Until the waning months of 1943 the Germans had focused their attention on the Russian front. Only in November of that year did the German high command come to regard an Allied invasion of western Europe as an equal if not greater threat than an invasion from the east. This realization slowly brought about major changes in German military deployments. Adolph Hitler, the politico-military leader of the German state, fully understood the dangers of an invasion of northwestern Europe. The area was not only close to the heartland of Germany's industrial base, but also lay on the approaches to the north German plains, the traditional invasion route to central Europe. He thus vowed to turn the northeastern portion of the Continent into a Festung Europa and resist any invasion of the northern coast as strongly as possible. With this judgment German military leaders could hardly disagree.1
German Organization and Operational Concepts
Before November 1943 Oberbefehlshaber West (OB West), the German theater command responsible for the defense of France, had served as a reservoir of reinforcements for the eastern front and to a lesser degree for Italy and the Balkans. In November, however, Hitler and his armed forces high command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), abandoned this practice and began strengthening OB West as quickly as possible to resist a predicted Allied amphibious invasion expected to strike the northern coast of France. Although unforeseen contingencies on the eastern front and in Italy forced the German high command to slow down this buildup during the opening months of 1944, OB West continued to prepare against the anticipated Allied cross-Channel invasion with all the local resources it could muster, hoping that somehow Germany would be able to raise the forces necessary to carry out the broad defensive policy on which Hitler and OKW had decided.
Hitler's defensive policy made the coast of France the German main line of resistance (MLR) in western Europe, and OKW planned to fortify the Normandy shoreline so thoroughly that local reserves would be able to deal with most invasion attempts. But if the Allies succeeded in putting strong forces ashore, OKW wanted a powerful, mobile central reserve composed primarily of armored units, which could drive the Allies back into the sea. To create such a force, OB West was prepared to strip any sectors not directly affected by the invasion, although the final decision to commit the central reserve was to be made by OKW and ultimately by Hitler himself.
These plans, particularly making the French coast the MLR, required manpower, matériel, and time the Germans did not have. As a result, the so-called Atlantic Wall never became a true defensive line and consisted mainly of a series of semi-isolated strongpoints. In fact, well before OVERLORD began, OB West had reached the conclusion that it faced a virtually impossible defensive task with the means at hand and had begun tentative plans to withdraw strength from southern France to defend the northern part of the country where, most German planners believed, the main Allied invasion would come.
As early as January 1944, the Germans had developed reasonably accurate estimates of Allied intentions in regard to France. They certainly expected a major invasion and thought it would come in northern France during the first third of the year; they also believed that the invasion would coincide with a Russian spring offensive and that the Allies would launch strong secondary attacks at the same time as the main effort. The German high command at first interpreted the Anzio landing of late January as the beginning of a series of peripheral operations designed to pin down and disperse German forces before the cross-Channel assault. The Germans changed this estimate when they discovered that the Allies retained strong, uncommitted forces in North Africa, and decided that the Allies would launch another major attack in the Mediterranean more or less in conjunction with an invasion of northern France. In February, German intelligence even concluded that an assault into southern France would come before the cross-Channel operation. By May, however, they had taken a harder look at Allied amphibious capabilities and reduced the undertaking in southern France to the status of a threat--an estimate coinciding remarkably well with contemporary Allied decisions concerning ANVIL.
Mildly surprised when OVERLORD started without a concurrent Allied invasion of southern France (as they had been mildly surprised when the Russian spring offensive of 1944 began without a concurrent OVERLORD), the Germans kept a wary eye on southern France after 6 June. For a while OKW estimates fluctuated between the Italian Ligurian coast and the French Riviera as the probable sites for an Allied amphibious landing in the Mediterranean. But by early August most German planners were convinced that southern France would be the Allied target. Only OB Southwest, the German theater command in
Italy, still thought that landings somewhere in northern Italy were more likely. Three days before the ANVIL target date--15 August--German commanders in southern France were aware of Allied strength for the assault, of the Allies' general intentions, and of the probable date of the operation, but had not yet reached a firm conclusion as to the exact location of the assault beachhead.
Meanwhile, events in northern France had been moving toward a climax. Once the Allies succeeded in establishing a bridgehead in Normandy, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, commanding OB West, began to consider a general withdrawal from France. By mid-June he had become convinced that the situation in Normandy was irretrievable and that it was too late for OKW to do anything except pull all OB West forces, including those in southern France, back to the fixed fortifications along the German border. But Hitler and OKW vehemently disagreed, and Hitler, already dissatisfied with the course of operations in Normandy, decided that a younger, less pessimistic commander was needed in France. Accordingly, on 3 July he dismissed von Rundstedt and placed Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge in command of OB West.
