H. Q., 20.6.1944. Commander-in-Chief West, (High Command, Army Group D) Operations
Section No. 5050/44
Experiences from the Invasion Battles of Normandy
A. Preliminary Remarks
1. Experiences fulfill their purposes only when they are quickly brought to the attention of the troops. This happens from time to time through the medium of individual teletype messages.
2. The following experiences summarize what has happened so far. It is left to the duty stations named under "Distributor" to make the evaluation and to fill in details according to their own judgment.
The following most recent battle experiences confirm in broad outlines all the experiences which were made known regarding Sicily, Salerno, Nottuno and those other heavy defensive battles in Italy.
The proximity of the English mother country and thus also of all the embarkation and supply bases afforded to the Anglo-Saxons in their first great land attack against the Western Bay of the Seine and against the peninsula of the Cotentin the opportunity of employment on the greatest scale so far of men, material and technical means. Systematic, almost scientifically conducted preparations in all fields for this attack were rendered more easy in every respect by a far-reaching network of agents in the occupied area of the west. The orders for the preparation and the carrying out of the landing are books with numerous enclosures
The following most important battle experiences are to be passed on as the subject of instruction and drill in all fronts not yet attacked for the attention of the troops and command authorities in the battle area and for the instruction of all duty stations, protective forces, etc., in the entire protecting area.
I--Four facts which must be emphasized:
(1) The enemy's complete mastery in the air.
(2) The skillful and large-scale employment of enemy parachute and airborne troops,
(3) The flexible and well-directed support of the land troops by ships' artillery of strong English naval units ranging from battleship to gunboat.
(4) The rehearsal of the enemy invasion units for their task; most precise knowledge of the coast, of its obstacles and defense establishments, swift building up of superiority in numbers and material on the bridgehead after just a few days.
Opposed to this stands the quality of the German soldier, his steadfastness and his unqualified will to fight to the fast with army, navy and air force.
All three branches of the service have given their best and will continue to give it.
II -- The Enemy Landing Procedure in Broad Outlines:
(a) The enemy had hoped to be able to surprise us. He did not succeed. The beginning of landings from the air on the Western Bay of the Seine and in the Cotentin was on June 6, 1944, at about 0100, under conditions of cloudy, overcast weather with a rather strong wind, intermittent showers and rough sea up to four degrees; at the same time at various sectors of the front strong enemy air formations delivered bombing attacks in the rear area. The enemy thereby wished to bring about an air raid alarm and make us take cover in order to be able to drop his parachute troops with as little risk of observation as possible. In several places parachutists turned out to be dummies (with boxes containing explosives). Purpose: Splitting up of local reserves and withdrawal from the decisive spot, involving loss of time for the defender.
Airborne troops in many transport gliders of various sizes cut loose, in accordance with a precisely worked out plan, over the sea or at widely separated points over land, and on the whole they found their designated landing spots accurately. Nevertheless, these landings from the air were no surprise, since our own command and troops had counted on them for weeks and were prepared. Thus the enemy parachute and airborne troops suffered heavy--and in parts even extremely bloody--losses, and were in. most, places annihilated in the course of the battle. They did not succeed in breaking up the coastal defense from the rear. Only in the American bridgehead north of Carentan--by our own attack on three sides--were the enemy airborne troops compressed in the direction of the coastal defense after tough fighting for days, and thus they could link up with their own land forces which had already broken in and in this way were able to get reinforcement and relief.
The technique and tactics of the enemy airborne forces are highly developed. Training for battle Was also on a high level--tough fighters, skilled in adapting themselves to the terrain!
We must reckon with the possibility that, apart from proper parachute troops, special troops with particular tasks will also be dropped (reconnaissance and reporting on command posts, munition depots, communications to the rear, etc., demolitions, disruptions and attacks, or detailed from the airborne forces upon landing. These troops keep themselves perfectly quiet in order not to be discovered or involved in the battle. We must reckon with their exact knowledge of places and with employment of all possible means of assistance.
(b) The actual landing from the sea began four or five hours after the airborne landing. The enemy had changed his landing plans for coming in with the rising tide--plans which had hitherto been regarded by us as likely--and had adapted his landing operations to low tide because of the strong underwater obstacles along the beach, about which he had information.
This was recognized weeks before the actual landing by trial landings carried out in England. The enemy could thus discover gaps in the rows of underwater obstacles along the beach, by-pass the obstacles with his tanks, and for the rest open up passages and overcome in part these beach obstacles by his own special troops.
Where these obstacles were not discovered because they were under water, heavy enemy losses in landing craft and in men resulted, But obstacles on the dry beaches also noticeably delayed the tempo of the landing and consequently increased the enemy's losses by our fire.
Time of the landings from the sea.--Starting from 0600 hours in the morning, fully visible. Before the landing there was a heavy bombardment of extraordinary intensity from the sea and the air, with weapons of all calibers. The consequence was that all field defenses were more or less knocked out and "ploughed down," so that for the most part only the solid fortifications remained intact. The enemy seeped in through the gaps without trying to attack the fortifications and big strong points. These strong points held out in cases for over a week and therefore split up enemy forces. By holding out to the last they helped their own leaders very much to gain time and to prevent a breakthrough of the enemy from the bridgehead.
(c) Enemy air force,--Almost unlimited in radius, it controls in numbers not only the main battlefield but also the approach and supply roads to a depth of 150 to 200 km. Moreover, the enemy carries the battle right into the home-battlefront with his tactical bombers, in order to destroy the large railway systems, especially railway junctions, marshalling yards, locomotive shops, bridges and important works connected with the war industry.
Notwithstanding the highly developed railway system and the numerous good main and secondary roads, the enemy succeeded by attacking in force and uninterruptedly with his air force to interrupt supplies and replacements and cause so many casualties in rolling stock and motorized columns that supply and replacements have become a very serious problem. The nearer the battle area, the more frequently appear the fighters and bombers employed in "road-chasing," By their attacks they interrupt all major movements in good weather by day and by using flares at night. The emphasis of the enemy air attacks lay at first on the main highways. but now they are attacking every form of movement, covering an area of at least 20 km. behind the main line of resistance, as well as by-roads in the battlefield. Wherever the enemy's reconnaissance shows a disposition of troops, an attack by bomber formations follows within a short time. It is absolutely essential that motor vehicles keep long distances from each other within the columns.
Command posts are being given away by their wireless stations.-- Radio stations must therefore be at such a distance from the command post that the post is not covered in the bombsight or by sticks of bombs. Where the command posts are not fortified, they must be changed frequently. Planning reconnaissance is therefore essential; so is notification to the respective commanding authorities, so that the command post concerned can be found.
Within two and a half days, at a depth from the enemy bridgehead of about 65 miles, 29,000 enemy sorties were counted; of these, about 2,300 aircraft a day dive-bomb and strafe every movement on the ground, even a single soldier.
(4) Further Effects--Railroad transport which anyhow, because of the total traffic situation, has been reduced to a certain minimum, can scarcely be brought nearer than 200-250 kilometers from the front and this too, without any planned schedule. The sections of railway lines change hourly, according to the weather conditions; the trains may be in close succession (buffer to buffer) or they may travel only at night. Also, as was at once recognized, violent air attacks often lead to the blocking of transports within sections of railway lines. Railway terminals, and consequently the unloading of units or the setting up of supply bases, are constantly changing and require extraordinarily flexible leadership and mobile labor battalions for swift unloading the moment messages arrive.
Marches by day are obviously excluded in good weather. The short summer nights must be used from dusk to the morning shooting light for exact reconnoitering of streets and crossings, for the preparation of smooth engagements, for quick marching in loose formation, for avoiding main streets and smoothly seeping into the rest areas where reconnoitering has been carried on. The troops must constantly be prepared for low flying attacks so that all means of protection for them against air attacks can be immediately put into effect. Long overland marches of half-track units and the bringing up of supplies in marches over long stretches lead also to losses though enemy action, to great wear and tear, and to technical defects. The elimination of these must be carefully organized in order that the calculations made by the command may be at least adhered to in some degree and that troops, supplies and replacements may be brought up to the appointed place in proper tine.
Our own systematically organized counter-measures must be applied to meet the methodical operational strategy of the enemy's warfare.
I--(a) In the safety belt, new units to be brought up on transports through all the designated transport duty stations must be instructed about the air situation, about their conduct when there is danger from the air and when an alert is sounded, and also about their actions during unloading.
Advance patrols cannot be sent ahead too soon. As it is, they will be held up by many circumstances. The Quartermaster of every advance patrol must regularly report to the High Command in the West or to the High Command of the Army.
According to the ruling of the General Commanding Troops in the West, great quantities of maps (small size) must be held ready at all unloading stations, which are to be given out by representatives of the transport commands to the incoming transports. (The same procedure to be followed in the case of quartermaster, High Command the Army, etc.)
On march, army patrols are to be detailed to provide guides familiar with the local areas and also other support to the relevant units. Reconnoitering of bridges to be carried on regularly in proper time, since in the interim new and unreported destructions may have taken place. The order of march and the guarding of the streets in the safety belt are the concern of the military commanders who have to be Informed in proper time by the appropriate command concerning the bringing up of units, concerning the march objectives and the march patrols, etc.
(b) In the battle area all the movements on the battlefield by day--the shifting of troop dispositions or the formation of new pivotal Positions--require much more time than was allocated originally even in a careful estimate, Therefore, movements and battles come into the foreground at dusk and during darkness in order to block out the effect of the enemy air force and the direct observation by enemy artillery.
The organization of the whole battle area (as a rule approximately the area of the "battle zone") requires the most rigid planning from the rear area up to the main battle line.
Street commanders are to be appointed to watch over all the traffic from and to the front, Circuitous routes around villages are to be mapped out and to be posted with signs. Signpost materials are to be prepared at destroyed crossings, roads in great danger from air attacks are to be provided with warning signs, and traffic shall pass through in very loose formation only in darkness or in weather conditions corresponding to darkness. Channels for the incoming and outgoing of supplies are to be fixed, as well as reconnoitered parking places for columns outside of the camps. At these places small intermediary supply depots, well dispersed, are to be set up at suitable places and to be made secure.
The employment of responsible officers (mostly from the fortress engineer staffs) are necessary for the continual repair of the streets; these officers along with our assigned units and with the help of the inhabitants must keep the streets in constant state of serviceability. Every light flak weapon not absolutely needed in the safety belt behind the battle zone--from objectives already destroyed or which now play a secondary role--is to be so used at supply bases in the battle area; low-flying aircraft will be warded off under all circumstances.
II--Camouflage in all forms must be stressed again and again.--Troop and column leaders must know that once a unit or column has been discovered by enemy aircraft it will be attacked from the air until put completely out of action, Therefore tank cover holes must be provided at irregular intervals to the right and left of the, road, under the direction of the officers who are responsible for the road columns, with the help of all available labor from the inhabitants and with the active, participation of the troops themselves, There is always need for camouflage adapted to the terrain. The roads should be cleared of damaged vehicles in the quickest possible time through the organized road clearance service.
III--The enemy had deployed very strong naval forces off the shores of the bridgehead. These can be used as quickly mobile, constantly available artillery, at points where they are necessary as defense against our attacks or as support for enemy attacks, During the day their fire is skillfully directed by observation balloons attached to the ships, by aircraft observers, and by advanced ground fire spotters. Because of the high rapid-fire capacity of naval guns they play an important part in the battle within their range. The movement of tanks by day, in open country, within the range of these naval guns is hardly possible.
IV--In one case the enemy broke into the attack of one of our own divisions which had gained good ground by employing airborne troops in such a manner that the supporting forces of the division were tied down in local fighting while moving up. This deprived the division of the success of its attack. We must reckon with the fact that the enemy will continue this practice, whenever our tanks are attacking. Therefore all units in the rear must be prepared for immediate defense in order to destroy airborne forces.
V--The enemy prepares smaller-scale attacks with barrage-like firing by using many trench mortars, which is followed by tank thrusts supported by motorized infantry.
VI--Strict control of the population must be exercised, especially of the "road bums" in the battle zone and in the rear areas. If every alarm unit is properly employed the road situation will soon become a different matter.
Suspicious persons, especially young men with "small suitcases," may have arrived secretly. Whoever does not belong in a particular place, whoever cannot give a clear account of the destination and the purpose of his wanderings, should be arrested and delivered to the labor forces.
VII--Means of Communications.--Wire connections in the battle area break down to the point of uselessness. Apart from radio, only the overland mechanical means of sending messages are left--the cyclist, the motorcycle messenger, the officer in the sidecar or in the light armored car, and for short distances the runner.
All troops and all commanders must strive to get a clear picture of all happenings and seek to establish contact with the higher and lower units, especially at times when the normal means of communications are lost. This is particularly important in the case of commanders who are receiving troops or larger formations. The commanders must be continually informed as to the position of the vanguard of such formations at any given time, and regarding the arrangements for rest and further marching. It is specially important for the command to be continually informed about the location of half-track units, which are a part of land movements.
Such formations or parts of formations are to be sought by detailed liaison officers, accompanied by them and when necessary have orders transmitted to them. The liaison officer knows where these formations will be during the next hours and can report it to his commander. He can also transmit the wishes of the troops in regard to provisions and supplies and attend to them.
During the first days of the big battle it follows of necessity that under certain conditions formations will be missed, or else in cases of need they may go into battle split up. This is only a passing emergency solution, As soon as conditions permit, clear formations and thereby clear orders are to be re-established.
I have purposely had these experiences set down in detail, because many formations in the West, are newly arriving forces, still do not know the practice of battle, in spite of all previously received orders and instructions.
Supreme Commander in the West,
(Signed) von Rundstedt,