We have Liftoff!

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5 Responses to We have Liftoff!

  1. GeologyJim says:

    D-Day June 6, 1944 marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe from the tyranny of the National Socialists of Deutchland. Greatest military victory of all time!

    June 1, 2017 marked the beginning of the liberation of the World from the tyranny of the Watermelon Climate Alarmists, with Donald Trump’s announcement of America’s withdrawal from the Commie plot of the “Paris Climate Accord”

    Hallelujah!! Sanity is restored!

    Now for the ground offensive to kill (neutralize) the bastards wherever they live. It will be a long, protracted campaign against them and the “resistance” forces

  2. RAH says:

    Technically Jim it was the invasion of Sicily followed by the invasion if Italy that marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe. But everyone knows that you mean.
    Something I wrote a few years ago:

    The Allied invasion of Normandy remains to this day the most complex military operation ever carried out. Perhaps it is even the most complex endeavor that mankind has ever attempted. As I write this 100’s of men were dying violent deaths. Some of their bodies would be blasted to pieces by mines and artillery. Others that had drown would be chopped up by the propellers of landing craft. And others would be flattened by the tracks of tanks. On Omaha beach the living trapped in the beaten zone near the shore would use the bodies of the dead for cover from small arms and artillery fire.

    Modern amphibious warfare cannot be compared to the ancient seaborne invasions. And D-day Normandy cannot really be compared to the many other amphibious operations carried out during WWII. With mechanization and developed road nets defenders on continental land masses can react with concentrated massive force much more quickly than they could ever before. And ultimately the outcome of a seaborne invasion in such circumstances is determined by who can get there “furstest with the mostest” even more so than in other types of operations. The Germans had 52 Divisions of varying quality and capability and type in France on D-day plus more in other countries that could be added time allowed. The allies initial assault on D-day was made by three airborne divisions and five seaborne divisions over a seafront of only 50 miles. There were many ways the allies could fail but only one way they could win. Get ashore quickly and pile in the men and weapons and materials needed just as quickly as possible to maintain local superiority or at least parity in forces. In essence the invasion of Normandy had to be an amphibious Blitzkrieg. A quick advance expanding the depth of the bridgeheads was essential first to push the enemy back far enough to free the beaches from artillery fire and then to allow room for the quick expansion of the forces and their materials.

    The Major Superlatives are what many seem to interest most people today but often it’s the more minor ones that provide better insight:

    The primary Operations Order contained about 1,400 pages not including annexes or maps and had about the same word count as the first addition of a popular novel of the time, Gone With the Wind. No operations order ever survives long after first contact with the enemy is made but they are still essential for success.

    About 11,000 allied aircraft, from 4 engine heavy bombers to the powerless gliders that would carry troops in, were involved in the invasion in one way or another.

    The major superlatives go on and on. But here, this former soldier would like to give the reader an idea about what went into the seaborne portion of the operation because so much emphasis has been placed on other aspects of the event in the past.

    Neptune, the code name for the massive amphibious operation and it’s supporting logistics, warships, landing ships and craft, and auxiliaries involved over 6,000 vessels and 1 million men. This does not include the ships and men required to keep the vital life line of supplies, weapons, and troops, from the US running across the Atlantic that would be necessary to sustain military operations once the troops were ashore. It was estimated that over 42 tons of materials would be required for each soldier put ashore in order to sustain operations on the European mainland and in the actual event the total supplied was more than that. Despite the most massive ship building surge in history in which the US was producing more ships and vessels than the rest of the nations of the world combined by the end of 1943, throughout WW II the key constraint on Allied planning of operations in all theaters was the amount of shipping and landing ships and craft available. So strategic planning through out the war was more a matter of what the Allies could do than what they wanted to do. The Allies had planned to invade Southern France at the same time they invaded Normandy but because of the shortage of shipping that operation was postponed so that the ships designated for it could instead be used for Neptune. And even with that measure taken Ike delayed the invasion of Normandy in order to gain a months production of the vital LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) and other landing craft. No operation in history better demonstrates that the old saying that “amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics” is a truism in the military art.