The command change solved little. Von Kluge was unable to halt the steady Allied buildup in Normandy and the subsequent Allied breakout at St. Lo that began on 25 July. Faced with a major reversal on the battlefield, Hitler and OKW saw only two alternatives: a general withdrawal, as advocated by von Kluge, or a major counterattack. Breaking off in Normandy, OKW estimated, could lead only to an early and deep withdrawal from northern France, forcing the abandonment of southern France and probably requiring redeployments from Italy and the Balkans as well. Instead, OKW recommended an immediate counterattack with all available means against the flank of the Allied breakthrough in Normandy. Hitler agreed, and what was to become known as the Mortain counterattack began on 7 August.2
The decision to counterattack in early August forced OB West to pull even more forces out of southern France. However, Hitler and OKW were not yet ready to openly modify the missions assigned the German armies in the south and, between 2 and 15 August, issued instructions to the German commanders in southern France confirming their mission of holding the coast at all costs. Nevertheless, OKW began drawing up contingency plans for a general withdrawal of all OB West forces to new defensive lines across northeastern France. These plans included evacuating most German forces from both western and southern France. Yet Hitler and other German leaders still hoped that the Allied breakthrough could be pinched off and contained, making such extreme measures unnecessary.
By 12 August OKW concluded that the Mortain counterattack had failed, and recommended a general withdrawal to the east before the remaining German forces in France became isolated and trapped. Hitler at first hesitated, feeling that his generals were too quick to withdraw. However,
by 15 August, the date scheduled for the Allied landings in southern France, the failure of the counterattack had become obvious to everyone, and large numbers of elite German troops were in danger of being trapped within the rapidly closing Falaise Pocket. In the north, von Kluge's chief of staff was frantically seeking new decisions from OKW, averring that a complete collapse of OB West in northern France was now imminent. Meanwhile, Hitler, once again dissatisfied with the performance of his generals, decided to replace von Kluge with Field Marshal Walter Model. Thus, as the Allied invasion fleet approached France's Mediterranean shore in the south, the German high command was in a state of general disarray, making any immediate theater-level response to the landings extremely difficult.
German Organization and Strength
At the beginning of June 1944, von Rundstedt's OB West, theoretically a joint theater command, was little more than an army group headquarters with minimal direct authority over local air and naval commands or even over certain other army commands in the west.3 By that time von Rundstedt had delegated responsibility for the ground defense of northern France to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commanding Army Group B, and of southern France to General Johannes Blaskowitz, commanding Army Group G. The boundary line between the two units followed the Loire River from the Atlantic to Tours and then ran southeast to the Swiss border. Von Rundstedt's command problems were complicated by the fact that Rommel also held semi-independent authority as inspector of coastal defenses and held defensive concepts not entirely in accord with those of OB West. In addition, Rommel had been appointed by Hitler personally and, as a field marshal, had direct access to the German leader, bypassing von Rundstedt. The OB West commander also had to cope with many governmental and paramilitary agencies that continually nibbled at his authority, preventing him from unifying German efforts behind the battlefield. Von Kluge, who relieved von Rundstedt on 3 July, was in a somewhat better position, having Hitler's confidence at first and developing a close personal relationship with Rommel. When Rommel was wounded in mid-July, von Kluge assumed command of Army Group B in addition to OB West, thereby consolidating the army command in northern France.
The three other major military commands in northern France were the Third Air Force, under Field Marshal Hugo Sperrle; Navy Group West, under Admiral Theodor Krancke; and the office of Military Governor France, headed by Lt. Gen. Karl Heinrich von Stulpnagel. Field Marshal Sperrle reported to Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL), while Admiral Krancke was responsible to the Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine (OKM), under Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz.4 As a civil administrator
GENERAL JOHANNES BLASKOWITZ (center).
of occupied territory, General von Stulpnagel was responsible to the German government, but as military commander of security forces in France, he reported to OB West. In addition, OB West attached most of its logistical and administrative staff sections to von Stulpnagel's headquarters, thereby making that headquarters the logistical command for German ground forces in France, somewhat analogous to Services of Supply in NATOUSA.
In southern France General Blaskowitz of Army Group G and General Friedrich Wiese, heading the Nineteenth Army, were the principal German military commanders. While Blaskowitz had been an opponent of some of the Hitlerian regime's harsher policies, Wiese had been a member of the Freikorps in 1919 and was considered a fervent Nazi by American authorities.5 Both enjoyed good military reputations, but, like OB West, had limited authority over some of the military and paramilitary forces in their areas of operation. Blaskowitz,
GENERAL FRIEDRICH WIESE
for example, initially had direct control over only the coastal areas along the Atlantic and Mediterranean inland to a depth of about twenty miles. Prior to ANVIL, the rest of the region was under the control of Lt. Gen. Ernst Dehner's Army Area Southern France, a component of the Military Governor France, whose forces were engaged primarily in antiguerrilla and police activities.
