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D-Day Logistical Problems

Logistical Problems for the D-Day Invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

In support of operation OVERLORD it had been proposed at the Casablanca Conference that an assault against Southern France be mounted from the Mediterranean to coincide closely with the timing of the assault against Northwest France. I had been engaged in the planning phase of this operation, known initially as ANVIL and subsequently as DRAGOON, prior to leaving my command in the Mediterranean, and felt then that its contribution to the downfall of the enemy would be considerable. I continued to recognize its importance after leaving the Mediterranean Theater, fully conscious not only of the psychological effect upon the enemy and upon Europe as a whole of the double assault, but of the great military value the southern blow would have in splitting all enemy forces in France and of thus assisting OVERLORD.

Initially we had hoped that the ANVIL assault could be mounted with three divisions or, at the worst, with 2 divisions, building up to a strength of 10 divisions in the follow-up. However, on 23 January 1944, it became necessary to recommend to the Combined Chiefs of Staff that some consideration be given to reducing the ANVIL assault to one division, maintaining it as a threat until enemy weakness justified its employment. This recommendation was necessary because of our shortage of assault craft for the enlarged OVERLORD operation. We hoped that craft in the Mediterranean, originally allocated for ANVIL, would thus be freed for our use.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff did not agree with this proposal and on the basis of planning data available to them stated that sufficient craft would be on hand to mount an OVERLORD assault of seven divisions (including the two follow-up divisions) and an ANVIL of two divisions. These figures did not coincide with those of my own planners and the discrepancy was explained to the planners at Washington by my Chief of Staff. It was pointed out that the divisions involved in the assault each actually represented a division plus a regimental combat team and included the armor attached to it. Additionally, a number of subsidiary assaults by Commandos and Rangers necessitated craft for 5,000 personnel. Beyond this, the nature of the terrain, the heavy beach defenses, and the large rise and fall of tide in the Channel demanded the use of a very much larger number of engineer personnel and personnel for work on the beaches than would have otherwise been necessary. The scale of the problem may be understood by the fact that we intended on D-day and D-plus-1 to land 20,111 vehicles and 176,475 personnel. The vehicles included 1,500 tanks, 5,000 other tracked fighting vehicles, 3,000 guns of all types, and 10,500 other vehicles from jeeps to bulldozers.

This explanation helped to clarify our needs, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff recognizing the situation, met it by suggesting that the ANVIL assault be postponed rather than mounted simultaneously with OVERLORD. Field Marshal (then General) Sir Maitland Wilson, as Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean Theater, and the British Chiefs of Staff in London, had at one time suggested that the ANVIL operation be canceled chiefly because of weakness in the initial assault and the length of time required to build up sufficient forces. However, this was held to be inadvisable from the strategic point of view and contrary to the decisions reached at Teheran. The military advantages to be gained through a force of an additional ten or more divisions operating on our right flank after clearing Southern France would, I believed, be of extraordinary value later in the campaign. Accordingly, on 24 March, ANVIL was postponed from a target date of 31 May to one of 10 July, some four weeks after the OVERLORD assault, and the craft necessary to round out our full needs were in part drawn from Mediterranean resources and allocated to our use. Although the question of ANVIL was to reappear and the target date to be again postponed to 15 August, our problem in the mounting of OVERLORD had been settled and the priority of our needs in the larger operation established.

While the problem of assault craft was being resolved, the buildĀ·up of American troops and supplies in the United Kingdom continued under the direction of Lieut. Gen. John C. H. Lee. Planning for BOLERO, the name by which this logistical program was known, had begun in the United Kingdom as early as April 1942. The small original staff was divided for the North African (TORCH) operation, but expanded in 1943 and 1944 as the OVERLORD task became larger until, by D-day, the Communications Zone establishment contained 31,500 officers and 350,000 enlisted personnel. By July 1943 some 750,000 tons of supplies were pouring through English ports each month and this amount was steadily increased until in June 1944 1,900,000 tons were received from the United States. Much of this material was used to supply the troops already arrived in England, and other amounts were stored for use as OVERLORD progressed, but the stock pile earmarked for the American forces, over and above basic loads and equipment, was a full 2,500,000 tons for the invasion alone. By, June also, the number of U. S. Army troops in the United Kingdom had risen from 241,839 at the end of 1942 to 1,562,000.

The operation of transporting supplies from the United States to the United Kingdom was facilitated by the fact that cargoes were discharged through established ports and over established rail lines. Additionally, large quantities of materials for the invasion were made directly available from British resources within the United Kingdom itself. These conditions could not, of course, exist on the Continent and plans were accordingly made to overcome the difficulties envisaged. It was recognized that the major tonnage reception on the Continent would be over the Normandy beaches during the first two months, with the port of Cherbourg being developed at an early date. Successively, it was anticipated that port development would proceed in Brittany, the major effort in that area to be an artificial port at Quiberon Bay with complementary development of the existing ports of Brest, Lorient, St-Nazaire, and Nantes. While these were being brought into use the Row of supplies over the beaches was to be aided by the two artificial harbors (Mulberry "A" and Mulberry "B"). As the campaign progressed, it was anticipated that the bulk of American supplies would Row directly from the United States through the Brittany ports, while the Channel ports to the north, including Ostend and Antwerp, would be developed for the British armies. These expectations, however, did not materialize, due primarily to enemy strategy and the vicissitudes of the campaign. That both the American and British supply systems were able, in spite of this, to support the armies to the extent they did is a remarkable tribute to the flexibility of their organizations and to their perseverance in a single purpose.

The importance of the steady supply of our forces, once landed, may be gauged by reference to German strategy. This was intended to insure that our supplies should never be permitted to begin Rowing into the beachheads. The German philosophy was: "Deny the Allies the use of ports and they will be unable to support their armies ashore." For this reason the chain of Atlantic and Channel ports from Bordeaux to Antwerp was under orders from Hitler himself to fight to the last man and the last round of ammunition. The Germans fully expected us to be able to make a landing at some point on the Channel coast, but they were nevertheless certain that they could dislodge us before supplies could be brought ashore to maintain the troops. They had no knowledge of our artificial harbors, a secret as closely guarded as the time and place of our assault. The impossible was accomplished and supplies came ashore, not afterwards to support a force beleaguered on the beachheads, but actually with the troops as they landed. The Germans were, by virtue of our initial supply, denied the opportunity of dislodging us and were subsequently, throughout the campaign, under sustained attack as the result of the feats of maintenance performed by our administrative organizations.

A captured enemy document, written by a division commander, perhaps pays as great a tribute to all the forces responsible for supply of the frontĀ· line troops as could be found. He wrote: "I cannot understand these Americans. Each night we know that we have cut them to pieces, inflicted heavy casualties, mowed down their transport. We know, in some cases, we have almost decimated entire battalions. But-in the morning, we are suddenly faced with fresh battalions, with complete replacements of men, machines, food, tools, and weapons. This happens day after day. If I did not see it with my own eyes, I would say it is impossible to give this kind of support to front-line troops so far from their bases."

Arrow  German Miscalculations Regarding D-Day



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