MS # B-403
H.D.I.E. 10 Mar 47
Translator: W. Stoffel
Employment of 711 Inf Div on the Invasion front
6 Jun - 24 Jul 44
Preliminary remarks: This work is being written after more than 2½ years and without references. Therefore, it cannot claim to be fully accurate as to dates and figures. During the whole period, the writer was commander of 711 Inf Div.
I. History of proceeding events
The 711 Inf Div was a newly organized Division 15th wave. As to its strength and equipment the Division had been originally organised only for occupational purposes. It disposed of only two Inf Regts (three battalions each but minus 13 and 14 Company), one light artillery battalion, one engineer battalion, consisting of two companies, one antitank battalion, of 2 companies, one signal battalion comprising two companies and the most essential supply troops.
At first the Division was employed as occupying force at the line of demarcation between the occupied and the unoccupied part of France, later on as fortress division at various places of the Atlantic coast in France. When I took over the Division on 1 Apr 43, it had already been employed for a long time as left wing-division of the 15 Army in the same coastal sector between the Seine and the Orne, in which it was located also at the time of the Invasion.
The sector of the Division was considered as a so-called intermediate terrain, that is a terrain, which was not directly threatened by enemy large-scale landings, particularly as there was no large harbour, which could be effectively used strategical!. It was assumed, however, that some of its parts could also be involved, in the event of an enemy landing near Le Havre or Cherbourg. In the former case the enemy would probably occupy the highlands between the Seine and Touques; in the latter that between Touques and Dives, if for no other purpose than in order to prevent an attack from there against the flank of its landing forces.
The key point of the entire division combat sector was, therefore, the Mt Canisy (south of Deauville), controlling both the apparently endangered highlands east of Touques and east of the Dives. It was, therefore, especially fortified and equipped with artillery.
The type of terrain, which offered the most favourable landing possibilities to the enemy was located between Trouville and Villers s Mar and between Houlgate and the left divisional boundary. The other coastal area was either a steep coast or a swampy district like the mouth of the Seine from the right divisional boundary near Berville as far as Honfleur. Unfavourable for a landing in the mouth of the Seines itself seemed also its ever-changing state of being choked up with either sand or mud as well as the possibility of immediate effect of the fortress Le Havre, which was well equipped with a relatively strong artillery.
It was the task of the Division, to prevent any enemy landings- the MLR being the coastal line at high tide-by a counterattack to throw back again into the sea any weaker enemy forces who might have invaded the coastal line or to seal off stronger forces who might have succeeded in penetrating until the arrival of necessary reinforcements.
According to this mission and considering the probable enemy intentions as well as the suitability of the terrain features, the positions were improved either as concentrated fortress areas or simple field fortifications. In the same manner forces were deployed and heavy weapons emplaced as far as they were available. (See the traced map attached hereto).
The weapons of such a weak division by themselves would have rendered the defense of a coastal sector of 45 km completely illusory. Therefore a quantity of permanent weapons and permanent equipment was assigned to the Division as well as to each division employed on the const. These consisted mainly of captured weapons (guns of 50 to 150 mm caliber, antitank guns, M.G., mortars and flame throwers), which except for the 150 mm guns, had to be operated entirely by the infantrymen of the Division.
Thus practically almost the entire infantry, which was employed in the strong points on the coast, handled either artillery or heavy infantry weapons.
In addition to the standard armament of the troops, an infantry strong point disposed of one to four 50 mm guns mounted on trucks, one to three antitank guns or 75 mm LAK and two to five MG or mortars. Each strong point was provided with ammunition and supplies to last for several weeks. From the available French 150 mm howitzers there were formed four batteries of four guns each and incorporated into the Division in such a manner, that at first through command channels one artillery regimental staff and two mixed artillery battalions were organized from the personnel of the artillery battalion available according to the order of battle.
It resulted tactically in the employment of one artillery group East on the mountainous terrain east of Touques and one artillery group West on the mountainous terrain east of Touques and one artillery group West on the range of heights east of the Dives. The main strength of artillery fire power was represented in the main coastal artillery Battalion 1255 with three batteries of six French 150 mm guns and one French 100 mm gun battery consisting of four guns, to which another gun battery of 150 mm caliber with four naval guns was added later on.
For the conduct of battle on the coast it was generally ordered that the battle on the whole was to be conducted from open fire positions. For the single firing positions the possibility of all-around fire was demanded. The fortifications which had to be improved had to serve as protection for the heavy weapons and personnel of strong points against the bombardment from the sea and from the air, which generally proceeded an enemy landing. Direct firing through loopholes was permitted only for single specially important flanking positions.
According to the MLR as ordered (high tide line), the type of terrain (mostly vaulted slopes) and the covered terrain (the lengthy villages close to the beach) most of the strong points had to be also set up in the immediate vicinity of the beach. In addition to the completion of the flanking defense works, which were considered as particularly important, the following priority was established for the improvement of the fortified positions: shellproof shelters for crews of the strong points as well as for anti-landing guns and antitank guns (garages) command posts for the staffs, emplacement of the Army's coastal artillery, partial emplacement of the divisional artillery.
At about the turn of the year 1943/44 the threat of an invasion became more acute, perhaps owing to available news from England. The troops became aware of it on account of the now commencing inspection tours by Field Marshal Rommel, who had been given extraordinary powers and who brought new life into the work of construction of the so-called Atlantic Wall, progressing, it is true, steadily, but nevertheless slowly.