Blaskowitz's control of local Ost Legions was also limited. Ost units were separate infantry forces made up of volunteer, drafted, or impressed soldiers from eastern Europe, mainly Poles, Russians, and Czechs; some of these organizations were attached to army field units, and others were independent. As security forces they were considered adequate, but their conventional combat capabilities were suspect. Headquarters, Ost Legion, was an administrative and training command that controlled Ost units not specifically assigned to Army Group G. The Ost Legion headquarters was under OB West for operations, but reported to the German Army high command, Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), for administrative matters concerning the numerous Ost units in Army Group G's area. Upon an Allied invasion of southern France, Blaskowitz was to assume greater control over both Ost Legion units and any tactical forces under Army Area Southern France, but even then his authority was not total.
In southern France, Admiral Atlantic Coast controlled naval units from Brittany south to the Spanish border, and Admiral French South Coast controlled those on the Mediterranean littoral. Both answered directly to Navy Group West, and the Mediterranean command was further subdivided into Naval Command Languedoc (west of Toulon) and Naval Command French Riviera (Toulon east to the Italian border). All forces under these two commands were land based and consisted of coast defense artillery, antiaircraft units, service troops, and a variety of special staffs and offices. The only surface unit in southern France was the 6th Security Flotilla, which, with a handful of patrol craft, reported through Security Forces West to Navy Group West.
Blaskowitz's control over naval artillery was restricted. Initially all naval guns remained under naval control.
After an Allied landing had actually taken place, control was to be split, with the navy directing fire on Allied aircraft and shipping, and the army directing fire against ground targets, a division that was guaranteed to create problems.
Third Air Force responsibilities in southern France were carried out by the 2d Air Division and Fighter Command Southern France. Neither had any ground support responsibilities. As of 15 August, the 2d Air Division could muster only about sixty-five torpedo bombers and fifteen bombers equipped to carry radio-controlled missiles. Fighter Command Southern France, with the primary mission of air defense, had virtually no aircraft and would receive only minor reinforcements from Italy after the invasion had begun.6
As opposed to the weak air and naval commands, Army Group G was a reasonably strong and well-balanced force in early June. In the west the German First Army, with the LXXX and LXXXVI Corps (each with two divisions), defended the Atlantic coast from the Loire River south to the Spanish border. In the south the Nineteenth Army guarded the Mediterranean coast with three corps: the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps, with three divisions; Corps Kniess (soon to be redesignated LXXXV Corps), with two divisions; and the LXII Reserve Corps, also with two divisions. In addition Blaskowitz had the LXVI Reserve Corps which, with part of one division and various lesser units, held the Pyrenees border area, the Carcassonne Gap land bridge between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and the Massif Central, a broad plateau region west of the Rhone valley. Behind these six corps, Army Group G also had the LVIII Panzer Corps, a reserve force controlling three panzer divisions. Finally, the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, an OKW reserve unit, and the 157th Reserve Mountain Division, operating under Army Area Southern France, were to pass to Blaskowitz's control in the event of an Allied invasion. Thus, in June, Army Group G had under its command two army headquarters, seven corps headquarters, three armored divisions, the equivalent of thirteen infantry divisions, and a host of smaller combat units, while two other divisions were to pass to its control following an Allied landing.7
Serious manpower and equipment shortages plagued all of these units. The army group, army, and corps headquarters lacked many of the normal logistical and administrative support units and special staffs necessary for command and control, and the tactical staffs at division level and below were all greatly understrength. Despite frequent requests to higher headquarters, Blaskowitz was unable to expand even his own staff to what he felt was an adequate size, a problem that undoubtedly hampered German planning activities.8
The condition of the various infantry divisions under Blaskowitz was also spotty. The long drain on German resources had left many of these units with a high proportion of ethnic Germans from conquered eastern territories, while many of the native Germans were overage or in limited service categories. Some divisions also had large numbers of Ost troops, and others were markedly understrength and underequipped, with little training or experience in large unit operations.
Blaskowitz classified four of his infantry divisions as static, or garrison, units with little mobility or logistical resources. One of these divisions had only seven of its nine authorized infantry battalions, and another had three Ost battalions attached to it. Five other divisions carried the designation reserve. Although supposedly in training, these divisions were engaged primarily in construction and security activities, and their conventional military capabilities had severely declined. Each had somewhere between four and nine infantry battalions, a mixed collection of light and medium artillery pieces, and a variety of Ost battalions.
Probably the best infantry divisions were four organized under the new 1944 tables of organization and equipment (TOE).9 At 12,770 men, these units were substantially smaller than the 1939–43 infantry divisions (authorized over 17,000 men), but were lighter and had greater firepower. Each 1944 division was authorized three regimental headquarters controlling two infantry battalions, as well as a seventh infantry, or fusilier, battalion operating as a reserve directly under divisional control. However, they still lacked the motor transport and logistical capabilities of the larger American infantry divisions and, by themselves, were much weaker than their Allied counterparts.
The German armored formations were a different story. Throughout World War II the German Army concentrated its best weapons, equipment, and manpower in its armored units--the panzer and panzer grenadier divisions--and left its foot infantry divisions generally neglected. The German high command regarded both types of divisions as "mobile units" and often used them interchangeably on the battlefield to stiffen the less well endowed infantry divisions and to counterattack enemy penetrations of the front lines. But assessing the precise strength of these armored formations at any given time is difficult. By 1944 the circumstances of war and Germany's low production of armored vehicles had greatly blurred the organizational distinction between panzer (armored) and panzer grenadier (armored, or mechanized, infantry) divisions. In mid-1944 each panzer division was generally authorized one two-battalion tank regiment (fifty to sixty tanks per battalion), two two-battalion mechanized infantry regiments (four infantry battalions), a mechanized reconnaissance battalion, an armored artillery regiment, and mechanized or motorized support
GERMAN ARMOR PASSING THROUGH TOULOUSE
units; the panzer grenadier division was normally authorized two three-battalion motorized infantry regiments (six infantry battalions), one tank or assault gun battalion, a mechanized reconnaissance battalion, and motorized support units. However, the attachment and detachment of battalion-sized units to and from these divisions was common, and the armored formations rarely went into combat with either their full authorized or existing operational strength. In addition, the use of either armored half-tracks or light trucks to carry the infantry of either type of division depended on the availability of equipment; the substitution of turretless assault guns for turreted tanks sometimes occurred for the same reason. Thus, with a higher infantry-to-tank ratio than the standard American armored divisions (with three tank and three armored infantry battalions) and with equipment shortages further reducing their armor strength, both formations bore striking similarities to the standard American infantry division of World War II with its normal attachment of one tank battalion (sixty tanks), one self-propelled tank destroyer battalion (thirty-six pieces), and motorized support units.
Although the three armored divisions of the LVII Panzer Reserve Corps were in various stages of activation and training, and their infantry regiments were generally truck-mounted with few armored half-tracks, each could put at least one or two strong
combat commands in the field. Moreover, their tank units were equipped with Mark IV medium and Mark V (Panther) heavy tanks, both of which were better armored and armed than their American counterparts, and their commanders, staffs, and troops were generally well experienced. Other units in reserve were less impressive. The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, for example, lacked many of its components, while the 157th Mountain Reserve Division was hardly more than a reinforced regimental combat team. Yet these mobile reserves constituted a powerful weapon against any amphibious assault on either the Mediterranean or Atlantic French coasts.
To further beef up their combat power, the German forces in southern France also employed large quantities of captured equipment of all types. Their artillery, for example, included weapons of French, Italian, Russian, Czech, and other manufacture, all of various calibers and sizes; the variety among vehicles was even greater, ranging from models captured from the British in North Africa, to French armored machines of all kinds, to a broad collection of commercial trucks, vans, and autos drafted for military service. Although these improvisations aggravated Army Group G's spare parts and ammunition resupply problems, they also enabled Blaskowitz to strengthen significantly the units under his command.
In comparison to the defenses of the Channel coast and Normandy, the fixed defensive installations in southern France were weak. Blaskowitz had been unable to obtain the materials required for strong coastal fortifications, and the construction of large submarine pens at Marseille had consumed a high percentage of the defensive matériel and labor that had been made available. Civilian labor was limited, while the requirements of training, security, and antiguerrilla operations made it impossible for Blaskowitz to use military manpower extensively to bring his defenses up to the standards necessary to face a major Allied assault. Nevertheless, the German commander realized that the Allied air bases in Corsica could not begin to duplicate the air support available for a cross-Channel assault in the north, and so his freedom of maneuver in the south would be significantly greater. Thus, by concentrating his coastal defense preparations in those areas most likely to be targets of an amphibious assault and by carefully positioning his sixteen divisions, Blaskowitz could bring considerable pressure to bear against any one-, two-, or three-division ANVIL assault throughout the spring and early summer of 1944. Any Allied amphibious invasion attempt there could expect a heavy fight at the beachhead and no assurance of ultimate success.
