Military History/WW2 strategies

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Question
Mr.Patton what strategies did the Americans use on d day

Answer
Timothy:

A little explanation is in order. The military uses different words to define things the do at different levels.  So, strategy is at the highest level.  FDR and Churchill, along with their chiefs of staff, defined the strategy of "Germany First". Which meant they were going to defeat Germany before Japan.

Next they had to define a strategy that would accomplish that.  Since they did not have the ships or troops trained to invade France at that time. So they decided instead to carry out a strategy of nibbling around fortress Europe attacking outlying areas, while undertaking an strategic bomber offensive.  

Okay, the next level of military movements is called an Operation. These are movements of Armies and Divisions in order to carry out the strategy. They carried out Operation Torch, The invasion of Morocco to help them carry out the strategy of securing North AFrica and securing the Mediterranean. This was followed by an invasion of Sicily: Operation Husky, followed by Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy.

When Operation Overlord the invasion of France took place, enough ships and men had been accumulated that they felt they could take on the Germans head on.

Okay, so now, I think what you are really asking is what TACTICs were used on D-Day.

Some more explanation is needed.  Tactics are how soldiers in squads, platoons, companies and battalions fight. Each army has its own preferred tactics.  Tactics change as troops in the field learn from experience.

Initially tactics are formulated by Doctrine. Doctrine is formed by the equipment the army, air force or navy develop. It has always been that way. During Napoleonic times, cavalry was no longer used so much to charge and trample the lines of infantry like it had been used in Medieval times.  Why? Because cannon and rifles could now massacre cavalry.  During the first part of the Napoleonic wars heavy cavalry did break lines of infantry, but infantry developed the new Tactic of forming squares, with lines of bayonets holding off the cavalry on all sides while other men fired their guns at the stationary cavalry trying to force their way into the squares.

After enough cavalry was killed they realized it needed to be held in reserve until the infantry was broken and they used for exploitation and pursuit or running down the enemy and prevent them from reforming a new line and annihilate them.  

Those tactics became part of doctrine.

Unfortunately most armies fought the next war using outdated tactics and doctrine because they ignored new developments in weapons.

So when the US civil war started, troops still marched in groups but guns were now five times more accurate than they were only ten years before. The rifled musket was good out to 500 yards and shooting at a group of men 30 meters on a front and six deep meant you were going to hit something.  During the Napoleonic times the smooth bore musket was good out to maybe 50-100 meter which is why they all fired together.

Fast forward to WWI. The Brits, and Colonial, that is Canadians, Australians and Kiwis were all using the same doctrine and tactics.  The main doctrine was offensive, and it said that the attack needed to be carried home with the bayonet. It was almost an ego thing. The Brits had a reputation going back several hundred years about their fearlessness and ferocity in the bayonet charge.

Well that's good, but now the Germans had machine guns, and they adopted it in greater numbers than the British army which went into the war with fewer than 1200 of them.  The Germans quickly updated their doctrine and tactics to include vast numbers of machineguns.  They realized that one machinegun could put out as much fire as a whole company of rifle armed men.

The British and French lost tens of thousands of men before they started to deploy MGs in large numbers. Even after they did, their tactics on attack changed little and they were still telling their men to charge German machine guns with what amounted to a spear" a bayonet on a rifle!

Okay, after millions of casualties things in the doctrine department improved, but then so did the weapons. At the start of WWII Brits, Frogs, Canadians and the US were still behind the Germans in thinking of new tactics and doctrine to keep up with new weapons, namely tanks and metal aircraft.  The Germans blended them all together in what is today called "combined arms" doctrine, where air, artillery, armor and infantry all work together to achieve superiority on a small area of the battlefield to achieve a breakthrough and then exploitation.  

The Germans realized in WWII that tanks worked best in large numbers to achieve breakthroughs.

The US, Britain, Russians, and French all spread their tanks out in small numbers to support their infantry, so they were greatly out numbered by the German tanks, at what they called the Schwerepunkt! or decisive point.  In action there might be 12 allied tanks going up against 60 German tanks.

The Allies insisted in spreading their tanks out, and finally adopted a two pronged doctrine of having both infantry support tanks AND large numbers of tanks in large formations called armored divisions. The Germans changed to that too, by developing "Assault guns" or turretless tanks used for infantry support.

Okay, so you probably understand how doctrine works. Some times the army gets it wrong and has to change what they thought would work, and do it in the middle of a war.  The US army had to do that with regard to tank destroyers.  They thought anti tank guns and TDs could stop German tanks and that the job of a tank was not to fight other tanks, but to support infantry. So this led them to design a tank that was under gunned and under armored later in the war. This was the same tank, the Sherman that the Brits and Colonials had decided to use to, so there were many design changes.  The Canadians and Brits had their own versions of the Sherman that were different from the ones used by the US. They had more armor in places and better armor piercing guns.  They even had different engines. I can't go into all the details why here, but I am using it as an example of how doctrine changes due to weapons choices and whether or not they are successful.

