Rommel comenzó su trabajo de revisión de las zonas costeras en Diciembre del 43 en Kopenhagen y en sus competencias se incluía la revisión de los grupos de combate disponibles, las escuelas, las reservas, instalaciones militares de todas las ramas de las fuerzas armadas etc. en el comienzo de su periplo Rommel disponía como información de los mitos de Göbbels sobre 15.000 posiciones defensivas permanentes con 300.000 tropas enprimera línea y 150.000 en reserva, por otro lado estaba la directiva 51 de Adolfo , de noviembre del 43 donde de forma realista se afirmaba que los aliados intentarían poner pié en el continente nates del verano del 44 y que de conseguirlo las consecuencias serían irreparables para Alemania ( es curioso con qué clarividencia podía Adolfo ver a veces a priori la realidad y qué poco lo hacía en el momento adecuado). a estas lturas la picadora de rusia había consumido 1.500.000 alemanes muertos o desaparecidos y Adolfo insistía en que había que reforzar el oeste , pero ¿ con qué?. Pues lo que Rommel se encontró es que uno de cada 6 inantes alemanes en la costa francesa era extranjero de un Ost Batallón ( eslavos rusos o polacos, prisioneros), tenían un grado de moral y adiestramiento variable aunque en general no adecuado para la tarea hecúlea a la que presumiblemente se iban a enfrentar y que en el fondo constituían un simple " número " de tropas que sustituían a las que eventualmente tenían que ser enviadas al exigente rente ruso fundamentalmente. las unidades "alemanas" disponibles no eran mucho mejores y respondían al concepto de Francia como "lugar de recuperación " de unidades machacadas en el Este; había las famosas divisiones "estáticas" pobremente dotadas e instruidas y luego los casos exóticos de "la dispepsia", "los sordos" etc etc. Desde los tiempos de la campaña polaca la dotación de una división de inantería media había sido reducida a la mitad poco más o menos solo para mantener la ficción de que había suficientes unidades disponibles; de las que se reconstituían adecuadamente el 100% iban a ser nuevamente machacadas a Rusia. en cuanto al armamente, había de todo tipo, de todos los orígenes posibles, generalmente lo que no aceptaban las divisiones que combatían en Rusia, armas capturadas en Francia o Chequia, tan viejas que carecían de repuestos o munción y por supuesto totalmente diferentes en cada división con lo que esto implicaba en cuanto al adiestamiento y logística.
A esto hay que añadir que la edad media de todas las divisiones era unos 31 años y también la presencia de las Divisiones de campo de la Luftwaffe, aberración militar de las mayores del III REich. También habían unas 6 divisiones de las Waffen SS con equipamiento completo y bien dotadas humanamente 8 por ejemplo la 12 SS HJ tenía unos 20.000 niños, que contribuían a bajar la edad media del conjunto). Estas tropas "aceptables" estaban distribuidas en lugares de concentración tierra adentro de forma un tanto irregular a lo largo de tan larga costa. Asesorado por Rüge como agregado naval Rommel tenía el concepto de que la principal línea de combate eran las mismas playas de desembarco y que en los asaltos anfibios previstos había un periodo de vulnerabilidad durante las primeras horas que era el únicco susceptible de ser aprovechado para arruinar la operación en conjunto. Había que concentrar todo el poder posible en la línea de costa por que si los aliados conseguían consolidar sus cabezas de playa y reforzarse en 24 horas sería en su opinión imposible detener la invasión por las fuerzas del interior. A esta reflexión básica Rommel añadía el conocimiento de las capacidades de las fuerzas aéreas aliadas para limitar la movilidad de las fuerzas acorazadas disponibles en el interior del territorio francés, esto no estaba tan claro para otros comandantes alemanes más acostumbrados a las condiciones del frente del este donde se podía contar razonablemente con poner en liza unidades móviles con cierta libertad de movimientos. rommel en Arica había aprendido que probablemente eso no iba a ser posible en Francia. Un problema adicional era definir Quién iba a estar al mando de todas las operaciones defensivas y por tanto decidir las tácticas a emplear. en su directiva 40 Hitler establecía que tal mando recaería sobre un jefe militar y evidentemente era Rundstedt el Oberbefehlshaber Oeste en ese momento. Rundstedt había sustituido a otros "jóvenes" como Witzleben en el puesto y su idea del problema era la pouesta a la de Rommel, es decir, las fuerzas móviles se mantendrían tierra adentro a salvo de los ataques navales etc y detendrían la invasión desde esa situación atacando las cabezas de puente aliadas.
el problema de ¿ Dónde y cuando? sería el ataque era la otra pata del banco; muchos pensaban con lógica en Calais pero también en Cherburgo, dieppe, las bocas del Sena y Somme, Le Havre.
En todos esos puntos se constituyeron puntos fuertes defendidos por unidades divisionarias por orden de Adolfo; Rundstedt tragó con estos conceptos del cabo pero se aseguró de mantener reservas blindadas tierra adentor para hacer lo queél consideraba adecuado. rommel envió su informe a Adolfo por navidad y este le nombró comandante del G E B, encargado por tanto de las tropas situadas en Normandía; estaría subordinado directamente a Rundstedt pero con la particularidad de que reportaría directamente con Hitler. En definitiva, Rundstedt no tenía claro qué es lo que iba a hacer Rommel y Rommel estaba en una posición difícil con respecto a Rundstedt esto entraba en contradicción con la propia directiva de Adolfo en la que decía que todo debía quedar en manos de un único jefe. en el fondo era lo de siempre, Hitler no quería dejar tanta responsabilidad en manos de un hombre y de esta manera confiaba en controlarlo todo desde sus mapas, en los que confiaba ciegamente. Lo cierto es que hitler no había estado en Francia desde el 40 y no había visto personalmente ni una casamata. Veamos lo que hizo Rommel y lo que pasó en un relato de J. Gipton:
Lo que pasó pues es bien conocido. El paradigma de por qué Alemania perdió la guerra es que la 12PzSS y Panzer Lehr D que estaban a 100 millas no podían moverse por orden de rundstedt sino que previamente hacía falta la autorización del OKW y por tanto de Adolfo en persona, pero Adolfo estaba durmiendo y nadie lo despertó. Cuando se autorizó el movimiento hacia la costa de estas y otras unidades, que en una posición de libertad y concentración mejores podían haber comprometido el desembarco aliado, los aviones alidso a miles las redujeron a pedazos. Los "ost" resultaron ser inservibles como estaba previsto. Por otro lado sobre los obstáculos estáticos y la defensa estática que se utilizó el autor mencionado dice:taking his new post and setting up his headquarters in France, Rommel set to work attempting to implement the changes he saw as essential. Von Rundstedt’s desire to prepare for a decisive inland battle, coupled with Hitler’s demands for heavy fortifications at certain points along the coast had resulted in a disjointed series of efforts. Hardly constituting a cohesive strategy, these moves seemed to fall into the trap of defending all, and yet defending nothing. The diametrically opposed strategies of constructing a solid coastal line versus preparing for a mobile inland battle were mutually irreconcilable. They could not be achieved simultaneously, given Germany’s manpower and material limitations brought on by the cost of the Eastern Front and deployment decisions by Berlin.
The problems faced by the German defenders of the Western Front, as of early 1944, were essentially two-fold. First was the issue of settling on where the invasion was most likely to take place. Second, and just as important, was the issue of just how to defend these sites, once selected. Using his influence with local commanders and a great deal of personal correspondence with Hitler, Rommel went about implementing his plan, however contradictory it might have been to the prevailing perceptions of his (nominal) superior von Rundstedt or the ever-shifting flow of favor and support coming from Berlin. Rommel had once said that Hitler always believed and supported the last person with whom he had met; (22) Rommel aimed at being this person.
Rommel’s fear, based on the information he gathered and defenses he inspected during his tour, was that Allied forces would quickly break through the weak coastal line and, within days, establish a solid beachhead through which supplies and men would pour unhindered. Among his first initiatives was the taking soldiers off their training schedules and putting them to work building obstacles, minefields, and other means by which the Allies could be stopped before moving inland, or even before they landed. Up to the end of 1943 most construction efforts on the Western Front were undertaken by Organization Todt (OT), “Hitler’s construction and labor force”(23). The engineers were pouring some 300,000 cubic meters of concrete each month. Most work, however, was concentrated on Hitler’s “fortresses.” This can be seen through the utilization of OT workers: an average of 63 were assigned, per kilometer of coast, in the Pas de Calais area. The Normandy area, lacking as many heavy fortifications, averaged only about 16 per kilometer(24). A further example of this emphasis on the ports is this: “only between Le Havre and Cherbourg were two naval batteries constructed on the open coast,”(25) with the remainder being at the ports themselves. While much attention had been lavished on the ports, the beaches themselves, especially along the Calvados coast (where the landings all took place), were largely ignored.
Rommel’s eventual choice of Normandy as the most likely site for the invasion came around March 1944. The Allies, no doubt, had an idea as to how strong the defenses were at Calais, and knew that a landing there would be a costly risk, at best. A suitable alternative was the Normandy coast, between the Orne River and the port of Cherbourg, on the northern tip of the Cotentin Peninsula. With roads immediately inland of the major beaches in the region, enemy units would, once key crossings, towns and bridges were seized, be able to advance into France’s interior and toward the Rhine-Ruhr region, just as Rommel feared. Allied air bombardments, for some time, had been concentrated on isolating the Normandy region from Calais to the north by cutting off the fastest and most direct routes reinforcements would most likely take. Bridges, key roads and railroads throughout northern France had been targeted, but those that linked Normandy to the rest of the country had been given particular attention.
Much like his defenses at El Alamein, Rommel wanted to create a series of defensive layers, each intended to slow the Allies’ approach, thus making them vulnerable to German fire from positions along and just behind the beaches. “Rommel [remembered] how his deep minefields…held up [British] tanks for days”(26), and aimed at recreating this same sort of defense in Normandy. He ordered that “rows of obstacles, mined or otherwise, [be] erected below the high water mark”(27) in order to sink enemy landing craft. More mines, wire, and steel obstacles were to be placed on the beaches themselves. When Rommel arrived in France “1.7 million mines had been laid, with a monthly supply of only 40,000”(2. Rommel’s goal was to have 50 to 100 million mines laid by the time the Allies attacked. In keeping with the “anything goes” attitude the Germans had toward munitions and the arming of their troops, the Desert Fox ordered that explosives were to be taken from old shells, captured French stockpiles, and anywhere else they could be found. If he could not have well-built German anti-ship, anti-armor and anti-personnel mines, he would settle for old artillery shells with improvised fuses. By the end of May 1944, over 4,000,000 mines had been laid along the channel coast; over half of them on Rommel’s initiative, and most of those in April and May.
The first line of defense would consist of four belts of underwater obstacles, many to be armed with explosives to blow up landing craft, or built to tear the bottoms out of the same. In his own notes, Rommel set out the following plan for the construction of obstacles in the water:
1. A belt in six feet of water at mean high tide.
2. A belt in six feet of water at half-tide of a twelve-foot tide.
3. A belt in six feet of water at low tide.
4. A belt in twelve feet of water at low tide.
Rommel believed that the invasion would come at high tide, when the Allies would have the shortest distance to cover before attacking German positions; his underwater obstacles were built to fend off such an attack. His intent was “not only to halt the…hundreds of landing boats and ships…but also to destroy his landing equipment and troops”(30). Limited by time and resources, however, the Germans were only able complete the first two belts by the time invasion came, and even then only in certain sectors. According to Army Group B’s War Diary, by “13 May 1944, a total of 517,000 obstacles had been constructed along the cost, 31,000 of which were fitted with mines.
If the Allies made it to the beaches, they would be faced with pillboxes, concrete bunkers, flamethrowers, and machineguns – all of which had sighted their overlapping zones of fire. Just beyond the beaches, “heavy anti-tank guns, self-propelled guns and anti-aircraft combat troops standing ready in the forward part of the defense zone,”(31) would be positioned, to be rushed up to the coast wherever needed. To augment the forces stationed on the coast, Rommel regarded as “urgently necessary” having additional divisions immediately inland to prevent a breakthrough. “The battle for the coast will probably be over in a few hours, and if experience is any judge, the rapid intervention of forces coming up from the rear will be decisive” (32). He believed that the Luftwaffe would be essential in enabling the movement of these reserves; someone would need to hold off Allied aircraft.
Obstacles in the water and on the beaches, and troop emplacements immediately along the coast were built to withstand the initial enemy naval and air bombardments that would surely precede the invasion, and to stop the invasion itself once initiated. The layers of underwater mines would be followed by steel walls, running parallel to the shore and topped with mines. Next would be more mines (mostly improvised explosives using old artillery shells) attached to the tops of posts sunk into the sea floor. More mine-tipped logs and poles would follow, as would “hedgehogs,” which were welded steel constructs tipped with again, more mines. Walls of barbed wire would complete the defensive zone through which the enemy would need to pass. Where this zone ended, German artillery and machinegun positions began.
Control of the forces located immediately on the coasts was a problem in and of itself, with the navy controlling all artillery for targets at sea. The army would take control once enemy forces had landed. This presented a complication when defining exactly what constituted a landing. Whether the transfer of control took place when Allied troops were actually ashore and out of the water or in landing craft headed toward shore was up for dispute, and added to the many organizational problems already facing the Germans.
Rommel also paid close attention to the many fields spread across the Normandy region, in anticipation of glider landings which would enable Allied forces to secure key crossroads and bridges, and disrupt German units as they moved forward to the coast. In order to hinder these landings, simple, but eventually effective, obstacles were erected throughout the region. These consisted of telephone poles sunk upright into the ground, sometimes with a grid of wire connecting their tops together. These wires, when supplies were made available, would be attached to explosives, which would in turn be tripped by any movement of the interconnected poles. Gliders would break up upon landing, killing troops, destroying equipment, and breaking the tempo of enemy operations.
This was, at least, Rommel’s plan. The poles, 10 feet tall and spaced about 100 feet apart, (33) were not equipped with explosives (mostly captured French ordnance); the shells needed were not released to Rommel until only a few days before the invasion, and were thus not installed. Still, the presence of these stout obstacles did hinder Allied glider landings and contributed to the injury and death of many Allied soldiers. To round out his defenses against paratroopers and enemy units moving inland, Rommel also ordered a great many fields throughout the southern Cotentin to be flooded. It is interesting to note that Rommel ordered that fresh water be used wherever possible instead of seawater; he recognized the damage such water would do to the farm fields.
As the spring of 1944 passed, Rommel’s vision of the Allied attack became more specific and defined, and his countermeasures correspondingly were arranged to meet his design of what the enemy would eventually throw against him. Along with massive amphibious landings, supported by naval and air attacks on coastal positions, he saw the possibility for “parachute troops…in very large numbers, dropped…either along the coast or a few miles inland”(34). These troops would either support the landings or take on some operational role of their own. Rommel’s picture of the coming Allied attack, in retrospect, was almost exactly in line with Allied plans, aside from his assumption that the invasion would come at high tide, and probably later in the summer.
The Allies, according to the operations order written for the invasion, believed that “the Pas de Calais [was] the most strongly defended area on the whole French coast”(35) and that, therefore, landings in that area would be very difficult. Progress, if a landing were successful at all, would be slow and would require a northern expansion into Belgium in order to secure adequate ports for larger operations in the future.
Allied intelligence suggested, “The Caen sector is weakly held…defenses are relatively light and the beaches are of high capacity and sheltered from…prevailing winds. Inland…terrain is suitable for airfield development and…consolidation of the initial bridgehead…much of it is unfavourable (sic) for counter-attacks by panzer divisions.”(36) With this in mind they had settled on the beaches of Normandy, stretching from just east of Caen to the western base of the Cotentin peninsula. These landings, to take place at first light and at low tide (in order to expose as many underwater obstacles as possible), would be preceded by airborne drops inland. Three airborne divisions would seize key bridges, crossroads, and hold exit routes from the beaches. Once the lodgment had been secured the Allies would take the port of Cherbourg and the entire Cotentin peninsula, and then move out of the bocage and toward Paris. It was hoped that the city of Caen, the largest in the region, would be taken within the first days of the invasion. Again, this plan was for all intents and purposes the same that Rommel had envisioned would be used and was actively constructing defenses against. One can assume that this skill and insight Rommel possessed are what brought him such fame and esteem among German soldiers and political leaders.
Through the lens of time, one can see that in addition to the material and manpower shortages in France, and the sorry state of those units on station, that time was much more of a threat to the success of Rommel’s plans than he could have known. The slow Allied build-up in England, beginning in 1942, had reached critical mass by early summer of 1944, and the Allies were ready to attack. Indeed, as the Desert Fox had predicted, a combination of airborne drops and massive amphibious landings took place, albeit several weeks earlier than he had anticipated. Believing that weather conditions were wrong, and that the Western Allies’ attack would coincide with the Soviet summer offensive, Rommel was confidant that the invasion, as of early June, was not imminent. Accordingly, he took a short vacation to see his wife in Germany and to bring her a gift for her birthday.
The airborne drops and glider assaults were first, and the American drops were nowhere near as organized as hoped. Having flown a difficult course from England, once German flak gunners opened fire on the C-47’s the formations broke apart and troops were scattered over a huge area, mostly far off from their designated drop zones, and often times mixed with other units. British drops on the far eastern flank of the operational area (north of Caen), on the other hand, were extremely accurate, owing to different flight paths and lighter ground fire.
Despite this seemingly fatal setback for the Americans, soldiers organized themselves into small groups and took the initiative to tackle their missions. For some soldiers, dropped too far from their objective to reach in a reasonable amount of time on foot, targets of opportunity were found. Ordered, “that if they could not do anything else, they could at least cut communication lines,”(3 American paratroopers went about spreading whatever havoc and damage they could, well inland of the German coastal defenses. Some primary objectives were taken, to include several key bridges and crossroads. Overall, the Airborne had done an excellent job, regardless of whether the original missions were all completed. German headquarters and units across the region were thoroughly confused as to the size of the airdrops and their targets; the confusion caused during the drops themselves had impacted the Germans far more than it had the Allies.
Just before dawn on Omaha beach, Major Werner Pluskat, of the 352nd Artillery Regiment, was readying his troops for the invasion they now knew was coming. Units across the region became aware of the attack either by communication from friendly units, interaction with Allied airborne troops, or by hearing the explosions from bombs being dropped along the coast. Pluskat, looking out into the English Channel from his bunker, “stepped back with amazement when [he] saw that the horizon was literally filling with ships of all kinds” then saw “planes approach from the sea and [bomb] the beaches,” and finally before dawn watched as “the bombardment from the sea began.”(39)
The landings took place at five separate beaches, running from the base of the Cotentin peninsula to north of Caen, west to east: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The first two would be taken by the Americans, the others by the British and Canadians.
Opposition at Utah was light, due mostly to the fact that the Americans had landed some 2 kilometers from their original objective, and ended up facing a weaker sector of the beach. Their main objectives were to secure “the main Carentan to Cherbourg road as the first stage towards isolating the Cotentin Peninsula”(40) and to link up with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, west and southwest of the beach. Suffering fewer than 200 casualties that day, they were able to begin moving inland by noon.
Balancing the seeming ease of the landings at Utah were those at “Bloody Omaha,” which saw some 3000 Americans fall on 6 June. A combination of high bluffs, a long run toward shore in landing craft (some eleven miles), and a German unit that was thought to be elsewhere resulted in extremely high casualty rates in the first assault waves. Only one regiment, from a “static” division, was expected to be defending the beach. In fact, two veteran regiments from the 352nd Division were also positioned along Omaha. Due to rough seas, armored vehicles fitted with flotation skirts were swamped and sank. Soldiers, dropped hundreds of yards from the beach and weighted down with cumbersome equipment, drowned before reaching shore. Trapped at the bottom of high sea cliffs, and under withering fire from three times as many Germans as had been expected, the American 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions seemed stalled. The success or failure of the landings at Omaha were not known for some hours, and in fact Allied commanders had considered pulling off the beach early in the assault. Success at Omaha was essential to the invasion, as a gap in the middle of the Allied beachhead could prove fatal; the armies would be unable to link up, and a unified front against the Germans would be impossible. Eventually though, small groups of men began making their way off the beach and thus opening gaps for armor and more troops to move through. By day’s end, Omaha would be secured.
The British 50th (Infantry) Division, assaulting Gold, was moving inland by mid-day, and by nightfall had reached their primary objective, the small town of Bayeux. Elements of this division would link up with American units from Omaha by 8 June.
The Canadians, attacking Juno, made “the greatest gains on D-Day…[advancing]…over sixteen kilometers inland and [reaching] the Caen-Bayeux road”40 by nightfall. British landings at Sword were not as successful, failing to capture Caen. The town Ouistreham was liberated, but heavy resistance from the 21st SS Panzer Division and the 716th Static Division prevented the British from making decisive gains. Units along the western flank at Sword were, however, able to link up with their Canadian counterparts at Juno.
"Indeed, the layered combination of obstacles in the water, on the beaches and inland presented the Allied with many challenges, and cost the invaders dearly in lives, equipment, and time. However, static defenses, regardless of strength, seemed at this point in time to be dated – remnants of the Great War. The Germans had made this painfully clear to the French when they used maneuver to marginalize the value of the Maginot Line in 1940. Without mobile units and reserves to fill the gaps that would eventually develop in these static lines, such defenses were useless, and served only to stave off inevitable defeat. Rommel seemed to know this, and strove for a cooperative defense, built not only of concrete and barbed wire, mines and welded steel obstacles, but also panzers, mobilized infantry, artillery, rockets, and air forces.
Severely limited by time, the Desert Fox was given neither the material nor manpower support he requested, and in retrospect, sorely needed. Contradicting his own order that the invasion would be fought off by forces under one, on-site commander; Hitler spread control out among several officers in the theater: Rommel, von Rundstedt, his stooge in Goering, and others, and kept some of the most essential units under his own control.
Had Rommel been given the support and freedom he requested, the outcome may well have been different. His four belts of underwater obstacles were unfinished at the time of the invasion, and yet still cost the Allies lives and time. Hundreds of troops were killed when their gliders broke up while landing in fields planted with “Rommel asparagus.” German troops did in many places fight to the last man, or at least in the case of Cherbourg, destroy anything and everything of worth to the Allies before being captured or surrendering. Omaha was nearly lost due to a mistake in Allied intelligence; the Americans were totally unaware that an extra German division moved up to the coast just days before the invasion.
This final point gives rise to the possibility that had more units been deployed forward, along the coast instead of inland, the other beaches might have been more like Omaha, or worse. Had the panzers been at Sword and Juno, and had the Nebelwerfers Rommel had asked for been near Utah, it is highly possible, if not probable, that the Allied landings would have stalled on some or all beaches, or may have failed entirely. The losses sustained due to Allied air dominance took away much of the strength of fresh units such as Panzer Lehr Division, and the 12th SS Panzer Division; forward deployment before the invasion would have eliminated these losses completely. Allied aerial bombings, which immediately preceded the landings, fell well inland of German positions, and therefore would not have exacted a heavy toll on armored units dug in along the coast. While naval artillery would have shook these units, as it did the many emplacements on all five beaches, the presence of such fresh, mobile units as the panzers along the coast would have had a significant impact on the Allied invaders.
While the cities of Caen and St. Lo were not both taken until mid-July, well behind the schedule the Allies had hoped for, and the port at Cherbourg was almost completely destroyed by the Germans before it was finally captured, the Allied invasion slowly achieved its objectives. The German line was slowly pushed back. Rommel, ever energetic and dedicated, tried to stem the enemy advance, pleading with Berlin to send more units into the region. Sitting idle in southern France were four panzer divisions, which were finally sent north in July and August, long after they were most needed.
Rommel’s plans were sound and without a doubt slowed the Allied advance into Europe by weeks. Along with material and manpower shortages, the Germans lacked what Hans Speidel, Rommel’s Chief of Staff, called the “uncanny precision in the co-operation between…Allied land forces and their air and naval support.”(47) At the highest level, “Hitler, unable to compromise politically or in his propaganda, devoid of any sober clarity of thought, ordered his troops to hold their ground,”(4 and “it was the soldier at the front who paid the price.”(49)
All these factors combined to produce a great deficit between Marshal Rommel’s plans and the reality forced on him by time and material constraints and organizational ineptitude; these ensured the German loss of Normandy, and eventually the war".