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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 . What follows is a transcript of an address in May 2001 to the RMA Sandhurst War Discussion Group,[WARDIG], by Dr Russell A Hart, based on his research for Clash of Arms , and introduced by his identical 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 that continue 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 appropriate place to start is to suggest how such myths arose. A major cause was a lack of access to actual German wartime military records in the immediate post war period. Consequently Anglo-American opinion both scholarly and popular on campaigns powerfully influenced by emotional memoirs both allied and German that emerged in the late 40s and early 1950s. Soon after these memoirs emerged the onset of the Cold War imposed an ideological lens through which Anglo-American perceptions of the campaign became refracted. Historians both consciously and unconsciously I suggest sought to emphasise the remarkable achievements of the Western allies. Historians thus focused on alleged German battlefields deficiencies for poor quality manpower, bad intelligence, a confused chain of command, poor strategic leadership from the mad corporal for example rather than examining the grave logistic deficiencies that were actually central to the German defeat. Once these two sets of overlapping and re-enforcing distortions became entrenched in the historiography of the Normandy campaign by the 1960s have proven very difficult to dispel since. What follows therefore is just a brief overview; nothing more than some of the more significant distortions and the first I want to examine is the myth that allied aerial interdiction attacks had effectively isolated the Normandy battlefields prior to D-Day. This assertion has been made so often by so many 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 the Seine and the Loire river but not all of them, simply because the Allies had elected to strike single track railway bridges deemed to be of too low capacity to be worthwhile destroying. Clearly, in retrospect, this decision was an error of judgement because, though the capacity of the single track line is obviously far less than that of the double track line, the Germans used every available rail line to get supplies to Normandy. These included single track lines spanning both the Loire and Seine rivers, and also the Orleans gap - the narrow corridor between the Seine and Loire rivers. The Germans also used private industrial narrow gauge rail lines that the Allies never bothered to attack either. While these were of very limited capacity they did allow the additional movement of supplies to the battlefront. In fact during the first weeks of invasion the significant proportion - perhaps the majority - of the total
German supplies were delivered via these two types of railway (single-track lines and private industrial lines). In addition not all the bridges knocked down remained destroyed because the Germans repaired and re-built them. The few thousand German rail engineers deployed in the West made Herculean efforts to replace destroyed bridges, and managed to rebuild them at an astonishing rate of one bridge per day throughout the entire campaign. The actual origin of this historical myth was an Allied aerial bombing analysis report on the 3 June; this report concluded that all the targets struck had been destroyed and that therefore Normandy was effectively isolated, but this aerial reconnaissance report naturally never mentioned the single track bridges that had never been targeted in the first place. Moreover, by the 6 th of June, the Germans had repaired at least one 2-track rail bridge over the Seine river, and others would follow in the following weeks. Although the Allies would smash repaired bridges, the Germans solidly rebuilt them time and time again, and consequently enjoyed intermittent rail communications with Normandy throughout the campaign. The second myths I would like to turn to are myths about German manpower in the campaign. These have essentially revolved around the quality of Germany manpower. Anglo-American literature has often given much attention to the alleged unreliability of Volksdeutsch - ethnic Germans living outside of pre-war Germany recruited into the German Armed forces and Osttruppen - Eastern volunteers recruited from amongst the German/Soviet peoples. (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 Eastern troops). If you look at the literature it emphasises both the sets of German use of such manpower categories and the alleged unreliability of them and again superficially there appears to be reliable evidence to support these assertions particularly allied prisoner of war records and interrogations which indicate that large numbers of these manpower categories were taken prisoner during the Normandy campaign. Generally, however, historians have exaggerated both the German use of these two manpower groups and the detrimental consequences of such manpower policy and there is no doubt that the racist Nazis themselves had doubts about the reliability of Volksdeutsch and Osttruppen . Yet there were powerful Nazi ideological prejudices regarding racial purity and Bolshevik contamination that led them to denigrate the marshal capabilities of these manpower groups. Yes these very same racist stereotypes ensured that the Germans imposed strict ceiling on the proportion of Volksdeutsch in front line combat formations although combat conditions did not mean that such limits could always be maintained, and there were several German Divisions who fought in Normandy that had much higher proportions of Volksdeutsch . The Germans endeavoured to distribute a smattering of Volksdeutsch amongst combat units. Moreover, because of the liability concerns the number of Volksdeutsch in each combat formation was routinely recorded on monthly strength returns allowing one to approximate how many Volksdeutsch fought in the campaign, and armed with that statistic what becomes readily apparent if you look
closely at Allied prisoner of war returns is that the Allied took prisoner in Normandy, far more ethnic Germans than ever fought in the campaign. There are several explanations for this apparent paradox, and how to record the issue was a simple matter of diverging definitions: for the Allies counted Austrian and German Czechs as Volksdeutsch whereas the Germans classified them as Reichsdeutsch. Ethnic Germans from areas occupied after the outbreak of the War in September 1939 were classified by the Germans as 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 or to evade punishment or mistreatment. While Allied authorities highlighted increased willingness of ethnic Germans to surrender, and much anecdotal evidence from oral histories and memoirs tends to support this, there is no credible documentary evidence to substantiate the allegation that ethnic Germans would surrender. The allied POW reports cannot be relied upon, given that German soldiers routinely lied about their ethnicity. Indeed, instead we need to look at German records yet here there is no clear evidence either. Almost all the German formations that reported on the reliability of their ethnic Germans during the campaign sets them as either adequate or good. A