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Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944

Joachim Ludewig
EDITED BY David T. Zabecki
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked a critical turning point in the European theater of World War II. The massive landing on France's coast had been meticulously planned for three years, and the Allies anticipated a quick and decisive defeat of the German forces. Many of the planners were surprised, however, by the length of time it ultimately took to defeat the Germans.

    While much has been written about D-day, very little has been written about the crucial period from August to September, immediately after the invasion. In Rückzug, Joachim Ludewig draws on military records from both sides to show that a quick defeat of the Germans was hindered by excessive caution and a lack of strategic boldness on the part of the Allies, as well as by the Germans' tactical skill and energy. This intriguing study, translated from German, not only examines a significant and often overlooked phase of the war, but also offers a valuable account of the conflict from the perspective of the German forces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4081-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. World War II German Military Ranks
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Günther Roth

    The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked a dramatic turning point in the history of World War II. There was a fundamental change in the political and military situation, similar to the “Turn before Moscow” in the winter of 1941. The landing on France’s Atlantic coast had been carefully prepared for more than three years and had indeed been anticipated by the German High Command. Adolf Hitler, a World War I combat soldier, now faced the realization of his worst nightmare. This second front in the rear of the desperately struggling German army on the Eastern Front...

  5. Author’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Joachim Ludewig
  6. A Note on the English Edition
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    D. T. Z.
  7. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Traditionally, German military history research has concentrated on two groups of topics in analyzing the ground warfare operations in the west in 1944. The Allied invasion in June and the defensive fighting in Normandy,¹ followed by the preparations for and execution of the Ardennes Offensive in the autumn and winter of 1944,² were the primary subjects of scholarly investigation. Nonetheless, there so far has been no corresponding study of the breathtaking interim campaign of maneuver and the rapid sequence of combat actions that shifted into a situation of positional warfare conducted along fixed lines.

    Within this period, encompassing the months...

  9. PART 1. The Initial Situation Facing OB West in the Middle of August 1944:: The Situation in Northern France and the Allied Landings along the Mediterranean Coast

    • Chapter 1 The German Reich’s Military-Political Situation: Development of the General Conditions up to the Summer of 1944
      (pp. 7-12)

      Operation BARBAROSSA had failed. Its operational timing was thrown off when the German offensive ground to a halt in front of Moscow at the end of 1941. But it also was a failure in terms of Hitler’s vision of worldwideBlitzkrieg. When it still looked like the Soviet Union would be defeated, it was hard to foresee that the war could not be continued on Hitler’s terms, with Germany in a consolidated European world power position. But the end of 1942 and the start of 1943 brought the final turning point in the war, both against the German Reich (with...

    • Chapter 2 The Initial Situation on the Allied Side
      (pp. 13-30)

      The strategic blueprint drafted by the Allies to defeat the German Reich had solidified for the most part following the EUREKA meeting of the Big Three—Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin—in Teheran from November 28 to December 1, 1943, followed immediately by the Second Cairo Conference, code-named SEXTANT, held December 3 to 6, 1943. The most significant decision reached was the final scheduling of the date for the invasion of northwestern France, Operation OVERLORD. The Allied leaders also decided that the main operation would be supported by landings along the coast of southern France, Operation ANVIL. Following the statement released...

    • Chapter 3 Development of the Situation through the Middle of August 1944
      (pp. 31-46)

      At the time of the Allied landings there were forty-eight infantry and ten Panzer divisions based in France in the area of responsibility of OB West.

      The OB West himself, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, did not report to the Oberkommando des Heeres (Army High Command, or OKH) but rather to the operations staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Armed Forces High Command, or OKW). France and the occupied areas in the west were designated OKW theaters of operations. That arrangement, however, did not have any important practical effect on the command channels, because all military command authority converged on...

    • Chapter 4 The Initial Situation in Southern France
      (pp. 47-84)

      As early as June 1943 an intelligence assessment prepared by the Wehrmacht operations staff had identified the organization of a French expeditionary corps as an indicator of an enemy offensive directed at southern France.¹ Concrete fears about an Allied landing along the French Riviera, however, did not solidify among the German leadership until August 1943, when units of OB West relieved the Italian Fourth Army in the sector to the east of the mouth of the Rhône River.²

      The Germans took over coastal defenses with little difficulty, but following the forced evacuation of Sardinia and Corsica serious concerns soon arose...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 5 The Initial Situation in Northern France
      (pp. 85-102)

      Model initially resisted his reassignment to France. On the evening of August 16 he received briefings at Rastenburg on the situation and the possible future developments in the West.¹

      In the meantime, Kluge, who had reestablished communications from the command post of the Fifth Panzer Army, was working with his two operations staffs—OB West and Army Group B—and with Jodl to deal with the problems of the withdrawal from the encirclement at Falaise.² Even before Hitler’s written withdrawal approval arrived, Kluge had Lieutenant General Hans Speidel, the chief of staff of Army Group B, draft orders for the...

