Chapter II
The Enemy

At the beginning of July 1944, Germany was the target of military operations on four fronts: the Soviet drive in the east, the partisan warfare in the Balkans, the Allied operations in Italy, and the Allied offensive in western France. Only in Scandinavia did German military forces enjoy the quiet of a relatively static situation.

Of the four fronts, the Balkan battlefield was of minor importance, and the Italian sector, where the Germans fought a delaying action as they fell back, was of secondary significance. The Eastern Front, engaging the preponderance of German resources, was of most concern to the Germans, although the cross-Channel attack had posed a more direct threat to the homeland, and for a brief time--until the Russians launched their summer offensive late in June--the Normandy front was more important. From July on, the Eastern and Western Fronts received nearly equal attention from those directing the German war effort, though far from equal resources.

Exhausted by almost five years of war, its Navy powerless, its Air Force reduced to impotence, and able to offer serious resistance only on the ground, Germany seemed on the verge of defeat.

The Machinery of War

Adolf Hitler was directing the war. In addition to the responsibility and the nominal command borne by all heads of states, Hitler exercised a direct control over military operations. He determined the military strategy on all fronts and supervised closely the formulation of plans and their execution. Increasingly, as the struggle continued, he controlled the tactical operations of the troops. This close control of the military was perhaps inevitable. The pyramidal hierarchy of command reached its ultimate in him.

With an active and bold imagination, and often displaying an astute grasp of military matters, Hitler could coordinate his military objectives and his political goals far better than anyone else in Germany. Though by 1944 Hitler had delegated to others many of his governmental functions, he felt that he could not afford to do so in the military realm. The urgency of the life and death struggle with the Allies, he was convinced, compelled him to give his personal attention even to relatively minor problems, and his self-assumed commitments overworked him.

As head of the state, Hitler bore the title of Fuehrer.1 As such, he was also


Hitler with (from left to right) Grossadmiral Erich Raeder and Field Marshals Keitel and Goering
Hitler with (from left to right) Grossadmiral Erich Raeder and Field Marshals Keitel and Goering.

the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--the Oberster Befehlshaber der Deutschen Wehrmacht. His staff was the Armed Forces High Command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. (OKW), headed by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel. Theoretically, OKW was the highest military echelon under Hitler, and to it belonged the prerogatives of grand strategy and joint operations. On a lower echelon, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering headed the Air Force High Command, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL); Grossadmiral Karl Doenitz headed the Navy High Command, the Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine (OKM); while Hitler himself headed the Army High Command, the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH).

In theory, the chief of the OKW, Keitel, received the reports and co-ordinated the activities of the OKL, OKM, and OKH. But Goering outranked Keitel and therefore reported directly to Hitler. Doenitz felt that Keitel had little interest in and understanding of naval matters, and he also reported directly to Hitler. Since Hitler himself was chief of the OKH, there seemed to be no practical need for the OKW. Yet because the war against the Soviet Union required all the attention of the OKH, the OKW assumed the direction of the other theaters.2 OKW and OKH were thus reduced to agencies directing the ground campaigns and, together with OKL and OKM, were directly subordinate to and dominated by Hitler, the Supreme Commander in Chief.

Although the chain of command was unified at the top in the person of Hitler and although spheres of activity seemed clearly defined among the high commands, staff functions in actual practice were often confused. OKW, for example, had no intelligence section or logistical apparatus. For information about the enemy and for administration, including replacements, it relied on the OKH. OKL organized and controlled antiaircraft artillery units, Luftwaffe field divisions, and paratroopers, which in American doctrine were ground force


units. Competition over such matters as replacements caused friction among the services. Goering exploited his political power, while Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler complicated the command structure because he headed the Schutzstaffel (SS), an elite corps of infantry and armored units.3

Similar inconsistencies appeared in the field. Commanders exercised control over assigned troops but not over strictly defined geographical areas. Except in designated fortress cities, the three military services were independent branches, expected to co-operate but not functionally organized to insure complete co-ordination of effort. The result, perhaps not so surprisingly, redounded to Hitler's personal advantage.

In western Europe, Navy Group West was the field command of the OKM, and the Third Air Fleet was the field command under OKL. The ground force field command under the OKW was Oberbefehlshaber West (OB WEST), and within the limits of the German command system it functioned as the theater headquarters. Unlike General Eisenhower, who in comparison had virtual carte blanche for the conduct of the war, the German theater commander operated under the close personal supervision of Hitler, who directly or through the Operations Staff of OKW, the Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (WFSt), a planning section directed by Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, did not hesitate to

point out what he deemed errors of judgment and maneuver.

General Jodl

The theater commander did not control the naval and air force contingents in his sector. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, though under the nominal control of OB WEST, each had a military governor who exercised responsibility for internal security of the occupied territory; yet for tactical action against an invading enemy, OB WEST had operational control over the troops assigned to the military governors. OKW maintained direct contact with each military governor and supervised OB WEST supply and administration.

For tactical operations OB WEST controlled two army groups. These had the mission of defending the Channel and Atlantic and the Mediterranean coast lines of the OB WEST area. Their


zones of operations were the Netherlands and Belgium and those French administrative and political departments touching the sea. The boundary between the army groups was an east--west line across France from the Loire River to the Swiss border near Lake Geneva, although there was always a lack of clarity as to whether OB WEST or the military governor exercised authority over tactical troops in central France. (Map 2)

South of the boundary was the sector of Army Group G, a headquarters that controlled the First Army, which defended the Atlantic coast of France south of the Loire, and Nineteenth Army, which held the Mediterranean shores of France. The Replacement Army, which trained units in the interior of France, furnished troops for security duties against the FFI and was ready to undertake operations against airborne landings.

North of the Loire-Geneva boundary line was Army Group B. Under this headquarters, LXXXVIII Corps occupied the Netherlands, Fifteenth Army defended the coast of Belgium and of northern France to the Seine River, and Seventh Army had responsibility for that part of northwest France between the Seine and the Loire Rivers.

The chain of command, then, that had functioned to meet the Allied invasion of western Europe consisted of Hitler; the OKW, which transmitted Hitler's orders; OB WEST,the ground force headquarters in the west that operated as the theater command; Army Group B, which had tactical control of the troops along the Channel coast; and Seventh Army, which had found itself responsible for the area invaded.

The Changing Strategy

German strategy in July was rooted in the events of June. When the Allies landed on the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944, the Germans were without a firmly enunciated policy of defense.4 The OB WEST commander, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, and the Army Group B commander, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, were in vague but basic disagreement on how best to meet the expected Allied invasion. Rundstedt tended to favor maintaining a strong strategic reserve centrally located, so that after he determined the main invasion effort he could mass the reserve and destroy the Allies before they could reinforce their beachhead. Sometimes called the concept of mobile defense, this was a normal operational technique. Rommel presupposed Allied air superiority, and he argued that the Germans would be unable to move a centrally located reserve to the battlefield since the Allies would control the air in that area; he believed it necessary to defeat the Allied invaders on the beaches. Sometimes called the concept of static defense, this theory gave impetus to the construction of the Atlantic Wall.5

Hitler never made a final decision on which method of defense he preferred. Consequently, neither method was established as a distinct course of action. By


Map 2. Order of Battle OB West, 2 July 1944
MAP 2 Order of Battle OB West, 2 July 1944


Field Marshal Rommel

inference, it appeared that Hitler favored defense on the beaches since he had charged Rommel with specific responsibility for coastal defense even though the task might logically have belonged to the theater commander, Rundstedt. Although Rommel was subordinate to Rundstedt, he thus had a certain favored status that tended to undermine the chain of command. This was emphasized by the fact that he had direct access to Hitler, a privilege of all field marshals.

Despite a lack of cohesion in the command structure and an absence of coherence in defensive planning, the three commanders acted in unison when the Allies assaulted the beaches. Rommel gave battle on the coast, Rundstedt began to prepare a counterattack, and Hitler approved the commitment of theater reserves.

Their actions stemmed from traditional German military thought and training, which stressed the ideal of defeating an enemy by a decisive act rather than by a strategy of gradual and cumulative attrition.6 As a consequence, the German military leaders, although fighting essentially a defensive battle, searched for a bold counterattack that would destroy the Normandy beachhead and drive the Allies back into the sea. While Rommel fought the tactical battle of the beaches, Rundstedt designated a special headquarters (which he had organized in 1943 to train armored units) to plan and launch a counterattack of decisive proportions. Under the command of the OB WEST armor specialist, General der Panzertruppen Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg, Panzer Group West assumed this function.7 An Allied bomber struck Geyr's headquarters on 10 June, killed several key members of the staff, and obliterated immediate German hopes of regaining the initiative.

