Printer Friendly

Normandy a modern air campaign?

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.

The Normandy invasion demanded an immense effort from every combat arm. Military aviation associated with the assault included over 430,000 sorties; required the concentrated efforts of two American air forces and one English air force, as well as the occasional participation of British Bomber, Fighter, and Coastal Commands; and cost the Anglo-Americans at least 10,000 combat deaths and 30,000 total casualties among pilots and crews, (1) All this happened in some relation to the Normandy invasion. Yet, a perception persists that the air war in Western Europe is best viewed in relation to disparate parts. In memory and in literature, military aviation over western France occupies separate orbits: the strategic campaign against Germany; the tactical support for the ground assault; and the political campaign to strike Nazi V-1 and V-2 sites. Only occasionally are these orbits linked--and then usually in the language of distraction and disruption, with the objectives and requirements of one campaign diminishing the others.

This may make descriptions of the air war more facile, but it denies two related truths. One, in World War II as today, airpower's division into operational functions--its strategic, tactical, or support roles--is more apparent than real. Early airpower theorists postulated the unity of military aviation, and current concepts such as effects-based operations spring from renewed appreciation of airpower's indivisibility. No inherently strategic, tactical, or support function exists in any given plane or weapon. To suggest otherwise is to deny airpower's versatility. Two, whatever the time period, military aviation organizes and operates best against the backdrop of a theater campaign. As a matter of doctrine, military officers believe that this broader campaign "integrates the actions of assigned, attached, and supporting" forces. (2) The theater commander, called the joint force commander (JFC) in the current lexicon, "determines appropriate military objectives and sets priorities for the entire joint force." (3) He or she does this through a joint campaign plan that "describes how a series of major operations are integrated in time, space, and purpose to achieve a strategic objective." (4) In other words, the joint commander and his or her campaign organize all military action in a given area of responsibility, regardless of the relative scope or the precise nature of contributions each service arm may make to the effort.

From a modern perspective, then, the invasion of Normandy serves to codify and categorize the various air operations in Western Europe in the spring and summer of 1944. From the dark days after Pearl Harbor, the Anglo-Americans intended an assault on Fortress Europe. In late 1943, Gen Dwight Eisenhower became that operation's supreme commander. After that, the invasion's eventuality was never in jeopardy, even as great debates attended its particulars. As a matter of policy and strategy, an amphibious landing and subsequent drive into Germany were the center of Allied activity in the West. So only one air war and one air campaign existed in Western Europe during the months on either side of D-day. As a thoughtful participant wrote on the eve of the invasion, the pressure of war had molded all the air forces--indeed, all theater forces--into a single weapon: "Gone now were differences between strategic and tactical, between ground and air, between Army and Navy, between Americans and their Allies. All were welded into one compact, devastating fist, set to deliver the Sunday punch." (5)

Seeing airpower indivisibly and in relation to a broader theater campaign reshapes Normandy air operations. The facts are as they have always been. Time and chronology shift not one whit. The number of sorties flown, bombs dropped, and personnel assigned to aerial forces stays constant. Descriptions of various personalities do not change. The Herculean effort required to move air operations to the far shore remains Herculean. Yet, the overall picture transforms from a series of fragmented and competing operations into a single operation that forms a single campaign: the Normandy air campaign.

Command and Control of Air Operations

The command and control of air operations has long been of signal importance to airmen. The issue helped sour relations among ground and air officers between the world wars, and the matter was hotly debated during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Today, particular questions--Who commands air operations? How is command translated into control?--continue to influence airmen and to shape interaction among the services. The Air Force holds dear "the fundamental concept of a single commander who is responsible for the planning and conduct of aerospace warfare in a theater of operations." (6) This airman, the joint force air and space component commander (JFACC) in the current lexicon, works for the JFC. (7) A clear relationship between the overall JFC and the subordinate JFACC helps ensure the effective use of airpower across the theater. As the air war over Kosovo in 1999 plainly revealed, differences over the best use of military aviation persist, but today's command arrangements make clear where final authority resides in any dispute between the JFC and JFACC. (8)

No such circumstance pertained in the Normandy campaign. Although General Eisenhower, as Overlord's supreme commander, acted as a JFC, no airman controlled all aerial assets assigned and attached to support the invasion. (9) Eisenhower's command, the Allied Expeditionary Force, had an air component, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, commanded by Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and comprised of two air forces: the US Ninth Air Force and the British Second Tactical Air Force. This assigned force was responsible to Eisenhower for direct support of the US First Army and British Twenty-First Army during the invasion.

But other forces, notably the US Eighth Air Force and British Bomber Command, were not assigned but attached to the Allied Expeditionary Force. Since 1943 these organizations had carried out the CBO under the supervision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. (10) The respective leaders of this effort, Lt Gen Carl Spaatz and Air Vice Marshal Arthur Harris, were deeply committed to strategic bombing and reluctant to cede command prerogative to Leigh-Mallory, whom they believed incompetent to direct bomber forces. The bomber generals readily recognized obligations to assist in the invasion but believed that their service to Overlord could best be accomplished via a cooperative arrangement with Eisenhower that left them freer to pursue the strategic bombing of Germany. Eisenhower insisted that any loose arrangement between the bomber forces and his organization ran contrary to the sanctity of unity of command, but two months of negotiation by plea and ploy won him no agreement with either Spaatz or Harris. By late March, his frustration in this regard was palpable: "Unless the matter is settled at once, I will request relief from this command." (11)

