Why was there so little bombardment done to prepare the Omaha beach for invasion? What factors affected the decision about how much preparation would take place and the overall invasion schedule? What factors limited the effectiveness of bombardment.

Why there was no preliminary bombardment for a 2 - 3 days, may be month?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is based on a misunderstanding. – Lennart Regebro Feb 12 '14 at 17:49
  • I see, this is weather. I mean preliminary bombardment for a 2 - 3 days, may be for a month. After such bombardment, descent shall no meet any resist. It is what Americans does now in their operations, Iraq, etc... – user2496 Feb 13 '14 at 5:24
  • @user2496 no. It was tactical and strategic considerations. Weather played a factor in delaying the landings, not in deciding the duration of the preliminary bombardment (if weather had played a role, the bombardment would have been several days longer than planned because it would have started before the weather delays became apparent). – jwenting Feb 13 '14 at 13:42

As Luke commented, there was a bombardment. It was however largely ineffective because the construction of the bunkers and forts meant they were pretty much impervious to aerial bombing and very hard to see and hit from the sea.
With modern guided weapons it might have been different, but those were of course not available.

There are several reasons for not having a bombardment lasting days prior to D-Day. Surprise is one, and a big reason.
Another reason is weather. The operation had already been postponed for several days due to bad weather in the English Channel which made crossing in the landing craft impossible. As it, 4 June was only marginally acceptable and there were people suggesting the landings be postponed until the next month (when once again the moon would be dead, giving a night with no moonshine, which is why the days around 4 June had been chosen). As is, it was decided to go ahead anyway, despite the weather, as a delay of another month was deemed to increase the risk of the invasion plans leaking too much.
So the ships and aircraft only had hours to bombard the landing beaches, both because of planning concerns and because of the need for surprise.
Had they taken days, that would have been days for the Germans to relocate the forces stationed near Calais (where they were convinced the invasion would come), making the landing that much harder and quite likely impossible.

The bombardments of the other beaches were more effective because of the geography at those locations, which provided less natural protection of the fortifications.

  • Was the moon factor related to moonlight, or to the level of the tide on the French coast at the time of the landings? – DJohnM Feb 13 '14 at 23:07
  • @User58220 from what I understand, primarily light. To run in at maximum tide and run over the German obstacles (plus be less exposed on the beaches) they'd have to go in at full moon... – jwenting Feb 14 '14 at 7:27
  • I was referring to the daily range of tides and its relation to dawn, not the monthly increase/decrease in total range. See leif.org/EOS/D-day-tides.pdf – DJohnM Feb 14 '14 at 18:10
  • @User58220 the monthly change is far more important in relation to the moon than is the daily change. A particular day is chosen for that, then time of day for the daily variation. – jwenting Feb 17 '14 at 7:44

As stated by American Luke - saying that there was no preliminary bombardment of Omaha Beach is incorrect.

Immediately before the landings were due to start the beach defenses were subjected to a 40 minute naval bombardment and a 30 minute aerial bombardment.

The Naval Element of this bombardment was to be provided by:

USS Texas (Battleship), USS Arkansas (Battleship), HMS Glasgow (Light Cruiser), HMS Bellona (Light Cruiser), Montcalm (French Light Cruiser), Georges Leygues (French Light Cruiser), USS Frankford (Destroyer), USS McCook (Destroyer), USS Carmick (Destroyer), USS Doyle (Destroyer), USS Emmons (Destroyer), USS Baldwin (Destroyer), USS Harding (Destroyer), USS Satterlee (Destroyer), USS Thompson (Destroyer), HMS Tanatside (Destroyer), HMS Talybont (Destroyer), HMS Melbreak (Destroyer).

-"Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944" by Joseph Balkoski, Pages 79 - 80.

However, this bombardment was, and is, considered insufficient.

In general, it is believed that the time available for pre-landing bombardment was not sufficient. German defensive positions were well camouflaged and strong. It is considered that these positions should be destroyed by slow aimed fire from close range, prior to the landing. Something more that temporary neutralization is required when troops face beach mines, wire, anti-tank ditches and similar obstacles after landing.

