"Had I been able to move the armored divisions which I had behind the coast, I
am convinced that the invasion would not have succeeded."
Lack of air power, and interference from higher levels, played major roles in
the defeat of the German Army after the Normandy invasion, according to
Field Marshal von Rundstedt. But the former German commander-in-chief in the West
has admitted that the Allied commanders outsmarted him several times to make the
situation even worse.
Caught in the position of a boxer up against an opponent with both a good left
hook and a good right cross, Von Rundstedt guessed incorrectly that the right
cross—the invasion of the Cotentin Peninsula—was merely a feint
to the landing of the left hook—an invasion of the Belgian or French coast
farther north. By the time he and his successors discovered that the right cross
was really the knockout blow, it was too late to save anything but remnants of
the German Army in France.
A great deal of the interference from higher levels developed later during the
Battle of Germany, Von Rundstedt declared, the worst instance being the Ardennes
counteroffensive of December 1944 and January 1945.
"The Ardennes offensive bore my name quite wrongly," the former West Front commander
protested. "I had nothing to do with it. It was ordered from above down to the
He thought, too, that interference from above had wrecked his earlier plans for
the defense of France against the invasion. In the first place, he did not have
enough troops to cover the areas in which the invasion might come, and higher
officers interfered with the distribution of what he had. When it finally became
necessary to shift troops around, it was too late—by that time Allied planes
had such overwhelming air superiority that they blasted his reinforcements to bits,
or stopped their movement by cutting communications facilities.
BASIC GERMAN WEAKNESSES
The situation immediately prior to the invasion of June 1944 was not good,
Von Rundstedt said. He and his former Chief of Staff, General Blumentritt, recognized
at least three basic weaknesses: their inadequate number of troops had to cover
enormous stretches of coast line, some divisions as much as 35 to 40 miles; the
Atlantic Wall was "anything but a wall, just a bit of cheap bluff"; and there was
no counterattack reserve or so-called "Armee centrale," a strategic army under
central command to counterattack where the invasion came.
Von Rundstedt, like many other German generals, said he did not control Germany's
best troops. He complained that many of his best units were sent to Italy, and he
asserted vigorously that it was "madness to continue the war in Italy that way."
After the collapse of Italy, "that frightful 'boot' of a country should have been
evacuated. Mussolini should have been left where he was, and we should have held
a decent front with a few divisions on the Alpine frontier. They should not have
taken away the best divisions front me in the West in order to send them to
Italy. That's my private view."
Whether he could have gotten more troops for the West, Von Rundstedt did not know. He
did know that the High Command was hard pressed for troops on all sides, but nothing was
ever done about it.
"It was only decent to do something" after Mussolini was reinstated, Von Rundstedt
admitted, but he added, "of course it was absolutely a matter of politics and nothing
else. I assume, though I have no positive knowledge, that the High Command was in
favor of it."
"I thought that was nonsense, too," Von Rundstedt said of the
occupation of Norway. "What was the point of occupying it?"
He termed the Norwegian operation "purely a naval affair" in which he had no
interest. In fact, his major interest all along was to accumulate the proper
armored divisions, mobile forces which could be quickly sent where they were needed.
HIGH COMMAND INTERFERED
"Had I been able to move the armored divisions which I had behind the coast, I am
convinced that the invasion would not have succeeded." Von Rundstedt made this
emphatic statement as he told of continued interference from higher levels with
the disposition of his inadequate forces. "If I had been able to move the troops,
then my air force would also have been in a position to attack hostile ships."
If he had had his way, Von Rundstedt indicated that the Allies would first of all
have sustained prohibitive losses during landing operations. In addition, they
would not have been able, "with relative impunity," to bring up battleships close
to the coast to act as floating gun batteries.
"That is all a question of air force, air force, and again air force," he
The Normandy invasion would have been "like Dieppe on a big scale"—Von Rundstedt
believes—if he had been able to move his armored divisions as he desired. He
summarized the situation with the statement:
"We would certainly have been better off if a good many things had been
different as regards the distribution of forces."
Von Rundstedt claims that the Atlantic Wall was a "mere bluff," but admitted
that the French coast was more heavily fortified from the Scheldt to the Seine.
Pictured are German fortifications of the more imposing type.
ATLANTIC WALL MYTH EXPLODED
"The enemy probably knew more about it than we did ourselves," Von Rundstedt
said in referring to the so-called Atlantic Wall as a "mere bluff." He
confessed that such a wall did exist from the Scheldt to the Seine, "but further
than that—one has only to look at it for one's self in Normandy to see
what rubbish it was."
According to Von Rundstedt, the wall consisted of a few pillboxes in holes in
the sand so far apart that "you needed field glasses to see the next one." The
only good thing was the fortresses, such as Cherbourg and Brest, but they were
all fortified only toward the sea. He described the wall as "a dreary situation"
south of the Gironde toward the Spanish border because "there was really nothing
at all there."
