Normandy planning

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Lucky Forward, Aug 19, 2015.

  1. Lucky Forward

    Lucky Forward New Member

    Having been to Normandy and toured the beaches and cemeteries including the massive American one above Omaha Beach, I am ever impressed by the logistical planning that went into the most difficult military operation in history. What has always puzzled me is why the planning focused almost exclusively on establishing a beach head. Having also toured the bocage, it has always struck me as rather odd that so little planning/training went into conducting operations in the bocage. it is not like the Allies were not aware of the 1000 year old hedgerows which neutralized the Allies' biggest ground advantage, employment of armor in a war of movement. I look forward to replies.

    Lucky Forward
  2. fredvogels

    fredvogels Back to Normandy

    I share your thoughts. Many investigations has been done about the condition of the sand on the beaches. If it could carry the tanks.
    Knowing a little bit of Normandy. The bocage is not everywhere. Perhaps the thought was that the germans could be beaten by the tanks. As it more or less did. But I also look forward to strategical and tactical answers.

  3. Bedee

    Bedee Well-Known Member

    In my opinion the "Mulberry Harours" is one of the keys in this case why they choose for this area.
    You can find a lot of information on the Internet about these artificial harbour, already in 1943 a year before the operation the first recce was done for these Harbours.

    And the Bocages.... in the south there where problems with good landing beaches, in the North the steep rocks.
    Every area has his own restrictions in a big operation like this.


  4. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    Although I am sitting comfortably in my Study, in my armchair and it was my father who was 'there' and not me, as a previous poster has pointed out it amounts to the overall position etc of an area rather than one particular aspect. Researching the beach sand was crucial because of the lessons learnt from the Dieppe Raid: no point landing if you can't get off the beach and more difficult landing in a town.

    Referring back to my 'comfortable study', I personally think the Bocage thing is over stressed. It was the same for both sides, it certainly wasn't everywhere and it can't have been half as testing as Burmese jungle ( and yes, I did have a Great Uncle who fought there).

    .....and the planning didn't focus just on the beachhead anyway even though the beachhead was clearly crucial to the overall plan and that is why Rommell knew he had only a certain amount of time to 'throw the allies back into the sea'.
    Delta Tank likes this.
  5. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Following on from SDPs post:
    There was no shortage of planning as shown below but the Allies did not expect to be fighting in the bocage.

    XXX Corps plan.
    XXX Corps was to secure a bridgehead in the area from Port en Bessin to La Riviere. From here the corps would operate southwards to secure Mont Pincon massif and the country running down to the River Noireau. There were to be four phases:

    Phase I.
    Le Hamel and La Riviere were to be assaulted and on D Day the corps was to secure features on the line Point 63, high ground 7779, Monunirel, Blary, Matragny, Concagney, Ducy St Marguerite, St Croix Grand Tonne.

    There were to be exploitations on D Day to Villers Bocage with mobile columns.

    Phase II.
    Villers Bocage was to be secured on D+3/D+4.

    Phase III.
    An advance was to be made to the Mont Pincon area on D+7/D+8.

    Phase IV.
    An advance was to be made on D+12 to D+17 to seize a line St Pierre d’Entremont, Mont de Cetisi, Conde sur Noireau.

    paulcheall likes this.
  6. idler

    idler GeneralList

    At the lower tactical levels, it would have taken a brave man to predict the problems and solutions. An understanding of the terrain is only part of the mix - how are the enemy going to fight (the Germans often did the opposite to what we expected), what with, are we attacking or defending, etc.

    As SDP says, much of the Norman countryside has equivalents in the UK, so it was not the same leap as going to war in the desert or jungle. Even Norfolk, often vilified for its supposed flatness, would present much the same problems to an army as Normandy; maybe less cows. A proportion of British troops would have been familiar with such landscapes, but I can undertand that it would have been a lot more alien to most US and Canadian troops. The bottom line is that wherever they'd gone into battle, there would have been a learning curve. In Normandy, that was exacerbated by the intensity of operations when the Germans unexpectedly decided to fight forward.