To take the place of Panzer Group West, which could not be reorganized quickly after the bombing, the Germans planned to upgrade the LXXXIV Corps headquarters to an intermediate status pending its eventual elevation to an army headquarters. On 12 June, however, its commander, General der Artillerie


Erich Marcks, was also killed by an Allied bomb.8

By mid-June Rommel was inclined to believe that the Allies had gained a firm foothold in France.9 Experience in Sicily and Italy seemed to indicate that when Allied assault troops succeeded in digging in on shore, it was very difficult to dislodge them. On 12 June Hitler appeared to accept the validity of the danger, for on that date he recalled an SS panzer corps of two SS armored divisions--about 35,000 men--from the Eastern Front and dispatched them with highest transportation priority to the west. The mission of these units was to take part in the vital counterattack that was to destroy the Allied beachhead.

While the SS panzer corps and other reinforcements hurried toward Normandy, German troops on the Western Front were sustaining serious losses. Allied air superiority was hampering and delaying the movement of German men and supplies to the battle area, and Allied ground troops were swarming ashore with increasing amounts of equipment. As early as three days after the invasion, officers of the OKH intelligence section and of the OKW operations staff discussed the probable loss of Cherbourg.10 Five days later, on 14 June, Rundstedt and Rommel agreed to leave only light German forces in defense of the port if the Americans should cut the Cherbourg peninsula and isolate the

Field Marshal von Rundstedt

northern portion of it. Thus, only a few troops would be sacrificed in the north while the bulk of the German forces on the peninsula would withdraw and form a defensive line near its base to oppose an expected American attack toward the south. Two days later, on 16 June, as the field commanders, upon learning that the Americans were about to cut the peninsula, prepared to put the withdrawal plan from Cherbourg into effect, OKW transmitted Hitler's refusal to permit them to evacuate the port.11

Although Field Marshals Rundstedt and Rommel considered a strong and costly defense of Cherbourg useless, Hitler was not interested in conserving several thousand soldiers when he could expend them and perhaps keep the Allies


from gaining a major port, at least until the counterstroke, now planned for 25 June, was launched. While the master counterattack was being prepared to oust the Allies from Normandy, Hitler was unwilling to yield cheaply what he correctly judged to be an important link in the projected chain of Allied logistics.

Despite Hitler's wishes, the defense of Cherbourg was disappointing.12 German troop confusion, inadequate provisioning of the fortress, and the vigor of the American attack were disheartening to the Germans. The field marshals concentrated their efforts on mounting the still pending major counterattack, even though Hitler continued to recommend counterattacks designed to aid the Cherbourg defenders.13

Conferring with Hitler at Soissons on 17 June, the field commanders agreed to launch through Bayeux what they all hoped would be the decisive counterattack.14 A reorganized Panzer GroupWest, under the control of Army Group B, was to direct the tactical operation, which would now be launched no earlier than 5 July. The purpose of the attack was to split the Allies on the coast and dispose of each separately.

As tactical plans for the Bayeux offensive were being readied and troops and supplies assembled, the British launched their attack toward Caen on 25 June.15 Almost at once the local commander defending Caen judged that he would have to evacuate the city. To retain Caen the Seventh Army on 26 June prepared to employ the troops assembling for the Bayeux offensive, not in the planned offensive mission but for defensive reasons, to counterattack the British. Before the commitment of this force, however, the situation eased and became somewhat stable. Nevertheless, German apprehension over the possibility of continued British attacks in the Caen sector did not vanish.

At this time not only the commanders in the west but also OKW passed from thinking in terms of offensive action to an acceptance of a defensive role.16 "No matter how undesirable this may be," Rundstedt informed OKW, "it may become necessary to commit all the new forces presently moving up--in an effort to stop and smash . . . the British attack expected to start shortly southeast from


Caen."17 So serious had the British threat appeared on 25 June that Rundstedt and Rommel fleetingly considered withdrawing to a line between Avranches and Caen.18

By withdrawing to an Avranches-Caen line the Germans would have good positions from which to hold the Allies in Normandy. Yet such an act might also be interpreted by higher headquarters as the first step in a complete withdrawal from France. Keitel and Jodl had agreed soon after the invasion that if the Germans could not prevent the Allies from breaking out of their beachhead, the war in the west was lost.19 The point in question was a definition of the term beachhead. Would not a withdrawal from the lines already established give the Allies the space and maneuver room to launch a breakout attempt?

