Report on the Northern France Campaign (26 August – 4 September 1944)
- Published: 09 September 2011 09 September 2011
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
Last Commander of the German 47th Infantry Division
H 18872 No 11 PoW Camp, Island Farm camp, Bridgend, Glam. Gt. Britain, 1946
(MS # B-176)
Due to the lack of all kinds of written documents it is unavoidable that the personal experiences and views of the writer take up quite a bit of the narrative, which is unusual for documents relating to the history of the war.
On 8 August 1944 I was given command of the 47th Inf Div which was deployed in the sector Calais – Boulogne sur Ner Sector of the coast of the Dover Straits. My predecessor had already taken over command of an Army Corps in Normandy. I came from Holland, where I had commanded the 719th Inf Div under the Supreme Commander Holland in the sector covering just outside of Den Haag to Bergen op Zoom inclusive.
The 47th Inf Div was under orders of the Commanding General of the LXXXII Army Corps in Aire, General d.Art. Sinnhuber, and the Supreme Headquarters of the 15th Army in Tourcoing, commanded by Generaloberst v. Salmuth. At the time I took over command, neither of my immediate superiors informed me that the 47th Inf Div was to be withdrawn from its coast position and otherwise employed.
The 47th Inf Div was static Division, with the normal war formation of such which garrisoned the well built fortifications of the Calais Boulogne sector with fortifications troops and naval artillery.
War Formation of the 47th Infantry Division
Divisional Commander: Generalmajor Wahle
Divisional Staff: Represented by Major Peters of the Army General Staff
Infantry Regiment 103 commanded by: Oberstleutnant Roediger
Infantry Regiment 104 commanded by: Oberstleutnant Bartels
Infantry Regiment 115 commanded by: Oberst Baumann
Div Fusilier Bn. 147 commanded by: Hauptmann Schuetz
Artillery Regiment 147 commanded by: Oberst Luecken
Engineer Bn. 147
Antitank Company 147
Anti-Aircraft Company 147
Communications Bn. 147
Replacement Training Bn. 147
Supply Troops, etc.
The Division was considered fit for employment in static warfare. The Infantry regiments consisted of 2 battalions each, and the Artillery regiment of 4 battalions each except for IV. (heavy) battalion, which consisted of 2 batteries. At the middle of August ’44 all units excepting the Artillery were at about 80 – 85% of their T/O strength. The Artillery was considerably weaker. The percentage of men fit for fighting was high, consisting mostly of men suffering from frost-bite contracted in the battles in the East. Armament strength was up to requirements, but contained a lot of captured weapons. The complement of horse-drawn and motorized vehicles was completely insufficient. The Replacement Training Bn. did not take part in the later fighting, but was deployed in an area unknown to me.
After arriving at the Divisional Command Post at Guines, South of Calais, I summed up the situation as follows: After the successful breakthrough of the U.S. Army in Normandy, a second invasion landing on the coast of the Pas de Calais was still more improbable than heretofore. The British and U.S. Armies were advancing on the lower Seine and on Paris. Thus a withdrawal of the 47th Inf Div could be counted on in the near future. The preparations necessary to the moving of the Division had been made on paper. The main part of the plan consisted of finding horses, carts and motorized vehicles in the country and distributing them to the troops. There was a lack of qualified drivers and of harness, so that I looked forward to the changeover to makeshift mobility with much worry.
On 18 August orders were received to the effect that the Division should be prepared to move as soon as possible. The situation in Normandy had developed so badly that a start was made on establishing a line on the Somme. The 47th Inf Div was to proceed in that direction and to be employed in building the line and being deployed in the Amiens – Peronne sector. The sector Dover Straits sector was to be taken over by the 60th Inf Div, the first units of which arrived already on 20 August. Meanwhile the 47th Inf Div remained under the command of the Headquarters, 15th Army.