    Regarding training, field exercises could not accurately replicate war at the lower level unless very tightly controlled, so there was a good chance that 'real' problems would not show themselves. Neither were exercises conducive to trying out real world solutions - turning a village to dust or even sending a tank through a hedgerow - were not in anyone's playbook. The wire fence and cows incident in the pre-D-Day Band of Brothers episode is an obvious example. Unfortunately, a lot of the training had to be completed on the job which was very bad news for the slow learners.
  7. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic


    Ah, Villers Bocage. Dad was in one of the so called mobile columns: 24th Lancers 8th Armoured Brigade. They never did make it! But at least they got to see the delights of Point 103, Tilly-surSeulles, Tessel Wood and Rauray!
  8. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    The assault training areas at Slapton and Pentewan were chosen for what lay behind the beaches not just the beaches themselves. The Slapton training area extended several miles inland and even 70 years on is renowned for its sunken country lanes and high hedges. So I think it's a little unfair to say they went in totally unprepared.
  9. Pak75

    Pak75 Member

    Omaha was chosen for its beach unloading capacity which trumped the shingle found there. The accounts of 743rd and 741st Tank Battalion crew members reveal that there was a considerable problem with shingle there on D-Day which immobilised the tanks or caused them to throw a track, making them sitting ducks.

    The Americans/FUSA had a terrain suitability map for Operation Neptune which showed Bocage as 'less favourable (as opposed to most favourable) for employment of armour.' Unfortunately as 99.9% of Americans had not been abroad before they came to England, none of British senior officers (Morgan, Montgomery etc) seem to have taken the time to explain exactly what the Bocage was to American commanders of divisions leading the assault.
    The irony is that the Americans were based in Devon and Cornwall where the terrain in part most resembles the Bocage but the Americans were not allowed to conduct exercises there other than in designated training areas because of potential damage to farmland.
  10. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    The planning did not focus just on establishing a beach head.

    The beachhead was just the start of an operation to defeat the German forces in Western Europe and liberate Europe. What we call the Normandy campaign was merely the establishment of the advance guard (of C 30 divisions) in a lodgement area that would enable the build up the much larger force C 100 divisions thought necessary to defeat the Wehrmacht. The allies had a lot more troops than the Germans: However, the allies would started with all of their troops in the UK and could only land a small proportion of their forces on D Day and a fraction of that on each following day. If the Germans succeeded in concentrating all the troops they had in North West Europe against the Allied beach head before, say C+90 they would outnumber the allies and potentially drive them into the sea.

    While we think of the allies as being the attacker, the onus was on the Germans to attack. The allies were winning as long as the Germans could not prevent the allies from building up their army ashore. The allies would have enough men ashore to win the war some time after D+90. It was not obvious that the allies would be doing all the attacking after the landings had taken place. The expectation was that the Germans would mass their air and land forces and would give the allies a a much tougher time than actually happened. After all the landings in the side shows of Sicily Salerno and Anzio resulted in the being on the defensive for some time.

    The allies did have a plan. Montgomery outlined this in April 1944. He expected the Germans to place the bulk of their forces against the allied Eastern Flank. The Germans could not permit the allies to break out on the eastern flank as this would put the allies between the German army and Germany. This would provide an opportunity to break out on the West. There could not be a "master plan" because a lot depended on what the Germans chose to do. Montgomery did instigate a series of offensives that ensured that the Germans were very much focused on the Caen -Falaise axis and were not able to concentrate against the US Troops until too late.

    The units and formations which landed in Normandy had some training in operating in the different phases of war. However it is true that for the assault formations their priority was on D Day. If that went wrong there might not have been a D+1.

    Before D Day, the bocage was known about, but considered as neutral. Whatever difficulties the bocage might cause allied attackers was balanced by the difficulties it would cause the Germans in mounting armoured attacks. I have not seen much evidence that the bocage was studied by the allied units as a particular problem before D Day. It is a landscape of small fields, hedgerows, sunken lanes, orchards and villages. It is very similar to the countryside of south west England, where most US troops were based, and Kent and parts of East Anglia where the British Army was based and trained. Most of the field training took place on ranges which for safety reasons were open space and often on moorland where it would not interfere with farming. However, there should have been no reason not to have thought through some of the minor tactics for dealing with this kind of country through some form of staff ride or TEWTs. One British formation 43 Wessex Division recorded that their training in Kent was in very similar terrain and had prepared them for Normandy.

