The Logistics of Invasion

Transformation of the Army to a capabilities-based force that can respond immediately to any global threat cannot occur without first transforming the logistics systems that have been used since World War II.

by Major Frederick V. Godfrey

Soldiers load Redball Express trucks with rations bound for front-line troops.

Although not as popular or as widely studied as tactics, logistics has been the key to every major conflict since the dawn of modern warfare.  World War II provided the backdrop for the biggest logistics operation ever attempted.  The D-Day landing and force buildup alone involved millions of tons of supplies, thousands of ships, and hundreds of thousands of personnel.  To carry out this massive logistics operation, planners used supply point and throughput resupply operations, which involve stockpiling supplies at depots in the rear, transporting them to forward depots, and moving them to the units.

The logistics buildup in Kuwait before the invasion of Iraq this spring was reminiscent of the logistics techniques used by First U.S. Army in World War II and repeated in the Korean War and the Gulf War of 1991.  This article will look at the First Army's logistics buildup and sustainment operation from D-Day through its race across France into Germany and at current and future battlefield logistics.  It also will examine the validity of moving from a supply-based logistics operation to the real-time logistics operation proposed in the Army Transformation.


Gearing Up for War

Preparations for the World War II invasion of France began 2 years before the actual operation.  From January 1942 to June 1944, the United States shipped over 17 million tons of cargo to the United Kingdom.  Included in the shipments was everything from general supplies and equipment to 800,000 pints of blood plasma, 125 million maps, prefabricated harbors (known as Mulberries), a replacement rail network, cigarettes, and toothbrushes. 

The invasion operation divided the Allied forces into five task forces—three British and two American.  The invasion forces landed on 6 June 1944 at five beaches in Normandy:  Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword.  At Omaha and Utah, the two American beaches, only 6,614 of the planned 24,850 tons of cargo were discharged in the first 3 days, which is indicative of the difficulties the Americans experienced in beach resupply operations. 

The 12 quartermaster units that arrived with the assault forces provided everything from general supplies to transportation to graves registration.  Although the Americans took several days to link up with the British forces, it was quite apparent by 7 June that the invasion was a success.  Once the landing forces secured the beaches of Normandy, they had to organize to receive the supplies, equipment, and troops needed to sustain the invasion forces. 

Good logistics alone can't win a war. Bad logistics alone can lose it.

—General Brehon B. Somervell
Commanding General
Army Services Forces, 1942

Port Discharge Problems

Shipments of supplies to the United Kingdom for the Normandy invasion not only had to compete with other combat operations in the European theater but also were restricted by the amount of supplies British ports could handle.  By December 1943, steady shipments of supplies were flowing into the United Kingdom.  By July 1944, more than two million tons had been shipped to the United Kingdom, which taxed the capability of the port facilities to hold and process the supplies.  Supplies and equipment bound for France could not be discharged quickly enough to accommodate the new supplies, so a logjam developed.

Docking facilities were critical to the quick discharge of supplies and equipment in France.  Mulberries were used to receive the tons of supplies and equipment needed to keep the invasion force moving forward.  When the quantity of supplies coming in exceeded the number of Mulberries available, the remaining supplies were offloaded using logistics over-the-shore operations. 

As the supply operation matured, 56,200 tons of supplies, 20,000 vehicles, and 180,000 troops were discharged each day at Omaha and Utah beaches.  That was slightly less than half of the supplies, nearly two-thirds of the vehicles, and all of the troops that had been projected for offload each day.  Performance on the American beaches improved rapidly as a more favorable tactical situation developed and, by 11 June 1944, all of the area up to the Aure River was under V Corps control.  Until the securing of fixed port facilities at Cherbourg, Le Havre, Rouen, and Antwerp, Belgium, resupply and staging operations consisted entirely of Mulberries and logistics over-the-shore operations.

