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Pointblank, Noballs and the Chattanooga Choo Choo

American airpower in support of the Normandy invasion

by Randy Wilson

Copyright 1994 by the Confederate Air Force and Randy Wilson. All rights reserved.

Originally published in The Dispatch magazine, Volume 19, Number 2, Summer, 1994 edition. If you are interested in subscribing to The Dispatch please write to The Commemorative Air Force, ATTN: Dispatch Editor, PO Box 62000, Midland, TX 79711-2000 or call (432) 563-1000. Reproduced with permission.

Code named Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe is often remembered as beginning with a sky full of C-47s and other transports towing gliders and dropping paratroops. However, the real beginning of U.S. air operations for Overlord began months before D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Since 1942, the U.S. and Great Britain had realized that an invasion of Europe would be necessary to defeat Germany, and they were constantly pressed by Stalin to open a second front to relieve the pressure on the Soviet Union. But even by 1944, the odds still favored the German defenders, unless they could be deceived as to the time and place of the invasion, and their mobile forces delayed in attacking the landing areas until an Allied beachhead could be secured. Thus was born Bodyguard, the deception plan to convince Hitler that the main invasion would come at the Pas de Calais, days or even weeks after the "diversionary" landing at Normandy.

American Airpower in England

American strategic airpower in England in 1944 was the U.S. Eighth Air Force, equipped with Boeing B-17 and Consolidated B-24 heavy bombers, and escort fighters, including Lockheed P-38, Republic P-47 and North American P-51s. By late 1943, the "Mighty Eighth" was organized into three Bomb Divisions, each with three or four Bomb Wings of two to three Bomb Groups. The fighters were organized into Fighter Groups, and by March, were able to escort the bombers all the way to most targets.

The U.S. Ninth Air Force moved to England from North Africa in October of 1943, and was equipped with medium and light tactical bombers, including Martin B-26s and Douglas A-20s, P-38 and P-47 fighter-bombers and photo-reconnaissance versions of the P-38 and P-51, the F-5 and F-6. Also part of the 9th AF was the 9th Troop Carrier Command, equipped with Douglas C-47 and C-53 transports and support aircraft.

These were the American forces which, along with the Royal Air Force, mounted the strategic bombing campaign, called Pointblank, which helped pave the way for the successful invasion of Europe, beginning months before the first Allied soldier set foot on a Normandy beach.

Pointblank and Argument - The Destruction of the German Air Force

On D-Day, the Luftwaffe flew only 319 sorties in the invasion area, thanks to the virtual destruction and paralysis of the German air force by Pointblank's attacks on aircraft production centers and airfields. The RAF and 8th AF's "Big Week" of 19-26 February, 1944, was part of Argument, the plan to smash the German aircraft industry and its factories at Leipzig, Schweinfurt, Augsburg, Regensburg and elsewhere deep in Germany.

Cover, Noballs and Carpetbagger

As part of the Bodyguard deception plan, and Operation Cover, Allied air forces flew over half of their missions in the Pas de Calais area, to convince the Germans that the invasion would strike there, rather than at Normandy. This was also the area from which Hitler was preparing to launch the first of his "Vengeance" weapons, the V-1 flying bomb. Fearing a mass attack by V-1s on the crowded invasion ports of southeast England, Allied strategic and tactical air forces began attacks on the launching sites, code named Noballs, in December 1943.

French resistance fighters and partisans had a major role to play in preparing for the invasion, and Carpetbagger missions were flown to drop arms and supplies to them by a special group of the 8th AF, the 801st BG, equipped with B-24 bombers and C-47 transports. Carpetbagger missions continued after the invasion, until the liberation of France.

The Transportation Plan and the Chattanooga Choo Choo

The German plans for defense against an invasion called for stopping the landings on the beach, before the Allies could establish a permanent beachhead. This required rapid response by strong mobile German forces, as soon as the first Allied troops landed. To prevent such a response, the Allies developed the Transportation Plan, designed to destroy and disrupt German transportation and communications immediately prior to the invasion.

Under the code name Chattanooga, the U.S. 9th AF targeted railway facilities, marshalling yards, bridges and rolling stock in western France in the weeks before D-Day. Hundreds of locomotives and trains were strafed and destroyed by P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bombers, while B-26 Marauders and A-20 Havocs bombed rail yards and vital bridges. Eighth AF fighters flew fighter-bomber missions.

The Final Outcome

The German High Command, lead by Hitler, believed the deceptions of Bodyguard and the Cover missions, and kept many of its best units awaiting the "real" invasion at the Pas de Calais until weeks after D-Day. In addition, the Noball strikes against V-1 sites delayed the first rocket attack on England until a week after the Normandy landings.

German commanders trying to rally forces to Normandy were completely frustrated to find their telephone and telegraph communications cut, road and rail bridges destroyed and railway transport in chaos, due to the success of Chattanooga Choo Choo and French resistance forces, supplied by Carpetbagger missions.

Finally, during the time it was most vulnerable, the Allied invasion force and beachhead was protected from serious attack by the Luftwaffe, thanks to Pointblank, Argument and other operations which neutralized the German air force during the critical first weeks of June, 1944.

USAAF Operation on D-Day, June 6, 1944
Dispatched Effective Tons of
in Action
8th AF Bombers
B-17 1375 984 3096 0
B-24 1212 638 1756 4
8th AF Fighters (Escort & Fighter-Bomber)
P-38 555
(All escort)
P-47 645
(414 escort,
231 fighter-bomber)
P-51 985
(750 escort,
235 fighter-bomber)
9th AF Bombers & Fighters
B-26 742 617 1181 6
A-20 269 206 260 5
P-38 392 383 34 2
P-47 1657 1600 353 7
P-51 97 89 n/a 0
(Photo P-38)
60 33 n/a 0
(Photo P-51)
125 122 n/a 0

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