    Historically the allies developed material advantage from the start and and retained the initiative throughout the campaign. This says much about the success of the deception plan, logistic strength and forces and effectiveness of the air-forces in preventing the Germans from concentrating on the Normandy beachhead. It also says something about the leadership shown by the allied commanders who do not always get the credit for success for an operation which was more successful at an earlier date than had been anticipated.
    stolpi likes this.
  11. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Dear Pak75,

    When you say that "the Americans were not allowed to conduct exercises there other than in designated training areas because of potential damage to farmland" do you have a source for that being a problem? There is a village in Southern Devon called Torcross which was part of 30,000 acres evacuated to allow pre D-day training (so one of those designated training areas!) - either Google it or go straight here for more information:

    I used to live nearby and the local area is still full of sunken lanes, big hedgerows, little fields, etc, etc.


  12. Pak75

    Pak75 Member

    In my post I was referring to armour and the Bocage. The US tank battalions and armoured divisions in southern England (as were most British tank units) were restricted mainly to Salisbury Plain for movement exercises while live firing was only conducted at ranges, eg Linney Head. The use of any other land had to be negotiated with the landowners and compensation provided if necessary, so was often put in too hard basket.
    See English, J.A., Canadians in Normandy p 101
    Harrison Place, T., Military Training in British Army 1940-44, p32 and p93
    Jarymowycz, R. Tank tactics, p94, p103
    Torcross/Slapton Sands was a training area for the actual D-day landings by DD tanks, eg Exercise Tiger which included a live naval bombardment and fire from inland artillery. A and B companies of the 70th US Tank Battalion was based there for a while and trained for the D-Day assault as it most represented Utah sector with a lagoon behind the beach. The DD tanks practised marshalling, embarkation and launching.There were no training exercises carried out by tanks beyond the actual coast at Torcross to experience 'hedgerows' as Jensen (Strike Swiftly- The 70th Tank Bn) specifically points out (p125). Infantry practised landing on the beaches and engineers blew holes in concrete sea walls as part of the exercises.

  13. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    Thanks for the reply, very informative. Is there evidence of any tank-infantry training being done in the UK, even on relatively open training grounds? Have you seen any comparisons between the training of British, Canadian or US DD units?

    BTW Montgomery didn't operate through the Bocage in 1940, where you thinking of Brooke?


  14. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    Peter Hancock in his book "Cornwall at War" states: 'In November 1943 the American 254th Engineer Combat Battalion (formerly the 107th) were sent to Newquay. Here they were put through a training programme which included attacking fortified positions, setting up road blocks, crossing rivers, operating landing craft, even using chemical weapons.'

    There are numerous anecdotes of US bulldozers removing hedges, widening gateways, to allow military vehicles access onto farmland, and also of widening some of the narrow Cornish lanes. The gap through the Bronze Age archaeology on the lower slopes of Rough Tor created by US armoured vehicles training there is still evident for all to see. Armoured vehicles were seen training all over the Cornish moors from Lands End to the Tamar Valley. There was also an artillery firing range on Bodmin Moor that fired over the A30.

    The training area at Pentewan, which saw the logistics and medivac exercises, included farmland on the far side of the St. Austell to Mevagissey Road.

    There are also accounts of numerous accidents on Cornwall's narrow, windy roads involving US vehicles with some causing fatalities.
  15. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    Thanks for the contribution - very interesting. There does seem to be a strange discord between what was actually seen on the ground and what has been recorded in the historiography. I wonder if there are British references at Kew to the use of the land for training.


