Caesar Alonso
Endre Enyedy
Kimia Jackson
Dolores Naboa

Festung Europa

The times were desperate for the German forces wherein the Wehrmacht were without resources to conduct a defense in depth. For this reason it was essential that the Germans had an effective ground strategy for defense. Hitler therefore developed a policy of fixed fortifications along the Western Front, Festung Europa(Fortress Europe). The defense needed to have effective counterattacks and counteroffensives. However there was a lack of sufficient highly qualified troops, mobility and armor. The new troops of old men, boys and foreigners were only of value to German defense if they were within trenches or cement fortifications. Therefore a naturally strong coastal defense was made even better by German engineers so that second and third-class troops could inflict heavy casualties. From March 1942, in his Directive No. 40, and later reiterated in Directive No 51, Hitler ordered the Atlantic coast defenses to be organized so that an invasion would be stopped there or immediately after landing. In August 1942 he declared that the fortress construction in France should continue to create a chain of fire from the bomb proof concrete structures (Ambrose 36). In September 1942, Hitler held a conference with the military leaders to discuss this plan, stressing the preparation of the strongest possible fixed fortifications along the Atlantic Wall.

This necessity was based on the assumption that Allied naval and air forces were superior, which they were. Only concrete would therefore suffice. The defense plan was scheduled to be completed by May 1943. By that date, the Fuehrer wanted 15,000 concrete strong points with 30,000 men.

Rommel's Concept

October 1943, General Alfred Jodl suggested that Erwin Rommel given the command of tactics in the West under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Instead Hitler ordered him to inspect the Atlantic Wall and report on it. This was an important task to Hitler since he believed that "'when the enemy invades in the West it will be the moment of decision in this war, and the moment must turn to our advantage--we must ruthlessly extract every ounce of effort from Germany"' (Ambrose 63). Rommel spent two weeks in December inspecting from the North Sea to the Pyrenees Mountains. From his experience in North Africa, he concluded that the Allied control of the air would be the force to prevent the German reinforcements from moving into battle. According to Rommel's predictions, the Allies would launch an invasion with aerial bombing, naval bombardment and air assaults followed by sea landings. Though plans were made for a numerous of mines as part of the Atlantic Wall, Rommel felt that the Allies would be turned back by a rapid counterattack on D-Day by the mobile infantry and the panzer divisions. Those units would therefore need to be moved closer to the coast to be in position to deliver an effective counterattack. Field Marshal Pundstedt disagreed with this strategy; wanting the Allies to move more inland before fighting a decisive battle within France to be out of the range of the heavy naval guns. The only thing that they did agree on was that the attack would most likely be at the Pas-de-Calais. Rommel moved the 2nd Panzer Division closer to the coast, north of Amiens. Though he received criticism from General Baron Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, Pommel continued to place his leading battle group on the coast. His plan was to dig in every tank on the coastline. Schweppenburg confronted Pommel with General Helm Guderian, Hitler's panzer expert. Guderian agreed with Schweppenburg since he felt that "the very strength of panzer formations lies in their fire power and mobility" (Ambrose 113). Guderian therefore advised Rommel to pull the tanks out of range of the Allied naval guns since he knew that an amphibious force is at its height of strength when it was half ashore and half at sea due to the power of the naval guns. Rommel did not agree with Guderian's alternative strategy, however, to focus on the weak point of the enemy inland. He felt that if the panzers were in the rear, they would never have the opportunity to move forward since enemy air power would halt mobility. This argument ignored Rundstedt's point that by fighting on the beach the Germans would put themselves under the guns of the Allied fleet (Ambrose 64). The conflict of ideas was settled by a compromise by the Fuehrer himself. On May 7, 1944, he gave Rommel three panzer divisions, the 2nd, 21st and 116th, and the other four divisions were under the command of General Jodl, chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW).

Rommel placed his three panzer divisions as close to the coast as he could. The 21st division was especially close with a camp around Caen under General Edgar Feuchtirger. pommel commanded the other two divisions, the 12th SS and Panzer Lehr which were equally distant from Calais and Calvados. The three panzer divisions were the major mobile units of pommel's forces. Two of the panzer divisions were not even close enough to get to the beaches in a few hours since the Germans had such an immense front line to cover. Therefore, there was only one division to cover the Calvados-Cotentin coastline, and two for the Le Havre to Holland region; this was not enough forces for a concentrated panzer attack. The additional tanks were denied by Hitler, however, and therefore pommel's strategy was ineffective. Further armored divisions under pommel's control would have been stationed in Bayeux and Carentan. Their lead of a counterattack on D-Day would have created a chaotic situation on the beaches at the price of high casualties. Every tank would have been killed in the attack since the panzers would go down in the range of the Allied navies. Rommel had obviously not heard of the situations in Sicily and Salemo wherein the German tanks that went close to the beach were destroyed by Allied destroyers. Though all logic and the lack of resources screamed failure, Rommel persisted in the development of his strategy (Ambrose 116). According to his own predictions, the Allies could only be turned back by a rapid counterattack by the panzer divisions and a mobile infantry. However, the divisions were overstretched in their coverage and not as close as they needed to be to quickly reach the beaches. The infantry had limited mobility since they labored on
another aspect of Rommel's strategy.

Rommel was a land fighter and therefore did not realize the significance of the ships in the Allied offensive strategy. His main focus, then, was on the airplanes and "adopted a defensive posture" (Ambrose 118) Unfortunately, the German forces did not learn from their experience with the Red Army that a "flexible defense that can give under pressure and strike back when the attacker was overextended best suited the conditions of World War II" (Ambrose 64).

Works Cited

Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6. 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.