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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?

  • 4
    Because the Allies had air superiority, IMHO. – quant_dev May 15 '12 at 20:49
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    There had been a major storm on June 5, clearing just enough to get the invasion in. The Germans would not have known about the clearing weather early, being to the east of the beaches. – Oldcat Aug 7 '14 at 21:49
30

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-51 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 perceived 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
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    @jfrankcarr Thank you kindly, your answer fleshes out the simple answer quite nicely. – David Pointer May 16 '12 at 14:45
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    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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    'A few months after the D-Day invasion in June 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower surveyed the Normandy beaches with his son. "You'd never get away with this if you didn't have air supremacy," then 2nd Lt. John Eisenhower told his father. "Without air supremacy," the elder Eisenhower replied, "I wouldn't be here."' source – Schwern Dec 24 '14 at 10:18
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    The strategic bombing campaign was critical to success at Normandy. Only six months before D-Day the first long range P-51 escorts arrived in England. General Doolittle allowed the escorts to leave the bombers to hunt Luftwaffe interceptors. This was quite successful and depleted the German trained pilot count. As mentioned, the Luftwaffe could have put up more air power if not for the Patton Army deception. But the Allies had clear air superiority and would have done well in any event. – TomO Jun 21 '17 at 16:16
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That only two aircraft attacked on June 6th is a myth perpetuated by the movie The Longest Day. What we see in the movie was the attack of two FW-190A8 of Jagdgeschwader 26 "Schlageter", piloted by Oberstleutnant Josef Priller (wing commander of JG 26) and Unteroffizier Wodarczyk.

Priller survived the war (at the rank of Oberst, Inspector of Day Fighters (East)), wrote a history of JG 26 from his point of view, and actually worked as technical advisor on the movie set of The Longest Day.

You can see him (his character at least), played by Heinz Reincke, talking about how his squadrons were relocated away from the coast due to incessant bombing of the forward airfields (that order been given on June 4th).

That, plus the 30-to-1 numerical superiority of the Allies in the theater, are good reasons why there was comparatively little Luftwaffe activity.

However, there were several other missions. The YouTube channel Military Aviation History has a very nice video summarizing Luftwaffe operations on D-Day.


Of course, the two planes pictured in the movie are not even remotely looking like FW-190's. They appear to be Bf 108's, which were unarmed. ;-)

3

Not true, my father was at Arromanches on D-day and over following days. They were attacked repeatedly by Ju-88 aircraft dropping Oyster mines within the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches. My rather had a B&W photo of one such aerial mine impacting the sea inside the harbour

He said on one occasion a Ju-88 attacked so low its propellers lifted plumes of spray off the sea behind it.

My father also recalled that his ship (LCH-187) fired on a low flying Spitfire with no invasion stripes. This aircraft was definitely a captured Spitfire flow by Zirkus Rosarius

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    Do you have any other sources? – CGCampbell Jul 22 '14 at 17:36
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    My father duh. He was at Arromanches on LCH-187 – user2357 Jul 22 '14 at 23:54
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    To be fair, the question says that 2 attacks were on June 6, not that they didn't return on subsequent days and possibly with more planes. Remember, the weather on June 6 was crummy, almost cancelling the invasion. – Oldcat Aug 7 '14 at 21:47
  • On D Day itself, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegsmarine, the two very mobile services, could interfere with the landing operation. After D Day, night time bombers were frequent, and a U Boat did sink the SS Leopoldville, with great loss of life in the troops on board. However, the actual landings, when the Allies were the most vulnerable, saw little in the way of Luftwaffe action, largely because their pilots and the airfields within range of Normandy had been under intense attack in the months before. – tj1000 Jun 26 '17 at 13:26
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    This is a good example of being careful when using memoir as history. Even when 100% accurate, memoirs are vulnerable to selection bias. We're hearing this story because their father was under air attack during the invasion. We're not hearing the stories from others who weren't attacked. Then there's leaps. Your father recalls his ship firing at an a unmarked Spitfire, entirely plausible. Claiming it was Zirkus Rosarius (or rather KG 200) is the danger. It may have been a poorly marked Allied Spitfire. Was KG 200 there? Finally, "LCH" is not a landing craft designation I'm familiar with. – Schwern May 18 at 22:59

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