The Effects of OVERLORD
After the invasion of northern France, the strength of Army Group G gradually deteriorated as unit after unit was ordered to the Normandy area. The 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division departed on 7 June, followed rapidly by the LXXXVI Corps headquarters, an armored division, all four 1944-type infantry divisions, four artillery battalions, and an assault gun battalion. The transfers were temporarily
halted but resumed in late July with the departure of the LVIII Panzer Corps headquarters, another armored division, one of the static infantry divisions, another assault gun battalion, four assault gun training battalions (which had personnel but few combat vehicles), and five infantry training battalions.
Transfers from southern to northern France continued during the first half of August almost until the ships of the Western Naval Task Force were in sight of the Riviera. Major losses were the headquarters of the First Army, the LXVI and LXXX Corps, a regimental combat team of the 338th Infantry Division, two more artillery battalions, another infantry replacement battalion, and one of the 11th Panzer Division's two tank battalions. A number of smaller units also went north between June and August, including the antiaircraft units that had protected the bridges over the Rhone and the antitank companies of four infantry divisions.
These losses greatly reduced the strength of Army Group G, and the reinforcements reaching southern France after 6 June provided little relief. Moving in were the LXIV Corps headquarters, which replaced the First Army on the Atlantic coast; two worn-out infantry divisions from Normandy, one of which had to be consolidated with a remaining Army Group G division; a battered division from the Russian front that had been merged with the cadre of a new division from Germany; two antitank battalions; and one heavy artillery battalion. By 15 August Blaskowitz had thus lost two-thirds of his armored reserve and about one-quarter of his infantry divisions. Obviously he could expect no assistance from Army Group B, which was now in a state of near collapse, but reinforcement still might be possible from the Italian front under OB Southwest.
The relationship of OB Southwest in Italy with OB West and Army Group G merits special attention.10 German operational strategy in Italy was essentially defensive. The principal mission of the theater commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, was to hold the shortest possible east-west line across the Italian peninsula and keep the Allied ground forces in Italy bottled up in the narrow peninsula as far south as possible. Although Kesselring had no responsibilities regarding the defense of southern France, he was obviously interested in any threat to his rear that an amphibious invasion might pose. But neither Kesselring nor his superiors believed that the Allied amphibious assaults against either northern or southern France posed any direct threat to OB Southwest, and even after ANVIL had occurred, German leaders considered a strong Allied thrust into northern Italy through the Alps highly unlikely.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1944, Hitler and OKW were more concerned with an amphibious assault against northern Italy along either the Ligurian or Adriatic coasts, behind the German lines. Such a landing
could cause a complete collapse of the theater and project Allied land and air power dangerously close to the German heartland. Their fears were undoubtedly strengthened by Kesselring's estimates that the next major Allied offensive in the Mediterranean would be an assault in the Genoa area, outflanking German defenses north of Rome and forcing him to evacuate the Italian peninsula. Moreover, in June and July, Kesselring was under renewed Allied military pressure in Italy from Wilson's drives north of Rome. These multiple threats to OB Southwest finally prompted Hitler to send Kesselring six more divisions, including one that had been promised earlier to Army Group G. Furthermore, in early August OKW advised that, should a withdrawal from southern France become necessary, at least two of Army Group G's divisions should be transferred to OB Southwest to protect Kesselring's rear along the Franco-Italian border. In no case was there any discussion of sending reinforcements to Army Group G from OB Southwest.
In August 1944 Kesselring's continued concern about the Ligurian coast had even led him to reinforce that area. On 3 August he appointed the Italian Marshal Rodolfo Graziani to command the newly formed Ligurian Army, consisting of two understrength German divisions and two Italian divisions of doubtful reliability. Southeast along the coast from Genoa, but not part of Ligurian Army, were two more German divisions, and by 10 August Kesselring had begun assembling even more divisions in northern Italy to act as a central reserve for the entire Italian theater. However, neither OKW or OB Southwest laid even tentative plans to use these forces for a flanking attack against Allied troops landing in southern France. In fact, as the southern France campaign developed, Kesselring's only mission would be to hold the Alpine mountain passes and block any possible Allied excursion into northern Italy. Although Allied intelligence sources confirmed Kesselring's passive stand toward the invasion of southern France, Generals Patch and Truscott, the principal Allied ground commanders in the assault, continued to watch the Alpine passes on their right flank for any sign of unusual German activity.11 The plans of the German military commanders in the past had not always been discernible, and there was no reason to believe that their operational ingenuity would disappear in the immediate future.
