21st Panzer Division prepares for war in Normandy

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel inspects the 21st Panzer Division in May 1944.

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel inspects the 21st Panzer Division in May 1944.

Right along the north west coast of Europe Hitler’s ‘Fortress Europe’ was preparing for war behind the ‘Atlantic Wall’. Fortifications and gun emplacements had been built all the way from Norway down to the the French border with Spain.

The greatest concentration of defences, and supporting troops, lay in the Pas de Calais area, closest across the Channel from England. Elsewhere Field Marshal Rommel was energetically inspecting the defences all the way along the coast and demanding improvements.

On the 6th May, during a conference on the West, Hitler had the sudden sense that Normandy might be vulnerable – as a consequence he ordered 21st Panzer Division to move up from Brittany to the Normandy town of Caen.

Joining the 21st Panzer Division in May 1944 was Colonel Hans von Luck:

In the course of May, Rommel appeared at the division several times, to acquaint himself with its state of training and the morale of the men. On one of his visits, he expressed himself almost prophetically.

“I know the British from France in 1940 and from North Africa. They will land at the very place where we least expect them. It might be here.”

To make up for the inadequate fortifications on the coast, Rommel ordered stake-obstacles to be erected on the shore and in the hinterland, what was known as “Rommel’s asparagus.”

A German design for "Rommel's Asparagus", intended to be an obstacle to glider landings.

A German design for “Rommel’s Asparagus”, intended to be an obstacle to glider landings.

In addition, minefields were laid wherever airborne landings might be expected. We were somewhat concerned that the civilian population could move about freely. We even had to leave passages open in the minefields, so that the peasants could go about their business. Evacuation was not considered. Why should it be? We didn’t know, after all, where a landing might take place.

Through this, the Resistance, which was certainly active in Normandy, had the chance to let the British know our positions, where our tank and artillery parks were, and the location of the mine fields. And indeed we later found campaign maps on prisoners with precise indications of our positions.

The weeks went by. For a panzer division, which in the campaigns so far had been accustomed to a war of movement, the inactivity was wearisome and dangerous. Vigilance was easily relaxed, especially after the enjoyment of Calvados and cider, both typical drinks of the region. There was, in addition, the uncertainty as to whether the landing would take place at all in our sector.

See Hans von Luck: Panzer Commander.

A series of German propaganda pictures illustrating the "Ferntrauung", or proxy wedding, of a Luftwaffe Lieutenant, in Normandy in the spring of 1944.

A series of German propaganda pictures illustrating the “Ferntrauung”, or proxy wedding, of a Luftwaffe Lieutenant , in Normandy in the spring of 1944.

In 1941 Hitler had authorised "Ferntrauung" as a method by which women could marry men who had fallen in battle. They then became entitled to a widows pension and their children were deemed to be born in wedlock.

In 1941 Hitler had authorised “Ferntrauung” as a method by which women could marry men who had fallen in battle. They then became entitled to a widows pension and their children were deemed to be born in wedlock.

At some point in time the Ferntrauung scheme was extended to cases where both parties were alive but separated by the circumstances of war. These images were used to illustrate the process.

At some point in time the Ferntrauung scheme was extended to cases where both parties were alive but separated by the circumstances of war. These images were used to illustrate the process.

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