    171 embarkation ports were required for the ships and landing craft. Ports from as far north as Scotland, down the west coast to the Bristol Channel and along the southern coast of England and up the south east coast were packed full of landing craft and ships. For the big assault transports and ships the materials were loaded into their holds by cranes and then later most of the soldiers were shuttled to them in landing craft where they climbed aboard carrying their personal loads up the cargo nets they would descend to their landing craft once they prepared to land. Others boarded using gangways from the piers or the extendable ramps on the LCIs that they were boarding. The loading facilities were inadequate in many ports so 200 ramps called “hards” were constructed to allow the loading of the 20,000 vehicles on LSTS and landing craft that would cross the channel in the initial waves. Each hard was surfaced with 1,000s of 350 lb. concrete blocks installed one at a time. Many of these ramps survive today and are used by pleasure boaters. Typical of the items loaded across these hards was that put on LST-543 bound for Juno Beach, which took on 66 light and heavy trucks, 2 artillery pieces, 12 small tracked vehicles known as Bren Gun carriers, and 354 Canadian soldiers. Each vehicle had to be gingerly backed onto the vessel that would carry it and then secured to the deck with chains. It took an average of 2 1/2 hours to load an LST in this manner. The average personal equipment load for each soldier that would go ashore in the assault waves or drop from the sky by parachute or glider, regardless of nationality or the type of transport, was 68 lbs. (that figure does not include the weight of the parachutes used by the airborne troops.) While all this was going on the waters in some ports were so rough that soldiers on smaller vessels began puking before they even left port. Once the LSTs and other smaller landing craft were loaded as many as possible were covered by camouflage nets until it was time to depart and their human cargo waited in mounting winds and seas and cold rains.

    The time of departure for the various groupings of ship varied depending on the distance they had to travel, speed of the vessels, mission, and when they were scheduled to arrive off the invasion beaches. The very first ships would depart their port in Oban in northern Scotland days before the first amphibious vessels were loaded. They were the “corncobs”. The derelict ships being towed to be sunk in order to form the outer breakwater of the Mulberry artificial harbors. The next major contingent would be the more than 300 vital minesweepers tasked with clearing ten channels (two for each landing beach) to the invasion beaches. All but 32 of the minesweepers were from the Royal Navy but their escorts were US PT boats led by Lt. Commander Bulkeley who had earned a Medal of Honor for his exploits in the Philippines, including evacuating Gen. MacArthur. Behind each echelon of minesweepers followed smaller vessels dropping red and green buoys to mark the channels. After sweeping the channels the sweepers started working right off the beaches. Several would be lost to mines. Despite this massive effort loses to mines, while not reaching the pre-invasion estimate of the planners, would be significant and gruesome. In shallower waters the Germans had deployed “oyster” mines that were initiated by the pressure wave of a good sized vessel passing over it and could be set to allow several vessels pass over before detonating. In deeper waters they had laid some mines that actually bowed out of the way of the sweeping gear or were designed to damage that gear. The minesweepers efforts in their dangerous but usually little noted task, were not without notice. The Captain of the US Battleship Nevada wrote: that minesweepers “deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the successful accomplishment of the mission.” High praise from the Captain of a major fleet unit that would be praised for providing critical fire support for the US troops during their assault.

    But of all the ship types that provided fire support for the allied beaches it was the Destroyers with their fast firing 5″ and 4″ guns laying direct fire which above all others would prove their worth. They came in close to shore at Omaha beach scrapping their bottoms in order to see their targets through the heavy smoke and dust of the battle. So close that they could see where the few tanks that had survived were firing and use that as their reference to fire on targets they could not see. Several of these ships, ignoring orders issued based on previous plans, fired until they were almost completely out of ammunition for their primary armament. Their crews played the stream of fire hoses on their guns to keep them firing. Their contribution was noted by the Commander of the 1st Infantry Div. who said his veteran Division would have never gotten off Omaha beach without the heavy direct fire of the Destroyers that had risked coming in close and running aground and German artillery fire to lend critical direct fire support at the crucial time. IOW Omaha beach would have most likely have had to be abandoned without those smaller warships risking all to do a mission that had not been foreseen. That is a prime example of the spur of the moment initiative and innovation that wins battles.

    And it should never be forgotten how the young jr. naval and coast guard officers and enlisted coxswains who for the most part had not experienced battle before, and in many cases had not been adequately trained, pushed their landing craft through mined obstacles to deliver their charges to the beach. To them, both the successful and those that failed due to mines or enemy fire, equal accolades as those given to the warriors they transported, should be given.

    After the allies gained their toe holds the logistic battle really began. In the end despite the most powerful June storm to hit the English channel in over 100 years, that destroyed on Mulberry harbor and put the other out of action for weeks, and destroyed or damaged many vital landing vessels, they succeeded. By July 29th as the troops eliminated the last resistance at the channel port at Cherbourg, the allies delivered 23,000 tons of supplies over Utah and Omaha beaches. By the time the extensively demolished and mined port at Cherbourg had been cleared and was starting to become operational on August 1st, allied ships had landed 16,000 tons at Omaha beach that same day. That is exactly double the amount that was set as the goal for that beach in pre-invasion planning.