By the end of June, over 289,827 tons of supplies had been offloaded onto the Normandy beaches.  However, shortages still occurred because supplies could not be discharged from British ports quickly enough and ships could not be turned around fast enough to keep up with the requirements of the landing forces.  Therefore, by 15 June, supplies were being shipped directly to Normandy from the United States.  At Normandy, supplies were stockpiled on the docks and beaches and then moved to forward units by truck. 

The longer it took U.S. forces to secure the port of Cherbourg, the more supplies, equipment, and troops piled up on the beaches waiting to be trucked forward.  In early August, the port at Cherbourg was cleared and opened so large quantities of supplies and equipment (more than 20,000 tons a day) could be loaded and moved forward by truck and rail.  General William Whipple, Jr., USA (Ret.), former Chief of the Logistics Branch, G–4, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, wrote in a 16 May 1967 letter to Brigadier General Eugene A. Salet, Commandant of the Army War College—

Up to September, U.S. forces were supported largely across the beaches, but the U.S. beaches were known to be substantially unusable after 1 October on account of the weather.  U.S. had the port of Cherbourg, which could handle about 20,000 tons a day; but this was inadequate, and was a long way from the front.  Ports of Le Havre, Rouen, etc. . . . were so damaged as to be largely unusable, and such channel ports as were available had to be reserved with first priority for British use. 

Port discharge problems led the way for the second major logistics problem in the logistics of invasion—moving supplies from the port to the front-line troops.

Soldiers load some of the approximately 20 million 5-gallon cans that were used to refuel vehicles during World War II.

Logistics on the Move

Once U.S. and British forces broke out of the hedgerow country and began to race across open terrain, supply lines lengthened and resupply became more difficult.  Allied commanders were frustrated because logistics transportation constraints prevented them from taking advantage of a favorable tactical situation.  In August and September of 1944, supply forces set up a ground and air logistics express system to move food, fuel, ammunition, barrier materials, medical supplies, and equipment to forward units quickly by air, rail, and roads.  Petroleum and ammunition accounted for half of the daily supply requirements. 

Aerial resupply was useful for supporting airborne operations and emergency resupply operations, but most supplies were moved by truck and rail.  As the war progressed, aerial resupply improved remarkably, as did road and rail transportation.  However, resupply by air dropped off dramatically following the emergency missions to supply the 500,000 Americans participating in the Ardennes counteroffensive.  After February and March 1945, air transport was used mainly for medical and petroleum resupply. 

In both First and Third Armies, the resupply requirements far exceeded the ability of the transportation network to move supplies forward.  In fact, by the end of August 1944, 90 to 95 percent of all supplies were still in Normandy beach depots nearly 300 miles from the forward units.  To deal with these operational supply shortfalls, logisticians set up a priority system based on the amount of supplies that could be hauled by truck and rail instead of which army had priority. 


Fuel Shortages

Petroleum is the lifeblood of a mechanized army.  By mid-September 1944, First and Third Armies were experiencing critical fuel problems, not because of a lack of fuel at the ports and beachheads but because of a shortage of transportation to move the fuel.  To help solve the problem, the Allies built a pipeline to move the petroleum 140 miles forward from the beach-head and port of Cherbourg.  Once fuel reached the end of the pipeline, trucks moved it to forward supply bases.  However, by 9 September, daily consumption outstripped daily receipts as Allied forces moved forward.  Planned consumption was significantly underestimated, and units consumed the fuel as soon as it got to the front line.  The increase in consumption rates and the lack of truck transportation were the largest contributors to the petroleum shortages.  Nevertheless, fuel shortages accounted for only half of the critical shortages in the European theater.  Ammunition was the other half.


Ammunition Shortfalls

Ammunition is the hardest supply to push on the battlefield because of its various types and different configurations.  Ammunition arrives in theater in bulk and is broken down and loaded on trucks in configurations that maximize the space available.  Problems such as a shortage of trucks, disputes over consumption rates, artillery round shortages, and production rates in the United States that couldn't keep up with demand, compounded the usual challenges of ammunition resupply.

