The Great Crusade

Today is June 6th. Seventy years ago, on a very bleak and windy Tuesday morning, Operation Neptune, the code name for the naval invasion of Normandy started as thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen began the Allied liberation of Europe. The overall operation was called Overlord and was scheduled to last until D +90. At that point, the Allies believed they would be on the south side of the River Seine with the Germans holding the north side. From there, the breakout would happen and Eisenhower’s broad front strategy would slowly consume the German army in the west. Of course, it didn’t happen that way.

There were five invasion beaches, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, running west to east along the Calvados Coast. The Americans came ashore at Utah and Omaha, while the British used Gold and Sword with the Canadians at Juno. British paratroopers dropped behind Sword Beach to secure vital bridges over the River Orne. American paratroopers dropped behind Utah to secure vital causeways off the beach and to take the important town of Sainte-Mère-Église. At Omaha Beach, the German’s had the entire landing area zeroed in and the casualties were high. Eventually, in small groups, sometimes as small as one or two men, the 1st and 29th Divisions moved inland and secured the Omaha beaches. The invasion went much smoother at the other four beaches with the Canadians at Juno advancing the farthest on that Day of Days.

The Germans reinforced the area around the city of Caen and British General Montgomery failed miserably in his bid to take the city on D-Day, eventually having to destroy the town to take it. Montgomery’s men had most of the German armor facing them while the Americans under General Bradley had to contend with the Norman hedgerows. After nearly two months of brutal fighting, Bradley unleashed Operation Cobra. The Army Air Forces would carpet bomb an area near St. Lo, and the ground troops would rush through the shell-shocked Germans. At that point, General Patton took over 3rd Army, General Hodges took 1st Army from Bradley, and Bradley moved up to command 12th Army Group. Patton replaced the infantry spearheads with armor spearheads and broke out into the flat country south of the Cotentin peninsula. Patton swung his forces west to take the Brest peninsula and also east on a rampage that would end up with 3rd Army helping to seal off the German army and take bridges over the River Seine. Less than a year later, in May of 1945, the German Army surrendered and The Great Crusade was over.

One of the finest books on the subject is D-Day, by Stephen E. Ambrose. If you haven’t read it, do so. It details the details of the invasion. The most fascinating detail to me was the order in which every unit had to hit each specific beach. On a floor in Allied HQ, thousands of 3×5 cards containing information about each unit were placed in the order of when they would hit the beaches. If any data changed for a unit, someone had to go retrieve the card, make the change, and then put it back. These cards were shuffled to and fro until the commanders were satisfied. The entire invasion was planned and executed without the aid of any computer. Amazing! And the most amazing thing was that they were able to keep the invasion secret. The Germans never knew the invasion area was to be Normandy, even with thousands of little 3×5 cards floating around.

For those that put themselves in harm’s way to keep us from harm — Thank You.

The Great Crusade

Posted by Stranded in Sonoma

Today is June 6th. Sixty-eight years ago, on a very bleak and windy Tuesday morning, Operation Neptune, the code name for the naval invasion of Normandy started as thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen began the Allied liberation of Europe. The overall operation was called Overlord and was scheduled to last until D +90. At that point, the Allies believed they would be on the south side of the River Seine with the Germans holding the north side. From there, the breakout would happen and Eisenhower’s broad front strategy would slowly consume the German army in the west. Of course, it didn’t happen that way.

There were five invasion beaches, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, running west to east along the Calvados Coast. The Americans came ashore at Utah and Omaha, while the British used Gold and Sword with the Canadians at Juno. British paratroopers dropped behind Sword Beach to secure vital bridges over the River Orne. American paratroopers dropped behind Utah to secure vital causeways off the beach and to take the important town of Sainte-Mère-Église. At Omaha Beach, the German’s had the entire landing area zeroed in and the casualties were high. Eventually, in small groups, sometimes as small as one or two men, the 1st and 29th Divisions moved inland and secured the Omaha beaches. The invasion went much smoother at the other four beaches with the Canadians at Juno advancing the farthest on that Day of Days.

The Germans reinforced the area around the city of Caen and British General Montgomery failed miserably in his bid to take the city on D-Day, eventually having to destroy the town to take it. Montgomery’s men had most of the German armor facing them while the Americans under General Bradley had to contend with the Norman hedgerows. After nearly two months of brutal fighting, Bradley unleashed Operation Cobra. The Army Air Forces would carpet bomb an area near St. Lo, and the ground troops would rush through the shell-shocked Germans. At that point, General Patton took over 3rd Army, General Hodges took 1st Army from Bradley, and Bradley moved up to command 12th Army Group. Patton replaced the infantry spearheads with armor spearheads and broke out into the flat country south of the Cotentin peninsula. Patton swung his forces west to take the Brest peninsula and also east on a rampage that would end up with 3rd Army helping to seal off the German army and take bridges over the River Seine. Less than a year later, in May of 1945, the German Army surrendered and The Great Crusade was over.

