In remembrance of D-Day, June 6 1944, here is an article that originally appeared in the Navy Review Newsletter:
After World War 2, when questioned on a single factor responsible for victory in that conflict, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the great American warrior and future President responded “the Higgins boat”. Although, rightly justified in declaring his powerful land armies, commanded by legendary generals such as Patton, Bradley, and Montgomery as cause for the defeat of the Axis Powers, Ike instead acknowledged the significance of Seapower in the European Theater.
The Second World War was a battle of logistics on land and sea. Industrial Age militaries required vast amounts of fuel to remain mobile; factories needed huge quantities of raw matériel to build weapons, and populations demanded increased store of food supplies to survive. This made the sealanes vital, and the Nazi’s doubly determined in their U-boat campaign to sever the flow of goods.
With all of Europe and vast chunks of the African Continent under Hitler’s domination, the need for navies to seize beachheads was clear early in the struggle. Ike understood this from the beginning, even before he achieved command of all US forces in Europe. In early 1942, he first observed the Higgins boat, a shallow watercraft with a bow ramp for easy loading of troops and vehicles on beaches, and realized this was the key to victory. The landing craft, along with the DUKW amphibious vehicle and larger Landing Ship-Tanks (LSTs) remained foremost on the general’s wish list throughout the conflict. The number of amphibious vessels, or the lack thereof, often determined strategy, plus the movement and placement of Ike’s armies.
The General’s first challenge was the invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch, on November 8, 1942. For political reasons, the bulk of the 82,000 troops were American. Some 500 transports escorted by 350 warships landed Ike’s forces on beaches in Morocco and Algeria. The invasion was wildly successful, though a short naval duel ensued between the USS MASSACHUSETTS and the unfinished French battleship JEAN BART, with the American ship the victor.
To knock Italy out of the war, Ike’s Navy conducted, in terms of Manpower, the largest amphibious invasion in history at Sicily on July 10, 1943. The 470,000 troops carried out a 39-day campaign that ended Mussolini’s dream of Empire, though his country remained occupied by the Nazi’s to the war’s end. The Navy received much praise, offshore with 1400 warships and landing craft, after gunfire support helped turn back German counterattacks against the beachhead. Naval bombardment from offshore destroyers, often sailing dangerously close inshore, was all that stood between victory and defeat during later assaults at Salerno and Anzio.
Ike carried his expertise of amphibious assaults to Britain after his appointment as commander of the planned Cross Channel Invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Upon taking control, he delayed the operation until enough of his precious landing craft were built. The initial wave consisted of 5 divisions (plus 2 more airborne) in two naval TaskForces, the Eastern (British), and the Western (American) which totaled 1213 warships plus 4126 landing craft of various types and sizes. This armada began its landings on June 6, 1944 and again harvested magnificent success. Battleships such as the USS ARKANSAS and HMS WARSPITE pounded German coastal fortifications. Only at Omaha Beach was the invasion ever in doubt, but once against the tenacious destroyers were instrumental in turning the tide. One famous action saw the USS EMMONS in a duel with fearsome Nazi 88mm cannon. By the morning of the 7th, Ike’s Navy had transported 66,000 troops plus their equipment to Normandy, with many millions to come.
Usually associated with the terrific land battles in North Africa and Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower also proved the value of seapower to victory over Nazi Germany, as much as Admiral Nimitz’s mighty Pacific Fleet was in the defeat of Imperial Japan. His brilliant foresight and perception ranks him with Washington, Grant, and Schwartzkopf, other great American military leaders who grasped the importance of combined land and sea operations in defeating our nation’s enemies.