- Peter Margaritis
- ARRSE Rating
- 4.5 Mushroom Heads
After a preface setting the scene in 1943 and the lead up to Field Marshall Rommel’s appointment as General Inspector for the Atlantic Wall the story is told day by day through the months up to D-Day. Rommel quickly realises that the Atlantic Wall is a paper tiger, poorly fortified, equipped and manned and writes a report for Hitler stating what must be done to improve the defences. Having been given the command of Heeresgruppe B, the German armies in France, Rommel is adamant that the forthcoming allied invasion must be stopped on the beaches with maximum strength of the German forces applied as soon as possible, to avoid manoeuvring them under overwhelming Allied air power. In this he meets opposition from his superior, Field Marshall Von Rundstedt, Oberbefelshaber West, who believes a coastal screen should be used to locate the invasions main thrust, with manoeuvre forces held in reserve to defeat the invasion in detail safely out of range of the Allied fleets guns. There is a large amount of the discussion on this between both parties through the book.
The book is very much about Rommel; Rommel and his staff are treated by the author with compassion. All the other characters including Von Rundstedt and Hitler are supporting characters. The book is very human in its treatment of the German generals, putting them over as attempting to do their jobs in the face of bureaucracy, shortages of men and equipment, meddlesome superiors, removal of equipment and units from theatre and hubris, never mind enemy action.
As Rommel meets the Generals commanding units in France, he extols them to make likely landing beaches and areas much more dangerous for the allied invaders when they come. Obstacles and mines on the beaches, ‘Rommel’s asparagus’ on likely paratroop drop zones and glider landing areas. Moving units ever closer to the coast. However, soldiers are a social bunch, whatever their country or creed. Tales are told of past experience; including Hitler being told his bodyguard regiment, Liebstandart SS Adolf Hitler, performed like an average under-experienced unit during the invasion of Poland. There are reminisces like this through the book; stories bringing colour and background to the individuals, and I ended up looking up more about them online.
As the months pass the pages covering each day get longer. They can include Rommel as commander of Heeresgrupppe B and his staff, Hitler at the Wolfs Lair or Eagles Nest, Von Rundstedt as Oberbefelshaber West, the individual Generals at their units, and some commentary of the actions of the allies over the channel.
In the background of the book is the plots against Hitler, which came to its climax with the with the July 20th bomb; while that day is not covered in this book, a probable near miss caused by political meddling is.
One question that arises in my head is whether it can be seen as a militarily ‘good thing’ for Rommel to be appointed inspector of the Atlantic Wall and Commander Heeresgruppe West. He certainly galvanised the defences and was a more than capable leader, indeed the book gives examples of almost adulation of the ordinary German soldier of him. The question left hanging is would there have been less casualties; Allied, German, French civilian, if Rommel had been given some other task in the defence of the Reich?
Each day has comprehensive, but very readable end-notes, unfortunately they sometimes refer to previous end note, which can be a bit of a pain.
It is well illustrated with glossy photos, mostly of the characters in the book, but also includes German orbats.
There is a glossary mostly of German military words and phrases; 2 appendixes about Rommel’s and Von Rundstedt’s Headquarters and a comprehensive bibliography but no index. There is little in the way of grammar and spelling mistakes that I noticed, with the possible exception of the ‘Kieler’ Canal.
I enjoyed the book; if you have recently read an account of the build up to D Day from the Allied perspective, this book is the perfect follow on.