  3. RAH says:

    Another one I wrote earlier. This one about the Airborne portion of the invasion.
    I. Planning

    The tale of the planning of how and where to use the newly created Airborne Corp that the allies had for the Normandy invasion is long and twisted. The problem was that the whole concept of airborne envelopment was a rather recent development and so there was no real history or experience in its use on such a massive scale. The Allied commanders had no training or experience in the use of Airborne forces on such a large scale.

    The one time the Germans had used their single Airborne division had been for the invasion of the island of Crete in the Mediterranean. That was the largest Airborne invasion up to that time and had been successful but the casualties were so heavy for the troops and aircraft used that it was the last they tried. The ever sanguine Hitler told General Kurt Student, the creator and commander of the German Fallschirmjäger (Paratroop) units, that never again would he do it for a large assault.

    So Ike and his planners only had the history of smaller operations to go with and had to more or less set the precedent in what part the three Divisions of airborne troops would take in the most complex military operation ever attempted. Many ideas were put forth but in the end it was Ike that set the principle on how they would be used. He insisted that the Airborne troops be used to directly support the amphibious invasion and not deployed deep in France in an attempt to disrupt the German reinforcement efforts far in the rear as the US Chief of Staff Marshall had suggested or to be used away from the invasion area to create a diversion as some British planners envisioned.

    Still it was a very tough deal. The great German brain, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was in charge of the Atlantic Wall defenses in Normandy and elsewhere. He recognized how damaging the deployment of enemy airborne troops in the area immediately behind the Atlantic Wall beach defenses could be. And so he used every device at hand to deny such forces the best potential drop zones and landing zones in the areas behind the beach defenses. Large areas were flooded. Vast areas that had once been pasture or farm fields drained by drainage ditches were now covered with water. These flooded fields had vegetation of grasses and reeds growing up through the shallower areas and it served as perfect camouflage to hide the true expanse of the flooded areas from photos from above and so the planners did not know the how far the flooded areas truly extended. Even in the areas where the water was not deep the ditches were hidden and deep enough to be over a mans head. They were death traps for many a heavily loaded paratrooper.

    Poles with mines on top were erected in the higher and thus dryer fields and were called “Rommel Asparagus”. In some areas cables were strung between the tops of these Asparagus poles. Other places were mined. They would all take a heavy toll of both paratroops and glider troops.

    II. Ike’s Other Great Decision.

    Most people know something about the great decision to postpone the invasion a day due to the weather but many may no know of the other great decision Eisenhower had to make in the 11th hour concerning the American airdrop plan. As time for the invasion came closer Ike’s chief Air Commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, became ever more pessimistic about the chances of the airborne planned operations to be successful. He had protested the plan for the use of the airborne troops back in April and with the invasion looming his doubts and fears for their fate became even more pronounced. So on May 30th, he approached Ike and let his fears be known once again. He feared that the two fine American Airborne division were to be sacrificed in a “fatal slaughter” He believed the combination of unsuitable landing grounds combined with the anticipated resistance was just too much for the troops to overcome. Ike wrote later that “… Mallory was, of course earnestly sincere. He was noted for his personal courage and was merely giving me, as was his duty, his frank convictions”.

    Everyone in high command knew the airborne operations, and in particular those in the American sector were very hazardous operations. The aircraft, many with gliders in tow, would have to avoid the invasion fleet in order to prevent a possible repeat of what had happened in Sicily. Their routes would take them by the channel islands where they would first be exposed to antiaircraft fire. Then they would have to fly across the Cherbourg Peninsula at less that 1,000 feet in full moon light over country where the German anti aircraft fire was normally heavy and put the troops where German units were known to be concentrated.

    The transport aircraft, C-47s and C-46s, were not armored in any way and didn’t even have self sealing fuel tanks. The British made Horsa gliders that many American units were to use were made primarily of wood and the US made WACO CG-4 gliders were made of plywood, aluminum tube and canvas. Neither offered any protection. (The only glider armored for D-day was the CG-4 that carried Brig. General Pratt, Artillery commander of the 101st Abn. Div. That armored plate on the bottom of his gilder probably cost him his life as it greatly altered the flight characteristics of the glider and probably resulted in the subsequent crash in which he was killed instantly and all others in the craft killed or seriously wounded. Pratt was the highest ranking allied Casualty on D-day.)

    Ike was worried. His expert on the subject was telling him not to do it. He talked to Lt. Gen. Omar Bradly about it. Bradly told Ike “It’s [the airborne operations] risky, of course, but not half as risky as landing on Utah Beach without it….”. And that was really the bottom line. Ike thought about it overnight but it always came back to that. He later wrote “It would be difficult to conceive of a more soul-racking problem….. If I deliberately disregarded the advice of my technical expert on the subject, and his predictions should prove accurate, then I would carry to my grave the unbearable burden of a conscience justly accusing me of the stupid, blind sacrifice of thousands of the flower of our youth.”

    But in the end he agreed with Bradly that without the Airborne troops the landings on the American beaches would most likely fail. So he had to say the airborne operations go on because risking 17,000 American airborne troops lives was the only way he felt the invasion had a chance of succeeding. The next morning he picked up the telephone and rang up Chief Air Marshal Mallory, and thanking him for his concern told him the invasion would proceed as planned.

    III. Troop Carrier Command

    Meanwhile as this was going on the airborne units were locked up in their compounds at their airfields. These compounds were wired and guarded my MPs. Hardly no one was allowed in or out. The planners called these areas “sausages” because of the shape of the symbol on their maps showing their locations.

    Isolated with the troops in the sausages were the pilots of Troop Carrier Command that would fly them. After D-day much criticism rained down on the heads of the surviving pilots and their commanders because of the scattered and confused nature of the drop. Was it justified? I don’t really think so. A survey done by one historian showed that no pilot that flew a transport on D-day had less than 400 hours flight time and all the command pilots had 800 hours or more. 60% of the aircraft lacked navigators so the pilots had to do it themselves. The pilots with and without paratroops had practiced their roles time and again. They perhaps could have had more flight time at night but their greatest weakness was they had never flown under fire in daylight, let alone night time when with the bright tracers flying past them and shrapnel and shells hitting their aircraft. There was really no practical way for them to have gotten that experience. And rare indeed is the individual whose reaction to being under fire for the first time can be predicted.

    Besides the enemy fire and lack of night flying experience in those early morning hours of D-day they had to contend with a solid cloud bank that stretched right across their route for 22 miles along the west coast obscuring their first planned landmarks and preventing them knowing exactly where they were crossing the coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula. While in the cloud bank they were under fire but once they came into clear air the antiaircraft fire became very intense and accurate. To make matters worse hardly any of the DZs and LZs were properly marked if marked at all because the Pathfinder paratroopers that were to have marked them had mostly missed their drop zones and many landmarks were obscured by a low hanging opaque ground fog.

    It should also be recognized that for the aircrew that survived the first drop and returned to their airfields with intact aircraft or one that could be quickly repaired, they would have to do it all over again. All the paratroops were in but the majority of the gliders filled with troops, jeeps, or artillery, still had to be towed and released near their LZs. They had to go into the anti-aircraft fire again but this time towing one or two gliders.

    IV. The Day of Days.

    Finally after years of training and months of preparation the time slowly approached for the aircrew, paratroopers and some glider troops to saddle up, rig up, and climb aboard their aircraft. For many a strong young man it would be the the few hours before the last day of their lives, for others who survived the war it would be the day of their lives that they would and could never forget.

    Ike issued his own Great Crusade address which was printed and handed out to the troops. At most of the airborne sausages the commanders gave some kind of pep talk to their troops. General Tayor, commander of the 101st Abn. Div told his troops that on no account must they allow themselves to be captured the the enemy. Col. Howard Johnson the CO of the 501st PIR Pulled his Bowie knife from his waist and held it over his head and yelled “I swear to you that before the dawn of another day this knife will be stuck in the foulest Nazi belly in France!” His assembled troops yelled back “We’re with you!” But I think that perhaps the best came from Col. Sink Commander of the 506th PIR of the 101st Abn. Div. he distributed his thoughts to his command on paper. It said:

    “Soldiers of the Regiment:
    Today as you read this, you are enroute to that great adventure for which you have trained for over two years. Tonight is the night of nights. Tomorrow morning through out the whole of our homeland and the Allied world, the bells will ring out our tidings that you have arrived and the invasion for liberation has begun.
    The hopes and prayers of your dear ones accompany you. The rears of the Germans are about to become reality.
    Let us strike hard. When the going is tough, let us go harder. Imbued with faith in the rightness of our cause and the power of our might, let us annihilate the enemy where found.
    May God be with each of you fine soldiers. By your actions let us justify His faith in use.
    R.F. Sink, Colonel. ”

    Meanwhile Ike choose to go see a Regiment of the 101st Abn. as they waited the time for their departure. After having visited South Parade Pier in Portsmouth in the morning to observe the loading of hundreds of British troops Ike returned to his HQ. From there his pretty red headed driver Kay Summersby, chauffeured him in his big Packard staff car to RAF Greenham Common where some of the 101st Abn. Division was awaiting the order to rig up and saddle up.

