June 8, 2019

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: World War II

7 Responses to “GERMANY WAS DEFEATED ON THE EASTERN FRONT, NOT NORMANDY (originally published June 9, 2018)”

  1. Eastern Rebellion says:

    Great article, however I have a few comments. The German military units in France were a mixed bag to be sure. However, the cream of her armed forces were located there. The fighting was difficult and vicious, with casualty rates rivalling the Somme. We are doing a serious disservice to the memories of the thousands of Allied service men who died in the liberation of Europe to downplay their role in the defeat of a monstrous tyranny. With all due respect Eric, there is no way that the Allies would have reached a peace deal with the Nazis. Hitler and his gang had to go, and they would never have voluntarily given up their grip on power.

    • We are doing a much greater disservice to the veterans in the manner they are treated when they come back home. They should boycott next Remembrance Day in protest.
      One of the last conversations I had with my dad was regarding how Canada had ‘turned out’ and changed. If he had have know it would come to this, he likely would not have enlisted. He was that unhappy with the outcome.

  2. Thank you for writing this article! A drop of objectivity in the sea of falsehoods of feel-good “alternative history”!!!

  3. Just finished “Enemy at the Gates The Battle for Stalingrad”, by Wm Craig. D-Day was impressive, but, per this book, it seems this conflict, at tremendous human and hardwear cost, decisively, broke the back of the German military’s attitude of ‘invincibility’. In any case, defeat has one, but victory has a dozen fathers.

  4. Alister says:

    Like Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler was able to conquer vast territories but couldn’t hold on to his victories; by the late 1942, Germany had already dominated most of Europe; Hitler should have then halted its offensives on all fronts and rather focused on consolidation of its victories.

    By 1943, “Austria and Luxembourg were completely incorporated. Territories from Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Belgium, and the Baltic states were seized by Greater Germany. German military forces occupied Norway, Denmark, Belgium, northern France, Serbia, parts of northern Greece, and vast tracts of territory in eastern Europe. Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland, Croatia, and Vichy France were all either allied to Germany or subject to heavy German influence. Between 1942 and 1944, German military forces extended the area under their occupation to southern France, central and northern Italy, Slovakia, and Hungary” ( Source: Jewish Virtual Library )

    After acquiring such vast territories Hitler should have focused its resources on consolidation of its gains – by offering a ceasefire and diplomacy he would have given a breathing pause to Germany, and perhaps a partial victory to his nation. but like Napoleon Bonaparte whose effective defeat followed his Russian campaign in winter; Hitler too had endured his effective defeat in the eastern fronts, long before the D-Day.

  5. Mike Smith says:

    While I agree, the Russians were the ones who destroyed the German armed forces… I would argue that my Grandfather flying his Lancaster and his fellows had a large contribution to the effort. Without pressure and destruction of the German industrial infrastructure, you have to wonder what marvels may have been produced… even with the pounding they managed to create the V1 and V2 rockets, the Me 262 jet fighter, advanced armored vehicles ( although I would say the simplicity of the T-34 was superior ) The MG42 ( the design that most modern machines guns are based on ) Unchecked they could well have produced Atomic weapons which used against logistical hubs and troop concentrations could have turned even the Eastern front

  6. …and Russia wasn’t even invited to the D-Day celebrations. Where’s gratitude?

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