Littry; one 4,7 cm Pak (t) Panzer- Kampfwagen 35 R (f) abandoned. This is a Czech anti-tank gun mounted on French Renault R35 chassis. It belonged to the Schnelle-Abteilung 517 of 716. ID; 20 June 1944.
On 23 June 1944 a detailed operations report was completed under the auspices of Oberkommando des Heeres on the actions of 716th Division on D-Day. This report drew on surviving operations logbooks, prisoner of war reports and interviews with survivors of the many small defensive battles along the seashore and inland at the gun batteries and resistance nests; the report gives a reasonably clear indication of German perceptions of how the battle unfolded and why the Rommel doctrine failed within this divisional area of operations.
On 6 June the 716th Coastal Defense Division had been at a normal state of readiness. No reports had been received from higher command indicating that an immediate invasion in the Normandy sector was to be expected. It was not until the forward positions in 716th Division began to raise the alarm about enemy air activity, parachute landings east of the Orne, and the attack on the bridges at Benouville (WN 13) that a full alert was ordered at 0110 hours. The report describes the response to the airborne and air-landed forces and then describes German perceptions of the seaborne assault. There is little doubt that Generaleutenant Wilhelm Richter was conscious of the implications of failure in Hitler’s regime. He would have chosen his words carefully taking into account the risks of failure for himself and his surviving subordinates. His report emphasised material shortages such as wire, mines, labour, and concrete that had prevented the construction of defences in depth. This had left his resistance nests ‘in the shape of a string of pearls’. Depth was provided by gun positions in the field of the division and by the reinforcement artillery and the communities, occupied by troops, which had been prepared for defense.’
During the early hours of the morning on 6 June General Marcks had alerted his higher Headquarters at 7th Army in Le Mans. He realized that the airborne operations being reported from the Cotentin to the River Dives east of Caen represented the initial stages of a larger, probably amphibious, operation. Thereafter, 7th Army notified Army Group Band OB West. During this critical period Rommel, was absent from his headquarters at La Roche Guyon. He was actually in Stuttgart where he was celebrating his wife’s birthday before going on to meet Hitler at Berchtesgaden on 6 June to fight his case for more resources and greater control of the Panzer arm in France.
Generalmajor Hans Spiedel.
The Generalfeldmarschall did not learn of the invasion until 1015 hours when his Chief of Staff, Generalmajor Hans Spiedel – an opponent and plotter against Hitler – informed him by phone. His response was to question Spiedel as to the status of OB West’s armoured reserves. Hearing that Hitler had not as yet released them, he simply stated ‘How stupid of me,’ and set about returning to France. At the strategic level Adolf Hitler had responded to the news of the invasion with total assurance that his plans and preparations were complete. When his Chief of operations, General JodI, had finally notified him of the landings he declared, with a radiant smile on his face, ‘It’s begun at last,’ an attitude reflected in the German press. During the early hours of 6 June, JodI had not even bothered to wake Hitler from his drug-induced sleep to present the fateful report from OB West. By doing this JodI imposed several hours delay on the release of the panzer reserves to the operational and tactical commanders in France. Having accepted the news with total sang-froid, Hitler then went to a reception for the new Hungarian Prime Minister in Salzburg.
Throughout OB West the German response was confused, inappropriate and piecemeal. This was due in part to the Bodyguard operations drawing the eyes and thoughts of the German high command to the Pas de Calais. It was also due to a combination of factors that created enormous frictions in the gears of OB West. As Carl Von Clausewitz wrote in his thesis On War over a century earlier:
‘Four elements make up the climate of war: danger, physical exertion, intelligence and friction, are the elements that form the atmosphere of war and turn it into a medium that impedes activity.’
The friction referred to by Clausewitz is present in any human activity but most particularly in war. In 1944 the German high command had managed to further impede the ability of its local commanders in Normandy to make effective decisions and execute optimal plans in a timely manner. The absence of any concept of joint operations was particularly evident when the Luftwaffe and German Navy failed to co-ordinate their defensive plans and integrate their command structures with Army Group Band OB West. This weakness was highlighted when they failed to intervene in any significant manner before and during D-Day.
Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann, Commander of 7th Army. Hitler would hold him responsible for the failure of the German forces to repel the invasion. He suffered a heart attack upon hearing that he was to be made the subject of an official inquiry.
