- Disagreement in high places : Rommel – Von Rundstedt.
From top to bottom and from left to right.
Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann, Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth.
General der Artillerie Erich Marcks, Gen.d.Pz.Tr. Adolf Kuntzen.
Gen.Lt. Dietrich Kraiss, Gen.Lt. Wihelm Richte, Gen.Lt. Josef Reichert
Commanding Army Group B, Rommel was directly subordinate to Generalfeldmarschall von-Rundstedt. But his nomination on 3rd November 1943, by Hitler Inspector-General of Defences in the West reduced the authority of von-Rundstedt. Effectively, as Inspector, he reported directly to Hitler.
The rivalry between Rommel and von Rundstedt was worsened by their holding two different strategic visions for the defence of Fortress Europe.
In short, von Rundstedt did not believe the Atlantic Wall would be effective other than for the purposes of propaganda. Rommel however
Firmly believed that if when the invasion came, it would be “the longest day” and it would be necessary to throw the invaders back into the sea, otherwise it would be the beginning of the defeat of Germany.
Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt firmly believed in the principle of tactical mobility and counted on a powerful counter attack on the bridgeheads using his reserve. Feldmarschall Rommel however, thought it would be dangerous to allow the Allies to gain a bridgehead.
Contrary to von Rundstedt’s idea Rommel wanted to move his forces closer to the coast to repel any invasion on the beaches themselves. It was this that convinced him to deploy all his innovative defensive systems on the beaches. In this sense it accelerated the construction of the Atlantic Wall.
- A wall to protect the Western Front.
In March 1942, notably after the successful raid on the night of 27th/28th February 1942 (organized by Lord Mountbatten’s organisation) on the Würzburg Radar Station at Bruneval (at Cap Antifer near Le Havre) Hitler decided to reinforce his defences in the West. Control of a big port was judged essential if an invasion were to succeed. In Normandy only Le Havre and Cherbourg had been fortified but after the Bruneval raid Hitler initiated a colossal programme for the defence of the coastline. This set the pattern for future Atlantic Wall Directives, notably a continuous line of fire along the coast and to house the maximum number of artillery pieces inside protective concrete bunkers…
This enormous programme was given to the Todt Organisation and the arrival in November 1943 of Feldmarschall Rommel, in the newly created role of Inspector General of the Defences in the West, indicates exactly at what point the Atlantic Wall became a strategic issue for the German High Command. Rommel worked incessantly to accelerate the works in the Atlantic Wall and install the traps and obstacles on the beaches and their hinterland in Normandy. Passionate about landmines, he showed particular ingenuity in their utilisation…
- The arrival of Feldmarschall Rommel in Normandy.
Feldmarschall Rommel inspects the Atlantic Wall defences: he is not satisfied!
Feldmarschall Rommel inspector-General of Defences in the West and Commander in Chief of Army Group B twice visited Merville.
His first visit to the Merville Battery took place on the 6th March 1944 and the second in May 1944. For him, the works were not progressing quickly enough, and neither was he impressed by the tensions between the German Navy and German Army. More pressure was placed on the Todt Organisation, which rippled through to forced labour (Service Travail Obligatoire S.T.O.).
Concrete was poured by day and by night under floodlights. Merville and its neighbouring communes were soon to suffer the determination of Rommel, who wanted his defensive system finished in the least time possible.
The intensification of demands and requisitions became part of Rommel’s stubborn will to throw the invaders back into the sea when they were at their most vulnerable.
It was necessary to reinforce all natures of obstacles on the beaches and to implant in the hinterland, posts that were linked by barbed wire and mined at the top. These were the legendary ”Rommel’s Asparagus” and were designed to counter airborne troops, particularly gliders.
Erwin Rommel also flooded the marshes in the low lying land to the East of Merville by damming the mouth of the River Dives. He did the same in the marshes behind Utah Beach in the American Sector. The flooded lands cost the lives of many paratroops from the 9th Battalion the Parachute Regiment.
- 716. ID Generalleutnant Richter to the north of Caen.
It was primarily the 716th Infantry Division, commanded by Generalleutnant Richter, which faced the Allied landings on Sword, Juno and Gold on 6th June 1944.
The 716th Infantry Division, in summer 1942, was stationed in Normandy on the coastal sector extending from the Vire in the west to the Dives in the East.
This Division was commanded by Generalleutnant Wilhem Richter at his Headquarters in Caen as shown in the above diagram.
As can be seen on the organisation chart above, 716 ID was part of LXXXIV Corps, commanded by General der Artillerie Erich Marcks, and then the 7th Army, commanded by Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann.
716 ID positioned its two infantry regiments on its coastal sector, Grenadier-Regiment 736 in the East (from the Dives to Courseulles) and Grenadier-Regiment 726 in the West (from Courseulles to Grandcamp). The HQ of Grenadier-Regiment 736 was in Colleville (named Hillman by the Allies). The three Battalions of GR 736 were stationed to the West of the Orne.
Ost-Batallion 642 comprised Russian soldiers from the Eastern Front enlisted into the Wehrmacht. The Ost-Batallion was reassigned to 716 ID in 1944. It therefore became the IV Battalion of GR 736 and its HQ was at Amfréville.
Finally, the 716th ID contained Artillery Regiment 1716. The 1./AR 1716 was located east of the Orne and was the Merville Battery. The Forward Observation Post of the Merville Batterie was manned by a Section of 3./GR 736.