By mid-September, Allied forces faced serious shortages and began rationing 155-millimeter howitzer and 81-millimeter mortar ammunition to the combat forces.  As the war progressed, artillery expenditure rates changed from one army to the next and from one battle to the next.  This made it difficult to predict the required supply rate.  The Army eventually solved this problem by establishing a required supply rate and a combat supply rate.  The required supply rate was the amount of ammunition a commander expected to need for a particular combat operation, while the combat supply rate was the amount of ammunition the supply system could support.


Other Supply Deficits

Although providing food, water, construction materials, and clothing to forward troops was less difficult in World War II than providing petroleum and ammunition, logisticians still faced some challenges with sustainment.  Providing hot "chow" to forward units was time consuming, and it was difficult to serve units on the move.  However, hot food was as big a morale boost for combat forces then as it is now. 

Limited transportation made it difficult to move barrier materials to the front.  It was hard to justify moving construction materials when there was not enough transportation available to move ammunition or fuel.

Clothing challenges involved everything from design and development to production problems to transportation shortages.  Distribution of winter uniforms to the troops was delayed because line units did not provide the right requisitioning numbers.  Winter uniforms were a very low requisitioning priority until October.  By then, it was too late for every soldier to receive enough winter gear for the cold weather in December and January.  Blanket requisitions did not include the needs of the civilian population, prisoners of war, and French free forces.  There was a deficit of almost a million blankets by the winter of 1944. 

World War II logistics was a continuous process of initiatives and experimentation to try to fit the right logistics system with the right circumstances.  When logisticians found roadblocks at the strategic level, they overcame them as quickly as their communication systems could respond.  At the operational level, logistics initiatives included Mulberries to serve as expedient piers, pipelines to move fuel, and the "Red Ball Express" to push logistics to the front lines.  A beachhead was established to accumulate supplies, a series of supply bases was set up along a 300-mile main supply route, and, simultaneously, air, truck, rail, and pipeline transportation was used to move supplies across the battlefield. 

"Red Ball Express" was the Army code name for a truck convoy system that stretched from St. Lo in Normandy to Paris and eventually to the front along France's northeastern borderland. The route was marked with red balls. The Army Transportation corps created the huge trucking operation on 21 August 1944. Supply trucks started rolling on 26 August and continued for 82 days. On an average day, 900 fully loaded vehicles were on the Red Ball route around the clock, with drivers ordered to observe 60-yard intervals and a top speed of 25 miles per hour. When the program ended in mid-november 1944, Red Ball Express truckers had delivered 412,193 tons of food, gasoline, oil, lubricants, ammunition, and other essential supplies.

Timeless Logistics Lessons

Military logistics operations in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War employed much of the same methodology:  secure a port of debarkation, build up a supply base, and then push supplies forward by whatever means available.  Even today, the commander's first strategy is typically to build up supplies and combat power over months in a theater of operations, conduct tactical operations, and then hope that supply lines remain open and capable of keeping up with the combat forces.  However, as any good planner knows, "hope is not a method." 

Transformation of the logistics structure must begin with the renovation of its systems, including changes in transportation and maintenance, as well as in the supply of food, water, fuel, ammunition, and barrier materials.  The bottom line is:  The military needs to lighten its equipment and supply loads in order to reduce its logistics tail, cut lift requirements, and, at the same time, increase force sustainability. 


More Multipurpose Vehicles

The Army has already begun to reduce the weight of its combat systems by using the light armored vehicle (LAV) to increase the survivability of the light forces and increase the maneuverability of the heavy forces with a decrease in fuel consumption.  Industry can take the LAV chassis one step further by using it for logistics vehicles that will replace the wide variety of cargo- and liquid-carrying vehicles now used.  A LAV chassis, enhanced with a 5-ton cargo bed and a crane for loading and unloading 463L pallets and redesigned to be C–130 transportable, is essential. 

