Landing craft and tanks at Omaha beach during the D-Day landings, many of which had departed from Penarth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We talked a bit yesterday about how Operation Overlord was such a near run operation. It was, but not because there was a shortage of men, nearly all the troops who would fight in Europe were already in England. The problem was getting them to battle. You see going in and across the beach is not like getting off a cruise ship, particularly since people are inclined to shoot at you.
There were (and are) a whole series of boats and ships designed to do this from the LCVP which could hold about 30 men, to the big LST which was (is)a sea-going ship which could be beached and doors in the front opened and everything up to battle tanks driven off. But where did these come from?
Mostly we got lucky, because nobody expected the French to totally collapse in 1940, even those who thought we would have to intervene were planning on sending the troops and materiél to Cherbourg and the other ports just like we had in 1917-8. That calculus went out the window when France surrendered.
But there was a bunch of men who were thinking that we might have to fight Japan, and to do that we were going to have to invade islands. The Army had done this back to the Mexican War and again in the Spanish-American War but where horses could swim, trucks and tanks (with some exceptions, but not many) can’t.
So who were these guys? They were the United States Marine Corps. They had a problem, the army absolutely detested them because the Marine Battalion got that publicity back at Belleau Wood. One of the (very few) things that Truman and MacArthur agreed on was that the USMC had gotten all they publicity they needed for all eternity in 1918. The other problem was that other than intervening off and on in Latin America and doing some stuff in China they didn’t have much of a mission. It’s tough being sort of the second army in a country that doesn’t want to pay for the first one.
So they decided to create themselves a mission, they got some help from the Navy, after all they did belong to them, sort of an unwanted stepchild but still. Anyway in the 30s a guy by the name of Andrew Higgins, a Louisiana lumberman developed a boat for work in swamps and such by trappers and oil well people, although there were and are persistent rumors that it was fairly effective at illegally importing alcohol during prohibition as well. Anyway the Marines liked it and championed its development, including adding a front ramp, which allowed it to carry things up to a jeep and trailer along with a 12 man squad, and allowed the quick disembarkation, compared with going over the side, anyway. This is the origin of the LCVP.
Without writing a book here, you can see this was kind of a shoestring operation, remember the army was using broomsticks for rifles up till Pearl Harbor, and such, there just wasn’t any money to be had during the depression, the navy/marine corps team kept plugging away, designing, testing when they could, because they felt, practically to a man, that they were going to have to fight Japan, and so it proved. The army sort of turned up it’s nose and said whatever, and concentrated on those big infantry divisions and started to think about replacing the horses with armored vehicles and such, but in truth, they didn’t have any money either.
Then France fell, Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Philippines surrendered, and all of these calamities meant that we were going to be doing a lot of invading, if we were going to win. The good thing was that landing craft could be built nearly anywhere, LCVPs could be loaded on a truck, if you needed to (that’s how Monty crossed the Rhine) and the bigger ones could move on surprisingly small rivers, LSTs (I think) were built all up and down the Ohio River and went down to New Orleans to go to sea.
But there were never enough, because they were a bit of an unloved stepchild, they got little advocacy, and had trouble getting the priorities they needed, but soon the lack started telling everybody what they couldn’t do, they limited the landing in North Africa, in Sicily, at Overlord itself, and in truth, what they wanted to do was invade the south of France (Operation Dragoon)at the same time. Can you say Cannae written really, really large.
Of course, Rome fell on 05 June, and it had only been a few weeks since the Anzio lodgement had been relieved thus free up the landing craft that had supported that beached whale. Some of those craft went to England but, most supported Dragoon. And if you look at the war there were no more big assaults until the Philippines around the 1st of November. Why? because the Armies in northern France were being supported across the beaches, when they finally took Brest, the port was quite thoroughly destroyed, and when 21st Army Group took Antwerp they failed to clear the Scheldt Estuary thus the port remained useless. Marseilles was used of course but worked better for direct shipment from the US than transhipment from the UK.
There were bright spots, the British designed a rapidly deployed underwater pipeline that helped a lot with fuel, but the success of the air campaign, which was essential to get the troops ashore also meant that the French railroads were pretty much useless. Thus almost all of 3d Army’s supplies roared all the way across France by truck convoy. It’s interesting to note that at this date in late 1944, the German and Russian armies were still mostly horse-drawn while the British and Americans were pretty much completely mechanized. And that’s what stopped 3d Army, it ran out of gas.
Did it matter? I don’t know, Eisenhower wanted to bring his armies up more or less evenly, and I’m inclined to think it was a good idea considering what happened in the Ardennes that winter. Could the shock of an American army taking a German city in November have ended the war? In my judgement, No, not as long as Hitler lived. Eisenhower was right, I think.
There’s an old saying, “Amateurs study tactics,
Professionals study Logistics”
- The Great Crusade: Remembering D-Day (evergreeninstitute.wordpress.com)
- The Mighty Endeavor (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)
- June 6, 1944… (cyclophily.wordpress.com)
- Phoenix Culture: A Brief Biography of Ira Hayes (local.answers.com)
- D-Day and New Orleans (southernerds.com)