part two of a two part series

more of my e-interview with Christopher Yung, author of Gators of Neptune.

What are some of the lessons learned, relearned and unlearned from Operation Neptune?

One of the lessons learned from Operation Neptune was the importance of inter-agency cooperation. No other operation in the Second World War involved so much coordination and cooperation between different branches of government. In the case of Neptune, the war ministries and branches of the military had to cooperate with ministries of transportation, coastal command (the British Coast Guard), to name a few. Another major lesson learned was the effectiveness of pre-loading merchant ships with supplies needed for a major ground operation, then sending those merchant ships to ports captured by the Allies after the amphibious assault. The concept of Maritime Prepositioned Ships was effectively replicated and used for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

There were several relearned lessons from Neptune as well. The importance of air supremacy for the conduct of amphibious operations. For the British, the importance of tactical surprise was also reaffirmed with the successful outcome of Operation Neptune. Most of the major lessons obtained between the disastrous Gallipoli operation and the early amphibious operations of the Second World War were also reaffirmed: the importance of a clear chain of command with everyone knowing what their roles/jobs were; the importance of loading the ships in order of priority for what the ground troops will need ashore; the importance of having some kind of naval bombardment precede the assault; the importance of the role of aircraft in the operation; and the division of labor between the Navy and the Army were all lessons reaffirmed.

The most intriguing aspect of the lessons taken away from Neptune, were those lessons which had to be un-learned, particularly by the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy had learned in the Central Pacific that successful amphibious assaults required long bombardments to destroy the hardened defenses like bunkers. The Neptune planners decided that they did not have that kind of luxury in time. To take too long to attack the coastal defenses of Normandy would have sacrificed tactical surprise and the ultimate result would have been that the Allies would have lost the “build up” race with the Germans. That is, the Germans would have reacted with panzer divisions and would have raced to build up their forces to push the invaders back into the sea. The U.S. Navy had to un-learn this lesson and take a risk with a shortened bombardment of the coastal defenses.

Another lesson that had to be un-learned was the idea of giving tactical control to the amphibious flag ship running the operation. In the Central Pacific, the U.S. Navy and the Marines had discovered that giving control of the aircraft supporting the operation to a staff on one of the Navy flag ships worked well for such operations as Tarawa and those following it. Such an arrangement would not have worked well for the navies in Neptune. First, aircraft were in support of many other missions beyond support to the amphibious task force. Aircraft were flying interdiction missions deep into France and were attacking V-1 launch sites and other enemy targets. Second, neither the Royal Navy or U.S. Navy had a flag ship which could control thousands of aircraft. Finally, these aircraft were taking off and landing from hundreds of air fields across southern England. It simply made more sense to have control of aircraft centralized at an Allied Air Force headquarters.

Who should read Gators of Neptune?

Gators of Neptune would immediately appeal to those interested in the Second World War, particularly its amphibious campaigns. I go into great detail over how amphibious doctrine was developed in the war and how it was then applied to the Normandy landings. The book will also appeal to those interested in understanding how Overlord and Neptune were planned. Although the title focuses on naval amphibious planning, I go into great detail over how the entire Overlord plan was thought through and developed. Finally, the book is also a primer on leadership, and how to tackle an enormous planning challenge like Neptune. The Navy personnel who took this on had immense pressures on them, and I found it instructional how some of these personalities dealt with the pressure. Let’s say some did better than others. In fact, one of the naval planners suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the experience and later committed suicide.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The only thing I would add to what has already been said, is that I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing this book. I wrote this book with the reader in mind. For every page that I wrote I asked myself, would I be interested in reading this book? Would this point that I am making be as informative to the layman as well as the naval warfare expert? The other thing that I focused on was accuracy. A subject as immense as Operation Neptune and Overlord takes on a bit of the aura of legend and myth. I needed to make sure that everything I wrote was as thoroughly researched as I could make it. You’ll see from the back of the book, with all of the primary sources that I used that I took that objective very seriously.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books

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  • Grampa Bluewater

    One thing I never understood. Why no AMTRACs on Omaha and Utah?
    Did the Army bet on the wrong horse with the DD (dual drive) Shermans, because the decision fell to men with no understanding of the Coastal and Surf Zone environments, and the realities of wind and sea? Or would the MG’s 34 and 42 punch through an Amtrac’s light armor?

    This is seldom if ever mentioned or discussed. Those beaches at low tide are a long way to slosh in watersoaked boots, with a GI woolen shirt for armor, until you got to the sea wall/berm.

    Brave men. Truly valiant.

  • I am often asked that question. I have never seen AMTRACS mentioned in any of the planning documents that I have scrutinized for the planning of Neptune. My theory is that: (1) the European planners were depending on the DDs as their shock wave to clear the path of pillboxes and other defenses because that was what was endorsed by Combined Operations Command (the outfit authorized by Churchill to examine the cross-Channel attack; (2) CNO King was not offering the AMTRACs perhaps because there was a shortage of them even to support the Pacific campaigns (note that AMTRACs were not provided to MacArthur’s SWPA campaigns in New Guinea and Philippines either); and (3) the European planners had conducted amphibious ops in N. Africa, Sicily, and Italy and had never used them there , so why introduce something completely new to the mix? Those are my best guesses as to why AMTRACs not used on D-Day.