All the ballyhoo about the Atlantic Wall was simply propaganda, Von Rundstedt
said, but he admitted that people believed it—"at least we believed it." He
thinks, however, that it was no mystery to the Allies because their air photography
probably revealed the bluff.
Although a lot of material went into the defenses, Von Rundstedt complained that
the Navy got most of the concrete. He pictured the German Navy as building higher
and thicker roofs on their U-boat shelters every time the Allies
dropped a heavier bomb.
"It doesn't suffice to build a few pillboxes," Von Rundstedt pointed out. "One
needs defense in depth. Moreover, the requisite forces were lacking—we couldn't
have manned them, even if fortifications had been there."
The former German commander in the West really warmed up on the subject of
coastal batteries and artillery. Admitting that he was not an
artilleryman, Von Rundstedt nevertheless severely criticized the mounting of
the coastal guns. They were mounted as on ships, and could fire only out to
sea. They were of no use to land forces because they could not fire in all
directions. To make things worse, the coastal batteries included many captured
guns, thus hampering the supply situation.
As if things were not bad enough, Von Rundstedt complained, the last divisions
he got were very weak in artillery, some of them having only three light
batteries. A good division on land should have nine light batteries and at
least three heavy batteries, in his view.
CAUGHT WITH PANZERS DOWN
Von Rundstedt confessed that the Allies caught him flatfooted with their
thrust out of the Cotentin Peninsula. If he had been in the position of his
enemy, intent on taking Paris and the interior of France, Von Rundstedt
explained, he would have landed to the left and right of the Seine and taken the
The Atlantic Wall, said Von Rundstedt, consisted of a few pillboxes in the
sand (above) so far apart that "you needed field glasses to see the next
one." The only good thing was the fortresses, such as Cherbourg and Brest (below),
he explained, but they were all fortified only toward the sea.
He admitted that he was puzzled because he believed a landing on
the Cotentin was aimed at securing a harbor. At the same time, he
could see no point in getting a harbor there because the route to the
interior of France was three times as long.
Believing the most powerful thrust would come through Belgium
toward the Ruhr, Von Rundstedt considered the area northeast from
the Seine to be the most dangerous. For that reason, the division
sectors on that coast were shorter, and the fortifications there were
constructed as strongly as possible.
Adding to Von Rundstedt's belief that the landing would come
further north was the fact that the Navy believed a landing could be
made on the Cotentin only at high tide. Even then the rocks and
reefs below the water would wreck the ships, thus making a landing
extremely hazardous. Here, too, the Allies fooled him by landing
at low tide and using the rocks as cover against the fire from land.
"We probably didn't know about the floating harbors." he commented
in explaining that he had not considered the Cotentin a likely
landing area. "I, at least, didn't. Whether the Navy knew of them
I don't know."
SECOND INVASION EXPECTED
Von Rundstedt said there were definite grounds for anticipating
another invasion further north, primarily front tactical and strategic
considerations. Projecting himself into the mind of the Allied high
command, he reasoned: "I will land here, wait until the Germans have
gathered all their forces to meet me, and then land at the other place."
An additional motive for a second landing was the fact that the
launching ramps for the V-bombs were in the Belgian area—if the
effect of these bombs was as unpleasant as German propagandists declared.
The German Navy believed an Allied landing would be made only at high tide,
and would be extremely hazardous because of rocks and obstacles. Instead, the
Allies landed at low tide and used the obstacles for cover.
"I can't believe it was." Von Rundstedt commented, "because so far
I've seen no results of V-weapons here (in England). But it would
have counted for something, perhaps, if they were as unpleasant for
the English as they afterward were for us in the Eifel, when they all
went back into our own lines.
"The V-weapons as such had nothing to do with us in the Army," he
said. "The actual protection of them was undertaken by the Flak." He argued
that he was afraid of an Allied thrust north from the Seine more because of
the strategic importance of an attack toward the Ruhr and Lower Rhine than because
of the V-bombs.
"A landing which for a long time we considered very likely before the invasion
actually began was one to get rid of the U-boat bases—namely,
Brest, St. Nazaire, and Lorient—from the rear," Von Rundstedt
declared. "Then when the U-boat business collapsed so
completely, we said that was no longer of interest and wouldn't come off. Attention
was then concentrated more and more on the northern part."
GERMAN ARMORED SITUATION
Although Von Rundstedt could not remember his exact tank strength in France at
the beginning of June 1944, he thinks he had approximately six or seven Panzer
divisions, but they were spread out. Two were immediately available when the
invasion came, and two others were able to come up on the first day. Another one
came from Belgium, and then one came from southern France. He complained that one
division never did make it from southern France because it had "some difficulties"
with the Maquis.
