By Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
The enemy was soon going to strike, probably somewhere on the Atlantic coast of France. Maybe that place would be Pas de Calais, the shortest point across the Channel from England. The Fuehrer had been urging me to also pay attention to Normandy. I was worried about many areas and demanded that millions of mines and obstacles be deployed. Overlooking all approaches, men with sharp eyes aligned our formidable guns of the Atlantic Wall.
The enemy had to be punished where most vulnerable. If he established a strong beachhead, he could overwhelm us. I told the Fuehrer we must position our main panzer forces near the beach, back ten miles or so, just out of range of the enemy’s big naval guns. The Fuehrer, Guderian, and Rundstedt, who was in overall command in the West, clamored for a strategic reserve of panzers. For what? Those panzers would never get near any beach. The enemy held a thirty to one advantage in the air. That superiority made all our movement by land no better than perilous. I’d learned that in North Africa against odds far less overwhelming. Those with brains frozen in the East, where air to ground interdiction had not been decisive, still overruled me. I got only three of the seven panzer divisions available.
All that could be set aside a little while. Our reports of bad weather and dangerous tides indicated an invasion would not be possible for at least two weeks. On June fifth, 1944 I left by car for Germany to celebrate my wife’s fiftieth birthday. Before that I planned to stop at the Berghof and urge the Fuehrer to send two more panzer divisions to the coast. I also had an even greater duty.
By An American Soldier
We’re ready to go. Again. Get on the boats, they say. This is it. Be ready for fire. Out into the night we ride. We’re always in the dark, going somewhere, trying to attack. This time I pray we really will. No more false starts, they say. We’re riding toward a fight. That’s what we’ve got to have. Don’t say that. Not tonight. It’s never tonight. Make up your minds. When? Tomorrow, maybe. Or in two weeks. It better be soon. Otherwise, this is going to kill us. Where are we going now? Is this really the night? The weather isn’t so bad. This time we might. Maybe we can. I know we should. We’re too far out not to. Everyone feels the same. No more nonsense. On June sixth we scramble into the assault boat. I’m scared as hell. But my pants aren’t wet. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Nobody’s saying much. I think I’m going to die. I pray I won’t. I hope nobody dies. But the officers have said there’ll be casualties. Of course there will. How could there not be? I wonder if I’ll be one. That’s how it is on the boat.
I want off. The beach horrifies me, but I know waves of bombers have pounded heavy German gun emplacements. Our naval guns have also bombarded the defenders for hours. That might have helped. It better have. I hear some boats around me get hit. Naturally they are. Right out in the open. That’s where we are now, running toward the beach. This is insane. No one can survive. There’s so much fire. I’m running like hell. Into an explosion I fall dead on the beach, waiting for God.
“Get the hell up,” some guy screams.
I stagger onto feet I can’t feel and run hard and low, one hand on top of my helmet, until I fall again. I haven’t fallen. Another explosion has knocked me down on the beach. There’s so much fire. All of it at us. The Germans are behind several feet of steel and cement. I wish I were a German.
“Get the hell up and move forward,” someone screams.
By Adolf Hitler
Hah. There it was: the landing right there at Normandy, just as I’d said. This was great news. No longer would I have to worry about the build-up in England. No more would I have to wait for the attack. Now the enemy was here.
My generals at the Berghof had been right not to wake me during the night. There was plenty of time to talk today. What a beautiful day.
I was being driven to Klessheim Castle in Austria to fortify the nerves of some timid Hungarians. On the way I explained our good fortune: “The Anglo-Americans can’t fight us here. We’ll bloody them on the beaches. Those few who survive will quit. They can’t imagine what they’re in for. They certainly aren’t as tough as the Russians. I can hold out as long as I like.”
At the castle I marched into the midday military conference and announced: “So, we’re off.” What an extraordinary relief this was. What a great day. The drive back was wonderful. So was my afternoon meal at the Berghof. Everyone was emboldened by me. It was a splendid march up to my teahouse. I always saw everything from there. What an incredible view. The enemy couldn’t fool me. I wasn’t going to commit too many reserves to Normandy. That had probably been a feint. Next he would launch his main assault. At Calais. Or perhaps in the Mediterranean, at Italy, because he had just taken Rome. I couldn’t rule out the Balkans, either. I was looking everywhere.
By General Max Pemsel
I understood Field Marshal Rommel’s being away. He needed the rest. And he certainly hadn’t known the attack was coming June sixth. When he found out early this morning, he started right back. It was a shame he couldn’t fly, but that was much too dangerous for commanders and forbidden by the Fuehrer. The field marshal had to be driven. He got back to his headquarters by four p.m., and within an hour he called our Seventh Army headquarters near the front.
“Order the panzers to attack immediately, whether or not reinforcements arrive,” he said.
“The Twenty-First Panzer Division has already attacked,” I said.
“The Fuehrer wants the beachhead destroyed tonight, at the latest.”
“That would be impossible,” I said.
By Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Hitler either didn’t believe what was happening, or he didn’t understand the implications. I was determined to explain matters face to face. So was Field Marshal Rundstedt. We repeatedly urged Hitler to meet us. Eventually, he agreed. I was not informed until three a.m. on June seventeenth. At nine o’clock that morning I arrived at headquarters northwest of Paris, near Soissons, where a cold man waited for us. After shaking hands Hitler sat on a stool. Pallid and bent, he looked like a cadaver.
“Mein Fuehrer,” I said. “The enemy has poured several hundred thousand men into his beachhead the last ten days.”
“That’s outrageous,” he said. “You generals have undermined me again. You’ve ruined everything. The Atlantic Wall should have been impenetrable. I need better commanders.”
“You need to acknowledge the situation,” I said, standing over the stool. Rundstedt was nearby. “The enemy has overwhelming superiority in the air.”
“I’ll soon wipe his planes from the skies with my new jets, the only operational jets in the history of the world.”
“Even if this is possible, it won’t diminish the enemy’s vast superiority in manpower and ships and supplies. Our capabilities, by comparison, are very modest and completely inadequate.”
“My V-1’s are ready. Attacks have already started. London’s going to be annihilated by flying bombs. Then Britain will beg for peace.”
“If these flying bombs really are revolutionary, then they must be turned against the invasion beaches,” I said. “If it’s technically impossible to send them such a short distance, then they must be fired at the invasion ports in England.”
“I expect that kind of small-mindedness from the military. Obviously, a miracle weapon can only be used for political purposes. That means attacking London.”
At this moment, as usual, it was we who were being attacked, so we descended deep into Hitler’s bombproof bunker. He spent far too much time inside, too well protected from the outside.
“Mein Fuehrer,” I said, “Field Marshal Rundstedt supports me fully.”
Rundstedt sternly nodded.
“I have the professional responsibility to tell you that our defenses in the West are certain to collapse,” I said. “Furthermore, the Russians are continuing to advance in the East. Our defenses in Italy are also in trouble. And our cities and factories are every day hammered from the air. We’re being destroyed, Mein Fuehrer. You must make peace.”
“Don’t concern yourself with the future of the war. Take care of your own invasion front.”
After this Rundstedt and I were invited to dine with the Fuehrer. While he gobbled a horde of medications deployed around his plate, two SS officers tasted his food. When he saw they weren’t going to die, the Fuehrer began to eat.