This is a continuation of the previous D-Day lessons post based on the book, D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Batle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose.
Here are some more tidbits from the book that offer lessons relevant to today’s amphibious assault concerns.
Rommel had an interesting view of the decisive moment to defeat an amphibious assault and how to accomplish it.
“Drawing on his experience in North Africa, Rommel told his chief engineer officer, Gen. Wilhelm Meise, that Allied control of the air would prevent the movement of German reinforcements to the battle area, so ‘Our only possible chance will be at the beaches – that’s where the enemy is always weakest.’ As a start on building a genuine Atlantic Wall, he said, ‘I want antipersonnel mines, antitank mines, antiparatroops mines. I want mines to sink ships, and mines to sink landing craft. I want some minefields designed to that our infantry can cross them, but no enemy tanks. I want mines that detonate when a wire is tripped; mines that explode when a wire is cut; mines that can be remote controlled, and mines that will blow up when a beam of light is interrupted.”
Rommel’s focus was clearly on mines. Even today, mines remain, arguably, the most potent, affordable, anti-assault weapon available. Despite this, the USN has allowed its mine countermeasure (MCM) assets to dwindle to a nearly non-existent state. The Navy has, currently, only 11 Avenger class MCM vessels and some helo squadrons to counter countries that are believed to have hundreds of thousands of mines available for use.
Consider the Navy’s current MCM resources versus those the Allies used to accomplish the D-Day assault.
“The first to move out were the minesweepers. Their job was to sweep up along the English coast in case the Luftwaffe and E-boats had dropped mines in the area, then proceed to clear five channels for the separate assault forces (O, U, G, J, and S), marking them with lighted dan buoys spaced at one-mile intervals along the 400-meter-wide channels, and finally clear the area in which the transports would anchor off the beaches. There were 245 vessels involved in this mammoth sweeping job.”
The D-Day assault used 245 vessels for just the minesweeping portion of the operation. The Navy has 11 Avenger MCM vessels and some helos. Does anyone see any hope of conducting an opposed assault by a country with thousands of deployed mines? Also, note that the D-Day minesweeping operation had to be completed in just a few hours in order to get the troops ashore before the element of surprise was lost. Contrast that to the current LCS minesweeping effort which clears mines at the rate of about one mine per hour per LCS. Do the math. We have absolutely no hope of executing effective minesweeping operations in a relevant time frame today.
One of the interesting aspects of the D-Day assault was the debate concerning the use of airborne troops (paratroops). Eisenhower’s view on airborne troops was,
“… an airborne force well inland would not be self-contained, would lack mobility, and would therefore be destroyed. The Germans had shown time and again, in the war that they did not fear a ‘strategic threat of envelopment.’ Using the road nets of Western Europe, they could concentrate immense firepower against an isolated garrison and defeat it in detail. … An inland airborne force, cut off from all supply except what could be brought in by air, without tanks or trucks, immobile and inadequately armed, would be annihilated.”
Again, this a warning to the modern strategist/tactician that airborne assaults such as the Marine Corps is now proposing are a very risky proposition and suited only for very short, very low end combat operations. The Marines need to carefully re-examine their desire for aviation based assaults.
The role of naval gunfire was recognized by the German defenders. Responding to Rommels desire to entrench the Panzer divisions on the coast rather than use them for mobile and powerful counterattack forces, Gen. Heinz Guderian, Hitler’s panzer expert, had this to say to Rommel.
“He advised Rommel to pull the tanks back out of range of Allied naval guns. He insisted that the lesson from the Sicily and Salerno landings was crystal clear – the Germans could not fight a decisive battle while they were under those naval guns. Guderian knew that an amphibious force is not at its most vulnerable when it is half ashore, half at sea. It is at its most powerful at that time, thanks to those big naval guns.”
Thus, we see the power of naval gunfire in the minds of the German defenders (at least some of them!). While this lesson would and should apply today, the sad reality is that the Navy has NO naval gunfire capability. Even the paltry 5” guns on Burkes are useless in an amphibious assault scenario since doctrine has the ships standing 25-50 miles out to sea, beyond the range of the guns!
British Gen. Montgomery summed up the requirements for success in the assault at a pre-assault planning meeting,
“Montgomery said, ‘We have the initiative. We must rely on:
(a) the violence of our assault.
(b) our great weight of supporting fire from the sea and the air.
(d) robust mentality.’ “
It’s interesting that the first two requirements are about providing an overwhelming degree of explosives, to put it bluntly. This is nearly opposite of today’s combat philosophy of focused, narrow power with an emphasis on minimizing collateral damage. Further, we are designing smaller, less powerful weapons rather than larger, more powerful ones.
Equally fascinating is the requirement for simplicity. Again, this is completely at odds with today’s dependence on exquisitely aligned networks, data, databases, communications, and coordination. Of course, come combat, none of that will work and we’ll revert to simplicity but we seem unable to grasp that concept today, preferring to focus on our fantasies of clean, analytical, surgical combat with minimal effort and no casualties.
We see, then, that the historical example of D-Day offers many lessons that are still relevant today. Yes, technology may have altered a few of the lessons but the alterations are more a matter of degree than obsolescence.
I’ll offer a few more posts of this nature based on this book. D-Day and its lessons are too important to leave in the dustbin of history.