similar situation existed with the eastern volunteers. In accordance with Nazi racial attitudes there were not distributed as combatants among German combat formations, but only as either individual volunteer auxiliaries – known as Hilfswilliger or ”Hiwis” - or as combatants segregated into auxiliary Eastern companies, and Hitler’s racist views of their unreliability - itself the product of the Nazis own racial mistreatment - led to the transfer of these units from the Eastern front where they had fallen against Bolshevism, to West and Southern Europe. The Germans had few illusions about the value of these units, using them to guard the most unlikely invasion sites, and by D-Day more than 70 of these Battalions were deployed in the West. These Eastern volunteers were largely nationalists and anti-communists rather than fascists, and they were naturally dismayed at being sent to the West. Others were motivated by pure survival; Nazi prison camps in the East were indescribably bad and at their worst in the winter of 1941-42 prisoners were dying off at a rate of 2% per day. Although conditions improved considerably during the middle of the war, the Soviet experience of being a German prisoner was very harsh, and it is that harsh conditioning that tells us a lot about the combat performance of Osttruppen. A number of Eastern battalions contained thousands of Hiwis participating in the Normandy campaign. Anglo-American literature has often dwelled on their alleged unreliability. One of the most commonly cited examples of poor performance was the precipitate surrender of the 795 th Georgian Battalion north-east of Utah beach on the 7 June. Yet while is true that sometimes Osttruppen did not fight very well in Normandy, what is actually much more surprising is that they often fought pretty well. After all these very same Georgians were surrounded by vastly more powerful enemy, heavily battered by 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
Regiment which disintegrated at the very same time just a couple of miles to the South West of the Georgian position. Even then by no means did the entire Georgian Battalion surrender. The HQ Company, which critically contained the German Cadre, and second Company continued to hold out for another 36 hours before surrendering. Clearly in this alleged case of unreliability the Georgians fought better than the elite German paratroopers. In fact the Osttruppen fought better than their racist Nazi masters expected of them. Another case in point was 451 st East Battalion. So poorly did the Germans judge this units capability that it was rated unfit for any combat whatsoever and consequently relegated to construction tasks in land from coast nevertheless D-Day this Battalion counter-attacked towards the coast. A similar story with the 642 nd East Battalion, another unit rated as unfit for limited defence, launched repeated counter attacks against the British Airborne bridge-head east of the Orne. This Battalion stayed in the front line for over a month. If you look at the times the Eastern units fought poorly, some commonalties emerge. They tended to perform most poorly when they were isolated and most importantly when their German leadership cadre had been killed or incapacitated. Under these circumstances Eastern volunteers had a greater tendency to surrender, but when they remained firmly under control of the German cadre they usually acquitted themselves decently. What this evidence suggests to me is that they were made more afraid of the German masters - and who can blame them - than they were of the Allies. Next I want to briefly discuss the myth of the apolitical Army disaffected with Hitler and National Socialism. I think it is fair to say that historians of the Normandy campaign have rarely examined in detail the character, the composition and the world view of the German army of the West [ Westheer ]. Most Historians have thus embraced the self serving and false image presented by the German Generals after the War that the German Army was largely apolitical. Of course we now know that the German Army in 1944 was a Nazi Army. Historians have largely failed to introduce ideology to an understanding of the Normandy campaign. This is a serious flaw, because the German conduct of the Campaign can only be understood in ideological terms. During the spring of 1944 the Westheer underwent a profound Easternisation - a massive influx of veteran officers and NCOs hardened and brutalised by the vicious ideological war on the Eastern front. These Ostkämpfer – Eastern fighters – pursued a major programme of ideological indoctrination intended to compensate for numerical, materiel and qualitative deficiencies. Such indoctrination and propaganda contributed directly to the Westheer’s cohesion, its fighting power and tenacity. Such propaganda persuaded German soldiers that the Allies would not take prisoners, and rhetoric about powerful new vengeance weapons buttressed German morale and cohesion. Eastern hardness, inculcated through, indoctrination, helped troops surmount the terrible conditions in which they fought in Normandy. In fact the evidence demonstrates that the picture portrayed by the literature the German Soldier increasingly disillusioned with Hitler and Nazism is simply
not true. Although many German prisoners expressed disillusionment after capture and even more claimed to be anti-Nazis after the war, contemporary prisoner of war interrogations concluded that most German troops remained ideologically committed to National Socialism, that they rarely blamed Hitler for Axis defeats, and that they still had faith in ultimate victory. Nazi propaganda clearly reinforced the will of the German troops to continue an increasingly hopeless conflict and indoctrination was one element of military effectiveness in which Nazi Germany maintained a marked edge over the Western Allies throughout the War. In reality most German Soldiers in the West maintained their allegiance to both Hitler, to National Socialism and the German Volk because they viewed the future of all three to be indivisible. Another myth is the success of Allied deception efforts - Operation FORTITUDE, the Allied deception that the invasion of France would come in the Pas De Calais [Fortitude South], and historians have often contended that these were a significant factor in Allied victory in Normandy. Not only did FORTITUDE mean the Germans were unable to throw the allies back into the sea on D-Day but it kept powerful Germans forces in the Pas de Calais too long to prevent an Allied breakout from Normandy. I would argue however that the continuation of Fortitude long after D-Day probably did not speed Allied victory, and - to the contrary - it might have actually delayed an Allied breakout, for without FORTITUDE the Germans could have rushed their reserves to Normandy and in the process collapsed the tenuous logistic infrastructure underpinning their defence. Why I believe this to be the case will become evident later when I talk a bit about German logistics in the campaign. Another myth involves the events that took place at Omaha Beach on the morning of the 6 th June. It has become commonplace to ascribe a significant responsibility to the initial difficulties that the Americans faced on Omaha beach on the Germans redeployment of the 352 nd Infantry Division, a frontline Infantry Division up behind Omaha beach, and the failure of allied intelligence to detect them. While is true is that the Germans did move up this Division between Carentan and Bayeux in the month before D-Day, the Germans moved only a single artillery and two infantry battalions into the Omaha beach area. Moreover if you examine the company dispositions, the infantry of the 352 nd Division were placed at the landward end of the Omaha draws, and in the villages of the interior, behind the coast, not in the front, in the beachhead strongpoints. The Troops that manned the bulk of the beach strong points that stopped dead the 1 st and 29th US Infantry Divisions on the morning of 6 June came from 716th Division. The real explanation of the near-fiasco at Omaha is that the Allies fundamentally underestimated the difficulties imposed by the terrain and by topography. Another fixation of mine is what I see as the effective sanitisation of the Normandy campaign. Failure to examine the campaign in ideological terms has ensured that Historians have presented an overly clean view of the campaign. Whilst it is true that atrocities never reached the depths of extermination that characterised the war on the Eastern front, Normandy saw
bitter, and often brutal, combat. Although Historians have focussed on the small number of well-documented SS atrocities committed in Normandy at the time, the Allies repeatedly alleged numerous crimes committed as frequently by Army as by Waffen SS Troops. Likewise Anglo-American historians have focused on egregious SS massacres of French civilians for example the massacre by the 2 nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ at Oradour, but Army units regularly participated in anti-partisan sweeps and routinely did not take prisoners. If you look beyond these single egregious instances, to the everyday engagements, tens of thousands of French civilians were killed in anti-partisan sweeps in the months prior to and during the Normandy campaign, and most of those were victims of action by regular German troops: not Police, not SS. At he same time, the Germans complained loudly and frequently to the neutral Swiss regarding perceived Allied violations of the Geneva and Hague conventions. The Germans repeatedly protested against the Allied use of Napalm, [Jellied Gasoline] and white phosphorous [Willy Peter, as the Americans called it] which the Germans claimed – with some justification – were illegal chemical weapons. The German also remonstrated against the frequent allied air attacks against Red Cross ambulances. Besides the inherent problems of accurate target identification faced by pilots during the Second World War, there was ample documentary evidence to substantiate extensive German employment of Red Cross ambulances as troop transports, and for carrying supplies in contravention of the rules of War. Another source of frequent German complaint was the refusal of the Allies to recognise small German hospital ships despite their official registrations. In fact the Germans constantly complained about Allied air attacks on such vessels. This was a real problem for Germans because shipping limitations frequently compelled them to rely on small coastal hospital ships in the West, particularly the Atlantic coast. This unilateral Allied position - which really did not have the weight of international legal backing behind it - was that the small hospital ship were really pilot rescue vessels, which Allies interpreted as falling outside the technical description of a hospital ship and therefore fair game for attack. We attacked many dozens of German hospital ships. I know of no author who has written on the war in North West Europe who has discussed these Allied attacks on small German hospital ships. Like all wars, the Normandy campaign was a dirty war. One of the most pervasive and distorted perspectives of the Normandy campaign, is the image of the unimaginative German Army blindly following unrealistic orders from above. One of the least recognised and most crucial dynamics of the Normandy campaign was the rapid adaptation that emerged amongst German troops. To the contrary, the Germans could be highly adaptive and innovated continually throughout the campaign, to fight more effectively despite being massively outnumbered. In particular the Germans modified their defensive practices to fight more effectively. The impact of such innovation was to shift significantly the casualty exchange ratio in their favour despite mounting allied superiority. Up to 11 July the Germans suffered 102 casualties for every 100 allied casualties, but by 13 August the balance had shifted considerably will the Allies suffering 116 casualties for every 100
German casualties. This is remarkable given the steady increase in Allied numerical and materiel strength vis-à-vis the Germans. In fact one would assume the very opposite that, as the allied superiority grew, the casualty exchange ratio would shift in their favour. How does one explain this trend? The explanation lies in German defensive adaptations. Initially Germans employed traditional Eastern front defensive techniques; that emphasised linear defence, forward concentration, firepower, and immediate counter-attack. When the German went over to defence on 10 June, and sought to confine the Allies in the bridgehead, lack of troops and the absence of prepared defences inland initially forced them to adopt linear defence, but Allied artillery, aircraft and naval gun fire inflicted heavy losses against these forward concentrated German defenders, but as German reserves moved up to the front, German troops quickly returned to the traditional doctrine of defence in depth to minimise their casualties and buttress their defensive strength. The relative brevity of the front allowed the Germans in late June to erect defences in depth in the southern Cotentin peninsula, in the thick bocage south of Cabault[?] and before Caen. At the same time the Germans refined their defensive techniques in light of combat conditions in Normandy. Allied aerial mastery and their pronounced firepower advantage rendered standard German defence less effective in Normandy than it had proven in the East or in Africa. In particular forward concentration and immediate counter attack brought heavy German losses from allied artillery. Moreover allied firepower and the devastating effect of carpet bombing meant that even standard defence in depth could neither stop the Allies from gaining ground, nor prevent heavy losses. The Germans thus gradually refined their defensive techniques to counter overwhelming Allied aerial mastery and fire power of superiority. Formations gradually adopted extreme dispersions as troops deepened their defensive zones, and further dispersed their manpower. When Time resources and combat conditions allowed, the Germans erected additional defences behind their MLR, and withdrew troops into these rearward positions. These defensive tactical adaptations emerged from the classic bottom-up, top-down, decentralised pattern of German adaptation. Innovation emerged on an adhoc unit to unit basis during June, and after collection analysis of these afteraction reports the German Command, Army Gp B, published guide lines in early July for dispersed deep defence that were copied across the entire front. Extended defence in depth curtailed German losses and contributed directly to the defeat of Montgomery's GOODWOOD offensive between 18 and 20 July. Extreme dispersion reduced German losses from artillery and air attack and at the same time made it even harder for allied forces to penetrate the depth of German defences. The Germans also adapted to offset allied numerical and materiel superiority as well as the enemy’s growing fighting power and combat proficiency. So powerful did Allied artillery become in Normandy, that Germans troops soon learnt that only instant counter-attack before allied troops could consolidate or register fire could retake objectives in normally platoon strength local counter