The C.O. of the Division started its mobilization on 18 – 20 August and formed several march groups, which were to reach the area North of the Somme and East of Amiens on foot, by motor transport and by rail. On 21 August the C.O. of the Division himself hurried on the Albert, 30 km East of Amiens, leaving behind him the Hq. Detachment of the Divisional Staff to see that all units started on their way and that all parts of the Division were loaded. In Albert the C.O. was informed that orders for the Division had changed. The new meeting point: The area West of Clermont, 60 km North of Paris. While the troops were on the way, the C.O. established his new Divisional Staff Hq. at Auvillers Chau, 3 km South-West of Clermont, on 23 August. The moving of the troops from the Calais – Boulogne sector to the new area carried with it many difficulties that had been seen in advance, but could not be avoided. Heavy enemy air attacks caused many losses when movements were made by day; destroyed railroads and bridges caused many time wasting detours; and the trucks for transportation placed at the disposal by the 15th Army were completely insufficient even for an organized shuttle service, so that, by 25 August, only one quarter of the combat troops, but no artillery, had arrived at Clermont. The 47th Inf Div was put under command of the LVIII Panzer Corps, with Corps Hq. at Chautilly, 35 km North of Paris. When in the evening of 25 August, the C.O. reported to the Commanding General, Gen. d. Panzertr. Walter Krueger, the latter informed him that Feldmarschall Model had been to the Hq. and had proposed three possible uses for the 47th Inf Div, namely: West of Paris on the lower Seine, East of Paris, or a propaganda march through Paris, “just to show the French that we still have Divisions left.” This was probably said on the assumption that Paris would still be in German hands. It was also under consideration to relieve the commander of Paris, General d. Inf. V. Choltitz, with parts of the 47th to General Patton’s Army on 26 August, so that the deployment of a non-motorized Division by itself in the evening of 25 August would have been too late.
The 47th Inf Div was now ordered to occupy the defensive line Pierrefitte sur Seine – Dugny – Northern edge of le Bourget – Northern edge of Sevran Canal de l’Ourec in order to prevent the enemy from breaking out of Paris to the North. The Division v. Aulock, in the area from the Seine bend at Herblay as far as the outskirts of Pierrefitte, was put under the command of the 47th Inf Div. This improvised unit consisted of 2 auxiliary Security Regiments (clerks, orderlies, etc.), Anti-aircraft units and a few light tanks from the Paris garrison, and only managed to withdraw from the fighting South of the town through St. Germain to its present area, after suffering considerable losses of artillery and anti-aircraft guns. The Divisional Command Post was established at Mousy le Vieux, 4 km West of Dammartin. Of the troops so far available, the 115 Inf Regt on the right, was employed on the Northern edge of le Bourget, the 103 Inf Regt, on the left, South of Villepinte, and the Div Fusilier Bn in between these two regiments. As, for the time being, there were no enemy thrusts from Paris, it was possible to occupy the large sector thinly with the troops then available. Artillery was completely missing, and there was no possibility of keeping any troops in reserve. On the right, next to the Division v. Aulock, the 6th FS Division lay West of the confluence of the Rivers Oise and Seine. On the left the line rested on the Canal de l’Ourec, but for the time being it was not known what troops adjoined there.
During the morning of 27 August the troops of the 47th Division were establishing themselves in their new positions, which had neither been reconnoitered nor prepared. Meanwhile the Divisional C.O. tried to clarify the situation on the Division’s East wing and for that purpose went to the area South-West of Villeparis, on the Paris – Meaux road. There he found the Schnelle Regiment v. Glasow, mounted on bicycles, which had already received the order to move. There were no other German troops in the area between Oureq and Marne.
