Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Opposing Armies

Discussion in 'Hitler's Atlantic Wall' started by Jim, Mar 9, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    11
    via War44
    The two armies that faced each other across the beaches in the early hours of 6 June 1944 were vastly different in almost every way. One was very well equipped, tremendously well supported both from the sea and from the air, had been trained to a peak of fitness and had sky-high morale, whilst the other was sadly lacking in all of these attributes. One was being launched on a great crusade, whilst the other was trying to defend the indefensible.



    The British Army​


    The assault landings that were made on Gold and Juno Beaches had been meticulously planned and the units selected to make the assault had been a long time training for that moment. Lessons learned earlier in the war, most notably from the disastrous raid on Dieppe in 1942, had taught higher command that an amphibious landing by the army could only be launched with integrated support from the navy and the air force. It was also clear that specialised armour and landing craft would be required to help the troops storm ashore. Churchill was determined that no invasion could take place until every detail had been covered and the assaulting troops and subsequent follow-up reinforcements were completely ready. In spite of great pressure from its Allies, Britain delayed the date of the invasion throughout 1943 until mid-1944. When the time finally came to launch the great attack, everyone was as ready as they would ever be. On Gold, the attacking force was the British 50th Division, a veteran of the Gazala and El Alamein battles in North Africa in 1942; on Juno, it was the untried Canadian 3rd Infantry Division that made the assault. These two divisions were the strike force of their respective corps: British 50th Division was part of British XXX Corps and Canadian 3rd Division formed part of British I Corps. I Corps also contained the assault division attacking Sword Beach - British 3rd Division. Landing behind these divisions was the remainder of the two corps.

    A PzKpfw VI Tiger tank passing through a Normandy village. The concept of using armoured forces against a seaborne invasion was a hotly debated subject. Commander-in-Chief (West), GFM von Rundstedt, wanted to mass available Panzer divisions and make a strong thrust against any lodgement destroying Allied forces inland on ground of his choosing, Commander Army Group B,
    GFM Rommel, thought that any invasion should be attacked by armour immediately it arrived whilst the troops were still on the beaches.


    [​IMG]

    In XXX Corps, 7th Armoured Division came ashore after the initial landings, with 49th Division following on behind. On British I Corps' front, 51st Highland Division followed up the D-Day landings. British 50th Division was originally composed of territorial battalions from Northumberland and Durham. Its divisional badge was two capital 'Ts', representing the two great rivers, the Tyne and the Tees, in red on a black square. The division had seen plenty of action, having fought in France in 1940, in the North African desert in 1942 and in Sicily in 1943. In early 1944, Gen Montgomery brought the division back from the Mediterranean to the UK to join 2nd Army for the invasion. In June 1944 the division comprised three infantry brigades: 69th Brigade with 5th East Yorkshires and the 6th and 7th Green Howards; 151st Brigade containing 6th, 8th and 9th Durham Light Infantry; and 231st Brigade with 1st Hampshire’s, 1st Dorsetshire’s and 2nd Devonshire’s. Also under command for the invasion was 56th Infantry Brigade. This was an independent Brigade that contained 2nd South Wales Borderers, 2nd Gloucestershire’s and 2nd Essex. The brigade stayed and fought with the division until 20 August when it was transferred to 49th Division. Also attached to the division for the attack was 8th Armoured Brigade, containing 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, 24th Lancers and the Sherwood Rangers. 47 Royal Marine Commando, from 4th Special Service Brigade, was also part of the initial assault. The commander of 50th Division was Maj Gen Douglas Graham. He had served in the First War and finished the conflict as a captain having won both the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre. Between the wars he was gradually promoted through regimental appointments and served as a brigadier in North Africa. In 1942 he was promoted to major-general and took command of 56th (London) Division. In September 1943 his division carried out an assault landing at Salerno as part of the invasion of Italy. Graham was wounded during the battle and returned to England. In January 1944 he took command of 50th Division with orders to train it for the invasion of France. On Juno Beach responsibility for the assault was given to the Canadian 3rd Division. The division had left Canada for England in July 1941 to join with the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions and form I Canadian Corps. For the next two years it carried out an extensive programme of training. When, in 1943, the corps left for the Mediterranean, 3rd Division remained behind. It had been earmarked for the invasion of France and continued training specifically for this role.

