As I'm sure you all know, Friday 6 June was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. I took a look in our online archive to find an article suitable to this austere occasion and came across 'Mapping for D-Day: The Allied Landings in Normandy, 6 June 1944' in The Cartographic Journal.
Operation Overlord, with Neptune, its naval counterpart, was the largest amphibious assault in history. On 6 June 1944, after years of planning and benefiting from the topographical preparations for, and experience of, the landings in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, over 150 000 men landed from more than 4000 ships along 80 km of Normandy coastline.
Careful examination of existing maps revealed that because of its relatively flat terrain and lack of obvious physical obstacles, the area was the most suitable for an Allied invasion. Vast quantities of new maps — many drawn up from existing maps, postcards and photographs, and updated using aerial photos and intelligence from various sources — had to be prepared.
Montgomery subsequently commended the D-Day survey effort, stating that map supply never failed or prejudiced operations. In turn, the planning and experience of the Normandy landings informed the preparations for operation Anvil, the landings in the south of France on 15 August 1944. This paper examines the development of Allied mapping and geographic support programmes during the two-year period of preparations for D-Day, and during the landings, establishment of the bridgehead and breakout.
The authors conclude that:
"What was remarkable about the Overlord operation was the way in which inter-Allied, and inter-Service, cooperation and goodwill overcame the inevitable friction. There were certainly serious problems in the early stages; the British Lt-General. Morgan (COSSAC), after repeatedly re-reading an American invasion planning paper, admitted that he did not understand a word of it! The appointment of a single Task Force Commander and joint-services staff would have increased planning efficiency, eliminated duplication in survey and mapping, and in intelligence and target acquisition, and would have resulted in quicker allocation of fire support tasks to the various services. Coordination of the huge numbers of large-scale assault maps and defence overprints was essential in order to avoid duplication of effort, but did not happen. Full use was not made of COSSAC's Theatre Intelligence Section until after its integration with SHAEF.
The various Anglo-American accords on mapping, intelligence and so forth (which can actually be traced back to 1917-18...served as the model for NATO in the post-war period, and indeed up to the present day)."