-Rear Admiral John Hall, Force O, Operation Neptune Action Report, July 1944.

According to various sources (including the Wikipedia Article on Omaha Beach) 2 Battleships, 3 Cruisers and 12 Destroyers were tasked to Omaha beach. One of the battleships involved was USS Texas (The other was the USS Arkansas) fired 244 14" Shells in the first 34 minutes of D-Day, which equates to 7.5 Shells per minute (Source). Assuming at the USS Arkansas achieved a similar rate of fire, in excess of 450 14" shells were fired in this time frame.

On it's own this is an incredible amount of fire and when you factor in the secondary batteries of both Battleships as well as the gunfire from the Cruisers and Destroyers the preliminary bombardment of Omaha Beach cannot be considered insubstantial.

The aerial element of the preliminary bombardment was tasked to the 2nd Bombardment Division of the US Eighth Air Force. ("Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944" by Joseph Balkoski, Page 76) which was made up of some 400 B24 Liberator Bombers.

A B24-J could carry a maximum of 8,800 lbs of bombs on a short range mission. This means that the 400 B24s assigned to Omaha Beach could drop a maximum of 3,520,000 lbs of bombs on Omaha Beach.

However, due to the fact that the nature of bombing in Europe (in that it was inaccurate due to the altitude it was conducted from) the bomber force was limited to using 100 lbs bombs in order to prevent the beach from becoming heavily cratered and therefore impeding the effectiveness of the bombers against the bunkers defending Omaha Beach. ("Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944" by Joseph Balkoski, Page 78)

While this bombardment was considered insufficient, it was not all that insubstantial. The bombardment described above represents the expenditure of a substantial amount of munitions in a confined area and time space.

The insufficiency of the bombardment can be seen when the preliminary bombardment of Omaha Beach is compared to the bombardments seen in the Pacific Theatre. For example, the Invasion of Noemfoor, in 1944, saw a preliminary bombardment that was carried out by 5 Cruisers and 25 Destroyers. (Source) Granted, there were no Battleships but there is a large difference in numbers.

While the bombardment of Noemfoor was considered to be highly effective, the same cannot be said of the 1943 battle of Tarawa Atoll. At Tarawa the Japanese were bombarded for 3 hours by the flotilla (that consisted of 17 aircraft carriers, 12 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers and 66 destroyers, although I am unsure of how much of this Flotilla was involved in the bombardment). This bombardment failed to cause any major disruption to the Japanese defenses. This shows that even a preliminary bombardment that was nearly 5 times longer in duration and from a larger flotilla than at Omaha Beach failed to cause any major disruption to the defender.

When all of these factors are combined, along with other salient factors such as the time of the bombardment (~5.50am) which hampered the ability of Naval gunners to spot their targets due to low light, it is evident that the bombardment was never going to have the desired effect on the defenders of Omaha Beach.

  • Sorry, I do have more to write here - but no time until later this evening. – Kobunite Feb 12 '14 at 16:53
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    The bigger battleship guns were needed at Omaha to stand any chance at all of breaching the fortifications. From reading the Noemfoor report it seems the Japanese positions there were more spread out but hastily constructed, therefore a higher volume of smaller calibre fire was more effective. – jwenting Feb 13 '14 at 7:31
  • I was going to mention Iwo Jima - but that was subjected to a above average bombardment... also, the German beach defences could have been breached if the Battleships could place direct fire onto them (See quote) or if the bombers could have used larger bombs and delay fuses. – Kobunite Feb 13 '14 at 8:18
  • yes, a few direct hits on the firing slits would have knocked them out, but that accuracy was not possible with the 14" guns of the battlewagons except at point blank range, and the USN didn't want to risk those ships in the shallows I guess (or within easy range of German guns). Iwo comes closer to the scenario encountered at Omaha, shows how much firepower is needed to subdue a well dug in enemy, something not feasible at Omaha because of timing and the need for strategic surprise that only allowed for a few hours of preliminary action before the invasion forces hit the beach. – jwenting Feb 13 '14 at 8:57
  • Yeah - that's my point though; it's not that the bombardment wasn't insubstantial but it was very insufficient. – Kobunite Feb 13 '14 at 9:29

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