Situational information late WW2

Another thread made me think... after D-Day, Allied troops were on the ground and making progress eastwards. This was in fits and spurts, not a smooth advance. On some days I imagine local counterattacks meant some ground lost, even.

My question is from the perspective of the UK-based bombers, RAF and USAAF (Counting RCAF, RAAF etc as RAF). I imagine in some circumstances, the choice of target would have been in support of the advancing troops. Not just fighter-bombers with smaller weapons, but heavy bomber missions against enemy troop concentrations or logistics. In other operations, the bombers would have been far from the ground battle and inflicting attrition on industrial targets etc.

To what extent were the bomber crews briefed on the ground situation? If say the crossing of the Rhein was imminent, but not yet taken place, it would be awfully useful to know this, in case of having to abandon the aircraft. “Whatever you do, get across the Rhein before baling, if able”.

Or say the actual target is obscured, and the mission orders were to look for targets of opportunity in that event. You pretty much have to define where to, and where not to, select targets of opportunity. Which requires knowledge at some level of where the ground forces are, and actually, if any of you chaps have any bombs left, if you could take out the bridge at Grid123456, that’d be awfully useful to us. But whatever you do, don’t bomb anything crossing the Weser.

Coordinating all this information of ground positions, axes and rates of advance would be hard enough today, let alone in the 1940s. Yet if none of this info was passed, and the target was say Nuremberg (not near Allied troops), then do they really need to know any of what’s on the ground? Well, yes, because if your approach is over enemy held territory, but you could spend another 30 minutes transit time and have 75% of your approach over Allied territory, that’d be very useful.

What about GBAD? Were they briefed on Allied bomber Missions? ”Expect 200 heavy bombers between 0100 and 0300, no action to be taken”.?

I’m curious as to what was possible, and indeed what was actually done back then.


It was my understanding that getting Hvy Bombers off Harris required a gun to his head and threats of violence. In his mind they were a strategical weapon not a tactical one.
It was my understanding that getting Hvy Bombers off Harris required a gun to his head and threats of violence. In his mind they were a strategical weapon not a tactical one.

Indeed, although again, knowledge of the ground situation would potentially be useful to Bomber Command in mitigating losses. And what of Spaatz and Doolittle? I’m specifically mentioning the ETO here, but the other theatres would have the same potential issues.
In the case of heavy bombers, the information was virtually zero. There are a number of recorded incidents of bombers hitting our own troops.

As far as FB support the Brits learnt a lot in N Africa and Italy and that knowledge was brought into the NW Europe campaign. FB pilots were attached to forward formations to talk to airborne FB aircraft and guide them onto targets. That doesn't mean there weren't mistakes, there were a lot. Often the ground unit liaison wasn't present, or the RT frequencies were incorrect, or a plethora of other problems. It often depended on the quality of the pilot on the ground on the day, there were good ones and bad ones. I believe the Yanks used a similar system.


Book Reviewer
Not post D-Day, but on the day itself, security was obviously very tight - this crew didn't know about the invasion until they saw the ships and US troops running up to the beach:

"6 June 1944

Target: St Pierre du Mont – Coastal battery A/C Lancaster ND961 N-NAN

Time: 3.50

We thought the briefing sounded a little odd for this trip, and sure enough when we broke cloud over the French coast the Channel was full of ships. The army had pulled its finger out at last and D-Day was on. We bombed at 05.00 just as it was getting light, and had a grandstand view of the Americans running in on the beach. First-class prang on the battery, but saw Jimmy Carter shot down by a Ju88 over the target. Marvellous sight coming back as the sun came up, we on the way back and the Americans on the way out.

Landed back in time for breakfast, but very disappointed that there was nothing on the 8 o’clock news."


Book Reviewer
From the ORB of the squadron on that raid:

"Wing Commander Carter, the Commanding Officer of 97 Squadron from 7 January 1944, was flying with a top crew on D-Day in support of the Allied invasion. The crew of Lancaster OF-Z – ND739 were:

  • Pilot: Edward James Carter, DFC
  • F/E: Guy Ernest Dunning, DFM
  • Nav: Ronald John Conley, DFC
  • AB: Herbert William Rieger
  • Vis A/B: Henry William Edward Jeffery DFM
  • W/op: Albert Chambers, DFC*
  • MU/G: Frank Raymond Watson, DFM
  • R/G: Martin Bryan-Smith, DFC*

5.6.44 … Today must be recorded as one of the most eventful days in the Squadron’s history. The target had been given us at about 1pm. It was a battery of coastal heavy guns on the French coast at a point called St Pierre du Mont, which is situated just on the south eastern base of the Cherbourg Peninsula, also La Peanelle.
It seemed quite a normal target until various other things came trickling in – things such as convoys to be avoided – keeping strictly on track, news of impending naval actions to the East, and many other things, until one became aware of the obvious that the invasion of Europe was about to commence.
The Squadron Commander was heard to say, “Thank God I’m still on ops and not at an O.T.U.” Everyone was delighted and excitement was at fever pitch.
18 of our aircraft were detailed. The attack started at 4.50am – about 30 minutes before dawn – with a red TI which was accurately dropped by an Oboe Mosquito on the target. It was instantly backed up by green TI dropped visually by Mosquito aircraft of 627 Squadron. These TI were not so accurate as those dropped on Oboe. However by the time Main Force came in to bomb, the target was well marked. The Main Force bombing was extremely accurate and the whole point was flattened.
Crossing the Channel on the return journey thousands of landing craft were seen proceeding towards the French coast.
Two of our crews failed to return. One was captained by the Squadron Commander, W/Cdr E.J. Carter DFC who was flying in “Z” and the other was a Norwegian crew captained by Lt. Jespersen. W/Cdr Carter had with him S/Ldr M. Bryan-Smith DFC, Gunnery Leader and F/L A. Chambers DFC, the Signals Leader. It is believed that they encountered some JU88s"

Clearly the CO recognised what was up even though nobody was told directly. Tragic that he was lost over the target - his crew alone had 6 DFCs and 3 DFMs between them.


Book Reviewer
There were two batteries of RADAR sent on to the beaches on D day, with FAC's to direct fighters against any Luftwaffe air threat, one of the units (both RAF 21 BDS) were landed on Omaha, operational by the 9th I think despite heavy equipment and personnel losses, one of the Doctors that landed with them was awarded a medal for his efforts in saving lives.
I think they were also used for directing the 'Jabos' against ground targets reported by the army or air defence fighters


Book Reviewer


For a time before D-Day the heavy bombers were used to destroy German infrastructure such as railways and supply heads, much to Harris' chagrin. As the bombing covered a wide area so as not to give away the landing areas they would know in general terms what they were doing, and why. Opportunity targets might have been allowed for the light bombers but the heavies had a zone in the N.Sea in which to chuck their bombs on the way back.
After D-Day the USAAF did two major bombing attacks in an attempt to blast a hole in the German defences to allow the breakthrough. I imagine they would be told in general terms what they were doing and exactly where to bomb so they could work out where the lines were. It didn't stop creepback and a number of US casualties occured.

C/S support would have a better idea as they were intimately involved in the battle, and a major element in the allied victory. But again they would be tasked to support allied forces in such and such a grid square and , hopefully, directed onto target by FAOs. To know more than that would be to violate need-to-know in case of capture as they did take a fair few casualties.
Much would depend on the situation, if they were in a cab-rank on call they would not be tasked to a specific unit as such and so just basic information would be needed, - 'Grid 123456 bad lads in tanks, go'.
In the Falaise gap they did have permission to roam and have a go at opportunity targets. But here specific co-ordinates would have been given to avoid annoying allied units.

All the above is based on a bit of reading and military logic, I may well be wrong on some points. However I think the need to know imperative would mitigate against the aircrew knowing too many specifics.

Latest Threads