Normandy: A Modern Air Campaign?

By Hughes, Thomas Alexander | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Normandy: A Modern Air Campaign?


Hughes, Thomas Alexander, Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: The air war for western France during World War II adds a relevant perspective to modern issues of command and control and the current stress on air and space operations centers. It also serves as a shining example of expeditionary air operations. Questions concerning the Normandy air war, as shaped by current beliefs, assumptions, and arguments about air warfare, mine a campaign rich in lessons that resonate for today's air warrior.

IN 2001 AND 2002, groups of Air Force officer and enlisted personnel assigned to United States Air Forces in Europe participated in staff rides in Normandy, France. These men and women traveled across terrain their air-arm ancestors flew above-and dominated-nearly 60 years ago as part of Operation Overlord, the climactic invasion of western France during World War II. These rides offered opportunities to learn something of the history and heritage of the Air Force, for seniors to mentor juniors, and for all to interact in informal settings. Along the way, stories of individual heroism, devotion to duty, and dogged determination rose from the old Allied airfields of England and Normandy. But these rides were more than elaborate retreats, important as those are to the body and soul of any organization. The rides also explored matters of the Normandy air campaign that resonate today. The air war for western France, long ago though it was, adds perspective to modern issues of command and control, underscores current stress on air and space operations centers (AOC), implies the transcendent characteristics of the simultaneity of airpower and effects-based operations, and offers a shining example of expeditionary air operations.

Change occurs over time, of course. But the relevance of the past is not a function of its proximity to the present. There is nothing intrinsically germane-or even current-in the happenings of yesterday; nor is there anything inherently irrelevant-or passe-in the events of millennia past. Rather, relevance is a function of the questions brought to bear upon past experience. In the case of the Normandy air war, questions shaped by current beliefs, assumptions, and arguments of air warfare reveal a campaign rich with resonance and ripe for anyone willing to ply the past to teach about air war today.

The Normandy Air Campaign

The term itself sounds strange: the Normandy air campaign. Military aviation that was proximate, in either time or place, to the invasion of western France goes by many names and even more descriptions. Before the invasion, there was the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO), the strategic attack on Germany by the US Strategic Air Forces and British Bomber Command. There was Pointblank, the refocusing of those attacks after early bombing efforts proved too costly. There was the Transportation Plan, which aimed to isolate the invasion area from German supply sources. There was the Oil Plan, a subset of strategic attacks deep into the Third Reich. As D-day neared, there was Fortitude, the Anglo-American deception plan that required thousands of sorties over Calais, France, to disguise the place of invasion. On D-day itself, there were thousands more sorties to carry airborne soldiers to their dramatic appointment with combat near Pegasus Bridge and Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Following the invasion, there was the massive effort to move two numbered air forces to the far shore; from their improvised expeditionary airfields came important developments in the air war, such as armed reconnaissance and armored-column cover. In July, Operations Goodwood, Charnwood, and Cobra featured thousands of Allied heavy and medium bombers, as well as fighter-bombers, working to blast holes through the tough German defensive crust. Before, during, and after D-day, there was Operation Crossbow, the Allied air strikes against Nazi V-rocket launch sites in Normandy and throughout Western Europe. And finally, there was a turkey shoot, when Allied planes rained destruction upon retreating Germans, creating not one or two but many highways of death. …

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