In a unified command, the bomber generals' intransigence flirted with insubordination. But Eisenhower did not exactly command Spaatz or Harris. Lacking today's clearer lines of theater authority, Eisenhower was left to broker a compromise. To do so, he turned to his respected deputy commander, Air Vice Marshal Arthur Tedder, who had risen to prominence "as a leader of large air forces consisting of all types of aircraft cooperating closely ... with the overall theater command." (12) Tedder's background made him palatable to all air commanders, and Eisenhower engineered an informal scheme of control centered on his deputy. "I will exert direct supervision of all air forces--through you," he explained to Tedder, "authorizing you to use headquarters facilities now existing to make your control effective. L. M.'s [Leigh-Mallory's] position would not be changed so far as assigned forces are concerned but those attached for definite periods of definite jobs would not come under his command" (emphasis in original). (13)

On 7 April, barely two months before the invasion, agreement was at hand. The price was high: Eisenhower had placed the strategic air forces within his orbit yet beyond the reach of Leigh-Mallory. This meant he had no single air commander for Overlord. Henceforth, Eisenhower coordinated his air operations through three organizations of somewhat equal and clearly independent stature: US Strategic Air Forces in Europe; British Bomber Command; and the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Only the strain of months of negotiation could frame such a solution as satisfactory.

Professional background and personal disposition had produced this mess among leaders of Overlord--men who were otherwise possessed of goodwill, sound experience, and technical competence. Lacking a doctrine that held sacred the preeminence of the JFC and his or her plan, these men were robbed of an effective forum to adjudicate their disagreements and help them see their respective efforts as parts to a greater whole. Spaatz, perhaps the war's finest American air leader, grasped the interrelation of various air tasks, but he never acknowledged what current Air Force doctrine insists: that the "planning for joint air and space operations begins with understanding the joint force mission," which in turn forms "the basis for determining component objectives." (14) In 1944 that joint mission was undeniably the invasion of western France. Yet, well after Eisenhower's command arrangements became final, Spaatz continued to criticize the amphibious landing as "extremely uncertain" and "highly dubious." To his staff, he once reportedly exploded, "This--invasion can't succeed, and I don't want any part of the blame. After it fails, we can show them how we can win by bombing" (expletive deleted in original). (15)

Professional differences among high commanders ate not always detrimental to operations and can be healthy if they are addressed and resolved in an appropriate forum. But the festering disputes of Overlord infected officers down the chain of command, especially those who operated in the seam between operational and tactical command. There, the absence of a single air commander meant dealing within and among air organizations that were essentially autonomous. The result was a needlessly complex air plan that integrated various invasion tasks in an uncertain and tentative manner. As late as 1 June, one week before the invasion, Leigh-Mallory felt compelled to remind Spaatz of the D-day targets "which it is desired you attack," recalling that "you or one of your representatives have agreed" to supply convoy cover and armed reconnaissance for the land forces. Furthermore, Leigh-Mallory understood that Spaatz had "agreed to" participate in deception operations and, "weather permitting," had acquiesced to striking railroad centers in the three days prior to D-day. (16) Such language resembled treaty negotiations among sovereign entities, not military commands under unified direction. There would be consequences for such shortcomings.

Air Operations Center

Forsaking a single air commander for Normandy air operations also meant doing without an integrated AOC. Today, these centers are the nerve loci through which an air commander conceives, plans, executes, assesses, and sustains air operations. (17) As a matter of Air Force instruction, an AOC has five major components: (1) a strategy division to relate aerial operations to the JFC's campaign plan; (2) a combat-plans division responsible for detailed execution plans in the form of an air tasking order; (3) a combat-operations division that oversees current-day operations; (4) an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance division to oversee those air and space assets that provide informational awareness; and (5) an air-mobility division responsible for planning the logistical sufficiency of air operations. (18) As a matter of doctrine, an AOC focuses "an entire theater's [air and space] power in a central planning process" and integrates, relates, and coordinates the myriad pieces that constitute an air campaign. (19) As a matter of practice, AOCs and JFACCs are necessary adjuncts; one does not exist without the other. Together, they are the brains of an air campaign.

Eisenhower had no such advantage. Tedder's supervision of air assets during the invasion did not include a dedicated headquarters or staff. To exercise what control he did have, Tedder was forced to work through existing command channels scattered throughout many air organizations. Sixty years later, it remains difficult to decipher relationships among the various planning staffs, operational centers, and intelligence cells that coordinated air operations.

In theory and at the top, Tedder relied on an advisory committee comprised of senior representatives from the various air forces. This committee was supposed to be the "sole body responsible for advising the Deputy Supreme Commander in the direction of the bombing operations." (20) But fractured lines of communication and command doomed that goal. A Combined Operational Planning Committee, composed of yet other senior Anglo-American staffers, had for some time managed the CBO. This group now moved over to Leigh-Mallory's Allied Expeditionary Air Force to synchronize planning for the strategic bomber forces and their tactical cousins, a task that overlapped the advisory committee's charge. (21) Confounding the planning matrix, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force also hosted the Joint Bombing Committee, which oversaw the planning and execution of air operations designed to isolate Normandy from Germany. (22) Even the members of these three committees did not know how their respective activity correlated, although in aggregate they looked the part of today's strategy division within an AOC.