attacks often materialised within 15 minutes of the loss of an objective, and in Company or Battalion strength within an hour. Troops learnt from trial and error the need for strict radio discipline, and to locate radio equipment away from Command Headquarters, to minimise attacks on command and control facilities. Initial failure to adopt countermeasures led to the neutralisation of Headquarters Panzer Group West by air attack on the 10 June. Thereafter the Germans adopted elaborate security measures to safeguard command + control facilities. By 1944 coordinated defensive artillery fire had become the backbone of the German defence on the Eastern front where troop density were often half those attained in Normandy. Although the Germans established a heavy concentration of Artillery in Normandy, Allied aerial mastery and German supply shortages rendered this force ineffectual, and it was rarely able to buttress the German defence . In fact Allied air attacks hampered German gunners to an unprecedented degree as they harassed and suppressed German artillery fire. The air threat necessitated that guns relocate often and adopt elaborate camouflage & concealment. The threat often forced the Germans to abandon mass fire, and instead resort to shoot-and-scoot tactics or random sprinkling fire, or roving fire involving individual guns. At the same time, ammunition shortages prevented the heavy barrages needed to repulse allied attacks. Massed fire was thus rare and gunners increasingly abandon counter battery fire entirely. The absence of strong artillery support compelled the German troops to rely heavily on mortars, which they used to great effect for fire sp in Normandy. The Germans had more, and heavier calibre mortars than the Allies, and since mortars were more mobile and more easily concealed, they were less vulnerable to air attack than artillery pieces. The Germans also made increasing use of Nebelwerfers ; mobile, multi-barrel rocket projectors, and the Germans soon established, opposite the British sector of the front, the heaviest concentration of Nebelwerfer batteries actually seen in the war. These projectors could bring down such rapid mass fire that Allied troops came to dread their “stonks” and the characteristic demoralising wail of the projectiles in flight. Adaptations like these made the Germans more efficient fighters inflicting heavier losses on their enemy while simultaneously reducing their own casualties. Another myth is the exaggerated rôle of ULTRA during the campaign and having examined the ULTRA decrypts from the Normandy campaign at the public record office, it is easy to appreciate the limitations of ULTRA in the campaign. For a start, the excellent French telephone system ensured that the Germans only sparingly despatched information by encoded radio transmissions. These transmissions had then to be intercepted and de-coded Rarely was full decoding possible, and deciphering took time; to such an extent that by the time the information had been de-coded and disseminated to the field its operational usefulness was often limited. Moreover for security purposes the origin of such intelligence was rarely disclosed to field commanders, ensuring that they often failed to fully appreciate its value. Only during August when the German front collapsed did the volume of radio traffic dramatically increase. But so fluid had the ground situation become, that
usually, by the time ULTRA intelligence made it to the field, the situation on the ground had changed appreciably, rendering the intelligence of little value. The best example of what I am talking about is the frequently exaggerated role of ultra enforcing the German counter offensive against Avranches, launched on the 6 August. Although ULTRA intelligence did provide advance warning of the impending attack most front line units received a non specific warning a mere 60 minutes before the German attack began and for some units it was less than 5 minutes; obviously 5 minutes is not much time to do anything about it. Another myth concerns the explanations of the success of the Americans breaking out on the southern most sector of the front during Operation Cobra. During late July. After seven weeks of heavy combat the German defence in Normandy collapsed, and historians have traditionally interpreted the German collapse as the inevitable consequence of sustained attrition; after the constant battering of allied forces conventional wisdom maintains that the Germans were simply too weak to stop the American breakthrough. Unfortunately the evidence simply does not fit this interpretation. In the first place the Germans had continually reinforced their defences on the St Lô sector – the American sector of the front – and in fact during Cobra were virtually as strong as the forces that had successfully thwarted the AngloCanadian GOODWOOD offensive the previous week. So how does one therefore explain the complete American success of Cobra and the dismal Anglo-Canadian failure of GOODWOOD? Part of the story was the respective capability of the allies, and the basic reality that the American Army had been, and was, learning faster, and more effectively from its battlefield experience than its Anglo-Canadian allies. Equally so, logistic deficiencies explained the German collapse at St Lô. Despite heavy losses, the German forces were not so attenuated that they were incapable of halting the American breakout, and in fact the German 7 th Army had halted all previous American attacks and heavy American losses, and massive munitions expenditures suffered in the battles in the bocage and before St Lô, placed real limits on American firepower support to Cobra. So if the German defence was not too weak to prevent an American breakthrough, why did Cobra succeed? Improved American capabilities resulted in a better conceived &executed offensive but equally important was the deteriorating German supply situation contributed directly to 7 th Army's failure to halt the American breakthrough. Thus the Germans defeat in Normandy was fundamentally a logistic defeat as the Westheer were unable to reinforce and re-supply a field force of sufficient size to contain the allies in their lodgement. To understand why this was so and also why I think that continuing FORTITUDE long after D-Day was a mistake, one has to briefly characterise the German logistic position in the west at the beginning of the campaign. And one can only characterise the German logistic position as precarious; munitions stockpiles were sufficient for about one month of sustained combat, but most of these stockpiles were at inland depots.
The German fuel situation was even worse. Germans had seven to ten days worth of fuel available for their strategic reserves. Moreover allied air attacks had crippled the French rail net and forced the German supply operation on to the roads thereby further depleting German fuel stocks. Distribution had thus become a serious problem even before D-Day, and the Germans had introduced stringent rationing to preserve their dwindling stocks. When the Germans failed to beat the allies on the beaches they could only fight a protracted defence on the West if adequate supplies of fuel and ammunition were brought forward from the Reich , but given pure transport shortages, planned German troop redeployments to Normandy grossly exceeded the available trucking capacity and the German ability to re-supply these forces once committed. The Germans thus consistently prioritised getting troops to the Normandy front to cordon off the allies in a small bridgehead; only then could they try to supply the forces committed but allied air attacks so badly hampered German resupply operations, and so slowed the flow supply to Normandy that persistent logistic deficiencies plagued the German defence. The Quartermaster General West could deliver only a fraction of the supplies consumed at the front, with the result that stockpiles rapidly diminished. The Gasoline situation rapidly became critical as they depleted their entire strategic fuel reserve by 13 June, and the crisis at the destruction of the main German fuel depot at Genneville, outside Paris, on the 22 June further exacerbated that situation. Genneville was the main German fuel depot in the west, and with its destruction, the Germans lost about 90% of their stockpiles of gasoline – a serious blow to the logistic position of the Westheer. Within the first week of the invasion the Germans realised that only a dramatic improvement in their supply situation could allow a protracted defence of Normandy. German quartermasters and supply troops thus improvised to speed the flow of supplies as they sought to restore limited rail communications to Normandy. In the first week of the invasion the Germans could not run a single supply train into Normandy across either the Seine or the Loire rivers. Thereafter they abandoned their uncoordinated and dispersed rail repair operations, and focused on opening two major rail arteries into Normandy; the line Paris Versailles – Dreux - Vieux - Surdon from the East, across the Seine, and the line Tours - Le Mans – Alencon – Sees - Vieux - Surdon from the South, across the Loire. The Germans focused on repairing and trying got keep open these two arteries, which they never do, but they do manage to open up rail traffic through to Dinant[?], and across the Loire to Alencon. In late June the German logistic situation in Normandy finally began to improve as rail movement into Normandy recommenced as large scale ferrying operations got underway, and as combat units began to collect supplies from the depots themselves. In late June the Germans began a large scale ferrying operation across the Seine, and during July delivered a major proportion of the supplies that reached Normandy. When combined with the re-opening of rail communications the flow of supplies to central Normandy increased steadily in the first weeks of July. But the major German problems remained in the trans-shipment of those supplies
to railheads and docks to the front as allied air attacks inflicted a heavy toll on German trucks. On average the Germans lost 75 trucks destroyed per day in Normandy, mainly to air attack. Only by collecting supplies themselves could front line combat units compensate for the supply services dwindling ability to shift stocks from the depots to the front. During July the German logistic situation on the eastern flank – Panzer Group West opposing the Anglo-Canadians - slowly improved as rail movement recommenced, and Seine ferrying operations increased the flow of supplies to Normandy. Allied air forces were unable to neutralise the Seine ferrying operations, because ferries were much harder to hit than bridges or railways, and they mainly operated at night. But on the German western flank, where 7 th Army opposed the Americans at St Lô, there was no parallel logistic improvement during July; to the contrary the Germans supply situation continued to decline. Ferrying was far less significant on the Atlantic coast; re-supplying distances were far greater and communication lines less developed. But it was the German inability to sustain rail deliveries across the Loire river that directly contributed to the collapse of the St Lô front in late July. The catalyst for the ultimately fatal decline of the 7 th Army supply situation on the American sector of the Normandy front, was the renewed destruction of the railway bridge and marshalling yards at Tours on 15 July. The attack on 15 July fatally undermined the 7 th Army's logistic position because the Quartermaster General West could not compensate for the interruption to rail delivery of fuel and munitions by increased road delivery. German fuel stocks on the St Lô front thus dwindled at the very moment that American forces launched Operation Cobra, their breakout bid. After frenetic work the Germans re-opened the Tours rail bridge on 23 July two days before the start of Cobra - too late to re-supply the 7 th Army before the American attack. In the meantime replenishing Panzer Group West after its GOODWOOD expenditures, meant that Quartermaster General West could only despatch fuel by road to 7 th Army on one day in the week between the 18 and 25 July. This is missed by everyone; when D’Este has written about catastrophe at Goodwood he has emphasised that it had a critical effect on diverting the German truck resupply operation to the Caen sector of the front; only on one day in that week between GOODWOOD and Cobra could the Germans dispatch truck columns with fuel to St Lô. As a result on the eve of COBRA on 25 July, German fuel stocks on the St Lô sector of the front had sunk perilously low. Defending 84 Corps had less than two days supply, at average consumption rates - not intense combat rates - if you are thwarting a major offensive, that’s about a day’s worth of fuel; that’s all they had. The closure of the Tours rail route also had an important indirect impact on To decrease turnaround, time the the 7 th Army's munitions stocks. Quartermaster General West abandoned deliveries to 7 th Army's largest and most forward munitions depot MICHEL, at St Sever, 10 miles behind the front on 17 July, and instead delivered stocks to MARTHA 10 miles further away near Domfront. What is critical about this, is that it quadruples the distance that front line combat units on the St Lô front had to travel to collect munitions, and obviously it also furthered depleted German fuel stocks.
[This is MICHEL this was the forward, main German munitions depot for the Normandy sector. In order to turn around truck columns more quickly on the 17th they just stopped delivering to there. Which means a much longer journey - four times longer - to MARTHA for front line combat units to collect supplies, and it means they could only bring back small quantities of munitions, and of course they were just burning off their fuel, but they were quite happy to go and collect supplies from this depot as it was further back from the front.] Therefore on the eve of COBRA German forces deployed on the St Lô front simply lacked the munitions to halt any major concerted American offensive. For the first time in the campaign during COBRA supply shortages crippled the German defence, and prevented them from cordoning off the American COBRA break in on the 25/26 th July as they had all previous allied defences. It’s the supply shortages which explained why the elite and still powerful 2 nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich fails to make its presence felt on the COBRA battlefield - Read accounts of COBRA; where is the Das Reich, one of the élite SS Panzer divisions? It barely gets a mention; it’s got no fuel. The German LXXXIV Corps report to higher headquarters on 26 July "that gasoline shortages significantly prohibited" German counter measures and forced the Das Reich to abandon two entire companies of Panzer tanks, is eloquent testimony to the scale of the fuel crisis. It is clear therefore that the German logistic deficiencies played a central role in the American Cobra breakout. Moreover it is evident that the fortuitous destruction of the Tours rail bridge 10 days before the onset of COBRA proved perfect timing. If it had been destroyed any earlier- just a day or two earlier - then the Germans would have had time to have repaired the bridge and to have rushed off new supplies of stockpiles by rail to the St Lô sector of the front. Any later after the 15 July and there would have been insufficient time to erode the German front line combat stockpiles to critical levels. The timing of 15 July - completely inadvertently, with nothing to do with any connection to the planned COBRA offensive, which was part of the ongoing allied bombing attacks against German infrastructure - was perfect timing in retrospect. The final issue I want to talk about tonight I think is the most significant deficiency regarding the German defence in Normandy. I think the historians have neglected to study the last ten days of the campaign. Most studies stop with the liberation of Paris on the 25 August, and most scholars have generally viewed this period as a rather anti-climactic concomitant to the allied breakout, and a transition phase to the exciting breakout and the frantic dash towards Antwerp and the German frontier. But this neglect is unfortunate, for from a German perspective, the last ten days of August represents the single most important period of the Normandy campaign, for it witnessed the greatest German defensive success in Normandy. During the last ten days of August the Germans extracted virtually all of their remaining troops and a surprising quantity of heavy weapons behind the Seine River in a general strategic withdrawal. Now, while this is a negative outcome, given the predicament the Germans were in late August 1944 was an astonishing achievement. For on 19 th August
the Allies had encircled a substantial proportion of the German forces in the Falaise pocket and the next day had forced the Seîne river. Given the catastrophic German supply situation at this juncture and continued interdiction attacks on the Seîne, the Allies possessed a never-to-be-repeated strategic opportunity to roll up the German flank along the Seîne, and envelop and annihilate the bulk of the Westheer against the Seîne. The Germans salvaged much of their Army for a number of reasons. They retreated skilfully despite great handicaps after the 21 August in a full-scale staged withdrawal behind the Seine. At the same time the allies were unable to interdict effectively the enemy's retrograde movement. Despite Herculean bridge building efforts, Allied air attacks continued to demolish the Seîne bridges faster than the German could re-build them thus in late August not a single bridge capable of taking automobiles remained standing between the northern outskirts of Paris and the English channel. Though increased ferrying and use of pontoon bridges greatly increased traffic across the Seîne from late June, these ferries were totally inadequate for a rapid mass evacuation. Changing strategic priorities, increasing demands for air support and the weather, all prevented allied air forces from impeding the German retreat behind the Seîne. The allies radically revised their air interdiction plan after the 9 th August to slow the German retreat. Though the Seîne bridges remained a high priority, allied aircraft increased attacks on targets East of Paris and also took on the river bridges west of the Seîne. But planes had barely resumed large scale attacks on the Seine bridges on the 18 August when SHAEF decided to try and capture them intact and thus abandoned air attacks entirely. Tactical aviation turned instead to transportation targets, a shift that relaxed pressure on German communications. The breakout also vastly increased the number of targets, and inevitably dissipated Allied air power as aircraft supported ground operations across the entire front of Brittany along the Loire river to Paris. Moreover the punishing strikes launched against the Falaise pocket from 16 th to 21st August absorbed the attention of the considerable element of Allied air power. Unseasonably bad weather for late August also aided the Germans as it grounded all Allied daylight missions on 21 st and 23rd August. Air power proved unable to prevent the German retreat behind the Seîne. The failure of Montgomery's tired and depleted forces to pursue aggressively the retreating enemy, and stubborn rear guard action against advancing American troops, also aided the Germans escape. Germans used in excess of 60 crossing points over the Seîne and employed every conceivable means of crossing; ferries, barges, rafts, yachts, row-boats, inflatable dinghies as well as nocturnal pontoon and boat bridges. And again the extensive German experience of large-scale river crossing operations on the eastern front clearly aided their efforts. Forced to retreat in daylight towards the Seîne, Germans suffered heavy losses from air attacks and at the same time a catastrophic fuel situation forced the Germans to abandon motor vehicles and heavy equipment in droves. Yet the Germans extricated virtually every soldier, and most of the equipment that made it to the Seîne, across the river, and although badly
