Confusion: The Organization of the German High Command On D-Day

 

Dwight_D._Eisenhower_as_General_of_the_Army_crop

Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, seen here wearing the five stars of General of the Army, a wartime rank specially authorized by Congress.

There was one person in charge of the Allied invasion of Europe and subsequent campaign to defeat Nazi Germany: General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces. All Allied military forces came under his command with an occasional exception. Most important, Eisenhower was backed by three key men: Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, US President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. When he had to flex his muscles to bring subordinates into line, he had a lot of muscle behind him.

The Germans, who have a reputation as organized and efficient, had a command structure resembling a bowl of spaghetti thrown against a wall. In a report written for the Allies after the war and published in a fascinating volume, Fighting the Invasion: the German Army at D-Day, General Günther Blumentritt, who served as Chief of Staff to Herr General Feldmarschal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West or ‘OB West’ (C-in-C West), wrote about the command structure which I have summarized below.

OB West reported to OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or German Armed Forces High Command), which had operational responsibility for war on the Western Front. OKH, or German Army High Command, had responsibility for the war in the east or the Ost Kreig against the Soviets. While co-located at Zossen, twenty kilometers outside of Berlin, neither organization was allowed to communicate with the other. They had completely separate compounds and bunkers and were known as Maybach 1 (OKH) and Maybach 2 (OKW). wikipedia.org/wiki/Maybach_I_and_II

Under the nominal command of OB West were Army Groups B and G which controlled all subordinate German Army forces in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. (The Military Governor of France and the Military Governor of N.France/Belgium, which had their own special units and security troops, reported directly to OKW by-passing OB West and often not even informing OB West of what they were doing).

+ Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel (left)
and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt

However, there was a caveat here which caused the Germans to react slowly on D-Day and it is this:  only coastal defense units of German troops in France, Belgium and the Netherlands were directly subordinated to OB West.

Only if an actual invasion occurred, would the German Army commanders in Belgium and France become fully subordinated to OB West. The German Army commander in the Netherlands did not come under the authority of OB West in the event of invasion. He reported directly to OKW. However, the majority of front line German Army combat units in Holland came under the command of Army Group B and not the German Army commander in Holland. Got it?

If this wasn’t confusing enough, the Germans had a shortage of troops but not of Field Marshals. Rommel (seen above on right), the not-so-unbeatable Desert Fox, was sitting around in Germany while the unbeatable German Afrika Korps was being beaten – and later surrendered to the British 8th Army. (Eventually, the entire Deutsche Afrika Korps ended up as POWs in the United States.)

So Hitler sent Herr General Feldmarschal Rommel to France to assume command of Army Group B, which already reported to Herr General Feldmarschal von Rundstedt (seen above on left) in his capacity as OB West. So theoretically Rommel was subordinated to von Rundstedt but all German Field Marshals had the right to contact Hitler directly so it wasn’t clear that Rommel really was subordinate to von Rundstedt and both of them gave orders to Army Group B and these orders often conflicted.

A meeting in Paris in December of 1943 between  Generalleutnant (equivalent to Major-General or two star general in US Army) Alfred Gause (who looks to be wearing an AfrikaKorps cuff title), Rommel’s Chief of Staff (at right, pointing at map), with Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel (left) and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, OB West or Commander-in-Chief, West (center). Oberst (Colonel) Bodo Zimmermann (senior staff officer to von Rundstedt is in the background).

The Luftwaffe’s Third Air Force, responsible for air operations in the West as well as anti-aircraft defense, did not come under the authority of OB West except for matters of coastal defense. Otherwise, they reported to the Luftwaffe commander for France who was in Paris and he reported to OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe in Berlin) which came under the drug-addicated Reichsmarschal Göring who reported, theoretically, to OKW (Armed Forces High Command) but in actuality reported to Hitler.

Even in the event of the actual invasion, Luftwaffe units would not (and did not) come under the command of OB West. That anti-aircraft units came under Luftwaffe command is important to note since these units, often of division strength, were heavily armed with the awesome German 88s as well as all sorts of other heavy weapons. Most of the time, these anti-aircraft units provided direct fire support to German Army troops but this required good relations between local unit commanders since the Luftwaffe didn’t have to take orders from the army or vice-versa.

Marinegruppen Kommando West, (Naval Group West), reported to OKM (Oberkommando der Kreigsmarine), which came under Grand Admiral Dönitz who theoretically reported to OKW (German Armed Forces High Command) but actually reported directly to Hitler. As with the Luftwaffe, Herr General Feldmarschal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West, could only give orders to Naval Group West on matters regarding coastal defense and even in the event of the actual invasion, OB West could not give orders to Naval Group West. What makes this even more screwed up than it looks is that the Kriegsmarine controlled all coastal artillery units since they were part of the navy.

+

+

The Waffen SS, which literally translates as ‘Armed SS’, meaning SS combat troops as opposed to SS concentration camp guards and organized murderers, came under the tactical control of local army commands in the event of invasion. Otherwise, they reported to that weak chinned killer, Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. (After the war was over, men who had served in the Waffen SS tried to claim they were simply soldiering and had nothing to do with the death camp guards, those men being in a separate unit. The concentration camp guards and murder squad SS men were in a separate unit but men transferred between these units on a regular basis.)