In the early afternoon the Divisional Command Post received a message that the enemy, based on the suburbs of St. Denis, le Bourget and Sevran, had gone over to the attack against the Main line of resistance. A lively artillery barrage covered the sectors of Inf. Regiments 103 and 115. Before this, a French tank with a white flag had appeared in front of the 115 Inf. Regt positions, asked whether the soldiers were under the command of General v. Choltitz and had been directed to the Regimental Command Post. There the plenipotentiaries had handed over an order from the Commander of Paris, who was already in captivity, requesting the surrender of the troops. The Regimental commander naturally declined this. As General v. Choltitz later informed me, this was none of his doing.
Not being in possession of a war diary, I would at this point like to include an extract from the “Daily Mail” of 30 August about the fighting of the 115 Inf Regt at le Bourget on the 27:
“The desperation and hopelessness of German resistance is typified by the battle for le Bourget aerodrome. For six hours German troops fought fanatically for this ‘Croyden’ Paris. The battle took place after German infantry had rejected a surrender ultimatum by French forces. The enemy had three defence lines, but no heavy armour or artillery and they were butchered by the French tanks. They asked for no quarter in this one-sided battle…Some Germans jumped on top of a tank and dropped hand grenades inside.”
In the afternoon of 27 August, the C.O. had the impression that his adversary was the French Division Leclerc on the left wing of General Patton’s Third U.S. Army. These forces, advancing from Paris, apparently were to hold the enemy in combat, while the main thrust was to come from the East, bypassing Paris and heading in a Northerly direction. The threat to the wide open left wing of the 47th Inf Div could already be discerned on 27 August, when strong U.S. armored forces were reported on the move from Meaux in the direction of Soissons. It could easily be figured out just how much sooner these speedy mobile forces, apparently not meeting any, or only very weak resistance would reach Germany’s Western frontier than those “horse drawn” 47th Inf Div, which was still hung up on the Northern outskirts of Paris. General Patton’s speedy advance left the 47th Inf Div only a very small chance indeed.
One Bn of the 104th Inf Regt arrived at noon and was immediately deployed on the hard pressed left wing of the Division. The front line in that “One-sided” battle that late afternoon was pressed back to the line Ermont – Montmagny – Bonheuil – Villepinte – Oureq Canal and was clearly defined from the confusing edge of the city, which advantage, however, was no compensation for the other disadvantages of the situation (“No heavy armour or artillery”). Even if one could not overlook the complete situation, one thing was clear: A cohesive front line did not exist in Northern France any more. The encirclement of German troops still on the defensive before Paris by the armies of Field Marshal Montgomery and General Patton had begun.
The morning was foggy and the front North of Paris, for the time being, quiet. The Divisional C.O. proceeded to the 103 Inf Regt, in the center of his Division, at Tremblay les Gonesse. A battalion of the Division’s artillery had meanwhile arrived, and taken up its position West of Roisoy. At noon the enemy resumed his attacks from the Northern suburbs of Paris supported by tanks. The Div. v. Aulock, whose Command Post the C.O. of the 47th Inf Div visited in the afternoon, was also attacked on the heights at Montmorency, Forces of the F.F.I. appeared on the left wing of the Division. By the evening the fact that the Division’s position had been penetrated in several places by enemy tanks had become painfully obvious. For the night of 28 August, therefore, the General Hq. of the LVIII Panzer Corps ordered a movement to disengage from the enemy and to withdraw to the line Mery s. Oise – Domont – Bouqueval – Rissy – le Mesnil – Amelot – Dammartin. This movement was successful, although considerable casualties were incurred.
In the morning the new Divisional Command Post at Chau St. Sulpice was occupied. There the Commanding General appeared and, in order to protect the left wing of the Division, put an attached Fast Bn. (Cyclist) under the command of Major Kossack at its disposal. In the afternoon the Divisional C.O. went to his left wing (104 Inf Regt), and deployed the Fast Bn. Kossack in the terrain between Le Plessia – Belleville. At that time he noted two things: Enemy armor advancing from St. Mard, 2 km South of Dammartin, toward the North, and F.F.I. forces in Nanteuil. In the evening the GHq gave orders for a withdrawal to the line along the Southern edge of the Foret de Chautilly and the woods South of Senlis, to be made in the night of 29 August. The new Divisional Command Post was set up at Aumont, 3½ km North-West of Senlis. During the night this withdrawal was extended to the line Chautilly – Senlis – Crepy en Valois for the Div. v. Aulock and the 47th Inf Div. The line of demarcation for these two Divisions was from the Eastern edge of Senlis to the Eastern edge of Pt. St. Maxence.
Position of the troops under my command in the morning.
Div. v. Aulock: From Chautilly inclusive to Senlis inclusive.
115 Inf Regt: From the outskirts of Senlis to Montepilloy inclusive. Regimental Command Post at Ognon.
103 Inf Regt: From the outskirts of Montepilloy to Boasne inclusive. Regimental Command Post at Rully.
104 Inf Regt: South of Trumilly. Regimental Command Post at Trumilly.
Fast Bn Kossack: At Crepy, Bn. Command Post at Crepy.
The C.O. made a tour of the Regiments under his Command. The 115th Inf Regt front was quiet, and nothing happened when he was with the 103rd. From the 104th at Trumilly, however, he observed the preparation of enemy tanks opposite the 103rd position North-West of Rozieres. While on his way through Crepy (Fast Bn. Kossack), to the new Div. Command Post at Fabrik, 2 km South-East of Grandfresnoy, the C.O. reconnoitered the Oise bridge at Verberie which had been prepared for blowing up. A short while after this a skirmish with the F.F.I., which wanted to take control of the bridge in order to destroy it, broke out there. This lasted for about an hour, after which order was once again restored.
Unfavorable news came in from Inf Regt 103. The enemy tank attack, which had been observed in preparation that afternoon, had materialized South of Ruilly, with its probable aim being the Oise crossing at Verberie. The bridge at Pont St. Maxence had been blown earlier. A deep penetration was made in the 103rd Inf Regt sector which, in the course of the late afternoon and evening, developed into a breakthrough. This made the position of the remaining troops on the Southern bank of the Oise so dangerous that they ran the danger of being cut off. There was no way of stopping the gap by throwing in reserves, as none were available. During the night the Division’s C.O. went to the Corps Hq. at Jonquieres in order to affect the withdrawal of the 47th Inf Div and the Div. v. Aulock behind the Oise. The Commanding General ordered the moving back of the Main line of resistance to the Oise and the Southern edge of the Foret de Compiegne. This was done the night following and the ridge at Verberie blown. The 103rd Inf Regt once more suffered heavy casualties.
The Div. v. Aulock now occupied the sector from Creil to Pont St. Maxence, both included. Next to this was the 115th Inf Regt as far opposite to Mory, joined by the 103rd Inf Regt as far as Verberie inclusive. The 104th Inf Regt was to take the Southern edge of the Foret de Compiegne as far as Bethisdy on the left bank of the Oise. The left wing of the Division was to be safeguarded by the Fast Bn. Kossack at Orrouy.
The Command of the 47th Inf Div was under the impression that the withdrawal would be successful. Once accomplished, the main part of the troops would have the tankproof barrier of the Oise between itself and the enemy.
