on June 6. Just under 7,000 troops were dropped over Drop Zones A and C. Most came down on the wrong drop zone, while the remainder landed too near the beach. The 502nd Regiment lost all its artillery and lost all but one of their howitzers. Nonetheless, the 502nd managed to achieve its objectives and seized its assigned bridges and roads. The 506th Regiment (the "Band of Brothers") was dropped all over the place instead of on top of Drop Zone C. The fog and heavy antiaircraft fire dispersed many planes. Oddly, this drove some planes back on target, and about a third of the regiment landed on Drop Zone C's original target. Another third dropped into swampy marshland; by the time it reached its objective, the objective had been captured by the Americans already. The remaining third dropped to the west, and engaged in a bitter six-hour fight with the Germans before troops from the beaches reached and relieved it. The 501st Regiment was driven off-course, but fortunately landed on Drop Zone D accurately. Sadly, most of its officers were killed by German troops as they floated down to land. Junior officers took over, and achieved about half the regiment's objectives (stiff German resistance blocked them from achieve the rest).

The 6,500 paratroops of the 82nd Airborne began their drop at 1:51 a.m. The 505th Regiment dropped over Drop Zone O very accurately, and achieved its mission objectives. During the initial drop, German soldiers killed nearly all the soldiers and officers. Paratrooper John Steele's parachute caught on the spire of the town church. He feigned death, and watched as his comrades were killed below. (A memorial to him hangs from the church steeple today.) Miraculously, the Germans went back to bed, convinced the battle was over. About 5:00 a.m., the rest of the 505th seized the town without a shot. But only 25 percent of the 508th Regiment hit their drop zone. Half of them landed east of the River Merderet. Unable to cross the river and reach the Douve (three miles west), they were useless. One small battalion secured a hill and managed to disrupt German artillery fire for three days. The 507th Regiment landed in the swampy marshland. Many of them drowned and others were unable to assemble to accomplish their mission.

The 8,500 paratroops of the 6th Airborne began jumping two minutes after the 101st Airborne, at 12:50 a.m. The 5th Parachute Brigade, 8th Battalion, landed squarely on Drop Zone K and quickly secured its mission objectives. The rest of the 5th Parachute Brigade dropped accurately on Drop Zone N, but about a third of its strength missed the drop area. Nonetheless, it managed to secure the bridges over the Caen Canal -- including the famous "Pegasus Bridge." The 3rd Parachute Brigade dropped on Drop Zone V, but due to the lack of lighting and beacons was moderately scattered. Unfortunately, most of their equipment was lost, leaving them with only a single machine-gun and a small number of Bangalore torpedoes with which to assault the Merville artillery battery. It successfully assaulted the battery at 4:30 a.m., but was unable to destroy the guns. The gliders of 5th Parachute Brigade landed accurately on Drop Zone X, but a number of the gliders came in too fast and the men were either killed or severely injured. Nonetheless, after brief firefight, they secured the bridges over the Caen Canal. Additional gliders landed (albeit with no crashes or deaths) at Drop Zone Y and assisted with the seizure of the Caen bridges.

By the time most of these airborne troops had completed their tasks, it was 6:30 a.m.

And that's when the first troops hit the beach at Normandy.
It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

It's all well and fine say, "Hey, kids! Let's invade France!" It's another thing entirely to do it, and then do it successfully.

It was foolish to try to base any troops on the coast. First, the massive facilities needed to house, feed, and train them would be clearly visible from the air, and German bombers would massacre the troops easily. Second, it would be a logistical nightmare to try to push food, clothing, equipment and supplies to such a small area. Third, any outbreak of disease would ravage the troops before the military medical divisions could react. Fourth, the social impact on local communities would be immense, and lead to a decline in political support for the prosecution of the war. Thus, any invasion force would need to be scattered throughout the country. This meant that in the one or two weeks prior to any invasion date, massive troops movements would begin to occur.

Moving troops was not a problem. Indeed, with so much train traffic at the time in Great Britain, no one would notice. But timing was critical: Any invasion date had to be set weeks in advance. And once in motion, the project couldn't be stopped easily. It would be logistically difficult to start moving large numbers of troops back to their quarters. It would be almost impossible to feed the troops, for one thing. Finding the fuel to move them back would be another. There was also the risk that troop transports might be bombed as well. And no military commander could ignore the devastating impact on troop morale: Soldiers who had steeled themselves to go into battle would lose their edge if they were made to wait, or (worse) sent back to the countryside to cool their heels.