Executing the Normandy air campaign involved less sorting than did strategic planning. In May, Tedder moved the Air Operations Planning Staff from Allied Supreme Headquarters to Leigh-Mallory's Allied Expeditionary Air Force: "There, with Tedder, the commanders of all strategic and tactical air forces met at Leigh-Mallory's daily conferences, and from there operational orders were coordinated." (23) Shortly thereafter, Leigh-Mallory established an advanced headquarters at Uxbridge, England, under Air Vice Marshal Arthur Coningham, commander of 2d Tactical Air Force. This headquarters housed a combined operations room and combined control center, which became fair approximations of today's combat-operations division. (24) By early June, these loci were coordinating thousands of sorties a day--peaking at over 12,000 flights on 6 June--with few aerial mishaps. Yet, if air-campaign planning proved too disparate, air operations were perhaps too centralized during the Normandy invasion: the Uxbridge communications net collapsed on D-day, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of message traffic. This left communications between air-support parties on the beaches and fighter-bombers on the flight line broken for crucial hours while invaders struggled ashore. (25)

Reconnaissance and intelligence functions were scattered throughout Eisenhower's command. Coningham had a combined reconnaissance center at his advanced headquarters, but its relation to his combined operations room or combined control center cannot be reliably surmised by proximity. Moreover, within the London Office of Strategic Services, well away from Tedder and Leigh-Mallory, sat a staff called the Enemy Objectives Unit. This group served as Spaatz's "unofficial target intelligence section" and greatly influenced Strategic Air Forces' assessment of air operations. (26) Oftentimes, its appreciation of current and planned operations was at odds with the assessments of more traditionally placed intelligence sections within the numbered air forces, creating much of the ongoing friction between the bomber generals and other Overlord commanders.

Many elements of an AOC existed within this admixture of committees, groups, and staffs. Yet, nowhere was the broad and varied activity of a modern air campaign centrally conceived, planned, executed, and assessed. In the understated words of one observer, planning and control arrangements were "too complicated." (27) The Royal Air Force's official historian believed that "so elaborate a system" demonstrated "the weakness of the committee technique'--a judgment that veterans of coalition air operations in the 1990s might find familiar. (28) Official American chroniclers added that the Overlord command setup functioned "not so much because of its structure as because of the good sense and proper spirit of top British and American commanders." (29) But this paints a too-happy face on the demands of coalition and joint warfare. Gen Frederick Morgan, the man who first outlined the invasion of western France, was more frank: "It will, I think, be considerable time before anyone will be able to set down in the form of an organizational diagram the channels through which General Eisenhower's orders reached his aircraft." (30) To date, no one has. In truth, the command relations for Normandy air operations were barely adequate.

Without the advantage of a single air commander and an integrated operations center, no one officer had the responsibility and capacity to plan and execute operations, a situation that sometimes led to ineffective performance. Despite dozens of planning conferences among numerous organizations, 1,200 Eighth Air Force bombers blasted Omaha Beach on D-day with a plan that failed to capitalize on the potential of airpower: the planes dropped smaller bombs when they should have used larger ones, and most bombardiers delayed their bomb drops over the coast anywhere from five to 30 seconds, ensuring that most ordnance fell far inland of aiming points. Although these were decisions born of concern for the ground assault and the safety of soldiers, it was also clear to many that such a scheme would render the bombing nearly impotent. Yet, Overlord had no airman who could leverage command authority to change the plan--and assume attendant responsibility--or cancel the bombers' participation. As a result, in the words of the air arm's after-action report, "The immediate beach areas showed only limited evidence of bombing damage," and the strike failed to impair seriously the first line of German defenders--its professed objective. (31) Six weeks later, diffuse command and control arrangements contributed to short bombings on the first day of Operation Cobra, leading to the European war's largest single episode of fratricide within the American sector. (32)

Effects-Based Operations

Today, the Air Force believes that the transformation of military aviation invigorates and reshapes air operations. Modern technology, particularly stealth and precision-guided munitions, has greatly increased the capacity of aircraft. This revolution in military technology captivates Air Force leaders, but transformational airpower is also the function of organizational and intellectual shifts. Abolishing Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command in 1991 and creating a single Air Combat Command diminished the bureaucratic underpinnings of distinctly "strategic" or "tactical" aviation. This, in turn, fostered a more integrated conceptualization of air warfare. Now, concepts such as effects-based operations champion airpower's flexibility and versatility: aerial operations have no inherent strategic or tactical role and can strike "strategic, operational, or tactical objectives ... [to] simultaneously achieve objectives at all three levels of war." (33) This idea, new to modern ears, actually harkens back to ideas about airpower's unitary nature that were commonplace in the 1920s.

At the heart of effects-based operations lies an exhortation to assess both the direct and indirect effect of air operations, to think beyond destruction--airpower's traditional product in war--and to consider second- and third-order consequences. Taken to its logical maturity, an effects-based methodology plans, executes, and evaluates air operations not only in the context of operational efficiencies, but also against the backdrop of strategic and political goals. As a result, the measure of merit for a given air operation or campaign might well value operational and strategic effect over quantitatively efficient destruction.

