World War II Invasion of Normandy 1944
Interrogation of Generalleutnant Rudolf Schmetzer
Interrogation of Generalleutnant [Lieutenant General] Rudolf Schmetzer concerning the construction of German defenses in Normandy, France.
MS [Manuscript] # B668
in the begining of April 47
translated by: Ernest W. Matti
The manuscripts mentioned below will be issued in the following order of succession: -
|Part IV:||The effects of bombs and heavy naval guns on the fortifications (MS # B-669)|
|Part I :||The Origin (till the end of Jan 1944)|
|Part II:||The organization of the work of construction|
|Part V:||Conclusion (Evaluation on the basis of personal impressions and experiences)|
Report regarding the construction of the Atlantic Wall,
The preparations in the invasion area
(till the end of January 1944).
1) Commands and organization of fortress engineers
The sector corresponded exactly to the extent of command of the LXXXIV. Gen.Kdo [Generalkommando - Corps Headquarters], the coastal front of which reached from a point northeast of Caen to the border between Normandy and Brittany southwest of Avranches. Moreover, the British Channel islands were also subordinate to this command. Thus, the direction of defensive preparations and the taking of tactical decisions concerning details of the constructions lay here uniformly in the hands of a static command.
The LXXXIV. Gen.Kdo was subordinate to the 15.AOK [Armeeoberkommando - army headquarters] in Tourcoing till about June 1942, in other words, during the time of fundamental reconnoitering and planning and when the construction of large fortifications was just about to start. Apart from the great distance, which made it very difficult to maintain close contact with the sector of the Gen.Kdo, the AOK 15 had the more urgent task of securing first of all the more intensely threatened sectors of its extensive coastal front close to England. (sic).
At about the end of June 1942, this part of the Normandy came under the command of the 7 .AOK. At the same time, the extent of command the latter toward the south was restricted to Brittany and its headquarters
moved to Le Mans. This was a much better arrangement, made possible by the transfer of the AOK 7 [?] to the area south of the Loire river.
The Fortress Eng. Staff 11 with its three sector groups was subordinate to the LXXXIV.Gen.Kdo for all questions regarding the planning and technical direction of the construction of concrete fortifications. The sector under this staff fortunately also a static one covered the entire area which later became the scene of the invasion. Till about summer 1943, it was led by a very capable and active commander. He was bound by the tactical decisions and demands of this Gen.Kdo. With regard to the Organization Todt, however, he only was to "work closely together" with this organization, which he had to instruct in its tasks and supervise its works for their military usefulness. The only construction operations which he was to direct personally, were those carried out by his own small construction forces (mostly one construction engineer battalion only and a few detachments) or, exceptionally, by small local building enterprises.
In other respects, this staff was subordinate to the Fortress Eng Commander XVIII with the 15.AOK and later to the Fortress Eng XIX with the AOK 7, the commander of which was the inspector of the ground fortifications ‘west’. However, the influence of these commands on the execution of the constructions mainly was restricted to the allocation of the extremely scarce military construction forces or of workmen from the RAD (Reichs Labor Service), as well as to the fortress supply service, unless they or their superior commands were able to prevail against the Organization Todt.
2) The significance of this sector for a large-scale landing with a subsequent offensive on the continent, may be outlined as follows: -
The Normandy peninsula also called Cotentin had a very favorable position in relation to near-by England, which served as a jump-off and supply basis [sic]. On the north coast of Cotentin, there was the large military port of Cherbourg, which with its great capacity made unloading operations possible on the largest scale. This peninsula could effectively be secured at its foot with relatively slight forces against any counterattacks, with the town of Cherbourg out of range of the artillery fire and leaving still enough space to assemble forces for further offensive actions. The foot would, however, be rather narrow to serve as a line of departure for an offensive on the continent. To gain more maneuverability, the attacker would have to secure the necessary space in time by advancing beyond this line or by carrying out a further landing in the adjoining sector.
The only coast which had to be taken into consideration for a landing on Cotentin, was the east coast. It is located in the wide bay between Le Havre and Cotentin, well protected against storms. On this coast, there was enough space for a landing fleet to effect the initial landings and to unload the supplies without being harassed by the shore batteries from the other side of the bay. The level section of the coast between St. Vaast la Houge and the mouth of Vire river was particularly favorable for landing operations thanks to its steeply sloping beach, which enabled the landing craft to approach the shore closely. A special advantage of this point was that the important port of Cherbourg (the immediate capture of which would be of decisive significance for the whole landing operation, as it was believed at that time with good reason) as well as the foot of the peninsula could be reached on the shortest routes.
