Small Wars Journal

D-Day 1944 - The Sausages are Stuffed

Sun, 06/02/2019 - 7:59am

D-Day 1944 - The Sausages are Stuffed

Keith Nightingale

This Thursday, 75 years ago, most of the troops earmarked for the invasion of Normandy made their final pre-deployment movement into the “Sausages.”  They would reside within them until called to mount their transport aircraft or board their ships for what would be the largest single purpose operation of our civilization.  Here, they would mentally prepare themselves for what lay ahead.  It was not particularly pretty, but the program was singularly effective.

More than a year prior, the English government, in coordination with General Eisenhower’s staff planners, began to establish what became known as “sausages.”  These were tracts of land on the south and east coast areas of England to house the half a million plus assault troops.  They were in woodlands, fallow farms, and the rugged coasts that marked this part of England.  Here, they would be closer to the ports and airfields designated for the invasion embarkations.

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D-Day Sausages Location

The sausages had a commonality of design that only an organization of this magnitude and a preference for engineered uniformity could create.  There were entrance and exit control points in echelon from the most distant gates to those closest to the troops themselves.  Vast quantities of tentage were established—generally parallel to the coast to take advantage of what land and vegetation allowed.  These invariably were elliptical in shape, hence, the name—“sausages.”

They contained the necessary sleeping areas for the troops, as well as, mess, medical, and staff tentage.  Within each unit area, the most important tent or facility was further secured as a Bigot area—the highest invasion classification.  Here, from regiment to squad, unit targets would be shown as sand tables, maps, models, and photographs.  For the first time, the troops would know with some precision where they were going.  Within these sausages, they would figure out what to do when they got there.

In many cases when the sausages were created, the UK government forcibly removed the civil population.  Such an action was impossible in the major port areas, and the population was simply sequestered—unable to leave the outer secured ring.  This provided some extra benefit to all as the pubs and chip shops remained open—to be freely used by both the civil and military “prisoners” within the system.  People rarely complained (The government had a covert pulse feeling system in place.) as they knew why this all was happening and that it would mark in Churchill’s words, “The beginning of the end.” 

More than 1,000 airfields had been constructed or expanded in the area to handle the 2,000 C47 transport aircraft for the Airborne elements and the 10,000 fighter and support aircraft protecting them.  In the ports, more than 4,500 ships held anchorage.  These included the major capital ships—the two dozen battleships, four monitors, 25 cruisers, 100+ destroyers and escorts.  Sheltering within that mass would be more than 3,000 transport and supply ships encompassing everything from large bulk freighters to channel ferries to Rhino ferries—simple open platforms holding vehicles-initially towed and then moving by outboard motor to the beach.

Within these sausages, now jammed with the requirements for the initial beach and airborne assault elements, serious planning began.  On narrow company streets, the specialized equipment of each element was laid out and utilized.  Firing ranges were established for small arms, and the final assault supplies broken down from unit to individual soldier.

Within the Bigot tents, elements shuttled in and out to discuss the “how to dos” necessary to subdue a bunker or a beach depending upon size.  Special tasks such as major cable cutting, or crucial demolition tasks were assigned.  Intelligence from the French Resistance, aerial analysis, and radio intercept was disseminated.  Each entrance and exit were managed by a roster held by the Military Police and approved by a unit officer.  No straphangers were present at this point.

The Airborne forces had an additional facility to hold the flight routes.  These were black and white ground images of the exact route each unit would fly.  The jumpmasters were to study this for key landmarks, so they could gauge their positions along the route and know with some precision when they had to standup the troops for the “Green Light.”  Postwar, several vets indicated how crucial this was when the flights became disorganized due to flak and clouds.

The messes were a highlight of an otherwise dull situation.  The armies went to some length to bring in the best food available.  In fact, General Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, made a point of this for planners a full year ahead of need.  Accordingly pork, ham, chicken, turkey, steak and fresh vegetables were routinely issued— “Fattening up for the kill”— many said.  In most areas, coffee, tea, donuts, and biscuits were usually available 24 hours a day.  This was crucial for the Airborne elements as they did considerable night training against mockup targets and assembly exercises.

Movies and music were common staples.  Mini-USOs—run by internal unit personnel—provided a mental relief.  In many cases, due to size and schedule complexities, movies ran on a 24-hour basis.  Emergency supplies of bulbs and cameras were a common request.

Mail usually came and went twice a day and significant supplies of writing material, tobacco, gum, and candies was provided.  Medical support was also provided in unusual quantity and timeliness.  The organizational medical staffs, augmented by Division and Corps personnel, established continuous screening and treatment.  Where before a troop might see a doctor only under unusual circumstances and time, here the visits were ubiquitous.

In those locations adjacent to an embarkation port, the beach assault and support elements were mixed.  Each had to board ships on an exact schedule as there were insufficient wharves to accommodate simultaneous loading.  First serviced were the supply and logistical support ships.  Their loading began very early in the process so they could be moved out and space made available for the immediate assault support equipment—artillery, tanks, field hospitals, immediate follow on ammo, food and water, communications, and high-level command/control elements.  Last would be the troops themselves embarking on a wide array of ships.  These ranged from previous channel and inter-island ferries to combat assault support ships (LSIs) to troop ships.  From East Anglia to the Isle of Wright, the coast was jammed with ships from horizon to horizon. The giant was gathering.

On the fantail of most transport vessels, barrage balloons were fixed.  These were manned by all Black elements very recently shipped from the US specifically for this event.  Each balloon had a five-man crew managing the inflation and control cables.  Their quarters were dependent upon the attitude of the ship’s captain and ranged from the best available to huddling on the deck.

The loading went on 24 x 7 supported by the sequestered civilian longshoreman, dock hands and, tug crews.  In most cases, the Higgins Boats for the assaults would be used to ferry troops to their ships, but this would not begin until the First of June.  Long lines of vehicles of all shapes and classes lined the cobbled streets awaiting their turn to load.  The slate roofs and window glass continuously vibrated with their passage.  The locals knew when the vibrations ceased, the invasion would begin.

To support this endeavor, the government lifted the pub closure hours to accommodate the extended schedule.  Maintaining high morale among the locals was a key requirement.  MPs were stationed by each pub to maintain order.  A significant problem was within the US areas where segregation was a common practice—a system the British did not recognize or easily condone.  Quickly, Them and Us pubs were identified, and a guarded peace ensued.  

The weather, May in the Channel, was not very forthcoming.  Often, rain and fog descended for days on end.  The tents and living quarters were jammed with men and their soaked clothing and gear. Most smoked and sweated with the pores of active youth. Troops ran through the rain with full mess kits to eat in the shelter of their tents quickly adding the smell of freshly forming garbage to the dense blue air. Fans were mostly non-existent, and stoves roared.

Wet fingers penned moist pages.  The Home Front recipients would only understand the unusual smearing when they read the papers or heard the news on the sixth of June.  In some cases, mail was intentionally held within the sausages the last week to ensure no leakage of dates or locations had slipped by an errant censor.  This resulted in some Next of Kin receiving the death notice telegram prior to the loved one’s letter.

This was a highly organized enterprise that reflected the best managerial aspects of Allied civilization.  It had to be as it focused the very best of our humanity on the most important task it would ever undertake.


Categories: World War II - D-Day

About the Author(s)

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.