Although Overlord commanders lacked today's articulation of effects-based operations, they understood that air operations were not always best measured by resultant destruction. The classic example is Fortitude, the Anglo-American deception plan that pointed to Calais, some hundreds of miles from Normandy, as the invasion site. This scheme, which required many fake army encampments in Britain across the English Channel from Calais, also demanded real air sorties against real targets inland of Calais if the ploy were to work. In none of these missions were actual destruction and tactical success important. What mattered was maintaining the fiction that the Allies would assault Calais, thereby drawing the bulk of German resources away from the actual Overlord beaches. Precise data on the number of sorties flown, bombs dropped, and lives lost as part of Fortitude are difficult to compile, but this deception demanded sorties in the tens of thousands and lives in the hundreds, including one pilot, Lt Col Leon Vance, who earned a posthumous Medal of Honor by attacking a target that amphibious forces would never confront. These lives purchased Fortitude's feasibility at least as much as any sham military camp in England, and the ruse was a resounding success--the Germans kept many good fighting units near Calais until well after the Normandy invasion. At the time and afterward, history recorded few, if any, criticisms from air leaders about this use of important resources and the sad expenditure of lives it encompassed.

Air strikes against German rocket sites in Western Europe did not enjoy the same measure of support among air leaders. Germany harbored great hope for its V-weapons program of flying bombs and rocket warheads, hoping they would hammer England with a million pounds of explosives a year (an amount equal to the Allies' bomber offensive output in its best year) and knock the Commonwealth from the war. In concert with passive and defensive measures, Allied airpower struck at the V-weapons, attacking production and assembly points in Germany as early as mid-1943 and targeting launch sites in Western Europe throughout the spring of 1944. These launch sites, which looked like ski jumps, were difficult to destroy with any efficiency. Nonetheless, only 22 of the 150 sites the Germans hoped to construct were ever completed. As a result, the Third Reich was forced to adopt an inferior launch system that "transformed what might have been an attack of the utmost severity into an assault which ... was neither heavy enough nor strong enough to influence the course of operations." (34)

Such success came at high cost, however. Aerial strikes at the launch sites were code-named Crossbow, and by D-day these missions totaled 25,150 sorties and 36,200 tons of bombs--they also came at a price of 771 airmen's lives and 154 aircraft. American air leaders considered that level of expenditure excessive. In early May, the Air Staff in Washington concluded that these strikes "had grown out of proportion to the importance of the target or had become so uneconomical 'as to be wasteful, and should be curtailed.'" (35) In London, Spaatz complained of Crossbow commitments made "solely for British domestic considerations." (36) He protested that because no cohesive organization for air existed in the theater, his efforts were restricted and diverted by the "control [of] commanders that have only limited objectives." (37)

Lacking an articulate sense of effects-based operations, American criticisms of Crossbow sprang from a calculus of efficiency although the operation's effect may have provided a more appropriate measure of merit. A terrifically inefficient operation, Crossbow produced an enormous effect even if its results were porous: the Germans still launched 5,890 V-weapons at England through the summer of 1944, killing 5,835 and seriously wounding 16,792. (38) But this was not enough to cow the British. Crossbow's objective was not limited, as Spaatz declared, but central to the Anglo-American cause: securing the English homeland. Domestic political considerations in Britain did indeed compel Crossbow, but this did not mean it was a diversion. After all, political primacy informs all military operations, and political prerogative in war does not divert from war making; it constitutes it.

The hint of effects-based operations permeated the entire Normandy air campaign. In the six weeks before D-day, American air units struck at the important German coastal battery at Pointe du Hoe on 13 separate occasions. These missions did not destroy the guns, but the bombing compelled the Germans to move the barrels from a prepared battery, replete with support elements and a commanding field of fire, to a makeshift position a mile inland, rendering their muzzles less useful. (39) In effects-based operations, to suppress fire is the near equivalent of destruction.

Once Allied forces reached the far shore, the indirect effect of close air support and interdiction missions proved greater than the tactical objectives assigned to individual missions. In the weeks after invasion, air units struck relentlessly at prepared German positions in Normandy and enemy lines of communication throughout Western Europe. In June alone, the Allies bombed 90 marshalling yards and 75 rail and road bridges (including virtually every span crossing the Seine north of Normandy), destroyed rail engines in the hundreds and rolling stock in the thousands, and wreaked havoc on German defensive positions in the tens of thousands. (40) The direct effect was immediate. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, German theater commander in the West, described an "unbearable" Allied air superiority that had made "daylight movement impossible." (41) Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, local commander along the Normandy coast, could only add, "There's simply no answer to it." (42) But the air strikes' indirect effect was greater still. According to Albert Speer, Germany's armaments minister, the accumulative impact of these attacks was catastrophic. (43) In the language of effects-based operations, the second- and third-order consequences of air operations supporting Overlord were greater than the sum of their individual tactical designs. Indeed, the attacks seeking to isolate western France from military reinforcements led to the "complete disorganization of the German economy." (44)

That air strikes in 1944 had within them elements of effects-based operations is hardly surprising. The success of aerial operations has always been a function of their effects--on friend and foe alike--and current talk about effects-based operations resembles in important ways iterations of targeting philosophy. (45) But the lack of a conscious, developed sense of effect-based operations among Overlord airmen probably robbed them of an analytic tool to help evaluate how they might best employ limited airpower assets. Tantalizing allusions to effects-based thinking emerged in the spring of 1944, as when Lt Gen James Doolittle, Eighth Air Force commander, warned Spaatz of a tendency "on the part of planners to measure destruction by tons of bombs dropped rather than bombs on target," (46) and as when an air staffer pushed ground strategists to state "what effects are desired" for bombing missions on D-day as opposed to merely asking for a specific number of sorties, planes, and bombs. (47)

These isolated incidents, however, came to naught. Before, during, and after the battle, flier and soldier alike failed to recognize perhaps the greatest impact airpower had on the Normandy invasion. To this day, a casual walk along the Normandy coast reveals scores of entrenched batteries and nearly monumental emplacements of concrete. These sentinels serve as silent testimony that the mere prospect of Allied airpower had forced Rommel, the master of maneuver who had experienced the blast of Allied aviation in Africa, into a static defense of the West. Before the battle was even joined, airpower stole from him and his army their preferred way of war and diminished their capacity to react to the exigencies of combat, which was one of their few real hopes of success.

