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 Post subject: D-Day @ 70 - Normandy Campaign, Hitler & Normandy
Unread postPosted: 07 Sep 2014, 09:31 

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D-Day @ 70
Hitler & Normandy
To what extent did Hitler ensure the defeat of German forces in Normandy?


By Tom Davies

The Battle of Normandy is marked by many historians as the turning point of the war, when the Allies were able to open up a second front and liberate France in 1944. Yet, the most interesting aspect of the campaign is the two distinct trends that emerge within the historiography. The first trend focuses around Allied blunders during the campaign; historians such as Max Hastings and Russell Hart indicate that the Germans were masters of the battlefield, and that the only reason for Allied success was the continuous weight of material and firepower they could throw.[1] However, this trend has become argument has become one sided; rather than attempt to investigate the defeat of German forces in Normandy, it has become a stage for historians to debate the effectiveness of Allied tactics and strategy. The other trend, however, investigates the problem of German preparation, their conduct during the opening stages of Normandy and the Allies advantages. These historians have concluded that German forces could only theoretically win within the first 72 hours of the second front opening, due to the Allies supremacy in material. The historians involved have investigated a variety of topics, ranging from Heinz Magenheimer’s study on Hitler’s strategic preparations, to Marc Hansen’s assessment of German leadership on D-Day.[2] Therefore, this essay shall illustrate how the Normandy campaign was not lost in August, but rather within the first week of combat. Thus, the scope of this essay shall be concerned with the preparations and initial action in Normandy, not the campaign as whole; anything happening within the months that followed were merely pro-longing the German armies exposure to a war of attrition. This shall be demonstrated by analysing the key aspects. Firstly, a comparison between German and Allies strength in material shall demonstrate the need for a quick and decisive German victory. Following this, there will be an assessment of the movement of reserves between theatres, and how this problem was exacerbated by the Allies deception operations. The factors following, consisting of German strategy, use of reserves and the performance of German generals, shall demonstrate that Hitler was largely responsible for the defeat of German forces in Normandy.

When considering the Battle of Normandy, it becomes apparent that the biggest advantage the Allies had was material. Both British and American war economies had been able to far exceed Germany’s and can be seen when comparing the attacking and defending forces in all aspects. To ensure the safe escort of the invasion across the channel, the Allies used 5 battleships, 2 monitors, 23 cruisers, 79 destroyers and 38 sloops, corvettes and frigates. If compared to the German navy, they were only able to muster 100 submarines, 3 to 4 destroyers, 40 torpedo boats and a large number of minesweeping or transport vessels.[3] This grotesque difference is also mirrored in the air forces available. Germany were able to muster 319 aircraft, compared to staggering 12,837 planes, of which over 5000 were fighters.[4] Therefore, the Germany army could barely be supported by other branches, whilst the Allies could call on theirs to gain overwhelming fire superiority in any attack. Furthermore, the disparity in material available to both armies can be seen by evaluating the armour on hand to both sides.
During the Campaign, British and American forces were able to commit over 7,000 tanks, whilst maintaining a large reservoir of 2000 replacements. Germany could only muster 1,347 tanks and 337 assault guns and were only able to send out a handful of replacements, creating a 5:1 superiority in medium tanks at all times.[5] The significance of this data is not to suggest that the Battle of Normandy was doomed from the start, but rather that it had to be won within days of it beginning. Although Allied forces could always use their naval and air forces to constantly harass German forces, the ability of the army to translate their theoretically strength into physical would take time. Only 8 divisions would be included in the first wave, and it would take time to consolidate their beachheads.[6] Although handicapped by the difference in material, Germany was still able to win if they could attack and dislodge the vulnerable Allied forces within the first few days.

Key figures, Rommel and Von Rundstedt

One of the key aspects that undermined German performance during the initial stages of Normandy was the lack of reserves. By using the USSR’S 1943/1944 winter offensive as a case study, it demonstrates Hitler’s complete misuse of his forces prior to the invasion, and how this created a much more vulnerable Western front. Hitler was urged to reconsider his defensive position in Russia. Commanders, such as Colonel General Jodl, Chief of the Wehrmacht Operational Staff, urged the withdrawal to the smallest line on the Eastern Front, placed between Riga and Odessa. [7] This was argued for two reasons. Firstly, by withdrawing to a smaller line, up to two German armies could have been transferred into reserve.[8] The creation of such a force could have allowed the mass transfer of troops to the Western Front, whilst at the same time creating a much safer position in the East. Hitler, although advocating in directive 51 that “the vast extent of territory makes it possible for us to lose ground,” ignored his general’s advice to retreat.[9] Therefore, when the Soviet attack was renewed, German forces were forced to withdraw, but also had to call upon new reserves to halt the advancing Red Army. Consequently, two Panzer divisions, alongside other units earmarked for the potential Anglo-American invasion were diverted to the Eastern Front.[10] Hitler, obsessed with the land he had already conquered, rejected good strategic advice. He lost out on the opportunity to significantly strengthen his western front, whilst securing his Eastern flank against the Russians. Instead, his blunders destabilised the defences in Russia and was forced to correct his mistake by sending out reinforcements earmarked to fight on a potential second front. The same error was repeated throughout other theatres and can be easily be summarised by the fact that in June 1944, the West had only 56 divisions, compared to 218 in other theatres. [11]

Although 56 divisions in the West may sound reasonable, the Germans were unable to predict where the Allied invasion would come. Operation FORTTUDE SOUTH, using a combination of false camps, pretend exercises, wireless communications and the “double-cross” system, were able to convince the Germans that a diversionary attack would come somewhere in France, whilst the main invasion would be launch 45 days later against Calais.[12] The most successful method pursued by the Allies was the “double-cross” system. This system used all the active German spies within the UK that had been turned into double agents, and used them to feed a combination of truth and false information to deceive German intelligence services. Garbo, one of the double agents, was able to have a significant effect upon German intelligence. Three and a half hours before the Normandy invasion, he transmitted to his contact in Madrid that the invasion had begun. Although the station was closed and the information was not relayed on, he gained a huge amount of credibility. Therefore, when he continued his reports afterwards that Normandy was a diversion and Calais was the main target, his information was considered reliable and carried more weight.[13] Therefore, it became increasingly difficult for the German command in France to try and prepare against an invasion they had little knowledge or intelligence about. Although nearer to the date they were able to correctly guess that Normandy was a likely target for the secondary attack, they were still forced to keep the 15th army waiting outside Normandy to defend Calais. Therefore, taking this into consideration, Hitler’s decision in squandering the opportunity for more reserves becomes pivotal; had he made sufficient reserves, he could have reinforced the coast of Normandy when it became a likely target for their diversionary attack. This would have given the forces in Normandy a stronger chance of repelling the Allies in the first few days. Therefore, although the diversionary operation was decisive in pinning down German forces in France, its impact could have been lessened if Hitler had not made a crucial mistake with his forces in other theatres.

Colonel C.P. Stacey, - German deployment Map - Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume III
The Victory Campaign , The Operations in North-West Europe, 1944-1945

Another aspect that undermined the Germans ability to respond to the Allied landings was the “Panzer Controversy”. This debate demonstrates that Hitler’s methods with his commanders compromised their own ability to coordinate an effective defence strategy. The Panzer Controversy was an argument between Rundstedt and Rommel on how to defend the Western Front from an Allied invasion. Rundstedt, a firm believer in Frederick the Great’s view of “he who defends everything, defends nothing”, advocated the orthodox German tactics; Panzer divisions should be held back front the coastline en masse, so that once the main thrust of the enemy could be detected, the Panzer divisions could attack the major Allied push in force.[14] Rommel, on the other hand, advocated a much more rigid defence of the coast for two reasons. Firstly, from his experiences in North Africa, any attempt to move his reserves would be impeded by Allied air superiority.[15] Secondly, as soon as the Allies were able to push inland, they would be able to put more men and material into the battlefield than his forces could; in his opinion, “the battle will be won or lost upon the beach.”[16] Therefore, he argues that the Panzer divisions should be located along the northern coast of France where they could be mobilised to attack the Allied troops and stop the creation of a beachhead. Ose raises one of the critical point in this entire debate; who was in command, Von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief of the West, or Rommel, appointed to investigate the German occupied coast defences and report his findings and suggestions to Hitler?[17] Hitler, rather than re-organise the command structure, so that one strategic concept could be followed, created a compromised between the two soldiers. A reserve of four divisions was created under his control further inland, whilst the rest were spread throughout the French coastline; notably this took four divisions to the South of France, whilst only one was positioned within Normandy.

The Panzer Controversy is rather remarkable in the sense that there is little disagreement or debate amongst historians that Rommel had the correct strategic idea. For example, historians such as Keegan, Wood and Magenheimer offer the argument that if Rommel had more reserves at his command, he may have been able to defend the beachheads.[18] Hasting goes further by suggesting that if Rommel’s had got his second Panzer division near St. Lo, their immediate counter attack against the precarious American beachheads may have been decisive.[19] However, this view is heavily dependent upon hindsight; it should be understood that with relatively little warning of where to expect the attack and Allied air superiority, it is not surprising that there was disagreement between the generals in OB West. The more important problem that the historiography doesn’t pick up upon is the fact that Rundstedt was also not picked. Although his idea would have had less chance of succeeding due to Allied air power, it had a higher potential that the conditions Hitler imposed upon his generals. As Overy comments, the “decision made a fragile defence yet feebler; there were too few mobile divisions in the reserve to have the punch effect Rundstedt wanted, and too few of them near the coast to fight the invaders on the beaches.”[20] Therefore, although Rommel’s position was the likeliest to succeed, Hitler’s “compromise” destroyed the potential for a coherent defence strategy and undermined their ability to respond to the Allied landings swiftly.

German's fighting, Bundesarchiv

A second repercussion of the Panzer Controversy was Hitler taking direct control of the reserves. This was crucial because to have a chance of moving the panzer reserves up fast enough without being hampered by Allied aircraft, orders for their mobilisation would have to be ordered as soon as news of the invasion reached OB West. However, when Rundstedt became aware of the landings, he telephoned to move the panzer reserve into action at 4AM. Instead, his orders were cancelled by OKW, and the order to mobilise was not given until a full 12 hours later. [21] Therefore, reserves were ordered forward to late to have an impact upon the battle during the beginning of the invasion; although Allied air power may have still delayed their journey, they would have still arrived quicker under Rundstedt’s orders. Instead, the reserves arrived in piecemeal two days later. Therefore, Von Geyr Schweppenburg, Commander-in-Chief of the Panzer reserves, could not launch his intended counter-attack until the 10th June, and even that had to be cancelled due to him being injured and a large amount of his staff officers being killed when his headquarters was attacked by Allied fighter-bombers.[22] Therefore, the reserve that was debated about so fiercely, were not even able to take part during the crucial parts of the invasion because Hitler refused OB West to control its own reserves.

Hansen also raises a key point in that there was a lot of indecision within the German command itself upon D-Day; he argues that the inability of commanders to respond at the front within the first crucial hours of Overlord and subsequent days was prominent to the loss of Normandy.[23] Rommel was not present during the start of the invasion, leaving command to his General Staff officer, who was ordered to wait and analyse the enemy landings. The absence of Rommel was important because the impetus for the immediate counter-attacks on enemy beachheads was not there; as Hansen states, “in the initial hours of Operation OVERLORD, the HG B headquarters could have used a real troop commander instead of a general staff officer.”[24] Furthermore, some divisional commanders were also absent on D-Day. General Lieutenant Von Schlieben, commander of the 709 Infantry division, had control of the left-most wing of the German defences. Although marked as an audacious and competent commander, he was on leave in Rennes when the invasion started. The division’s poor performance, and overall success of the 1 US Infantry at Utah, can most likely be pinned down to a lack of effective leadership on the day. [25] Furthermore, the commanders that were present, such as General Edgar Feuchtinger of the 21st Panzer, were completely unsuited to the requirements needed on D-Day. The General was artilleryman with no experience as a Panzer commander, and was appointed due to his political role within the National Party. The result was that when his division was the closest to respond to the landings, he was ill suited for the task; this is demonstrated by the fact that a counter-attack was not ordered immediately by himself after a request from 716 Infantry Division, but rather through the orders of LXXXIV Corps commander General Maracks several hours later.[26] The lack of leadership handicapped the ability of the Germans to respond during the crucial opening stages of combat and is to a degree responsible for the German defeat in Normandy.

The ability of the Germans to win the Battle of Normandy became near impossible after the initial 72 hours, and ended when they were unable to prevent the link up of Allied beachheads on the 12th June. Afterwards, the Allies material advantage became overwhelming. Their strength had grown from 87,000 men and 7000 vehicles on D-Day to a staggering 1.6 million men and 300,000 vehicles by the end of July.[27] If compared to the Germans, only 20,000 replacements were sent out in June and July, alongside only a fraction of the 2,378 replacement tanks available overall.[28] Therefore, even when confronted by Allied superiority in material and intelligence, it is completely legitimate to state that Hitler did ensure the defeat of German forces within Normandy. By neglecting the West of the potential reserves, interfering with defensive strategy and stealing command of the reserves, Hitler made it near impossible for his army to defend Normandy during the beginning stages. Hansen’s view that German high command was indecisive should also be noted as important; but it can only be counted as a secondary factor, as they were severely handicapped by the scenario Hitler had placed them in. It is not surprising that when General Von Schweppenburg was asked about Hitler’s “defence” strategy, states Horace: “Whatever madness their kings commit, The Greeks take the beating.”[29] Thus, it is evident that Hitler was largely responsible for the blunders that handicapped the German army, and was responsible for ensuring the defeat of German forces in Normandy.

[1] Buckley, John, Introduction, in The Normandy Campaign 1944, ed. Buckley, John, (Oxon, 2006), pg. 2-3.
[2] Magenheimer, Heinz, Hitler’s War, (London, 1999), pg. 236-259; Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, in The Normandy Campaign, 1944, ed. Buckley, John, (Oxon, 2006) , pg. 35-46.
[3] Ellis, John, Brute Force, (London, 1990), pg. 360.
[4] Strachan, Hew, European armies and the conduct of war, (London, 2001), pg. 182.
[5] Ellis, John, Brute Force, pg. 357-358.
[6] Ibid, pg. 353.
[7]Magenheimer, Heinz, Hitler’s War, pg. 242-243.
[8] Ibid, pg. 243
[9] Trevor-Roper, H.R, Hitler’s War Directives, 1939-1945, (London, 1966), pg. 218.
[10] Magenheimer, Heinz, Hitler’s War, pg. 239.
[11] Ellis, John, Brute Force, pg. 547.
[12] Barbier, Mary Kathryn, Deception and the planning of D-Day, in The Normandy Campaign, 1944, ed. Buckley, John, (Oxon, 2006), pg.
[13] Ibid, pg. 175-176.
[14] Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, pg. 38.
[15] Wood, Anthony, War in Europe, 1939-1945, (Harlow, 1987), pg. 32.
[16] Ose, Dieter, Entscheidung im Western 1944, in Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, pg. 38.
[17] Ose, Dieter, Rommel and Rundstedt: The 1944 Panzer Controversy, in Military Affairs, Vol. 50, No.1 (Jan, 1986), pg. 7-8
[18] Keegan, John, Six Armies in Normandy, (London, 1992), pg. 63; Wood, Anthony, War in Europe, pg. 32; Magenheimer, Heinz, Hitler’s War, pg. 246.
[19] Hastings, Max, Overlord, (London, 1984), pg. 65.
[20] Overy, Richard, Why the Allies Won, pg. 155-156.
[21] Liddell Hart, The History of the Second World War, (London, 1970), pg. 574-575.
[22] Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, pg. 40.
[23] Buckley, John, Introduction, pg. 5.
[24] Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, pg. 35.
[25] Ibid, pg. 42-43.
[26] Ibid, pg. 41-5.
[27] Stoneman, Norman, Hitler, (London, 1980) ,pg. 170.
[28] Ellis, John, Brute Force, pg. 355-359.
[29] Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, pg. 40.


Barbier, Mary Kathryn, Deception and the planning of D-Day, in The Normandy Campaign, 1944, ed. Buckley, John, (Oxon, 2006), pg. 170-184.

Buckley, John, Introduction, in The Normandy Campaign 1944, ed. Buckley, John, (Oxon, 2006), pg. 1-10.

Ellis, John, Brute Force, (London, 1990).

Hansen, Marc, The German Commanders on D-Day, in The Normandy Campaign, 1944, ed. Buckley, John, (Oxon, 2006), pg. 35-47.

Hastings, Max, Overlord, (London, 1984).

Keegan, John, Six Armies in Normandy, (London, 1992).

Liddell Hart, The History of the Second World War, (London, 1970).

Magenheimer, Heinz, Hitler’s War, (London, 1999).

Ose, Dieter, Rommel and Rundstedt: The 1944 Panzer Controversy, in Military Affairs, Vol. 50, No.1 (Jan, 1986), pg. 7-11.

Overy, Richard, Why the Allies Won, (London, 1995).

Speidel, Hans, We Defended Normandy, (London, 1951).

Stoneman, Norman, Hitler, (London, 1980).

Strachan, Hew, European armies and the conduct of war, (London, 2001).

Trevor-Roper, H.R, Hitler’s War Directives, 1939-1945, (London, 1966).

Wood, Anthony, War in Europe, 1939-1945, (Harlow, 1987).

 Post subject: Re: D-Day @ 70 - Normandy Campaign, Hitler & Normandy
Unread postPosted: 25 Sep 2014, 15:50 
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I think your point about the command superiority issue between Rundstedt and Rommel is interesting. In hindsight the fact that both those commanders were both each others commander and subordinate is somewhat hilarious, however it must have caused tensions at the best of times.

Do you know if the two men got on well and if their shared command was harmonious? And are you aware of command decisions becoming more streamlined once Rommel is unable to be part of the battle?

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