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10 Myths of the Wehrmacht in Normandy

10 Myths of the Wehrmacht in Normandy

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Published by The_Stonker
Transcript of an address in May 2001 to the RMA Sandhurst War Discussion Group,[WARDIG], by Dr Russell A Hart,

An Englishman by birth, Dr Russell A. Hart gained his PhD in1997 from Ohio State University. At the time of this address, he was Assistant Professor of History at Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu and was formerly Senior Lecturer at Ohio State University.
He is the author of Clash of Arms: How the Allies Won in Normandy (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 2001) and co-author of German Tanks of WWII; Weapons and Tactics of the Waffen-SS as well as Panzer: The Illustrated History of Germany's Armored Forces in WWII and The German Soldier in WWII.

The adress was based on his research for Clash of Arms,
Transcript of an address in May 2001 to the RMA Sandhurst War Discussion Group,[WARDIG], by Dr Russell A Hart,

An Englishman by birth, Dr Russell A. Hart gained his PhD in1997 from Ohio State University. At the time of this address, he was Assistant Professor of History at Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu and was formerly Senior Lecturer at Ohio State University.
He is the author of Clash of Arms: How the Allies Won in Normandy (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 2001) and co-author of German Tanks of WWII; Weapons and Tactics of the Waffen-SS as well as Panzer: The Illustrated History of Germany's Armored Forces in WWII and The German Soldier in WWII.

The adress was based on his research for Clash of Arms,

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Published by: The_Stonker on Jun 07, 2013
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Ten Myths of the Wehrmacht in Normandy
An Englishman by birth, Dr Russell A. Hart gained his PhD in1997 from Ohio State University. At thetime of this address, he was Assistant Professor of History at Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu andwas formerly Senior Lecturer at Ohio State University.He is the author of 
Clash of Arms: How the Allies Won in Normandy
(Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner,2001) and co-author of 
German Tanks of WWII; Weapons and Tactics of the Waffen-SS
as well as
Panzer: The Illustrated History of Germany's Armored Forces in WWII
and
The German Soldier in WWII
.What follows is a transcript of an address in May 2001 to the RMA Sandhurst War DiscussionGroup,[WARDIG], by Dr Russell A Hart, based on his research for
Clash of Arms
, and introduced by hisidentical twin brother [and co-author] Dr Stephen Hart, a lecturer in War Studies at RMA Sandhurst.
 Tonight I would like to examine some of the myths and distortions thatcontinue to dominate historical understanding of the German defence of Normandy during 1945. Given the time constraints, I would like to examine just a few of the more significant of these myths and perhaps an appropriateplace to start is to suggest how such myths arose.A major cause was a lack of access to actual German wartime militaryrecords in the immediate post war period. Consequently Anglo-Americanopinion both scholarly and popular on campaigns powerfully influenced byemotional memoirs both allied and German that emerged in the late 40s andearly 1950s. Soon after these memoirs emerged the onset of the Cold Warimposed an ideological lens through which Anglo-American perceptions of thecampaign became refracted. Historians both consciously and unconsciously Isuggest sought to emphasise the remarkable achievements of the Westernallies. Historians thus focused on alleged German battlefields deficienciesfor poor quality manpower, bad intelligence, a confused chain of command,poor strategic leadership from the mad corporal for example rather thanexamining the grave logistic deficiencies that were actually central to theGerman defeat. Once these two sets of overlapping and re-enforcingdistortions became entrenched in the historiography of the Normandycampaign by the 1960s have proven very difficult to dispel since.What follows therefore is just a brief overview; nothing more than some of themore significant distortions and the first I want to examine is the myth thatallied aerial interdiction attacks had effectively isolated the Normandybattlefields prior to D-Day. This assertion has been made so often by somany that it has become etched in stone. Unfortunately it is simply not true, Yes, allied air attacks prior to D-Day had disabled
most
of the bridges over theSeine and the Loire river but not
all
of them, simply because the Allies hadelected to strike single track railway bridges deemed to be of too low capacityto be worthwhile destroying. Clearly, in retrospect, this decision was an errorof judgement because, though the capacity of the single track line is obviouslyfar less than that of the double track line, the Germans used every availablerail line to get supplies to Normandy. These included single track linesspanning both the Loire and Seine rivers, and also the Orleans gap - thenarrow corridor between the Seine and Loire rivers. The Germans also usedprivate industrial narrow gauge rail lines that the Allies never bothered toattack either. While these were of very limited capacity they did allow theadditional movement of supplies to the battlefront. In fact during the firstweeks of invasion the significant proportion - perhaps the majority - of the total
 
2
German supplies were delivered via these two types of railway (single-tracklines and private industrial lines).In addition not all the bridges knocked down remained destroyed because theGermans repaired and re-built them. The few thousand German railengineers deployed in the West made Herculean efforts to replace destroyedbridges, and managed to rebuild them at an astonishing rate of one bridge perday throughout the entire campaign. The actual origin of this historical mythwas an Allied aerial bombing analysis report on the 3 June; this reportconcluded that all the targets struck had been destroyed and that thereforeNormandy was effectively isolated, but this aerial reconnaissance reportnaturally never mentioned the single track bridges that had never beentargeted in the first place. Moreover, by the 6
th
of June, the Germans hadrepaired at least one 2-track rail bridge over the Seine river, and others wouldfollow in the following weeks. Although the Allies would smash repairedbridges, the Germans solidly rebuilt them time and time again, andconsequently enjoyed intermittent rail communications with Normandythroughout the campaign. The second myths I would like to turn to are myths about German manpowerin the campaign. These have essentially revolved around the quality of Germany manpower. Anglo-American literature has often given muchattention to the alleged unreliability of 
Volksdeutsch
- ethnic Germans livingoutside of pre-war Germany recruited into the German Armed forces and
Osttruppen
- Eastern volunteers recruited from amongst the German/Sovietpeoples. (Here’s a picture, if you don’t know what we are talking about, of an
Osttruppe
- an asiatic volunteer captured in Normandy, from the Easterntroops). If you look at the literature it emphasises both the sets of German useof such manpower categories and the alleged unreliability of them and againsuperficially there appears to be reliable evidence to support these assertionsparticularly allied prisoner of war records and interrogations which indicatethat large numbers of these manpower categories were taken prisoner duringthe Normandy campaign.Generally, however, historians have exaggerated both the German use of these two manpower groups and the detrimental consequences of suchmanpower policy and there is no doubt that the racist Nazis themselves haddoubts about the reliability of 
Volksdeutsch
and
Osttruppen
. Yet there werepowerful Nazi ideological prejudices regarding racial purity and Bolshevikcontamination that led them to denigrate the marshal capabilities of thesemanpower groups. Yes these very same racist stereotypes ensured that theGermans imposed strict ceiling on the proportion of 
Volksdeutsch
in front linecombat formations although combat conditions did not mean that such limitscould always be maintained, and there were several German Divisions whofought in Normandy that had much higher proportions of 
Volksdeutsch
. TheGermans endeavoured to distribute a smattering of 
Volksdeutsch
amongstcombat units.Moreover, because of the liability concerns the number of 
Volksdeutsch
ineach combat formation was routinely recorded on monthly strength returnsallowing one to approximate how many
Volksdeutsch
fought in the campaign,and armed with that statistic what becomes readily apparent if you look
 
3
closely at Allied prisoner of war returns is that the Allied took prisoner inNormandy, far more ethnic Germans than ever fought in the campaign. Thereare several explanations for this apparent paradox, and how to record theissue was a simple matter of diverging definitions: for the Allies countedAustrian and German Czechs as
Volksdeutsch
whereas the Germansclassified them as
Reichsdeutsch.
Ethnic Germans from areas occupied afterthe outbreak of the War in September 1939 were classified by the Germansas
Volksdeutsch
.Secondly it is evident that many German soldiers claimed to be
Volksdeutsch
on capture when they were not, in an effort to secure preferential treatment orto evade punishment or mistreatment.While Allied authorities highlighted increased willingness of ethnic Germans tosurrender, and much anecdotal evidence from oral histories and memoirstends to support this, there is no credible documentary evidence tosubstantiate the allegation that ethnic Germans would surrender. The alliedPOW reports cannot be relied upon, given that German soldiers routinely liedabout their ethnicity. Indeed, instead we need to look at German records yethere there is no clear evidence either. Almost all the German formations thatreported on the reliability of their ethnic Germans during the campaign setsthem as either adequate or good. A similar situation existed with the easternvolunteers. In accordance with Nazi racial attitudes there were not distributedas combatants among German combat formations, but only as eitherindividual volunteer auxiliaries – known as
Hilfswilliger 
or
”Hiwis” -
or ascombatants segregated into auxiliary Eastern companies, and Hitler’s racistviews of their unreliability - itself the product of the Nazis own racialmistreatment - led to the transfer of these units from the Eastern front wherethey had fallen against Bolshevism, to West and Southern Europe. TheGermans had few illusions about the value of these units, using them to guardthe most unlikely invasion sites, and by D-Day more than 70 of theseBattalions were deployed in the West. These Eastern volunteers were largely nationalists and anti-communistsrather than fascists, and they were naturally dismayed at being sent to theWest. Others were motivated by pure survival; Nazi prison camps in the Eastwere indescribably bad and at their worst in the winter of 1941-42 prisonerswere dying off at a rate of 2% per day. Although conditions improvedconsiderably during the middle of the war, the Soviet experience of being aGerman prisoner was very harsh, and it is that harsh conditioning that tells usa lot about the combat performance of Osttruppen.A number of Eastern battalions contained thousands of 
Hiwis
participating inthe Normandy campaign. Anglo-American literature has often dwelled ontheir alleged unreliability. One of the most commonly cited examples of poorperformance was the precipitate surrender of the 795
th
Georgian Battalionnorth-east of Utah beach on the 7 June. Yet while is true that sometimesOsttruppen did not fight very well in Normandy, what is actually much moresurprising is that they often fought pretty well. After all these very sameGeorgians were surrounded by vastly more powerful enemy, heavily batteredby air, artillery and naval attack and had absolutely no prospect of relief. Their situation was far more critical than that of the 1
st
Battalion 6
th
Parachute

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