    A great cheer and waves and whoops came from the Paratroopers when they saw Ike and he walked among the strong young men with their faces blackened, card board placards with their stick numbers on them around their necks and the pockets of their uniforms stuffed full of the things they thought they would need with first aid dressing tied to the camouflage nets of the helmets and talked to them. Ike later told Kate that “It’s very hard to look a soldier in eye when you fear that your are sending him to his death”. Ike actually revealed his concern for them and was bolstered by their response. One said “It’s the Krauts that ought to be worrying now!” another said “Look out Hitler, here we come!” Ike later wrote “I found the men to be in fine fettle, many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause to worry, since the 101st was on the job and everything would be taken care of in fine shape”

    There were no inspirational speeches, no profundities. Just a man, a commander, chain smoking and walking around talking frankly to his soldiers and shacking their hands. There were a lot of smiles exchanged and good natured banter and pats on the shoulders and that was it. But it fortified the Supreme Commander more than anything else he did on June 5th. It was as if a part of the huge weight he had been carrying had been taken off his shoulders by those strong young confident smiling men. And that night Ike would settle down in his bed with a good western story. For now there was not a damned thing further he could do.

    At many sausages the men prayed before rigging up and boarding their aircraft. At all of them the paratroopers were overloaded so that they had more than their own weight in equipment, weapons, supplies and parachute attached to their bodies. In some places the soldiers cut their hair in Mowhawk Indian style and used the still wet black and white paint on the aircraft invasions stripes as war paint.

    All over SW England they knew the time had come. 1,000s upon 1,000s of British stepped out of their homes and looked up as the combined roar of the engines of the greatest air armada to have ever grace the skies passed over. They had all previously heard and seen the great waves of bombers leaving for their raids on Hitler’s “fortress without a roof”, but this was different. This was bigger! Much bigger. The power of the engines vibrated the air around them and the ground they stood on.

    For years they had endured hardships and uncertainty and bad news. They had feared an invasion of their own homeland and suffered through the bombings. And now, NOW was what they hoped would be the beginning of the beginning of the end of it all. The aircraft some saw and heard above carried loved ones. They carried their countrymen. But most of them carried the Americans.

    The Yanks that had lived around many of them, and with quite a few in their homes, drank their pubs dry, courted their girls, and spread their money about. Yes getting used to the Yanks had taken some forbearance and some were bitter about it. But most saw young men that they had become every bit as fond of as if they were their own. All of them, bitter or concerned, or even scared for a lover knew that what was happening was like nothing that had ever happened in the history of man kind and that their own fates and that of their own nation was directly tied to what was going to happen in the next 24 hours.

  4. Richard Keen says:

    RAH, fabulous story you tell here. I’ve been reading about D-day since I was five, and can never get enough of this to appreciate what those fellows did that day. Several of the dads in my neighborhood in Philadelphia were in on the endeavor, including one who is still “over there”.
    “The Allied invasion of Normandy remains to this day the most complex military operation ever carried out.” Fortunately a true statement, and remains that way thanks to a couple of millisecond flashes a year after D-day. The invasion of Japan would have made Normandy look like practice, and I’m sure that quite a few more of the neighborhood dads – perhaps even mine – would be “over there” still.
    BTW, since this is a climate blog, the weather connection to the success of the invasion is fascinating. The allied forecasters (including one who I’ve met and talked to several times) prediction was for better conditions on June 6 than actually occurred, so Ike gave the order and the invasion proceeded in marginal conditions. Rommel got a more pessimistic forecast, figured no one would attempt an invasion that day, and left for his wife’s birthday back in Germany. So in effect the Germans stood down, sort of.
    Four months after D-day, Rommel was dead; 9 years later Ike was president of the USA. The reputations of both of these worthy opponents remain favorable.

    • RAH says:

      In the end the generals and their staffs can plan but on the battlefield it’s the lower ranking officers and the men that determine the outcome. On no battlefield in history is that fact made more clear than D-day Normandy. Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and Norman Cota were the only generals whose decisions or actions had any effect on the outcome on the beaches on D-day. Omar Bradley and M.C. Dempsey on their command ships miles off the beaches were as isolated from their actual troops and events as Ike was still back in England. The great machine that the generals and their staffs had constructed would grind on, and it was up to those below them, often led by NCOs, to make the adaptations, take the initiative, and do the tasks they saw had to be done, regardless of prior orders, to accomplish the missions and make the operation a success.

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