The Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson

The Epic Story of the Liberation of Europe in World War II

To mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, I've asked my fellow historian Joseph Balkoski, whose scholarship on Operation OVERLORD is unsurpassed, to write a series of short essays about preparations for the invasion. A new article will appear every two weeks between now and June 6.

— Rick Atkinson


Air Support for OVERLORD
by Joseph Balkoski
Posted March 3, 2014

Ike Eisenhower had to admit that his best friend “Gee” Gerow’s soldierly skills surpassed his own. Those talents would be needed, the supreme commander presumed, when Major General Gerow’s command surged ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day. However, just thirty-eight days before the invasion—on April 28, 1944—a concerned Ike noticed that the strain of command had deeply affected Gerow. That afternoon, on a railroad siding near Taunton, England, Eisenhower and Gerow sat in Ike’s Pullman coach, code-named BAYONET, to hash out solutions to the intractable challenges of amphibious warfare. “Gerow seemed a bit pessimistic,” a witness wrote, “and finally Ike said to him that he should be optimistic and cheerful because he has behind him the greatest firepower ever assembled on the face of the earth.”

Ike had a point. When one totaled the bomb tonnage of the warplanes based in Britain and contemplated the impact of that immense destructive power on the enemy, surely the Germans’ ability to resist the invasion would be crippled. But as the frustrated supreme commander would soon learn, the Anglo-American high command’s divergent views on strategic air power generated acrimonious disputes that came close to nullifying the “firepower” boast Ike had made to Gerow. True, even the most enthusiastic proponents of strategic air power, such as the U.S. Army Air Force’s Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz and the RAF’s Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, agreed that heavy bombers must contribute in some way to OVERLORD. Squabbles over the nature of that contribution, however, nearly ripped the Allied high command apart. Who would command strategic air in OVERLORD? How long would that command arrangement last? What missions would the heavy bombers be expected to carry out?

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