The Rout After Normandy

by Daniel Russ on August 15, 2010

Seigfried Line, Anti Armor Fields

US Bofors AAA Position In Seigfried Line

Seventy five days after the invasion of Normandy, the invasion battle was over. It took the Allies two and a half months to turn the Germans around and quite literally run for their lives. I have made the point here many times that the Wehrmacht was probably the most disciplined and the most deadly army during the 20th century. That said, they could hurt you as badly during a retreat as they could during an invasion. But the Americans, the British, the Canadians and the French for the first time in World War II were a united, combined force and winning on the ground over German forces. During this retreat, Patton wanted to swing Third Army north and join with the Canadians at Caen and close the Falais Gap, surround the retreating Wehrmacht and destroy them. But Eisenhower demurred long enough to allow upwards of 40,000 Germans to escape. Others, however, did not escape.

It had costed the Allies 209,672 casualties, with 39,976 dead. Over two thirds of the casualties were American. It cost the Germans even more dearly with 450,000 men, 240,000 of them killed or wounded. The Germans drove in 1,500 tanks into Normandy and drove 67 of them out. Of those, only 24 of them made it back across the Seine. The Germans did not bother to take much of their equipment with them. This was a full-blown rout, with Panzer units scuttling their own tanks, some of them brand new King Tigers. But a tank with no gas is useless, and a tank with no gas and surrounded by enemy troops is a death trap. Germans had no idea where their units were, only the direction of the flight: east.

The fall back position wasn’t just Germany for the Wehrmacht. It was the Siegfried Line, a sophisticated and almost impervious bunker system that lined the western German border. There they would resist to the bitter end. For many, I am, sure, the bitter end had already transpired.

Patton’s 3rd Army came upon tons of grain, sugar, rice, cigarettes, flour and heating coal. The Allies smartly distributed it among French civilians first. Later, they came across 500,000 pounds of canned beef and 2.6 million pounds of frozen beef. This they distributed among the troops. It’s amazing when you think about the logistics train the Germans had that could provide this amount of perishable food in the heat of battle.

The Americans pursued the rout until they too were as disorganized as the fleeing Germans. American units heading East were mixed together and lost and sometimes found that Germans were behind them and Americans in front of them. It was here that the French and Belgians festooned their balconies with flowers and pulled out wine. It was here that the Americans were greeted as the liberators we see in movie footage. It was here that Germans had ravaged the French and destroyed them psychologically and for the first time in five years, we had driven them out. The Europeans we liberated were eternally grateful. This was where America was loved the most. Patton’s tankers and infantry were kissed often on the way into France. Yet tankers and forward infantry could tell when the Germans were still there hiding and when they were not. When the flowers were out and the girls waited for the column, they Germans were gone. No flowers, no wine, no people meant the Germans were still there.

Seigfried Line Map

Resupply was being managed and distributed through a trucking group called the Red Ball Express. Between August 29th and September 15th, over 6,000n trucks delivered over 135,000 tons of resupply. By middle of September, most armored units heading into Germany were out of gas. Tankers did their best to position tanks so guns could be used defensively, but until the supply line could be reformed, they were staying right there. That said, there probably isn’t a maneuver general during World War II who didn’t lament running out of gas, or feel that it was the cause of a stalled career.

Meantime, the 40,000 Wehrmacht who made it to the Seigfried line were re-organized into fighting units, given assignments along the defensive line by the disciplined German officer corps. In Germany that act itself was called the Miracle In the West.

More bloody fighting lay ahead.

The Victors. Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men Of World War II. Stephen E. Ambrose. Simon & Schuster. 1998.

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Louis August 30, 2017 at 7:30 am

I can argue over the first point, about the german army beeing the most deadly army, but I won’t. However, I will argue about the Siegfried line. It was not, as you state, “a sophisticated and almost impervious bunker system”. Yes, it was sophisticated when it was build (about 1938), although it was never as extensive as the one on the other side of the border (Maginot line). And a lot of the guns in her bunkrers were subsequently used on the Atlantic Wall. What it did have, after the germans started refurbishing it after D-Day, was defence in depth, interlocking firelanes, lots of barbed wire, dragons teeth, mines, and a determined defender, who was defending his own backyard. It was both the dearth of supplies, and the depths of its defences, that stymied the Americans, and the French, and the British, and the Canadians. Also, the Americans attacked in the most extensive part, near the old German-French border. The British, after they failed to go around it (Market-Garden, aka Arnhem), went for the most northern part, still south of the Rhine, around Kleve (operation Veritable), where the line was far less deep, and even there they had troubles.

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