By this time the improvement in the divisional sector progressed to such an extent, that the entire garrisons of the strong points although rather crowded, could be put up in shell proof quarters. The same applied to the bulk of the antilanding and antitank guns, as well as to all of the regimental and battalion staffs. The construction of a few pill boxes for the Army coastal artillery had begun.
A continuous wire entanglement extended along the whole coast. The terrain between individual strong points and further inland of them was mined. Automatic barrage fire of the artillery as well as fire concentrations in front of individual sectors were fixed and tested in practice with live ammunition. Firs concentrations in front of sectors which seemed particularly threatened and also on land could be quickly put into effect by means of code words. Also with the neighbors to the left and the right the protection of the lines of demarcation was organized and practiced. The garrisons of the strong points were being constantly trained for their tasks and the reserves instructed for employment in any imaginable situation.
The general training was now almost completely neglected. The whole Division including the supply units and the rear services became construction troops. In a few months at a working speed increased tenfold a continuous, strong system of obstacles in several rows came into being close to the beach in front of whole coastal sector for the protection against an enemy landing at high tide. Shortly before the beginning of the Invasion at single places there was under construction yet a second obstacle-line-so called 'nut-cracker' mines which were punk into the water by boat in front of the dry ebb-sector, for the protection against an enemy landing at low ebb.
Moreovur all large free areas up to a depth of 15 km which seemed to be suitable for an air landing were strengthened with piles. The work on concrete construction by the organization Todt had to be continued during spare time. The demand for an all-round defense by all weapons was abandoned, instead an increased construction of flanking pill boxes for KWK and LAK, and at leapt concrete-reinforced protect.! to the sea was demanded. This work which had been done hitherto only by the organization Todt, had now to be accomplished also by the troops.
Single enemy planes appeared now and then to take photos. It was certain that the enemy espionage was as active as ever; as the population had not yet been evacuated. (This was proved after the Invasion by captured British maps which contained markings for each weapon in the individual strong points). But there was neither a fighter bomber attack nor were bombs dropped on places of construction.
The pill boxes for the Army coastal artillery increased mora and more, were being stripped, and guns were being mounted. Until about May the entire coastal sector was completely peaceful. But the invasion -psychosis - I considered it as such at that time-continued. The reserves had to leave their barracks and were to be deployed in field type shelters or natural caves near the coast ready for an immediate counterattack. All vehicles and motor vehicles had to be dispersed and to be dug-in splinterproof. The same applied to the sheltering of horses.
A second line, one to two km in the rear of the strong points was improved in a field type way, also switch positions along the Seine, Touques and Dives. Against possible air landings a constant observation service extending over the entire sector of the Division was being organised. A second position ten to twenty km off the coast, was established in the form of strong points in a field type way. Mine fields and dummy mine fields were being laid in depth and mine obstacles being prepared on the roads. The Dives and Divette were dammed up and the whole Dives valley flooded as far as deep into the hinterland.
All billets were improved to serve as strong points. A provisional mobilizing of the Division, preparations for which had already be on made at the initial organization, was practiced.
Some hundred Dornier projectors (Do-werfer) were installed toward the probable landing centers of gravity near the coast, two mortar companies formed and employed for a more effective concentration of the fire on the steep coast between Villers s Mer and Houlgate. The Div artillery was reinforced by one detachment of medium field howitzers 130 mm on self-propelled carriages, the antitank company of the Division was enlarged into an antitank battalion by mobilizing a further company and for each infantry regiment one strong antitank platoon was formed comprising five antitank guns. In addition thirty to forty 20 mm antiaircraft guns were allotted to the Division and distributed among infantry and artillery.
Although the improvement of the position was by far not yet completed and I realized, that presumably every coastal division, which would be affected by the Invasion, had to be written off in the long run, 1 believed nevertheless, that in conjunction with one armored Division located in the vicinity of Lisieux, with which all possibilities of a commitment had been agreed upon, I would be able to fulfil my task. On the other hand, I personally was not all convinced, that an invasion across the Channel would take place, not even when at the beginning of May the first heavy bombs started to fall-probably intended for the 100 mm Army coastal batteries between Villerville and Trouville. As the majority of the bombs fell into the sea and only a few villas along the beach had been destroyed, I considered the whole thing at first as an unsuccessful emergency bombing release. I realised my mistake only, when after a few days the coastal batteries on Mt Canisy were bombed, on which occasion two pill boxes which had only just been completed, were shot to pieces and rendered useless. The same happened to all the four Army coastal batteries, some of which were attacked two or three times during the course of this time. The first attacks also brought losses, the guns, however, remained intact. Minor damages, which occurred, could be repaired within a short time. Also a 150 mm battery of the divisional artillery was hit, however, neither losses of men nor of material occurred.
Because the bombardments extended along the whole Channel coast, without any indication of a special center of gravity, no conclusions could be drawn, where a possible invasion was planned. The simultaneous air attacks against the French railways and railroad stations at the same time impeded completely the bringing up of supplies. The whole situation was further characterised by air attacks on the Seine bridges, the objective of which--at the most-waa to prevent the German troops from crossing the Seine either from east to west or vice versa.
