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"Hitler longed for the Allied landing"

In the early summer of 1944, it was clear across Europe that the decisive battle was imminent.

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"Hitler longed for the Allied landing"

In the early summer of 1944, it was clear across Europe that the decisive battle was imminent. Hitler and his generals knew that the Allies had massed millions of men in southern England - they just didn't know when and where their supreme commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would strike. In contrast, the “where” was known in London and Washington – in Normandy. But the "when" was in the hands of the meteorologists.

No German historian has dealt with the invasion of Normandy as intensively as Peter Lieb, who taught military history as a senior lecturer at the British Officers' Academy in Sandhurst until 2015. In 2014, C. H. Beck published his book “Enterprise Overlord”.

Die Welt: How was Hitler's mood before the Allied invasion - more fearful or expectant?

Peter Lieb: Hitler really longed for this landing. When he got the news, he is said to have happily exclaimed "Oganga is!" in Austrian dialect. After successfully repelling the invasion, he hoped to be able to throw the liberated troops to the Eastern Front. For Hitler it was the decisive battle of the war. In 1944, therefore, the western front and not the eastern front dominated his military thoughts.

Die Welt: And how sure were the Allies that their landing in Normandy would succeed?

Lieb: The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz already knew that war is always characterized by imponderables. Eisenhower also had a bad feeling shortly before D-Day because of the bad weather forecast. He had even secretly written a press statement in case the landing failed. In retrospect, however, the Allies' victory was inevitable - their superiority in personnel and material was too great.

Die Welt: Were serious alternatives to the beaches of Normandy considered?

Lieb: Actually there were only two options geographically: The Pas-de-Calais or Normandy. The Pas-de-Calais offered the shortest route across the English Channel, a good springboard for an advance into the Ruhr area and suitable landing beaches. But there were no larger ports for supplies. In addition, the Germans suspected the landing right here at the Pas-de-Calais. The element of surprise would have been lost. That is why the Allies committed themselves to Normandy in their first plans in 1941/42.

Die Welt: In books and films about the invasion, for example "The Longest Day", it is shown again and again how Résistance fighters received the order to sabotage actions in the first days of June 1944 via encrypted radio messages from London. Did that actually happen?

Lieb: Yes, there were these messages. According to Allied plans, the Résistance was to fulfill four missions: blowing up railway lines, sabotaging radio stations and telephone cables, destroying power lines and direct attacks on the occupying forces. However, these actions were often poorly coordinated, both within the Resistance and with the Allies.

Die Welt: What role did the Resistance play in the run-up to the invasion? You wrote the standard work on fighting partisans in France in 1943/44...

Lieb: Before June 6, 1944, the Resistance provided the Allied intelligence service with a lot of information about the enemy, such as troop movements or the exact location of bunkers. She also helped downed pilots escape. Militarily, however, the Resistance was rather insignificant. It was no match even for third-class German units. Although the Allies supplied weapons, they otherwise neglected the Resistance. It appeared politically and militarily as unreliable.

Die Welt: The Allied landings in Normandy turned an area that had hardly been affected by the war into a battlefield. How did the local population react to this?

Lieb: Countless American, British and Canadian flags are flying in Normandy today. In 1944, however, the picture looked different. The massive Allied bombardments on transport hubs in the direct hinterland led to "collateral damage". Around 18,000 French civilians died during the fighting, and thousands of houses were reduced to rubble. The relationship between the liberators and the liberated was therefore mostly cold, and in some cases the population even had a positive attitude towards the German troops.

Die Welt: The Wehrmacht did not succeed in "driving the Allies back into the sea" on the first day of the invasion, as Erwin Rommel had striven to do. Was the defeat of the Wehrmacht already sealed?

Lieb: Rommel's internal opponent Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg wanted to fight the battle inside France with tank forces. But Rommel knew from North Africa that this would not be possible because of Allied air superiority. But even his defense concept would only have had a small chance of success in a chain of favorable circumstances. To do this, the Germans would first have had to foresee the exact location and time of the landing. And on both counts they were wrong, including Rommel.

Die Welt: According to the title of a book by NBC journalist Tom Brokaw, the American soldiers who fought in World War II are considered “the greatest generation” in the USA. Is that understandable?

Dear: No doubt. Allied soldiers fought for justice and freedom. They defeated a deeply criminal regime and many of them gave their lives to do so. However: Allied soldiers also committed war crimes. They plundered and murdered German prisoners of war, especially Waffen-SS soldiers. Overall, Allied soldiers and Wehrmacht soldiers in Normandy differed less in how they fought and more in what they fought for.

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This article was first published in 2014.

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