As Europe marks the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, we look at how that momentous day was viewed in Germany, with an excerpt from Hitler’s Home Front by Nathan Morley.
The book provides a compelling and comprehensive year-by-year account of ordinary life in wartime Germany, chronicling how the population tried to find normality during an unprecedented emergency.
Talk of the oncoming Allied invasion became increasingly common in Germany during the early part of 1944. The government in Berlin assured the public that southeastern and southern Europe had been transformed into an ‘ever-growing state of preparedness.’
Likewise, major preparations were developed in South-Western, Western, and Northern Europe ‘against whatever the enemy may be planning’.
When it eventually happened on the 6th June, the armada of Allied destroyers, minesweepers, landing craft, and merchant ships made-up the largest maritime force ever assembled.
In the skies above, the drone of RAF planes could be heard heading to France to ‘soften up’ the occupiers. Salvo after salvo – the aircraft swooped overhead, dropping bombs on the famed Atlantic Wall.
Huge allied losses were recorded, with over 10,000 men killed in those first days.
The ensuing Battle of Normandy resulted in Allied casualties of more than 190,000 and reduced nearly 610 towns and villages to rubble, but the Allies ultimately prevailed. At the end of the first day, along with more than 150,000 men, 22,000 jeeps, cars, and tanks had been landed on French soil.
Three days later, the Volkischer Beobachter, the main Nazi mouthpiece, delivered a stark warning, admitting if the Allied invasion succeeded, Germany would be lost.
It opined their one chance was to ‘deliver an overwhelming blow at that fraction of the invasion forces that have so far made the crossing into northern France. It is a race against time’.
But, it was a race without runners; as there were no longer enough reserves for the Russian front, let alone in France.
The landings thrust Germany into a three-front war – in Russia, Italy and Normandy. On top of that, the Wehrmacht was faced with immensely superior equipment in every theatre, which steadily ate into her reserves, both of territorial buffers and men.
A month after D-day, newspapers in Berlin were unanimous in stressing the seriousness of the position.
The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung said: ‘Germany must look to the next round gravely and tensely, but with confidence. Undoubtedly our position is better today than it was in 1917’.
Not long after D-day, William Joyce – known as Lord Haw Haw – had also been dropping sinister hints about a new ‘secret weapon’ during his evening radio slots. A week after the landings in France, the first of these weapons, known as the V-1 – or Kirschkern – was launched at London, much to the delight of the renegade broadcaster:
May I remind you, the name V-1 has been given to them officially. ‘V’ is the capital letter of the German word ‘Vergeltung’, which means ‘retaliation’, and its use to denote the concept of victory must be familiar to nearly all of my listeners. The very term V-1 implies, of course, that Germany has other new weapons which have not as yet been employed against the enemy.
Ultimately, however, the vengeance missiles were no engineering marvel. The heavily propagandised weapons were nothing more than harassing missiles which had no effect on the final outcome of the war.
The catastrophe in France led to a growing number of voices outside – and, significantly, inside – the regime secretly believing the war could not be won. The upshot was a daring assassination attempt on Hitler at his Wolf’s Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg.