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for bombarding ships and support craft, took place in STUDLAND Bay and were of the utmost value in integrating the Navy and Army into one assault force. It was unfortunate that the RAF contribution to these exercises was very limited owing to unsuitable flying conditions. The STUDLAND Bay area gave a fair picture of the problem presented by the actual assault beaches. The final rehearsal for the operation took place on 5 and 6 May and involved all the British assault forces.

The majority of the exercises took place in fine weather and a calm sea, one exercise only being carried out in conditions approaching those which actually occurred on D-day. No major exercises were held after 6 May, as it was considered essential to have a period of final re-fit and overhaul of ships and craft before the operation. The Army also required a breathing space in order to complete such preparations as waterproofing of vehicles and other specialist tasks.

While all this training had been in progress, planning was going forward simultaneously, and this made heavy demands on both Commanders and Staffs. Within Second Army, all planning by all formations was done in blocks of flats alongside Westminster Cathedral, London. These flats formed the very nerve centre of the grand invasion project, where the two great secrets of the hour - Where, and When - were guarded with every precaution the minds of the security chiefs could devise. Not only that; the purpose of the flats had to be kept secret from the public. It would be interesting now to know how many of London's citizens knew what tent on, as month succeeded month, in the shadow of the tall cathedral. -

All the experience gained in the planning of combined operations against Sicily and Italy was applied in that HQ, and many of the old campaigners from Eighth Army were astonished by the ease with which all the relevant information, air photos, maps and all the rest of the paraphernalia of planning could be obtained. So for as 50 Div was concerned, all planning staffs were there down to brigades, with their opposite numbers in the Royal Navy.

All the experience gained in the planning of combined operations against Sicily and Italy was applied in that HQ, and many of the old campaigners from Eighth Army were astonished by the ease with which all the relevant information, air photos, maps and all the rest of the paraphernalia of planning could be obtained. So for as 50 Div was concerned, all planning staffs were there down to brigades, with their opposite numbers in the Royal Navy.

To understand fully the magnitude and scope of Operation OVERLORD - the code-name by which the invasion was known - the reader must become familiar with some of the facts and the problems which faced those planning staffs in the Spring of 1944.

There was the problem of the enemy. How did he propose to defend the Bay of the Seine, the target of the Allied Armies? What troops had he on the beaches and in reserve? How strong were his defences, both natural and artificial? And, to what extent would the beaches and the country generally prove to be his ally?

These were questions which demanded answers before our own plans became crystallised. So much had been written in the Press, both Allied and enemy, about the so-called Atlantic Wall along Europe's western coastline that many false impressions were abroad - one of the most notable and mistaken being that the” entire coast had been girded with steel and concrete in the shelter of which German Armies lived in a sort of Maginot underworld. This was , of course, an opinion expressed with great regularity and frequency in German propaganda. But when the lens of the stereoscope and intelligence reports gave the answer, it was different indeed from this conception.


(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: 50 (NORTHUMBRIAN) DIVISION, An extract from the divisional history

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