The dominating chain of hills rising behind the flat strip of coast would, nevertheless, have to be neutralized and threats to the flanks from the adjoining sectors eliminated to carry out such an operation. Moreover, immediate and perhaps dangerous counterattacks would have to be expected from nearby Cherbourg.
In comparison with the east coast, the North coast of Cotentin was decidedly unfavorable for a landing in every respect. On this rocky coast which, however, strictly speaking, is not precipitous), the area of Cherbourg should have been excluded from calculations from the very beginning. Numerous shore batteries were already in position in the area at the time. Finally, it would have been necessary to cross the entire peninsula to reach its foot.
The west coast was effectively protected by the British Channel islands, which were strongly manned and armed and where the construction of concrete fortifications had already been started with at that time. Numerous reefs, strong currents which frequently changed, coasts with gently sloping sand beaches or with off-shore sand banks, made it moreover very difficult to carry out a landing operation in this Bay of St. Malo. Therefore, a large-scale landing in this area was out of the question from the very outset.
For these reasons, a widening of this large-scale landing basis could only be effected toward the east. In the opinion of the Navy, however, the area of the mouth of the Vire river was not suitable for this purpose. Although the coast northwest and north of Caen offered favorable landing conditions, it was too far away for a close cooperation
with the other forces landed on the east coast of Cotentin. It appeared out of the question that the center of gravity of a large-scale landing would be placed in the area of Caen right from the beginning. This all the more, as it was impossible that the attacker would have been able to take possession of the important port of Cherbourg within the short time that we considered to be of decisive influence on the success of the landing.
A successful large-scale landing in this part of the Normandy could entail very soon the cutting off of the supplies to the Breton peninsula and, thus, neutralize the U-boat warfare in the Atlantic, which at that time, was at the zenith of its success. However, the inducement for a landing at this particular point for the reason mentioned above, lost its significance later on when the Allied antiUboat measures became extremely effective.
As a jump-off basis for an offensive on the continent, this area had the disadvantage that the invading forces would first have to fight their way across the entire country of France to reach the German border, where they could begin the decisive thrust into Germany. For such an operation, the Channel coast further north (south of Boulogne as far as the mouth of the Somme river and the extensive and flat Flemish coast beyond the Scheldt river) was much more favorable besides being suitable for large-scale landings.Therefore, they were considered as more immediately endangered. However, the possibility of a large-scale attack on this coast was, at that time, still remote. The more the defensive capacity of these sectors increased in the course of time by construction
of fortifications and other measures, the graver the danger became of an invasion in the area of the Norman peninsula and, therefore, the intensified construction of fortifications on the latter became more and more important.
3) The tasks for the construction of concrete fortifications in sequence of urgency, were about the following: -
a) Cherbourg was to be fortified, preferably with concrete constructions and with the main front toward the land.
b) At the same time, the east coast of Cotentin, which was particularly in danger of being invaded, was to be secured as much as possible, including St.Vaast la Houge and an oblique line of defense on the flank along the Vire river upward.
c) The coast north and northwest of Caen, favorable for a landing operation, was to be fortified as well.
d) All coastal strips west of this area, from Caen to the mouth of the Vire river, along the so-called “signal peninsula” (*) at the northwestern corner of Cotentin, and at the northeast coast of the Norman peninsula, which were all suitable for secondary landings of enemy elements, were to be secured.
e) Development in depth was to be started in the nature of single concrete strong points as a framework for field-type fortifications along the east coast of Cotentin, in the area of Caen and on either side of this area to seal it off.
The construction of concrete command posts, important observation, radio locating, and ranging stations, as well as of shore batteries in the
(*) It was called “signal peninsula” because numerous radio locating and ranging stations had been installed there.
area of Cherbourg, on the east coast of Cotentin, and in the area of Caen, was to be completed at the same time with equal constructions in the corresponding sectors.
B) The execution of the construction works
The LXXXIV.Gen.Kdo. finally rather late indeed found a solution for the construction plan. However, it was again repeatedly altered or supplemented and, for instance in the case of the land ward front of Cherbourg, it could not be considered to be a favorable solution. They believed they should take advantage of the protection which the shore batteries, emplaced on a wide area, could give to the main line of resistance and therefore, this line had to be built in a wide arc of such an extension that it was hardly possible to put up a delaying defense with the garrison forces at their disposal. Anyhow, the means and manpower necessary for the construction of this line and to give it an adequate defensive capacity, were not available, even if the situation of the constructions had been more favorable than it actually was. The result was that, along the most important highways, only a few strong points could be constructed, consisting of several single pill boxes but without effective antitank obstacles. Along the other sections of the highways, light field-type fortifications were built, however, there was no continuos line of constructions. Even the Strong point in the harbor consisted solely of a number of pill boxes, which although provided with strong concrete covers had not the usual fortress armament, obstacles, and other installations, which alone could have given them the necessary Power of resistance.
The overall effect of the fortifications was chiefly dependent on the achievements of the Organization Todt, which had to overcome unusual difficulties in this sector.
The situation with regard to railway transportation was, for instance, very strained all the time. The railway lines which were available had always been fully utilized even before the invasion to move up supplies for the troops and material for the continuous construction works. For this reason, it was almost impossible to keep any building materials in stock.. On account of troop transports and other additional strains on the railways, the supply of building materials at times ceased entirely, so that the small reserves were repeatedly exhausted. In the autumn of 1943, the situation of the railway transportation worsened more and more, the result of which was that the construction of concrete fortifications soon had to be discontinued for good.
The recruiting of volunteers from the occupied western territories for the construction works in this part of the Normandy particularly met with insurmountable difficulties. The Organization Todt was completely dependent on these recruitments to meet its requirements of manpower. The volunteers were paid according to local wage scales in Normandy. Only a few residents from the localities in this area could be hired. Owing to the fact that the lowest wages for laborers on the Channel coast were being paid here, it was almost impossible to hire people from other parts of the country, or from Belgium or Holland densely inhabited countries in order to cover the lack of manpower. Moreover, all efforts made by the Organization Todt to raise the interest of the people by allowing additional food rations, tobacco, and by granting other privileges did not help much
to remedy the situation.
In addition to all that, the Construction Commands of the Organization Todt were arranged in a very disadvantageous manner.
The main task assigned to the Chief Construction Staff of the Organization Todt in St.Malo was the fortifying of the British Channel islands. The importance of this task had been repeatedly emphasized by Hitler. Having to overcome endless difficulties and losing much time in getting the shipments across the sea, and even more in hiring the necessary number of people to carry out this task, the aforementioned Command was unable to attain appreciable results. One of the two Construction Staffs of the Organization Todt was employed on the islands, while the other one was to fortify the continental coast in the entire area of the LXXXIV.A.K. and, however, was to direct the difficult unloading and transshipping operations to Adlerney. For want of a third Construction Staff, the Chief Construction Commander a very capable and active man personally took over the direction of the construction work in the area of St.Malo in addition to all other tasks assigned to him. Thus, he was continuously overstrained, particularly because of the unusual difficulties he had to overcome and the great variety of the tasks in his command. This had a particularly bad effect on the continental coast, which suffered more than any other sector from the chronic lack of labor. The Head Office of the Organization Todt in Berlin had informed him to give the fortifying of the coast no priority. The Organization Todt was only able to take over a few shore batteries besides the very slow development of Cherbourg. The execution of all other tasks was up to the fortress engineer staff with its
inadequate construction forces, and up to the field troops. The constructions carried out by the Organization Todt were delayed time and again and could not keep pace with those of other sectors.
Military authorities were willing in the beginning to grant the Organization Todt some more time, expecting that the latter would take all necessary steps to improve the situation of its constructions. However, when this organization failed to do so, the fortress engineers backed up their tactical commands demanded more and more emphatically that construction forces from Brest, Lorient, and St.Nazaire be transferred to fill up the gaps in their units. In these towns, the Organization Todt had a very large number of laborers at its disposal (among them many Germans and volunteers from the east who could easily be employed for other tasks) who were working in the U-boat bases. At the same time, these military authorities demanded the creation of a special Chief construction command of the Organization Todt in Cherbourg with two [of its?] own construction commands. In spite of the fact that the commanders of the Organization Todt employed near the front, and especially the ‘group west’ of this organization, more and more agreed that this demand was justified, the Central of the organization categorically rejected any measure which would have reduced the number of laborers employed in its U-boat bases, even at the time when the U-boat warfare was more and more neutralized. This refusal was based on the reason that the U-boats would regain their former significance before long thanks to new devices and improvements. Strong complaints and protests sent to the OKH [Oberkommandoheer, Army High Command] and OKW [Oberkommandowerhrmacht, Armed Forces High Command] did not bring about any essential improvements of the situation, either.
Neither the competent authorities, nor the OKH had enough military construction forces to cope with the situation by self help. The continuous disbandment of construction engineer battalions in the course of time probably more than 50% of their former strength for the purpose of reactivating troop engineer units or to fill up gaps, was felt very badly. The remaining units suffered more and more from the losses and the lack of replacements, which, to a certain degree, was also caused by the fact that numerous specialists were to be transferred back to Germany and to the war industry. The remaining detachments in this area were hardly able to provide the field-type fortifications along the extensive coastal front (including several shore batteries) where forces from the Organization Todt were not available with the necessary framework consisting of concrete constructions. However, the execution of this task was temporarily also hindered by the lack of building materials.
In June 1943, Col von Stiotta (killed in 1945 during the battles near Berlin) was assigned to the vacant command post of the Fortress Eng Commander XIX. Coming from the former Austrian engineer staff, he was thoroughly trained and experienced theoretically and practically not only in reconnoitering and planning but also in carrying out constructions of ground fortifications. With the consent of the 7.AOK and the LXXXIV.Gen.KDO, which commands had approved the results of his reconnaissance and his suggestions with regard to the constructions, he personally took over the direction of the construction work and coordinated rigorously all available military construction forces for this task. (At about the same time, a new commander with little practical experience in this kind of
tasks was assigned to the Fortress Eng Staff 11). Col von Stiotta was supported as much as possible by the Organization Todt, which allocated to him the most necessary building material. However, owing to its lack of laborers, the organization itself could only undertake construction of the strong-points reconnoitered by v.Stiotta on either side of the mouth of the Orne river. In spite of all those difficulties, the following work had been achieved by late autumn 1943, when the execution of concrete constructions had to be stopped almost entirely owing to the impossibility of procuring the necessary building material: -
a) On the east coast of Cotentin, which was exposed to the danger of landing operations, the strong points with all-round defense of a reinforced field type built into the narrow strip of dunes, were replaced by concrete constructions. As soon as they were completed, troops occupied them, while the old fortifications were either demolished or blockaded and mined to serve as dummy installations. Moreover, the obstacles were reinforced and the low country beyond them transformed into a deeply floodable area. I do not know, how far the fortifying of the dominating range of hills (important for observation posts, batteries, rearward commands and reserves) could be completed.
For the protection of the right flank, a deep tank-proof obstacle had been planned along the Vire river upward consisting of large, uninterrupted flooded areas. However, this plan could not be fully carried into effect and only the very low areas could be flooded. The construction of the solid strong points with all-round defense carefully elaborated, which were to guard and secure these obstacles, could not be
started on account of the lack of material, which had set in in the meantime.
b) On the west coast of the “signal peninsula”, at the Anse de Vauville, where a secondary landing chiefly with tanks was deemed possible, an uninterrupted antitank obstacle had been constructed on the beach. Further concrete constructions on this coast seemed to be not too urgent, for the time being, besides the fact that they could have not been built any more owing to the lack of forces and building material.
c) On either side of the mouth of the Orne river, at least the most important concrete pill boxes of the strong points could be completed by the Organization Todt. The further improvement planned (heavy antitank obstacles and increased development in depth) could no longer be carried into effect.
d) As to the coastal strip between the mouths of the Orne and the Vire rivers, Col v.Stiotta had reconnoitered the area and laid out all plans for concrete constructions to reinforce the defense. These constructions consisted chiefly of a line of strong bunkers with all-round defense (without any depth, for the time being). As well as of additional obstacles, which included especially the flooding of all low areas suitable for the purpose. However, only a few of these measures were put into effect east of the Vire river.
In the beginning of Dec 1943, the construction of concrete fortifications in this sector had to be discontinued. The transfer of large numbers of construction forces from Brest, Lorient, and St.
Nazaire, which the Organization Todt finally had approved, could no longer be carried out, as the capacity of the railways had badly decreased and because the supply of building material had been delayed owing to more urgent tasks. In these circumstances, nothing more could be done than complete the concrete fortifications under construction, clear the building-sites, examine and improve the camouflage and field fortifications. Besides the examination and improvement of the all-round defenses of all strong points, and of the obstacles on the beach, there was finally the important task of constructing off-shore obstacles (also carried out by a great effort by the units of the Organization Todt and urgently demanded by Field Marshal Rommel), with a deep zone of water obstacles against enemy landing craft was to be created along all strips of coast endangered by landing operations, and which obstacles were to be effective during both low and high tide. To what extent these obstacle shad been completed and if they were effective when the invasion took place, is beyond my knowledge. The same applies to the field-type development ordered in depth in the nature of points where troops could gain a foothold, strong points, as well as of obstacles.
C) Conclusion and summary
Although I can express my opinion (I emphasize: my personal opinion) on the value of the fortifications in the invasion sector, and on the reasons for their weaknesses, I am not able to give any comments on their effectiveness during the battles for the coast.
1) This sector was the least developed of all those sectors along the Channel coast, which were endangered by large-scale landings. “The Artificial Harbor” constructed by the Allied invading forces came as a bad surprise, as the huge supplies which had to be maintained for the smooth progress of the large-scale operations could now be directed through this harbor, thus being independent on the early capture of the large naval port of Cherbourg with its great capacity. The wide bay between Le Havre and the Norman peninsula, more or less protected against storms, offered favorable conditions for the use of the artificial harbor. On account of the fact that the German authorities had not reckoned with this innovation, could indeed not have expected it, they had underestimated the importance, which the coastal sector near Caen now had gained as a favorable point for such a landing. However, this underestimation would have had no serious effects if the large-scale setup of the Organization Todt during the construction works had not failed, and if the constructions had been achieved in due time to the planned extent.
The main reason for this failure is to be sought in the stubborn refusal of the Organization Todt backed up by the Navy to transfer in time reinforcements from Brest, Lorient, and St.Nazaire,
in order to fill up their extremely weak construction units as much as the supply of fuel permitted while fully exploiting all means of transportation. I am convinced that, despite these transfers, the construction of the three U-boat bases would not have been delayed at all, not even if the U-boats had fully regained their former effectiveness. Even though the Organization Todt time and again had emphasized that it alone was fully responsible for the construction works, and even though its refusal may have partly been based on other reasons for the benefit of the organization, the main blame cannot justly be imputed to it, but has to be mainly attributed to the inadequate conditions prevailing within the commands at that time:
Hitler often used to issue orders to the Organization Todt and to competent commands of the different branches of the Wehrmacht for certain construction works to be carried out in the shortest possible time with all available forces and means. Such orders were never classified according to their urgency. The task of the Wehrmacht authorities was to instruct the Organization Todt in time as to the works to be carried out, provide it with all necessary data, and, if necessary, assign as many specialists and construction forces as necessary to the organization for support. The Organization Todt, however, remained fully responsible for the execution of the tasks and the achievements. Such works comprised the construction of U-boat bases (supplemented by several additional tasks from the Navy), the fortifying of the British Channel islands (Army), the emplacement of some heavy naval shore batteries, the building of the large air-field near Lorient (Air Force, as well as other
minor tasks). All these tasks were to be carried out by the four major construction commands of the Organization Todt within their respective sectors of St.Malo, Brest, Lorient, and St.Nazaire.
In numerous, cases, however, the forces and means at the disposal of the Organization Todt were not sufficient to ensure a uniform progress of all works. On the other hand, changing situations often necessitated that the main point of effort was placed on another task, in other words, when it proved necessary to give priority to the execution of a certain task, which had become more urgent than another one. Such decisions could only be made by a superior to whom all three branches of the armed forces, as well as the Organization Todt were subordinate. This was Hitler. Numbers of other tasks, however, kept the latter so busy that he naturally was unable to decide personally in each question brought to his attention. Each command of the three branches of the Wehrmacht urged that priority be given to the execution of its own constructions. There was no competent authority to decide which task should be handled first. Such decisions then were silently made by the Organization Todt itself, although it had neither the necessary insight into the overall situation nor the technical knowledge. In many cases, this resulted in erroneous steps, among which, one of the most serious ones was the repeated delaying of the construction of fortifications in the area where the invasion later on took place. Moreover, the too strictly defined separate working by the three branches of the Wehrmacht in part justified and especially the excessive independence of the Organization Todt had very serious effects in certain cases.
By the time, the OBWest (Supreme Commander West) was given more authority in autumn 1943, it was already much too late.
2) Evaluation of the work achieved,
according to my personal impressions,
The strong point located on the inside of the harbor consisted of a number of machine gun positions (several of them provided with armored turrets), dugouts, about two concrete shelters for antitank guns, wire entanglements, as well as of a minor antitank ditch. The cover of these constructions being two, or even three meters thick, they offered adequate security against artillery shells and bombs. However, neither the location nor the armament of this strong point made it possible to block completely the entry to the numerous, large basins of the harbor. Moreover, it lacked essential fortress installations and equipment, such as, a sufficient number of high-angle weapons and means of combat in strongly protected underground combat shelters, a carefully organized command and fire direction center, highly effective antitank obstacles, bomb-proof subterranean communication passages, adequate supply installations and supply depots, as well as a special power station, which were all necessary to be able to hold out against heavy close range attacks over a lengthy period of time and without any support whatsoever from the outside.
