After the invasion and subsequent fall of France in 1940, the German
army controlled the entire coast of Northern France.
Following the Allied evacuation at Dunkirk, Hitler had hoped that
Britain would agree to settle the war. But, because of
British determination and Germany's inability to carry out an
invasion of England, Germany was forced to maintain a defensive
posture along the coast.
In 1944, the German war machine was still very powerful despite the many setbacks on the Eastern Front.
What it lacked in Luftwaffe and materials, it made up for in highly experienced and trained men. Also, its armor,
heavy infantry weapons, and anti-tank capabilities were years ahead of the Americans and British. But, the Allies
controlled the air and sea and what they lacked in quality, they hoped to make up for in quantity.
The German high command was actually anticipatory about the
upcoming Allied invasion. It meant that finally the British
and American threat could be "dealt with" once and for
all. If they could defeat the Western Allies finally, they
could transfer the badly needed units to the Eastern front.
Both sides knew that the outcome of the invasion would most likely
result in victory or defeat in the war.
The "Atlantic Wall" really began in Spring of 1942 and
involved the construction of minefields, concrete walls, concrete
bunkers, barbed wire fences, and fortified artillery emplacements.
In command of the more than 3,000 miles of coastline was Field
Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt - who, now at the age of 69, held
mostly a figurehead position. At this earlier point in the
war, the "Atlantic Wall" was woefully inadequate.
1943, Hitler appointed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to command Army
Group B and with it, the responsibility for the defense of
Normandy. Rommel inspected the beach defenses and found them
altogether inadequate. He immediately set to building
improvements, laying minefields on the beaches and beach
approaches and in the English Channel. Fortifications were
strengthened, fields of fire were improved, and obstacles of all
sorts were placed in the water at approaches to possible landing
sites. In addition, flood plains were flooded and fields
were positioned with poles to prevent their possible use as
Rommel realized that the defenses he was in charge of constructing
were not going to stop an invasion. The best he could hope
for was that the defenses could delay the invasion and cause
significant confusion among the invaders. He understood that
the invasion force mustn't be allowed to establish a foothold,
because if it did, it could bring in near limitless resources.
Rommel believed that it was absolutely critical that any invasion
must be met quickly by his troops and especially Armored units.
His belief was that they must defeat the Allies on the beaches,
before a foothold could be established.
In 1944, the German war machine was still very powerful despite
But, Field Marshal Rundstedt remained above Rommel as Supreme
Commander West in command of all of occupied France. This
would later become a problem because even though Rommel commanded
Army Group B, he needed permission to move units between his
different Armies within the Army Group. This actually meant
that Rundstedt would then need to send the request to Hitler.
In addition, Rundstedt's philosophy on the countering an invasion
was to hold back the six panzer divisions in reserve in Northern
France and deploy them in a crushing blow after the it was
determined where the real invasion was taking place.
By June 1944, the German forces in France numbered 46 infantry
divisions and 9 panzer divisions (notably the Panzer Lehr, 1st,
2nd, and 12th SS Panzer Divisions). Several infantry
divisions were inexperienced and contained lower quality young
troops and older men - troops that were unable to immediately
fight on the Russian front. In addition, of the 850,000 men
under Rundstedt's command, 60,000 were hilfswillige
(prisoners from the Russian front who volunteered for Russian
service - mostly Tartars, Cossacks, Ukrainians, etc.) But,
most infantry divisions were of good quality and several consisted
of battle-hardened veterans from the Eastern front. A
typical German division was slightly smaller than an American
division, but because of material and fuel shortages, it lacked
significant mobile transport - relying on heavy use of horse and
The question on the Germany higher command was where and when
would the invasion come? One suspected point of invasion was
the shortest distance between the UK and occupied France at Pas de
Calais. An allied invasion here would give excellent Allied
air cover for the invasion and the subsequent beachhead.
During the month of May, Hitler also suspected an invasion at
Normandy and instructed Rommel to concentrate on its
fortifications during that month. Another possible invasion
site that was never ruled out was the coast of Southern France.
Therefore, Hitler maintained 7 Infantry divisions and 1 Panzer
division along the coast to counter any potential invasion from
Italy. In any case, Hitler suspected that the invasion would
come close enough to the UK to provide close air support of any
Karl Rudolf Gerd von
(born: Dec. 12, 1875, died: Feb. 24,
1953) Because of his age, Rundstedt retired in 1938 only to
return to active duty in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II.
He was the commander of the armies that invaded southern Poland.
After success in the invasion of France in spring of 1940, he
earned the title of marshal of the Reich. In 1941, he
commanded the armies of the south in the invasion of the USSR and
was stopped at Rostov by Soviet Marshal Timoshenko. During
the D-Day invasions of June 1944, Rundstedt was German supreme
commander in western Europe. In September he launched the
Battle of the Bulge and facing imminent defeat, he retired in
Rundstedt was captured by U.S. troops at Bad Tolz in May 1945 and
held by the British for war-crimes. Because of poor health,
he was released in May 1949 and died in Hannover, on Feb. 24,
(born: Nov. 15, 1891, died: Oct. 14, 1944)
During the invasion of France in 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th
Panzer Division. In 1941, he was given the command of the
German troops in Libya. On June 21, 1942, Rommel was
promoted to field marshal after his success against the British in
North Africa. Despite initial successes, he was unable to
capture Alexandria in Egypt and was eventually defeated at El
Alamein by the British Eighth Army under the command of General
Montgomery during November 1942. After the battle of
Medenine on March 5, 1943, he returned to Germany because of ill
In July, Hitler gave Rommel command of Army Group B in northern
Italy. In November, he was ordered to oversee the coastal
defense in the west. In January 1944, he was commander in
chief of all German armies from the Netherlands to the Loire
River. On July 17, 1944, he was severely wounded from allied
aircraft while traveling near Livarot and returned to his home in
Germany to recuperate.
While on leave, Rommel was implicated in the July 20th plot to
assassinate Hitler. On Oct. 14, 1944, two German generals
investigating the case, visited Rommel and gave him the choice
between taking poison or facing a trial by the People's Court.
He chose to take the poison and died in the generals' automobile
near Ulm, Germany on Oct. 14, 1944. Hitler gave Rommel a
hero's funeral and publicized his death as the result of wounds
received in the earlier air attack.
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