Blood and Steel 2

Blood and Steel 2

Another volume from Donald E Graves dealing with the experiences of German armed forces following D-Day, Normandy 1944 through to the battles on German territory.

Overwhelmed by the strength of the Allied air and ground forces, following the D-Day landings and subsequent bitter fighting in Normandy, the Germans were compelled to abandon their efforts to hold France and much of the Low Countries and retreat to the Rhine.

The Wehrmacht Archive helps reveal the experience of German soldiers and armed forces personnel as they withdrew through a remarkable collection of translated original orders, diaries, letters, after-action reports and other documentation. 

The book also draws upon Allied technical evaluations of weapons, vehicles and equipment, as well as transcripts of prisoner of war interrogations.

The reader will learn from official documents about the Germans’ efforts to cope with Allied air and artillery superiority, create new tactical methods for all arms and maintain discipline in the face of superior numbers.

Wartime Intelligence Officer’s Comments

This is in substance a translation of an account written by a staff officer of 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division in the presence of one of his interrogators. The PW officer had lost his diary at the time of his capture, and inaccuracies in the report should be considered mistakes of memory:

On 7 June 1944 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division received orders to leave the marshalling area in Thouars and to move to the invasion front in Normandy. Everyone was in a good mood and eager to see action again, – happy that the pre-invasion spell of uncertainty and waiting had snapped at last. In some minds there was a gnawing doubt that perhaps this was only a repetition of the Dieppe raid in which the Allies would withdraw after a German show of force. Perhaps the Gotz von Berlichingen would even be too late to get into the scrap.

Our motorized columns were coiling along the roads towards the invasion beaches. Amidst this rumbling of motors and grinding of vehicle tracks the Panzer Grenadier was in his element again. Then something happened that left us in a daze. Spouts of fire flicked along the column and splashes of dust staccatoed the road. Everyone was piling out of the vehicles and scuttling for the neighbouring fields. Several vehicles were already in flames.

This attack ceased as suddenly as it had crashed upon us 15 minutes before. The men started drifting back to the column again, pale and shaky and wondering that they had survived this fiery rain of bullets. Had that been a sign of the things to come?? This had been our first experience with the ‘Jabos’ (fighter bombers).

The march column was now completely disrupted and every man was on his own, to pull out of this blazing column the best he could. And it was none too soon, because an hour later the whole thing started all over again, only much worse this time. When this attack was over, the length of the road was strewn with splintered anti-tank guns (the pride of our division), flaming motors and charred implements of war.

It dawned on us that this opponent that had come to the beaches of Normandy was of a somewhat different format. The march was called off, and all the vehicles that were left were hidden in the dense bushes or in barns. No one dared show himself out in the open any more.

Now the men started looking at each other. The first words passed. This was different from what we thought it would be like. If things like this happened here, what would it be like up there at the front? No, this did not look like a feint attack upon our continent. It had been our first experience with our new foe – the American.

During the next few days we found out how seriously he was going about his business. Although now we only travelled at night and along secondary roads rimmed with hedges and bushes, we encountered innumerable wrecks giving toothless testimony that some motorist had not benefitted from the bitter experience we had had.

After about five days we moved into our assigned sector east of Periers. The divisional staff, to which I belonged, crawled into a small village, obviously intent to have as many trees, sunken roads and as much other cover about as possible. But now the ‘Jabo’ plague became even more serious.

No hour passed during the daytime without that nerve-frazzling thunder of the strafing fighters overhead. And whenever we cared to look we could see that smoke billowed from some vehicle, fuel depot or ammunition dump mushrooming into the sky.

The common soldier began to think. What would all this lead to, and what was being done about it? Where was the ‘Luftwaffe’ and why had it not been committed during the past few days? If he asked his superiors about it, they shrugged their shoulders and remarked that German planes would make their appearance at the opportune moment. But that moment never came.

Instead, bad tidings reached us from the front, and all around us ambulances were carrying away the victims of the strafings. And when the soldiers became more insistent in their queries, they were finally told that the ‘Luftwaffe’ was operating in adjoining sectors where the situation was even more serious than in ours.

This excuse calmed them for a while until contact had been made with those adjoining sectors and the soldiers found out that the absence of air cover there was just as conspicuous. And there the men had been told that the German planes were operating in our sector.

And to make things even worse, the American artillery became stronger by the day, and the naval guns tore into our lines while it was impossible for us to get back at them. Complaints became more frequent that artillery ammunition stores were running low, that weapons needed replacements, that communications were out.

The hope of driving the Americans back into the Channel had already given way to a hope of being able to hold our own against the invaders. And then came the great American breakthrough in the direction of Coutances. The way of the cross for the German soldier had begun.

At first the retreat of our sector was orderly. We started leapfrogging back. The divisional staff was able to hold for eight days in Lozon. But our regiments had been depleted to such an extent that we could not count upon any effective resistance.

Under heroic eiforts and with terrible losses we were able to hold a small sector NW of Marigny for eight days. “the divisional staff was separated during the ensuing flight and cut off from its trains. Even though some dispersed fragments of the unit were reclaimed on the road back, only a few bedraggled remnants arrived in the Merzig reforming area.

No human account could ever describe the hardship, the sacrifice, the misery the men of this division alone experienced. No one who finished this retreat still alive will ever forget this Gethsemane, because each village, each road, even each bush has seared into his brain the memories of terrible hours, insufferable misery, of cowardice, despair and destruction.