Getting these troops over the ocean was another issue. About 6,900 ships would be needed. More than 1,200 warships would be needed to protect the landing and to provide fire support for the troops on the beachheads. The warships would not only seek to destroy shore defenses but also suppress enemy artillery fire and break up enemy troop concentrations as they assembled inland and moved toward the beaches. To move the troops, tanks, artillery, and equipment, more than 4,100 military and 850 civilian transport vessels would be needed. To provide fuel and ammunition for the warships and landing craft, communication, control, and command for the fleet, another 750 ancillary military warcraft were needed. Launching these ships at all once was not possible. Some ships would need to put to sea a day or two ahead of time.

Providing air cover was another problem. More than 12,000 aircraft would be needed. Bombers would be needed to bomb the entire French coast, including large numbers for Calais. Fighters would be needed to protect the bombers. Fighters would also be needed to fly patrol over Great Britain in order to fend off any counter-attack. And fighters would be needed to help close the English Channel and provide air cover for the invasion fleet. Finally, fighters and bombers would need to be kept in reserve to actually help support the invasion itself. And on top of all that, more than 1,000 transport aircraft would be needed to fly in paratroops and 3,900 light planes to tow glider troops into battle.

Another key to the invasion would be to deny the German Navy access to the English Channel. Cordoning off the English Channel might alert the Germans to the fact that invasion was imminent. But that was not as likely as it might seem. First, by mid-1944 most of Germany's battleships in the North Sea and North Atlantic had been damaged, its cruisers had green crews who were still in training, and the German Navy's fuel allocation had been cut by a third. The German fleet was largely staying at home. Even if it decided to sally out, the Royal Navy had mined the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal (now known as the Kiel Canal; the canal across the southern Danish peninsula which links the North Sea to the Baltic), and Allied warships could easily handle German surface naval forces. The Royal Navy had already created a U-boat cordon far west of Great Britain, and U-boats were rarely seen in the English Channel anyway. There were, however, substantial German surface forces south of the landing zones, in Brittany. So Allied navies laid extensive mine fields to keep surface ships away from the landing beaches. The goal was to keep the German Navy away from shore -- and its air cover -- so that Allied aircraft and warships could engage them and drive them off.

* * * *

Even if you get your ships, planes, and soldiers in one spot, aimed at one beach, then what?

When do you attack?

"When" often depended on what sort of defenses you had overcome.

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt ("the Black Knight") and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had been placed in command of the defense of Western Europe. But due to shortages in material and manpower, Atlantic Wall fortifications covered only the ports and beaches around them. Other beaches -- particularly those at Normandy -- were much less well-defended. Many of the coastal defense troops were men who had been too severely wounded to return to battle in the east; old men and teenage boys; or captured troops of Soviet client-states (such as Ukraine) who wanted to fight the Russians but not the Allies and whose loyalty to the Nazi Reich was questionable. In January and February 1944, Rommel began implementing training regimens for these troops. He also ordered the reinforcement of coastal defenses, including the laying of steel anti-tank and anti-ship obstacles under water or on beaches, the construction of concrete bunkers and pillboxes, and the flooding of low-lying areas so they could not be used for paratroop drops or glider attack. Punji sticks (known as "Rommel's asparagus") were set up in clearings and meadows to deter landings. But construction had not yet been completed in Normandy by June 1944 because Allied bombing of the railway system interfered with the movement of the materials and because the Germans were convinced that the Allied landings would take place at Calais.

The German High Command was also embroiled in a long-running and bitter debate over how best to defend Western Europe. Rommel argued that the Allies would possess air superiority. To counteract this advantage, armored divisions should be deployed close to beaches so that the Allies could not establish a beachhead. Von Rundstedt, however, argued that this spread Nazi tank formations too thinly. Armor should be concentrated in a central position around Paris and deployed in force against the main Allied beachhead once it had been identified. Adolf Hitler chose a compromise which placated neither general. Rommel would be given three armored divisions (far too few to provide the immediate counter-response his plans required), while Von Rundstedt would be given the remaining divisions. However, the divisions were to be placed near Rouen (closer to Calais), and removed from Von Rundstedt's command. Hitler alone would have the authority to order the units into combat. To help shore up his defenses, Rommel ordered his tank units as close to the beaches as possible and reinforced them with his reserves (leaving him nothing if the Allies broke through his lines).

Rommel's defensive measures meant that the Allies had to attack at high tide. This not only moved them closer to shore, but would allow most of their ships, amphibious tanks and armor, and landing craft to travel over the underwater and beach barriers. In fact, the best days would be a high tide during a full moon in the spring. In France, high tides are highest in the spring. And a full moon was needed to provide the most light for the nighttime attacks which would occur prior to the invasion.