When, in the morning, the C.O. had received news from the Div. v. Aulock and the 115th and 103rd Inf Regts about the successful regrouping, he went to his left wing, from where there had been no news at all. Since, as he found out, the Oise bridges between Verberie and Compiegne had all been blown up, he had to go as far as the latter place in order to reach the Fast Bn. Kossack. In Compiegne he met an antiaircraft Battery and a motorized Machine Gun Company, which he put under his command and took with him, these constituted a welcome reinforcement for the left wing of his Division. The weather was clear. The C.O. of the Division went on his way to the Command Post of the Fast Bn. Kossack, just North of Orrouy, along the road from Compiegne to Crepy en Valois. Already enemy armor, presumably the left wing of Patton’s Third U.S. Army, had appeared opposite the Southern edge of the large Foret de Compiegne and had engaged the foremost units of Fast Bn. Kossack. To his surprise, the C.O. found the Commander of the 104th Inf Regt in this position, who, according to orders received, should have been astride the road from Senlis to Compiegne, but allegedly had not correctly understood the radiogram of the night before. He was told to occupy his sector speedily as possible, but whether he would succeed in this was very questionable. In order to watch further developments in the situation, the Divisional C.O. remained in the Southern part of the Compiegne Forest until the early afternoon, and only proceeded to Croix St. Quen after reassuring himself that the 104th Inf Regt would succeed in gaining the area to which it had been assigned. In Croix St. Quen he found parts of the Fast Regiment v. Glasow (Bicycles) which were not under his orders and of which he knew nothing, about to march off to Compiegne. The C.O. of the Division requested that this movement be postponed, or that at least a squadron of Cyclists be left for a limited time, so that the 104th would retain some sort of a reserve. Shortly after this the enemy began penetrating into the Compiegne Forest with tanks through the positions of the 104th Inf Regt and the Fast Bn. Kossack.
The C.O. of the Division continued toward the new Divisional Command Post through Compiegne. While on his way, just North of the town, he observed those units of the Fast Regt. v. Glasow that had already left, just at the moment they were caught up in a concentrated enemy fighter-bomber attack and suffered heavy losses. Similar incidents occurred with increasing frequency the next day.
Arriving at Francieres, he found an order from the General Headquarters to disengage from the enemy in the coming night and to reach the area around Noyon. The Division v. Aulock was released from his command. The new goal was 35 km as the crow flies away from the present main line of resistance made it necessary to start this movement before midnight, as the enemy was already trying to force a crossing of the Oise with assault boats in the evening. The Division had not had any combat orders other than to leave a rearguard in the present main line of resistance. Since it was known that the Americans had already crossed the Maas at Sedan and Charleville, and that the British were halfway between Amiens and Arras, it was to be expected that Higher Headquarters had no more intentions of a planned defense. The enemy units opposing at Compiegne appeared to belong to the left wing of the U.S. Army. The race to Germany’s western frontier had started. The formation of what later was known as “the 80 miles pocket between Mons and Compiegne (See extract from the “Daily Mail”, page 15) was also faintly discernible. At 2400 hrs, 31 August 1944, the Divisional Command Post was transferred to Crisolles, 5 km North of Noyons.
As had been expected, the withdrawal of the 47th Inf Div to the area around Noyons lasted until the late morning of 1 September and was exposed to heavy enemy air attacks, through which the troops again suffered heavy losses of men, horses and material. The Commander of the 103rd Inf Regt, Oberstleutnant Roediger, was killed, as was the C.O. of the Div. Fus. Bn., Hauptmann Schuetz.
“Daily Mail” of 4 September reports:
“Why the Germans should fight in the Mons – Compiegne pocket when the entire front has crumbled around them is a mystery. Fanatical SS troops may have stayed there”, - I did not see any and do not believe that, except for higher staffs, SS troops were there, - “because their intelligence failed to inform that they were being outflanked. OR Hitler may have given another of his ‘fight to the last man’ orders because of the historic importance of Compiegne,…”
In the morning a radiogram arrived in Crisolles, ordering the C.O. to the General Hq. at Fontaine. There, 11 km North-East of St. Quentin, General Krueger, LVIII Panzer Corps, informed him that the 47th Inf Div would now be under the orders of the II. [SS] Panzer Corps at Fontaine, 9 km NE of St. Quentin. When I reported to the C.O. there, SS-Oberstgruppenfuehrer [sic] Bittrich, the following conversation, which has remained in my memory very accurately, took place: Bittrich: “General, where is your Division now?” I: “It is just arriving in the area of Noyons.” Bittrich: “How long would it take you to get to Bohain?” I: “The earliest possible time is the afternoon of 2 September.” Bittrich: “In that case I cannot employ your Division any more; see that you can save as many men as possible out of this pocket.”
