Bomber Command: a Bristol Blenheim in action.

Meanwhile, as initially discussed at Casablanca five months earlier, from June 1943, the Allies had launched Operation Pointblank, the strategic saturation bombing of Germany by American bombers by day and British bombers by night. The destruction of strategic strongpoints in Germany and the undermining of German resolve were seen as prerequisites to the invasion.

Towards the end of March 1944, Eisenhower faced a major disagreement on how Allied aerial strategy should be prioritized. The commanders of the Bomber Command campaign, Britain’s Arthur Harris and his American counterpart, Carl Spaatz, urged the continuation of Operation Pointblank. ‘Bomber’ Harris believed that he could win the war with his Lancaster bombers, rendering an invasion of occupied France unnecessary. Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander of Operation Overlord’s air divisions, insisted the priority should be the strategic bombing of German transport facilities in France, an operation codenamed the ‘Transportation Plan’ that had commenced earlier in the month. At a crisis meeting held on 25 March, Eisenhower found in favour of the latter.

The ‘Transportation Plan’ paid great dividends over the coming months leading up to the invasion. Over 200,000 sorties destroyed or damaged points of German military value, including railway lines and depots, bridges (all bridges across the rivers Seine and Loire were destroyed), power stations, radar stations, etc., disrupting defensive preparations. Almost 2,000 Allied planes were brought down and 12,000 Allied airmen lost their lives, but their efforts greatly helped hinder the German response on 6 June and beyond.

But, as well as the crewmen lost, there was another heavy price – some 15,000 French and Belgian civilians were killed and almost 20,000 wounded during these air raids. Churchill questioned the legitimacy of causing such heavy fatalities on the very people the Allies were hoping to liberate. His air chiefs disagreed, arguing it was a price worth paying and that without their work, the number of Overlord casualties risked being far higher. Not convinced, Churchill took the issue to Roosevelt. The president, while regretting the ‘attendant loss of civilian life’, ordered a continuation of the raids.

On 21 May, the Allies launched Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a sustained bombing campaign against German trains and rolling stock in northern Europe, the object being to diminish Germany’s capacity to reinforce their armies once Operation Overlord had been launched. Such was the success of Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the German command was forced to immediately repair the extensive damage inflicted on its railway network, employing slave labour and POWs.

The French resistance played a vital role in the lead-up to D-Day, carrying out constant acts of sabotage against the fabric of German occupation and the French collaborationist government and its police force, the Milice. The risk of capture or denunciation was high, with the invariable result of intensive questioning and torture at the hands of the Gestapo.

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