Background: This interesting article from Das Reich, a weekly Nazi magazine from early 1944, discusses the then lively subject of invasions. The Germans had already had experiences with Allied landings, and knew that an invasion of France was likely within the year. The author here suggests that past successful German invasions were far different than the expected future Allied invasions. Although not specifically saying so, the article encourages the reader to believe that an Allied invasion will encounter insurmountable difficulties. The SS report on domestic morale found that this article was well-received.
The source: Heinz Bongartz, “Die Landung. Vor der Bewährungsprobe der kombinierten Luft-Seekriegführung,” Das Reich, 16 January 1944.
The Test of Combined Air and Naval Military Leadership
by Heinz Bongartz
Ever since the concept of the second front entered the military-political vocabulary of our day, the problem of an “invasion” has been at the center of military discussions. The “second front” in no way exhausts the question. Ignoring the bold German landing operations in Norway that were really the beginning of the battle between Germany and England, the invasion was central in Asia from the first hours of the war on, since Japan depended on invasions of every variety for the overwhelming part of its operations. The invasion became a central strategic question of the Second World War.
In recent months invasions took on a key role in the Mediterranean even more significant than in the events in eastern Asia. It became the bearer, or the forebearer, of significant events. This will have to continue in the future if the strategic program of the enemy naval powers is to succeed. This is the case in the Solomon Islands, at Bougainville, in the Gilbert Islands, and at the moment in the Aleutians. This is not because sea power itself has failed and one has to attack the enemy on land, using the fleet to establish a bridgehead. Rather, the decisive naval battle in Japanese home waters the only place Japan has to fight can only be risked if there is air superiority, made difficult by the distances involved. Invasion will have to be at the center of Anglo-American military plans in both East Asia and Europe in the coming days.
An invasion is a question of sea power in its modern form, heavily supported by air, and that certainly depends today heavily on air power. Without it, no invasion can be made against an enemy with a strong air force. But that is the case today for every combatant power, and therefore for every attempted invasion, with the exception isolated and weakly-defended islands in the Pacific. There light forces and transports are sufficient. If air superiority is sufficiently strong, a landing can succeed without a large naval fleet, provided the transport fleet is large enough and there are enough of the indispensable landing craft. The unique case of Crete proves that small invasions can even be made entirely by air. That requires that the invasion area is near airbases. As the battles in Mediterranean show, however, the ideal remains the combination of naval and air forces in which massive and precise artillery bombardment can have a decisive impact.
The history of landing operations has two halves. The first includes primarily invasions by Germany and Italy. They depended entirely on some form of surprise against an enemy who was not yet entirely prepared. They depended not on massive advance preparations, but on improvisation. That was clearest in the battle for Norway, and in the first Japanese invasions in Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Wake, and Borneo. As the war in East Asia continued, the factor of surprise naturally faded. Still, it remained a factor in some form up to the invasion of the Solomon Islands, since one seldom encountered concentrated defenses and since enemy sea and air forces were only slowly able to recover from the surprise attacks. Morale played an important role in these battles.
The invasion strategies in Norway will probable be unique in history. Two sides prepared for landings in the same place. It will probably also remain unique because the victor lacked naval superiority, and therefore was at a substantial disadvantage to its opponent. Its air force was stronger, but had such great distances to overcome that it became a factor only late in the battle. The whole plan was risky. It stood at the edge of failure. It was a surprise attack in the full sense of the word. And it worked. It was also not an invasion in the present meaning of the word. The landing itself involved forcing an entrance into Norwegian harbors. It was unique. The Japanese were not able to sail past gun batteries and ideal harbor defensive positions. They had to take the harder route of landing on beaches near the harbors, and then attack from the landward side. Still their invasions remained surprise attacks. They generally avoided heavy battles against coastal fortifications or massive enemy air forces and did not use large landing fleets supported by capital ships and hundreds of other ships.
The dividing line between that type of surprise invasion and the invasions of today, which depend on massive weaponry and specialized equipment, runs where Germany and Japan have built fortifications on the coasts and islands they have conquered. That is, the enemy is faced with the task of winning back its lost positions. It confronts an enemy who can no longer be caught by surprise, but rather one who has been preparing for an invasion for months, in some cases, for years. One cannot draw an absolutely clear line between the German-Japanese invasions and those of the Anglo-Americans, since, for example, the Anglo-American invasion in northwest Africa was practically risk-free, since the French did not seriously consider resistance, and the Germans and Italians were hard-pressed on other fronts. Surprise also apparently played a certain role during the opening stages of the campaign to recapture the Solomon Islands. In the relatively short time at their disposal, the Japanese were unable to establish the types of fortifications that Germany has built on the European coast in the occupied and scattered islands or in the jungles of New Guinea. They were able only to level a few airfields, build unloading facilities, and establish a few fortifications. They hardly had time to complete major large-scale fortifications. The geographical factors and transportation difficulties prevented that. Nonetheless, the Solomon Islands campaign soon came to depend on ever more specialized landing equipment requiring massive forces that had no relation to the value of the territory gained. The battles changed from fast surprise attacks to tough and pitiless battles.
Although there are certainly differences between the nature of an invasion in East Asia and one in Europe, there are still strategic and tactical elements that are everywhere valid. Naturally, there are differences between invading an island or an enemy-held coast. In the first instance, as was the case in the island campaigns in East Asia, the attacker has far more options than the defender. Depending on his strengths and on the length of supply lines, he has the opportunity to attack at the weakest point. This is not the case in an attack on an enemy-held coast. Here, the attacker can attempt to disrupt the enemy’s supply lines through air attacks. But one factor is decisive for both types of invasions. That is the necessity of being strong enough in the air to protect over a long period the approaching landing fleet, with its troops and materiel, from the attacks of the defending air force. The attacker must also be in a position to support from the air the troops that have landed. At least for the early stages of an invasion, that is essential. In short, experience shows that without clear air superiority, no successful invasion is possible.
On Air Superiority
Achieving and maintaining air superiority is therefore essential for any invasion. That is less a problem of superior forces than of getting them to where they are needed. The use of aircraft carriers is secondary, both in terms of numbers and value. A carrier has a fixed number of aircraft, seldom more than 50 or 60. The number of carriers is not unlimited. Furthermore, carrier aircraft are of a special type that require particular conditions for takeoffs and landings. Land-based aircraft are almost always superior. Above all, carrier-based aircraft can never equal large land-based bombers in range and capacity, even if technology has yet to speak its final word. Thus, attackers today must choose their targets such that they can establish bases for their aircraft. A “classic” example here was the use of planes based in Malta for the attack on Sicily, and the later choice of Salerno, as the northern-most possible landing site in range of aircraft from Malta.
This has clear implications when planning an invasion over a long distance against an enemy who has a strong air force. Invasions dependent solely on carrier-based air power are extraordinarily difficult under today’s conditions. At the least, one needs bases close enough to allow the use of long-range aircraft to prepare for the invasion by disrupting enemy sea traffic and harbors through massive attacks, and also to allow for paratroopers or air-landed forces to capture one or two airbases either before or concurrent with the sea-based invasion. That is what happened during the first battles in the Solomon Islands. First, carriers provided short-range fighters or bombers. Once land bases were captured, they delivered other planes to these bases, and then served as landing places for fighters that otherwise could not have flown the long sea-stretches that can be covered only by long-range aircraft. Once Guadalcanal was in American possession, subsequent American campaigns depended on a nearby airbase. One could only leap from island to island.
The Significance of the Aircraft Carrier
In the Far East, one could not do without carriers. The distance between islands was usually too great. The development of the aircraft carrier was driven by two elements. Air defenses were strengthened and they were adapted to the most modern fighters. The modern aircraft carrier with its hundreds of anti-aircraft guns is no longer the carrier of 1940. On the other hand, the Americans succeeded in substituting more easily replaceable auxiliary carriers — modified merchant ships — for valuable specialized aircraft carriers, which explains their capacities today. Still, experience shows that major invasions require strong, massive support from land-based air forces, as was possible in Europe from Malta or in the English Channel, where unlimited land bases are available.
Because of the decisive significance invasions, especially major ones, have for the Anglo-American side, they have given major attention to the use of air power. They developed strong special forces that followed the German model, but on a massive scale. These forces include not only paratroop and air divisions with special weaponry of every description who have the task of capturing enemy airfields or to operate in its rear to support their invasion forces, but also the familiar glider troops with large gliders able to land silently at land or sea, catching the enemy by surprise. To prepare for landings from the sea, the air force developed different tactics, as did heavy ships, which under air cover once the enemy air force is inferior, can reassume their historical function as the artillery support for landing operations. Heavily armed ships lay down an artillery barrage around the planned invasion site, and provide artillery support for breaking out of the bridgehead.
Landing Craft and Bridgeheads
To carry the invasion forces to land and supply them with the heavy materials needed, thousands of landing craft of every description have been developed. These include rubber boats for troop transport, canvas-covered motor vehicles, and the American “Reebling” tank, the larger troop landing vessels and the Higgins “Eureka,” up to the largest vessels that can carry the heaviest equipment. These include landing craft with a forward door that opens to provide a kind of bridge to the shore over which tanks, vehicles, and artillery can roll. The special feature of these ships is their bow. They are driven by inboard and outboard motors, and with their shallow draft can move directly up to the shore. This means that the invasion requires a flat beach. To enable surprise attacks on a smaller scale against otherwise inaccessible places, special craft have also been developed. These landing craft generally have armor protection, and are intended to transport elite units to the first bridgehead, generally near a harbor. They are followed by the real invasion with large transports that bring along their own unloading equipment, depending on the condition of the harbor, which permits the landing of larger forces and their material, the prerequisite for broader operations.
We have covered only a few of the technical and tactical aspects of modern invasions. An invasion itself is so complicated, and the geographical conditions and equipment so varied, that books will later be written on it as one of the most decisive factors of the Second World War. A whole industry, large military staffs, large naval, and army offices on the Anglo-American side, are today at work preparing for the invasion, and a man like “Lord” Montbatten is only one of many.
In East Asia as in Europe, the war has come to focus on an invasion and the defense against it, which has obviously been recognized by the defensive side as well. Both sides know that that the invasions in the Far East as well as those in Europe are only the beginning. For the Anglo-American coalition, the outcome of the war clearly depends on major invasions in western and southern Europe. Their greatest difficulty for them is a second problem after the invasion, the land strategy that must follow. The campaign on the Italian mainland is a good test. The invasion only establishes the groundwork for the decisive battle.
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