Perhaps a more significant factor was the preoccupation of Hitler and OKW with the deteriorating situation in northern France. By 15 August OKW was far more interested in withdrawing the bulk of Army Group G northward to help stem the threat of an Allied breakout from Normandy than it was in forestalling an Allied invasion of southern France. Although Hitler himself might not have let the matter drop so easily, he probably lacked the time to study the German situation along the southern
French coast in any great detail. Thus neither Hitler, OKW, OB West, nor OB Southwest ever considered employing German forces in Italy to mount a counterattack against an Allied invasion of southern France. This critical lack of interest had been carefully noted in Allied intelligence estimates prior to ANVIL, allowing Allied planners to minimize the danger of an OB Southwest thrust into France through the Alpine passes after the invasion had begun.
The German Nineteenth Army
The steady transfer of Army Group G's best units out of the zone and the continued deterioration of the German position in northern France may have convinced Blaskowitz that any attempt to resist a major Allied amphibious assault against the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts was futile. In the west his coastal defenses had been so weakened that they were no more than an advanced outpost line. On 8 August OB West had even reduced the missions of the Atlantic forces, requiring the LXIV Corps to hold only three strongpoints in the event of a major landing. The corps' remaining forces--two understrength divisions, some separate regiments, and a variety of paramilitary organizations (police or security units)--were only to maintain a screen along the coast and protect Army Group G's northwest flank on the Loire River. But, outside of holding local FFI forces at bay, little more could be expected from this command.
Along the Mediterranean coast, the situation was different. There Blaskowitz retained the ability to contest a major assault. Although greatly reduced, the forces that made up the Nineteenth Army were still reasonably strong, their defensive missions unchanged, and their commanders veteran soldiers. As of mid-August Wiese's forces totaled seven infantry divisions controlled by three corps headquarters. Although most of these formations were still understrength and short of equipment, many were rested and experienced units that could be expected to give a good account of themselves if well led and well positioned. Wiese's problem, like Rommel's in the north, was to decide where the Allies would land or, more accurately, how he could best deploy his forces to enable them to carry out their defensive missions under a variety of contingencies.
In early August, responsibility for the defense of the French Mediterranean coast from Toulon to the Italian border rested with the Nineteenth Army's LXII Corps under Lt. Gen. Ferdinand Neuling (Map 2). Neuling's LXII Corps consisted of the 242d and 148th Infantry Divisions and a host of smaller units of all types. The 242d Division, under Maj. Gen. Johannes Baessler, was deployed from the Toulon area east to Antheor Cove, a few miles north of the Argens River, and was thus responsible for a sector that would include almost all of the ANVIL assault beaches. Baessler was also designated the Toulon garrison commander, responsible for the defenses of the port. From Antheor Cove northeast to the Italian border, the coast was defended by the 148th Division of Maj. Gen. Otto Fretter-Pico. Fretter-Pico's zone included the smaller ports of Nice and Cannes.
15 August 1944
Guarding the German center, from Toulon west to Marseille and across the Rhone River delta, was Lt. Gen. Baptist Kniess' LXXXV Corps, with the 338th and 244th Infantry Divisions. But by 15 August the 338th Division had already redeployed one of its regiments north and had pulled its remaining units back to the Arles area, preparing to follow. Kniess' remaining unit, the 244th Division, was still relatively intact, but was repositioning itself to take over the 338th's area of responsibility. The unit commander was also charged with organizing the defense of Marseille and had no troop units to spare elsewhere.
In the west the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps under Lt. Gen. Erich Petersen held the area between the Rhone delta and Spanish border. His major units were the 198th and 716th Infantry Divisions and the weak 189th Reserve Division. One of the 189th's two infantry regiments, the 28th Grenadiers,12 constituted Army Group G's reserve and was located north of the coast in the Carcassonne Gap area; the rest of the division was in the process of moving into the Rhone delta positions vacated by the 338th. At the time, Wiese had also ordered Petersen to send the 198th Division east of the Rhone where it could serve as a reserve unit behind Kniess' coastal defenses. As a further precaution, Blaskowitz was transferring Army Group G's principal reserve unit, Maj. Gen. Wend von Wietersheim's 11th
MAJ. GEN. WEND VON WIETERSHEIM
Panzer Division,13 from the Toulouse area to the vicinity of Avignon, also east of the Rhone. Both Blaskowitz and Wiese considered the Marseille-Toulon region the most likely target of an Allied attack and were now hurrying forces to the threatened sector.