The first high-tide-and-full-moon (a phrase which soon became associated with disaster) occurred on May 10, 1944. Allied troops began moving to the British coast, fuel reserves were created, ships readied, and the French Resistance was even alerted. But bad weather led to the cancellation of the invasion. This actually helped the Allied cause: The Germans had broken many of the code phrases and words used to alert the French Resistance to the invasion. When the next high-tide-and-full-moon occurred on June 5, German intelligence saw many of the same code words and phrases used again. But since no invasion had occurred in May, they dismissed them as an attempt at deception.

June 4, 5, or 6 would be the next date of the invasion.

Bad weather once again threatened to stall everything. The weather had been spectacularly good for two weeks, but then began to turn windy and wet. But once more Allied troops were already on the move, ships were ready, the Resistance was on alert. Another delay would be deadly to morale, and mean many more opportunities for the Germans to learn of the invasion plans and prepare. The Allied chiefs of staff met with General Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 5. American meteorologists forecast a brief improvement in the weather for 24 hours. British General Bernard Law Montgomery, British Admiral Bertram Ramsay, and American General Walter Bedell Smith wished to proceed, but British Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory was doubtful. On the strength of the weather forecast, however, Eisenhower ordered the invasion to proceed.

Bad weather further weakened the German defenses. German intelligence believed that the weather meant no invasion would be possible for several days. German military leaders, therefore, allowed many troops to go on vacation or stand down from alert. A number of senior military commanders also took leave for the weekend. General Rommel returned to Germany to celebrate his wife's birthday. Many of the remaining military officers in France decided to participate in war games for the weekend, which took them away from their posts. Although most of these officers and soldiers had returned to their posts by Monday, the bad weather meant they did not feel the need to rush to return to alert status.

That Tuesday was June 6, 1944. D-Day.
It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

For Nazi Germany, it was not "if" an invasion of continental Europe would come. It was a matter of "when" and "where."

For the Allies, invasion required deception. At the Teheran Conference in December 1943, British war planners developed a scheme known as "Operation Bodyguard." The goal of the plan was to generate fake radio traffic, use double-agents, and leak false information to try to convince Nazi Germany that the planned Allied invasion of Europe would occur any place except Normandy. Operation Bodyguard was the plan they conceived. Operation Bodyguard had three components. Fortitude North was designed to give the Nazis the impression that Norway was the planned invasion site. Fortitude South was designed to give the impression that the invasion would come at Calais in France. Zeppellin was designed to give the impression that the invasion would come in Romania or the Balkans.

Fortitude South, however, got the most attention from Allied intelligence. A major component of Fortitude South was its attempt to physically fool German intelligence through visual elements. This generated "Quicksilver" -- a plan to actually create a dummy First U.S. Army Group around General George S. Patton. The German High Command simply refused to believe that the Allies would put all their armies under the command of one general -- and a British general at that. Thus, they assumed that there would be an American army group, and began looking for it. Once Allied intelligence services understood that the Germans had made this assumption, they decided to build on it and create a fake First U.S. Army Group. Fake barracks made out of canvas and sticks, fake airfields painted on the ground, fake airplanes painted on the ground or made of cloth and stakes, fake tanks made out of balloons, and fake radio traffic were used to convince the Nazis that the invasion would be targeted at Calais. Although the Germans were never fed fake documents, German spies (every single one of whom had been turned into a double-agent) reported fake troops movements, fake tank and airplane production, and fake troop training and coastal assembly. Once the Allied invasion of Normandy got close, "Quicksilver" gave way to "Cover." This operation involved a feint rather than deception. All Allied bombing of the French coast would intensify just before the invasion. But "Cover" sent Allied bombers in large numbers over Calais rather than Normandy to convince the German High Command that Calais was the planned invasion route.

Finally, the night of the invasion, "Cover" sent British and American planes at low altitude over the English Channel near Le Havre where they precision-dropped large amounts of tinfoil strips in the air. The airborne tinfoil fooled German radar into thinking that a large fleet was steaming toward Le Havre rather than toward Normandy. The same night, dummies were dropped via parachute over over Le Havre and Isigny, leading the Germans to believe that a paratroop assault was occurring there.

A effort similar to but far less elaborate that "Quicksilver" was instituted under Fortitude North. Called "Skye," this deception effort attempted to convince the Germans through fake radio traffic alone that Norway was the true object of the invasion.
It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Nazi Germany had conquered nearly all of continental Europe by June 1940. It had invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, but seriously miscalculated Soviet resistance, the poor condition of roads, and its own ability to supply its forward troops. Unprepared for the harsh Russian winter because they felt the Soviet Union would have already collapsed, German forces suffered nearly a 25 percent casualty rate due to weather alone. By January 1942, the Nazi offensive had bogged down. While it was still not clear that the Soviet Union would be able to mount any offensives in the spring and summer of 1942, it was clear that Nazi Germany had lost and would eventually be pushed back within its own borders. What was unknown was when that would occur.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the Moroccan city of Casablanca from January 14 to 24, 1943. Josef Stalin did not come, as the Battle of Stalingrad was still in progress. At this meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to invade continental Europe "some time soon." Stalin wanted a promise of an invasion by the end of 1943, but this promise was not forthcoming. The three world leaders did meet in Tehran from November 28 and December 1, 1943. Again, a pledge to invade continental Europe was made.

The British had established a unit known as the Chief of Staff of Supreme Allied Command (COSSAC). At Teheran, COSSAC presented various plans for the Western Allies (the U.S., U.K., Free French, Free Poles, Canadians, etc.) to launch an invasion of Europe. Planning began immediately. In December 1943, the Western Allies formed SHAEF -- the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, led by the U.S. General, Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery was named commander of all of the ground invasion forces and given charge of developing the invasion plan.

The Dieppe Raid had taught the Allies a host of lessons about amphibious invasion. They learned that assaulting a seaport was a bad idea; it was far better to land at a lonely beach. They learned that simple (rather than complex) plans were the key to success. They learned that the utmost secrecy had to be maintained. They learned that they needed a host of new, creative methods for breaching sea walls, anti-tank barriers, and getting tanks ashore. They had to provide supporting fire from both sea and shore, and be able to overcome strong German resistance.

But where was the best spot to invade?

Providing air cover was critical. A raid could occur with only moderate air support. But landing vast numbers of troops, tanks, vehicles, and war materiél would require near-absolute air superiority. Unfortunately, British fighters had short operating ranges. This greatly limited the number of potential landing sites. Geography (high cliffs, huge tidal flats, not enough deep water to allow ships to come close, etc.) reduced the number of choices even further.

Only two sites remained: Calais and Normandy. Calais seemed the most suitable at first. It was the closest to Great Britain, and could be covered from the air. It had some natural harbors, and could easily be approached by sea. A breakout by Allied troops would enable the invading armies to sweep across southern Belgium and toward Germany. Along the way, the Allies could liberate major cities like Lille, Paris, Brussels, and Antwerp and get a major morale boost.

Normandy seemed less likely. Cherbourg, a major port, was located on the Normandy coast and heavily defended. High cliffs confronted the beaches. There were no natural harbors. And if the Allied soldiers were trapped on the Cotentin Peninsula, a breakout would be difficult.

And yet... Who would expect Normandy?

* * * * * *

How do you get large numbers of tanks and other war materiél onto the beaches? You can't just roll a 15-story-high merchant ship up onto the beach and expect it to disgorge its contents like a whale vomiting up Jonah. You need a harbor to provide protection for shipping from the heavy swells of the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean. You need piers which extend far out to sea, so that ships won't run aground.

Once your troops are on the beach, how do you get past the heavy defenses? Nazi Germany had been hard at work building the "Atlantic Wall" since March 1942. Anti-tank barriers had been erected along the Atlantic seaboard from the northernmost tip of Norway down to the Spanish border. More than 16 million land mines had been emplaced, and tens of thousands of sea mines. In Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France, large numbers of anti-aircraft batteries had been installed, and long-range artillery emplacements could reach far out to sea to keep large naval personnel and materiél transports away from shore. Anti-ship and anti-tank barriers were placed underwater and on the tidal flats. Pillboxes and machine-gun nests were placed every few hundred yards. Heavily fortified barracks containing hundreds of thousands of troops were set close by these emplacements. Punji sticks were planted in clearings and meadows -- any place that paratroops or gliders might land. Tens of thousands of miles of barbed wire had been laid. Any landing would come at high tide, so mines were placed at the high-tide mark. Tank turrets were scavenged and placed on the anti-tank barriers, their guns permanently aimed at the high-tide mark.

The first hurdle to be crossed was shipping. You can't invade if you don't have a harbor. Artificial harbors, however, were relatively easy to engineer. The Allies devised a simple method of creating them which proved immensely successful. The first element were "corn cobs" -- ships that crossed the English Channel under their own steam or were towed to France. These were then scuttled and filled with concrete. The "corn cobs" formed a long arc away from shore and out to sea. Once scuttled, they became known as "Gooseberries." Two "Gooseberries" (like two arms reaching toward one another) formed a "Mulberry", an artificial harbor. Floating, reinforced concrete caissons called "Phoenixes" were also towed across the Channel, sunk on either side of the Gooseberries, and filled with concrete. The Phoenixes helped anchor the "corn cobs" to the ocean floor. Now that the harbor was created, piers had to be created. "Spuds" were floating platform which formed the end of each pier. Designed to float, they also had legs to help stabilize the pier head in rough seas. Floating causeways named "Whales" connected the Spuds to land. A floating outer breakwater called a "Bombardon" was also emplaced outside each Mulberry to help lessen the impact of rough seas on the "corn cobs" and "Phoenixes."

The second problem was fuel: Getting fuel to the landing sites was going to be critical. Fuel simply could not be off-loaded from ships in the quantities needed. The best way to move fuel would be a pipeline. But how? You couldn't build a pipeline that floated, and laying one under the sea was impossible. Wasn't it?

The project to bring Allied oil to Europe became known as PLUTO -- the "Pipe-Line Under The Ocean." As early as May 1942, three months before the Dieppe Raid, the British were testing flexible undersea pipelines in the River Medway and the Firth of Clyde. It turned out that 3" (7.5cm) transatlantic telegraph cable sheathing worked just fine as a pipeline. It was big enough to pump large quantities of oil, but also flexible enough to simply be wrapped up on drums and then allowed to quickly unspool -- meaning almost instantaneous construction time! Several merchant ships were specially converted to carry the pipe on massive drums. Another test of the pipelaying, in very rough seas, occurred from December 26-30, 1942, across the Bristol Channel. Hundreds of oil pumping stations were built on the English coast to collect oil coming from refineries all over Great Britain. The pumping stations were housed in buildings designed to look like cottages and garages. A 1,000-mile network of pipelines was constructed at night to transport fuel from various British ports such as Liverpool and Bristol.

The third problem was the Atlantic Wall. And for this a host of ingenious devices were created:
  • "Crab" tanks - A mine-clearing tank. The front of these tanks were mounted with a drum to which long chains were attached. As the drum turned, the chains would strike the ground and explode any mines before the tank reached it.

  • "Crocodile" tanks - Flame-thrower tanks. The machine-gun was removed and a flame-throwing gun added. They had a range of 100 yards, were incredibly effective against bunkers, and were psychologically terrifying.

  • AVREs - Armored Vehicles, Royal Engineers, these tanks had their main gun removed and a huge mortar attached. The mortar round was so large, it could take out a reinforced concrete bunker.

  • "Bobbins" - Tanks which had their main gun removed and a huge mounted roller attached to the front. The "bobbin" in front would unroll heavy canvas or wooden dowels connected with wire. Once laid down, the canvas or dowels formed an improvised roadway over which other vehicles could drive without sinking.

  • "Double Onion" - A tank with detachable mounted arms in front. The arms could carry massive explosive charges. The charges could be placed against a bunker's walls and set off remotely.

  • "ARC" - Armored Ramp Carrier. A tank whose main gun was removed, and a large bridge-like structure on a mount placed in front. The bridge would be stored on top of the tank turret. When a ravine or stream was reached, the mount would swing up and forward, lowering the bridge (which could span 30 feet) over the obstacle. The bridge would be detached, and voila! -- instant bridge.

  • Amphibious tanks - Tanks which could be submerged for limited periods of time. The goal was to let these tanks off miles from shore, and let them come onto the beach under their own power.

  • "BARV" - Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle. These were tanks whose turret had been removed and a large superstructure, including a grabbing/clutching arm, installed. They were used to drag damaged or sunk vehicles out of the way, or to refloat vehicles which had sunk into wet sand or water too deeply.

  • Centaurs - Tanks with a bulldozer blade in front. Unlike the traditional armored bulldozer, the Centaurs could keep up with other fast-moving tanks.

  • Canal Defense Lights - They weren't meant for canals, or for defense. The name was chosen to evade espionage. They were incredibly strong arc lights inside an armored casing, with just a slit which emitted light. The light was so strong that it blinded enemy troops at night, and could provide artificial daylight to illuminate targets.

  • Bangalore torpedo - An explosive charge on a long, flexible pole. The charge could be placed against an anti-tank barrier or bunker wall and set off, while the men placing the charge were 30 to 40 feet away.

  • Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) - An armored amphibious landing vehicle which could carry 18 fully equipped men or nearly a ton of cargo. They were originally open-topped and designed only to carry cargo from ship to shore, and often broke down on hard land. But assault versions were also developed, which were fitted with turrets from Stuart light tanks. Bigger versions could hold eight, nine, or 11 tons of cargo, and some had fitted covers that enabled them to be completely submerged for a time.
With these devices in hand, invasion seemed possible.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.


The word made Allied commanders in 1942 shudder in horror.

In April 1915, during the First World War, British and French troops decided to capture the Turkish capital of Constantinople. Seizure of the city would allow Czarist Russia free access to the Mediterranean Sea, and shorten the war considerably. The idea was to land a massive force on the Gallipoli Peninsula and take out the Turkish artillery on the highlands. Then minesweepers could clear the Dardanelles (the channel leading from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Marmara) and allow the navy to sail up to Constantinople's front door. The city would fall, and the way would be open for the Russians.

It didn't work out that way.

When the British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops came ashore on April 25, they were easy targets for the Turkish machine-guns and artillery. British and French ships at sea couldn't provide fire support without fear of hitting their own troops on the narrow beaches. Thousands of soldiers died. During the night, Turkish reinforcements arrived. The Allied troops tried to break out on April 27, but were beaten back. A second breakout failed on May 2. The beaches were now jammed with more than 17,000 Allied troops, all of them huddled under broken machinery and shattered armor. Allied soldiers were terrified, exhausted, hungry, wet, and demoralized. A Turkish counter-attack on May 19 failed miserably, but Turkish torpedo boats managed to sink two British battleships. The British and French navies withdrew, leaving the Turks with superior artillery power. The Allies tried another breakout on June 4, but it too failed. More Allied troops were landed. Attacks were made on June 28 and July 12, but had very limited success in the extremely hilly terrain.

On August 6, the Allies landed troops at six miles behind the Turkish lines. Despite almost no resistance, the Allied commander failed to take advantage of his success and push inland past the beaches. The Turks moved artillery onto the hills the next night, and pinned down these troops as well. An eight-day battle to unite the various beachheads on August 29 ended in failure as well.

The British High Command dithered over the decision to evacuate. As November came, deep snow caused thousands of deaths as troops died of exposure. Heavy rains often drowned troops in their trenches, and washed corpses out of their shallow graves and down onto the horrified men below. Drawdown began on December 7, 1915, and evacuation was completed on January 6, 1916.

There were nearly half a million casualties during the Gallipoli campaign. The Allies suffered a 59 percent casualty rate: 44,092 of their 220,000 troops died, while another 96,937 were wounded. The British government, appalled at the disaster, heavily censored all news coming out about Gallipoli. But news was smuggled out in time. Prime Minister Herbert Asquith lost the confidence of Parliament, and was forced to form a coalition government with Winston Churchill's small Conservative Party. In December 1916 David Lloyd George successfully convinced a majority of the Liberal Party to support him for Prime Minister. Asquith was out, Lloyd George was in.

There could be no more Gallipolis. Ever. Never, ever, ever again.

* * * * * * * *

It had been more than two years since the Fall of France. Although Great Britain had weathered the Blitz, the British Isles were close to starving and British war industries were barely functioning due to a lack of raw materials.

Clearly, the Allies had to invade continental Europe. But how? Where? When?

Immediately after Dunkirk, the British military began to realize how essential amphibious landings would be to any future prosecution of the war. But there could be no more Gallipolis. Never, ever, ever, ever, again. So extensive planning began on whether it was possible to conduct large-scale amphibious raids in France. Several plans of varying size and scope were considered. In the end, the decision was made to try to attack, seize, and hold (for a short period of time) a mid-size French port city. The goal was not only to prove it was possible but also to test theories of amphibious landing, test equipment, gather intelligence, and assess German responses.

A combined British-Canadian force attempted its first amphibious landing in May 1942. But a German bomber attack on the massed fleet of 700 ships made Allied commanders realize that any full-scale invasion of Europe would need to be much better hidden.

On August 19, 1942, a combined British-Canadian amphibious force attacked the port of Dieppe on the northern coast of France. The assault began at 5:00 a.m. Trouble began almost immediately. German torpedo boats accidentally intercepted the Allied far left flank at Yellow Beach (3.5 miles to the northeast, near Berneval-sur-Mer), destroying several ships -- including the anti-aircraft ship battery and the artillery boat. Only a handful of commandos were able to scale the cliffs. They pinned down the defenders manning the German artillery, but were not able to destroy the artillery emplacement as ordered. In the center, a combination of events led to lengthy delays in the landing. The 522 Canadians went ashore on Blue Beach near the suburb of Puys in broad daylight, and 60 lightly-armed German defenders were able to kill 225 of them. Another 264 were forced to surrender. At Green Beach, near the suburb of Pourville-sur-Mer, British and Canadian forces got pinned down on the beaches. In the center of town, withering gunfire also held the British forces on the beach. When the tanks tried to come ashore, some "drowned" in the water. Others couldn't make it up the gravel beach. And none could make it past the anti-tank walls built to defend the city proper. The infantry were supposed to have taken out the anti-tank walls, but the gunfire was too heavy and they were pinned down. The tanks themselves simply couldn't provide enough fire to suppress the German defense fire. The British destroyers providing fire support offshore didn't have heavy enough ammunition to destroy the German artillery, and their range was so limited that if they came closer to shore they themselves came under attack.