    German 50mm gun in an emplacement along the seafront at St Aubin. This gun formed part of the strongpoint WN27 and was supported by mortars, machine guns, wire entanglements and minefields. The design of the casemate is simple and effective: it has thick overhead protection against plunging fire; its seaward walls are of solid concrete impervious to naval shellfire and its open sides allow it to fire along the beaches on either side, able to catch invading troops and tanks in enfilade as they came ashore.

    [​IMG]



    Its commander was Maj Gen Rodney Keller. He had been commissioned in 1920 and served in a number of roles gradually gaining promotion through staff appointments. In June 1941 he was given a battalion and then made brigadier just six weeks later. He took over the 3rd Division in September 1943. The division consisted of three infantry brigades: 7th Brigade with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the Regina Rifle Regiment and the Canadian Scottish Regiment; 8th Infantry Brigade with the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, Le Regiment de la Chaudiere and the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment and finally 9th Brigade containing the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Armoured support for the attack was provided by Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade consisting of 6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars), 10th Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse) and 27th Armoured Regiment (the Sherbrooke Fusiliers). Also attached to the division for the assault was 48 Royal Marine Commando.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    11
    via War44
    The German Army ​


    In contrast to the readiness of the Allies, the German Army in Normandy needed at least another year before it could realistically hope to repulse an amphibious landing. On paper it was ready, for the propaganda machine had almost convinced everyone that a great Atlantic Wall of fortifications had been built strong enough to keep out any invader, but the reality was very different. During 1942 and 1943, work on the wall had often been given second place to other construction projects and it was not until Rommel was appointed in late 1943 to inspect the effectiveness of the fortifications, that construction work on the wall increased in pace and quality. Even then, only a fraction of the strongpoint’s, minefields and gun sites that were needed
    were actually constructed. It was an enormous task, for Hitler did not know just where the Allies would make their attack, so the fortification of the coast line had to stretch from Norway to the Spanish border and also along the Mediterranean shores of France. Even if construction of the defensive wall had been complete, the Germans would still have had great problems. There were simply not enough troops to garrison such a line effectively. The war in Russia dwarfed the conflict in the west and the Eastern Front was consuming huge numbers of men at a horrendous rate. Retaining divisions in static defences in France and the Low Countries whilst the German forces in the east were bled white and generals were screaming for reinforcements was unsustainable and little by little the strength of those divisions guarding the coast was whittled away, often to be replaced by old men and conscripted foreigners. Defending the areas of Gold and Juno Beaches was the German 716th Infantry Division, commanded by General major Wilhelm Richter. Richter had served in the German Army since before World War I and had been an officer since 1914. He later served in Poland, Belgium and Russia and was involved in the final stages of the advance on Moscow. He assumed command of the 716th Division in March 1943.

    A Hawker Typhoon operating from a Normandy airstrip. The total Allied domination of the skies over France created immense difficulties for the Germans in their attempts to reinforce their forces in Normandy and enabled the Allies to win the race to build-up forces.

    [​IMG]