These movements were actually part of a more ambitious internal reorganization conceived by Wiese. Since early August the Nineteenth Army commander had been expecting an Allied assault at any time, but the continued redeployment of units northward forced him to alter his defensive dispositions regularly. The impending departure of the 338th Division made yet another reshuffling necessary. But by 13 August Wiese had also concluded that the most likely area for an Allied assault lay east of Toulon, a prediction that agreed remarkably well with Allied plans. To meet this threat, he wanted to have his weaker 189th and 198th Divisions assume responsibility for the static defenses of Toulon and Marseille, thereby freeing his two best units, the 242d and 244th Divisions, to act as mobile reserves. If these units could be further reinforced by the 11th Panzer Division, the Nineteenth Army might be able to give any invaders a real fight at the beachhead and buy time for a more determined defense of the larger ports and the Rhone valley. Although Hitler had ordered Wiese to have strong garrisons defend Toulon and Marseille to the death, most of the German defenses there faced seaward, and little had yet been done to fortify the land approaches to the two ports. The movement of the 189th and 198th Infantry and the 11th Panzers east of the Rhone was thus the first step of this larger internal redeployment. But Wiese needed time to complete the transfers, and the involved units would need additional time to organize their new positions and deploy their components in an orderly fashion. Yet, by the night of 14–15 August, the movement of the three divisions across the Rhone
had barely begun and was being severely hampered by a lack of transportation, by FFI mines and ambushes, and by something the German staffs had forgotten to consider, the complete destruction of the Rhone bridges by Allied air attacks.14 How soon the units could overcome these obstacles and reposition themselves was crucial to the German defense.
Whatever happened, the effectiveness of the initial German response to any Allied landings west of Toulon would depend greatly on the actions of the LXII Corps already in place. At first glance the state of what was to be the principal German command and control organization in the beachhead area left much to be desired. The corps headquarters had been sitting at Draguignan, about midway between Toulon and the Cannes-Nice area, since late 1942, operating generally as a training and occupation command. Although the headquarters had dropped its previous "reserve" designation on 9 August, the change in nomenclature was cosmetic, and the headquarters never acquired the staff sections and corps troops necessary for effective combat operations. OKH had almost retired General Neuling, the corps commander, for physical disability when his health broke down on the Russian front in the spring of 1942; and his two division commanders, Baessler for the 242d and Fretter-Pico of the 148th, were also combat fatigue cases from the Russian campaign, during which both had been relieved of division commands. However, Neuling's service and his reputation as a training officer had brought him the corps command in southern France, and all three generals had a wealth of military experience between them that could not be discounted.
Of Neuling's two divisions, Baessler's 242d was the stronger. Its 918th and 917th Grenadier Regiments held the coast from the Toulon area east to Cape Cavalaire, which would constitute the western edge of the ANVIL landing area. The division's third regiment, the 765th Grenadiers, defended the coastline northwest of Cape Cavalaire, a stretch that included most of the future ANVIL assault beaches. Each regiment had the support of a battalion of the 242d Artillery Regiment, as well as various naval artillery batteries, and each had an Ost unit as a fourth infantry battalion. Of the three grenadier regiments in the 242d Infantry Division, the 765th was by far the weakest. Having just been formed in the spring of 1944, it was only partially trained. Its fourth battalion (the 807th Azerbaijani Battalion) was an Ost unit of doubtful reliability, while its other three battalions had a high proportion of ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland, Poland, Russia, and the Baltic states. At the time the only other unit in the future beachhead area was the 148th Division's 661st Ost Battalion, located just north of the 765th Grenadiers. How long these forces could effectively oppose a major assault was a question mark.
DEFENSIVE EMPLACEMENT OF A 65-MM. ITALIAN HOWITZER, Pointe de St. Pierre, Cape St. Tropez.
Concerned with his weakness in the expected invasion area, Wiese directed Neuling to move the 148th Division's reserves to the rear of the threatened zone. This reserve consisted of the division's incomplete third regiment--Regiment Kessler--an infantry battalion from one of the division's full regiments, and a combat engineer battalion. But for unknown reasons, LXII Corps was slow to carry out the order; and the 661st Ost Battalion's controlling headquarters, the 239th Grenadiers, together with the 148th Division's other major units, the 8th Grenadiers and Regiment Kessler, remained in the Cannes-Nice area farther north. In the initial defense the 765th Grenadiers could thus expect little assistance from the 148th Division or anyone else.
Accurately estimating total German strength in southern France on the eve of the landings is difficult. The two Nineteenth Army corps primarily concerned with the assault area, Neuling's LXII and Kniess' LXXXV, reported their corps and divisional strength as approximately 53,670 troops, with an effective combat strength of 41,175.15 These totals do not include Army Group G or Nineteenth
Army units not under the control of the two corps headquarters, nor do they include naval and Luftwaffe organizations stationed in the assault area. But even adding this non-corps elements, it is doubtful that the Germans had as many as 100,000 troops there, and the total may well have been as low as 85,000 on 15 August. In addition to the forces in the assault area, the German order of battle in the south still included the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps and the LXIV Corps, both west of the Rhone; the 11th Panzer Division under the direct control of Army Group G; the 157th Reserve Mountain Division and many police and security units under Army Area Southern France; Ost Legion organizations not attached to regular formations; a host of naval and air force units outside the assault area; and a large number of army administrative and logistical units. Adding all these troops to those in the assault area, German strength in southern France as of 15 August probably amounted to somewhere between 285,000 and 300,000 troops of all services and categories. By that time Wiese had been able to position approximately one-third of these forces at or near the expected invasion area west of Toulon.
German dispositions along the specific ANVIL beaches were extremely weak on the eve of the assault. Despite Wiese's reasonably accurate estimate of Allied intentions, the defenders were having severe difficulties strengthening the expected assault area and positioning their reserves for an effective counterattack. The command structure in the region still left much to be desired, and the defending troops were of a generally mixed caliber and stretched over a wide area with little depth. Much depended on how quickly Wiese could complete his current redeployment effort. Nevertheless, the evening of 14 August found all elements of Army Group G on full defensive alert with Wiese desperately trying to accelerate the movement of his reinforcements from the west over the Rhone River. Aerial reconnaissance at dusk had reported the approach of Allied convoys from the direction of Corsica, and, ready or not, everyone realized that an invasion was imminent.
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1. German material in this volume is based mainly on a series of CMH manuscripts collectively entitled "German Operations in Southern France and Alsace, 1944," prepared by Charles V. P. von Luttichau and other historians of the former Foreign Military Studies Branch, CMH, and based on original German sources (hereafter cited as von Luttichau, "German Operations"). For more information on German operational and tactical planning, especially in regard to northern France, see the appropriate sections of Pogue, The Supreme Command; Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack; and Martin Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit (Washington, 1961), all in the United States Army in World War II series.
2. See Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit, for a full account of this action.
3. On the rolls of the German Army HQ OB West was actually listed as HQ Army Group D.
4. Goering was the highest ranking officer of the German armed forces and as Reichsmarschall held what would correspond to a nonexistent "six star" rank in the U.S. armed forces. Doenitz's equivalent rank in the U.S. Navy was Admiral of the Fleet, five stars.
5. For contemporary Allied evaluations of German leaders, see "G–2 History: Seventh Army Operations in Europe," IV, Annex III, Box 2, William W. Quinn Papers, MHI (copies also in Seventh Army retired records at WNRC).
6. The number of planes redeployed from Italy cannot be determined, but it appears to have been less than two squadrons.
7. Allied estimates often carried the Ost Legion as a separate, ready division, but these units were generally attached to existing German infantry regiments as a fourth battalion.
8. Authorized only in late April 1944, Army Group G headquarters had become operational on 12 May, but was initially designated an Armeegruppe with an inferior status to that of Army Group B, which was classified as a Heeresgruppe. Only on 11 September was Blaskowitz's headquarters raised to the status of Heeresgruppe.
9. TOEs were published military tables listing the authorized equipment by type and the personnel by rank and specialty that a particular unit was supposed to have. Normally units in combat did well to maintain 80–90 percent of their TOE strength.
10. For further information on German strategy for Italy, see Ernest F. Fisher, Jr., Cassino to the Alps, United States Army in World War II (Washington, 1977).
11. For discussion, see Arthur L. Funk, "General Patch and the Alpine Passes, 1944," paper presented at the American Historical Association meeting in Chicago, 1987; and ibid., "Intelligence and Operations: ANVIL/DRAGOON, the Landings in Southern France," paper presented at the XIIIth International Colloquy on Military History, Helsinki, 1988 (copies at CMH).
12. The German term grenadier signified a normal infantry unit.
13. At the time the 11th Panzer Division had one battalion of heavy Mark V (Panther) tanks, one company of Mark IV mediums, one antitank battalion, four infantry battalions (motorized if not armored), an antitank battalion, an engineer battalion, and an artillery regiment; it was slightly larger than an American armored division except in the number, but not the size, of its tanks. "Remarks Concerning the War History of the Seventh U.S. Army," by the former operations officer of the 11th Panzer Division (unpaginated), John E. Dahlquist Papers, MHI.
14. Report of Maj. Gen. Wend von Wietersheim, 4 Jun 46, sub: 11th Panzer Division (unpaginated) (hereafter cited as "11th Panzer Division Rpt of MG von Wietersheim, 4 June 46,"), John E. Dahlquist Papers, MHI. Wietersheim commanded the panzer division at the time and noted the failure of the German command to anticipate the bridge problem in any way.
15. In the German Army the term effective strength and combat effectives referred to soldiers serving at the combat battalion level and below. See James Hodgson, "Counting Combat Noses," Army Combat Forces Journal, V, No. 2 (September 1954), 45–46.