Okay. D-Day.

Tactics, or how the Allies fought changed from their respective landing beaches.  The Brits designed "funnies" or armored vehicles for special purposes, mine sweepers, amphibious tanks, engineering tanks and so on.  Some were purpose designed for conditions they knew were going to be encountered on their beaches. Some were given to the Canadians, and Americans too.

Now, on Gold, Sword, and Juno, on the left or northern flank, the Allies operational plan called for British and Canadian troops to seize Caen and secure the left flank of the landing area. Bridges were seized across canals and rivers to prevent German reinforcements from arriving.  On the south or right flank, the US landings at Omaha and Utah beaches were carried out in a similar fashion. The beaches were to be secured, troops pushed inland in order to link up with Airborne forces that had landed the night before to seize bridges to prevent German reinforcement. American forces were supposed to sieze a key town at the base of the Cherbourg Peninsula, Carenton, and turn north and capture Cherbourg to secure the port to supply the landing forces.  

None of this worked as planned.  Caen was not secured until weeks after it was supposed to be. German Panzer divisions attacked the British and Canadian end of the landing area. The Allies predicted this since Caen was a key city. So the Brit and Canadian forces were "armor heavy" meaning they had more tanks than normal.  They lost hundreds and hundreds of tanks, but bled the German Panzer formations white.  Allied air forces harassed German forces and made it nearly impossible for them to move in daylight and to get normal resupply.

Lets go back a minute and look at the landings again.

The DD tank, or amphibious duplex drive tank was a funny that kinda worked.  It was a tank fitted with a canvas sleeve. Kind of like attaching a canvas swimming pool around a 20 ton tank to help it float.  The tank was equipped with a propeller the second drive, in the name, so it could run off a landing ship off shore and swim to the beach.  Well most of them were lost and a lot of men drowned because the waves and weather were so bad. The canvas rings collapsed and the tanks sunk.  There are still quite a few off the Normandy beaches on the bottom.

That was to support the tactic of infantry and tank attacks.  The tanks were equipped with a 75mm high explosive firing cannon that was perfect for taking out pillboxes or running over barbed wire beach obstacles.

Another tactic was the use of the Bangalore Torpedoe. The combat engineers had long metal tubes filled with explosive.  The could attach them end to end and slid them under barbed wire and detonate them, cutting a path through the wire.  Today they have tanks that fire a long hose filled with explosive and it cuts wire and detonates a path through minefields.

The funnies were used to clear paths through mine field with large rollers, or flails, rotating barrels with chains attacted that beat the ground to explode mines.

There were a few flame throwers on the beach, but not many.  There were a few flame throwing tanks as well, and the units assigned were taught special tactics on how best to use them.

Years ago I read a book by Ballentine called Secret Weapons of WWII.  The cover picture was a painting of the Panjumdrum. It was a "funnie" that looked like a very large probably ten foot high wooden wire spool, the kind the electric company gets their heavy wire on except it was made of steel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panjandrum


Attached to the sides were rockets. the inside connector between the sides was filled with explosive. The rockets turned the side wheel parts and the operator steered the contraption with wires connected to the sides controlling the rockets to turn it.

The idea was a LST would land this big rolling wire spool would come charging out and be steered to crash into the sea wall, and explode, blowing a massive blooding hole in it big enough to drive a tank through it. It didn't work and was scrapped.

Two last things.  The battle for the beaches was fairly standard, but the Brits adopted a strategy of attrition, to destroy the German Armored forces while losing a lot themselves.

This took place while the US forces staged to break out of the lodgment. Operation Cobra was planned and to break the German lines it was decided to carpet bomb a large area with strategic bombers and then plunge Gen. Patton's 3rd Army through the hole.  This worked pretty much as planned and led to the near bagging of the entire German Army Group at Fallise.  They were encircled by US, Polish, Canadian and British forces.  Some escaped due to overcaution about friendly fire casualties and the infamous Fallise "Gap" occurred through which a lot of German forces escaped to fight again.

In past wars, both US, British and Canadian armies learned by hard experience, what worked and what didn't.  Today most armies, have a training and doctrine command, which keep up with changes and recommends and develops tactics and new training.

I hope this clarifies things for you.

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Keith H. Patton

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I can answer questions pertaining to weapons and tactics, personalities, battles, and strategies in european and U.S. history.

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I was a history major, and had done extensive research in the subject area. I have designed and tested numerous computer games for various
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B.A History M.S. Science
I have had the opportunity to live abroad and walk numerous battlefields both in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific.

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