Aircraft supported a special Army operation in the Mortain area. Attacks were made on St. Hilaire, Villedieu, Ducey, Pontaubault, Avranches, St. Martin, St. Pont, and on bridges at Pontorson. Shipping targets were attacked north of the Seine Bay. Radio traffic indicated double missions by II./KG 51 (five and nine sorties) and I./SKG 10 (three and seven). In addition there was evidence of activity by I./KG 2, KG 6, II./KG 30 and I./KG 66. Nightfighters of I., II. and III./NJG 4 and I. and II./NJG 2 were depoyed in supprt of 2. SS-Pz. Div. in around St. Clément and St. Hilaire.
Taking advantage of expected moonlight, Fliegerdivision 2 planned to send around 20 Ju 88 against shipping off Barfleur with a Ju 88 S of 1.(F)/33 crossing the coast at 20.50 to provide “battle reconnaissance”. The raid was to cross out over the Somme Estuary from 20.50–21.15, returning over the Fécamp – Dieppe area around 22.30. The II./KG 26 reported a strength of 18 (11) aircraft for that evening but in the event managed to dispatch 12. The Gruppe staged through Tavaux and it was from there that Hptm. Rudi Schmidt (Kapitän of the 4. Staffel) reported to Fl.Div. 2 that adverse weather was forecast in the target area but that conditions were better off the English coast. Receiving no answer, he redirected the mission to the waters off the Isle of Wight. KG 77 used Dijon as its jumping-off airfield. Apparently two of the force turned back to Tavaux, with engine trouble and tyre damage, while the weather forced all but one of the rest to bring their torpedoes home. The remaining aircraft attacked a 7,000 GRT merchant vessel at 22.20. Radio traffic was detected from KG 26 and KG 77 while an aircraft of 1.(F)/33 was called by St. Martin without reply from 00.27–01.17.
On the night of the 7–8th, 161 of our aircraft attacked ground targets in the lodgement area with seven losses. Eight Do 217 were committed against shipping targets off Arromanches.
The Schnellbomber forces were to attack Villedieu at 20.25 and then strafe the road from there to Avranches while 50 minutes later KG 6 was to attack Pontaubault and its bridges. An hour after that, the main force was to concentrate on Avranches.
On 8/8 the enemy went over to the attack on a broad front … In the area round and north of Mortain our attack was unable to make any headway. Own defence front on line Domfront–Mayenne–Sillé echeloned to the rear is in process of being constructed … Enemy movements and behaviour lead to the conclusion that he is very thoroughly informed on our situation and the state of our forces.
Operations Officer, II. Jagdkorps (evening 8 August)
Summing up the period from 6 June to 1 August, SHAEF noted:
… no serious damage to ports or other shore installations has been reported as resulting from enemy bombing. Some fires were started, but those were brought quickly under control … The most serious damage to shipping … was caused by mines, most of which are believed to have been dropped from aircraft … The use of “window” [Düppel] has been attempted but there have been no reports of enemy ground jamming. No new tactics of approach, jamming, of manoeuvre have been discovered.
Düppel had varied between “inconvenient” and “ineffective”, with no effect on either American or British AA radars. It was however suspected that a few German aircraft were using Allied IFF sets to alert them to approaching night fighters.
There probably was no “correct” choice open to the Luftwaffe bomber force in this campaign. It had too many targets but neither the mass nor the precision to strike decisively against any of them. If mining offshore perhaps proved its most effective intervention, the results were hard for German commanders to assess at the time. Conversely, the record shows that bombing land targets heartened German troops, at least when delivered on the right side of the line. Such operations could undoubtedly inflict loss and damage on personnel and equipment and it is unlikely that anyone on the receiving end shrugged them off completely although they are given scant attention in accounts of the ground campaign. Given the sheer scale of Allied resources raids against both land and sea targets were rarely more than temporarily disruptive. During the actions of late july and early August, targets were approached by means of (successively) visual and radio beacons, pyrotechnics shot from the front line and markers put down on the objectives themselves but co-ordinating target-marking with the arrival of the main force seems to have been a recurring problem. Pioneering attempts to use guided weapons against bridges, if sound in principle, did not yield the hoped-for success. The III./KG 100's experience against land targets was severely limited and Allied night fighters cut into the already small number of carrier aircraft available. Even so, a generally downbeat one-page German assessment of X. Fliegerkorps (postwar but undated and unattributed) has this to say:
After the Normandy landing, operations over the Channel. Not easy to attack the Allies’ supply lines, heavy losses in consequence. The destruction of a bridge near Avranches by an FX at a critical stage in the ground fighting should be pronounced a particular success.
The bomber effort over Normandy might best be understood as stemming from the need to use every available resource in support of the German defence. Given the results achieved thus far in 1944—whether during the Steinbock offensive, against Anzio and Naples, over the Bay of Biscay or against the Mediterranean convoys—it is difficult to see how anyone’s expectations of the bombers in this campaign could have been high.
continued on next page …
PART NINE OF TEN
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© Nick Beale 2022–23