Tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of D-Day. The planning for the amphibious assault phase of the liberation of France was codenamed OPERATION NEPTUNE thus the title for Christopher Yung’s Gators of Neptune: Naval Amphibious Planning for the Normandy Invasion. Gators of Neptune is simply the best one out there about the planning for OPERATION NEPTUNE. I think you will agree.

first of a two-part series

What inspired you to write Gators of Neptune?

At the time that I was inspired to write Gators of Neptune, I was then a senior analyst working for the Commander, Amphibious Group Two (then a two star Navy command which was the senior amphibious command in the Atlantic Fleet). While on that assignment I was dispatched to a meeting at the building which housed U.S. Navy Carrier Group Four which was the command responsible for training and evaluating carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups. While waiting for that meeting to begin I admired the artwork in the CARGRU 4 building. That artwork depicted the Navy at Normandy-landing craft heading toward Omaha Beach; soldiers climbing down the rope ladders into landing craft; destroyers and battle ships firing at targets on the beach. Right then and there, it suddenly occurred to me that the amount of planning that went into that operation must have been enormous. I had only been at PHIBGRU 2 for a few months when this epiphany struck me, but even with the short amount of time that I had been working with the amphibious navy, I still saw the immense amount of effort that it took to plan a Marine Corps landing of a reinforced battalion or a regiment. What must it have taken to plan an operation involving multiple British and American corps? It was then that I decided to look into researching the naval amphibious planning for the D-Day landings.

Can you tell us a little about Operation Neptune?

Operation Neptune is the amphibious assault portion of the better known Operation Overlord, the Allied operation to invade northwestern Europe and defeat Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It took approximately 3 years to plan, went through several versions of the plan, and was planned by numerous staffs both English and American. The planners learned a great deal from other amphibious operations of the Second World War, and even took lessons from prior to World War 2. The British like to argue that the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 in which thousands of Canadian troops were either wounded or killed on the coast of France provided the best direct lessons for the Neptune planners. There are also obvious lessons taken from the amphibious assaults that took place in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. I argue in the book, additionally, that the Allies took note of the lessons of the Pacific War, but rejected some of them as not applicable to the situation in Normandy. The eventual operation involved over 4,000 vessels including landing craft and ships, surface combatants, ferries, and merchant ships. Over 10,000 aircraft were involved in air operations related to Neptune, and in the end the assault involved 5 divisions with 2 follow up divisions landed on D-Day.

What were some of the obstacles confronted by the naval planners?

The most immediate obstacles confronting the naval planners were the naval threats posed by the German Navy. The German U-boat, the Kriegsmarines most lethal weapon throughout the Second World War, still posed a formidable threat to the operation. Forty plus U-boats were stationed in the vicinity of the operation and had been standing by to attack the invasion fleet when the Allied landings began. The Germans had also laid thousands of mines in the English Channel, on the beaches, in the shallow water off the beaches, and attached to obstacles off the Normandy beaches. The Allies had to figure out how to neutralize this threat. This was made doubly difficult since the direction of the tide changed in mid-channel, which complicated the job of the minesweeper. The Allies had to take into account that tricky detail. Finally, as far as naval threats were concerned, the German navy still possessed fast torpedo boats or E-boats, destroyers and patrol craft which could prove deadly to the invasion force. In fact, several of these E-boats penetrated English defenses in April 1944, attacked and sank/damaged three LSTs and killed over 700 soldiers and sailors.

Beyond the immediate naval threats confronting the naval planners, the German Luftwaffe still posed a significant threat to the invasion. The formidable coastal defenses erected by the German Seventh Army under Rommel’s supervision also had to be dealt with by naval gunfire and air bombardment.

Finally, there were challenges confronting the naval planners that had nothing to do with the threats posed by the Allies’ opponents. To name but one such challenge, the challenge of tracking all of the ships going to France, offloading their cargo, and then returning to ports which were organized enough to manage the reloading and proper scheduling of the coming and going vessels was a port management challenge beyond compare.

to be continued tomorrow…

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books

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