Thus everything could be considered as a preparatory stage for an invasion across the Channel, what it actually was and as it was understood by Higher German Commands, all the more so, as we knew about the strength of all the forces which were concentrated on the southern coast of England, but all this did not give us a clue as to where the Invasion would take place. I was personally more inclined to suppose that everything was a huge bluff-just as our Atlantic Wall was from the point of view of defense-with the object of helping the Russian ally to tie down strong German forces. Even so, the harassing of supply lines attained its end and I considered the Western Powers to be rich enough to afford such a tremendously deceptive action.
By the spring of 1944 developments on the Eastern front had already turned out so unfavorable for us that, if one did not believe in a German Magic weapon, one could see the end coming anyway. Besides, an Invasion in Europe had already been made by the Anglo-Americans in Italy and also gained ground there. I could not imagine, therefore, that specially the British would risk their fleet once more for a new large-scale operation before the end of the war and considered a new landing in the rear of the German forces in Italy as more likely, be it on the East or West coast of Italy or on the South Coast of France.
That the V1 and V2 launching bases which were being built along the whole Channel coast and which were threatening England, would urgently necessitate an Invasion there, I did not believe either, as this threat could already be counteracted sufficiently by a corresponding employment of the superior air force alone.
If, however, the Invasion across the Channel was planned in earnest, then it very likely would take place, only as a result of pressure on the part of the Russian ally, as also the German press repeatedly reported. In that case one would hardly take the risk of launching it at an operatively decisive place, in the knowledge that a kind of Atlantic Wall really existed, where one was expected, but rather at a place were conditions ware easiest for the attacker and where the risk for a landing was slightest. Thus I expected a possible invasion across the Channel on the Cotentin Peninsula with the serviceable harbor of Cherbourg, which offered a good opportunity of landing and had the shape of a peninsula, facing an enemy who pratically had no navy at its disposal. Furthermore it would soon offer covered flanks and thus make it relatively easy to hold a bridgehead, until enough forces could be landed, in order to start decisive operations in conjunction with the extremely superior air forces--even if at first this area would prove to be a quite unfavorable operative one-and then launch the decisive advance.
The 7 Army, by the way, also expected the Invasion to take place against the Cotentin peninsula. That even the Higher Command figured on the possibility of an invasion at that point appears from the fact, that during the last months prior to the Invasion a number of fresh Divisions were brought up to that front by which the Individual divisional defense sectors were considerably reduced.
At any rate the landing on the Cotentin Peninsula was only thought of as a secondary action. However, we rather awaited the maim offensive to take place north of the Seine as proved by the hesitant measures to bring up reinforcements from the area north of the Seine after the actual start of the invasion. In case the enemy had sufficient forces at his disposal, this idea of accomplishing an operation of such decisive importance for the issue of the war could certainly not be ignored.
For the Division the time up to 5 Jun 44 passed in strenuous construction work by day, on guard duties at night at different stages of alertness, according to the weather conditions and the arrival of news from the V men. As heretofore on 4 Jun in consequence of a report from a V-man that the Invasion was to be expected on 5 Jun, a full scale alert (Alarmstufe I) was ordered for the night of 4 Jun. However, during the night, as well as on the following day perfect quiet prevailed again. For the following night, as far as I can remember, the second stage of alert was ordered during which half of the men had the right to sleep with their clothes on.
II. The Invasion
1.) Order of battle of the 711 Inf Div on 6 Jun 44, see enclosure.
2.) Composition of forces on 6 Jun 44, see traced map.
3.) Condition of 711 Inf Div on 6 Jun 44.
As the Division since its formation had only been employed in occupied France, its main body consisted of men without any war experience. About 20% have had battle experience in the East. The majority consisted of men, who owing to frost bites could no longer be employed on the Eastern front and had therefore been exchanged for younger soldiers of the Division.
Conditions were similar with noncommissioned officers, while the situation as to officers was somewhat more favorable inasmuch as in spring 1944, when the danger of an invasion grew more acute, a number of officers of older age classes were exchanged for younger ones, who had combat experience. A considerable weakening-not in numbers but in fighting ability, was brought upon the Division by the transfer in 1943 to the East of the complete I Battalion of Inf Regt 731 in exchange for a Russian battalion, employed on the right wing of the Division, which appeared to be least endangered. The average age of men in the Division was approximately thirty years.
The Division was well trained-especially for the tasks assigned- but for bigger tactical operations of a mobile nature, the training had only been a theoretical one. As fortress unit, the Division had not at its disposal the necessary horses, vehicles and motor vehicles. A motorization in a makeshift way by the help of local equipment had merely been prepared. Only the antitank battalion, 175 mm gun battery and one platoon of 130 mm medium field howitzers on self-propelled carriage were motorized. In addition, the Division had the disposal of a thirty ton motor transport column. LOSSES by the preceding air attacks were very slight.
4. The course of the Invasion
As on the whole day of 5 Jun, the following night until Just after midnight passed completely quiet. We were still in the Casino of the divisional staff until about 0030 hours of the 6 Jun and were just about ready to retire, when an exceedingly loud noise of motors of single planes, flying apparently very low over our quarters at tremendous speed, attracted our attention. The fact of the air activity as such, at that time, was not surprising, because our own and the enemy's busy air routes of incoming and outgoing planes lay directly over us. which was used nearly every night. It struck us as strange, however, that the planes were flying so low that we had the feeling, they might almost touch the roof.