  16. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    In one of the US documents dated 30 Nov 1943 relating to the acquisition of the Pentewan Training Area is the line "Minor alterations in the boundary and such local arrangements as are considered necessary and are determined by detailed reconnaissance, may be arranged with local authorities." This makes me wonder how much was organised at local level that may not have found its way into the official record.
  17. Pak75

    Pak75 Member

    I cannot imagine any self-respecting infantry or engineer commander not taking any opportunity to train before D-day so you guys are probably correct in believing there were many unofficial training grounds. However, The tanks would have been a little more obvious in carrying out unofficial manoeuvres!
    The infantry units would have been equipped with M3 half tracks , etc so there would have been a variety of non AFV vehicles roaming about the countryside. I understand that accidents became so prevalent that 3 days before D-Day all civilian traffic was banned from roads leading to embarkation sites.
    Re tank infantry training, some of course was carried out by independent armoured brigades and armoured divisions with their organic motorised infantry but there was no training specific for hedgerows, if that answers yr question. A problem was a lack of allotted time ( number of armoured units in UK had increased dramatically before D-day for same number of training areas) and which tactics to employ as tank infantry doctrine was in a state of evolution 1943 -44. Just before D-Day the news of Panzerfausten appearing in Italy prompted a further change from War Office.
    Re DD tanks for Canadian read British. U.S. DD tank units trained independently and eschewed the use of British instructors. Senior U.S. Commanders were not enthusiastic about their use.
    I meant Montgomery. As commander of Overlord, it was ultimately his responsibility to ensure that American plans took into account the different terrain.
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    The focus for pre D Day training for the assault units was to conduct the assault itself. The British assault units tasked with attacking each beach sector did practice together and the drills for assaulting fortified positions had been worked out a year in advance. This was part of the pre Overlord Training which cumulated in exercises where the assault RCTs or Brigades practiced on beaches and inland terrain similar to their target beach. The best known of these was exercise Tiger, which landed troops of the VII corps on a beach similar to Utah.

    Training armoured and infantry units was complicated for infantry formations because any armour was not under their command but from armoured brigades (Br) or Battalions (US) attached to the infantry division. The armour available for training might not be those that the unit would ultimately fight alongside, which rather reduced the value of training. British and Canadian troops concentrated in the UK as part of Home forces had a better opportunity to work with the armoured .brigades affiliated to their corps than Us infantry arriving from the continental US.
  19. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Is there any evidence that the Germans practiced tank-infantry co-operation in the Bocage before D-day? Or, for that matter, that they blamed it for the poor performance of their Panzer formations in the attack there?

    As for the Allies, well I guess they did take it into account in the build-up?

    When the Americans struggled to advance in the forests of the Rhineland did they blame their lack of wood-clearing training on the British as well?

    I've still seen no evidence to show that the Americans asked to train in Devon and Cornwall and were refused...


  20. Pak75

    Pak75 Member

    i8.jpg The Germans occupied Normandy for four years before the return of the Allies and they knew the terrain well. The best terrain for tanks was south of Caen and this is where they expected the Allied breakout attempt to come from so that was where most of their armour was deployed. In contrast, in the American sector in the Bocage, there were a maximum of 3 panzer divisions (one without tanks -17th SS) compared with 6 or 7 panzer divisions from Caumont to Caen (Belchem,Victory in Normandy p178).
    The Germans had trained in the Bocage and used what tanks were present as mobile strongpoints. The Bocage very much favoured the defenders for when the situation was reversed such as with the hasty attack by Panzer Lehr on the 11th June, the Americans were able to ambush the advancing German tanks or engage them at close range. The commander of the Lehr, Bayerlein, complained that the Bocage prevented the Panther tanks with their overhanging barrels from turning their turrets to engage targets.
    The Germans never managed to mount a massed panzer counterattack on the beaches due to the convoluted chain of command in Army Group B, personality clashes and poor co-ordination, etc. The areas chosen for the theoretical attacks by von Schweppenburg, Dietrich, Rommel etc were between Bayeaux and Caen, ie not in the Bocage.
    Re UK training, i am inclined to believe that the Americans had to accept what training areas, ranges, etc they were allocated. All units probably wanted more training time than they got so it was not a matter of being refused but one of availability. See attached page FUSA report.

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