Parallel Operations

If effects-based operations offer a way to think about military aviation, parallel operations can leverage airpower's capacity to wage modern war. Parallel operations are "the simultaneous application of force (in time, space, and at each level of war) against key systems to effect paralysis on the subject organization's ability to function as it desires." (48) Air Force strategists believe that Operation Desert Storm heralded the impact of parallel operations: "In air campaigns before the Gulf War, force was applied sequentially to 'roll back' enemy defenses before attacking targets of the highest value." Today, with technological advances in stealth and precision-guided munitions, much more is possible: "The object of parallel war is to achieve effective control over the set of systems relied on by an adversary for power and influence--leadership, population, essential industries, transportation and distribution, and forces." (49) As much as any other factor, it is the coupling of modern technology, effects-based methodology, and parallel war that gives to airpower its transformational promise at the dawn of a new century.

Like other aspects of modern air campaigning, parallel operations have strong antecedents in the war for western France. This dimension of the air war has long been obscured by an inclination to view aerial operations in 1944 through the lens of air operations with specific political, strategic, or tactical purposes. Seen in isolation, the CBO, Transportation Plan, and Oil Plan, as well as Operations Fortitude and Crossbow, portray an air war that moved sequentially--one target (and one effect) to the other--denying the synergy that parallel operations can impart to air warfare. This is particularly true of the Transportation Plan, which laid out tasks to accomplish before D-day as a series of sequential objectives.

But these operations did not occur in isolation from each other. To view air operations in the spring of 1944 as part of the broader Normandy air campaign is to see parallel operations far earlier than some airmen today might believe. Aerial campaigning for the invasion stretched from 1 January 1944, about the time Allied operations turned seriously to the question of D-day preparation, to 15 September 1944, when the breakout across France ended and the Western combatants settled into a stalemate that stretched to December's Battle of the Bulge. If one defines parallel war as daily air operations that targeted two or more of Germany's five vital systems--leadership, population, essential industries, transportation and distribution, and forces---then American airmen conducted parallel operations on 123 of those 259 days, and only poor weather scuttled parallel operations on an additional seven days. Factoring in the daily missions of British Bomber Command, which persistently pursued area bombing of German population centers, only widens and deepens the index of parallel operations during the Normandy campaign. Moreover, these operations increased in frequency and scope in the weeks surrounding D-day, when pressure to concentrate on single effects--rolling back German defenses near the beaches and providing close air support--was presumably greatest. On each of three of the last four days of May, for instance, Eighth Air Force's heavy bombers attacked aircraft works, synthetic oil plants, and military-vehicle plants deep in the Third Reich, while Ninth Air Force's aircraft struck marshalling yards, railroad bridges, and V-rocket sites nearer to Normandy. The same general pattern existed on the other side of D-day. In five of the seven days between 18 to 25 June, American aircraft attacked oil refineries, synthetic oil plants, and manufacturing plants in Germany while also striking V-rocket sites and a range of transportation, distribution, and fielded-forces targets in France (see table).

Parallel operations do not translate into a campaign of parallel warfare, of course. Campaigns require an awareness of, and focus upon, particular means to achieve particular objectives. In 1944 Overlord commanders did not consciously pursue parallel war. To the contrary, many leaders viewed the diversity of aerial operations surrounding the invasion as a problem that reflected a lack of focus and screwy command and control arrangements. Yet, parallel operations were not only the function of a quilt-work command setup and haphazard prosecution. They also reflected the desires of Leigh-Mallory, who "elected to spread his commitments so that five or six different bombing campaigns would be going on simultaneously," even though many air leaders, including his deputy, Maj Gen Hoyt Vandenberg of the US Air Force, "advised concentration on one program after another." (50) In the end, it was not an airman but a politician who best recognized the influence that parallel war had in Normandy. To Winston Churchill, airpower's great contributions to the invasion included its "diversity" and "magnitude, simultaneity, and violence." (51)

Expeditionary Air Forces

In recent years, the Air Force has developed air and space expeditionary forces to meet the challenges of a changing national security environment. Paradoxically, the end of the Cold War brought reductions in military resources and increases in air operations. Often, these operations took place in areas lacking permanent US forces. In response, the Air Force instituted a rotational construct to support a national strategy based on engagement and enlargement with the world. The nation's air arm now has 10 such air and space expeditionary forces, each rotating through an alert period, during which time designated squadrons, groups, and wings might be deployed to meet particular contingencies. (52) This expeditionary concept is a departure from the garrison force that characterized the Air Force for much of the Cold War. But it has deep roots in earlier experiences of the nation's air arm. An expeditionary rationale lay behind the General Headquarters Air Force in the mid-1930s. And airmen who fought World War II from makeshift fields far from home, under every conceivable condition and circumstance, were part of the greatest expeditionary air force the world has yet known. (53)

The American air units involved in Overlord constituted some of the war's best mobile air forces. Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, which had aggregated over 400,000 men by D-day, crossed an ocean to conduct operations from unfamiliar airfields over foreign ground, usually striking targets unknown to them prior to an intelligence brief a short time before takeoff. (54) They often accomplished missions with great success, a fact that would have amazed those who recalled the inability of the Air Corps to deliver the nation's mail over friendly and familiar territory a short decade earlier. (55)

Ninth Air Force in particular was conceived and operated as an expeditionary force. It existed as a headquarters staff west of London in the fall of 1943 and grew into the war's largest numbered air force by the summer of 1944. Units poured into the Ninth prior to D-day, many coming directly from the United States. The task of settling into 54 unfamiliar installations scattered throughout southern England might have required most of their time, but scores of Ninth pilots were almost immediately pressed into the air war. (56) Its Fighter Command serves as an example: from a head quarters cadre of perhaps a dozen men in late October of 1943, waiting to incorporate green units from America, by March 1944 it had become a force of 35,000 men and 1,600 planes. In that time, the command added five fighter wings, 19 fighter groups, one tactical reconnaissance group, three night-fighter squadrons, two signal construction battalions, five signal air-warning battalions, one signal aviation company, four communications squadrons, five fighter-control squadrons, eight airdrome squadrons, two signal battalions, five detached signal companies, 11 military-police companies, and 18 station-complement squadrons--all housed among 17 airfields of uneven quality. (57) On average, fighter groups had three weeks to ready for combat operations, first escorting bombers and later conducting interdiction missions. The 354th Group, for instance, arrived in England in November, conducted its first fighter sweep shortly after its arrival, and had completed its 66th mission by March, making it one of the war's most seasoned groups two months before D-day.

After the invasion, Ninth Air Force's movement to the far shore underscored its expeditionary nature. This transfer and the subsequent construction of airfields in France were primarily the responsibility of IX Engineering Command and IX Air Force Service Command, by far the most populous segments of the Ninth. Their scheme of support for operations was ambitious: by D-day plus three, they planned to have ground elements in Normandy for the operations of two refueling and rearming strips, and by D-day plus eight, they planned to have support sufficient for the temporary operation of 15 squadrons. Permanent operations were to begin by D-day plus 14, and 40 days after the invasion, these men planned to maintain the permanent operation of 58 squadrons scattered throughout a newly liberated Normandy. (58)

They remained true to plan. One battalion of aviation engineers accompanied the first wave of troops landing on Utah Beach; by nightfall they had hewed a sod strip for emergency landings. Another aviation battalion crossed the sand on Omaha Beach early the next morning and immediately hacked out a 3,500-foot runway capable of C-47 cargo operations near Saint-Laurent. Four days into the invasion, the Ninth's support commands had 6,000 men and 1,000 support vehicles on the far shore. Ten days later, these units numbered 18,000 men and 4,200 vehicles in Normandy. Together, they built 19 airfields in the American sector by 5 August. By then, there were over 40,000 Ninth Air Force support personnel on the ground in France, providing the critical logistical sufficiency for an ever increasing number of fighter-bomber groups moving to the far shore. No one had to tell these maintainers the vital task they performed in the workings of an expeditionary air force, and no one had to tell those who ran the air war: nearly every major air leader who left memoirs of the European war paid homage to the decisive contributions made by the logisticians, engineers, communicators, security personnel, and other material supporters of the air war on the far shore. (59)

A Modern Air Campaign?

Judgments about the modernity of Normandy air operations must spring from recognition of airpower's indivisibility. Before it is tactical or strategic, airpower is, simply, airpower--a point made implicitly by Giulio Douhet and explicitly by Billy Mitchell as early as the 1920s. (60) Yet, this insight faded following World War II. The Air Force organized along functional lines---Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Military Airlift Command--for the duration of the Cold War, and the resultant lens through which people viewed the past obscured important characteristics of the Normandy air war. Toward the end of the Cold War, a few Air Force officers, notably Col John Warden, championed renewed focus on theater air campaigning. (61) The Gulf War pushed this renaissance of thought up the chain of command. In 1991 Secretary of the Air Force Don Rice abolished Strategic and Tactical Air Commands in favor of Air Combat Command: "Desert Storm demonstrated that the line between strategic and tactical airpower has become blurred. The organization needs to catch up." (62) Structurally, the Air Force had come home to the unitary nature of airpower, a notion that had shaped earlier organizations such as the Air Corps's General Headquarters Air Force in 1935, and had influenced earlier operations such as those above Normandy. Not coincidentally, by the late 1990s, Air Force doctrine was stressing military aviation's unitary character. To some aging veterans of World War II, Rice's reorganization came as a welcome awakening. "I could have told them the same thing for 45 years," said the man responsible for the close air support of American soldiers on D-day, Lt Gen Pete Quesada. (63)

Able now to see Normandy against the canvas of the theater campaign and informed by a doctrine that once again highlights aviation's indivisibility, we find that Normandy air operations did indeed exhibit many characteristics of a modern air campaign, even though commanders lacked the concentrated and conscious approach required of air campaigning today. Military aviation's expeditionary nature in Normandy serves as a shining example for today's airmen who grapple with deployments under a myriad of circumstances. Yesterday's forces in World War II dealt with everything from logistical sufficiency to civil affairs to contracting to security to the use of foreign and scrip currency in Normandy.

