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Why were aircraft carriers not used during and following D-Day? They could have added a great deal of range to the air support operations.

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Why would you need aircraft carriers if you have friendly bases nearby? Carriers can be sunk, England can't. –  Orion Oct 23 '11 at 16:02
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@NullUserExceptionఠ_ఠ, England can be sunk, it's just much more difficult. –  Joe Jul 3 '12 at 19:52
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a request for counterfactual speculation. –  Samuel Russell Oct 2 '13 at 10:12

7 Answers 7

up vote 26 down vote accepted

The only landing in Europe and Africa that got carrier support was the Torch landing in North Africa in late 1942. In that case, it was not possible to use land-based air support, since there weren't any bases there. All following landings were within land-based air range (deliberately) and relied on it soley.

Aircraft carriers were very valuable, being necessary for fighting enemy fleets, supporting landings, raiding, and other missions. At the time of D-Day, the Japanese still had a powerful fleet, and it attacked US landings about two weeks after the Normandy invasion. Moreover, with the island-hopping strategy, Pacific invasions were often not within support range of any Allied airfield.

Moreover, Normandy would have been a difficult landing to support with carriers. Carriers need to have a lot of wind blowing down the deck for aircraft to take off or land, which means that they generally need a large clear maneuvering area. The English Channel, near Normandy, was too small for effective operations and crowded with landing craft. The carriers would have had to stay either in the North Sea, which was still dangerous, or the Atlantic, and the ground air bases would have been closer than the carriers.

After the Allied breakout, the air bases in England were still fairly close to the action, closer than carriers could have operated, and the Allies set up lots of air bases in France and other liberated areas. The Allied offensive didn't get anywhere near the open areas of the North Sea, where carriers could usefully operate, until about a month before the end of the war.

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Strategically, it didn't make sense to use aircraft carriers in the Atlantic. Any portion of the war that was taking place in the European theater could be reached from air bases already available in that area. The air support for D-Day was pretty considerable as it was.

Towards the end of 1942, the US only had two aircraft carriers that were operational. They needed them to provide air support on the Pacific front. As they added more aircraft carriers to the fleet in 1943 and 1944, they were sent to the Pacific to help support advances being made there. Even though the US tried to build airfields on each island they captured in the Pacific, these temporary strips were not sufficient enough to provide continuous support in the Pacific.

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Not quite. The USS Ranger (CV-4) spent most of the war in the Atlantic due to its old design and slower speed. It participated in Operation Torch. Also many Casablanca class Escort Carriers served in the Atlantic. –  jfrankcarr Apr 27 '12 at 21:19

Much of the allied airpower used in the invasion was for ground attack and for bombing. The aircraft used for these purposes weren't designed to operate from carriers. Also, the airfields of Southern England were only 25 minutes flying time to Normandy and the allies had so many ground based aircraft, carriers weren't needed.

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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you started. –  Tom Au Mar 9 '12 at 14:00
    
Light bombers operated from carriers, and USN dive bombers and torpedo bombers (used as level bombers) were reasonably effective, and likely more accurate (if more vulnerable) than the fighter-bombers actually used. –  David Thornley Mar 12 '12 at 2:16
    
Hmm. Somehow I missed this answer before adding mine. Oh well, upvote. –  T.E.D. Oct 4 '13 at 13:52

Air superiority wasn't really in question for the Allies in mid-1944 over Western Europe and so the extra aircraft that would have been provided weren't necessary. The Allies had thousands of aircraft operating from airfields not far away in southern England - a few hundred more from aircraft carriers wouldn't have been all that helpful.

Carrier based aircraft were not as good at their jobs as land-based aircraft, for example the best fighters of the day, the Spitfire and Mustang could not operate from carriers. No large bombers could operate from carriers.

The English Channel is quite a confined stretch of water and it was absolutely stuffed full of ships around D-Day, carriers are large vessels that would have struggled to operate in such confines.

All the carriers the Allies had were busy elsewhere, in the Pacific for example.

The Allies were worried about mines in the channel and wouldn't want to lose such a valuable ship as a carrier to a mine.

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Aircraft Carriers are deep water vessels. Once you use them close to the shore they become vulnerable to attack from land bases aircraft and artillery once they get into a confined area like the channel.

The advantage of getting aircraft closer to the action was outweighed by the risks.

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My father was assigned to a destroyer during WWII, and he was always in the Atlantic fleet. He talked very little about the war, but the one thing he did say was his ship was assigned to an aircraft carrier. However, he said he didn't know where they were going in such a hurry, but he remembers waking up and walking up on deck and he couldn't believe his eyes -- every where he looked, he saw ships - all kinds. The English were supposed to provide air support for D Day, but they were fogged in, therefore the decision was made to bring the gun ships in as close as they could to fire on the beach; however, they weren't close enough and a lot of the soldiers that were killed during the landing were actually killed by friendly fire. This was shown in the movie, Saving Private Ryan. If you watch closely at the invasion, you will notice the Germans did not have big guns, not the type that were exploding on the beach and in the waters just off shore. Oh, one other family history about D Day, my father was the youngest of 5 sons, Pearl Harbor happened on his 16th birthday, they all joined the Navy, but were on different ships. After the war, as they were talking, they learned that they were all there off the shores of Normandy on D Day.

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+1. Good account but please do not quote films as historical accurate: they (almost) never are. –  Sardathrion Oct 2 '13 at 7:56
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@Sardathrion Saving Private Ryan was fairly accurate as these things go. Mentioning a movie serves much the same purpose as posting an illustration - if it is not being used as the primary source it is still useful for painting a picture of the scene. –  LateralFractal Oct 2 '13 at 8:41
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And yet even IMDB has 13 instances of it being inacurate. Films are entertainment and not history. –  Sardathrion Oct 2 '13 at 8:58

The island of England, chock full of military airports, was well within aircraft range of the landing beaches. So special ships to carry airplanes would have really been unnessecary.

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For all intents and purposes, England acted as a giant aircraft carrier.

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