The alternatives facing the German field commanders late in June seemed clear: either the Germans should mount the Bayeux offensive and attempt to destroy the Allied beachhead in a single blow, or they should abandon hope of offensive action and defend aggressively by counterattacking the British near Caen.20 The British, by acting first, had temporarily nullified the possibility of offensive action, and this seemed to crystallize a growing pessimism among the German commanders in the west.

Rundstedt had long been convinced that if only a defensive attitude were possible, it would be hopeless to expect ultimate success in the war.21 Rommel, too, became persuaded that the German chance of victory was slim.22 More than Rundstedt perhaps, Rommel felt that the Allied naval guns employed as long-range artillery would prevent the Germans from ever regaining the invasion beaches, and significantly he had plotted the first objectives of the Bayeux attack just outside the range of Allied naval gun fire.23 By 15 June Rommel had admitted that the front would probably have to be "bent out" and Normandy given up because the danger of an Allied attack toward Paris from Caen was worse than a possible threat to Brittany.24

Hitler nevertheless remained firm in his resolve. Even though Rundstedt insisted that the focal point was Caen, Hitler kept thinking in terms of an attack west of the Vire River to save or regain Cherbourg. He cared little whether the reserves gathered near Caen were used for offensive or defensive purposes.

Tactical developments in the Caen sector bore out the apprehensions of the field marshals. There seemed to be no alternative but to commit additional reserves against the doggedly persistent British. The only troops available were


those of the II SS Panzer Corps withdrawn from the Eastern Front and slated to initiate the Bayeux offensive. The corps jumped off on 29 June in an attack that, if successful, would disrupt the British beachhead, but it was in no sense the contemplated decisive master blow.

On that day, 29 June, Rundstedt and Rommel were at Berchtesgaden, where they listened as Hitler enunciated his strategy.25 Acknowledging that Allied air and naval supremacy prevented a large-scale German attack for the moment, Hitler deemed that, until an attack could be launched, the Germans had to prevent the development of mobile warfare because of the greater mobility of the Allied forces and their supremacy in the air. The German ground troops must endeavor to build up a front designed to seal off the beachhead and confine the Allies to Normandy. Tactics were to consist of small unit actions to exhaust the Allies and force them back. In the meantime, the German Air Force and Navy were to disrupt Allied logistics by laying mines and attacking shipping. More antiaircraft protection against Allied strafing and bombing was to permit the German Army to regain a freedom of movement for troops and supplies that would enable the field forces to launch a decisive offensive sometime in the future.

Thus, the ground troops in Normandy were to assume a defensive role temporarily, while the Air Force and Navytackled the important problems of logistics and mobility. Goering and Doenitz were to hamper Allied logistics and deny the Allies mobility; they were to give the German ground forces a measure of protection for their supply system, thereby assuring them a certain degree of mobility. Until these missions were executed, the ground forces had to hold every inch of ground in a stubborn defense. Unless Hitler could insure for his troops at least temporary protection from Allied planes, offensive maneuvers on a large scale were out of the question. Until he could secure a more favorable balance of supply, he could not launch the decisive action designed to gain a conclusive victory.

Whether or not Hitler believed that Goering and Doenitz with the obviously inadequate forces at their disposal could give him what he wanted, he proceeded on the assumption that they might.

When Rundstedt and Rommel returned to the west on 30 June, they learned that the German counterattack north of Caen had bogged down. The brief presence, for once, of German planes over the battlefield, until dispersed by Allied air forces, had been ineffective. The larger situation in Normandy resembled an intolerable impasse. While the Allied build-up proceeded smoothly, the Germans were having great difficulty reinforcing the battlefield; destroyed bridges and railroads and Allied air strafing during daylight hours made this task nearly impossible. With the balance of force in Normandy swinging in favor of the Allies, continued German defense seemed a precarious course of action. Such was the basis on which the field marshals now formally


recommended a limited withdrawal in the Caen area.26

Hitler refused. To withdraw, even in limited fashion, seemed to him to admit defeat in Normandy, acknowledgment that the Germans had failed against what he estimated to be only one third of the strength that the Allies would eventually be able to put on the Continent. He saw that because there were no prepared defensive lines in the interior of France, no fortified positions that could be occupied by withdrawing troops, defeat in Normandy meant eventual evacuation of France. The only possible place where the Germans could resume a defensive effort would be at the German border, and this made necessary rehabilitating and manning the unoccupied West Wall, the Siegfried Line.