In the event of an Allied landing, the German strategy was to launch their reserve panzer divisions against the Allied beachhead. But, as you might imagine, the reserve panzer divisions came under the authority of the OKW, not OB West, and could only be released to OB West if he asked – which he did when the invasion began – but he was rebuffed.

Oberquartiermeister West, (Chief of Supply and Logistics), who was responsible for supplying the units which would come under OB West in the event of an invasion, reported simultaneously to three different commands, OB West, the Military Governor of France, and the Generalquartiermeister of OKH (Oberkommando das Heer or German Army High Command), all of whom could – and did – issue orders to him. Since OB West had no transport of its own, it had to borrow transport from subordinate army commands. Incredibly, these supply trucks were driven by hired French civilians who were supposed to keep driving while being attacked by Allied aircraft.

If this seems confusing, it is and it was. Herr General FeldMarschall von Rundstedt, OB West, said he had but the authority to change the guard in front of his headquarters, located in a magnificent chateaux northwest of Paris, later occupied by General Eisenhower as his headquarters.

Curiously, when von Rundstedt was dining with his senior staff officers in his personal mess, they all spoke to each other in French.

In 1985 the Last German Soldier in America Surrendered

generalfeldmarschall erwin rommel color colour the desert fox tropical uniform brillanten

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel 

From the Dusty Corners of History: 11 September 1985

Hitler’s Last Soldier in U.S. Surrenders in San Pedro : POW Fled N.M. Camp 40 yrs. Ago

During World War Two, almost 400,000 German soldiers were placed in POW camps in the US. This included all of Field Marshal Rommel’s “unbeatable” Afrika Korps. These soldiers were sent to the USA under and agreement with the British government.

A handful of these POW’s escape although none of them made an attempt to leave the country. Most established themselves as hard working American citizens although all of them were wanted by the FBI. Eventually they all gave up although most were allowed to return to the US after they were deported.

Dennis Whiles (aka Georg Gaertner), the last escaped German POW still at large, finally turned himself in on 11 September 1985. Given his age and his long marriage to an American citizen, he was allowed to stay in the US. He died in Colorado in 2013.

When he surrendered, the New York Times said he had obviously become thoroughly Americanized because he gave himself up to authorities accompanied by his public relations representative, his lawyer and his new book, ” Hitler’s Last Soldier in America, ” published to coincide with his surrender.

I’m surprised he didn’t get his own cable TV show.

From the LA Times:

Hitler’s last soldier in America, a World War II prisoner of war who lived in the United States for 40 years after escaping a POW camp in New Mexico, surrendered in San Pedro this morning.

Tears moistened Georg Gaertner’s cheeks as he told how he kept his past secret even from his U.S.-born wife of 21 years until early last year, when she became so frightened by his unwillingness to discuss his past that she threatened to leave him.

The remainder of the article is here:

http://articles.latimes.com/1985-09-11/news/mn-7392_1_camp

 

 

 

Field Marshal von Manstein, Completely Naked, Meets Field Marshal Rommel

 

man

Herr Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein in Russian with German and Romanian troops, 1942.

(photo credit: Kirsche/Associated Press courtesy of the New York Times.

Posted by Charles McCain on http://charlesmccain.com/blog/

Von Manstein shouted: “So we meet at last!”

‘…mother naked’ Field Marshal von Manstein  shook hands for the first time with Field Marshal Rommel.

While waiting to meet with the Fuhrer on July 13th, 1943, von Manstein suggested to his ADC, Alexander Stahlberg, that they take a swim in one of the many beautiful lakes close by FHQ in East Prussia. Neither had their swim trunks. However, no one was around so into the lake they went stark naked and had a most enjoyable swim.

When they begin to swim back toward the ladder of the small footbridge they had used to enter the lake, young Stahlberg spotted a half a dozen men on the footbridge. Von Manstein asked if any of them were women and Stahlberg said he did not think so.

When they got to the base of the ladder Stahlberg got a better look (von Manstein was virtually blind without his glasses) and said, “I believe, sir, that it is Field Marshal Rommel.”

“You’re right. my dear fellow, this is Field Marshal Rommel!”

“Then there was a big hello from below and above, and Manstein shouted, ‘so we meet at last!’ It was true: Manstein and Rommel had never met until that moment…

Rommel spoke again from above: ‘Well gentlemen, why don’t you come up?’ And Manstein called back: ‘Yes, why not?’ And so, mother naked, we climbed the rungs until we were standing before the well-dressed officers.”

 

From: Bounded Duty: the Memoirs of A German Officer 1932–1945 by Alexander Stahlberg

 

I highly recommend this book. It is out of print and hard to find but is the only first- hand account we have of von Manstein in the last years of the war from November 1942 until the end. Stahlberg, a strong anti-Nazi from a family of anti-Nazis, many of whom were executed by the Nazis, was in a position to know everything and see everything. He was from an aristocratic Prussian family with roots going back centuries in East Prussia. He was related to everyone.

He is a sympathetic figure and his anti-Nazi credentials are impeccable. When he made contact with the British on Manstein’s behalf and began to tell their intelligence officers who he was and how many members of his family had been killed by the Nazis, one of the British intelligence officers stopped his recitation by politely saying, “we know who you are.” And they invited him to breakfast.

Stahlberg had great admiration for von Manstein and waited to publish his own memoirs until after von Manstein died in 1973. In spite of his admiration and respect for von Manstein, Stahlberg saw him as a tragic hero and deeply flawed man. While less known in the US and the UK than other German commanders, von Manstein was unquestionably Germany’s best field commander in World War Two and the best field commander of any country during the war. 

Unlike most historical figures, von Manstein was recognized in his own time as Germany’s greatest Field Marshal. It was thought by key anti-Hitler plotters in the German Army, that only von Manstein had the prestige to lead an army revolt against the Nazi Party. Except for the thoroughly Nazified Field Marshals such as Model, all the others would have followed his orders.

At the time of his brief meeting with the Fuhrer mentioned in the beginning of the post, Field Marshal Kluge was also present. Later in the evening, after their usual meeting with Hitler where he refused their advice, the three Field Marshals retired to their common quarters and sat up over several bottles of red wine. Stahlberg was present as he always was at every meeting or social gathering at von Manstein’s insistence.

In front of Rommel, Kluge said to von Manstein, “Manstein, the end will be bad, and I repeat what I told you earlier: I am prepared to serve under you.” With that, Kluge retired. Over a few more glasses of wine, Rommel also told Manstein that the war would end in a total catastrophe and further should the Allies land in Europe, the entire German state and military would quickly reach a point where it would collapse like a house of cards.

Then Rommel stood to take his leave and von Manstein stood to shake his hand. Said Rommel, “I, too, am prepared to serve under you.”

Yet von Manstein who alone among the German Field Marshal’s had the opportunity to be one of the great men of the 20th Century could not bring himself to assassinate of Hitler (which he easily could have done on the several occasions Hitler visited his forward HQ). Nor, could he envision himself as leading the German Army against the Nazi Party and any military formations which would have remained loyal to the Party.

 “What tragedy governed his life!”  Stahlberg wrote of von Manstein in his memoirs. Von Manstein was a great general. But he could have been a great man. That he chose not to is a classic form of Greek tragedy.

 

Source: author’s research and Bounded Duty: the Memoirs of A German Officer 1932–1945 by Alexander Stahlberg

Russland-Nord, Erich von Manstein, Brandenberger

 

 Manstein with General der Panzertruppe Erich Brandenberger, one of his divisional commanders, in June 1941.

(photo courtesy of the German National Archive and posted by Charles McCain on http://charlesmccain.com/blog/ )

Confusion: The Organization of the German High Command During D-Day and the Weeks Afterwards (Part 1)

+

There was one person in charge of the Allied invasion of Europe and subsequent campaign to defeat Nazi Germany: General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces. All Allied military forces came under his command with an occasional exception. Most important, Eisenhower was backed by three key men: Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, US President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. When he had to flex his muscles to bring subordinates into line, he had a lot of muscle behind him.

The Germans, who have a reputation as organized and efficient, had a command structure resembling a bowl of spaghetti thrown against a wall. In a report written for the Allies after the war and published in a fascinating volume, Fighting the Invasion: the German Army at D-Day, General Günther Blumentritt, who served as Chief of Staff to Herr General Feldmarschal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West or ‘OB West’ (C-in-C West), wrote about the command structure which I have summarized below.

OB West reported to OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or German Armed Forces High Command), which had operational responsibility for war on the Western Front. Subordinated to OB West were Army Groups B and G which controlled all subordinate German Army forces in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. (The Military Governor of France and the Military Governor of N.France/Belgium, which had their own special units and security troops, reported directly to OKW.)

+

However, OB West only had authority over German troops in France, Belgium, and Holland as it regarded coastal defense. Only if an actual invasion occurred, would the German Army commanders in Belgium and France be completely subordinated to OB West. The German Army commander in the Netherlands did not come under the authority of OB West in the event of invasion. He reported directly to OKW. However, the majority of front line German Army combat units in Holland came under the command of Army Group B and not the German Army commander in Holland.

The Germans had a shortage of troops but not of Field Marshals. Rommel (seen above on right), the unbeatable Desert Fox, was sitting around in Germany while the unbeatable German Afrika Korps was being beaten – and later surrendered to the British 8th Army. (Eventually, the entire Deutsche Afrika Korps ended up as POWs in the United States.) So Hitler sent Herr General Feldmarschal Rommel to France to assume command of Army Group B, which already reported to Herr General Feldmarschal von Rundstedt (seen above on left) in his capacity as OB West. So theoretically Rommel was subordinated to von Rundstedt but all German Field Marshals had the right to contact Hitler directly so it wasn’t clear that Rommel really was subordinate to von Rundstedt and both of them gave orders to Army Group B and these orders often conflicted.

+