Rommel demands stronger defences on a Normandy beach


29 January 1944: Rommel demands stronger defences on a Normandy beach

Unteroffizier Henrik Naube at WN73 farther along remembered Rommel as “a very energetic and active man; he walked very briskly and spoke rapidly.” He fired off detailed questions at their officer “about the ammunition we had in the post; how old the weapons were,” and so on. Rommel exuded impatient energy, “he was quite a short man,” Naube recalled, “but with a powerful presence.”

normandy beach defences
Field Marshal Rommel’s responsibilities in France, as commander Army Group B, overlapped with those of Commander-in-Chief West, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (left).
Atlantic Wall
Nazi propaganda made much of some the impressive structures that had been built as part of the ‘Atlantic Wall’ but they only covered a limited part of the coast.

In late 1943 Erwin Rommel had been given a job inspecting the defences of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’, strung all along the coast of Europe from Norway down to France. The greatest likelihood was that the expected Allied invasion would come on the coast of France closest to England across the English Channel. Yet the uncertainty was great. The Allies might not land in the most obvious place – even if it was the shortest route.

By early 1944 Rommel had been given an operational role in command of troops who would resist the invasion. The German lines of command in France were not clear and would cause tension right up to the day of the invasion and beyond. Nevertheless Rommel was responsible for energetically improving the defence structures along the coast. The emphasis was less on massive concrete gun emplacements but the smaller Widerstandsnest – WN – strong points.

On January 29 Rommel visited WN 62 and immediately spotted the parallels with the Allied landing beach at Salerno in Italy. Gazing along the beach between Colleville and Vierville he declared, “this bay must be fortified as quickly as possible against an attempted invasion by the Allies.”

He was testy about the two Czech 76.5mm field guns he saw standing in the open on concrete platforms beneath camouflage net poles. “You have been here for three years,” he asked the uncomfortable local company commander, Hauptmann Ottermeier, “and what have you achieved?”.

Gefreiter Franz Gockel remembered that sixty paid Morrocan laborers turned up with locally pressed labor and built two new emplacements, upper and lower concrete casemates for the two 76.5mm guns in six weeks.

Unteroffizier Henrik Naube at WN73 farther along remembered Rommel as “a very energetic and active man; he walked very briskly and spoke rapidly.” He fired off detailed questions at their officer “about the ammunition we had in the post; how old the weapons were,” and so on. Rommel exuded impatient energy, “he was quite a short man,” Naube recalled, “but with a powerful presence.”

It was not until later that “the beach between Colleville and Vierville” was to become identified by the Allies as “Omaha Beach”. Rommel was making fateful decisions that were to have terrible consequences for many young men when the invasion did come.

From The Fury of Battle: D-Day as it Happened, Hour by Hour, published in 2018, which examines in detail the events on Omaha and Pointe du Hoc.

These images are amongst hundreds of contemporary pictures in the iPad app ‘Overlord’ – from the Apple iOS iPad app store. Produced by World War II Today, ‘Overlord’ tells the complete story of the Normandy campaign.

Rommel on one of his tours of inspection, January 1944.
normandy beach defences
Rommel was constantly on the move along the coast, inspecting troops and demanding improvements to the physical defences.

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