Footnote 30 — Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light

Footnote 30  —  Rick Atkinson, The Guns At Last Light: War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (The Liberation Trilogy, Volume 3).  New York: Henry Holt and Co.. 2013, pp. 23-24 (Kindle Edition Locations 573-609).

The “stuff” of war: Excerpts from Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy:

“The loading of invasion vessels bound for the Far Shore had begun on May 4 and intensified as the month wore away. Seven thousand kinds of combat necessities had to reach the Norman beaches in the first four hours, from surgical scissors to bazooka rockets, followed by tens of thousands of tons in the days following. Responsibility for embarkation fell to three military bureaucracies with acronyms evocative of the Marx Brothers: MOVCO, TURCO, and EMBARCO. Merchant marine captains sequestered in a London basement near Selfridges department store prepared loading plans with the blueprints of deck and cargo spaces spread on huge tables; wooden blocks scaled to every jeep, howitzer, and shipping container were pushed around like chess pieces to ensure a fit. Soldiers in their camps laid out full-sized deck replicas on the ground and practiced wheeling trucks and guns in and out.

“In twenty-two British ports, stevedores slung pallets and cargo nets into holds and onto decks, loading radios from Pennsylvania, grease from Texas, rifles from Massachusetts. For OVERLORD, the U.S. Army had accumulated 301,000 vehicles, 1,800 train locomotives, 20,000 rail cars, 2.6 million small arms, 2,700 artillery pieces, 300,000 telephone poles, and 7 million tons of gasoline, oil, and lubricants. SHAEF had calculated daily combat consumption, from fuel to bullets to chewing gum, at 41.298 pounds per soldier. Sixty million K rations, enough to feed the invaders for a month, were packed in 500-ton bales. Huge U.S. Army railcars known as war flats hauled tanks and bulldozers to the docks, while mountains of ammunition were stacked on car ferries requisitioned from Boston, New York, and Baltimore. The photographer Robert Capa, who would land with the second wave at Omaha Beach, watched as the “giant toys ” were hoisted aboard…

“Armed guards from ten cartography depots escorted 3,000 tons of maps for D-Day alone, the first of 210 million maps that would be distributed in Europe, most of them printed in five colors. Also into the holds went 280,000 hydrographic charts; town plats for the likes of Cherbourg and St.-Lô; many of the one million aerial photos of German defenses, snapped from reconnaissance planes flying at twenty-five feet; and watercolors depicting the view that landing-craft coxswains would have of their beaches. Copies of a French atlas pinpointed monuments and cultural treasures, with an attached order from Eisenhower calling for “restraint and discipline” in wreaking havoc.

“The U.S. First Army battle plan for OVERLORD contained more words than Gone with the Wind. For the 1st Infantry Division alone, Field Order No. 35 had fifteen annexes and eighteen appendices, including a reminder to “drive on right side of road.” Thick sheaves of code words began with the Pink List, valid from H-hour to two A.M. on D + 1, when the Blue List would succeed it. Should the Blue List be compromised, the White List would be used, but only if the word “swallow” was broadcast on the radio. A soldier could only sigh.

“Day after night after day, war matériel cascaded onto the wharves and quays, a catalogue Homeric in magnitude and variety: radio crystals by the thousands, carrier pigeons by the hundreds, one hundred Silver Stars and three hundred Purple Hearts—dubbed “the German marksmanship medal”— for each major general to award as warranted, and ten thousand “Hagensen packs,” canvas bags sewn by sailmakers in lofts across England and stuffed with plastic explosive. A company contracted to deliver ten thousand metal crosses had missed its deadline; instead, Graves Registration units would improvise with wooden markers. Cotton mattress covers used as shrouds had been purchased on the basis of one for every 375 man-days in France, a formula that proved far too optimistic. In July, with supplies dwindling, quartermasters would be forced to ship another fifty thousand.

“Four hospital ships made ready, “snowy white … with many bright new red crosses painted on the hull and painted flat on the boat deck,” the reporter Martha Gellhorn noted. Each LST also would carry at least two physicians and twenty Navy corpsmen to evacuate casualties, with operating rooms built on the open tank decks— a “cold, dirty trap,” in one officer’s estimation— and steam tables used to heat twenty-gallon sterilization cans. All told, OVERLORD would muster 8,000 doctors, 600,000 doses of penicillin, fifty tons of sulfa, and 800,000 pints of plasma meticulously segregated by black and white donors. Sixteen hundred pallets weighing half a ton each and designed to be dragged across the beaches were packed with enough medical supplies to last a fortnight.

 

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