Throughout the struggle against the USSR, the German soldier fought in the Mediterranean theater as well. First engaged in Libya and in the Balkans, he eventually defended Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy against slowly advancing Allied forces. He also guarded Europe’s Atlantic coast in preparation for the Anglo-Americans' long-heralded invasion. Until the Allied troops that were massing in England crossed to Normandy on June 6, 1944, the German garrison in France experienced comparative tranquility. Pre-invasion France was a suitable environment for subversive staff officers to reinforce their position without distraction. They transferred abettors to the corps and divisional headquarters where the armed forces were most vulnerable, and contrived to coordinate their sabotage with the Western Allies.

The resistance liaison agent was Count Helmuth von Moltke, a wealthy landowner hoping “to exterminate the National Socialist ideology."90 He maintained contact with Goerdeler, Halder and Beck, and told an English acquaintance in 1942 that he and his friends consider a “military defeat and occupation of Germany absolutely necessary for moral and political reasons."91 Canaris sent Moltke to Istanbul the following year to establish contact with the Americans. There he met with two professors affiliated with the U.S. intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

After the interview, the pair submitted a report to OSS chief Bill Donovan, describing “the readiness of a powerful German group to prearrange and support military operations of the Allies against Nazi Germany.” The OSS drafted the “Hermann Plan,” based on negotiations with Moltke, which it forwarded to the Allies' combined chiefs of staff. It stated that the German group is prepared “to develop as far-reaching a military plan of cooperation as possible with the Allies . . . so that rapid, decisive success on a wide front is secured."92 Moltke’s accomplices offered to fly a general staff officer to England “to arrange with the western Allies the opening of the German west front” in case of a planned invasion.93

U.S. records on the progress of the negotiations remain classified to this day. Washington withholds the names of German contact persons and agents who never came to light through arrest by the Gestapo, post-war admission in personal memoirs and interviews or by accident. In October 1945, representatives of the U.S. military government in Germany and the War Department convened to discuss “views on documents which should be destroyed, or to which the Germans were to be denied all future access.” The conference chairman, Lieutenant Colonel S.F. Gronich, recommended, “Serious consideration must be given to plans for the organized destruction of papers which possess no value for the Allies, and . . . which must not be permitted to fall into German hands after the departure of the occupational forces."94

Among the inaccessible records are those pertaining to U.S. collusion with German subversives before and during the Normandy invasion. The reader must decide whether incidents cited below, in which German command centers issued orders which were militarily incomprehensible given the tactical situation, are the product of pre-arranged sabotage or examples of gross misjudgment by well-trained and thoroughly experienced professional staff officers.

Prior to the beginning of Operation Overlord, the Allies' code name for the invasion, the Germans possessed a communications, espionage and reconnaissance network capable of discerning the enemy’s plans well in advance; technicians in the German Postal Investigation Office had even tapped into the Atlantic cable. In early 1944, they monitored a conversation between Churchill and Roosevelt about the approaching landings.95 At the same time, a specially-trained SD agent parachuted into England from a captured B-17 bomber. He had been reared in the United States, so the German-born operative could convincingly pose as a British officer of engineers. Arriving in Portsmouth, he visited unit after unit inquiring about how he could improve the troops' equipment. He supplied Berlin with detailed messages regarding invasion preparations using a radio transmitting a virtually untraceable signal.

In April 1944, the U.S. 4th Division conducted a mock landing, Operation Tiger, at Slapton Sands, to simulate the planned attack on Utah beach along the Normandy coast. The German operative sent his superiors advanced warning of the exercise, where a large number of ships and troops would be concentrated in broad daylight. He even transmitted the precise location of the building where U.S. Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley intended to observe the maneuver. Though the 9th Air Fleet of the Luftwaffe had enough bombers available to launch a surprise raid on the Allied ships as the SD agent recommended, it neglected the opportunity.96 On the second day of the exercise, German speed boats attacked on their own initiative, torpedoing four large landing ships, causing the death of hundreds of Allied troops.

The question of whether the Allies would land at Calais, where the English Channel is most narrow, or further south at Normandy, supposedly tormented German intelligence. In February 1944, an Arado 240 twin-engine observation plane joined the 3rd Test Formation, an air force reconnaissance unit. Thanks to its exceptionally high speed, the Arado began safely flying two to three missions daily over English ports. Curiously, the Luftwaffe staff abruptly transferred it to Reconnaissance Squadron F100 on the eastern front in March, depriving the Atlantic defenses of this valuable spotter.97

Though incapable of the Arado’s performance, Messerschmidt 410 and Bf 109 combat aircraft were able to patrol the English coast during variable weather, descending from a high altitude to gain speed. The pilots identified hundreds of landing vessels assembled at Southampton and Portsmouth on April 25. They discovered no similar concentration in the English harbors of Dover and Folkestone, which were opposite Calais.

German signals personnel monitoring enemy radio traffic between Plymouth and Portsmouth established beyond any doubt that these ports were the staging zones for an invasion army. Nevertheless, the general staff took no corresponding measures, such as transferring more troops to Normandy or laying nautical mines.98 The Germans also employed a captured American Thunderbolt fighter to photograph the enemy ship build-up that spring. Shortly before D-Day, the Allied landings on June 6, however, the OKW suspended all reconnaissance flights over England without explanation.

At Tourcoing, headquarters of the German 15th Army, Lieutenant Colonel Helmut Meyer operated a sophisticated radio monitoring station. Its 30 specialists were each fluent in three languages. They intercepted English radio traffic on June 1, 2, 3, and 5 announcing the invasion. This discovery Meyer sent up the chain of command, but no one alarmed the front-line units.99

In May 1942, Hitler had ordered the systematic construction of fortifications along the Western European coastline. In addition to large artillery emplacements reinforced by thick concrete walls, his plan called for a myriad of smaller steel and concrete structures. These included shallow, one-man wells to conceal machine gunners, bunkers for anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, protected storage for munitions and shelters for personnel. The building of this Atlantic Wall, defending the beaches of Calais, Normandy and Brittany, consumed immense quantitites of cement and iron, and employed thousands of artisans and laborers. In May 1943 alone, 260,000 men were at work on the project.100

Defending the coast was Army Group B, consisting of the German 7th and 15th Armies. The commander of the army group, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, believed that the invasion should be repulsed right on the beaches. Were the invaders to penetrate inland, the German army would succumb to their quantitative superiority and control of the skies.

The basic plan was that once the enemy landed, the coastal artillery and front-line infantry divisions would keep him pinned down until German armored formations could counterattack. The Allies intended to land 20,000 men in the first wave, and have 107,000 ashore by the second night of the invasion. The German 7th Army, which would bear the brunt at Normandy, was 128,358 men strong. Many were veterans of earlier campaigns, occupying numerous fortified, well-concealed positions constructed of solid building materials.

The 91st Airborne Division, comprising another 10,555 men, supplemented this force. The OKW subordinated the 4,500-man Parachute Rifle Regiment 6 to the 91st. This was a superbly trained and resolutely led formation especially suitable for combating Allied paratroopers.101Supporting the 7th Army were three armored divisions comprising 56,150 men, and the Germans had three more Panzer divisions in western France. By all estimates, the defenders, even considering Allied air power, had sufficient forces on hand to repel the invasion. In fact, the American chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, estimated that there was a 50 percent chance the Allies would be unable to hold the Normandy beachhead.102

During the final weeks before D-Day, German staff officers neglected opportunities to strengthen the Atlantic Wall and arranged troop and supply movements that substantially weakened its defensive capabilities. One German surveillance unit infiltrated French resistance cells with 35 of its operatives. They furnished Colonel Oskar Reile, the unit’s commander, with a list of lines of communications, power stations, rail and traffic junctions, and fuel depots the French planned to sabotage once the invasion was under way. They also revealed the locations of where partisans intended to ambush German troops en route to the combat zone.103

Reile delivered a comprehensive, written report to General Heinrich Stuipnagel, the military commander in France. The report included the prearranged sentences the BBC would broadcast to alert the French resistance that the invasion fleet is at sea. Stuipnagel, however, was secretly attempting to win the cooperation of this Communist-oriented terrorist organization for the coup against Hitler.104 He took no action on Reile’s information.

Rommel implored the OKW to release several million French-made teller mines in storage since the 1940 campaign. He wished to incorporate them into the network of wire obstacles along the beaches. After months of stalling, the OKW delivered them a couple of days before the invasion, too late to emplace. The Germans' own coastal mines, equipped with both magnetic and pressure detonators and difficult to disarm, had been in production since 1943. Some 2,000 of these powerful explosive devices had been stowed in an underground airplane hangar at Le Mans, but instead of using them to mine coastal waters, supply personnel received orders to transfer the mines to Magdeburg, Germany, as a “precaution against sabotage."105

On May 15, 1944, the German high command transferred the second group of Fighter Squadron 26 from Normandy to Mont-de-Marsan in southern France. Only days before the invasion, it also relocated elements of Fighter Squadron 2 to airfields around Paris. The Luftwaffe still possessed 183 FW190 daylight fighters in camouflaged bases near the coast, but on June 4, 26th squadron commander Joseph Priller received orders to fly another 124 fighters to Mont de Marsan in southern France, far from Normandy. Ground personnel and ordnance would travel there by truck, hence temporarily neutralizing the squadron’s combat effectiveness.

Priller telephoned General Werner Junck, chief of the 2nd Fighter Corps and protested, “This is just pure insanity! If we're expecting an invasion, the squadrons have to be here, not gone away somewhere. And what happens if the attack takes place right during the move? . . . Are you all nuts?” Junck brusquely replied that his irate subordinate cannot judge “important developments of state” from the perspective of a squadron commander.106 On the morning of June 6, Colonel Priller and his wing man, Sergeant Heinz Wodarczyk, strafed the first wave of the Allied landing forces. Two FW190s were all that the Luftwaffe could scramble after years to prepare a defense.

Frequent Anglo-American bombing raids on German cities forced the Luftwaffe to deploy fighter squadrons to defend the Reich’s air space. Weeks before the invasion, an operations staff prepared additional airfields in western France to rapidly transfer the planes to combat Allied landing forces. The plan called for temporarily shifting 600 fighters. Transport personnel then received orders to collect a portion of the fuel, munitions, and spare parts stockpiled at the provisional French airbases and move them back into Germany. As a result, only 200 planes could relocate to these runways, followed by another 100 on June 20.107

The plan initially envisioned the further transfer of most of Germany’s night fighters. Their experienced pilots could have taken a deadly toll of the slow-flying Douglas transport planes (ferrying Allied airborne troops to drop zones) and the British four-engine Lancaster bombers (towing gliders) hours before the amphibious landings began. Instead, the Luftwaffe operations staff ordered the night fighters to assemble in air space well east of the coast, far from the drop zones. Post-war historians explain that Allied radio interference and ruses, including aircraft dropping strips of tinfoil to confound German radar, confused the enemy during the crucial phase. This, however, is a dubious explanation for the fighters' misdirection on the night of June 5/6: Well before D-Day, the experienced German officers who directed nocturnal missions had been sucessfully guiding their aircraft to intercept RAF bombers despite ongoing, similiar British efforts to disrupt them.

In April and May, Luftwaffe bombers flew nighttime missions against Portsmouth and Plymouth. A raid by 101 medium bombers on the night of April 30 caused considerable damage to Plymouth’s harbor installations, but on May 30, with the invasion armada congested and taking on troops and supplies, the Luftwaffe discontinued the missions.108

The Germans concentrated a substantial amount of artillery on the Atlantic Wall, whose crews conducted frequent firing exercises. Many batteries rested in massive concrete bunkers that could withstand repeated hits from naval or aerial bombardment. Observation posts and range finders were in reinforced emplacements to direct the fire. However, ten days before D-Day, orders came to move over half the artillery ammunition into storage in St. Lo, and the crews of the observation bunkers received instructions to dismount all range finders for immediate shipment to Paris for inspection.109 On June 6, German coastal gunners had to fire on Allied warships by sighting down the barrel. Once the invasion began, the gun crews received deliveries of ammunition from the St. Lo arsenal. Projectiles were often of the wrong caliber. One 88mm battery was issued a load of special rounds for spiking the barrels. 110

One of the worst disadvantages for the defenders was the absence of senior officers the morning of June 6. The day before, the commander of the 7th Army, General Friedrich Dollmann, had ordered all divisional, regimental, and artillery chiefs to Rennes to take part in war games. He also personally postponed an alarm exercise for his army scheduled for the night of June 5/6. Had the drill run its course, the troops would have been on full alert when the invaders came.111 Other commanders were on inspection tours, hunting, or visiting Paris nightclubs.

Even Rommel was away. His chief of staff, General Hans Speidel, was an active conspirator, and had encouraged Rommel to return to Germany for a family birthday party. Among the few generals to remain at his post was Dietrich Kraiss, who kept his 352ndInfantry Division on alert on his own initiative. Defending “bloody Omaha” beach, his men inflicted serious losses on the first waves of U.S. troops.

The trump card of the German defense scenario was armor. During 1943, the Waffen SS established two new tank divisions, the 9th Hohenstaufen and 10th Frundsberg. Formed into the 2nd SS Panzer Corps under Paul Hausser, their mission was to help repulse an invasion in the west, and their training emphasized countermeasures against airborne and nautical landings with enemy air superiority. In March 1944, despite Hitler’s misgivings, the OKW transferred the corps to the southern Ukraine to rescue General Valentin Hube’s surrounded 1st Panzer Army. Hausser’s divisions accomplished the task, but the supreme command kept them in the Ukraine as an army reserve. The OKW shifted the corps from sector to sector, performing no useful purpose and disrupting training.

Corporal Franz Widmann recalled, “Then comes the report from the western front on June 6 that the Allies have landed in Normandy. We, the Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg, who had drilled and prepared for this landing for months, sat around in Russia doing nothing and waited for the Russians to attack."112 Finally on June 12, Hausser received orders to return with his corps to France. The fatiguing rail journey across Europe ended over 150 miles from the invasion front. Since the June nights were short, much of the road march west took place in daylight. This not only exposed the vehicles to attacks by enemy fighter-bombers but the inordinate driving distance reduced engine life of the tracked vehicles by half.113

The army’s most formidable formation was the Panzer-Lehrdivision. Its 229 fully operational tanks included upgraded Panzer IV’s and high-performance Panthers. The division had 658 armored half-tracks serving as personnel carriers or mounting anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, flame throwers, and cannons. The OKW stationed this mechanized monolith nearly 100 miles from the Normandy coast. On June 4, the high command ordered the division to load its Panther tanks onto a freight train for transfer to Russia. They were en route east when the invasion began. “Taking away the Panther battalion robbed the division of its strongest attack force,” wrote its last commanding officer after the war.114 The U.S. Army later calculated that it averaged a loss of five Sherman tanks to neutralize a single Panther in combat.115

Shortly before 10:00 pm on the evening of June 5, 1944, naval personnel manning the German radar station at Paimbeouf near St. Nazaire discovered a large concentration of ships making south from England. Radio operator Gerhard Junger recalled, “It was clear to every one of us that the long awaited invasion had begun.” The radar stations at Le Havre and Cherbourg also monitored the Allied armada, reporting its movement to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief West, Gerd von Rundstedt, in Paris. They further intercepted American meteorological predictions transmitted to U.S. bomber squadrons, which normally did not fly nocturnal missions. At 3:09 am on June 6, the navy reported “hundreds of ships course south” to the Supreme Command West.116 The Luftwaffe signals company on the isle of Guernsey off the Normandy coast identified 180 Lancaster bombers towing gliders toward the mainland at 10:40pm. The commander of a German army regiment on the island was duly notified, and relayed the information to an adjutant at his corps headquarters in St. Lo.

Having hosted guests that evening at Army Group B headquarters in La Roche-Guyon, Speidel received word from General Erich Marcks' army corps of Allied airborne landings in five different areas, another report from the Navy Group West of paratroopers dropping in sectors defended by the German 716th and 711th Infantry Divisions, confirmation from Major Förster about the situation developing near the 711th and a Luftwaffe report that 50-60 transport machines were ferrying in enemy paratroops.117 Speidel did not alarm his divisions. When Rundstedt’s staff telephoned Speidel for clarification, he replied that “the reports are considered exaggerations.” Army Group B headquarters wrote them off as “possibly confused with flight crews bailing out.” 118 The commander of the 716th Infantry Division, General Wilhelm Richter, wrote that there was no alert until Allied paratroopers were already in action. The chief of staff of OB West, Günther Blumentritt, justified not sounding the alarm to avoid “unnecessarily disturbing the troops, who...need time to sleep.” 119

Once the landings were under way, Rundstedt formally requested immediate release of the three armored divisions in Normandy from the OKW reserve for deployment at the front. From Hitler’s headquarters General Alfred Jodl refused, explaining, “according to the reports I've received, this attack can only be a feint. ... I don't think now is the time to release the OKW reserves."120 In Rommel’s absence, Speidel had persuaded the Führer’s headquarters by telephone that until the situation becomes “clarified,” the OKW has to “keep its nerve and wait."121 Rundstedt’s chief of operations, Colonel Bodo Zimmermann, telephoned the OKW to protest the senseless delay. The OKW’s Baron Horst von Buttlar-Brandenfels, another general conspiring against the government, shouted in reply, “You have no right without our prior permission to alarm the armored troops. You are to halt the panzers at once!” 122

The OKW posted the weakest of the three reserve armored divisions, the 21st, closest to the coast. Despite the urgings of its commanding officer to authorize an attack against British paratroopers who had landed nearby, Speidel denied permission at 4:30am to commit the division’s panzer regiment. The formation remained concealed in a wooded area for hours. Finally released by the 7th Army to attack the drop zone, Panzer Regiment 22 began rolling at 8:00am. Speidel soon directed it to about-face and advance toward the coast, keeping the troops on the road and out of action for much of the day.123 The 21st suffered repeated aerial attacks and lost 50 tanks on the march. It ultimately attacked on direct orders from Rommel, who had just returned to Normandy. Speidel had briefed his commander-in-chief on the situation in a telephone conversation at 10:15 am. The marshal’s arrival late that evening put an end to his chief of staff s dilatory tactics. Speidel had however, effectively sabotaged the timely deployment of three armored divisions. During mid-day on June 6, he also refused requests by General Max Pemsel to reinforce the hard-pressed 716th Infantry Division, defending the east bank of the Orne River, with elements of a neighboring formation. The division was practically wiped out by nightfall.124

The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was alerted by its commanding officer at 2:30am and by the OB West at 4:00. On his own initiative, Speidel sent the division in the wrong direction. In position near Lisieux, it received his instructions to transfer 30 miles further from the coast. “The order had a shocking effect” on the troops, wrote its first general staff officer, Hubert Meyer, after the war.125 A new directive arrived for the division to about-face and advance toward Caan late in the afternoon. “That meant a change of direction, more time lost and for our strung-out armored unit, one more day’s march under rotten conditions,” recalled the Panther crewman Georg Jestadt. “We had the impression that the whole movement of our army’s components was like an anthill someone had struck with a stick.” Jestadt reflected on the corresponding influence on morale: “Disappointment, even anger spread among the men. Almost every soldier saw that something here just isn't right."126 Heinz Schmolke, a company commander in the division’s Panzer Grenadier Regiment 26, wrote later, “The troops and frontline officers of all ranks knew back then that the enemy had to be driven back into the sea in his moment of weakness; that is during the first hours after the landings.... My regiment only went into action on the third day of the invasion, although we could have engaged the enemy within the first three hours."127

The modus operandi of various army staffers was to keep the troops on the roads as long as possible, often exposing the men to strikes by Allied aircraft. As columns of the Panzer-Lehrdivision approached Caan, according to a surviving officer, “they were discovered by enemy aerial reconnaissance and a short time later attacked with machine guns, rockets, and bombs. . . . Soon black pillars of smoke from the burning vehicles revealed the route for fresh waves of fighter-bombers. Even today, many years later, recalling this march causes nightmares for everyone who participated."128 The division lost ten percent of its strength before reaching the combat zone. Despite the protests of its commanding officer, Fritz Bayerlein, Dollmann had ordered the Panzer-Lehrdivision to advance on Caan at 5:00pm, in broad daylight, after having withheld its marching orders for nine hours.

Simultaneously travelling to the coast was the non-motorized 277th Infantry Division. General Dollmann, aware of the good progress it was making by rail from southern France, ordered it to detrain in Angers and proceed on foot; a 14-day march to Normandy. The 277th’s commanding officer, General Albert Praun, drove ahead to Dollmann’s headquarters in Le Mans to have the order rescinded. There Praun observed the staff's female telephone operators dressed in swimsuits, sunbathing in hammocks and on the roof of the bunker.129 In a meticulously researched post-war study of the German defense at Normandy, Ewald Klapdor, a former Waffen SS captain who had participated in the fighting, concluded that Army Group B displayed “no particular hurry in shifting divisions to the combat zone.” 130

On D-Day, Rommel ordered the transfer to Normandy of the fully-motorized 3 Flak Corps, quartered south of Amiens, but the corps commander, General Wolfgang Pickert, only learned of the invasion well into the afternoon. He first had to drive to Paris to get confirmation. His batteries, which were also effective against armor, did not reach the front until June 8 and 9.131 Even arriving late, the corps shot down 462 aircraft and destroyed over 100 Allied tanks.

One staff officer who played a primary role in thwarting German countermeasures at Normandy was Colonel Alexis Freiherr von Roenne. As chief of Foreign Armies West and a protégé of Gehlen, he sought to deceive Hitler, Rommel, and Rundstedt through bogus reports that the Normandy operation was a feint intended to divert German formations from Calais, further to the north where the real invasion was supposedly about to take place. General Eisenhower had hoped to mislead the defenders through operation Fortitude, consisting of false reports about a fictitious “First U.S. Army Group” waiting in reserve in England to launch an invasion at Calais. Roenne came by this information as the Allies had intended. He forwarded it to the OKW, but not before drastically inflating the number of American divisions beyond that which U.S. intelligence had fabricated on June 2. Receiving Roenne’s analysis, Speidel’s staff actually increased the tally further.132 The assessments regarding the Allies' disposition and plans that Roenne supplied to Army Group B were too consistently inaccurate to have been unintentional.133

Evidence of surveillance refuting Roenne’s mendacious predictions never reached the Führer. At dawn on June 6, Lieutenant Adalbert Bärwolf flew a Messerschmidt Bf 109 model G8 observation plane over the Allied invasion fleet. The photographs he took of the enormous armada off the Normandy coast should have dispelled any doubt that this was the only landing force. The general staff of Army Group B took no action, nor did it forward the images up the chain of command.134

Speidel used the specter of a landing at Calais to prevent the transfer to Normandy of combat-ready reserves from the German 15th Army, in position on the northern flank of the 7th. This formation was one-and-a-half times the size of the 7th Army and included the 2nd and 116th Panzer Divisions. The latter was among the best-equipped in the German armed forces. More importantly, the 15th Army had 30 times the transport capacity available to Dollmann’s divisions at Normandy, even though it had shorter supply lines and was not in action. Speidel repeatedly refused to transfer any of these vehicles to support combat operations, explaining to dismayed field commanders on June 22, for example, that “according to all reports at hand, an attack against the channel front on both sides of the Somme (at Calais) is still expected.” 135 Speidel ordered the 116thPanzer Division transferred toward Dieppe, away from the fighting, on June 6. One “report at hand” that Speidel forgot to mention was the capture on the afternoon of June 7 of Allied operational plans for the U.S. Army’s 5th and 6th Corps and for the British 30th Corps. Supporting a counterattack by the engineer battalion of the German 352nd Infantry Division and Grenadier Regiment 916, Cossacks of the 493rd East Battalion discovered the documents among the bodies of U.S. naval officers in an abandoned landing craft. Over 100 pages long, the cache revealed that the Normandy operation would be the only invasion. Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Ziegelmann of the 352nd delivered the find to his superiors. The headquarters of the 7th Army did not act on this valuable intelligence coup.

Staff officers transplanted from the eastern front caused terrible consequences for the German defense at Normandy. In May 1944, General Wagner, remiss in shipping cold weather gear to the troops in 1941, attempted to transfer the entire stockpile of artillery rounds for the 352nd and 716thInfantry Divisions to an army ammunition depot far behind the lines. This was supposedly to increase the amount of munitions in reserve. Only the intervention of General Marcks prevented Wagner from carrying out this suspicious directive, which would have practically crippled the two divisions on D-Day.136

Wagner appointed Colonel Finckh, who had previously mismanaged supply deliveries to Stalingrad, to quartermaster for Rommel’s army in June 1944. Almost immediately, deliveries to the front of fuel and munitions slowed down drastically. The German method of employing French waterways at night to convey materiel remained successful and undetected by the Allies until Finckh interfered. Under his direction, just one tenth of the artillery’s allotted ammunition was coming forward, despite sufficient stores in the depots.137 The troops were receiving only one fifth of the required quantity of other supplies. On July 2, General Alfred Gause reported from Caan that only three to five rounds per gun were available to German batteries per day.138 Rommel assigned General Friedrich Dihm to investigate the bottleneck. Dihm advised Rommel of Finckh’s derilection of duty. The field marshal wanted Finckh court-martialed.

Among the supplies that never reached the front, subsequently falling into U.S. hands, were 500,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 175,000 day’s rations for the troops, including 2.5 million cigarettes. What German soldiers did receive was often useless. At Carentan for example, transport planes airdropped provisions to Parachute Rifle Regiment 6. The German paratroopers, low on small arms ammunition, found some containers filled with condoms.139

Hitler believed that treason played a decisive role in the success of the Allied landings. Regarding the German defense of Cherbourg, Rochus Misch of the Führer’s staff recalled, “Pictures reached us from Sweden showing a German colonel in command of a bunker installation defending the invasion coast, toasting two English officers with champagne. Naturally without having fired a single shot.... Nothing, absolutely nothing worked right on the German side during the invasion. There was but one explanation; betrayal and sabotage."140

In his memoirs, Corporal Otto Henning of the Panzer-Lehrdivision attributes the fall of Cherbourg to “unknown individuals in the Führer’s headquarters,” who stalled the transfer of fully equipped reserves to Normandy while the 7th Army bled. The eyewitness Henning’s verdict: “One can't avoid the impression that here, the most varied orders were intentionally twisted, while other, equally important orders were simply never forwarded."141 Gestapo chief Müller, perhaps the best informed man in Germany with respect to sabotage, said after the war, “A great measure of the German military’s wretched performance in France after the invasion was the result of attempts by the conspirators and their friends to surrender to the Western powers or to let the Americans and the English pass right through our front lines, so that they would reach Germany before the Russians did."142

German headquarters staffers failed to alarm front-line units, air crews, and naval forces in a timely manner. They delayed counterattacks, issued frequently conflicting orders, and commanded anti-aircraft batteries to hold their fire during the Allied aerial bombardment of the Le Havre naval base. They transferred combat-ready formations away from the enemy, and plotted against their own government. Speidel, who in Rommel’s initial absence directed Army Group B during the critical first stage of the invasion, spent much of the morning of June 6 playing table tennis with fellow staff officers.143

It is inconceivable that the German army in France, major component of an experienced combat force accustomed to fighting at unfavorable odds, could function in such chaotic fashion after months of preparation and rehearsal for a crucial battle. In January 1944 by comparison, withdrawing German troops in Italy occupied the Gustav Line south of Rome. Their engineers had begun fortifying it the previous October. Despite being outnumbered in some sectors by Allied forces ten to one, with virtually no armor or air support, the German defenders held their position for four months. At Cassino, the key position on the Gustav Line, a New Zealand division spent four days trying to neutralize a single German panzer concealed in the ruins, suffering nearly 300 men killed.144The Germans at Normandy possessed hundreds of panzers and stronger, more systematically prepared defenses, yet forfeited the initiative on the first day of combat.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!