Following an unforgivable oversight at the very highest level of American war planning it had been assumed troops destined to lead the invasion of Europe would arrive in Britain already trained for their task. Realisation this was not the case created a tense situation that had to be urgently rectified as the date for the invasion of Europe was only a few months ahead.
In 1943 no principle existed within the U.S. Army for assaulting a heavily fortified enemy coastline, and the only published advice in a U.S. Army Field Manual was … “Fortified areas are avoided in the initial assault and taken from the rear … “. Therefore, assaulting the enemy held coastline of Normandy required not only the creation of a new and unique doctrine but also the training of thousands of troops in those principles, and time was short.
The Assault Training Center’s assault doctrine was developed by a month-long conference where military experts were seconded from every Allied service to thrash out a workable method for the Americans to neutralise German defences on their assigned beaches in Normandy. Their conclusion was unconventional and dramatic.
By the end of July 1943 the doctrine was finalised together with a three week training schedule to train troops to break through enemy beach defences and take the fight inland to establish a beachhead.
Where the Americans could establish their training facility was a problem. The British weren’t helpful as they had already claimed all suitable training beaches, discarding Woolacombe stating it was far too stormy and rough for amphibious training so the Americans could have it. With no choice but to accept it the Americans were later to realise Woolacombe was almost identical to “Omaha” beach in Normandy in topography, tides, size and sand consistency.
Fulfilling their mission as detailed by the American high command involved the evacuation of picturesque Devon villages of Georgeham, Putsborough, Croyde and Saunton to simulate a beachhead expansion. This was refused by the British so the Center’s mission was reduced to deal only with enemy beach defences. Their refusal had a profound effect upon the days immediately after D-Day when American troops moving inland encountered the “Bocage” with no idea how to overcome it.
Training required ranges for all weapons that would be used by Assault Sections to ensure accuracy and repeated exercises in the new tactics so construction had to be done quickly as the first unit would arrive for training on 1st September 1943.
398th Engineer General Service Regiment was tasked with building replica pillboxes for training, nissen huts for accommodation and access roads.
Center areas were letter coded, roads and junctions were numbered, beaches colour coded and training ranges numbered.
Topography of the American D-Day beaches of “Omaha” and “Utah” did not allow the use of tanks and armoured vehicles so neutralizing enemy bunkers and strongholds had to be done by the infantry which involved teaching them new skills and tactics and was the very reason the Assault Training Center was created.
The ATC doctrine centred upon a thirty man “Assault section” to be beached from an LCVP. Each a self-contained team of specialists collectively capable of destroying an enemy pillbox or strongpoint.
Units spearheading the Normandy landings trained with the standard three-week course, rotating through 14,000 men over six months. Special units also attended for training including Rangers and engineer combat battalions who would clear gaps in beach obstacles for the infantry.
Within the “Assault Section” Riflemen, machine guns and mortars were to return fire to the enemy, Bazooka rockets to fire at the pillbox alongside flamethrowers. Bangalore torpedoes to blow open barbed wire entanglements and finally, demolition men carrying explosives to rush the pillbox and neutralise it.