    The 716th Division was a static division raised specifically for the purpose of defence. Like the 15 other static divisions formed during the same period of 1941, its duties were to garrison the occupied territories and to guard against invasion. Once in place, it was left to establish itself in the locality. It had few motor vehicles of its own, for its transportation needs were few. What little mobility there was came from horse-drawn vehicles. Richter defended his part of the Normandy coast with his two regiments, the 726th and 736th Infantry Regiments. Both of these regiments were supplemented with a battalion of volunteers from the German occupied territories in the east - particularly Poland and Russia: 441 East Battalion was attached to 726th Regiment and 642nd East Battalion joined 736th Regiment. Gold Beach marked the boundary between Richter's 716th Division and General major Dietrich Kraiss's 352nd Division. Just before D-Day, 726th Regiment was attached to 352nd Division. The 1st and 3rd battalions held the coast from near Le Hamel towards Omaha, whilst its 2nd battalion was located to the rear of Omaha Beach at Chateau Jacuville, acting as the regimental reserve. Along Gold Beach itself, 441st East Battalion garrisoned the defences with its headquarters in La Riviere. Occupying Juno Beach were elements of 441st East Battalion and 2nd Battalion, 736th Regiment. The bulk of this regiment was also defending Sword Beach and the area just across the River Orne attacked by British 6th Airborne Division. The guns and men of 716th Division's 1716th Artillery Regiment were spread throughout the division's sector, sited mainly in mobile batteries inland from the coast. The area inland from the landing beaches was dominated by just one major town, Caen. This town was the key to the whole of the proposed Allied invasion zone, as Caen was the nexus of a series of roads linking Normandy to the eastern part of France. It also guarded the route through to the open ground of the Falaise Plain which was good tank country and an important objective for the British landings. It was no surprise then that the Germans also understood the significance of Caen and had their closest armoured division, 21st Panzer Division, located just west of the town. The division was commanded by General major Edgar Feuchtinger, a veteran of the 1940 campaigns and the fighting in Russia. 21st Panzer Division had been reconstituted after the original division had been destroyed in North Africa. It was composed of 125th and 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiments and 100th Panzer Regiment. However, its tanks were neither the best nor the most modern, they were mostly PzKpfw IVs and captured French tanks. Nor was its transport much better, again consisting mostly of captured French vehicles.
    The armoured divisions of the strategic reserve were in an altogether different class to 21st Panzer Division. The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a fully equipped and superbly trained division, comprising 12th Panzer Regiment, 25th and 26th Panzergrenadier Regiments, supported by a full artillery regiment and reconnaissance, antiaircraft and antitank battalions. The division was a new unit, raised in June of 1943 and had never been in action. Its strength was primarily recruited from the military fitness camps of the Hitler Youth organisation; the average age of its soldiers was 18 years. The large numbers of young men who had volunteered to join this elite unit resulted in its manpower being higher than required at around 20,000. It was equipped with the best weaponry and equipment available and led by a widely respected commander, Gruppenfuhrer Fritz Witt, and supported by senior commanders who had gained impressive reputations in action on the Eastern Front: men like Standartenfuhrer Kurt 'Panzer' Meyer and Obersturmbannfuhrer Max Wunsche, both distinguished Waffen SS officers in their own right. Meyer and Wunsche, both holders of the Knight's Cross, had shown themselves to be courageous and capable commanders. Meyer commanded 25th Panzergrenadier Regiment and Wunsche led the 12th Panzer Regiment. Gruppenfuhrer Fritz Witt was an early volunteer to the elite Leibstandarte, Hitler's bodyguard formation, and had risen from company commander in Poland in 1939 to a regimental commander of 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment in Russia. He had also seen active service in France, Yugoslavia and Greece. The energetic divisional commander soon raised his men to a peak of fitness and confidence, believing it to be far more important to train them in realistic field exercises with live ammunition than to bore them with the finer points of military drill. When the division finally went into action it quickly earned a fearsome reputation from the Allied troops who encountered it.

    A direct Allied assault on a major port was not practical. The German demolition of the facilities at Cherbourg and Brest, combined with their determined defense of the other major ports of northern France, denied them to the Allies. Anticipating this problem the Allies manufactured two artificial harbours codenamed 'Mulberry', which were towed across to Normandy and assembled within days of the landings. The one shown here was located opposite Arromanches on the western edge of Gold Beach, the other was located off the American Omaha Beach.

    [​IMG]


    Panzer Lehr Division was an elite formation consisting originally of units from the various armoured training schools. Raised in January 1944 with the specific role of resisting Allied landings in France, like the Hitlerjugend Division, the Panzer Lehr Division was composed of experienced and superior quality men and equipped with the good tanks, mostly PzKpfw V Panthers. In June 1944 it comprised 901st and 902nd Panzergrenadier Regiments and 130th Panzer Regiment. The division was commanded by General major Fritz Bayerlein, who had served with both Guderian and Rommel, as well as having commanded the 3rd Panzer Division on the Eastern Front. A holder of the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Bayerlein was a highly respected armour commander. In June 1944, Panzer Lehr was at full strength and based just over 125 miles from the Channel, posing a serious threat to the Allied landings.
     

Share This Page