The War Illustrated, No. 238, Vol. 10, August 2nd 1946

'rent Stories o f the War Heioltl (heN spring o f 1943, when the war's end seemed even farther away th.an it was, B ritain's Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, went to Washington to meet another great war­ time leader o f freemen, President Roosevelt. With their Chiefs o f Staff they discussed the final shape of the amphibious operation that alone could place the Allied armies back in western Europe. Among the select and brilliant band of planners, the word “Over­ lord ”rose up alike star. For those who thought mainly o f the sea there was another word that both guided and inspired them ,“N eptune.” “Overlord ”covered the whole operation o f invasion, “Neptune ”its naval phase. Following these two bright stars, which held the destinies o f many peoples, men laboured day and night for fourteen months. They overcame im m ense'difficulties no problem was too great, no consideration too small. Then, in the first week o f June 1944, with more at stake than thousands o f m en’s lives, they put the results o f their long and arduous labours to the test. Few o f those who took part in the main attack on Hitler’s stronghold knew more than the shape o f their own tiny piece in the great jig-saw. In fitting that in, they were prepared to strive to the utmost, but “Over­lord ”and “Neptune ”—the whole puzzle— remained as remote as the stars to them .They did not know the answers, and some of them never will. How Could W e Hope For Surprise ?At the beginning o f that fateful year there were rehearsals off our shores which the Germans were able to approach closely enough to sink at least two L.S.T.s. They did it withE boats. It was but an incident o f the preparation, but men who had known such incidents naturally wondered what would bethe outcome o f “the real thing.” How could we hope for surprise ?How could we get onto beaches thickly strewn with obstacles and mines ?How could we hope to maintain supplies without a major port in our hands? ‘The queries, if.o n e thought for a little while, were endless. Today it is possible to answer many o f those questions. Neither the smooth success with were carried through detract one iota from the magnificent achievement o f D and its plus days. Here we are considering action rather than plan­ning and first credit, perhaps, should togo those intrepid men who walked the Normandy beaches while watchful Germans still manned their front inline full strength. In small boats and by night they pulled onto the soft sands, scrambled ashore and made careful investiga­tion o f the first obstacles the invasion armies would have to overcome. The in v a ions o f Nor mandy the answers nor which nnr By GORDON HOLMAN From the headquarters ship H.M .S. Hilary the author, a war corres­pondent who was twice mentioned in dispatches, saw the troops go into attack on June 6,1944. Their reports added detail to the informa­tion obtained by daring R.A .F. reconnais­sance flights. The flyers brought back photographs, taken only a few feet above the beaches, which revealed clearly the explosive charges fixed to the tops o f the angular metal obstructions before 'D -Day we knew that many o f them were French shells adapted for anew defensive purpose. It was impossible to hide from the enemy— indeed, little attempt was made in those latter days— the fact that invasion was coming. Security, therefore., was chiefly concerned with the two vital secrets o f time and place. C outhf.rn and western England were steadily built up into one vast camp of armed men, with guns, tanks and vehicles almost beyond number. There can belittle doubt now that security was maintained to an amazing degree. Field-M arshal von R undstedt has said “We could not tell where the landing would come.” That we more than planned for success on D-D ay is revealed by his further admission that should always give satisfaction to the men who carried out the pre-invasion air offensive against the enemy. “Our reserves were not so dispersed that I could not have met the D-Day landing, even though it surprised us, except for the fact that we had no mobility, and could not bring up our reserves,” the Field-M arshal, as a prisoner o f war, said. “Between Paris and Rouen there was not a single bridge across the Seine.” A river upheld the Germans. Four years earlier, the narrow straits between England and France had proved an unsurm ount- able barrier although the defences on our shores were o f the flimsiest character. In the face o f long preparations and a knowledge gained in grim and deadly battles, we had to cross eighty to a hundred miles o f sea tn Mf*livpr n n r neennit F-'nrfnn:ilf>lu fn rn« history has proved that land power and sea power are two entirely different things. But they can be made to function together. The damaging raids o four Special Service troops had left no doubt o f this in Hitler’s mind. But the sea and its ways cannot be mastered through textbooks, and even the thoroughness of the Wehrmacht applied to the German Navy could not give that understanding of the sea which is a natural asset o fan island people. For the invasion, it had to be interpreted into the handling o f ships. There were leaders o f unrivalled knowledge, such as the late Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, C.-in-C. o four naval invasion forces, to carry on our naval tradition. But by far the greater number o f those who handled the 5,143 vessels that engaged in the great assault were men from civilian life. Bank clerks and butchers, schoolmasters and stockbrokers, bus drivers and garage hands took the little ships in. And, by some instinct, they had a sounder conception o f sea power than the German generals who disposed the forces waiting on the farther shore. Strong Tide a Natural Obstacle The strong tide flowing up and down the English channel was a natural obstacle to the invasion. It created many and varied problems. What would suit atone state of the tide was quite useless at another. To the last, the Germans probably believed that we could only overcome those difficulties by capturing a port. And, as we saw later inC herbourg and elsewhere, they made quite certain that any port we did succeed in capturing would be useless for sometime. Between the ports along the gently sloping beaches o f the Bay o f the Seine they putdown their m ines—contact mines, drag mines, magnetic mines and other varieties. Behind those they had their steel and wooden stakes and their long scaffolding of steel tubes. On the beaches were buried mines, and then came sunken concrete sentry boxes, pill­boxes, gun emplacements, barbed wire, mined fields and roads and siege guns. T o assault this massive barrier the planners built up five Task Forces. The three to the cast o f the assault area were British and, for“ O peration N ep tune,” came under the direct rnm miinfl P A/Imir*iI ^ir Philin Vinn BEACH OBSTACLES were still being erected by Germans along the French coast as an anti­ invasion measure in the first days of June 1944. Spotted aR.A.by F .reconnaissance aircraft, a working-party is seen scattering for cover. I'holo, liritish Official PAGE 227
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