D day the battle for nor.., p.71
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, p.71

           Antony Beevor

  Zuehlke, Mark, Juno Beach: Canada’s D-Day Victory, June 6, 1944, Vancouver, 2005

  A more detailed bibliography is available at www.antonybeevor.com.


  It was still light because they were operating on double British summertime.


  ‘Axis Sally’ was the name given by the US forces to Mildred Gillars (1900-1988), a failed American actress originally from Portland, Maine, who had moved to Germany in 1935 and become an announcer on Radio Berlin. She broadcast music as well as Nazi propaganda designed to undermine Allied morale. She was tried for treason in 1949 and served twelve years in prison.


  Rommel also wanted to abandon Italy and withdraw troops from the south of France and the west coast to reinforce the Channel, but this was rejected by Führer headquarters.


  French civilian casualties reached 15,000 killed and 19,000 injured in 1944 before the invasion.


  One of these ships, the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Bellona, remained ready to protect the capital ships from air attack, but it never fired its guns during the day.


  The French destroyer La Combattante assisted in the bombardment of Ouistreham in support of the French commando detachment. Other French warships involved in Operation Neptune also included frigates guarding convoys, Aventure, Découverte, Escarmouche and Surprise, while the corvettes Aconit, Renoncule, Moselys and Estienne d’Orves were on anti-submarine duty. Other old French ships, including the battleship Courbet, were used to create the breakwaters for the Mulberry harbour.


  In addition to the cruiser ORP Dragon, the Polish destroyers ORP Krakowiak and Slazak took part in the beach support operation, while the destroyers ORP Blyskewica and Piorun were employed as part of the covering force.


  Kampfgruppe Meyer, the 352nd’s divisional reserve, consisted of the whole of the 915th Infanterie-Regiment as well as the 352nd Fusilierbataillon. Based south-east of Bayeux, Generalmajor Kraiss had ordered it at 03.15 hours towards the Vire estuary, as a result of a call five minutes before by LXXXIV Corps reporting a threat to Carentan.


  V Corps gave the figures later of 1,190 casualties for the 1st Division, 743 for the 29th Division and 441 for corps troops. German losses amounted to around 1,200. The total number of American dead during the first twenty-four hours was 1,465.


  A myth has arisen that most of the dead in Company A came from the town of Bedford, Virginia. In fact only six came from Bedford, and there were just twenty-four from the whole of Bedford County serving in the company on 6 June.


  German losses on the eastern front averaged just under 1,000 men per division per month. In Normandy they averaged 2,300 per division per month. The calculation of comparable figures for the Red Army is much more complicated, but it would appear to be well under 1,500 per division per month. Allied casualties in Normandy were close to an average of 2,000 per division per month.


  The French always said ‘le débarquement’, never ‘l’invasion’ when speaking of 6 June 1944. The word ‘invasion’ for them signified the German onslaught and occupation of 1940.


  Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers: this vehicle, based on a Churchill tank, had been developed by the 79th Armoured Division under Major General Percy Hobart to destroy concrete emplacements. It had other roles, such as bridge-laying and filling anti-tank ditches with fascines.


  There were altogether 107 Canadian vessels involved in Overlord.


  A Nazi conspiracy theory connected with these events is discussed in Chapter 20.


  Dagmar Dreabeck, a young Dutchwoman whose bravery and kindness stirred the admiration of all - she was known as ‘l’Ange de la prison’ - was separated from the French prisoners and sent to Ravensbrück. She died less than a year later, the day the Red Army liberated the camp.


  Most British armoured regiments spread their precious Firefly tanks around, usually allocating one to each troop.


  21st Army Group headquarters had predicted 9,250 casualties out of the 70,000 soldiers landing on the first day. Some 3,000 of these - sailors, paratroopers landing in flooded areas and crews of DD tanks - were expected to suffer death by drowning. In the event, casualty figures are very hard to define for D-Day itself, since most formations’ figures accounted for a longer period, never less than 6 to 10 June. In the confusion of the time, the high figure of missing had to be constantly recalculated, with some proved killed, some to have joined up with other units, some unaccounted wounded taken back to England, and others later found to have been taken prisoner. In very rough terms, British and Canadian casualties for D-Day itself were around 3,000 killed, missing and wounded. American losses were much higher because of Omaha and the two Airborne Divisions. General Bradley gave a figure of 4,649 US seaborne casualties, but this appears on the high side when compared with divisional returns. The only accurate figures one can give are those from 6 to 20 June inclusive. American First Army losses came to 24,162 (of whom 3,082 were killed, 13,121 wounded and 7,959 missing). British casualties over the same period totalled 13,572 (of whom 1,842 were killed, 8,599 wounded and 3,131 missing). Canadian casualties for the same period amounted to 2,815 (of whom 363 were killed, 1,359 wounded and 1,093 missing).


  Patton felt that the sacking of commanders was becoming excessive. ‘Collins and Bradley are too prone to cut off heads,’ he wrote. ‘This will make division commanders lose their confidence. A man should not be damned for an initial failure with a new division.’


  This was probably at Taganrog in southern Russia. At the beginning of 1942, the division also murdered 4,000 Soviet prisoners.


  The commander of Panzer Lehr’s repair and maintenance company later wrote that the figure of eighty-four half-tracks lost applied to the whole month of June.


  Churchill evidently could not deal with the twenty-four-hour clock or just hated it, so ‘C’, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, used to cross out each timing and insert the more familiar twelve-hour version with a.m. or p.m.


  Montgomery’s ‘Forecast of Operations’ had predicted that the British Second Army would be five miles south-east of Caen by 14 June.


  In fact the four men were Colonel de Chevigné (appointed regional military delegate), Commandant de Courcel (de Gaulle’s personal aide since 1940), Monsieur François Coulet, whom de Gaulle had appointed the night before to be the Commissaire de la République for the region, and Commandant Laroque, who would be his chief of staff.


  In stark contrast, part of the American press, incited by the White House, was saying that while American boys were dying for the liberation of France, de Gaulle was playing politics to gain power for himself.


  For an excellent Ministry of Defence study of the question see David Rowland, The Stress of Battle, London, 2006, pp. 48-56. The best-known work on the subject, Men Under Fire, was written after the war by the American combat historian Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall. Although Marshall’s use of his source material has been challenged, notably by Professor Roger Spiller in the RUSI Journal, (Winter, 1988), his overall picture is undoubtedly accurate.


  He was, of course, referring to the prominent black and white stripes painted round the fuselage and wings of all Allied aircraft to prevent exactly this from happening.


  Even after Cherbourg had been captured and made operational, the Americans managed to land much more over the beach than through the port. In the month of August they landed 266,804 tons and 817 vehicles at Cherbourg, 187,973 tons and 3,986 vehicles at Utah and 351,437 tons and 9,155 vehicles at Omaha. The British averaged 9,000 tons a d
ay at Arromanches. They were also able to use small fishing ports which the Germans had not destroyed.


  Lord Haw-Haw was the British name for William Joyce, who broadcast from Berlin like ‘Axis Sally’.


  The commander of the 4th Armoured Brigade, Brigadier John Currie, was killed that day. He was replaced by Brigadier Michael Carver, aged only twenty-nine.


  It is still not clear whether the warning of the attack of II SS Panzer Corps came from the captured plan or from two signals intercepted by Ultra on 29 June, one of which was communicated to the Second Army within four hours. But if the intelligence did come via Ultra, then it is hard to believe that Dempsey had not been told.


  One war correspondent on this front, Bob Miller of United Press, wrote, ‘in comparing the average American, British or Canadian soldier with the average German soldier, it is difficult to deny that the German was by far, in most cases, a superior fighting man. He was better trained, better disciplined, and in most cases carried out his assignment with much greater efficiency than we did . . . The average American fighting in Europe today is discontented, he does not want to be here, he is not a soldier, he is a civilian in uniform.’


  According to Bayerlein’s own figures, his panzer regiment had been reduced from 2,200 men and 183 tanks down to just 400 men and sixty-five tanks by the time he reached the American sector in 7 July. The 901st Panzergrenadier-Regiment was reduced from 2,600 men to 600, and the 902nd Panzergrenadier-Regiment from 2,600 to 700.


  The Maschinengewehr 42, known as the Spandau in Allied armies, fired 1,200 rounds a minute and was far superior to the British Bren gun or the American Browning Automatic Rifle. Distributed in great numbers within German units, it provided them with a volume of fire which the British and American infantry could never match.


  Only 14 per cent of US servicemen sent abroad during the Second World War were infantrymen, yet they suffered more than 70 per cent of the casualties. In Normandy the infantry suffered 85 per cent of the casualties.


  Carlo d’Este, however, argues that the British Army seems to have retained an abnormally large force of over 100,000 men for defence of the United Kingdom and other contingencies which could have been used in Normandy.


  There are unsubstantiated rumours that Churchill had considered relieving Montgomery just before the capture of Caen, but the shock that this would have caused to British public opinion, as well as abroad, makes this unlikely.


  The Centre de Recherche d’Histoire Quantitative at the University of Caen arrived at a total of 1,150 deaths in Caen, 800 in the bombardments of 6-7 June, and 350 during the bombing of 7 July and the shelling and fighting of 8 July. Figures for injured are not available, except that the hospital at the Bon Sauveur cared for 1,734 injured between 6 June and the end of July, of whom 233 died. Lieutenant Colonel Kraminov, a Soviet war correspondent, claimed that more than 22,000 French were killed and buried in the destruction of Caen and that there were no Germans left in the town. This grotesque exaggeration was taken up as anti-British propaganda after the war by the French Communist Party.


  One can only wonder with sympathy at the subsequent feelings of the French crews of two squadrons of Halifaxes involved, the 346th Guyenne Squadron and the 347th Tunisie Squadron, after they received messages of thanks and congratulations the next day from Air Marshal Harris, Dempsey and Montgomery.


  The 30th Division had suffered over 2,300 casualties since 7 July, 961 in the last two days.


  The commanding officer of the 115th Regiment, Colonel Ordway, who had less than an hour and a half’s sleep, returned to his headquarters exhausted. General Gerhardt rang him at 05.30 hours. Ordway was not very tactful. Gerhardt rang back at 6.15 to tell him he was to be relieved. Considering that his first battalion had already started to probe into the outskirts of Saint-Lô, Ordway was angry, as he felt his tactics had achieved success while Gerhardt’s had been disastrous.


  The official RAF report later acknowledged the following faults. For the bombing of Area M round Cagny, the early markers overshot. Corrections were made, but smoke and dust soon obscured the target and they failed to destroy a battery of 88 mm guns. In Area I around Troarn on the left, only 18 per cent of the bombs fell within the target area. And for Area P, which covered Hubert-Folie, Soliers and the village of Bourguébus, only 40 per cent of the bombs fell within the target area.


  Rommel may well have swung round at the last moment to believe that assassination was the only way. According to General Eberbach, Rommel finally said to him during their meeting on 17 July, just before he was severely injured, ‘The Führer must be killed. There’s nothing else for it, the man really has been the driving force in everything.’


  OKH, the Oberkommando des Heeres, was the High Command of the Army, but its real responsibility was the eastern front, while the OKW, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, was responsible for the western and all other fronts.


