June 9, 2018

On my many walking visits to the vast Normandy battlefield in France, I kept recalling the ever so wise dictum of Prussia’s great monarch, Frederick the Great:  ‘he who defends everything, defends nothing.’  On this 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings, it’s well worth recalling the old warrior-king.

Adolf Hitler, a veteran of the infantry, should certainly have known better. Defending the European coast from Brittany to Norway was an impossibility given Germany’s military and economic weakness in 1944.  But he did not understand this.  Having so brilliantly overcome France’s Maginot Line fortifications in 1940, Hitler and his High Command repeated the same strategic and tactical errors as the French only four years later: not having enough reserves to effectively counter-attack enemy breakthrough forces.

Germany’s vaunted Atlantic Wall looked formidable on paper, but it was too long, too thin, lacked defensive depth and was lacking in adequate reserve forces.  The linear Maginot Line suffered the same failings.  America’s fortifications protecting Manila and Britain’s ‘impregnable’ fortifications at Singapore also proved worthless. The Japanese merely marched into their undefended rears.

In 1940, the German Wehrmacht was modern history’s supreme fighting machine.  But only four years later, the Wehrmacht was broken.  Most Americans, British and Canadians believe that D-Day was the decisive stroke that ended WWII in Europe. But this is not true. 

Germany’s mighty Wehrmacht, which included the Luftwaffe, was destroyed by Stalin’s Soviet Union.  The Red Army claims to have destroyed 507 German divisions, 48,000 German tanks, 77,000 German aircraft, and 100 divisions of Axis troops allied to Germany from Italy, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia,  and Finland.

Few Americans have ever heard of the Soviet Far East offensive of 1945, a huge operation that extended from Central Asia to Manchuria and the Pacific.  At least 450,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, wounded or captured by the Red Army, 32% of Japan’s total wartime military losses.  The Soviets were poised to invade Japan when the US struck it with two nuclear weapons. 

Of Germany’s 10 million casualties in WWII, 75% were inflicted by the Red Army.  The once mighty Luftwaffe was decimated over Russia.  Almost all German military production went to supplying the 1,600 km Eastern Front where Germany’s elite forces were ground up in titanic battles like Kursk and Stalingrad that involved millions of soldiers.

Soviet forces lost upwards of 20 million men. Total US losses, including the Pacific, were one million.  To Marshal Stalin, D-Day, the North African and Italian campaign were merely diversionary side-shows to tie down Axis forces while the Red Army pushed on to Berlin.

D-Day was without doubt one of the greatest logistical feats of modern military history. Think of General Motors versus the German warrior Siegfried.  For every US tank the Germans destroyed, ten more arrived.  Each German tank was almost irreplaceable.  Transporting over one million men and their heavy equipment across the Channel was a triumph.  But who remembers that Germany crossed the heavily defended Rhine River into France in 1940?

By June, 1944, German forces at Normandy and along the entire Channel coast had almost no diesel fuel or gasoline.  Their tanks and trucks were immobilized.  Allied air power shot up everything that moved, including a staff car carrying Marshal Erwin Rommel strafed by Canada’s own gallant future aviator general, Richard Rohmer.  German units in Normandy were below 40% combat effectiveness even without their shortages in fuel.

The Germans in France were also very short of ammunition, supplies and communications.  Units could only move by night, and then very slowly.  Hitler was reluctant to release armored forces from his reserves. Massive Allied bombing of Normandy alone killed 15,000 to 20,000 French civilians and shattered many cities and towns. 

Churchill once said, ‘you will never know war until you fight Germans.’  With no air cover or fuel and heavily outnumbered, German forces in Normandy managed to mount a stout resistance, inflicting 209,000 casualties on US, Canadian, British, Free French and allied forces.  German losses were around 200,000.

The most important point of the great invasion is that without it, the Red Army would have reached Paris and the Channel Ports by the end of 1944, making Stalin the master of all Europe except Spain.  Of course, the Allies could have reached a peace agreement with Germany in 1944, which Hitler was seeking and Gen. George Patton was rumored to be advocating.  But the German-hating Churchill and left-leaning Roosevelt were too bloody-minded to consider a peace that would have kept Stalin out of at least some of Eastern Europe.

Copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2018


This post is in: Europe


  1. Eastern Rebellion says:

    As much as I enjoy your entertaining and insightful articles Eric, there are some assertions in your article with which I must beg to differ. Of course the majority of Nazi Germany’s losses were on the Eastern Front; that was the front where most of the fighting took place. The Western Allies did not face the Wehrmacht in any type of major battle until the invasion of France, unless one wishes to include the battle of Tunisia in the later part of 1942 and the first half of 1943. It should be noted that the Axis losses in that campaign were approximately 250.000 troops, about half of which were German. It is true that there was some serious fighting in Italy, and a number of German divisions were tied down there, but until their surrender at the end of the war, there were no large scale German losses, although taking Italy our of the war did force the Germans to transfer troops to the Balkans. With respect to your comments on the values of fixed defences, in fairness those defences accomplished their purpose; the forced the enemy to attack somewhere else. That the Allies did not have any type of contingency to deal with that strategy was not the fault of the static defensive fortifications. The Luftwaffe was destroyed over the skies of Western Europe. That was where the majority of the air combat took place. Due to the Allied bombing campaign, the Luftwaffe was compelled to station the majority of its fighter strength in the West. The Normandy campaign was an audacious gamble, and it paid off. Not only did the campaign result in the destruction of the cream of the Wehrmacht’s armoured forces, once the Allies were able to secure their lodgement, it was assured the Red Army would not occupy Western Europe. That was vital to securing the post war peace. The Wehrmacht’s losses in the Normandy campaign were not insignificant either. At least 20 divisions were struck from the German order of battle, including some of the elite Waffen SS and Panzer divisions. And it was the Meuse, not the Rhine, that Germany crossed in 1940 when France was invaded. When Germany reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, they then controlled both banks of the river. It was the Western Allies who made a contested crossing in 1945.

    • Eric Margolis says:

      The German Wehrmacht did indeed fight its way across the heavily-defended Rhine River in 1940 in the teeth of strong French defenses.

  2. Hi Eric….very good article as usual. “We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” Iris Murdoch

    Your last two articles illustrate the accuracy of that quote.

    All the best,


  3. Mike Smith says:

    The real contribution of allied forces, which assisted the Soviet Union greatly was the role strategic bombing had disrupting and destroying German industrial infrastructure. This also had a negative psychological on German soldier and civilian alike trying to do their jobs while reports of cities in rumble came in. German forces of the day were able to fight multiple times their numbers successfully, but no amount of tactics or leadership can ever shore up the collapse of the very long, very thin logistical train that kept those forces alive. While often played up as revenge for the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was never in the same class as the British, Canadian and American bombers that pounded the fatherland… for example the He 177, the main heavy bomber in production had a payload of 1200 lbs… the Lancaster on the other hand carried over 3000 lbs… also there was a great many more Lancasters and Flying Fortresses in the air, and in production far out of Germanys reach than the Germans could ever produce.
    Strangely if Operation Sea Lion had of been successful, Germany would have secured both its Western and Southern Flanks before the late entry of the Americans into the war… without the drain of resources to those fronts, plus the additional oil, steel, etc supplied to the German war economy the war could very well have taken a different turn… at the very least prolonging it until the German atomic program produced workable weapons…. and if Britain had fallen… would the Americans have even entered the war? and if so which side?

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