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Why were so few Luftwaffe attacks flown against the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944?

I understand there were roughly 200 aircraft available in France/Belgium, and yet there were only 2 aircraft that strafed one of the beaches? The answer I found via google was "the aircraft were held back until reinforcements could be brought up from Germany."

I am wondering if there were other reasons. For example:

  • Fuel availability
  • Allied air superiority over the beaches
  • Holding the aircraft in reserve for the anticipated invasion at Calais

The Allies seemed to be expecting the Luftwaffe, judging by the number of barrage balloons over the beaches. Why was the Luftwaffe held back when the Allied invasion forces were at their most vulnerable?

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Because the Allies had air superiority, IMHO. –  quant_dev May 15 '12 at 20:49
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The allies had air superiority (as quant_dev commented) is the basic explanation. I'll try to add some details.

First of all, ground support trained pilots were in short supply. Most pilots stationed in France were trained on bomber interception, not close ground support. Pilots/units with this training were usually stationed on the Eastern Front. Training for pilots in general was limited due to shortages of instructors, training aircraft and fuel. Instructors, particularly those in non-interceptor roles, were increasingly assigned to combat units. By the end of 1944, all flight instructors were reassigned to combat units.

German pilot ranks were also decimated by several months of aerial combat against the technologically better P-47 and P-52 fighters and better trained Allied pilots. Over 2000 German fighter pilots had died in combat in 1944 prior to the invasion. This left less experienced pilots for the most part with the job of mounting a defense. They did manage to launch about 100 sorties during the invasion but these were generally ineffective, as you noted.

Adding to this was confusion over the nature of the invasion. As you also noted, German commanders thought that the Normandy invasion was a feint to mask an invasion in the Calais area by Patton's (fictional) First U.S. Army Group. Thus they held their ground and air reserves to meet this threat.

If the strategic bombing of Germany hadn't been as successful, the invasion would have been a much more iffy proposition than it was.

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Air superiority over the landing area was considered a prerequisite for any invasion. This is why the arial "Battle of Britian" occurred before Hitler ever tried to invade England, and why when he couldn't win it, he never did invade. –  T.E.D. May 16 '12 at 13:20
@jfrankcarr Thank you kindly, your answer fleshes out the simple answer quite nicely. –  David Pointer May 16 '12 at 14:45
Great answer, except the final sentence which doesn't seem to be related to the preceding analysis. +1 anyway –  Felix Goldberg Apr 25 '13 at 10:35
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