One of the finest books on the subject is D-Day, by Stephen E. Ambrose. If you haven’t read it, do so. It details the details of the invasion. The most fascinating detail to me was the order in which every unit had to hit each specific beach. On a floor in Allied HQ, thousands of 3×5 cards containing information about each unit were placed in the order of when they would hit the beaches. If any data changed for a unit, someone had to go retrieve the card, make the change, and then put it back. These cards were shuffled to and fro until the commanders were satisfied. The entire invasion was planned and executed without the aid of any computer. Amazing! And the most amazing thing was that they were able to keep the invasion secret. The Germans never knew the invasion area was to be Normandy, even with thousands of little 3×5 cards floating around.

For those that put themselves in harm’s way to keep us from harm — Thank You.

Remember…

I was watching an episode of 12 O’Clock High and I just thought I would pass along some observations on what it was like flying for the 8th Air Force between 1942 to 1945. I have a bit of credibility; my father flew 30 missions over Germany in 1945.

I’ll start with what Bill Mauldin said in trying to get the folks back home to understand what it was like for an infantryman.

Dig a hole in your back yard while it is raining. Sit in the hole until the water climbs up around your ankles. Pour cold mud down your shirt collar. Sit there for forty-eight hours, and, so there is no danger of your dozing off, imagine that a guy is sneaking around waiting for a chance to club you on the head or set your house on fire.

Get out of the hole, fill a suitcase full of rocks, pick it up, put a shotgun in your other hand, and walk on the muddiest road you can find. Fall flat on your face every few minutes as you imagine big meteors streaking down to sock you.

After ten or twelve miles (remember—you are still carrying the shotgun and suitcase) start sneaking through the wet brush. Imagine that somebody has booby-trapped your route with rattlesnakes which will bite you if you step on them. Give some friend a rifle and have him blast in your direction once in a while.

Snoop around until you find a bull. Try to figure out a way to sneak around him without letting him see you. When he does see you, run like hell all the way back to your hole in the back yard, drop the suitcase and shotgun, and get in.

If you repeat this performance every three days for several months you may begin to understand why an infantryman sometimes gets out of breath. But you still won’t understand how he feels when things get tough.

Here’s what I have to say about flying and fighting in a B-17 or B-24.

It’s oh-dark-thirty. You get up and shave with tepid water because you’re only allowed so much coal for the furnace. You shave very close because if you don’t, the oxygen mask you wear later will feel like thirty-grit sandpaper on your skin.

At breakfast, the oatmeal is overcooked, the powdered eggs are burnt, and the pancakes are rubbery. The coffee, however, is warm — just like the powdered milk. This could be your last meal. If the previous night was a bit too strong, breakfast is vomit and a cigarette.

At briefing, the MET officer says, “High and persistent contrails.” You moan because you know that means the Luftwaffe will have a big white arrow in the sky pointed right at you. And the distant target means this is a long mission. No milk run today.

You take off, form up, and climb to your cruising altitude of 25,000 feet. It is 40 degrees below zero. If you remove your gloves and touch anything, your skin will stick to the metal. You are on oxygen; there is no pressurization. The skin of the airplane is 40 thousandths of an inch thick. That is your entire armor. Flak rips through it like a blowtorch through butter. Not to mention 20 millimeter cannon shells. Your .50 caliber machine gun holds enough ammunition for 1 minute and 45 seconds of continuous firing. This mission will last eight to ten hours.

You fight your way to the target through everything the Luftwaffe throws at you; 109s, FWs, guns, cannon, rockets, missles, jet planes, rocket planes. If this is 1942 or 1943, your fighter escort has left you long ago. If it’s 1944 or 1945, well…there are only so many P-51s to go around. You find the primary target is obscured by clouds. You shift to the secondary and it is, too. The closest tertiary target, or target of opportunity, is far enough away to make you think about fuel. You fight your way back and hope to pick out a target of opportunity on the way. You don’t find one. You drop your bombs in the channel because you can’t land with them. When you land, you fire two flares to show you have wounded aboard. So do a lot of the other bombers. Some of the bombers will fly again with work. Others will only be useful as parts. You don’t get mission credit.

You do this 38-40 times in the hope that at least 35 of them will count. You also know that the official acceptable 5% loss rate per flight means there will only be a 22% chance of you finishing 30 missions. Not all flights count as missions; you know that, too. When you get 35, you’ll get some time off stateside. But each group has an infantry quota to fill. A number of officers and enlisted men are transferred from flight operations to the infantry; you could finish maybe 10 to 15 missions and get transferred. See what Bill Mauldin said above about the infantry.

Freedom isn’t free. Remember…