At 10:50 a.m., the Allied commanders called a retreat. Of 6,090 men, 1,027 were killed and 2,340 captured. German losses amounted to 311 killed, wounded, and missing.

The Dieppe Raid was a catastrophe.

But Allied commanders learned a number of lessons:
  • Absolute secrecy was essential. Any future Allied amphibious landing attempt had to occur without German foreknowledge. Suppression of German radar was critical.

  • German ships had to be cleared out of the English Channel.

  • Any attack must be absolutely coordinated. Delays proved deadly.

  • Specialized equipment was critical. Tanks had to be made lighter and submersible, as well as all-terrain. Special tools for overcoming anti-tank ditches and breaking anti-tank walls were needed. Landing craft, too, had to be created and improved, so that infantry could come ashore much faster.

  • Suppressing fire for infantry on shore was absolutely necessary. Infantry could not be expected to breach anti-tank barriers without it.

  • Large reserves must be ready to reinforce troops on the beach.

  • Air superiority must be achieved. And it must be maintained, even if the enemy air force did not engage.
These lessons would come in handy in just two years.
I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that when the Presbyterian Burying Ground in Washington, D.C., was turned into Volta Park in 1909, more than 2,000 corpses remained buried at the site -- and are still there?

This has been my major writing project for the past week. The research didn't take long, just 48 hours. But the writing, the putting of cites into the sentences, the adjusting of text as last-minute information came into my hands, the clarification of text and statements, all that... that took a lot longer.

I don't think anyone gives a shit what I do.
God, Joan Crawford is a terrible actress. TCM keeps running her films ad nauseaum, and they just suck.

In one film, she plays a student returning to her old college to get an honorary degree and see old flame Robert Montgomery (now the college president). Only, she hides a "terrible secret" (she never actually graduated), and Montgomery is fighting the college's conservative culture that drove her out. A lot of hand-wringing and worried looks, but Crawford a) never comes off as an educated woman, b) doesn't do much more for 90 percent of the film except stand around, and c) delivers her critical speech like someone barking orders at the maid.

In another film, she's a zero-believability gangster who learns she's losing her eyesight. She travels across the country to have the operation, and falls in love with her doctor. Her second-in-command, some schmoe of a gangster, travels to see her and decides to kill the doctor. The FBI arrests everyone after Joan turns state's evidence. Most of her scenes make her out to be a weak-kneed, besotted young (?) woman who can't stop mooning over her man. Despite the film's repeated assertions that she's a vicious gangster, she comes off like a Miss Lonelyhearts in love.

In yet another film, Crawford gets to play to her strength: She's a bitch of a Broadway song-and-dance star (with a painted-on tan) surrounded by weak men who meets a blind pianist who isn't cowed by her. But this ain't no Taming of the Shrew: It's packed full of awful, time-worn clichés about how lonely it is to be a star, sacrificing art to relationships, and "I can't control you if I love you", etc. Furthermore, this 1953 film actually shows Crawford in BLACKFACE! BLACKFACE!!!

Increasingly, I find Joan Crawford to be an actress of limited range and NO emotional depth. Most of her films have preposterous plots that are silly to the point of surrealist absurdity.
Independence Ave SW curves around Tidal Basin - Washington DC I'm having a discussion about someone who has complained that my Flickr account is full of things, and not people.

I'm honest about it: I am a magnet for angry, offended people who don't like to be photographed. There can be 10 people taking pictures, but the angry and bitter people will instantly stomp over to me and harangue me about not asking permission (even though we are in a public place). If I try to photograph three guys in harnesses, ass-less chaps, and leather jocks at MAL, they'll hiss and push me around. The moment a handsome guy in leather, or a photographer from Metro Weekly shows up, they are posing and happy. I can be outside a Metro station, I can be in a shopping mall, I can be on the street, I can be at a barbecue festival -- it doesn't matter. If I even point my camera at someone, I get snarls, pointed at, and approached and told to stop.

I have learned my lesson. Photographing people is incredibly unpleasant for me. I don't even try any more. If you see photos of people on my Flickr site, it's because a) it was a parade, or b) it was surreptitious.

And to think: When I started out as a photographer, I desperately wanted to photograph people. I wanted to do gay male nude photography. I wanted to see men, smiling and happy, in forests and at beaches and laying on the grass and playing games. That was what I wanted my photography to be about.

I visit the grave of that dream often enough.

I was reading about set design in cinema today.

Grant Major (art direction) and Dan Hennah and Alan Lee (set design) got an Oscar nom for their depiction of the royal hall of Meduseld in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.