  Resistance within the army and plans to remove Hitler began with the Sudeten crisis of 1938. Attempts to kill him also included a failed attempt by a Swiss theology student in 1938 and the Bürgerbräu-Keller explosion of 8 November 1939 by a left-wing Swabian joiner acting alone. Most attempts, however, involved the military resistance. Speidel was part of a plan to seize Hitler at Poltava in February 1943, just after the Stalingrad disaster. Another planned attack failed to take place a month later. Then a bomb was put on Hitler’s Condor aircraft but failed to go off. A third attempt that month, with Gersdorff detonating a suicide bomb, again failed because Hitler changed his programme at the last moment. Another three plans in December 1943 and in the spring of 1944 also came to nothing.


  The NKVD directorate under General Sudoplatov planned several attempts to kill Hitler, including one at Vinnitsa in the Ukraine, and another in Germany with an ex-boxer called Igor Miklashevsky and the composer Lev Knipper, the brother of the actress Olga Chekhova. None of these ever came close to being activated.


  The two bombs, only one of which Stauffenberg had time to arm, used British fuses. These had been dropped by SOE to a Resistance group in France, and later captured by the Germans. They had then been passed on to the conspirators by a supporter within the Abwehr in September 1943. Stauffenberg had gone with his bomb to Rastenburg twice before, on 6 July and 15 July, but the right opportunity did not arise.


  It is important to remember that a number of those who opposed Hitler on military grounds did not necessarily object to the ‘final solution’, except in certain details. Eberbach was recorded on tape to have said to his son in captivity in England that September, ‘In my opinion, one can even go as far as to say that the killing of those million Jews, or however many it was, was necessary in the interests of our people. But to kill the women and children wasn’t necessary. That is going too far.’ His son, a naval officer, replied, ‘Well, if you are going to kill off the Jews, then kill the women and children too, or the children at least. There is no need to do it publicly, but what good does it do me to kill off the old people?’


  When Churchill met Roosevelt in Quebec for the Octagon conference that September, Field Marshal Brooke wrote a brief ‘Explanation of Continued German Resistance’: ‘Continued German Resistance is chiefly due to the fanatical determination of Nazi Party leaders to fight to the end and to their possession of the necessary political and psychological control in Germany. This determination is based on the doctrine held by the Nazis that Germany surrendered too quickly in 1918; their fear for their own safety; a fanatical belief in their own capabilities which prevents them from accurately appraising the situation; and the lack of any alternative to continu
ed resistance which would seem to offer opportunities for a later revival of their power.’


  Some Soviet Hiwi volunteers with the German forces proved fanatically loyal. A member of the 272nd Infantry Division wrote that they ‘had a really good relationship with them’. They also proved extremely effective at looting food for their German comrades. And ‘Panzer’ Meyer of the 12th SS Division had a cossack orderly who seems to have been devoted to him.


  Altogether 130,000 men were drafted into the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS from Alsace, Lorraine and areas of southern Belgium. They were classified as ‘Volksdeutsche’, but reluctant Francophones described themselves as ‘malgré-nous’, or ‘despite ourselves’.


  The US Army carried out a careful examination of their German prisoners. A report recorded that their average age was twenty-eight, their average height was 5 foot 5¾ inches, and that their average weight was just under 150 pounds. The shortest were those born between 1919 and 1921, the ‘starvation years’ in Germany.


  A lateral bomb run would mean approaching the narrowest side of the target area. This required them to attack in a very restricted formation. It also exposed their aircraft to flak along the length of the German front.


  Stalin’s government was extremely sensitive on this issue. The Soviet ambassador in Washington, DC, made an official complaint after stories about former Red Army soldiers fighting for the Germans were filed by Associated Press and United Press correspondents in Normandy.


  Three days later, on 28 July, the Germans became aware from some captured documents that the Third US Army had already moved to France, but the staff running Plan Fortitude had prepared for such a detail leaking out. Through their agents, they had topped up the dummy invasion force with a new Army Group headquarters and the so-called ‘Fourteenth US Army’.


  Patton and even Bradley became convinced that the Germans had transferred two panzer divisions before Cobra started. German sources show that this is not the case.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment