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 Rommel's Last Battle
Introduction
The Truth Revealed
Rommel's Efforts
The Attack
Conclusion
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Author's Notes
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 Along the Atlantic Wall: Rommel's Last Battle

Author's Notes
by Jeremy Gypton
 

Author’s Notes: I wrote this paper last year for a class I took through American Military University (www.amunet.edu), and did not realize at the time that it would be the first of several about various aspects of the Normandy Invasion. Even though so much has been written about that pivotal operation, it amazes me as to just how enormous a topic it really is; it is definitely an evolving historical subject, providing researchers and readers with myriad related, but ‘new’ material. I hope that my focus on Rommel, and his efforts to prepare France for the Allied invasion, will be both interesting and enjoyable to those who take the time to read it. I encourage anyone who has the time and motivation to dig through my bibliography and read some of those works, especially Liddell Hart’s Rommel Papers and Friedrich Ruge’s Rommel in Normandy; both of these are excellent, and provide quite an interesting look into the personality and skill of Rommel.

Introduction: While much has been written about the Allied invasion of Normandy, most works have been concerned with what happened on 6 June and afterward, while spending little time on German activity in France in the months and years leading up to that singular day in history. Considering that Germany controlled northern France for some 4 years before OVERLORD was launched, and many of the Werhmacht’s top leaders had a hand in formulating what the Allies would face on the beaches and inland, it is important to better explore those plans and efforts in order to gain a greater appreciation of just how great a feat the invasion truly was. Spearheaded by Rommel, sometimes stymied by von Rundstedt, and continually shaped by Hitler, the extensive preparations along the Atlantic Wall constitute the silent backstory of OVERLORD.

The Truth Revealed: Far from the bulwark created by Nazi propaganda, Rommel sees the Atlantic Wall for what it was: an uncoordinated, impossibly thin, understaffed and poorly supplied fantasy of static defense. With only months remaining before the Allied invasion is expected to take place, Rommel is appointed head of defensive planning in the West, and immediately puts his near legendary energy and creativity to work. Despite uncharacteristically clear orders from Hitler that all planning will be centralized under on man, the Fuhrer’s desire to keep his empire divided into sometimes conflicting sectors hampers construction of defenses and deployment of troops, and a cohesive defensive strategy is not adopted.

Rommel’s Efforts: The Desert Fox spent from January to May 1944 in a whirlwind of inspections and planning meetings, attempting to transform Hitler’s fantasy into reality. Continuing conflict with his superior, von Rundstedt, about the overall strategy for defense as well as Hitler’s frequent meddling, hamper his efforts in France, while construction projects, by necessity, take precedence over training, and a final miscalculation puts Rommel hundreds of miles away when the invasion actually begins.

The Attack: The invasion that had been expected for over a year finally arrives, neither at the place nor at the time expected by most of Germany’s top military minds. Rommel’s defenses, without him at the wheel, spring to action against the Allies, as the unfinished lines are battered by attacks from land, sea, and air. By the end of 6 June, Rommel’s greatest fears are coming to pass and the lack of a cohesive, coordinated strategy for defending France plays into the hands of Allied strength and planning.

Conclusion: Could Rommel’s plans have worked? While incomplete attempts by von Rundstedt and Rommel to implement their contradictory strategies contributed to weakness along the coast and inland, would either have worked if given the time, men, and materials requested? Allied logistical superiority and air supremacy are often cited as the primary contributing factors to what is now viewed, through the lens of history, as an assured victory. Intense fighting at Omaha and around Caen, however, seemed to indicate, though, that the Germans were far from a defeated enemy waiting to be walked over at dawn on 6 June. What factors, on both sides of the Channel that morning, really led to the Allied victory?


Written by Jeremy Gypton
Copyright © 2002 Jeremy Gypton

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