I fully realize the set is heavily detailed, luxurious in its use of materials, and frankly little of what was done is seen on film due to the low lighting, camera angles, editing, and more. But for god's sake.... Really? I've seen stave churchs in Norway with more regal design put into them!
Most parents believe that the large amounts of time their kids spend with digital devices is educational. But the fact is, whereas kids aged 2-to-4 spend about 50 percent of their time on educational software, kids aged 8-to-10 spend less than 25 percent of their time on educational software.

Really alarming? Poor parents vastly overestimate the educational value of software. Lower-income parents believe their kids spend as much as 60 percent of their time with educational software, when it is much less. It's not clear if poor parents are misjudging how much time their kids spend on educational software, or if they believe games are educational.

Either way, poor parents are doing their kids a huge disservice. It's harming those kids who need educational software the most.
"Not that there is anything particularly profound about having a narrow-gauge railway in your garden, or a model of every plane flown in the Second World War. But these are hobbies indulged with great skill, time and dedication. ... There was plenty to grin at: a matchstick HMS Victory; Matilda and Sir Killalot from Robot Wars; narrow gauge trains that ran on actual steam and became dangerously hot; a Tiger 1 (mid-production, 1943) tank, in the cockpit of which detailed German officers raised binoculars and maps."

- From an article about the lost art of model-making which appeared in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom.

* * * * *

When I was a kid, I used to build models. Pre-fabricated plastic models of battleships, aircraft carriers, starships, rockets, movie monsters, ocean liners, and the like. I wasn't very good at it, got no encouragement from friends or parents, and my father threw them all away when I was in college. But there were night when I would turn on the lights inside my USS Enterprise and pretend I was in space. Or run my fingers along the hull of the RMS Titanic, and imagine where the ruptures in its hull were.

Models were my dream-factory.

The Abyss is a 1989 science fiction film written and directed by James Cameron which starred Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn.

A U.S. nuclear sub sinks after colliding with an Unidentified Submarine Object. The Navy asks an oil exploration company, which is operating an ultra-deep-sea drilling project (led by Harris) in the area, to find the sub and salvage it. A group of Navy SEALs is sent to the oil rig to help, led by Michael Biehn and accompanied by deep sea expert Mastrantonio. After retrieving one warhead from the sunken vessel, a hurricane strikes and imperils the deep-sea rig. Biehn goes bonkers. When strange creatures seem to invade the rig, he decides that he must set off the warhead to "stop them". It's a race against time to save the rig and its surviving crew, and to stop the warhead (whose detonation will certainly kill everyone aboard the rig).

James Cameron's LED deep-sea creatures were almost completely re-used (with CGI) for Avatar 20 years later.
"I don't want some guy looking at me the way that I look at girls." That's the claim by many straight men who cannot stand to have gay men alongside them in the lockerroom.

This says less about homophobia, and much, much more about the way men treat women.

A few years ago, a class in an American high school was discussing homophobia. A boy in the class declared he didn't like being "looked at that way". The boy said he felt he might be physically overpowered and raped by gay men. The teacher then asked the class if anyone else had had a similar experience.

Every girl's hand went up.

May 29, 1914 – The ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence River after colliding with the Storstad, killing 1,012 on board.

I learned about this wreck when I read Clive Cussler's novel Night Probe.

The above is a sketch of what might have happened. The Empress of Ireland was keeping to the shoreline before making her dash to the open seas. The Storstad (a double-hulled Norwegian ship) was coming into the St. Lawrence River. Now, when you look head-one at a ship, it has a green light on the ship's starboard side (my left) and a red light on its port side (my right). The two ships sighted one another when they were four miles apart. The captain of the Empress of Ireland said he could see by the lights that the Storstad was moving to his right, so that the ships could pass starboard-to starboard. The captain of the Storstad said he saw the Empress of Ireland coming head-on. Traditionally, ships pass one another port-to-port, so the Storstad turned toward its starboard to give the Empress of Ireland room.

Then the fog came in. The captain of the Empress of Ireland claims he stopped his ship, and gave three blasts of his horn to indicate he had stopped. The Storstad responded with three blasts, indicating it acknowledged this. The captain of the Empress of Ireland then claims the Storstad rammed his ship's starboard side.

In fact, the condition of the Empress of Ireland and the Storstad indicates that the Empress of Ireland was moving when she was rammed. Her captain probably decided to dash for the sea, rather than wait several hours for the fog to lift. In doing so, he moved his ship right into the Storstad's path.

This is a painting from the book Lost Liners showing what the Empress of Ireland probably looked like in the early 1990s. The St. Lawrence River is too dark and too dirty to really see the ship.