This was the Allied naval operation in support of ‘Neptune’ (iii) and ‘Overlord’ (6 June 1944).
Under the overall command of a British officer, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, the naval forces involved in this operation totalled 5,339 vessels including 1,213 warships and 4,126 transport vessels (including 1,173 large and small transports for armoured fighting vehicles). Among the largely British warship component were seven battleships (including three US), two monitors, 23 cruisers (including three US, two Free French and one Free Polish), 80 destroyers (including 34 US, two Free Polish and two Free Norwegian), 25 torpedo boats (including two Free Polish, one Free French and one Free Norwegian), 63 corvettes (including three Free French, two Free Greek and two Free Norwegian), two gunboats (both Free Dutch), and 98 minesweepers (including nine US).
The battleships, monitors, 18 cruisers, about 50 destroyers and the two gunboats were tasked with the gunfire engagement of the German batteries between Villerville (opposite Le Havre) and Cape Barfleur. Thus the German gunners were tackled by 52 heavy guns (12-, 14- and 15-in/305-, 356- and 381-mm calibres) and more than 500 medium-calibre guns whose fire was made all the more accurate as it was spotted by the specially trained pilots of fighters circling the area.
Ramsay divided the ‘Fortune’ force for ‘Neptune’ (iii) into two portions. To support Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army, which was to land Major General J. Lawton Collins’s VII Corps and Major General Leonard T. Gerow’s V Corps on the 'Utah' and 'Omaha' Beaches respectively, there was the Western Naval Task Force under a US officer, Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, and comprising all the US and a number of Allied warships. To support Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army, which was to land Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s XXX Corps and Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s I Corps on the 'Gold', 'Juno' and 'Sword' Beaches, there was the Eastern Naval Task Force under a British officer, Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian.
On 6 June, therefore, ‘Neptune’ (iii) began as the amphibious phase of ‘Overlord’, in which the initial formations of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group were delivered across the English Channel and landed on the cost of Normandy. In overall command was the Supreme Commander SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), namely General Dwight D. Eisenhower with Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder as his deputy.
After heavy air attacks by 3,467 heavy bombers, 1,645 medium bombers, light bombers and torpedo-bombers and 5,409 fighters, 2,316 transport aircraft and gliders delivered the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions onto the southern part of the Cotentin peninsula and the British 6th Airborne Division onto the area to the south-east of Caen. During the morning, supported by powerful naval forces, there followed by sea the US 4th Division to land on the east coast of the Cotentin peninsula across the ‘Utah’ Beach, the US 1st Division near Vierville across the ‘Omaha’ Beach, the British 50th Division near Arromanches across the ‘Gold’ Beach, the Canadian 3rd Division near Courseulles across the ‘Juno’ Beach and the British 3rd Division near Lyon sur Mer across the ‘Sword’ Beach. The Western Naval Task Force, commanded by Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, flying his flag in the the US heavy cruiser Augusta, was with Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army.
In ‘Fortune’, 102 British, US and Allied minesweepers cleared the approaches and 16 buoylayers marked these avenues. Rear Admiral Don P. Moon’s Assault Task Force ‘U’, commanded from the headquarters ship Bayfield, carried Collins’s US VII Corps comprising Major General Raymond O. Barton’s US 4th Division in the U.1, U.2A, U.2B, U.3, U.3C, U.4, U.5A and U.5B convoys, and Rear Admiral John L. Hall’s Assault Task Force ‘O’, commanded from the headquarters ship Ancon, carried Gerow’s US V Corps comprising Major General Clarence R. Huebner’s 29th Division in the O.1, O.2A, O.2B, O.3, O.3C, O.4A, O.4B and O.5 convoys. Both of these convoy streams had approached Normandy during the night of 5/6 June and, destined for the the ‘Utah’ and ‘Omaha’ Beaches respectively, comprised 16 attack transports, one dock landing ship, 106 tank landing ships, one rocket-armed landing ship, 15 control landing craft, 93 infantry landing craft, 350 tank landing craft, 34 support landing craft, 94 assault landing craft, 189 vehicle/personnel landing craft, 38 small support landing craft, 54 personnel landing craft and, for fire support, nine gun-armed landing craft, 11 flak-armed landing craft, 14 rocket-armed tank landing craft, two medium support landing craft and 36 small support landing craft.
