Tactics and the cost of Victory in Normandy

Tactics The Normandy campaign saw the Anglo-American armies inflict a decisive defeat on the German military machine. The British Army’s role was pivotal, but victory came at a price. Between D-Day and the end of August some 83,000 British, Canadian and Polish troops became casualties, of whom almost 16,000 were killed.


These losses were a reflection of the nature of the campaign, fought against a tenacious and committed enemy obliged by Hitler to contest every foot of ground.


Troops from the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers in the village of Saint-Manvieu-Norrey during Operation ‘Epsom’, 26 June 1944. The strain of battle is apparent on their faces. The infantry faced the hardest of tasks, advancing against an almost invisible enemy, acutely vulnerable to machine guns, mortar fire and the sniper’s bullet. They carry pickaxes on their backs, to help dig the slit trenches that were their only protection.

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Men of 15th (Scottish) Division await the signal to advance during Operation ‘Epsom’. 26 June 1944. The British were not as well versed in infiltration tactics as the Germans. Instead, they relied on traditional attacks behind a rolling artillery barrage to suppress enemy positions. Failure to keep up with, or ‘lean into’, the barrage meant troops were exposed to the full weight of enemy fire.

By 1944 Britain was running out of soldiers. The campaigns in the Mediterranean and Far East, the war at sea and the bomber offensive had all drained her manpower reserves. The army that was sent to Normandy lacked for nothing except adequate reserves of fighting troops. Though well supplied with weapons, vehicles and equipment, Second Army could not afford huge losses, militarily or indeed politically. With vast reserves of US manpower now coming on stream, it was vital for Britain’s interests and national standing that her field army was strong enough both to engage and defeat the Germans, and then also provide a sustainable army of occupation. Everything had to be done to minimize casualties and preserve the army’s fighting strength.


Sherman tanks of the Staffordshire Yeomanry carrying infantry forward during Operation ‘Goodwood’, 18 July 1944. Unlike the armoured divisions, the independent armoured divisions, the independent armoured brigades were primarily intended to function as close support for the infantry. As the Normany campaign went on, infantry increasingly took to riding into the battle zone on the backs of the tanks, ‘de-bussing’ when within range of the enemy.


The Royal Navy battleship HMS Rodney providing fire support for the invasion forces, 7 June 1944. Spotter aircraft were used to direct her fire, which could reach up to 23 miles (37 km) inland. During Operation ‘Charnwood’ on 8 July, her 16-inch guns were successfully employed against tanks of 21st Panzer Division assembling south of Caen for a counterattack.


Sherman tanks of 24th Lancers passing a knocked out German Panther near Rauray, 30 June 1944. The Panther’s long, high velocity 75 mm gun was a much more powerful weapon than that of the Sherman, and deadly to British tanks at well over a mile. The Sherman had to get much closer, and could only penetrate the Panther’s side or rear armour.

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Bombs exploding on German positions around Cagny at the start of Operation ‘Goodwood’, 18 July 1944. A Lancaster, one of 927 RAF heavy bombers involved in the attack, can be seen in the top left of the photo. Over 6,800 tons of bombs were dropped by RAF and USAAF aircraft on five fortified villages east of Caen.


A Royal Artillery 5.5-inch medium gun firing at night during the offensive in the Odon valley near Evrecy, 16 July 1944. Medium artillery regiments (each containing 16 guns) were corps level assets, and were normally used to supplement the infantry divisions’ own field regiments of 25-pounders. Their heavier shells were more effective against dug-in enemy positions. B 7413


A German Tiger tank (weighing 56 tons) from the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion blown upside down during the Allied bomber attacks that preceded Operation ‘Goodwood’. Despite the devastation caused by the bombing, most of the battalions’s Tigers escaped serious damage and by the end of the day had knocked out 40 British tanks.