In the bastion built into the high and precipitous rocks on the southern outskirts of Cherbourg a casemat battery had been installed with the necessary number of underground passages and quarters. This battery had an excellent view and an effective range on the major part of
the town and the large harbor area. Close range defense toward the south was to be taken over by several heavy gun positions emplaced on the plateau of this bastion. It is, nevertheless, very questionable whether the casemat battery could have resisted any strong bombardment with armor-piercing shells from heavy naval artillery and whether the defense would have been adequate enough against strong close attacks.
It is quite evident that the main line of resistance planned could not be held against superior attacks owing to its excessive length and because only parts of it were fortified. The few strong points in this line with their strong concrete covers would have probably been eliminated in a short time.
The coast batteries, the majority of which had been furnished by the Navy, were all provided with a sufficient number of observation and ranging stations, command posts for the batteries and battalions, as well as of reinforced concrete shelters for crews and ammunition. They had been developed to strong points with all-round defense and thus could offer resistance at least for a limited period of time.
As far as fortifications were concerned, Cherbourg did not possess necessary means to hold out or to offer resistance even for a short time.
b) On the east coast of Cotentin, the construction of fortifications had been carried out effectively and in a way that permitted its being manned with few forces. The fortifications had been provided with many obstacles and were strong enough to withstand even a carpet-bombing. However, the deep strong obstacle planned for the protection of its right wing had to be discontinued in the initial phase already.
c) Hitler always had demanded very emphatically that the Atlantic Wall be provided with reinforced concrete shelters, two meters thick, to protect its entire crew against bombs and artillery shells. This had probably been achieved with regard to the strong points on either side of the Orne river, but not in the case of the large landing area of Caen. The carpet-bombing which preceded the initial landing in that area, therefore presumably caused correspondingly higher losses. I further presume that the majority of the obstacles were destroyed. Besides, there was no effective development in depth whatsoever, although this was absolutely necessary for any sector endangered by a large-scale landing.
d) Sector adjoining to the west as far as the Vire river. Increased numbers of shelters and more intense development as any area exposed to the danger of large-scale landing operations should be provided with have to overlap also the adjacent sector to a certain depth, even though no major landings are to be expected there. Moreover, it is absolutely necessary to construct at least one strong obstacle in this adjoining sector, extending far to the depth, in order to prevent any rolling up of the lines originating in the main landing area. The sector in question did not meet either of the two requirements.
e) As far as the other sectors were concerned, the development limited to short strips of coast or even only to single points, was probably effective enough.
On the whole, the development of the invasion area was far from
being large and effective enough to give the defense the necessary support. If a suitable solution with regard to the fortifications had been applied and if all available constructions forces and means had been used systematically from the very beginning, this sector could have perhaps reached such a power of resistance in spite of all the transportation that the enemy would have had to pay for the success of a large-scale landing with intolerably high losses in men and material. Had this led to the landing not taking place here, the constructions would have achieved the aim of any fortification.
3) As to the question how the defense of the Cherbourg fortress could have been given the most effective support by a proper development of the area and by taking the existing local circumstances into consideration, I would like to outline my personal suggestion even though it may include many subjective aspects, in spite of my efforts to be as objective as possible and though it probably will not meet with the approval of experts. This suggestion moreover reveals the quiding principles I would have gone by for the construction of the other large and important strong points along the Channel, such as, Boulogne, Dunkirk, Le Havre, and so on.
A large-scale landing with a following offensive on the continent had only to be expected once the relative of the two belligerant groups of powers had substantially changed, i.e. on the one hand, when the British-American armament was at its peak, which however, required much time, and on the other hand, the decisive awakening of the military power, war industry, and resources of Germany. This would necessarily have resulted in
A catastrophic lack of forces and means of combat for the defense along the Channel and on the Atlantic. To cope with such a situation, it would have been necessary to try to find a compensation by fortifying the areas concerned as much as possible.
In this case, only one division, plus the necessary special detachments, could have been assigned as garrison to the Cherbourg fortifications. Hence only one main line of resistance could be held, the extent of which should have been reduced to the minimum.
