- landings of 6th June 1944 = beginning of campaign to liberate Western Europe from occupation of the Third Reich.
- into the fields behind Normandy beaches > Americans dismayed to find themselves among the bocage, the thick, high + wide hedgerows providing ideal cover for defence.
- From the German perspective, General Blumentritt wrote German soldier had bled to death through wrong politics + dilettante leadership of Hitler who ordered a rigid defence of the coasts.
- General Rundstedt wanted to give up whole of France south of the Loire in order to concentrate on fighting a fast-moving tank battle around Paris instead > prevented from doing this by Hitler + Rommel who intended to carry out defence with all forces on the beach and to use all tank-corps right in front, at the coast.
- heroic acts of resistance by rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters, called maquisards or French Maquis > attacked Germans + destroyed bridges + railways in the path of the Panzers => horrific reprisals
- village of Oradour-Sur-Glane > Major Adolf Dickmann’s unit murdered 642 people, including 190 schoolchildren > men shot, women + children burnt alive in the church => village razed.
- Max Hastings pointed out = trifling sample of what German Army had been doing on a national scale in the East, since 1941.
- German resistance around Carentan + Caen (the ‘crucible’ of the battle) prevented Montgomery from taking either town,
- Basil Liddell Hart proved right > Overlord having gone according to plan, but not according to timetable.
- Karl Donitz stated > defeat of German U-Boat which had enabled success of Anglo-American invasion of Normandy in July 1944 = no chance of winning the war.
- Coup attempt against Hitler by some in High Command > determined to remove an incompetent upstart corporal who had by then become the major obstacle to a negotiated peace which was the only objective alternative to accepting, sooner or later, a Soviet occupation of Germany => 20 July two-pond bomb planted by Swabian aristocratic war hero Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg ripped through one of the conference huts at ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in East Prussia (now Poland), =>Hitler survived. => Hitler became highly suspicious of veracity of what his generals told him, suspecting that many more had actually been involved than those discovered, and than in fact had been.
- Laurence Rees able to re-balance our understanding of final year of Second World War > At the time, in the depths of the Cold War, focus was on heroism of Western Allies – on Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and D-Day.
- Before fall of Communism, role of Soviet Union in 2nd World War to a large extent denied a proper place in our culture because it was easier than facing up to a variety of unpalatable truths.
- D-Day commemorations reverted to a self-conscious western triumphalism, failing to involve contemporary Russian leaders + almost completely ignoring ‘Russian’ contribution + No reference to role of Poland + other parts of Eastern Europe in resisting and ultimately defeating the Reich.
Western Allies agreed to launch Operation Overlord, ‘second front’ in spring of 1944, following first Anglo-American Conference in Quebec in August 1943 (pictured right).
- At meeting on 24 November in Cairo, Churchill had finally seized his opportunity to plead with Roosevelt + American generals for more resources for the Mediterranean. => Americans would not countenance a delay to Overlord.
- soldiers of Western Allies battled to establish a foothold in Normandy
- Red Army prepared to launch a massive attack on German Army Group Centre in an attempt to recapture Minsk + push the Wehrmacht back out of the Soviet Union.
- Over two million Red Army soldiers took part in their June offensive, codenamed Operation Bagration => lowest point in German military fortunes on the Eastern Front to date – lower even than Stalingrad in terms of military losses = 17 divisions completely destroyed + another 50 enduring losses of fifty per cent. > Hitler largely to blame for this defeat <=> gave direct tactical orders to commanders of 9th Army who faced Operation Bagration, <= orders increasingly disconnected from realities of modern battlefield.
- Heinz Fielder, recalled demoralising effects of these nonsensical orders received from division or the army corps => joined group of other German soldiers trying to fight way through the Red Army troops ahead of them + reach retreating German line.
- July 1944, German Army on Eastern Front lost nearly two hundred thousand men killed or wounded; in August it was nearly three hundred thousand. In total, German losses as a result of Operation Bagration would be calculated at around 1.5 million. => unprecedented defeat for Hitler and his generals = unparalleled by anything occurring in the same period on the Western Front.
- By comparison with the Western Allies, the Red Army had made rapid progress against the Wehrmacht, retaking Minsk, capital of Belarus, on 3 July. Fyodor Bubenchikov, remembered Germans were losing morale + losing their belief in victory => no longer cried “Heil Hitler!”= surrendering + crying: “Hitler kaputt!”
- Operation Bagration = end of a transformation in the fortunes of the Red Army = out-performing the Germans.
- In the wake of attack on German Army Group Centre in Operation Bagration, Red Army moved forward into eastern Poland + mounted Lwów-Sandomierz assault under Michael Konev.
- Vyacheslav Yablonsky, member of an élite NKVD squad, part of great Soviet assault on Lwów entered Lwów just before Germans retreated from the city = to capture headquarters before Germans left, + steal intelligence information that their superiors hoped would reveal just who had been collaborating with the Nazis.
- Around three thousand soldiers led by Colonel Wladyslaw Filipowski supported Red Army during fierce fighting (from 23 to 27 July)once battle was won Soviets arrested the officers and forced the ordinary soldiers to join units of the Red Army.
- elimination of the underground Polish Home Army, Soviet authorities immediately = re-establish institutions of control
- group of collaborators Polish Committee of National Liberation = Lublin Poles ‘de facto’ government of ‘liberated’ Poland. Nikolai Bulganin, a leading member of the Soviet State Committee of Defence = Stalin’s representative to puppet Polish government
- imposition on Poland > Polish underground, Armia Krajowa (Home Army) owed their allegiance to government in exile in London.
- Before June 1944, Germany wreaked far more damage on Allies than they had inflicted on Germany.
- Germans’ wonder-weapon = supersonic V-2 missile.
- Admiral Cunningham wrote in his diary that Churchill was full of his visit to France and was more inclined to talk than to listen. But, in contrast with Hitler, the British PM was capable of listening to, and even asking for, news and advice which was unpalatable. After the Bomb Plot,
- ‘Overlord’ having ended, next phase of the invasion was known as Operation Cobra > intended to break out from linked beach-heads + strike south + east into central France.
- Allied offensive carpet bombing of Saint-Ló +areas to west of it
- Warsaw Uprising = radio broadcasts made at end of July under Soviet auspices encouraging people of Warsaw to believe that liberation was near = encouraging rhetoric.
- Stanislaw Mikolajczyk (Polish Peasants’ Party) knew Warsaw Uprising could not succeed without practical assistance of Allies, => push for cooperation. = strategy doomed to failure with Stalin.
After D-Day – The Battle for Normandy:
The landings of 6th June were, of course, ‘just’ the beginning of the campaign to liberate Western Europe from the occupation of the Third Reich. Having got into the fields behind the beaches, the Americans, in particular, were dismayed to find themselves among the bocage, the thick, high and wide hedgerows that provided ideal cover for defence. From the German perspective, General Blumentritt wrote to a correspondent in 1965, saying that the German soldier had bled to death through wrong politics and dilettante leadership of Hitler. In particular, Normandy had been lost, he claimed, because Hitler ordered a rigid defence of the coasts. That was not possible over two thousand kilometres, especially when considering the Allied mastery of the air, the Allied masses of ‘matérial’, and the weakened German potential after five years of war. General Rundstedt wanted to give up the whole of…
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