Allied Air superiority almost complete over beachheads

A North American Mustang Mk I of No. 168 Squadron banking over Pierrefitte-en-Cinglais in Normandy on a tactical reconnaissance sortie, August 1944. Allied tanks can be seen on the road below.

A 2019 study pulls together a large number of sources to provide an overview of The Germans in Normandy. There was a huge disparity between what the frontline German troops were experiencing and what Hitler was being told. The German public was being given another picture altogether – a much rosier perspective:

Friend and foe alike that Wednesday asked himself: Where is the Luftwaffe? But as on the preceding day, the German Air Force found the task facing it overwhelming.

At first light on 7 June Oberfeldwebel Herbert Kaiser climbed in his trusty Messerschmitt Me109 and prepared to do battle again. Kaiser was one of two ‘old guards‘ left among the senior non—commissioned officers in III Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 1. A veteran of around 1,000 sorties, Kaiser had downed forty Soviet aircraft on the Eastern Front, and nine Allied in North Africa, but the air battle over Normandy was something new:

If the missions we had undertaken as fighters in the defence of the Reich until then had been tough and tested our nerves, the missions to follow on the invasion front were going to give us an insight into hell.

I will never forget our first intervention that morning, skimming over the landing beaches at Caen. The surface of the sea was saturated with hundred of boats of all sizes, while the sky was filled with bomber formations going to attack our front, accompanied by countless fighters. Lost in the middle of all that, a handful of Messerschmitts: ours!

The Focke-Wulfs of Schlachtgeschwader 4, the specialist ground-attack squadron which had arrived in Normandy on the afternoon of D-Day, began taking off at 6 a.m. on 7 June to attack the beachhead. Just twenty four Fw19Os were able to attack the landing area. Of the four waves which set off, only one penetrated the Allied fighter cordon to actually make a run at the troop concentrations on the beaches remaining Focke—Wulfs jettisoned their bombs and returned to base, only to be pounced upon by Mustangs.

‘Despite favourable weather, we achieved little,‘ the squadron’s diarist noted sadly that night. ‘Successful operations are impossible without effective fighter operation.‘

The next day was no better. One of three attacks on the beachheads was broken off early. All the squadron heard from above was criticism and admonishment. Orders were being issued, its diarist fumed, ‘only by people who had no idea of the situation or the strength of the enemy defences’.

Other Luftwaffe units were still moving up to their front-line airfields that Wednesday. Hauptmann Hans Groos had already witnessed the destruction of the aircraft of his JG26 on the first day of invasion at Le Mans.

Now, he approached the beachheads in trucks as the fighter unit searched for a suitable airfield.

‘On a long road, completely exposed, we passed a convoy of approximately twenty—five trucks, transporting 21 cm rockets, destined for the artillery,‘ the officer recalled. ‘Before our eyes, this convoy was attacked by four Mustangs which, in roughly seven passes, tore them to shreds. A quarter of an hour later, there were only three or four vehicles intact; all the others were on fire at 100m intervals.’

To Adolf Hitler in East Prussia, Gerd von Rundstedt was reporting that the battle for the beaches was making good progress. The invader would be defeated, the venerable field marshal assured his Fuhrer:

The troops engaged have fought bravely. Where ground has been lost this has only occurred because of the enemy’s material superiority. This will now change. Strong forces with panzers, artillery of all types and mortars are being brought up, and the Luftwaffe will considerably increase its operations…

Using its last man and last gun, Army Group B will attack and destroy the enemy forces which have landed…Not only will our attack continue, but will end in the final recapture of the main defensive line.

To the ordinary German citizen, the battle on the Channel coast was proceeding according to plan. The radio and newspaper accounts told them it was.

The Volkischer Beobachter trumpeted ‘heavy enemy losses‘. Enemy paratroopers had been ‘wiped out’; the Normandy terrain was littered with ‘countless crashed gliders and dead paratroopers‘. The Nazi Party newspaper continued:

After eliminating the troops dropped behind our coastal fortifications, our units drove against the landing points. Some smaller beachheads in the area of the Vire estuary as well as to the north of it, plus pockets of resistance in the Normandy peninsula were wiped out…

In the first twenty-four hours of the invasion, the enemy has been able to seize a stretch of coast around 40km wide, but just a few kilometres deep with some small landing areas, despite ruthlessly sacrificing strong forces and massive use of material provided by two empires.

He had to pay for this success with terrific losses in men as well as numerous ships, airplanes and weapons. The enemy has felt the strength of the German defence, and our troops respond to every step with counter—blows which become ever fiercer.

Richard Hargreaves paints a broad canvas, using numerous first hand accounts to provide the varying German perspectives on the battlefield.

Colonel Thomas JJ Christian Jr of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51 Mustang (E2-C, serial number 44-13410) nicknamed “Lou IV (Athelene)”. Printed caption on reverse: ‘52735 USAF – FRANCE. 8th AF. Col. Thomas J.J. Christian Jr., Sulphur Springs, Texas, C.O. of a North American P-51 Fighter Group, escorting bombers over Europe during invasion of Normandy. 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group. US Air Force photo.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.