Even within the German land component itself there was a disunity that could only contribute to the Allied cause. Information was not passed throughout the commands as the threat emerged in the early morning of 6 June. German coastal stations had detected and reported activity at sea east of Cherbourg and north of Caen by 0250 hours yet no detailed assessment reached Corps then or later. It was not until 0900 hours that General Marcks at 84th Corps notified Army HQ that major landings were taking place. The naval bombardment being reported in the Cotentin Peninsula to Army Group B was assessed as being part of a diversionary operation. The Corps staff believed that the situation was more threatening to the north of Caen. Rommel’s headquarters endorsed this analysis.
The situation in the Caen-Orne-Ouistreham sector caused much concern. Further west, at 1800 hours, the 352nd Division reported the grim situation with some accuracy. Allied forces were reported infiltrating through gaps in the belt of coastal strongpoints and armour had now reached a line from Colleville, Louvieres and Asnieres. The objective of this attack was assessed as being the historic city of Bayeux. On the 352nd Division’s eastern flank British forces were reported pushing inland from Le Hamel and la Riviere (Gold Beach) successfully overrunning defensive positions and threatening the Caen-Bayeux road. As a result of so much inaccurate reporting and with inadequate mobile reserves, the Germans focus of attention remained in the east of the lodgment area. Defeating the threat to Caen remained the priority.
In his 1947 post-war interview with the US Army Military History Institute while still in captivity, General Wilhelm Richter, commander 716th Division, commented on the British performance west of the Orne. He wrote:
‘The choice of the divisional sector west of the Orne for attack with its very favorable terrain for landings and attack towards the south was tactically correct as well as the covering east of the Orne, in order to prevent a German attack from the east.
‘The tactics of troops during the first landing were good and showed very good cooperation between all three British branches of the armed forces, based on many years preliminary practice and putting to use all combat experiences gained in Asia, Africa and Italy… The attack after the landing and the push towards the south were not launched with the same power. Despite the rapid advance of numerous enemy tanks, putting German artillery out of action, the follow-up by the infantry was, in my opinion, relatively slow.’
In a related interview in 1947, General Max Pemsel was asked to comment on Richter’s statement. Pemsel responded by saying:
‘The reason for the waiting attitude of the British after their great initial success, an attitude which the author [Richter] is wondering about, was the necessity for consolidation of the wide beachhead in expectation of a German counter-attack with Panzer divisions.’
Fortunately for 3rd Division during the early hours of the 6 June the 21st Panzer Division had been launched piecemeal towards the airborne forces astride the Orne. Later in the day, after hours of wasted effort responding to order and counter-order, two Kampfgruppe of the 21st Panzer Division were launched into the gap between Juno and Sword sectors north of Caen. Marcks personally supervised the attack and launched its commander, Oberst Von Oppeln-Bronikowski, into battle with his now famous, if dire warning: ‘Oppeln, if you don’t succeed in throwing the British into the sea, we shall have lost the war.’ The assault was quickly smashed against an exceptionally well-sited 3rd Division anti-tank screen and a perfectly positioned armoured regiment in support, on the high ground from Beuville northwards along the Periers Ridge.
The next days would be characterized by an increasingly desperate attempt to bring up the 1st SS Panzer Corps and mount a co-ordinated armoured counter-attack in the Caen sector. As the German land line communications, network collapsed under air, naval bombardment and resistance operations radio communications increased allowing the Ultra organization at Bletchley Park to take a more active role in monitoring and identifying the move of the critical reserves towards Normandy.
In the days following D-Day one of Ultra’s most significant contributions to the success of NEPTUNE-OVERLORD was the identification of Headquarters Panzer Group West at a critical moment when it was about to co-ordinate a significant armoured thrust at the beachheads. In a near perfect example of a reconnaissance-strike operation, Geyr Von Schweppenburg’s command group was detected, recognized and identified and within hours attacked by Mitchell bombers and rocket firing Typhoons. At 0920 hours on 11 June the telephone log at German 7th Army Headquarters recorded:
‘G-3 ‘[probably 7th Army] informs G-3 Army Group B that… the Panzer Group West has been knocked out by a direct hit on its Headquarters. Command has been given to the First [SS] Panzer Corps.’