Hitler had prohibited the erection of fortified lines of defense in France because he believed that their presence would tend to weaken the front by acting as a magnet for weary combat troops and for what he termed "defeatist" commanders. Furthermore, Hitler appreciated that, when troops withdrew, personnel tended to straggle and abandon equipment, actions Germany could ill afford. He was also aware that the Allies, with their superior mobility, would be able to advance more rapidly than the Germans could withdraw. Finally, he underestimated neither the damage to morale a withdrawal would occasion nor the ability to harass that the FFI and a hostile French population possessed.27

On the other hand, the German troops in Normandy occupied excellent and extremely favorable positions for defense. If the Germans contained the Allies and prevented the expansion of the beachhead, they would retain advantageous ground from which Hitler could launch the decisive action that could turn the course of the war. And yet to remain in Normandy and seek the decision there meant the acceptance of the risk of losing the entire committed force. If the Allies broke through the German defenses and developed a war of movement, the result would bring catastrophe to German hopes. Air power and mobility would enable the Allies to institute a blitzkrieg. Unlike that on the Eastern Front, where tremendous space cushioned the effect of breakthrough, mobile warfare on the Western Front was sure to bring the Allies quickly to the border of Germany.28

On the afternoon of 1 July Hitler announced his position unequivocally and declared his willingness to gamble: "Present positions are to be held," he ordered. "Any further enemy breakthrough is to be hindered by determined resistance or by local counterattack. The assembly of forces will continue..."29 Germans were to take advantage of the terrain, prevent the expansion of the Allied beachhead, and remain as close to the coast as possible.

This seemed logical to the OB WEST operations officer, who felt that a return


to the position warfare tactics of World War I was desirable. The Germans needed "to build an insurmountable barrier in front of the enemy along the tactically most advantageous line, from which the enemy numerical and materiel superiority must be beaten down with every conceivable means." If the Germans could fight a war of attrition over a long period of time, using all the guns in their arsenal, antiquated or not, they would perhaps be able some time in the future to launch a counterattack with specially chosen and trained troops to inflict a defeat on the Allied forces on the Continent.30

In complete disagreement, Rundstedt called Keitel, chief of the OKW, and stated that he did not feel up to the increased demands. Whether he meant the increased demands placed on him by higher headquarters or the increased demands of an impossible situation was perhaps a deliberate ambiguity.31 Reading Rundstedt's message as a request for relief, as an admission of defeat, or simply as an expression of disagreement, Hitler relieved his commander in chief in the west on 2 July. Two days later, Hitler also relieved Geyr, the commander of Panzer Group West, who had had the temerity to initiate a report criticizing the "tactical patchwork" in the west--a report endorsed and transmitted up the chain of command to Hitler.32 Of the field commanders who had metthe Allied invasion three weeks before, only Rommel remained in command, and even he had supposedly asked Hitler at Berchtesgaden how he still expected to win the war.33

Hitler was not impressed with the professional abilities of his senior officers in the west. The Germans had failed in June. The Allies had established a firm beachhead in Normandy. Cherbourg had fallen. A major German counter-offensive had failed to materialize. A fresh armored corps had been committed with no apparent result.

The Germans had massed troops for a decisive counterattack that did not get started. When the German frame of reference changed from an offensive to a defensive cast, it seemed fortunate to find the bulk of the German strength in Normandy opposite the British. For the Caen sector appeared to lead directly to Paris, and that was where the Germans figured the Allies intended to go.

As the German ground action became defensive in character, Hitler placed his main reliance on air and naval effort and hoped that Goering and Doenitz would correct the balance of power then unfavorable to the Germans. Until this occurred, the German ground troops were to hold fast and preserve a vital condition--a restricted Allied beachhead--for the offensive action that was eventually to "throw the Anglo-Saxons out of Normandy."34


Tactical Dispositions

While the higher commands were preoccupied with offensive planning, the tactical units facing the Allies were occupied with the practical necessity of fighting a defensive war.

