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T 2 and
US Soldier
German Soldier
Ts 7 and 8.
Salerno, Anzio, and Omaha Beach, 1943–44
Chris McNab
US Soldier
Chris McNab
Salerno, Anzio, and Omaha Beach, 1943–44
German Soldier
Illustrated by Steve Noon
Roles and doctrine • Training and experience • Tactics and logistics
Weapons and equipment
September 9–23, 1943
January 22–March 3, 1944
June 6, 1944
To a large extent, the outcome of World War II depended on amphibious
landings. Without the ability to put masses of troops, vehicles, and equipment
on contested shores, and to establish exploitable beachheads there, the Western
Allies would not have been able to reclaim conquered territories in the Pacific,
North Africa, and Western Europe. In short, without amphibious landings much
of the conflict would have remained in stalemate, rather than Allied victory.
In this fact there is some cause for disquiet, because amphibious landings
rank among the most challenging of military operations, with highly uncertain
outcomes. Consider the perils and problems facing Allied amphibious forces
embarking on any landing operation. They first had to find suitable landing
zones, ones that were not only hydrographically and geographically amenable
to putting ashore tens of thousands of troops, but which could also cope with
the endless conveyor-belt of logistics that would roll in subsequently to sustain
the offensive momentum. Then the planners and commanders not only had
to devise ways to keep the landing location secret from the enemy – not easy
when you are putting together a vast naval, air, and land force (total troops
put ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944 numbered 156,000) – but also
how to overcome the defenses the enemy had in place along the landing zone,
defenses that were often purposely and intelligently devised to prevent just
the sort of amphibious landing the planners were intending. To deliver the
invasion, the elements of the landing force had to be transported effectively
by naval assets from their home bases to the staging waters just offshore, then
from that position to shoreline, all to schedule. Troops had to hit the beaches
with enough firepower and momentum to overcome shoreline and beachhead
resistance, even as waves of subsequent landing forces piled onto the beach,
threatening organizational chaos. Now came one of the most complex factors
of an amphibious landing: logistics. The “combat loading” of supplies aboard
the landing craft had to be intelligently ordered to meet the evolving tactical
needs of the troops ashore, and the efficiency of offloading and storage had
to be of clockwork precision. All this was conducted in the teeth of the active
resistance of the enemy, who would bring all the firepower assets they had
– from major coastal artillery pieces to automatic small arms – to bear on a
relatively small patch of land choked with a wealth of target opportunities.
Given these challenges, it is little short of remarkable that all the
major Allied amphibious invasions in Europe were successful. (Dieppe, on
August 19, 1942, could be viewed as an exception, but that action was a raid
rather than an invasion.) This outcome is indicative of the fact that although
the defenders against amphibious assault were certainly in a theoretically
strong position, there was also much weighted against them. For a start, the
invaders would conduct exhaustive pre-invasion reconnaissance and planning,
identifying all defenses and working out exactly how to overcome them with
every firepower asset at their disposal. The defenders would also, typically, be
numerically inferior to the landing forces; given the breadth of Germany’s
operational commitments, particularly on the Eastern Front, it was impossible
to keep huge numbers of men tied up and inactive in coastal positions, just
on the off-chance of a landing. Therefore, Germany’s coastal defense policy
was, by and large, made up of two strands: first, to establish physical coastal
defenses that could be manned by limited numbers of troops (the Atlantic
Wall system is the most significant expression of this policy); and second, to
retain mobile forces inland that could react to identified landings, and deploy
them rapidly to the landing area to quash the beachhead buildup.
In this book, we will see both strands of German coastal defense policy in
action, and equally their failure. At the same time, we will also see the strengths
and weaknesses of Allied amphibious warfare tactics under a harsh spotlight.
Amphibious landings, indeed any military operation, always have a significant
degree of disorder or “friction,” and in the battles explored here, we see the
human consequences of this chaos, often bloodily expressed on the shoreline.
Accordingly, we will study the front-line combat in three major amphibious
actions: Operation
– the invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno on
September 9, 1943; Operation
– the subsequent landings in Italy at
Anzio on January 22, 1944; and Operation
/Overlord – specifically,
the Omaha Beach landings on June 6, 1944, as part of the Allied invasion of
June 1944: German coastal
batteries fire on Allied forces
landing in Normandy in the
area at the mouth of the Orne
River. This photograph shows
the typical combination
of defenses around the
Normandy landing zones,
with intensive tiers of beach
obstacles overlooked by
multiple firing positions and
strongpoints in the bluffs and
cliffs above. (ullstein bild/
ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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