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Who Was Waiting For the Allies at Sword Beach on D-Day!

Discussion in 'Sword Beach' started by Jim, Mar 10, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    At the time of the landings, there were 60 German divisions in the West waiting for the Allies to strike. It sounds like an impressively large force, but these divisions were manning a coastline that stretched from Denmark to the Spanish border. They also guarded the French Mediterranean coast, as well as garrisoning the interior of the occupied territories of France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark. Of these divisions, 20 were static formations, raised to hold a sector of the coast and not easily moved since they lacked any significant transport of their own. Many of the armoured units in France and Belgium in early 1944 had only arrived from the East in the spring after much heavy fighting. They suffered severe shortages of manpower and equipment and used the posting to the West to rebuild their strength. The bulk of these Panzer outfits were stationed in the strategically important central area between Holland and the mouth of the Seine, and they were unable to interfere with the landings in Normandy, except after an appreciable delay.
    The German army of occupation in France was increasingly hampered by the destruction of its internal communications by Allied bombing and acts of sabotage committed by the French Resistance. Roads, railways, rivers, canals and depots were, by June 1944, in a very poor state, and their condition severely restricted the transportation of fuel and supplies. Open movement of military convoys became increasingly difficult as the date of the invasion approached, especially as a result of the strafing tactics employed by low-flying British and American fighter-bombers. The Allied dominance of the air meant that few massed troop movements could be undertaken in daylight, further restricting Germany's ability to react quickly to the Allied landings.
    The sector that included Sword Beach and the drop zone of the British 6th Airborne Division was held by a single German division, 716th Infantry Division. The 716th was originally activated under the command of Oberst Otto Matterstock on 2 May 1941 from replacement units raised in Military District VI at Munster. Its soldiers were older men from the Rhineland and Westphalia area. The 716th was one of the 15 static divisions raised in Mobilisation Wave 15, beginning in April 1941, which was specifically organised for occupation and anti-invasion duties in the West and in the Balkans. It was immediately sent to the Caen area for coastal defence duties and, after a brief spell in Soissons and Belgium, returned once again to Normandy in June 1942, where it remained until D-Day.

    Initially the division consisted of two regiments, 726th and 736th Infantry Regiments, each with three battalions. Its artillery support was provided by 656th Artillery Battalion, containing three batteries of field guns, but this was later supplemented by the arrival of an additional battalion, and the division's artillery unit was upgraded and re-designated 1716th Artillery Regiment. Being a static formation, the division was without any vehicles for troop movements and what little transport it did have was often horse-drawn. It was inevitable that the division's static role on the Normandy coastline would be seen as a source of manpower to help make up the German losses in Russia, and many of its soldiers were drafted to the East, to be replaced by lower quality troops from the occupied territories of Poland and Russia. Little by little, the division's strength and morale was diluted by the influx of foreign soldiers drafted in under the threat of service to the German Army or brutal captivity in concentration camps. In April 1943 General Major (later Generalleutnant) Wilhelm Richter arrived to take over the division. His task was to improve the defences and secure the area against invasion, and his responsibility was to hold a front of over 21 miles of coastline. It was a demanding task, particularly when one considers that a good division could reasonably be expected to hold only six miles of front. Richter complained that his forces were 'beaded along the coast like a string of pearls'. The division did, however, have some assistance to help stiffen its defensive role, sited as it was behind the much vaunted, but still incomplete, concrete emplacements and defences of the Atlantic Wall. Richter set his men to help in the construction of the coast defences and assisted in organising over 40 fortified centres of resistance in his sector.

