I am telling my age when I say that I can remember the twentieth anniversary of D-Day. I was 14 when the movie "The Longest Day" was released to commemorate the anniversary. The movie premiered at the old Paramount theater on Church Street in Nashville. I eventually saw the movie at least 3 or 4 times before the movie left the Paramount. I took my brother Mark the first time I went to see it I believe. The first few rows were roped off for all of the D-Day veterans that came to see the movie. On one occasion I overheard a veteran tell another veteran " I wish it had been as easy to take those beaches as it was portrayed in the movie". On the seventieth anniversary of D-Day I wanted to put a different spin on D-Day by talking about the mistakes that Hitler made in World War II leading to one of his biggest mistakes in Normandy. It is amazing to think that if Hitler had died in 1938, even after the agreement at Munich with Neville Chamberlain he might have gone down in history as a great man and statesman. To that point he had completely turned around the German economy. Germany had had unemployment numbers as high as 30% after the beginning of the great depression. By 1938 the unemployment numbers had fallen to about 2%. American unemployment numbers rose to 25% and remained over 20% for most of the 1930's. Germans were working in factories that were re-arming Germany.
Hitler had ignored the provisions of the Versailles treaty and was not only re-arming Germany but he was no longer paying reparations to the Allied powers. Germans were also building the autobahn which would ultimately serve a military purpose. Hitler didn't die but went on to cause the most destructive war in world history. Before I get into his mistakes I want to point out the one thing that he did right. After Germany took the Rhineland in 1936, Checkloslavakia and Austria in 1938, he invaded Poland on September 1st 1939. Britain and France had enough and declared war on Germany. After the non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler, which secured his eastern front a Phony War ensued between Germany, France and England on the western front. Even though bullets were not flying Hitler was finalizing his war plans. France felt secure behind the famous Maginot Line and Britain secured France's left flank on the southern border of Belgium. Belgium had declared it's neutrality as it had in 1914. There was one huge gap in these defenses however. The Ardennes which was heavily forested and thought to be impenetrable for large forces, especially armor. Against the advice of most German generals Hitler insisted on concentrating the spearhead of his attack in the Ardennes. British and French forces were split in two and taken by surprise in May 1940. Within weeks France would surrender. British and French forces were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. This is where Hitler began making a long list of mistakes. Because of his success in the Ardennes though many mistakenly believed that Hitler was a military genius. This would have consequences for Germany later on.
At Dunkirk Hitler ordered his forces to stop short of the beaches. He could have easily destroyed the British and French but he considered the British as a race next in line behind the German Aryan as a superior race. He was delusional in believing that if he showed leniency the English would ally themselves with the Germans. He underestimated Churchill however. In one of the greatest military evacuations in history Churchill removed several hundred thousand British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk and returned them safely to England. Hitler had built his army and air force but had failed to build a navy that could protect a full scale invasion of England and provide enough landing craft for that invasion. The English Channel became the salvation of England. Another mistake that Hitler made was once he began his air war over England he focused on the wrong targets. At first he was hitting the right targets. He was going after the airfields and British fighters. Churchill predicted that if Hitler had continued this type of air war just two more weeks Britain would have been driven to her knees. However a British attack on Berlin with heavy bombers so infuriated Hitler that he ordered his bombers to bomb British cities instead of military targets. Although thousands of people died it rallied the British to fight even harder and it gave the British Air Force enough breathing room to eventually prevail.
Frustrated at his failure to defeat Britain he made in my opinion the greatest mistake of the war. He decided to invade the Soviet Union. Like Obama and many other tyrants they always seem to have a blue-print for their conquests. Yes Obama is a tyrant. No I am not comparing him to Hitler. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf which is German for My Struggles. In it he said that the reason Germany had failed in World War I was because it had fought in a two front war. This was a sound observation by Hitler in Mein Kampf. If he had bided his time and left Russia alone he might have won the war. He was too much the megalomaniac for that however. If he had started his attack earlier he might have succeeded but he was diverted into Yugoslavia by an insurgency there. As a result he lost valuable time beginning the attack on June 22, 1941. More evidence of Hitler's mistake was that Stalin was caught totally off guard by Hitler's invasion. He had been content to gather the the spoils of war with Hitler because of the Non-Aggression Pact that allowed Russian forces to take the eastern half of Poland while Hitler took the western half. Stalin was in total shock and immobilized for about two weeks. By the time Stalin came to his senses Hitler had captured whole armies and hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners. His forces were able to see the buildings of Moscow at one point.
Again Hitler diverted forces to the south losing more valuable time. The Russian winter ensued and Hitler was stalled in his tracks. When warm weather returned in late spring the Germans met with success again and drove the Russians back but this time Hitler's goal was the oil fields of the Caucasus. Eventually his forces were bogged down in urban warfare in Stalingrad. Germans fought into the winter in the fiercest battle of the war. Eventually they were cut off and trapped in Stalingrad to freeze and starve until they were forced to surrender over 100,000 men. Stalingrad was the turning point of the war. The Russians would eventually lose about thirty million troops and civilians. For every one German that the combined forces of the Americans, British and French killed the Russians killed seven. After Stalingrad German forces were slowly pushed back with hard and bloody fighting until the eventual fall of Berlin.
The second biggest mistake that Hitler made was declaring war on the United States four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By treaty he was not obligated to declare war on the United States. He expected Japan to attack north into Manchuria and Russia which would relieve the pressure on his forces. Then Russia would also be faced with a two front war. Instead the Japanese attacked southward into Indo-China and the southwest pacific. By declaring war on the United States he drew the greatest industrial power in the world into the fight against him. Although Hitler was in a two front war with Russia and England, England was too weak to counterattack and come off of the defensive. The entry of the United States enabled England to go on the offensive. Hitler's declaration of war also gave Roosevelt the political cover he needed to go to war with Germany. Roosevelt viewed Hitler as the greatest threat to the world and British and American strategy became a Europe first strategy.
On a technological level Hitler did not put enough emphasis on at least three things. The atomic bomb, the jet fighter and the V-2 rocket. The reason Albert Einstein wrote his famous letter to Roosevelt warning him of the German atomic bomb program was because many well known European scientists were fearful that Hitler would have the bomb first. He probably could have but he didn't see the full potential of having a weapon of that magnitude. So he failed to push the project in the serious way that Roosevelt did. The V-2 rocket had the potential of delivering an atomic weapon and at the very least it would have been a devastating weapon against the Allies if it had been pushed earlier in the war. Third the jet fighter could have defeated our Air Forces if produced earlier and in greater numbers.
Last but not least we come to D-Day. The Germans could not have had a better general in charge of repelling the Allied invasion than Erwin Rommel. Rommel was successful to a great degree because he had studied the tactics of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest among others. He was called the Desert Fox and was deeply respected by Allied generals who had faced him in North Africa. Since the early part of the war the Germans had been building the Atlantic Wall defenses along the western coasts of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. These defenses were mostly in the form of pillboxes and other concrete fortifications. While I was in Belgium I saw several of these pillboxes. Rommel improved these defenses by stringing barbed wire and placing iron obstacles in and under the water along miles and miles of beaches. Rommel's plan was to stop the Allied invasion at the beaches. If he could make the invasion too costly he might be able to delay a second front on the European continent indefinitely. He planned to do this by placing Panzer Units in reserve to the rear of the beach defenses where they could respond quickly to the point that was being threatened the most. Panzer is the German name for armored units.
Most German generals believed that the Pas de Calais would be where the Allied invasion would land because it was the shortest point between England and France. The Germans believed this because of the fact that a fictitious army was thought to be in that area commanded by George S. Patton. In addition the allied spy network had successfully fooled the Germans in to believing that the Pas de Calais would be the point of attack. The fatal flaw in Rommel's defensive plan was that he did not have control over the Panzers. Hitler had final say over when and where that they would be used. When the attack came on June 6, 1944 in Normandy Hitler held back the Panzers until it was too late. Rommel begged to have them released but Hitler continued to believe that Normandy was a diversion in order to draw the Germans attention away from the real point of attack. The Pas de Calais. By the grace of God and the stupidity of Hitler as bad as the invasion had been for allied forces it could have been an absolute disaster for them if Rommel had gotten his way. Rommel would be implicated in the plot to kill Hitler the following month and would be forced to commit suicide.
|American troops hitting Omaha Beach|
|American troops storming Omaha Beach in a Higgin's Boat|
|Eisenhower visiting the 101st Airborne Troops just before take-off|
|A German Tank|