battered and bruised the Westheer escaped to fight another day, and the failure to destroy the Westheer against the Seîne had significant strategic ramifications. Firstly it ensured that the war in the West would not end in 1944. Secondly it allowed Hitler to flesh out a new Westheer on the skeleton of the Army that had escaped from Normandy, first to restabilise the defensive front along the West Wall during the Autumn of 1944, and then to launch a strategic counter offensive in the Ardennes during December. Without the German success on the Seine in August it is unlikely the Germans could have restabilised the front along the German frontier during the autumn and inconceivable that Hitler could have counter-attacked in the West at all during 1944. In conclusion; tonight I have tried to examine - albeit very briefly - a few of the more significant myths regarding the German defence of Normandy and I am more than happy to elaborate on questions over dinner. Question and Answer Session 1. The sound quality of the recording hereafter is variable. The hash symbol [#] appears where the audiotypist was unable to distinguish the words spoken, and I have not been able to fill in the gaps. 2. Italic script is sused to indicate words spoken by the audience. Dr Hart’s replies are in normal Arial font. The Normandy campaign is one that we are very familiar with, and would be surprising given the huge amount of literature written on it there are still huge gaps of misperception out there to be discovered that you have clearly been digging very hard and managed to produce several new loads of discoveries to set people going in the future. I would like to steal the Chairman's prerogative and ask you the first question if I may. You talked about the influx of the Ostkampfer in late 43 into early 1944; could you give us some idea of the scale of the influx that had happened here and also was it a deliberate policy by the German high command? Is there a perception that the Westheer is weak and flabby after 3 years of peacetime doddling around and needs some really tough, hardened individuals to get there, crack heads and really work them up into fighting fitness for the invasion the German high command is expecting to be imminent in the next six months? Oh absolutely there is no doubt whatsoever that the perception was that the forces in the West had been spoilt by sunny French weather, croissants, calvados and the need some major stiffening. This is a deliberate conscious policy and on a massive scale; if you look at Officers you will see that the bulk of German officers that are in the West in June 1943 are not there a year later they have all been replaced. Some units we are talking about are 60, 70, 80% turnover rates, getting rid of these old lax guys, and getting in decorated eastern front veterans - tough guys from the tough war in the East. What happened to General Von Klinkerhoff [?]######### ? He would have certainly been one of the ones to have gone if he had existed.
Where did they go? Went back to German, went to Norway or somewhere out of the way where incompetence would not be a major burden. Most of them went back to rear Echelon headquarters in Germany. The relative lack of success by 29 th US division at Omaha was attributed by some authorities to the fact they refused to use those swimming tanks. Do you attach any weight to that? They did employ amphibious tanks but obviously they sank as they were too far out because of the bad weather but frankly even if the amphibious armour had got ashore they were not getting off the beach - this is Dieppe all over again. The German defences - you have these Coastal bluffs and you have 5 narrow draws and the Germans have substantial anti-tank guns on the sides of those draws, and you can't knock them out. This is very, very difficult terrain for any force to penetrate and I think it is a case of fundamental underestimation of how difficult the landing at Omaha was going to be. If you look at the planning, from what I've seen, there is just no real sense that things are going to be much tougher at Omaha. That's my sense of it - I just don't see a kind of serious realisation of just how tough it was going to be; just as Americans fundamentally misunderstood just how tough it was going to be to fight in the Bocage. Let's face it, how many Americans fought in Normandy who'd ever been there before? The only people who knew anything about it on the ground were people frorm the AEF who had gone there in 1918, when Cherbourg had been one of the major entry ports, and that's about it; I mean it's a fundamental lack of knowledge of the terrain. It is very similar terrain to that in which much of the US Army trained in England - Devon and Cornwall have very similar lanes with high banks and thick hedges - but they didn't us the training opportunity given by the ground. I think they probably went out and found open bits of ground, and that was more fun - it's a failure of command. (Stephen Badsey) On the impact of ground on the defence: taking that a bit more; 352 nd: the distance between the sea edge and he top of the drwaws is only 500 to 1000m. Those people were involved in Omaha beach - I went there for the 1994 commemoration, and there were a number of unofficial German memorials put there which the French, very sadly, took away very quickly after, though I photographed them first, and even with a Bn HQ where it was, I don't think there is any doubt that elements of the 352 nd were directly involved. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------# # # # # # # # 1916-1917 on the western front the same kind of reasonably rapid adaptation takes place but I would like to link this in with what you said about the casualty exchange rates. I mean in fact you say that at one stage it is like a 102 to 100 a bit later 116 to 100. Now the point here, surely, is that from the German point of view - massively outnumbered - this is not at all good; I mean you are on the defensive most of the time and hoping to reap the advantages of being on the defensive but obviously principally because of the absolutely overwhelming allied firepower in fact you are not 15
reaping that much advantage at all. You know you are in real real deep trouble and sooner or later you are going to lose with an exchange rate like that and also I mean with the points I think you are perhaps being a little over generous to the Germans I think this is my impression when you are saying that OK there is a tactical shift obviously they go more for defense in depth, and that it implies greater dispersal and that obviously is going to bring the casualty rate down. But the other thing you mentioned which seems to me possibly a good deal significant is a shift in the policy on counter attacks now that certainly is something that happened in 1916-1917 and the Germans obviously met immediate counter attacks in strength, but very quickly the Brits and the French got wise to this kind of thing as counter attacks come in they just get blown to bits with Artillery. So what the Germans tend to do as time goes on is they do fewer and fewer of them now that’s a good way of saving casualties. But what you are saying what they do is they tend to try and do it faster and with fewer people. It certainly reduced unit size and a reduction in companies' assault platoons but that’s mainly a function of officer casualty rates. Get your counter attack in very fast and use just a relatively small number of people that you have got to hand rather than summoning a large group of people to do the counter attack. Now that will be a major factor actually in cutting your casualty rates, that you’re not counter attacking in such large numbers. You have also got to remember of course that the casualty exchange rate is not the only thing we need to be thinking about clearly is reducing the exchange rate without presuming the consequence of doing that isn't necessary a good idea but you have obviously got to balance it with trying to actually achieve current and strategic operation, tactical objectives in the campaign at the same time so we are looking at a very complicated issue which integrates with all sorts of variables and makes it difficult to discuss these things. What I was saying really is that given what we have said about the defensive advantages of the terrain the exchange rate is not very favourable at all; it really isn't. # # # # committed at any one time you got to think about the scale of the American superiority as well. My thoughts are saying that given this massive logistical and firepower advantage, in which You have Artillery often 50:1 or 100:1, and given that figure I mean I would counter that by saying that given the Allied aerial materiel and artillery superiority, I would expect the casualty exchange rate to be even higher. Just to take some American parallels Grants army attacking # # # # # Virginia which is also difficult terrain in 64 the exchange rate was far more favourable to the defending side. But of course the bulk of German casualties in both the first world war and the second world war incurred on the counter offence and this was a fundamental problem with the German defence # # # # # # # # # # the worst case in Normandy is the Engineer Battalion of the 12 th SS which on the 9 th and 10 th 16
June counter attacks across an open field with no fire support whatsoever and suffers 600 casualties. But of course you can see similar losses on the American. One of the lessons you learn simply as time goes on is not to do that. But the Germans don’t know that. The next book I am writing on is called Hitler’s Last Hope and it is about the Germans effort to leave Hitler in Berlin and on the 20 April 1945 when the Soviets storm across the Oder North of Berlin that the Panther Army throws in all its reserves in suicidal counter attacks and you have # # # # # # have been reconstituted from smashed remnants over the last months to full strength that # # percent casualty rates in a single day and not surprisingly unable to hold the Soviets back for more than a couple of days. Presumably singing Happy Birthday Dear Fuhrer. If you # # sense and ability towards combat lessons and tactics rapidly in Normandy why this sudden incapability to look at the adoption # # # # # # because you have to keep faith in that # # purely being on the defensive knowing you cant win. Well this is it I mean it’s the element of national socialism, introducing the element of ideology into the German Battalion like never before and it becomes a question of will you cannot win just by standing Well you got shot. The Draconian Nazi military system these guys do it because they know they were going to be court martialled and shot. By 1945 the Germans had probably executed 30,000 of their own troops and it was effective and kept troops in line. Exactly the same with the Osttruppen it was very clear they remained far more petrified of the Germans than the Allies. You know in Tyrol when their Officers are dead or wounded then they run away. At what point were the railheads terminated northward # # # # or westward at At what date did that occur because it seems to me that Northwest of that there was no rail lines at all. Apart from local command moving things along industrial narrow gauge rail roads So they made the most use of that but otherwise there were no rail lines left shortly before the invasion. The continuing breakdown of rail # # rail bridges had been destroyed large railyards had been destroyed, locomotives had been destroyed, # stations its just the overall cumulative destruction if you haven't got locomotives and you haven't got wagons and trailers and you haven't got coal that none of these things are ever in the same place at the same time and the rail system was so dislocated that it took days if not weeks to get all the bits together in one place to be able to resume getting troops their first
The higher command was largely # # # at the end of 1943 in the Normandy area was that simply because they were incompetent I rather thought the Germans anticipated invasion in Calais and not in Normandy at all. This is going on throughout the Western theatre you are talking about thousands of officers and thousands of NCOs. So it had nothing to do with an unanticipated landing. No, No it was just going on throughout the West. The Germans didn't know when they were going to land and I am also not someone who thinks that the Germans were obsessed with # # # # # [Pas De Calais?] . It’s just not true. If you look at German records, # # # # # # going on elsewhere they were not gamblers they don’t gamble everything on the Pas De Calais; then again if you look at things like # # Eastern front # # # # # as many of them to Normandy as sending them to Pas De Calais. They are not taking risks they have their # # # # # everywhere wherever it comes. The Panzer divisions # # actually combat capable as opposed to recovery The whole idea # # kept half dozen first regular divisions in the Pas De Calais that could have done the non-resistant is simply not true. If you look at the returns of divisions they are non operational.
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