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The Royal Navy & Operation Neptune continued

Royal Marine Commandos Wade Ashore
Placing Phoenix breakwater caissons in the British Mulberry Harbour

The Allied plan exploited their maritime power, allowing them to cross the greater distance to Normandy, rather than using the obvious short route to the Pas de Calais. This approach avoided the heaviest German defences. The invasion was ultimately launched in marginal weather but the problems this created were minimised by the professionalism of the seamen and the weather also meant the German defenders were surprised, with most of their commanders being away from their posts.

Allied minesweeping vessels were off the Normandy coast from the evening of 5 June but Allied dominance at sea meant the Germans were not unusually alarmed. From 0500 on 6 June they were joined by two RN midget submarines, X.20 and X.23, which surfaced to mark the British beaches. These submarines had left Portsmouth 76 hours before, lying in wait just off the coast. At 0530 the guns of the fleet opened fire, gradually being joined by the guns and rockets of special landing craft, and from 0730 troops, including Royal Marine Commandos, were landing in the British zone. While it should never be suggested that naval fires made the task of landing troops easy, it is certain that that task would have been even harder without them. Sixty thousand shells would be fired on D-Day and during the following month and after the battle captured German Army documents stated:

…even more disastrous than the material effect was the moral effect of the rapidly and precisely firing naval guns…Even when not reinforced by simultaneous air bombing, the drum fire inspired in the defenders a feeling of utter helplessness, which in inexperienced recruits caused fainting or indeed complete paralysis.

The supporting fire of the warships was extremely accurate…and made the movement of strategical reserves impossible within range of their guns (20 miles).

The powerful effects of naval firepower have again been recently demonstrated in Iraq and are a capability the RN are investing in.

Sustaining the Invasion

Even as troops were fighting on the beaches, naval clearance teams were removing German obstacles to open up the beaches to larger ships and so sustain the land campaign. By the end of D-Day over 132,000 troops had landed from the sea and from D+1 eight convoys arrived off the beaches each day to sustain and reinforce them. The supply ships were comprehensively protected from German U-boats and midget sabotage vessels that we would term today an 'asymmetric' threat. On D+1 the first 'Corncob' blockships were sunk to give small craft sheltered water and by mid-June two 'Mulberry' mobile harbours had taken shape. These provided a supply line even through the bad weather of 19-22 June and on 5 July, as Neptune came to an end, the millionth Allied solider safely walked ashore in Normandy.

Further Reading

  • Naval Historical Branch: Invasion Europe
  • (London: HMSO, 1994)
  • Commander K Edwards: Operation Neptune
  • (London: Collins, 1946)
  • Major L F Ellis: Victory in the West, Volume I,
  • The Battle of Normandy
  • (London: HMSO, 1962)
  • R Love & J Major (Ed): The Year of D-Day,
  • The 1944 Diary of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay
  • (Hull: University of Hull Press, 1994)
  • Captain Stephen Roskill: The War at Sea,
  • Volume III, Part II
  • (London: HMSO, 1961)