Press:St Martins Pr Forge Books; Reprint edition (May 1, 2005)
Author Name:McManus, John C.
In the first of two volumes on the American contribution to the Allied victory at Normandy, John C.
McManus examines, with great intensity and thoroughness, the American experience in the weeks leading up to D-Day and on the great day itself.
From the build up in England to the night drops of airborne forces behind German lines and the landings on the beaches at dawn, from the famed figures of Eisenhower, Bradley, and Lightin' Joe Collins to the courageous, but little-known privates who fought so bravely, and under terrifying conditions, this is the story of the American experience at D-Day.
What were the battles really like for the Americans at Utah and Omaha? What drove them to fight despite all adversity? How and why did they triumph? Thanks to extensive archival research, and the use of hundreds of first hand accounts, McManus answers these questions and many more.Impressively researched, engrossing, lightning quick, and filled with human sorrow and elation, The Americans at D-Day honors those Americans who lost their lives on D-Day, as well as those who were fortunate enough to survive.
About the Author
JOHN MCMANUS is a professor of military history at the University of Missouri who has traveled extensively in researching his books about the American experience in the Second World War.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER ONETHE PLANNING AND PREPARATION The Germans had four years to fortify their conquered northern Atlantic coast, but they had not, as of early 1944, put that time to good use.
For three of those years the Western Front was, to them, a place to refit formations that had been shattered in Russia or a place to station inferior troops not trusted with front-line duty.
The Nazi propaganda machine boasted about Germany’s "Atlantic Wall," but until the latter part of 1943 the wall was more fantasy than reality.
Two things happened in late 1943 that lit a fire under the Germans.
First, they began to realize that an Anglo-American invasion of France was a real possibility.
Second, they appointed their most prominent commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the great hero of North Africa, to command in the west.Rommel toured the beach defenses and came away appalled.
In almost every area along the coast, the Germans did not have enough mines, barbed wire, obstacles, pillboxes, cupolas, concrete, guns, or troops to repel the kind of invasion Rommel expected in 1944.
He strongly believed that Germany could only win the coming battle by repelling the invasion at the water’s edge.
The first twenty-four hours would be decisive.
If the Germans allowed the Allies a lodgment on the continent, their logistical, manpower, naval, and air superiority would inevitably overwhelm German forces.
Only by turning the invasion coast into an impenetrable wall, ironically echoing the Nazi propaganda for which Rommel had little but contempt, could his forces achieve victory.
The diminutive, dynamic German commander stood on a French beach one day in early 1944 and pensively told his young aide, Captain Hellmuth Lang, "The war will be won or lost on the beaches.
We’ll have only one chance to stop the enemy, and that’s while he’s in the water…struggling to get ashore.
Believe me, Lang, the first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive…for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day."1Rommel immediately ordered a dramatic strengthening of the beach defenses.
Thousands of slave and local laborers poured millions of tons of concrete and steel emplacements.
German engineers sowed millions of mines and beach obstacles.
The latter mainly consisted of devices aimed at thwarting landing craft: mine-tipped logs, sharp hedgehogs, concrete tank traps, barbed wire, Belgian gates (steel contraptions designed to snare landing craft), concrete cones, even live shells pointed out to sea.
Behind these initial obstacles, his commanders supervised the construction of pillboxes, observation bunkers, communication trenches, guns, and machine-gun nests with interlocking fields of fire.
They made brilliant use of terrain.
They even took steps to defeat an airborne invasion, denuding local forests to emplace sharpened stakes known as Rommel’s asparagus.
The asparagus were supposed to tear open gliders or impale descending paratroopers.2The problem for Rommel was that he did not have total control of German forces in the west.
He only controlled the armies defending Normandy and Calais.
In effect, this meant he was subordinate to one of the German Army’s elder statesman—Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, a no-nonsense sixty-nine-year-old who was not afraid to speak bluntly, even to Hitler’s retinue.
Rundstedt, commander in chief of all German forces in the west, completely disagreed with Rommel.
Rundstedt thought that a successful Allied invasion was inevitable.
Germany could not hope to be strong everywhere along the coast.
Nor could German mechanized formations, which would be desperately needed to repel the Allied Army in France, hope to survive under the muzzles of Allied naval guns.
Bitter experiences at Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio had proven the potency of naval gunfire.
To neutralize this Allied strength, Rundstedt wanted to concentrate German defenses inland, along defensible terrain, gradually employing powerful reserves in counterattacks, quite similar to the approach the Japanese would later take in such battles as Peleliu and Okinawa.Hitler’s mentality was more in line with Rommel’s.
The Führer usually wanted to defend every inch of conquered ground.
In this case, he did not rule in either commander’s favor; instead he divided power between them and maintained operational control over vital armored reserves for himself.
In so doing, he ensured a dysfunctional command setup.
Consequently, in the coming invasion, while Allied commanders worked together, German commanders often worked at cross-purposes.* * *One month after General Eisenhower received his momentous directive from the Combined Chiefs of Staff, his plan for Operation Overlord was mostly in place.
Thousands of Allied officers and enlisted men had contributed, over the course of two years, to this final plan.
Their first task had been to decide where to invade.
The Pas de Calais area was, by far, the most desirable.
Not only was it closest to England (about twenty miles at its most narrow point), but it also contained several excellent ports necessary for supply of the massive Allied armies.
Its beaches were mostly flat and could support the armor and artillery necessary to support the infantry.
Beyond the beaches, the terrain of Calais was mostly flat—ideal tank country.
A successful lodgment in this area would afford the Allies the chance to head straight east into Belgium and Germany.
In short, Calais was the logical, even obvious, place for any invasion of France.Given their preference, the Allies would certainly have invaded there.
Unfortunately, the Germans fully understood the desirability of Calais and stationed their strongest forces there.
By the spring of 1944, the powerful 15th Army, containing many of the best armored and infantry forces Germany had in the west, patrolled the area.
The Germans expected the Allies to invade at Calais, not just because it was the most desirable invasion site but also because they believed the Allies would need the area’s ports.Indeed, the invasion planners had grappled with the same thorny supply issues.
The disastrous Dieppe raid in August 1942 showed the strength, even at that early date, of German port defenses.
Even now, two years later, with better trained and prepared assault forces, the Allies knew that such port assaults would be suicidal.
To escape such a fate, they had designed, under great secrecy and with tremendous ingenuity, a plan to build artificial harbors of their own.
These ports, code-named mulberries, made it possible for the Allies to invade beaches away from heavily defended ports.In the end, the planners decided on Normandy.
Normandy was well within range of Allied air cover, not prohibitively far away from sea bases in southern England, and contained beaches suitable for heavy armor and guns.
Its defenses were not quite as strong as those of Calais, and it did feature a couple of attractive ports in Caen and Cherbourg.
More than anything, an Allied invasion at Normandy would probably come as a surprise to the Germans, and surprise was of paramount importance.
In order to neutralize the inevitable local superiority the Germans would possess in combat power, they must be kept guessing about the invasion’s time and location.To that end, the Allies perpetrated one of the great deception plans of all time—Operation Fortitude.
Fortitude was possible because of the success of British intelligence.
The British had captured and "turned" every German agent in Britain.
These agents provided the Germans with just enough good information to seem valuable, for example, the location of various Allied units or tidbits of gossip about commanders.
The agents also fed false, but seemingly desirable, inform
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