"The defensive role played by the armored divisions near Caen during July and August
was a great mistake." Von Rundstedt confessed, "but it was done on the orders of
higher authority. We wanted to relieve the armored divisions by infantry, but it
was impossible in the bulge in front of Caen where they were also under fire from
ships' guns. You can't relieve any troops then."
Von Rundstedt's plan, which was turned down, was to withdraw the armored forces
behind the Orne, form up the relieving infantry there, and then take away the
tanks from in front and use them as mobile units to attack U.S. forces on the
flanks. He was backed up by the senior tank commander, General
Beyr von Schweppenburg, but to no avail. The armored divisions were left
where they were "on the Führer's own orders."
"Whether similar orders were likewise responsible for the Avranches
counterattack, I don't know," Von Rundstedt commented, "since I left on 1 July."
He said he had wanted to make a counterattack while German
forces were still north of St. Lo. His plan was to thrust between the
British and American landing troops, attacking the Americans and
merely screening off the British, because the terrain was more favorable
and the battle prospects were better.
AIR POWER AT WORK
Systematic preparations by the Allied air forces caused the general
collapse of the German defense, Von Rundstedt said. He cited three
First, there was the smashing of the main lines of communication, particularly
the railway junctions. Although Von Rundstedt had planned the defense so that
reserves could be moved to the threatened areas, Allied planes knocked out
railway lines and made the shifting of troops impossible.
The second factor was the attack on roads and on marching columns,
individual vehicles, etc., so that it was impossible to move by day.
This made it extremely difficult to bring up reserves, and it also
created a supply problem because fuel and ammunition could not be
Carpet bombing constituted the third factor. In certain respects,
Von Rundstedt said, it constituted an intensified artillery barrage and
knocked out troops in pillboxes or dug in ahead of the front line. It
also smashed reserves in the rear.
Although the GAF "did what it could," Von Rundstedt pointed out
that he had practically no air reconnaissance. German planes which
did take to the air were outnumbered 10 to 1, and any long-range
reconnaissance was "absolutely nonexistent."
"Rommel's asparagus" (beach obstacles) was "well meant," according
to Von Rundstedt, but it was not much of a success because in some
places the sea simply turned the obstacles around and sanded them up
or rolled them away.
In reinforcing German troops fighting in the Cotentin, men were
immediately withdrawn from the southern front. Troops were held
on the northern front, however, because the Germans were afraid of
a landing on the Belgian or French coast. As explained by Von
Rundstedt, the Germans believed that "Phase I is here, but
Phase II will come there."
When it became apparent later on that the Normandy invasion
was the real thing, the destruction of the Seine bridges "made itself
felt very unpleasantly." The reserve troops had to be detoured
around or brought over in ferry boats.
THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE
Turning to the Ardennes offensive, Von Rundstedt said that every
protest on our part, including those from the late Field Marshal Model, was
"Rommel's asparagus" was "well meant" said Von Rundstedt, but it was not
much of a success because in some places the sea simply turned the obstacles
around and sanded them up or rolled them away.
When it became apparent later on that the Normandy invasion was the real
thing, said Von Rundstedt, the destruction of the Seine bridges "made itself
felt very unpleasantly." The reserve troops had to be detoured around or
brought over in ferry boats.
According to Von Rundstedt, when it finally became necessary to shift
troops around, it was too late—by that time Allied planes had such
overwhelming air superiority that they blasted his reinforcements to bits.
If he had directed the attack, Von Rundstedt said, he would have confined himself
to a smaller objective. His plan would have embraced an attack on the Aachen pocket
from two sides in an attempt to destroy it.
"For a far-reaching operation such as the Ardennes offensive, aimed first
at the Maas and possibly still further, the forces were much, much, much too
weak. The possibility of driving inland with armored divisions, with no GAF, was
purely visionary. Reinforcements and supplies, with their railheads back on the
Rhine, took longer and longer to move, and it was impossible to get them
up. That offensive was bound to fail. There was no other possibility."
Pointing to the German offensive in 1940 from Trier toward Luxembourg and Calais,
Von Rundstedt explained that a vast number of troops were available simply to
cover the flanks and protect the spearhead. The forces in the Ardennes offensive
were far too weak for the exercise of a comparable function, he explained, using
as examples the actions at Bastogne and near Stavelot-Malmedy.
"If I do anything like that, I must have large, very large forces." Von Rundstedt
concluded, "but those suggestions were not heeded and things turned out as
I'd expected. The root of the whole trouble was air power, air power!"
Systematic preparations by the Allied air forces caused the general collapse of
the German defense, Von Rundstedt said. One of the three important reasons
for this defeat was the smashing of communication lines, particularly the