Historian Anthony Beevor on the successes and failures of D-Day (Interview)

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tags: D-Day, Anthony Beevor



Emma McFarnon is Web Editor for BBC History Magazine

Q: In your book you explain that the Allied casualties on D-Day itself were significantly lower than anticipated. Why do you think this was?

A: It was partly because they took the Germans by surprise and also because the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were less effective than they had thought. The RAF and the USAF did an extraordinary job in keeping the Luftwaffe on the ground, with deep patrols right into France.

As for Kriegsmarine, it only managed a few attacks by E-boats [torpedo boats]. The Allies had been expecting massive losses of minesweepers because if they had been ambushed by German destroyers they would have been intensely vulnerable. Yet not a single minesweeper was sunk.

The casualties for drowning were not in fact that high and most of the casualties on landing came from landing craft which were turned over or tanks being swamped by the waves. Even on Omaha beach, despite the great American myth, casualties were lower than expected and on the Gold, Juno and Sword beaches the Allies got away very lightly.

Q: Was the relative lack of casualties on D-Day due more to German shortcomings than Allied success?

A: Yes, I think that is true. There were in fact failures in the Allied plans, which had depended on knocking out the German defences with shelling and bombing. The Allied shelling from naval artillery went on for too short a period to take out many of the defenses.

It would also have been much better to have destroyers going in close to bombard rather than having battleships shelling for a couple of hours offshore. The American air commanders said their bombing could be so accurate that it would knock everything out, but the bombing on D-Day was in most places completely wasted.

At Omaha for example, the Americans didn’t want their bombers to fly along the coast because they would be exposed to flak. Instead they came in over the invasion fleet and of course they were afraid of dropping their bombs on the landing craft so they held on a few seconds more, meaning their bombs fell on open countryside rather than hitting the beaches.

Considering how few of the defences had actually been knocked out by the bombers’ assault, it was a miracle that the casualties were so light. It was a nasty shock for many of the invading troops to arrive and find the gun emplacements were still in action…. 




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