It was a full mooned night and the weather fairly stormy with low-hanging black cloud pieces between which several low flying planes could be distinctly observed, flying no particular course but moving in a circle around the Division Command post. Just after having entered the house again, in order to arm myself, I heard cries outside of: Parachutists! Dashing again into the open, I still saw a few parachutes landing near the Div command post. In the meantime the 20 mm antiaircraft guns which were employed in the strong point, had opened fire.
Immediately after the alert had been given, the strong point was occupied by clerks, messengers, drivers, orderlies, etc.-the guard company which had been on duty hitherto, had to be dissolved a few days ago to reinforce the front troops. Considering the extent of the strong point (about 700 ms in diameter) the garrison was extremely weak. Whilst the Ha organized the direct defense cf the strong point, I ordered the Ia to alarm the whole Division sector and reported to the superior command, the LXXXI Army Corps at Rouen. The entire wire net was intact. In the meantime the first prisoners--two parachutists who had landed in the strong point itself-were taken, who, however, could not give exact details as to the purpose of the undertaking, and probably did not want to.
Although in the meantime the enemy air activity and with that also the defensive fire of cur 20 mm antiaircraft guns had stopped, so that everything seemed to be peaceful gain. I, on the other hand, realised, that it was a sure sign of the beginning of the Invasion, which we had expected for a long time, no matter whether it was planned at this point, or whither the air operation was only a faint. The first impression was, that it was an attempt to wipe out the command post. As a first measure I ordered, therefore the nearest reserve troops, one engineer company located near St Armould, to reinforce the strong point of the divisional command post. The following few hours passed very slowly and we expected the attack of the air-landed enemy at any moment, although the reconnaissance patrols, sent into the immediate terrain did not contact any enemy. Only nervous firing by the strong point forces with no battle experience at returning reconnaissance patrols took place.
When on 6 Jun about 0300 hours, the engineer troops arrived, an immediate danger to the divisional command post had been eliminated. In the meantime, from reports coming in from the regiment etc, I had received the impression, that all of the troops were ready for defense along the coast; that in the remaining area adjoining the coast as east of Touques,-also in the farther hinterland,- everything was quiet and under control, whereas the presence of a great number of parachutists and landed supply-carrying gliders had been ascertained in the area between Touques and Orne, mainly on the left part of the divisional actor and between Dives and Orne. Against these forces the fighter commands and the local reserves had already been committed. Connection to the left neighboring unit was maintained everywhere .
In connection with my deliberations already made previously about the possibility of an invasion by the enemy, I arrived at the conclusion that the enemy invasion would be made on the Cotentin peninsula and that the airborne troops who had already landed were to take possession of the mountainous terrain between Touques and Dives, so as to prevent the effect of enemy fire from there against the left flank of the invasion area.
Therefore it appeared to me that the right divisional sector to the east of Touques was safe enough, to permit me to take the responsibility of transferring the reserve battalion located there, still at night into uncertainty; at any rate into the endangered area, all the more so as in view of the enemy air activity which had to be expected, a transfer at day time would meet with the greatest difficulties owing to the few Touques crossings and the open terrain that had to be passed.
I ordered therefore, this battalion also to move into an area directly to the east of the divisional command post to be at my disposal, so as to be able to employ the latter as becomes necessary either against the landed enemy airborne troops or against an enemy who had to be expected from the sea. Just after dawn this battalion too reached the area as ordered without encountering enemy resistance.
Besides, the artillery was set up to direct concentrated fire in front of the left wing of the divisional sector. Once during the night a volley could be heard from the sea, which, however, soon died out. Later on it was reported, that a German convoy had encountered an enemy invasion fleet. Otherwise the night was quiet, until about dawn, when the main operation, the landing from the sea commenced. It began with a sort of heavy barrage lasting for a long time against the coast from the sea and the air, which extended in some places-in the east-as far as Cabourg and to the heights south of Houlgate. The whole horizon appeared to be a sole mass of flames, until the fire, perhaps after the landing of the first elements, was gradually reduced to single-shot fire.
It lasted a little more than an hour until reports came in, according to which the enemy landing had only taken place west of the Orne. Our own positions had suffered very little from the enemy fire, losses in men were very slight, because the main body of the occupying forces had taken shelter during the bombardment.
Thus we could start with the further mopping up of the hinterland. The two reserve battalions were charged with this task, that is, the reserve battalion of the left regiment had to mop up the sector between the coast and the road St Arnould--Varaville (inclusive) and the other one, of the right regiment, the area between the mentioned road Pont l'Eveque- Troarn (inclusive). At first our main efforts were directed along the roads, so as to render free the lines of communications. Parts of the antitank battalion were subordinated for this purpose. This mopping up action had more or less been completed by the evening of 6 Jun.
The parachutists, who had landed, did not succeed, probably owing to the countermeasures which were immediately taken locally, in forming groups of any considerable fighting strength, so that in most cases only slight resistance was offered, which could be broken very quickly. Most of them kept in hiding and surrendered offering no resistance. The prisoners taken, who belonged to the 1 English and 1 Canadian Battalion of the 2 British Airborne Division, made only very meagre statements from which could be assumed that they belonged to elements which became lost and scattered. They were to bail out between the Dives and the Orne and had taken the Dives river damming to be the Orne, because the former looked much bigger than the latter. One man in particular reported, that originally a landing had been envisaged from the sea as far as Cabourg, but that modern obstacles ahead of the beach, the presence of which had been ascertained ...ere, had caused them to abandon this plan. This was to some extent, confirmed by British maps, which were found later with the most accurate markings of individual strong points and the obstacles ahead of the beaches. A number of the latter ones in the Cabourg sector had been marked with question marks.
The connection-with the neighbouring 716 Div directly affected by the landing operation-which owing to the overloading of the wire net was achieved there only after considerable time, indicated that along the entire divisional sector and farther to the West the enemy had forced a landing and had penetrated the coastal area to a depth of two to three km. It was blocked up in a preliminary makeshift way. From the noise of battle, which could be heard from the coast, it could be concluded, that single strong points on the coast were still holding out. Further counter-measures 'ad been taken. With regard to elements of 716 Div to the east of the Orne I could find out, that the coastal strong points were being held and that there was contact between the 716 and 711 Division on the coast as well as near Varaville.
By moon the roads in our own divisional sector had already been cleared by fighting to such an extent that I could drive from the car to the command post of my left Regiment (744). In the thick brushwood we were able well to evade the fighter bombers which occasionally appeared over the sector. Already on ay way to the regimental command IK 744, I saw a number of parachutes hanging from trees and telephone wires. The terrain in the vicinity of the regimental command post was rather shell-torn, the command post itself, however, had not been hit. from the roof of the castle one could see the enemy fleet outside and observe a lively coming and going of boats to and from the coast. The coastal battery near Houlgate fired against the landing enemy near Ouistreham west of the Orne. From the regimental command post I drove to the heights east of Brucourt, four km to the south of Cabourg, from where one could take a good view of the terrain between the Orne and the Dives. Here we had more and more proof of the airlanding of the enemy.
A hundred meters away from the road there was a shattered four motor bomber lying on the ground, damaged and undamaged troop-carrying gliders were scattered about on the fields or caught in clusters of trees. The terrain to the west of the Dives was dotted with yellow points (parachutes). Noise of battle close by could not be heard. Only from the direction of Ouistreham weak sound of MG fire could be heard and one could see single artillery impacts.
On the evening of 6 Jun the impression prevailed, that the entire coastal sector of the division including the sector of the 716 Division to the east of the Orne was firmly in our hands, that the damage of material in the strong points affected by the bombardment was only slight and that the enemy who had airlanded in the individual sector, was for the greater part annihilated with only slight losses on our part. About three hundred men were taken prisoner.
A further advance with the two reserve battalions into the neighbouring sector would hardly have been possible considering the little time available, but it did not seem advisable, because, in spite of the statement by the prisoners there was no proof whatsoever, that the enemy had not tried to take possession of the heights between Touques and Dives after all, and that we had to prepare for a new airlanding or even a landing from the sea. Apparently the LXXXI Corps was also of the same opinion, which -in the evening-confirmed the bringing up of a regiment of the 346 Div (minus one battalion) one artillery battalion and one engineer battalion The task of the Division was: To advance with these forces toward the bridge near Benouville, which according to reports made by pilots was undamaged; to destroy the bridge and to seal off the enemy landing at the Orne. Besides, the Army coastal artillery was ordered to start immediately harassing fire against the bridge. The portions of 716 Div, which were still located to the east of the Orne, were subordinated to the Division.
In order to carry out this task, I intended to move into position near Varaville the artillery battalion which had been brought up; to assemble the Regt west of Varaville and-fully echeloned to the right and to the left, the centre advancing via church Breville-to attack the Orne bridge near Benouville. At the same time, the reserve battalion of Inf Regt 744 of the Division was to push forward Via Merville-Sallenelles, to press in the enemy bridgehead east of the Orne from the North and to split up the enemy defence. Artillery support by the Divisional artillery was possible only as far as the line Franceville-Plage-Breville, beyond it, only by one battery of the Army coastal artillery. Advance observers were to proceed with both attack columns.
The Regimental Commander of the 34.6 Inf Div, who arrived on the night of 6 Jun, was accordingly instructed. He believed, that his troops might arrive at about 1100 hours.
On the morning of 7 Jun the Infantry 744 reported, that an enemy reconnaissance patrol had felt its way forward along the causeway Varaville--Beriersen en Auge through the flooded sector of the Dives as far as the Dives bridge near Periersen Auge. This was only possible, if, in the meantime the strong point Varaville of 716 Inf Div had been taken by the enemy.
As the carrying out of the attack, as ordered, against the Orne bridge depended on the possession of Varaville, the commander of the Inf Reg 744. was ordered to recapture Varaville with the reserve battalion of the regiment, which was once more placed under his command for this purpose. Thereupon a strong assault detachment was committed by the Regiment to attack Varaville from Periers on Auge and advanced with two companies along the road Cabourg-Varaville. After a short fight the enemy about one platoon strong evacuated the Varaville strong point and withdrew in a western direction.
After the report had come in, that Varaville had been cleared again of the enemy, I drove there with the Regimental Commander of 346 Inf Div and gave him detailed information about the assembly area. In the strong point, Varaville, a terrible confusion prevailed. There were parts of uniforms lying about, steel helmets, cooking utensils, ammunition and the like. But not one corpse of the former strong point garrison (a Russian platoon), which very likely had been suddenly attacked while sleeping and taken prisoner or had gone over the enemy.
At about l4OO hours the first portions of the Regiment of 346 Inf Div arrived. It might have bean 1600 hours until the artillery had been emplaced and the moving into the assembly area had been concluded. Then the advance was made without encountering any enemy resistance at first. Slight resistance East of Breville could be overcome in a relatively short time. In spite of strong enemy resistance we also succeeded in penetrating into Breville and in crossing the road leading from Breville to the South. There, however, the attack bogged down in the enemy defense fire. Likewise we did not succeed in approaching Amfreville under the fire of its garrison which had very skilfully barricaded itself in the place and the excellently directed artillery fire of the enemy. Moreover, our forces which had penetrated into Breville, were soon driven out of the village by a counterattack launched by British troops.
Simultaneously with the regiment of the 346 Inf Div, the Reserve Battalion of the Inf Regt 744 had also advanced from the region west of Cabourg, but was soon taken under fire from Franceville Plage, where in the meantime British forces had pushed forward, in order to take the coastal strong points located there from land. They did not succeed, however, in penetrating into any of these strong points. Only one battery position near Merville had been taken by them. However, the artillerymen had barricaded themselves in the adjoining chambers of the gun pill boxes taking with them the sighting devices and breeches of the gun tubes; apparently the enemy had no explosives available, because the guns were still intact when they fell into our hands once more during our present attack against Franceville Plage and Merville. Later on, this battery was the only one, apart from parts of the Army coastal artillery, which was able to harass enemy operations near Ouistreham and west of it. However, during these actions of the battalion much time was lost. By the evening, the attack carried only as far as Sallenelles, which soon after was recaptured by the enemy in a counterattack.
Although we succeeded on 7 Jun in penetrating deeply into the enemy bridgehead east of the Orne, the objective of our mission had not been achieved. On the other hand the attack of the two battalions of 346 Inf Div had caused us heavy losses. A continuation of the attack on the following day without bringing up new forces, especially artillery, was out of the question. For the time being we could be glad to hold the lines gained. This estimate was also reported to the Corps, whereupon the bringing up of an additional battalion and one artillery battalion of 346 Inf Div was promised.
In the meantime the reserve battalion of Inf Reg 731 had combed the area searching for airborne troops and approximately an additional one hundred men were taken prisoners.
The night of 7 Jun passed without any special events. On 8 Jun at about 1100 hours I reached the command post of the regiment of 346 Inf Div,-Varaville,-where the newly brought up Inf battalion-its vehicles still standing on the road-had arrived a short time ago, when four fighter bombers attacked with bombs and aircraft armaments. At the time of the second air attack the necessary dispersal, which otherwise would have required a considerable effort of voice had already been achieved by itself. The actual success of the air attack was not large It caused a few being wounded, a few dead horses and two burned out ammunition trucks, but for the inexperienced battalion this had been quite a shock. I can no longer remember where the battalion was employed at that time, whether ..er closing the gap near Gonneville or in the direction of Bavent, where parts of the Russian battalion of 716 Div were said to be still holding their position. In any case, the Battalion was not involved in any serious engagement on that day. The new artillery battalion arrived considerably later. At any rate we had now at least sufficient forces for holding the line gained.
On the evening of 8 Jun the Commander of the 346 Inf Div arrived, who informed me, that on the night of 8 Jun he was going to cross the Seine with all the remaining portions of his Division and that he had been ordered to eliminate the enemy bridgehead east of the Orne, with his Division and the subordinated portions of the 21 Pz Div, which had tried to wipe out this bridgehead from the South.
Thus the portions of 346 Inf Div, which had hitherto been subordinated to the Division, were placed again under the command of their own Division; after having subordinated,-according to the orders from the Corps,--the reserve battalion of the Inf Regt 744, which together with an arti11ery battalion of the 346 Inf Div had been employed to attack the enemy held Orne bridgehead from Sallenelles, from the North. On 9 Jun I left the post of command on the actual Invasion front which existed to the end of this report (24 Jul 44) and was once more in charge of the old security mission along the coast as wall as the former security sector of 716 Inf Div to the Bast of the Orne.
The sola reserve battalion, which was still at the disposal of the Division-drawn from the Inf Regt 731 employed on the right-continued to remain on the left divisional sector. The combing of the area was continued, again and again some British soldiers were sighted, and now and then messengers shot at. Although the enemy airlanding had been unsuccessful at that time, its effects, later on became quite annoying* I have never been able to comprehend the object of the enemy airlanding in the divisional sector at that time. Probably the prisoners' statements were correct that soma elements had lost their route and became lost owing to the lack of flight commanders. This is also probably the reason why the fighting qualities of the troops, whose physical condition struck us very favorably, had such little effect. The portions, which were employed in the bridgehead to the East of the Orne and which were efficiently controlled, fought in an excellent manner both during the attack and the defense.
Likewise I do not quite understand why the allies made the airborne landing prior to the invasion from the sea, because the place of airborne landing was too near the coast for a feint, thereby neutralising the element of surprise.
During the following period work was started again in the sector of the Division. The construction work of the pill boxes on the Coast was being continued, the obstacles ahead of the beaches were reinforced, the switch position on the Dives sector was further improved and divisional artillery concentrated in the western part of the Division. The army coastal artillery wast of Touques was also withdrawn from the positions which had become known to the enemy and emplaced, well camouflaged in the hedgerows in such a way, as to render better support on the land front.
With the support of the engineer battalion of the Division the naval small-arms were employed from Villers s Mer against the enemy fleet, which, at the beginning, met with some success. Our own losses, however, were considerable. After the first commitment about 50$ returned, but with every new attack our losses became larger. Those men who did not get back during the night, became victims of the fighter bombers during the day. The activity of the latter became a real nuisance, which during the day gradual]y eliminated all traffic. At first the fighter bombers only attacked motor vehicles, later on also every horse-drawn vehicle. motorcycles and even individuals.
After the Division had been subordinated to the 7 Army and then again to the LXXXVI Army Corps during the second half of June, transfers to the artillery, antitank units, mortars and infantry increased more and more. This was caused by the considerable losses, which the 346 Inf Div suffered during the following attacks to eliminate the bridgehead east of the Orne and the enemy onslaughts which started later on. Therefore at this time the Division as such was not very much affected by the Invasion but some units were considerably weakened when the battles started again by the middle of August.
During the period of this report the overall losses of the Division itself were small, except for those detached units comprising after all, two infantry battalions, the whole antitank battalion, two mortar companies and strong portions of the artillery, which were extremely heavy, or just about 30-70%.
III. Special questions.
1.) What was the percentage of the KStN prior to the Invasion? The Division was complete in all its portions, one battalion, which had been detached, had been replaced by a Russian battalion.
2.) How many reinforcements were assigned to the Division.
a) Prior to the Invasion?
The antitank company of the Division was reorganized into an antitank battalion by the activation of a second company. Initial organization of an artillery regimental staff and of a second battalion staff.
Assigning one 130mm medium field howitzer platoon on self-propelled carriages. Otherwise only increased assignment of antitank guns for the organization of antitank platoons attached to the infantry regiments, as well as assignment of 20nm antiaircraft guns.
b) After the Invasion?
Apart from the temporary subordination of portions of 346 Inf Div as mentioned in the account, no reinforcements were brought up during the time of 7 - 9 Jun 44, because after that period the Division was no more affected by the Invasion, on the contrary, it had continuously to give up forces to the neighboring divisions on the Invasion front. 3.) To what extent was the Division motorized.
Only the antitank battalion, 170 mm battery, one platoon of 130mm medium field howitzer and the radio company were mobile. Besides, the Division had at its disposal a 30 ton motor transport column. I cannot any longer give an estimate, not even an approximate one, of the number of motor and horse-drawn vehicles. Of track-laying vehicles only one antitank company and the platoon of 130mm medium field howitzer on self propelled carriages, were available.
4.) Presumed main reasons for failure of the defense of the Cotentin peninsula. According to the principle that each leader should know only as much as is absolutely necessary, I am too little famillar with the details of conduct of battle on the Cotentin peninsula, in order to be able to give an over-all opinion. According to my personal impressions gained on the eastern wing of the Invasion area and Information one is sometimes able to hear by word of mouth, I arrived at the following conclusion:
a) With respect to the success of the landing:
The defender will never be able to prevent the initial successes of a large-scale attack, particularly so if the attacker succeeds in keeping secret the chosen attack area. After the so-called "Atlantic Wall" at most parts had been nothing else but an insufficient cloak of security, equipped with numerous reinforced fortifications and defensive weapons; it is true, but not at all sufficiently manned with one weak division holding a sector of forty km in a double-even three or four fold position-against an Invasion, carried out under the protection of concentrated fire from the sea and air and with an additional threat to the coastal garrisons by airborne troops, any landing attempt was bound to succeed, no matter where it was taking place. The choice of the place was of importance only so far, whether one was prepared to put up with minor or heavier losses in view of the opoerations envisaged later on.
In view of this situation, the questions which were mostly discussed regarding the defense of the coast-whether it would be better to build a few, heavily fortified, strong points and have them cover a larger depth or a continuous line of small pill boxes} whether one ought to fight from the inside of pill boxes, therefore to construct loop-holes, or to continue open warfare after enduring the bombardment in the pillboxes were of little importance.
Coastal defense alone was never in a position to hinder an enemy large-scale landing, it could only harass the enemy and report. The Higher Command, no doubt, had realized this too, and from the very beginning had expected the total loss of the coastal divisions affected by an enemy large-scale landing operation. They nevertheless fulfilled their purpose of harassing and weakening the enemy and furnishing reports about the operations. The coastal divisions on the whole were relieved of the anxiety about a threat he rear inasmuch as available forces permitted, reserve divisions were held ready in the near hinterland.
Thus, in my opinion, no serious mistakes had been made in the organization of the coastal defense and in the conduct of battle, which would have facilitated the landing of the enemy. The task for the coastal defense, to prevent an enemy landing,-applied to the case of a large-scale operation-meant asking for the impossible, in order to get all the results possible.
b) After the successful landing.
The most difficult stage of the operation for the attacking forces was not a speedy initial landing but the formation and holding of the first strongpoint on land with the view of securing further landings and a continuous flow of necessary supplies. In my opinion only immediate employment of tanks, which for this purpose had to be held ready near the coast, would have been able to solve this problem successfully against this landing. I know, that conforming to Rommel's point of view, despite the views held to the contrary, by the OB WEST, the 21 Pz Div on D-Day was held ready for action in the rear of 716 Inf Div. I do not know, however, whether and at what time it launched a counterattack and if so, which were the reasons for the failure of this counterattack.
Nevertheless neither the mistakes made in this respect, were a decisive reason for the failure of the defense, nor the fact that the mentality of the enemy was obviously too little understood by the German Command, but the typical German way of reasoning prevailing in the beginning that at this spot, apparently so unimportant strategically, the main operation had been launched by the enemy, in consequence of which steps for the transfer of forces from other parts were taken very reluctantly.
In my opinion the cardinal weakness of the German defense could be compared with a man who had been stripped of everything; who due to the lack of equipment had to direct all his thoughts to the trials and tribulations of the Invasion itself because no adequate preparations had been made to shield him in some degree from its terrible effects and from the onslaught of an enemy who had already achieved a bridgehead on land, instead of being able to lay his finger on the real root of all his woes, and the most sensitive one-namely-the enemy's armor-his fleet, which assured him of his supplies of men and material. If we should have gained a decislve success here, it would have been a trifle, to get the upper hand of the landed forces later on. Only two weapons would have been able to achieve this-the Navy and the Luftwaffe. A German Navy practically existed no longer. One of the first suppositions for the success of all invasion forces from the sea, was certainly the invention made by the enemy to eliminate the danger of the U-boats. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe, also existed only of broken fragments. In spite of all that, one should have expected everything that was still left of the Luftwaffe on all theaters of the war and in the homeland, would be assembled together with everything that was still worthy of the name of Navy, in order to launch an attack against the enemy fleet, against this, only minor attacks took place with a weak bomber wing, which at night and with individual planes only tried to release its bombs on the enemy fleet or drop mines into the approach route. The Navy made use of its small arms, until even the last man was lost.
Today I do not know, how badly off the Luftwaffe was at that time and that no neglect had occurred, but that it was absolutely impossible to get together even the minimum of forces necessary for such an undertaking.
That things could have come to such a state was due to mistakes made on the part of the Germans, but the bulk of deficiencies is certainly due to the Anglo-American air force, which untiringly smashed the production plants, wore down the people, and completely paralysed traffic Whoever-as 1 did-witnessed the continuous raids of British and American four motor bombers at the periphery of the Invasion's area- for hours on end the whole sky vibrated with deep sounds-up to one thousand planes were counted at tines and then the counting was given up as a bad job, because nobody could see the end of it-realized that no troops could stand any longer, where this blessing had come down.
Thus the Invasion wae neither successful because of mistakes made on our side, nor because its prompt execution which had been carefully planned by the enemy to its smallest detail, but because after five years of war with all its consequences on our front and in the homeland, the weapons, which alone could have enabled us to banish the danger-the Navy and the Luftwaffe-were almost non-existing. However, these were at the disposal of the Anglo-American forces to such an extent that it is hardly too much to say that it was like pitting two peoples against one another-one with bows and arrows and the other with fire arms.
Reichert Major General
Leo Freiherr von Geyr-Schweppenburg
15 March 1947.
Comments on the manuscript of General Reichert O.C. 711 Inf D
General Reichert comes from the Infantry, where he has been participating in World War I. He is 55 of age now. General Reichert had been in command of the 711 Inf Div for about two rears, beginning from Apr 1943.
1.) The report has an agreeable and personal touch. It gives a vivid picture of the outlook, as it presented itself to an average Divisional Commander of an Infantry Division, which at the crucial time was obsolete in organization and suffering without a fault of their own from the oonsequences of preconceived strategical ideas adopted by higher authorities.
2.) The 7 German Army and its subordinated Corps-Commanders, most of all the O.C. LXXXIV. A.C., were well aware of the danger to the Cotentin and relentless in pointing it out. However, the High Command, the C.i.C. West and the 15 Army were more inclined to expect the center of gravity of invasion to come later only and north of the Seine, if this event was to materialize at all. Since they didn't want to be fooled by the enemy, the outcome were halfhearted measures and tactical patchwork of the worst type, when the blow fell. The idea of invasion possibly being a large sealed bluff only, had spread even down to this Divisional Commander (page 6).
3.) The tactical ideas of the German military mind were and have always been in danger to be slow in adopting revolutionary changes. While the German Navy had learned the lesson of artificial smoke and its importance this was not the case with the Army. The importance of the reverse slope in modern battle had been realized within the British Army by 1935. This was and had to be linked up with the decline in importance of the range of sight (Schussfeld) in Infantry-fighting, which the enemy might shorten by smoke-screens whenever he chose to. It is therefore very typical, when General Reichert writes, that most of the pill-boxes were built in closest proximity to the strand and to the very water-line. (page 3)
4.) Rommel's obsession for digging fortifications and erecting obstructions of the 1918-type resulted in the dwindling of the training-idea (page 4-), the outcome being failure and serious losses (page 15).
5.) The conclusions of General Reichert may be approved save one exception. (page 20 to 22).
Unbiased historical criticism by military experts will have to state, that the defense of France resulted in catastrophies not because of the teachings of Moltke and Schlieffen were erroneous. (Stalin). meant for a gone-by different military period. The men with a power behind them to enforce these principles, were ignorant or unmindful of these teachings or either.
This has nothing to do with the corollary fact that the technique of modern battle had undergone a revolutionary change by the advent of overwhelming and decisive air-power.
6.) The commitment of the 711 and the 346 Inf Divisions as well as of the 21 Arm Div in counterattacking the 6 Brit A.B., most of all their complete lack of coordination in their activities, are likely to offer a very useful lesson for military students in the future.
/S/ Leo Fr Geyr von Schweppenburg