Defense

May 30, 2014

Allied air forces paved way for D-Day

Tags:
SSgt. Ryan Crane
Ramstein AB, Germany

The sleek, highly maneuverable P-51 proved ideal for long range escort missions and an equal match to the Luftwaffe’s fighters. Pilots who flew it praised its maneuverability and visibility during close order engagements with enemy fighters.

The mention of “D-Day” conjures iconic images of men storming a beach riddled with barbed wire, smoke and craters created by German mortar batteries; of men advancing toward machine gun nests and acts of heroism as they made their way inland to secure a foothold in mainland Europe.

However, without the efforts made by the allied air campaign in the months prior, D-Day would have never been possible.

“The Allies disrupted aircraft production,” said Billy Harris, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa historian, “but more importantly, they inflicted severe losses on the Luftwaffe in air-to-air combat as it tried to defend the factories. Allies also hit airfields within 350 miles of the beachhead with 6,700 tons of bombs, and the Germans withdrew many of their fighters to protect Germany.”

The figure of 127 downed Allied aircraft during the battle of Normandy may pale in comparison to the estimated 10,000 Allied casualties from the ground, but the casualties surely would have been much higher had they not conducted such a successful air campaign in the months prior.

The planning for D-Day, dubbed “Overlord”, began more than two years prior when the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved the general invasion plan that would ultimately be carried out by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who took over as the commander of the European theater just a few months prior to the invasion.

From the beginning of planning it was recognized that the air component to the invasion was going to be critical. From experience, the Allies knew facing an air adversary over the battlefront was not going to be successful, so they planned on crippling the Luftwaffe in strategic stages leading up to the invasion.

The Allies had the perfect combination of warfighting planes to deal a devastating blow to the German air arsenal.

Republic P-47N Thunderbolts were used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a low-level fighter-bomber. The P-47 quickly gained a reputation for its ruggedness. Its sturdy construction and air-cooled radial engine enabled the P-47N to absorb severe battle damage and keep flying.

“Both the P-47 and P-51 were veritable workhorses during the war,” Harris said. “The sleek, highly maneuverable P-51 proved ideal for long range escort missions and an equal match to the Luftwaffe’s fighters. Pilots who flew it praised its maneuverability and visibility during close order engagements with enemy fighters.

“The heavier P-47, also capable of short and medium-range escort and formidable foe during dogfights, proved ideal during interdiction missions,” he said. “Capable of carrying half the bomb load of a B-17, the P-47 Thunderbolts of (the) Ninth Air Force inflicted significant damage on enemy ground forces throughout the Normandy campaign.”

The air campaign had three stages: disable the Luftwaffe; cut off main supply roads; and once the invasion began, focus on battle field interdiction and close air support.

From January to June 1944, the five months leading up to D-Day, the Allies had effectively clipped the wings of the German Luftwaffe. The allied air forces engaged the Luftwaffe wherever they found them while bombers sought out their “nests” in France and Germany.

By the end of May, bombers had neutralized dozens of airfields and severely crippled Germany’s aircraft industry. As a result, on the eve of Normandy the Luftwaffe had been reduced to less than half of its original air assets. In May alone, 570 German aircraft were destroyed, which equated to roughly 25 percent of their total force in the span of 30 days.

Another goal of the Overlord plan involved the destruction of the enemy’s rail communications. Of particular interest were the rail lines leading towards the Overlord beach areas. To meet this objective, allied air forces unleashed heavy and medium bombers to engage marshalling yards. Meanwhile, fighters attacked rolling stock and troop concentrations. Pilots claimed 475 locomotives and hundreds of railcars loaded with munitions, supplies, and troops. In turn, the attacks demoralized German forces which delayed reinforcements to the Overlord areas.

The Allies were not without their own losses, though. In that period leading up to the invasion, the Allies lost more than 12,000 men and 2,000 aircraft.

“Without a doubt, the air campaign was a key part of reducing the Luftwaffe’s capabilities,” Harris said. “Between Feb. 1 and June 1, the Luftwaffe lost 8,445 fighters. That equated to pilot losses of 20-25-percent each month, resulting in a staggering turnover of crews. It also meant diminished experience and crippling losses that could not be replaced. The tremendous valor and sacrifice of Allied aircrews ensured marginal Luftwaffe presence over Normandy in June.”

By the time of the invasion, the Luftwaffe was barely able to generate 100 sorties to respond to the Allied invasion on the coast of France.

The importance of airpower was evident even before World War II, but the success of the air campaign leading up to Normandy solidified air supremacy as a key component in our multi-faceted military.

“The Luftwaffe was a formidable foe,” Harris said. “It had proven its abilities over England, France, and Russia. One can only imagine the havoc 8,000 fighters would have unleashed on the troop ships approaching the beaches, not to mention the carnage on the beaches themselves.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines March 23, 2015

News: Obama says more troops will stay in Afghanistan next year - President Obama March 24 formally abandoned his pledge to bring U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan down to 5,000 by the end of this year, saying the current force of about 10,000 will remain there into 2016.   Business: U.S. special ops to sole-source 2,000...
 
 

News Briefs March 25, 2015

Pentagon notifying U.S. troops named by alleged IS hackers The Pentagon said March 23 it is notifying 100 U.S. military members that their names and addresses were posted on the Internet by a group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division. The group said it was posting the information, including photos of the individuals, to...
 
 
Courtesy photograph

Lockheed Martin acquires high-speed wind tunnel, plans upgrades

Courtesy photograph A RATTLRS cruise-missile inlet undergoes testing at the High Speed Wind Tunnel at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Grand Prairie. Lockheed Martin recently purchased the facility and plans numerou...
 

 
Lockheed Martin photograph by Andrew McMurtrie

Off they go: Three more C-130Js delivered

Lockheed Martin photograph by Andrew McMurtrie March 19, a U.S. Air Force crew took delivery of and ferried an MC-130J Commando II Special Operations tanker aircraft that is assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command’s ...
 
 

Northrop to provide DIRCM for Canadian Chinook fleet

Northrop Grumman has been selected by the Royal Canadian Air Force to provide infrared missile protection on its fleet of CH-147F Chinooks. “Battle-tested in the harshest conditions and in use around the world, Northrop Grumman’s infrared countermeasure systems have been protecting warfighters for more than 50 years,” said Carl Smith, vice president, infrared countermeasures, ...
 
 

UTC Aerospace awarded contract for surface ship sonar domes

UTC Aerospace Systems has received a contract from the Naval Surface Warfare Center – Crane, Indiana, to provide sonar domes for surface combat ships. The five-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract is valued at up to $39 million and covers deliveries through 2020 to the U.S. Navy and foreign military sales. In addition to the...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>