When the Allies landed in France, the German Seventh Army controlled Normandy and Brittany from the Orne River to the Loire. Commanded since September 1939 by Generaloberst Friedrich Dollman, who had led it to victory over the French in 1940, the army had its headquarters in comfortable buildings at le Mans. The long peacetime occupation duty had apparently dulled the headquarters' capacities, for even after the invasion it seemed to carry on business as usual. Subordinate commands complained of its bureaucracy in handling supplies, while higher headquarters sometimes felt a lack of personal initiative among its members.35

Doubts as to the efficiency of the Seventh Army headquarters had led to discussion of relieving the army of responsibility for the Normandy battlefield and of relegating it to Brittany. The commitment of Panzer Group West and the plan to upgrade a corps were attempts to replace the Seventh Army command, but because of the destruction of the Panzer Group West headquarters and the death of General Marcks, both by Allied bombings, the Seventh Army at the end of June still directed combat operations.36 (See Map I.)

By then the task had become exceedingly complicated. From one corps in contact with the Allies at the time of the invasion, the subordinate headquarters in contact and under the Seventh Army had increased to six. Initially, the LXXXIV Corps, commanded by Marcks, had met the Allies. The I SS Panzer Corps, under General der Panzertruppen Josef Dietrich, had moved forward from the OKW reserve to assume on 8 June a portion of the front near Caen. Several days later the II Parachute Corps, under General der Fallschirmtruppen Eugen Meindl, had traveled from Brittany to the St. Lô sector. On 13 June the XLVII Panzer Corps, commanded by General der Panzertruppen Hans Freiherr von Funck, had come forward from the Army Group B reserve to the vicinity of Caumont. In midmonth, General der Infanterie Hans von Obstfelder had moved his LXXX VI Corps from the Bay of Biscay to take the front between Caen and the Seine River. The II SS Panzer Corps, commanded by Generaloberst Paul Hausser, had arrived in the Caen sector near the end of the month after having been recalled from the Eastern Front.37

These seemed too many corps for one army to handle. Consequently, on 28 June the Germans divided the Normandy front into what amounted to two army sectors. On that date Panzer Group West took control of the four corps on the right, while Seventh Army


retained control of the two on the left.38 The boundary lay just west of Caumont and almost corresponded with the boundary that separated the British and American fronts. On 1 July the corps that faced the Allies lined up from east to west in the following order: LXXXVI, I SS Panzer, II SS Panzer, XLVII Panzer, II Parachute, and LXXXIV.

Each of the two sectors facing the Allies at the beginning of July had about 35,000 combat troops in the line, but there was a great difference in tactical strength because of armament.39 Panzer Group West, opposite the British, had approximately 250 medium and 150 heavy serviceable tanks, the latter including quite a few Tigers and King Tigers.40 Opposite the Americans the Seventh Army, in contrast, had only 50 mediums and 26 heavy Panthers.41 Of antiaircraft artillery in Normandy, Panzer Group West controlled the deadly dual-purpose guns of the III Flak Corps and had at least three times the quantity of the other antiaircraft weapons possessed by the Seventh Army. It had all three rocket projector brigades available in the west--the Nebelwerfer, which fired the "screaming meemies." It also had the preponderance of artillery.42

The imbalance of strength evolved from the nature of the battlefield terrain. In the western sector, where the Americans operated, the hedgerowed lowlands inhibited massed armor action and were ideal for defense. In the eastern sector, facing the British, the terrain was favorable for armored maneuver. Having hoped to launch a major counterattack in June, the Germans had concentrated the bulk of their offensive power there. At the end of the month, when the Germans were passing from an offensive to a defensive concept in Normandy, the presence of Stronger forces on the eastern sector seemed fortuitous to them since Caen blocked the route to Paris.43

Hitler expected the Allies to make the capture of Paris their principal objective. He figured that the British Second Army would carry the main weight of the attack, while the U.S. First Army would protect the open flank. In this belief, he anticipated that the Allies would try to gain control of the middle reaches of the Orne River as a line of departure. From there he expected British forces totaling twenty or twenty-two divisions to strike toward Paris and to seek to meet and defeat the German Army in open battle west of the Seine.44

In order to forestall the anticipated action, the Germans planned to withdraw the armored divisions-all of which were under Panzer Group West--from front-line commitment and replace them


with infantry. On 1 July some 35,000 combat infantrymen were moving toward the front to make this substitution. When the infantrymen eventually supplanted the armor in defensive positions during the month of July, Army Group B hoped to have two army sectors nearly equally manned. Nine armored divisions, most relieved by the infantry, would be in immediate reserve.45

To obtain this hoped-for disposition, the Germans had reinforced the battle area in Normandy by virtually depleting by 1 July their reserves in the west. The First Parachute Army, under OKL control, was only a small headquarters theoretically performing an infantry training mission in the interior of France and could, in extreme emergency, be counted as a reserve force. OKW controlled only one parachute regiment; OB WEST had no units in reserve. Army Group B had an armored division and an armored regiment still uncommitted. The Seventh Army had not yet committed one SS panzer division and one parachute division. Panzer Group West had nothing in reserve.46

To get troops to the battlefield in Normandy, the Seventh Army had stripped its forces in Brittany of four divisions and two regiments, and a fifth division was to come forward early in July.47 The commander of the Netherlands forces had furnished one division. Army Group G had contributed from its relatively meager forces in southern France six divisions--four infantry, one panzer grenadier, and one armored--all under orders or marching toward Normandy at the end of June.

Only the Fifteenth Army remained untouched. The few divisions it had sent to Normandy had been replaced by units brought from Norway and Denmark. At the beginning of July the Fifteenth Army, deployed between the Seine and the Schelde, still had seven divisions under direct control and directed four subordinate corps that controlled eleven additional divisions.

The Germans had refused to divert this strong force into Normandy because they expected a second Allied invasion of the Continent in that area. German estimates throughout June had considered an Allied invasion of the Pas-de-Calais--the Kanalkueste--a strong possibility.48 They were convinced that launching sites of a new weapon--the V-1--on the coast of northern France and Belgium constituted a challenge the Allies could not ignore. The Pas-de-Calais was the section of continental Europe nearest to England, and an Allied assault there could be supplied most easily and supported by air without interruption. The fact that this Channel coast area also offered the shortest route to the Rhine and the Ruhr was not ignored.49


The Germans expected an Allied invasion of the Pas-de-Calais because they believed that the Allied divisions still in the United Kingdom belonged to "Army Group Patton." They speculated that the future mission of these troops was an invasion of the Continent in the Pas-de-Calais area, this despite the fact that German intelligence rated the troops as capable of only a diversionary effort.50

"Army Group Patton" was in reality an Allied decoy, a gigantic hoax designed to convince the Germans that OVERLORD was only part of a larger invasion effort. Practiced under the provisions of Operation Fortitude, the Allied deception was effective throughout June and most of July. Naval demonstrations off the Channel coast, false messages intercepted and reported by German intelligence, and other signs of impending coastal assault kept the Germans in a continual state of alert and alarm and immobilized the considerable force of the Fifteenth Army.51

That Operation Fortitude was a powerful deterrent to committing the Fifteenth Army in Normandy was clearly illustrated by the fact that casualties among troops in contact with the Allies, which mounted alarmingly, were not promptly replaced. By the beginning of July, casualties were outnumbering individual replacements. Yet other factors also accounted for the growing shortage of manpower on the Western Front, among them a complicated replacement system and difficulties of transportation.

German ground units on the Western Front consisted of a variety of types. The regular Infantry division, with between 10,000 and 12,500 men, had six battalions of infantry organized into either two or three regiments. The specialized static division of about 10,000 men, basically a fortress unit designed to defend specific coastal sectors, had a large proportion of fixed weapons, little organic transportation, no reconnaissance elements, and few engineers. The panzer grenadier division, 14,000 strong, was a motorized unit with one tank battalion and two infantry regiments of three battalions each. The armored division, with 14,000 troops, had two tank battalions; its armored infantrymen were organized into two regiments of two battalions each. The SS panzer division, with 17,000 men, had two tank battalions and two regiments of armored infantry of three battalions each. The Luftwaffe also had ground units because German industry could not manufacture enough planes for the manpower allocated and because Goering had ambitions to have a land army of his own. There were two types of Luftwaffe ground units, both somewhat weaker in fire power than the regular Infantry division. The parachute division had 16,000 paratroopers who were in reality infantrymen; the units accepted only volunteers who received thorough infantry training. The Luftwaffe field division, about 12,500 men, contained miscellaneous surplus personnel from the antiaircraft artillery, from air signal units, from aircraft maintenance crews, from administrative units,


and a certain number of recruits and foreigners.52

To replace combat losses in the various units in the face of competition between Himmler and Goering for the limited German manpower was no easy task. In late 1942 the Germans had set up training, or reserve, divisions designed to furnish replacements for units in combat. Originally these divisions had had an occupation role, which had not impaired their training function, but later they became garrison troops, and when occupying coastal sectors they were upgraded to field divisions. Thus, instead of existing for the purpose of supplying replacements to the combat forces, they were themselves eventually in need of replacements.53

Although diversity of units, competition between services, and a defective replacement system prevented the Germans from maintaining combat formations at authorized strengths, the difficulties of transportation comprised the most important reason for manpower shortages on the front. By the end of June, when the railroads were badly damaged by Allied air attack and all the Seine River bridges except those at Paris hadbeen destroyed, barges moving on the Seine from Paris to Elbeuf and an eighty-mile overland route for trucks and horse-drawn wagons from Elbeuf to Caen formed perhaps the most dependable line of communications. All highways and other supply routes were overcrowded and in constant danger of Allied air attacks during daylight hours. Units traveling to reinforce the front had to move in several echelons, reload several times en route, and march a good part of the way on foot, mostly at night.

Transportation difficulties also created supply and equipment shortages. At the beginning of July, the deficit in fuel amounted to over 200,000 gallons per day. Of daily requirements figured at 1,000 tons of ammunition, 1,000 tons of fuel, and 250 tons of rations, only about 400 tons of all classes of supply could be brought to the front.54 That the quartermaster general of the west had to borrow fifteen machine guns from the military governor of France in order to fill a request from the Cherbourg garrison illustrated into what straits German supply had fallen.55 For lack of dependable and long-distance railroad routes, armored divisions wore out valuable equipment on the highways before getting to the combat area. The major highways to Normandy were littered with wrecked vehicles. Movement was possible only during darkness, and that at a snail's pace.56

Conspicuous by their absence from the battlefield were the planes of the Third Air Fleet. German ground troops grimly joked that Allied aircraft


were painted silver, while German planes in contrast were colorless and invisible: "In the West they say the planes are in the East, in the East they say they're in the West, and at home they say they're at the front." Of an authorized 500 aircraft in the west, the Germans had about 300 planes, of which only about 90 bombers and 70 fighters could get off the ground at any one time because of shortages of spare parts and fuel. This small number could not challenge the Allied air supremacy.57

By July there was, however, a new weapon in operation that gave the Germans hope of redressing their discouraging situation. Air missiles called the V-1 (originally after Versuchmuster, meaning experimental model, later Vergeltungswaffe, translated vengeance weapon) and launched for the most part from the Pas-de-Calais area had on 13 June begun to fall on England in a campaign that was to last eighty days. Admittedly a terror agent directed at the civilian population, the V-1s were intended as a reprisal for Allied air attacks on German cities. The campaign reached its greatest intensity during the seven-day period ending 8 July, when a total of 820 missiles were counted approaching the English coast. The Germans soon began to launch some V-1s from medium bombers. Though they were not to appear until early September, the Allies learned in July that V-2 weapons, supersonic rockets deadlier than the V-1s, were almost ready for operational use.

Allied bombers had since 1943 been attacking V-weapon installations, particularly those diagnosed as ground launching sites. Despite air force protests that the bombardment (Operation CROSSBOW) diverted planes from their primary offensive mission, and despite the fact that air bombardment of the sites was an inadequate defense against the reality of the V-1 attack and the potentiality of the V-2, General Eisenhower on 29 June ordered the air attacks to "continue to receive top priority." Without effective defenses to combat either the V-1 or the V-2, the Allies could only hope that ground forces on the Continent would soon overrun the launching sites. Though the guided missile attacks caused widespread death and destruction in England, they had no effect on Allied tactical or logistical operations. Yet in late June and early July the V-1s and the V-2's were a "threat of the first magnitude" to the Allied command, for "no member of the Allied forces, at any level, knew exactly what the new German weapons might accomplish."58

Though many difficulties and disadvantages faced the German ground soldiers, morale was generally high. Discipline


continued to be an effective cohesive power. Leadership, though often not entirely unified at the higher echelons of command, was excellent at the combat levels. Career and reserve officers and men, as well as conscripted personnel, professed to be uninterested in politics and concerned only with performing their duty. SS officers and noncommissioned leaders were hard-bitten Nazis who were literal minded about their pledge to fight until they died.

Paratroopers were excellent soldiers. Only the volunteer foreign troops serving with German units were undependable under fire, and they constituted but a small part of the entire German force.

Despite complaints of impotence due to Allied air superiority, despite a shortage of replacements and supplies, despite the harassing operations of the FFI that slowed the movement of reserves to the battlefield, the Germans in the west had yet to be beaten.


Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Larry Jewell & Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation