Sunday, January 29, 2012

Normandy 1944 – What-if scenarios and the Fortitude deception

An interesting question that pops up on the internet is if the Germans could have defeated the Allied landings in Normandy. People like to talk about deception plans, Hitler sleeping until noon, Rommel not having command of the Panzer divisions etc etc etc .These discussions are very simplistic and come to the conclusion that if only Hitler hadn’t done x or y things would be different. They also seem to forget that apart from Normandy there were also the  Southern landings.

I think that by simply looking at the strength of German and Allied forces in Normandy on 6 June ’44 we can come to a definite conclusion regarding the outcome of that battle.

Source for the map: British intelligence in the Second World War vol3 part2
The German units as seen on the map are :
243 ID :  11,529 - 14 Marder 38 and 10 StuG III assault guns
709 ID : 12,320 - 9 7.5cm Pak 40 A/T gun on tracked chassis

716 ID : 7,771 - 10 7.5cm Pak 40 A/T gun on tracked chassis
711 ID : 7,242
352 ID : 12,734 - 14 Marder 38 and 10 StuG III assault guns
91 :  7,500
21 Pz Div : 16,297 - 112 Pz IV tanks
Also in the area was Flak–Sturm-Regiment 1 equipped with 8.8cm flak guns :  ~ 3.000
Plus various small units : ~ 7,000 plus ~80 French tanks
Total strength :  ~ 85,000
Armored vehicles : 112 Pz IV, 67 self propelled guns and ~80 obsolete French tanks. Sum: 259.

Mobile units close by  are :
12 SS : 20,516 – 164 AFV
 Pz Lehr : 14,699 – 237 AFV
However these units did not fight on the first day of the invasion.
[Source: Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness ,p28]

Now regarding Allied strength user RichTO90 has posted the hard numbers on Axis History forum.


Total strength : 150.000
Armored vehicles : 922
Those numbers are for 6 June only.
In the entire western theatre the Germans had about 2,000 tank and Stug vehicles  [Source: Panzertruppen vol 2 1943-1945 ,  Sturmgeschutz & Its Variants ].
The Germans managed to get more than 922 AFV’s to Normandy on 29 June ’44 ( accumulated AFV strength committed: 1,124),[Source: Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness  ,p414]
So what is there to discuss? I haven’t even mentioned the Allied domination of the air and the sea. There is no way that the German forces could have defeated the invasion.
Now another argument is that if the Germans hadn’t been deceived by Allied deception plans they would have concentrated their forces in Normandy and won the battle. I don’t understand that scenario. If the Germans concentrated all their forces in one place, before the invasion, the Allies would attack in another.
A smarter version of this is that the Germans could have won if they had quickly moved all their forces to Normandy, especially their mighty reserve held in the 15th Army area in anticipation of the real invasion. This ‘’reserve’’ was supposedly not used thanks to a hugely successful deception campaign. A detailed look into this affair requires a separate essay so here i will just briefly mention some facts:
All these mythical reserve forces disappear if one looks at the actual German divisions in the area. Out of the four operational mobile divisions in the West (21Pz ,12 SS , 2nd Pz , Pz Lehr) three were close to Normandy and only one near Calais ( 2nd Pz) . That unit was also ordered to Normandy on 9 June ’44.
The Flak Korps was a mobile unit with powerful armament that had four regiments. Three were in the Somme Estuary and one in Normandy. On 6 June the other three were also ordered to Normandy.
Obviously the Germans were tricked by the Allies to hold their forces back...
The mighty reserve that would have allegedly thrown the Allies to the sea was actually made of the divisions behind the northern coast of France. These were the 84, 85,326,331 and 182 divisions. The last two were not operational as they were refitting /reforming. The rest had 28,363 men. That’s not the end of the argument as the other units of 15th Army could theoretically contribute mobile groups to Normandy but I’ve never seen anyone even try to calculate if/how that could have happened. My advice to people who think that the allies won through deception is buy these books:  Normandy 1944 , D-day deception  .
Another argument is that the Germans had a million troops in the West and the Allies only landed 150.000 in Normandy so they should have won. However the total strength of the German forces on an entire continent has no meaning when we look at a specific area. Unfortunately the Germans had not yet discovered Star Trek type teleporters so they would have to find a way to move their forces from one area to the other. The only way was by foot, by truck and by rail. Military units can move simple soldiers by foot but their heavy equipment cannot move itself .German units in the West were woefully short of trucks so that option was limited ,[Source:Feeding Mars: The Role of Logistics in the German Defeat in Normandy, 1944].And for some reason the Allies thought it would be a good idea to bomb the French rail network. Strange people those Allies...
So where am i getting at? There’s no point in discussing what-if scenarios in cases when the disparity of forces is too great. The Allies won thanks to their own efforts not due to Hitler’s mistakes or Rommel’s or mystical deception plans.

10 comments:

  1. Although I agree with your opinion concerning the final result of the D-Day invasion, an Allied victory, I differ on some points.

    Firstly, comparing numbers does not give a full picture of respective strength of the combatants, just look at the Greek defense of the Thermopylae. So it is questionable if the Allies were able to use their numerical superiority when many other factors supported the Axis forces. On the other hand, German numbers at the landing beaches were limited. With more reinforcements they could have inflicted much higher losses and delayed allied operations even more.

    Secondly, you state that "If the Germans concentrated all their forces in one place, before the invasion, the Allies would attack in another.". I strongly disagree. It is not tivial to move thousands of ships unnoticed. And if the movements are noticed you lose the factor of surprise. The Allies spent considerable resources on a "deception army", if the effort of changing the landing sites would be trivial, that effort would have been wasted. So through effective deception, German strenght at the beaches was limited - see the first point for implications.

    Thirdly, you completely disregard the element of betrayal on the German side. The main figure here is Hans Speidel, Rommels second in command, co-conspirator of the Hitler assassination attempt and later COMLANDCENT for NATO. He convinced Rommel to attend his wifes birthday although the Germans knew that an invasion in early June was highly probable due to weather and tide forecasts. He delayed alerting Hitler by understating the enormity of the invasion. He halted Pz Lehr division, which was ready to move before daybreak until it had to relocate under allied air attacks and arriving in parts at the beaches severly reducing its effecitveness. Thats listing just a few of the clues, that betrayal played an important part in the success of D-Day.

    Concluding, I do not agree that the Allies effort was the only winning factor. German (intentional?) mistakes in preparing for and responding to the invasion played also a key role in shortening the war and accelerating German defeat.

    Kind regards,
    J. Scheuerlein

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    1. Let me address your points:

      ‘Firstly, comparing numbers does not give a full picture of respective strength of the combatants, just look at the Greek defense of the Thermopylae.’
      Well the numbers were hugely in favor of the Allies and at the same time they had support from an entire fleet (battleships etc) and thousands of combat planes. I don’t think the German army in the West in 1944 had the quality that was needed to offset those advantages. Even if they did there is a limit to how much quantity you can defeat with quality.

      ‘Secondly, you state that "If the Germans concentrated all their forces in one place, before the invasion, the Allies would attack in another.". I strongly disagree. It is not trivial to move thousands of ships unnoticed’
      I agree that changes could not be made in the last couple of days (or months?). However the point stands. Had the Germans moved all their forces in one area the Allies would attack somewhere else. That’s what complete mastery of the sea means.

      ‘Thirdly, you completely disregard the element of betrayal on the German side’
      I’ve read about these statements but I don’t think we need treachery to explain the German defeat. How many Allied landings did the Germans defeat? N.Africa 1942, Sicily 1943, Salerno 1943, Anzio 1944. I think Normandy closely resembles Anzio in the way events unfolded. In both cases the Allies won through attrition.

      ‘He halted Pz Lehr division, which was ready to move before daybreak until it had to relocate under allied air attacks and arriving in parts at the beaches severely reducing its effectiveness’
      I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with you as this is one of the myths of WWII. Pz Lehr did not suffer from heavy air attacks since according to the commander of the repair and maintenance company Ritgen the initial reports were exaggerated. The reason for delays in moving units was the lack of trucks and fuel combined with the destruction of railways.

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    2. Thank you for your quick response and valid critique.
      For compactness, I will adress the points numerically:

      1) Naval and Air supremacy are important factors for the Allies. Yet you stated numerical superiority as _the_ decisive factor in your original post. I disagree with this. If the terrain does not allow you to use an advantage in numbers, there is no advantage.

      2) The point I wanted to get across here probably was not stated clearly: Due to succesful Allied deception, Operation Fortitude, German numbers in Normandy were limited. Even if not decisive for the outcome of the battle, this was of high importance to reduce Allied losses.

      3) As I stated at the beginning of my comment, I do not doubt that the Allies would have won D-Day/WW2 even without deception on their side or betrayal (thanks for the right vocabulary) on the German side.
      But both contributed immensly to reducing Allied losses. I think these aspects of "soft" warfare should not be disregarded or belittled, considering that it still took two months for the Allies to break out from the beachhead, even with full naval and air support and superior numbers.
      For a failed Allied landing operation, the Dieppe Raid is an example (yet probably the only one).
      Regarding Pz Lehr, I do not have any sources at hand and you seem to be well informed, so I probably was wrong there.
      I also do not have any sources at hand regarding possible betrayal by Hans Speidel, but his enormous post war career first in West Germany and later in NATO do strike me as odd. It is well known that high ranking Wehrmacht Generals hoped to fight Stalin alongside the western Allies, so Speidel might have been inclined to "help" them.

      Kind regards,
      J. Scheuerlein

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    3. ‘Yet you stated numerical superiority as _the_ decisive factor in your original post. I disagree with this. If the terrain does not allow you to use an advantage in numbers, there is no advantage’
      Well I agree in general but is the area of Normandy terrain where numbers don’t count?

      ‘Due to succesful Allied deception, Operation Fortitude, German numbers in Normandy were limited’
      Nope, I don’t agree with that at all! The Germans did not know where the Allies would land so they had to station troops all over France. There were large concentrations in the South, Brittany, Normandy and Northern France plus troops in Belgium and Holland. It is not deception that forced them to do that but the Allied mastery of the air and the sea.

      ‘But both contributed immensly to reducing Allied losses’
      I don’t think that the Germans could have done better than they historically did. The Normandy operation was similar to Anzio in that the initial breakout was halted and then attrition set in.

      ‘For a failed Allied landing operation, the Dieppe Raid is an example (yet probably the only one).’
      Exactly, all the others achieved their goals.

      ‘Regarding Pz Lehr, I do not have any sources at hand and you seem to be well informed, so I probably was wrong there’
      Well you don’t have to take my word for it, it is mentioned in ‘Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness’. Aerial interdiction played a smaller part than people think. WWII era aircraft were not very effective in ground attack missions.

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    4. Hard to believe Allied total control of the skies was not as important as it is believed. Sorry but I would disagree here, without the domination over the skies, all the allies could hope for is just create beachheads and do nothing with them.

      I'm more interested what would the Allies casualties be if Hitler had his way, predicting the Allied invasion in Normandy and if treachery from within was not an issue. That's an interesting what if.

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  2. Sir:
    I am afraid you are entirely incorrect in your assumptions. You seem to deal with a counter attack rather than a defense that would have stopped the invasion at the shore. At Omaha imagine what would have happened had an entire division been in place rather than two battalions (totalling perhaps 1,000 men). Had the 352nd been concentrated at Sword it is doubtful a succesful invasion could have been achieved. What if the 2 and 3rd FJ divisions had been transferred. What if the 50,000+ 319th ID had beeen used in Normandy rather than the channel islands?

    The allies could not have shifted to a new area without excessive delays, delays of up to a year. Once the allies were ashore the Germans were done for, if they could make it. Most of the allied landings in Europe weren't picnics, as the graveyards at Salerno, Anzio and Dieppe demonstrate.

    As for the South of France invasion, if the Normandy landings had been stopped I doubt additional landings would have been attempted so soon after a defeat. At the very least an Allied defeat might have seen the Russians postpone their summer 1944 offensive against AG Center or allowed the transfer of enough troops to prevent the disaster there.

    One need not mention such a defeat would have meant the end of the three allied parachute formations and the probable end of such formations, just as Crete ended the use of German paratroops in major operations.

    What is amazing is how a completely outnumbered German force inflicted casualties all out of proportion to their numbers. Remember also these were second and third rate German formations inflicting these losses. They were not veteran, elite units but rather a small core of veterans butressed with the old, young, wounded, and foreign volunteers, equipped with whatever the Germans could gather. Zetterling's book is a must read, not onnly for the hard facts, but for the myths it dispels about allied airpower.

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    1. My dear anonymous friend I will have to disagree with your conclusion that I am entirely incorrect in my assumptions.

      ‘At Omaha imagine what would have happened had an entire division been in place rather than two battalions ‘

      Whys settle for an entire division? Why not teleport the entire German army?

      ‘Had the 352nd been concentrated at Sword it is doubtful a successful invasion could have been achieved’

      Sicily, Salerno, Anzio… Something about these places has something to do with the matters we are discussing but I cannot remember what…

      ‘What if the 50,000+ 319th ID had beeen used in Normandy rather than the channel islands?’

      I got 26.000 for the same formation: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=161564&start=15

      Even so how are these forces moved from one point to the next?

      ‘As for the South of France invasion, if the Normandy landings had been stopped I doubt additional landings would have been attempted so soon after a defeat’

      So your imaginary plan would not only defeat the Allies in Normandy (somehow) but they wouldn’t even dare attack in the South even though the forces defending these areas were very weak.

      ‘At the very least an Allied defeat might have seen the Russians postpone their summer 1944 offensive against AG Center or allowed the transfer of enough troops to prevent the disaster there.’

      I don’t see that happening nor can units be moved as fast as you think they can from one theatre to the next.

      ‘Zetterling's book is a must read, not onnly for the hard facts, but for the myths it dispels about allied airpower.’

      True but if you’ve read 'Normandy 1944' I would suggest you look harder at what he says on the state of the German army in the West and its means of transport.

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  3. Paul Sczuczin6/10/14, 8:13 AM

    I must say that this is the very best article I've read in years about the DDay.
    I was desperate to read such good explanations which are just common sense.

    People often need supernatural explanations, and the DDay gives plenty of them if you listen to mass media.

    The fact is that Allied command maximized both firepower and tactical surprise to get through the other myth, the Atlantik Wall.
    This had the effect of minimize losses, which happen to be low for a first day of frontal assault, something nearly nobody ever talk about the DDay.

    Thank you again
    Paul

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  4. Allied naval gunpower close to the landing beaches was a mega meatgrinder and often well directed by units on the beaches and inland. The allies had had opportunties to perfect this method of saving landings which were under attack - eg Sicily from a few tiger tanks, Salerno.

    The commander of 12 ss panzer division, one of the best panzer officers apparently, was killed early on by a 15 inch shell from HMS Warspite.

    Heavier concentrations of german forces near the sea would have lead to greater effect of mega heavy and accurate naval gunfire.

    Without really heavy german artillery (and shells which supplies were limited) AND effectice air attack on ships, it is tough to see how more troops around the seafront or tank attack by Lehr , 12 ss near the sea could succeed.

    gmansw7

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  5. If Lehr and the 21Pz were switched....HJ would have wiped out the 6 Para...and Lehr would have been free to cause a lot of pain on the Anglo Canadians.

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