Support for the ‘Utah’ Beach assault was provided by Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo’s Bombardment Task Force ‘A’ with the US battleship Nevada, British monitor Erebus, US heavy cruisers Tuscaloosa and Quincy, British light cruisers Enterprise and Hawkins, British light anti-aircraft cruiser Black Prince, Free Dutch gunboat Soemba, US destroyers Hobson, Fitch, Forrest and Corry (Destroyer Division 20), Butler, Shubrick, Herndon and Gherardi (Destroyer Division 34), and US destroyer escorts Bates and Rich.
Support for the ‘Omaha’ Beach assault was provided by Rear Admiral Carlton F. Bryant’s Bombardment Task Force ‘C’ with the US battleships Texas and Arkansas, British light cruiser Glasgow, Free French light cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues, US destroyers McCook, McCormick, Doyle, Baldwin, Harding, Satterlee and Thompson (Destroyer Squadron 18) and Emmons, and British escort destroyers Melbreak, Talybont and Tanatside.
The Assault Task Force ‘U’ and Assault Task Force ‘O’ convoys were supported during their approaches to Normandy by the US destroyers Jeffers and Glennon (Destroyer Squadron 17) and Barton, O’Brien, Walke, Laffey and Meredith (Destroyer Squadron 60) and the Free French corvettes Aconit and Renoncule for the Assault Task Force ‘U’ convoys, and the US destroyers Frankford, Nelson, Murphy and Plunkett (Destroyer Squadron 33), the British destroyers Vesper and Vidette, the US destroyer escorts Borum, Amesbury and Blessman, and the Free French frigates Aventure and Escarmouche for the Assault Task Force ‘O’ convoys.
Available as reserve for the Western Naval Task Force were the British battleship Nelson, British light anti-aircraft cruiser Bellona, US destroyers Somers, Travis and Jouett (Destroyer Division 18), and Free French frigates Surprise and Decouverte.
On 6 June, the convoys and associated landing craft delivered 23,250 and 34,250 US troops onto the ‘Utah’ Beach and ‘Omaha’ Beach sectors respectively.
The Eastern Naval Task Force, commanded by Vian, flying his flag in the British light anti-aircraft cruiser Scylla, supported Dempsey’s British 2nd Army. As a first step, 102 British and Canadian minesweepers cleared the approaches, which were marked by 27 buoylayers for the ships carrying Bucknall’s British XXX Corps in the west and Crocker’s British I Corps in the east. During the night Assault Task Force ‘G’, led by Commodore C. Douglas-Pennant on board the headquarters ship Bulolo, transported Major General D. A. H. Graham’s British 50th Division of the XXX Corps across the English Channel in the G.1 to G.13 convoys; Assault Task Force ‘J’, led by Commodore N. Oliver on board the headquarters ship Hilary, transported Major General R. F. L. Keller’s Canadian 3rd Division of the XXX Corps in the J. 1 to J.13 convoys; and Assault Task Force ‘S’, led by Rear Admiral A. G. Talbot on board the headquarters ship Largs, transported Major General T. G. Rennie’s British 3rd Division of the I Corps in the S.1 to S.8 convoys. These groups of convoys, aimed at the ‘Gold’, ‘Juno’ and ‘Sword’ Beaches respectively, comprised 37 infantry landing ships, 130 tank landing ships, two rocket-armed landing ships, one dock landing ship, 11 control landing craft, 116 infantry landing craft, 39 small infantry landing craft, 487 tank landing craft, 66 support landing craft, 408 assault landing craft, 73 small support landing craft, 90 personnel landing craft and 10 small personnel landing craft. For fire support there were 16 gun-armed large landing craft, 22 rocket-armed tank landing craft, 14 large support landing craft, 24 medium support landing craft, 18 flak-armed landing craft, 45 Hedgerow-armed assault landing craft and 103 armed tank landing craft.
The support force for Assault Task Force ‘G’ was Captain E. W. L. Longley-Cook’s Bombardment Task Force ‘K’ with the British light anti-aircraft cruiser Argonaut, light cruisers Orion, Ajax and Emerald, Free Dutch gunboat Flores, destroyers Grenville, Ulster, Ulysses, Undaunted, Undine, Urania, Urchin, Ursa and Jervis (25th Destroyer Flotilla), and escort destroyers Cattistock, Cottesmore, Pytchley and Free Polish Krakowiak. The support force for Assault Task Force ‘J’ was Rear Admiral F. H. G. Dalrymple-Hamilton’s Bombardment Task Force ‘E’ with the British light cruiser Belfast, light anti-aircraft cruiser Diadem, and destroyers Faulknor (8th Destroyer Flotilla), Fury and Kempenfelt (27th Destroyer Flotilla), Venus, Vigilant and Canadian Algonquin and Sioux, and escort destroyers Stevenstone, Bleasdale, Free Norwegian Glaisdale. The support force for Assault Task Force ‘S’ was Rear Admiral W. R. Patterson’s Bombardment Task Force ‘D’ with the British battleships Warspite and Ramillies, monitor Roberts, light cruisers Mauritius, Arethusa, Frobisher, Danae and Free Polish Dragon, destroyers Saumarez (23rd Destroyer Flotilla), Scorpion, Scourge, Serapis, Swift, Free Norwegian Stord and Svenner, Verulam, Virago and Kelvin, and escort destroyers Middleton, Eglinton and Free Polish Slazak.
Six British, Canadian, Free French and Free Norwegian destroyers, four sloops, eight frigates, 17 corvettes and 21 trawlers were also deployed to escort the Assault Task ‘G’, Assault Task Force ‘J’ and Assault Task Force ‘S’ convoys. The British battleship Rodney and light anti-aircraft cruiser Sirius were among the ships constituting the reserve for the Eastern Naval Task Force.
On 6 June the convoys and associated landing craft delivered 24,970, 21,400 and 28,845 British and Canadian troops onto the ‘Gold’ Beach, ‘Juno’ Beach and ‘Sword’ Beach sectors respectively.
To escort the first follow-on wave of seven divisions, whose safe and timely arrival was essential to the reinforcement of the initial five assault formations, Force ‘B’ under the command of Commodore C. D. Edgar in the US destroyer Maloy was deployed in the west with the US destroyers Rodman, Ellyson and Hambleton, the British destroyers Boadicea, Volunteer and Vimy, the British escort destroyers Brissenden and Wensleydale and the British corvettes Azalea and Bluebell, and Canadian corvette Kitchener; and in the east was Force ‘L’ under the command of Rear Admiral W. E. Parry with the British destroyer Vivacious, escort destroyer Cotswold, frigates Chelmer and Halsted, corvettes Clematis, Godetia, Mignonette, Narcissus and Oxlip, three anti-submarine trawlers, 49 tank landing ships, 19 large infantry landing craft and and 53 tank landing craft.
The British destroyers Tartar, Ashanti, Eskimo, Javelin, Canadian Haida and Huron, and Free Polish Błyskawica and Piorun (10th Destroyer Flotilla), a group of frigates and eight groups of coastal forces with motor torpedo boats and motor gun boats constituted the force providing a defence against possible attacks by German surface craft in the western entrance to the Channel, while in the east the same role was undertaken by the destroyers Onslow, Onslaught, Offa, Oribi, Obedient, Orwell, Isis and Impulsive (17th Destroyer Flotilla) and seven groups of coastal forces craft.
Other ships on the strength of the escort forces were the light cruisers Despatch, Ceres and Capetown, destroyers Kimberley, Opportune, Pathfinder, Beagle, Bulldog, Icarus, Campbell, Mackay, Montrose, Walpole, Windsor, Whitshed, Vanquisher, Versatile, Wanderer, Walker, Westcott, Wrestler, Caldwell, Leeds, Lincoln, Ramsey, Skate, Saladin and Sardonyx, escort destroyers Garth, Holderness, Meynell, Avon Vale, Belvoir, Goathland and Free French Combattante, sloops Scarborough, Rochester, Hart, Kite, Lapwing, Lark, Magpie, Pheasant and Puffin, frigates Deveron and Nene, ex-US destroyer escorts Cubitt, Dakins, Ekins, Holmes, Lawford, Retalick, Stayner and Thornborough, and corvettes Armeria, Balsam, Burdock, Buttercup, Campanula, Celandine, Dianthus, Gentian, Heather, Honeysuckle, Lavender, Nasturtium, Pennywort, Primrose, Starwort, Sunflower and Wallflower, Free French corvette Commandant Estienne d’Orves, Free Norwegian corvettes Acanthus, Eglantine, Potentilla and Rose, and Canadian corvettes Alberni, Baddeck, Battleford, Calgary, Camrose, Drumheller, Lindsay, Louisburg, Lunenburg, Mimico, Moosejaw, Port Arthur, Prescott, Regina, Rimouski, Summerside, Trentonian and Woodstock.
To face this Allied armada on 6 June the German navy could call on five torpedo boats, 34 S-boote (another five were unserviceable), 163 minesweepers and motor minesweepers, 57 patrol boats and 42 gun carriers in the English Channel area, while on the Atlantic coast between Brest and Bayonne were five destroyers, one torpedo boat, 146 minesweepers and motor minesweepers, and 59 patrol boats.