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Allied Warships vs the Atlantic Wall: Normandy 1944

16 Jan 24

80 pages

Capt. Andrew Welch (Retd.)

This is one of the 153 books that Steven Zaloga has written for Osprey.  It is a bit of a book for ‘anoraks’, so it is perhaps appropriate that your reviewer is an AWO(A) – perhaps the nearest modern equivalent of a Long G, who spent more time than was good for him doing actual gunnery.  The grand finale of this book is the duel between the battleship USS Texas (10×14” guns) and the Hamburg Battery (4x240mm (9.5”) and 6x75mm (3”)) a couple of weeks after D-Day, on 25th June 1944.  The Hamburg Battery is one mile inland from Cap Levy on the Cotentin Peninsula about 5 miles to the east of the eastern Cherbourg port breakwater.

On the way to the finale, there are many interesting facts and comments on NGS[1] vs shore batteries (as usual, don’t if you can help it is the main conclusion); how the Atlantic Wall casements were constructed; the original sources of their very varied armaments;[2] the make-up of heavy ammunition and the personalities involved in the 25th June ‘duel’ (this is one of the Osprey ‘Duel’ series).  On D-day planning, he asserts that the failure of the Dieppe Raid, partly because of the effectiveness of the German shore batteries, was one of the deciding points in favour of a beach landing for Operation OVERLORD, rather than trying to capture a port, with its extensive defensive batteries.

At the end of just over three hours on the gunline, USS Texas had fired 204 14” rounds, USS Arkansas had fired 58 12” rounds and the escorting destroyers had fired 552 5” rounds. The Hamburg Battery fired just under 300 240mm rounds and achieved a direct hit on both USS Texas and the destroyer, USS O’Brien, plus three hits on the two ships that ricocheted off the water. At the end of the bombardment, Battery Hamburg continued to operate. It eventually surrendered on 28th June, when US troops cut off the Cotentin Peninsula, isolating Cherbourg.  The battery held out for another two days after the Cherbourg garrison had surrendered.

Steven Zaloga’s detailed descriptions are clearly well researched, but he has sadly been let down by poor proofing reading – on p.37, the photo of RA Bryant (commanding the bombardment group) is correctly captioned “Rear Admiral Bryant….” but at the top of the page has him as Vice Admiral.  Page 41 has the intriguing statement that “On large US Navy warships such as battleships, fire control was redundant due to the risk of battle damage”. I can only assume that this is meant to say something like ‘had built-in redundancy’. The paintings of HMS Warspite bombarding off Normandy has her jack staff prominently raised as does the double-page centrepiece of USS Texas bombarding – and she isn’t even flying any kind of ensign.

As I said at the start, a somewhat anorakish review of an anorak’s book. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to those who would like to know about a real shore bombardment serial in detail or might be involved in amphibious ops and their fire support.

[1] NGFS now, but the abbreviation was NGS at the time.

[2] The logistics of supplying ammunition to a mix of obsolete (often WWI) German and captured French guns from manufacturers of several different nationalities can be imagined.