Today's family of cargo transportation vehicles consists of four distinct types:  dry cargo, wet cargo, perishable cargo, and ammunition.  None of these vehicles are very fuel-efficient.  The newest versions are complicated to maintain, and several different types of mechanics are required to maintain them.  They do not all have the same load capabilities, and they are not survivable on the modern battlefield.

If the same medium-weight chassis were used for both cargo vehicles and combat vehicles, the number of mechanics needed to repair them would be reduced.  Such vehicles could keep up with the combat forces while maintaining a small degree of self-protection.  A LAV equipped with a cargo bed or a pallet-mounted 3,000-gallon fuel or water tank could move cargo, fuel, or water anywhere on the battlefield.  This system also could be equipped with a crew-served weapon that would provide high-volume direct fire from within the vehicle's cab.


Subsistence Transformation

Transformation of rations and the way rations and water are provided would reduce the number of personnel required to support combat forces, decrease the number of cargo vehicles needed, and reduce the overall logistics footprint on the battlefield. 

The way to redesign field rations is to combine meals, ready to eat (MREs), tray rations, and unitized group rations into a "super MRE."  The super MRE would be packaged, heated, and prepared much like the current MREs but would have the nutritional value, variety, and taste of fresh A rations. 

The super MREs would eliminate the need for cooks, provide forward combat units with hot meals, and reduce the need for transporting large quantities of rations across the battlefield.  At the same time, super MREs would ensure that even the soldiers on the most remote part of the battlefield receive a hot meal. 

Water is another challenge for logisticians.  Water purification and bulk water transportation across the battlefield are difficult and time consuming.  Also, it is difficult to get water to soldiers in the most remote areas of the theater. 

Three concepts for future water production and transportation could reduce the problems inherent in water resupply.  The first is a water-production system already in concept development that extracts water from a vehicle's fuel system, purifies it, and stores it in a separate tank.  This not only will increase the fuel efficiency of combat vehicles by removing wastewater but also will provide forward combat soldiers with water systems in their individual vehicles. 

The second method of providing water to forward combat units is to equip each squad with a small, vehicle-mounted reverse-osmosis water purification unit with a 100- to 200-gallon storage tank. 

The third method is to purchase more hard-wall bulk water tanks that mount on 463L pallets.  Currently, bulk water distribution is limited to 3,000-gallon water bags hauled on trailers.  These bags have to be either full or empty when hauled and cannot be easily dismounted and recovered.  The hard-wall tanks could be filled with any quantity of water, dropped off anywhere on the battlefield, and picked up when empty.  These tanks, which would be similar to the new "Hippo" water tank rack system, would provide more flexible water distribution.  Modern technology could replace the metal tanks with composite plastic tanks, which would reduce the weight of the tank, minimize mildew buildup, and eliminate rust in the tank.

Other potential water innovations range from a personal hydration system to a solar-powered water chiller-heater that would fit inside a flak jacket.  The device's solar-powered motor would chill water in hot climates and warm water in cold climates to add to the wearer's comfort and safety. 


Liquid Logistics

Petroleum is the other "liquid logistics" commodity that puts a huge strain on both combat forces and logistics forces trying to move it.  Until technology can provide a viable hydrogen-powered engine, petroleum will continue to be the primary fuel for powering military vehicles.  Therefore, military vehicles must be lighter weight and more fuel efficient.  Industry can assist with meeting these goals by equipping the new generation of combat and combat support vehicles with a simple-to-maintain battery-fuel combination engine or one that operates on fuel cells. 

Another innovation for moving fuel on the battlefield is the Load-Handling System (LHS) Modular Fuel Farm (LMFF).  It consists of ten 2,500-gallon tank racks and one pump rack.  Like the Hippos, the LMFF tanks can be transported when full, partially filled, or empty.  By using two tank racks—one on the truck and one on the trailer—a palletized load system and LHS can transport up to 5,000 gallons of bulk petroleum per trip.


Bulky Cargo

Barrier materials such as lumber, sandbags, and barbed wire are a strain on transportation systems because they are bulky, oversized, and difficult to load.  The biggest problem with this type of cargo is that it comes in many different shapes and sizes, which makes it difficult to establish a standard load for a cargo vehicle. 

The first step to more efficient resupply of barrier materials is the development of standard packages that would be used Army-wide.  Barrier materials could be broken down and configured into lettered and numbered sets much like they are in most active-duty combat units.  All packages would be assembled and configured for specific purposes, such as platoon defense, roadblock, or mine emplacement. 

These configured and labeled packages would be shipped from the United States to a theater of operations, where forward combat forces could order them by citing the appropriate letter and number of the configuration they need.  Preassembled, preconfigured barrier materials could be brought into the theater quickly. 

The LMFF is mobile when full, partically full, or empty, which decreases its deployment and recovery time.

Building Better Bullets

The last class of supply needing transformation is ammunition.  The first of two big problems is the many different kinds of ammunition that are required on the battlefield.  Having so many different kinds of ammunition makes it difficult to provide the correct ammunition during combat.  The second problem is determining how much ammunition to move onto the battlefield without moving too much or too little.  Too much would tie up transportation assets, and downloading unneeded ammunition would be an added burden.  A shortage of ammunition would pose a serious threat to combat units during a fight. 

There are many different sizes and types of ammunition in the U.S. military's inventory.  To reduce the overall signature of large-caliber ammunition (above .50 caliber), for example, technology must combine similar caliber ammunition into a few interchangeable types.  For example, artillery ammunition could be interchangeable with tank and large mortar ammunition, reducing at least six types of ammunition to one.  Missile, rocket, and smaller mortar ammunition could be combined into another type.  A standard conversion kit could accompany the two types of ammunition so they could be used quickly for whatever purpose necessary. 

The biggest advantage to a revolution in ammunition development is the reduced need to carry multiple types of ammunition across the battlefield.  Only high-use ammunition would flow on resupply trucks, and it would stay uploaded until it was needed by combat forces.  This would help keep the combat forces supplied and allow them to stay mobile on the battlefield.  The only necessary reconfiguration of the ammunition would take place at the firing point.

 

Effective logistics capabilities provide the foundation that combat operators need to be persistent and decisive.  Therefore, a transformation of combat operations cannot be carried out without first transforming logistics operations.

As the current U.S. military moves from a platform-based force to a capabilities-based force, logistics will play a key role in determining the success or failure of that transformation.  A real logistics transformation will require new equipment, new planning techniques, and a logistics information architecture that supports the combat force. 

Real-time information that enables supply requisitioning and tracking from the factory to the battlefield is critical to the success of any equipment innovations.  Without such a system to complement the capabilities-based equipment, the logistics system will remain a cumbersome supply-based operation.  Real-time information would eliminate many of the problems experienced during World War II, when it took months to respond to requisition changes from the front. 

As recent transformations initiatives have stressed, successful capabilities-based logistics systems must be "sense-and-respond" systems that comprise two key ingredients:  information and capability.  Unfortunately, both the information architecture and the capabilities-based logistics equipment and systems needed for logistics transformation are still in the developmental stages.  Without both ingredients, combat commanders soon will lose confidence in the ability of logisticians to provide "just-in-time" logistics and resort again to building an "Iron Mountain" of materiel as in previous conflicts.  Until a global information network and a capabilities-based logistics system are implemented and validated, logistics sustainment will remain a "just-in-case" operation. ALOG

Major Frederick V. Godfrey is the Brigade S–4 Observer-Controller at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany.  He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Air Command and Staff College.  He has a bachelor's degree in geography from Montana State University and a master's degree in military history from Louisiana State University.