    As anticipation of an Allied invasion grew, Richter was reinforced by two battalions of Osttruppen from the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. These Eastern troops were complete units of about 1,000 men, and one battalion was assigned to each of the regiments - 441st East Battalion went to 726th Regiment and 642nd East Battalion joined 736th Regiment. The Osttruppen acted as the fourth battalion for each unit, although their usefulness was considered suspect, as were similar battalions placed in the line elsewhere along the French coastline. As one senior German general scathingly observed “It is hard to imagine why Russians should fight for the Germans, in France against Americans” When the Allied blow struck, the German 716th Division became involved in fighting against not only the British at Sword Beach and the 6th Airborne east of the Orne, but also against the Canadians on Juno Beach. Approximately half of the division's strength was dispersed between the two sectors. In the area of Sword Beach, Richter had the first and second battalions of 736th Regiment holding the coastline, with its third battalion inland acting as a reserve. The Regiment's 642nd East Battalion was dispersed behind the coast, mainly in the area east of the Orne. The armour readily available to counter the landings near Caen amounted to just one division, 21st Panzer Division, which had its headquarters at St Pierre sur Dives, about 20 miles south-east of Caen. There were other Panzer units allocated to resist an invasion along the Normandy coast, but they were stationed well inland, waiting to see where the Allied blow would land. The 12th SS Panzer Division 'Hitler Jugend' was close to Lisieux and the Panzer Lehr Division was in the Chartres area, both within a day's march of Caen. In addition, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division south of Tours, the 2nd Panzer Division east of the Seine and 116th Panzer Division near Paris could all arrive in the area of the invasion within a matter of days.

    General Major Edgar Feuchtinger, commander of German 21st Panzer Division, had fought in the campaigns of 1940 and in Russia, where he was wounded during the siege of Leningrad in August 1942. His division carried out the only major counter-attack against the Allied landings on D-Day.


    The 21st Panzer Division was commanded by General Major Edgar Feuchtinger. It was available for immediate counter-attack wherever it was required in Normandy and was under the control of Army Group B. By contrast, the 12th SS Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions were part of the strategic reserve and could only be released by authority of the Supreme Commander, Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer needed to be convinced that any landing, no matter where it might fall along the Channel coast, was the main invasion and not just a feint to draw off his mobile forces whilst other larger landings took place elsewhere. The German Supreme Command felt sure that the Allies would land in the Pas de Calais and even weeks after the Normandy landings they still expected that fresh assaults would be made in that area. The 21st Panzer Division was a reconstituted division organised after the original unit was destroyed in Tunisia in May 1943. It was formed at Rennes in July 1943 from veterans of the Eastern front and those soldiers of the Africa Corps who had escaped the disaster in Tunisia, together with some from miscellaneous units of the German Seventh Army. These latter troops were often other people's rejects and not always the best of men. General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg had commented that the 21st Panzers were flawed because they were composed of many undesirable personnel with bad traits, which even thorough and experienced training could never overcome. The division was composed of 100th Panzer Regiment and the 2 125th and 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiments, all of which had two battalions instead of the normal three. The 155th Panzer Artillery Regiment; the 21st Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, the 220th Panzer Pioneer Battalion and the 305th Anti-aircraft Battalion completed the make-up of this division. Raised in France, its transport was composed mainly of captured French vehicles and it was armed with many obsolete weapons. Its tanks were mostly PzKpfw IVs together with some light tanks of foreign manufacture. Of the ten Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions in the West in early 1944, the 21st Panzer Division was the only one rated as unfit for service in Russia. In the air, the German Luftwaffe was only a shadow of the force that had waged war on Britain in 1940. Most of its strength was either engaged in Russia, or committed against the Allied bombing effort that was pounding the industries and cities of the Reich on a daily basis. The German Third Air Force (Luftflotte 3), commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle, was responsible for air attacks against any Allied invasion. The Third Air Force covered the whole of France, Holland and Belgium. However, to protect this massive area it had only 168 Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters in 11 Fighter Corps, and it had just 67 Focke-Wulf Fw 190F fighter-bombers in 11 Air Corps to provide air support for ground troops. Nor were all of these aircraft airworthy, with the average unit serviceability at below 50 per cent. They were also short of experienced air crews and adequate fuel stocks.
    At sea, the German Navy had also been curtailed in its offensive capability through the superiority of Allied air and sea power. Admiral Theodore Kranke, Commander-in-Chief Naval Group Command West, was responsible for opposing the invasion, but he had few craft in the western Channel with which to counter it. The only vessels that were available in the area on 6 June between Boulogne and Cherbourg were three torpedo boats, one minesweeper, 29 S-boats (small, fast motor torpedo boats), 36 R-boats (motor minesweepers), 35 auxiliary minesweepers and patrol boats, 11 gun carriers and three mine-laying craft. This was all that Kranke had to counter an Allied naval force of over 6,000 vessels.
  2. Buford

    Buford New Member

    Oct 21, 2007
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    Dont you think he looks like Anthony Hopkins?

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