D-Day – NEVER FORGETTING THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF AIR POWER
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
06 Jun 14. Seventy years on from the Normandy D-Day landings in this short piece I will merely seek to remind through the spoken word of others the crucial role that air power played during WW2. Today in a mark of respect we salute the very many thousands of allied troops that stormed the beaches of Normandy and that led eventually to the fall of Germany. We remember with passion and pride the role that the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, Merchant Navy and the allied forces comprising many nations including those of the Commonwealth and particularly the many that lost their lives in what we hope will have been the last and most decisive battle to ever be fought in Europe.
Overwhelming Air Power superiority established by the allies and particularly by the Royal Air Force was the primary enabler that allowed the massive allied force to land from both sea and air and then operate with significantly less hazard and interference than would have been the case had this not been established. Quite apart from the role that the Royal Air Force played on the day of the Normandy landings it is worth remembering the huge role that it played in the long period of gestation and readiness.
What follows is taken from the Royal Air Force website and I believe well describes the huge effort involved.
‘What is less well known is the size and scope of the air battle that was fought from the end of 1943 right up until the breakout from the beachhead. The experience gained from the landings in North Africa, Sicily and Salerno, combined with the American ‘island-hopping’ experiences in the Pacific, had proved that air power was a key requirement in any successful invasion. As a result, the Allied plan for supporting the landings was divided into several specific goals. This series of attacks had begun during December the previous year with the steady destruction of the V-weapon storage and launching sites to prevent the weapons being used against the Allied forces massing in the south of England.
The V-weapon attacks were followed by a general expansion in specific types of operations over France. Firstly were a very large number of sorties to drop supplies to the Resistance. The aim of this concerted effort was to build up the fighting effectiveness of the Resistance forces in all occupied territories and cause maximum disruption to the German command and communications structure. Second on the list of priorities was the interdiction of rail and road traffic. Raids against bridges, railway marshalling yards and major crossroads were carried out by medium bomber forces, later still the strategic heavy bombers of both the USAF and RAF were tasked to continue these attacks to isolate the Normandy area. Communications targets and airfields within a 250 mile diameter circle from Calais/Dieppe, through Rouen, Paris, Orleans, Tours, Saumur, Nantes and out through the Cherbourg peninsula were attacked to completely isolate not just Normandy, but the majority of the French coast from Calais to Cherbourg.
The communications targets were followed by attacks against radar, v-weapon (as a continuing part of Operation Crossbow) and coastal defence sites by medium and light bombers and fighter-bombers. In the (six month) build up to the invasion two more elements of air power came into play. Fighter sweeps and standing air patrols were flown to prevent any German air activity over the channel ports and invasion area, projecting an impenetrable air superiority ‘bubble’ around the beachhead. This part of the air operation was incredibly successful, only a single flight of two Luftwaffe fighters made an appearance over the invasion beaches on D-day itself.
The transport air forces brought both men and supplies to the beachead area in vast numbers. Transport gliders and paratroopers were flown into the are