Enemy Air Reaction
Calculations that enemy air opposition to the initial landings would both be on a heavy scale were borne out by the Luftwaffe's behavior. Our ground forces were both surprised and gratified at their relative freedom from air attacks.
It is of interest to examine just what the GAF was doing for several days before the invasion started, and then during the assault phase
Dawn 28 May-Dawn 4 June
During the night of 28-29 May some 70 enemy aircraft, consisting of Ju-88's, Me-410's, and FW-190's, operated against Britain. There was an armed reconnaissance of the Sussex coast by 10 FW-190's and Me410's, and 50 Ju-88's and Ju-188's carried out mine laying operations between Teignmouth and Start Point. There were 10 Me-410's on intruder patrols over East Anglia. Bombs fell on Worthing, Hove, Lyme Regis, Torquay, and Paignton areas.
An armed reconnaissance of the eastern Channel was carried out by some 90 Ju-88's, Ju-188's and Me-410's on the night of 29-30 May, and mine laying and a bombing attack took place in the Falmouth area early on 30 May. Despite very favorable weather during the early part of the week, the absence of known overland reconnaissance aircraft west of Portsmouth was most noticeable. In view of the increasing imminence of Allied landing operations, this lack of interest in covering south coast regions as a whole was remarkable.
Strong Fighter reaction was provoked by major Allied raids on central and eastern Germany and Poland. The main effort was made on the 28th, when about 450 single-engine and 50 twin-engine fighter sorties were flown, of which approximately 200 were encountered near Dessau and the remainder in the Magdeburg and Strasbourg localities. It is estimated that 300/350 sorties were flown on 29 and 30 May. The reactions to attacks on France, Belgium, and western Germany remained negligible. Only slight reaction was aroused by RAF Bomber Command night missions to targets in France and Belgium.
Bombs fell at Falmouth and scattered points between Hampshire and Sussex on 1 June. possible intruder operations on the night of 31 May-1 June were carried out by about 15 ME-410's, six of which were overland and dropped bombs in the Norwich region.
FW-200's from Trondheim carried out long-range reconnaissance on 5 days of the week, and Ju-290's from southwest France on one day. Other reconnaissance activity was generally on a low scale. Of two Ju-88 reconnaissance aircraft observed in the Orkneys-Shetlands area on the 30th , one was destroyed east of Kirkwall and the other came overland at Lerwick. Two Me-109 reconnaissance aircraft were destroyed south of the Isle of Wight on the 29th.
Dawn 4 June-Dawn 11 June
If more evidence is needed that the Allied landings in Normandy achieved complete tactical surprise, consider that there was no appreciable air opposition until the night of 6-7 June, when some 175 long range bomber sorties are estimated to have been flown against shipping off the Cherbourg coast and against targets on the beachheads, including 55 sorties by aircraft carrying torpedoes and radio-controlled bombs. All available types of aircraft were used, including torpedo carrying units from the south of France, but the attacks, especially those on shipping, appear to have been a complete failure.
Similar operations, including mine laying, were carried out on the following night, although the scale of effort fell off to about 160 sorties and to 100 or fewer on succeeding nights, probably because of bad weather.
Both long-range bomber and torpedo-bomber operations were conspicuously ineffective. The scale of effort was possibly below that anticipated due to unexpected weakness of the long-range bomber force; there had been no evidence of long-range bomber activity by daylight.
Small intruder operations were carried out off and over East Anglia on the night of 7-8 and 10-11, with an estimated 10 aircraft participating in each. Day and night reconnaissance was flown over the beachheads and the Channel, with fairly regular cover of the Straits and the Thames estuary as far as the Suffolk coast, and over the southern part of the North Sea.
For at least four nights of that wee, Ju-290's operated over the Atlantic, probably in search of convoys, to the west of the Bay of Biscay, but no attacks were reported.
The main GAF fighter activity was concentrated against landing operations; little opposition was encountered by Eighth Air Force heavy bombers. There was no immediate fighter reaction on 6 June, when provisional estimates amounted to only about 70 sorties against the Allied beachheads. However, the tempo increased on 7 June with the arrival of sizable SEF reinforcements, and the estimated scale of effort rose to about 300 sorties, of which 60/70 were ground attacks. Estimated sorties on 8 June amounted to 525/550 in the battle area, including 75/100 ground attacks, and on 9 June, despite adverse weather conditions for most of the day, the GAF delivered some 500 sorties, including 110/120 ground attacks. These fell off on 10 June, with 60/70 ground attacks out of a total of 260/270 sorties.
There are strong indications that after four days of fairly intensive single-engine fighter operations and Allied night and day bombing of bases, enemy strength was considerably reduced and serviceability was probably not higher than 50 percent. In any event, it is ridiculous to think that the reaction encountered was anything like the force that could have been employed had the GAF high command elected to make a finish fight of it.
Some day the Luftwaffe's historians may publish their side of the story, may tell us what the opposition to the Normandy invasion was so weak. That account will be eminently worth reading.