The Normandy air campaign also entailed the antecedent use of airpower in effects-based operations and parallel warfare. Overlord commanders did not employ these concepts consciously, but the animating spirit of modern-employment ideas existed 60 years ago. In some circumstances, a developed sense of today's operational concepts would have helped make airpower more effective than it was in Normandy. This is not to say that airpower failed there; on the contrary, military aviation played a crucial and perhaps decisive role in the invasion of western France. But the United States Air Force has the happy challenge of learning from an experience marked by overwhelming success, a task that demands pointed analysis to decipher specific deficiencies within the context of broader victories. For Normandy, the greatest weaknesses of air operations were the failure to concentrate command authority in one person and the related absence of an integrated air operations center. The experience there, long ago, reaffirms and reconfirms the great emphasis the Air Force now places on a joint force air and space component commander with adequate authority, making his or her command effective through a robust air and space operations center. These crucial elements would have helped ensure airpower's optimal contribution to the joint campaign--as they do today.
Parallel Operations during Normandy Air Campaign, 1944

 V-Sites/Strategic/ V-Sites/Strategic V-Sites/Tactical

Jan. None 4, 24 *, 29, 31 23, 25

Feb. 10, 11, 29 3, 5, 8, 24 2, 6, 9

Mar. 20 11, 21 2, 5, 19, 26, 27

Apr. 10, 19, 21 * None 5, 20, 21, 22,
 23, 25, 28, 30

May 1, 12, 19, 28, 29, 30 None 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 13
 15, 20, 21, 22

June 18, 20, 21, 24, 25 None 2, 5, 16, 19
 22, 23, 27

July 2, 11 None 1, 5, 6, 8, 9,
 12 *, 17

Aug. 3, 5, 6, 30 None 1, 8, 9

Sept. None None None

Totals 23 days 9 days 44 days

 Strategic/Tactical Totals

Jan. 7 6 days

Feb. 20 11 days

Mar. 3 *, 4, 5, 8, 15, 23 13 days

Apr. 8, 11, 12, 13, 18, 18 days
 24, 26, 29

May 4, 7, 27 19 days

June 11 *, 13 *, 14 *, 15 days
 15, 26, 29

July 7, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 19 days
 21, 27, 28, 29, 31

Aug. 4, 7, 14, 16, 24, 25, 14 days
 26, 27 *

Sept. 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 8 days

Totals 47 days 123 days

Source: Data derived from Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller, The Army
Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology, 1941-1945 (Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1973).

Note: Dates with * represents planned parallel operations cancelled
due to bad weather or operational obstacles.


(1.) Office of Statistical Control, Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, World War II (Washington, D.C.: Office of Statistical Control, Headquarters Army Air Forces, December 1945), table 118, "Combat Sorties Flown by Theater, Dec 1941 to Aug 1945"; and table 36, "Battle Casualties in European Theater of Operation, by Type of Casualty and by Type of Personnel, Dec 1941 to Aug 1945."

(2.) Joint Publication (JP) 3-30, Command and Control for Joint Air Operations, 5 June 2003, vii.

(3.) Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power, 17 February 2000, 48.

(4.) "Air and Space Commander's Handbook for the JFACC," draft revision, 4 November 2002, 50.

(5.) Richard Ackerman, The Employment of Strategic Bombers in a Tactical Role, 1941-1951, United States Army Air Forces Historical Study 88 (Maxwell AFB, Ala., 1954), 1.

(6.) AFDD 2-1, Air Warfare, 22 January 2000, v.

(7.) Ibid., 25. See also "Air and Space Commander's Handbook for the JFACC," 17.

(8.) The JFC and JFACC intensely disagreed over the role of air-power during NATO's air war over Kosovo; see Lt Col Paul C. Strickland, "USAF Aerospace-Power Doctrine: Decisive or Coercive?" Aerospace Power Journal 14, no. 3 (rail 2900): 13-25. For doctrinal statements on the relationship between the JFC and the JFACC, see JP 3-30 and AFDD 2-1.

(9.) In today's parlance, Eisenhower was a combined force commander as well as a JFC because his organization included forces from more than one nation as well at those from more than one component of a single nation. His component commanders, in turn, were also combined commanders. Since these matters bear only marginally on my argument, for the sake of clarity and style I do not make these distinctions in the text of the article.

(10.) The Combined Chiefs of Staff consisted of the American and British service chiefs.

(11.) Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, memorandum for record, subject: Agreement with Bomber Forces, 22 March 1944, in Dwight D. Eisenhower, The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, ed. Alfred D. Chandler Jr., vol. 3, The War Years (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), 1782-85.

(12.) Richard G, Davis, Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1993), 331.

(13.) Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, memorandum to Air Vice Marshal Arthur Tedder, subject: Control of Air Forces, 29 February 1944, in The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, vol. 3, 1755-56.

(14.) Air Force Instruction (AFI) 13-1AOC, Operational Procedures--Aerospace Operation Center, 1 July 2002, 4.1.1.

(15.) Davis, 328, 350.

(16.) Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory to Lt Gen Carl Spaatz, letter, subject: D-Day Targets, 1 June 1944, US Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell AFB, Ala., file no. 521.451,June 1944.

(17.) If coalition forces are part of an operation, a JFC might become a combined force commander; similarly, the JFACC might become the combined force air and space component commander, and the joint air and space operations center the combined air and space operations center. For simplicity's sake, I do not make these distinctions in the body of the text.

(18.) For information on the structure and purpose of an AOC, see AFI 13-1AOC. See also "Air and Space Commander's Handbook for the JFACC" and AFDD 2-1.

(19.) AFDD 2, p. 4.

(20.) Denis Richards, Royal Air Force, 1939-1945, vol. 3, The Fight Is Won, by Hilary St. George Saunders (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1953-1954), 88.

(21). Norman Macmillan, The Royal Air Force in the World War, vol. 4 (London: Harrap, 1942-1950), 141. Some accounts call this group the Joint Planning Committee. See, for example, Davis, 336, 345.

(22.) Saunders, 86; and Davis, 348. The Joint Bombing Committee was sometimes also called the Allied Expeditionary Air Force Bombing Committee.

(23.) Macmillan, 142.

(24.) Ibid.

(25.) For details on the collapse of the communications net, see Thomas Alexander Hughes, Over Lord: General Pate Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II (New York: Free Press, 1995), introduction.

(26.) Davis, 347.

(27.) Macmillan, 141.

(28.) Saunders, 82.

(29.) Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II, vol. 3, Europe: Argument to V-E Day, January 1944 to May 1945 (1951; new imprint, Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 83.

(30.) Ibid.

(31.) After-Action Report, "Eighth Air Force: Tactical Operations in Support of Allied Landings in Normandy, 2June-17 June 1944," 9, FHRA, file no. 521.451,June 1944.

(32.) For details on the Cobra short bombings, see Hughes, 205-19.

(33.) AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, September 1997, 24.

(34.) Saunders, 152.

(35.) Operational Plans Division, memorandum to commanding general, Army Air Forces, subject: Crossbow, 3 May 1944, cited in Craven and Cate, 103.

(36.) Davis, 391.

(37.) Lt Gen Carl Spaatz to Gen Henry H. Arnold, letter, subject: Crossbow Objectives, 22 April 1944, cited in Craven and Cate, 101.

(38.) Figures cited in Davis, 426,

(39.) Gordon A. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, US Army, 1951), 322.

(40.) For details regarding the air war over Normandy in June, see Hughes, 149-69.

(41.) Rundstedt cited in war diary of German Seventh Army, 18 June 1944, Spaatz Papers, Library of Congress, box 74.

(42.) Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to his wife, letter, subject: Allied Air Superiority, 10 June 1944, in Erwin Rommel, The Rommel Papers, ed. B. H. Liddell Hart, trans. Paul Findlay (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1953), 491.

(43.) Albert Speer interviewed by Lt Gen Carl Spaatz, 17 August 1945, Spaatz Papers, Library of Congress, box 140.

(44.) Doctrine Watch #14: Effects, on-line, Internet, 7 October 2003, available from

(45.) A good example is Cold War-era "objective targeting."

(46.) Gen James H. Doolittle to Lt Gen Carl Spaatz, letter, subject: Effects of Bombing, 14 February 1944, AFHRA, file no. 520.451, June 1944.

(47.) "Minutes of Meeting Held at Norfolk House, 24 April, 1944, to Consider Targets in Area of Second Army," AFHRA, file no. 520.451,June 1944.

(48.) David A. Deptula, Firing for Effect: Change in the Nature of Warfare (Arlington, Va.: Aerospace Education Foundation, 24 August 1995), 6. Furthermore, AFDD 2-1, Air Warfare, 22 January 2000, defines parallel attack as "simultaneous attack of varied target sets to shock, disrupt, or overwhelm an enemy, often resulting in decisive effects" (108).

(49.) Deptula, 6.

(50.) Craven and Cate, 149.

(51.) Cited in Saunders, 79.

(52.) Background Paper on Air and Space Expeditionary Forces, CCAEF, 4 September 2002, in author's possession.

(53.) The best explication of today's concept of the expeditionary air and space force is Richard G. Davis, Anatomy of a Reform: The Expeditionary Aerospace Force (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2003), on-line, Internet, 18 September 2003, available from Publications/fulltext/AnatomyOfAReform.pdf.

(54.) Office of Statistical Control, Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, World War II, table 20, "Military Personnel Overseas, by Theater and by Type of Personnel, Jan 1943 to Aug 1945."

(55.) In the spring of 1933, the Army Air Corps had great difficulty carrying the country's mail for a short duration while the federal government renegotiated contracts with civil air carriers.

(56.) Craven and Cate, 120.

(57.) Hughes, 114.

(58.) Craven and Cate, 132.

(59.) See, for example, Henry H. Arnold, Global Mission (New York: Harper, 1949); Gen James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle with Carroll V. Glines, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books, 1991); and Arthur William Tedder, With Prejudice: The War Memoirs of Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Tedder (London: Cassell, 1966).

(60.) See Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans. Dino Ferrari (1942; new imprint, Washington, D,C.: Office of Air Force History, 1983); and William Mitchell, Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modero Air Power--Economic and Military (New York: Dover, 1988).

(61.) See John A. Warden III, The Air Campaign: Planning for Combar (San Jose, Calif.: to Excel, 1998).

(62.) Rice cited in Time, 30 September 1991, 35.

(63.) Lt Gen Elwood IL "Pete" Quesada interviewed by author, August 1992, in author's possession.

Dr. Thomas Alexander Hughes (BA, Saint John's University: MA, PhD, University of Houston) is an associate professor at the School of Advanced Air and Space Power Studies, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He formerly served as associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Strategy and International Security, Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and held the Ramsey Chair in Naval History, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Dr. Hughes is the author of Over Lord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II (1995).
COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Air Force
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hughes, Thomas Alexander
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2003
Previous Article:A century of air and space power.
Next Article:The Wright brothers.

Related Articles
Planned show charges for vets dropped.
City cheers heroes on the home front.
Teed off by a bad decision.
Veterans gather to honour fallen heroes.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters