German Forces

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On the German side, Adolf Hitler exercised direct control over military operations. He was the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces (Wehrmacht). His staff was the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW ), headed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Under OKW, in theory, were the Air Force High Command (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe or OKL), headed by Reich Marshal Hermann Goering (Goring); the Navy High Command (Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine or OKM), under Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz (Donitz); and the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH ) headed by Hitler. In actuality, OKH directed the Russian campaign, while OKW was responsible for western Europe.

Navy Group West and the Third Air Fleet controlled naval and air forces in western Europe. The ground force field command was the Oberbefehlshaber West (OB West), which acted somewhat like a theater headquarters under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander in chief in the west, who operated under Hitler’s close supervision. The operations staff of OKW, the Wehrmachtfuhrungsstab (WFSt), under Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, was the direct agent between OB West and Hitler. Rundstedt controlled two army groups: Army Group G under Col. Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, responsible for the Mediterranean (Nineteenth Army) and Atlantic (First Army) coasts of France; and Army Group B under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, charged with defending the Channel coast with the Seventh and Fifteenth armies.

The chain of command that operated at the time of the invasion was Hitler, who made his wishes known through the WFSt of OKW (Jodi), to OB West (Rundstedt), to Army Group B (Rommel), and then to the Seventh Army, which was responsible for defending the lodgment area designated by the Overlord plan as the objective of the invasion force.

The steady drain of the eastern front left the Germans in France with two kinds of units, old divisions that had lost many good men and much equipment, and new divisions that were either of excellent combat value or were only partially equipped and trained. In June 1944, Rundstedt had 58 combat divisions, of which 33 were static or reserve divisions classified for limited defensive employment, 24 were well trained and equipped, and 1 was still being equipped. All the infantry divisions were committed on or directly behind the coast under one of the four armies or the armed forces commander in the Netherlands. The Seventh Army controlled Brittany and most of Normandy; the Fifteenth Army, the Pas-de-Calais.

The command in western Europe had its peculiarities. Rundstedt, for example, had no command over the Third Air Fleet, which was directly subordinate to OKL. The aircraft in France were too few in number for decisive effect; of the 400 fighter planes based in France, only half were operational because of shortages of spare parts, fuel, and trained pilots. Nor did Rundstedt control Navy Group West, under OKM, even though the destroyers, torpedo boats, and smaller naval vessels were based in ports within his jurisdiction. The air force had administrative control over parachute troops and antiaircraft artillery units; the navy controlled most of the coastal artillery. In addition, two military governors, one in France and the other in northern France and Belgium, were under OKH, though their security troops could be appropriated by Rundstedt to repel an invasion. Rommel, the Army Group B commander, was under Rundstedt, but Rommel’s dominant personality and his prerogative of direct communication with Hitler, a prerogative enjoyed by all field marshals, gave him an influence greater than that due his formal command authority.

Rundstedt favored maintaining a mobile reserve to be rushed to the invasion area when the main landings were recognized. Rommel, believing that Allied air superiority would prevent the movement of a mobile reserve to the landing beaches to repel the invaders, depended exclusively on fortifications near the water’s edge. Thus Rommel directed much of his efforts to building coastal defenses. He favored a large number of simple, field-type defenses over a few complicated and massive fortifications. He emphasized the use of mines, underwater obstacles, stakes, Belgian gates, tetrahedra, and hedgehogs in the hope of entangling the Allied troops as they landed and making them vulnerable to those who waited at the shore to repel them. Rommel’s construction and minelaying required considerable labor. Because Organization Todt, the construction agency of the German Army, was employed chiefly in major port fortress areas and on railroad maintenance, the troops themselves worked on the Atlantic Wall in 1944, in many cases to the detriment of their training programs.

By the time of the invasion a new weapon was ready to be put into operation. This was the air missile called the V-1, for Vergeltungswaffe (vengeance weapon). From the Pas-de-Calais area the Germans would begin on June 13 to launch these flying bombs against England and its civilian population as a reprisal for Allied air attacks on German cities. In September, the V-2, a deadlier supersonic rocket, would be introduced.

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French Resistance

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