A further prerequisite was that the defense could lean on a fortification, which was as strong as possible, and which could be provided with its full defensive capacity in opportune time. A fully fortress-like development, as carried out during peace-time, was out of the question anyway. There were, first of all, no trained specialists available and, secondly, not enough time to reconnoiter the area in detail and draw up plans. This would have required at least one whole year. Moreover, the construction of reinforced concrete fortresses adapted to the local requirements, as well as the manufacture of the various types of fortress weapons and installations was not possible. On the contrary, it was necessary to restrict the war-time constructions approximating the fortress type, including numbers of makeshift and emergency measures. This was not an easy task and required a high degree of flexibility. Although it was still possible to build reinforced concrete constructions of field-standard strength, the manufacture armored turrets, which required a whole year, had been discontinued since the beginning of the war. Nevertheless, there was still a large number
of armored turrets of pre-war quality available, but each fortress area received only about 20 to 25 turrets (of which more than 50% were for the machine guns) and several armored plates. The necessary fortress weapons were drawn from the Westwall. There was, moreover, the possibility of transferring fortress installations and, especially, power stations from the Maginot Line to the Atlantic Wall. A specially favorable factor was that the very efficient and well trained Organization Todt, which was also familiar with the construction of ground fortifications, could be used for the task. This was the only organization, which was able to lay hold of the necessary number of construction forces, building machines, and materials. As far as time was concerned, more than a year, probably two, or even more, were available. Difficulties and obstacles of all kinds nevertheless had to be expected. Therefore, the task could only be achieved if reconnoitering and planning were started immediately in a certain order of succession with regard to the urgency, and if the execution of the task expedited in such a way that all available forces and means could be used without any loss of time for the execution of the most urgent and most wearisome works.
a) Priority was to be given to the important task of blocking the entrance to the harbor by the construction of about three or four small strong points, coordinated to one group, or if necessary by a compact fortress. The task then was the following: block the entrance to the harbor as long as possible by using all kinds of weapons and means of combat supplementing each other in order to prevent all ships from entering or leaving the harbor, even in the case of town, harbor, and coast already
having fallen into the hands of the attacker, and all other fortifications having already been overwhelmed. For this purpose, it was necessary to construct very strong shelters against bombs and artillery shells, as well as against heavy armor-piercing shells from the sea. Moreover, the following was required: an uninterrupted all-round defense, several times supplemented, including a number of high-angle weapons, multiple all-round obstacles, preferably of fortress-type strength, perfectly secured command and fire direction centers and subterranean passages, supply installations and stocks of all kinds to make it possible to hold out for several months, as well as a reliable, highly trained garrison, preferably not more than of company strength.
b) The landward front (main line of resistance) was to be on the shore. It was equally out of the question to provide an adequate area for a major reserve of about one division as to incorporate the shore batteries, or to chose the most favorable terrain with wide field of vision and fire. In such sectors where the drawback was unavoidable, close-range vision and field of fire had to suffice. The most important task, which had to be carried out first of all, was to construct an uninterrupted, fortress-like obstacle consisting of flooded or dry ditches, cliffs or strong reinforced concrete antitank walls, which were absolutely secure against mechanized attacks, and the necessary number of small strong bunkers with all-round defense, armed with different kinds of weapons (including high-angle weapons) to guard effectively the whole obstacle and cover it with fire. A limited development in depth, as well as the improvement of the obstacles, the nature and arrangement of
which, should constantly change, could only be taken into consideration, once the completion of this line was made sure in due time.
In my opinion, the most favorable solution for the construction of the main line of resistance for Cherbourg; which came up to all these requirements, was the course of the Old, small Vauban forts. Although parts of the town recently built reached beyond this line, the enemy nevertheless would have been denied any direct insight into the harbor and the old part of the town. The decisive factor was that the extension of this line represented just about the maximum, which could be accomplished with some measure of certainty in the way of concrete constructions.
c) The nucleus, of the constructions including the command post of the fortress commander, could very well be placed into the rock bastion on the southern outskirts of Cherbourg, where the casemate battery had been installed. However, in this case, it would have been necessary to complete the system of subterranean passages and quarters, cement them to prevent concrete blocks breaking out, and finally connect them by passages with the line of resistance on the plateau, the defensive power of which line had to be increased further. The casemate guns, moreover, were to be provided with strong locking-off devices to be applied in the event of their being destroyed by naval artillery and abandoned.
d) The shore batteries beyond the main line of resistance could hardly resist strong close attacks over any lengthy period. In the event of a penetration of strong forces, I would have preferred to abandon them, blast the guns, and take the crews back to Cherbourg.
Reinforcements for the garrison could be taken from the large personnel of the navy and other German services in Cherbourg, and provided they were suitable for the purpose had to go through a special training. Further forces to fill up the garrison would become available from crews of the shore batteries when such were abandoned.
The active defense (assault troops and local supports in assault) could then only be taken over by the field troops employed in the fortress garrison (presumably, one division). However, such a unit should according to former experience be committed to the outpost area (in our case, in order to repel enemy landing forces) and, after such action, usually returns to the fortress with considerable losses and greatly reduced strength.
f) The evacuation of the entire population of the town and of all German personnel not fit for action during the battle for the fortress was to be prepared carefully and carried out in time (not too late, under any circumstances).
g) Another task to be carried out was the construction of safe air-raid shelters and dufgouts behind the main line of resistance.
This suggestion is not entirely satisfactory. However, considering,
the situation of the constructions at that time, it represents to my knowledge the maximum, which could have been achieved to prop the defense of Cherbourg with the construction forces and means available. Similar conditions prevailed in other fortifications along the Channel.
|Generalleutnant [Lt. General]||
Allendorf, 14 May 1947
Personal critique on the work of
Generalleutnant Rudolf SCHMETZER:
“Report regarding the construction of the Atlantic Wall, preparations in the invasion area till the end of Jan 1944.”
I consider it a high work of high-standard, done by an outstanding specialist in the field of constructions of fortifications. The author had already participated in the construction of the Westwall in an advisory capacity as well as in practice.
In Jan 1944, he quit his post as inspector of the ground fortifications ‘west’ to turn it over to a younger successor, Gen.Lt [Generalleutnant, LtGen] Eberle.
A general picture regarding the construction of the Atlantic Wall can only be given once part V of this series is available.
As to the work:
The main reasons for the inadequate development of the invasion area are to be sought in:
1) …the lack of clear instructions issued by the highest authority (Hitler) to the effect that the development of the Normandy coast should at least, be considered as urgent as the other tasks.
2) …the fact that priority was given to Rommel’s construction of forshore obstacles and to constructions for the V-weapons, thus, delaying the execution of all other defensive measures.
3) …the neutralization of the means of transportation even after autumn 1943 by the enemy air force, which operated with increased intensity
over the French area and, particularly, over the Normandy.
4) …the uncoordinated actions among the top authorities of the Organization Todt, the Navy, Air Force, and Army, which in this order of succession were able to influence the highest command (Hitler), and moreover, worked accordingly.
The west coast of the peninsula of Cotentin found its chief protectio in the unfavorable water conditions prevailing in the large gulf of St. Malo, rather than in the strongly manned and armed British Channel islands. Hitler’s order to fortify these islands to the most powerful sea fortifications in the world, was absurd. It only contributed to the neglect of the Normandy coast. Enormous numbers of forces and materials had been moved up and used to overcome the difficulties on the land and water routes to the islands. The construction of naval batteries with underground, bomb-proof, luxurious quarters on these islands, today are a mute accusation, particularly if one compares them with the poor and inadequate fortifications on the landward front of the fortress of Cherbourg.
The 7. Armee had not intended to establish a protection to its flank along the Vire river upward. This was, however, not necessary thanks to the fact that the Vire, Taute, and Vouve rivers sufficiently covered the approaches to the Cotentin peninsula from the east.
On the other hand, north of Carentan, near St.Come du Mont, the construction of a large strong point with all-round defense had been planned and projected for the protection of the important town of Carentan. Owing to the lack of forces and materials, the plan could not be carried into
By order of the OKW, the landward front of Cherbourg was to be built large enough to hold three divisions. Thus, the cordon of forts became correspondingly extensive. The author did not remember this fact when referring to this front.
The 7. Armee agreed with its outstanding fortress engineer commander, Col. v.Stiotta, that for many centuries the most favorable line of defense for Cherbourg was the course of the old Vauban forts. The establishment of this line was relegated to second place. However, a much better result would have been achieved, if this line had been constructed before the extended one.
I agree, in general, with the statements of the author under # C.
With regard to # C3, I would like to add:
The number of forces, which a fortress has to take up, is subject to continuous changes according to the combat situation outside of the fortress.
The construction of the Brest fortress corresponded to the conception of the author, i.e. the cordon of forts had been intended for only about one division. Although they were well constructed, they turned out to be too small during the battle.
The large ring of defenses around Cherbourg could have played an important role, if the highest command had taken the Normandy front into consideration for an invasion from the very outset. [There] certainly [should have] been stronger .... forces available on the Cotentin peninsula, than was actually the case. After the beginning of the invasion, the highest command should have moved up reserves as quickly as possible to the foot of the peninsula, in order to be able to launch an attack against the
American bridgehead. This had already been planned by Rommel until the development of the situation near Caen made other measures more urgent. With strong German forces in the north of the peninsula, supported by a wide circle of fortresses around Cherbourg, and with a strong German group attacking the American bridgehead from the south, the situation on the Cotentin peninsula could have become quite difficult for the Americans.
Source: The original document is located at the US Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A photocopy is located in the Navy Department Library.