  10. PART 2. From the Retreat of the German Army in the West to the Climax of the Crisis:: Combat Operations from August 20 to September 4, 1944

    • Chapter 6 The Start of the Retreat in the West
      (pp. 105-130)

      Early in the morning of August 18 Model started out from La Roche-Guyon for the command post of the Fifth Panzer Army to get a firsthand picture of the situation along the front. His impressions developed during this first trip to the front, the threat of the ever-present Allied air forces, and his firsthand look at the scope of destruction did away with his initial convictions that the battlefield problems could be solved and brought quickly under control by executing a “short cross-country gallop.”¹

      Based on discussions with Dietrich, the commanding general of the Fifth Panzer Army, and other leading...

    • Chapter 7 The Situation around Paris
      (pp. 131-152)

      Within the total scope of the military operations in the west in 1944, the fall of Paris might appear to have been of secondary significance. The French metropolis did not become the scene of decisive combat operations, nor was Hitler’s threat of utter destruction carried out. Paris happily was spared the fate of so many major European and non-European cities.

      Taking a synoptic approach to the events of August 1944, however, the significance of Paris can be seen in clearer context. Many elements of the operational problems were tied together in time and space, issues that had to be resolved...

    • Chapter 8 Command Decisions and the Course of Operations Leading to the Climax of the Crisis
      (pp. 153-196)

      The recent events and orders clearly showed that Hitler and the Wehrmacht High Command were not able or willing to control combat operations in any meaningful manner.

      During the night between August 24 and 25, Model prepared his first major situation estimate. The Führer Directive that had been issued just four days earlier was now outdated in all its essential points. OB West, therefore, only briefly touched on what Hitler had dictated to him as the “most important tasks.” Model stubbornly stuck to the idea that the Seine–Yonne–Dijon line—which the Americans had already crossed—could be held...

    • Maps
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 9 The Basis for Continued Combat Operations
      (pp. 197-210)

      The objectives that Eisenhower had established for his armies on August 24 had mostly been achieved during the first few days of September. The ease of the Allied advance and the signs of breakup on the German side boosted the Allied camp’s confidence in victory. According to the weekly enemy situation estimate prepared by SHAEF headquarters on September 2, the German army represented only “a number of fleeing, disorganized and demoralized battle groups.”¹ Nor were major difficulties anticipated on the southern wing. Although the situation of the German First Army along the Mosel River had been consolidated for the time...

  11. PART 3. Developments from the Climax of the Crisis until the Transition to Positional Warfare in the West:: Combat Operations in September 1944

    • Chapter 10 From the Climax of the Crisis to the First Indications of a Stabilization of the Western Front
      (pp. 213-232)

      At first, there were no indications of any major offensive by the 21st Army Group across the Albert Canal, contrary to the fears of the German command in the west.¹ For two and a half days, until late in the evening of September 6, things were mostly quiet along the front between the mouth of the Scheldt River and Maastricht.

      The British apparently were not going to immediately exploit the “open door leading into the Rhineland.” Likewise, there was no indication of any swift establishment of a main effort near Antwerp with the objective of gaining control of the mouth...

    • Chapter 11 The Situation Estimate Prepared by the Operations Staffs and the Failure of the Concept of a German “Counteroffensive from the Move”
      (pp. 233-252)

      In his September 9 situation report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Eisenhower emphasized among other things that although German resistance had been believed close to collapse in recent weeks, it had “become somewhat stiffer” following the shift of combat operations to the vicinity of the Reich border. Moreover, he now saw the danger that the continuation of Allied operations might be considerably restricted because of the blockage of the Scheldt River estuary, which was still in German hands.¹ That meant that the situation was now being assessed in a new light at Allied headquarters. There were many indications that...

    • Chapter 12 The End of the Retreat Operations in the West and the Transition to Positional Warfare
      (pp. 253-280)

      Hitler and the Wehrmacht High Command entertained plans for an offensive through the end of 1944. But the various operations staffs in the west were fully occupied with preventing the defense line between Antwerp and Belfort from collapsing again in the face of the pressure from the Allied offensives. As Field Marshals Rundstedt and Model had made clear as early as September 7, the point of acute danger was located in the Aachen area. Both commanders expected an enemy thrust via the old imperial city toward the Rhein-Westphalia industrial region.¹

      That fear seemed to be confirmed when on the evening...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 281-294)

    Toward the end of August 1944, the Americans had punched through the wobbly front line of Army Group B in the area east of Paris. Early in September, the Allies had managed to form the Mons Pocket. It seemed that the breakup of the German defense lines, which had barely been averted following the losses at Falaise and during the Seine River crossing, was now inevitable. The center of Army Group B had been shattered. The breakthrough led to the climax of the war of maneuver. Attacking toward Antwerp, the British on September 4 seized for the first time an...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 295-386)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 387-400)
  15. Index
    (pp. 401-436)