By reason of this directive it was clear that in future the Division would have to fend for itself. The unit, its strength much decreased, had been in combat, or marching mostly at night, increasingly since 27 August.
Unavoidable marches by day found the troops exposed to the full effect of the enemy bombers. The losses were so critical that the 103rd Inf Regt, for instance, was disbanded and the remnants attached to the other two Inf. Regiments. The number and condition of the horses sank ever lower every day. Supplies began to fail to arrive. There was complete lack of gasoline for the few vehicles available, of means of communication and of maps; the one belonging to the C.O. of the Division did not go beyond Noyons. Most of all news was missing concerning the disposition of the enemy, of the neighbors, and of the intentions of the own command. Despite this, some decision corresponding with the last directive of the High Command had to be taken. This could only mean a withdrawal, over Bohain, to the Belgian frontier, 120 km distant, and then on to any point where a line of resistance could be formed. Whether this would be possible anywhere within Belgium, or only after reaching the German West frontier, could, like many other things, not yet be seen. With these thoughts in mind I returned from the General Hq. to my Division, whose Command Post had meanwhile moved to Renigny, 8 km North-West of La Fere. In the evening the order for further withdrawal to the area of Bohain was issued.
Until the late morning the sky was cloudy, so that the troops could, for the time being, continue marching without interruptions from enemy fighter-bombers. The enemy was quickly following across the Oise East of Noyons with tanks. At noon the weather cleared up. From Seboncourt, 4 km South of Bohain, the point from which the Divisional Commander was conducting the retreat on that day, continuous fighter-bomber attacks could be observed on the small units, which had been split up into dispersed formations in depth, and were still moving about at that time. Once again considerable losses, especially in horses, vehicles and motor vehicles, were suffered. By the afternoon, advanced units of march group Baumann (Inf Regt 115) had reached the district of Brancourt, West of Bohain, and those of march group Bartels (Inf Regt 104) the woods South-West of Wassigny.
The next goal for the march was set as the woods South of Bavai. Because of air activity, full use was made of the hours of darkness. The advance unit of the Divisional Staff was sent on to Villers Pol, 4 km North of le Quesnoy, where the C.O. of the Division was going to follow in the evening. As Villers Pol was already occupied by enemy tanks, the Command Post of the Division was set up at Sommaig, 10 km South of Valenciennes, for the night.
In the morning the Command Post was set up at Roiein, on Belgian territory. This was much more favorable to keeping the connection with the troops. Here natives to the district divulged the information that the enemy had reached Mons, Mabeuge and Valenciennes already two days ago.
The C.O. of the Division decided that the following night he would try to break through the American lines between Maubeuge and Mons toward Binche, 17 km South-East of Mons, and then to continue through la Louviere and bypass Brussels to the South, in order to gain the district of Maastricht.
“Daily Mail” of 4 September describes the situation on 3 September as follows (See extract on page 21):
“Troops of the American First Army were reported last night to be half-way across the south-western corner of Belgium. They have by-passed Namur and appear to be heading straight for Liege and the German frontier at Aachen. Another column from the First Army has swung north-westwards towards Mons to meet the right wing of the British Second Army closing in from the direction of Tournay. The two forces are rapidly sealing a long, narrow pocket stretching 80 miles from Mons to Compiegne. Inside it is the only German force which has seriously resisted the Allied race to the German frontiers…Our tanks drove on Mons in one of the war’s greatest marches after crushing German resistance.”
This is exactly how the picture looked to the C.O. of the Division on 3 September, even if he did not know the details.
In the planned break-out of the “pocket”, due in the night of 3 September, the roads from Maubeuge – Mons and Beaumont – Mons formed sectors which had to be crossed in order to reach the area of Binche, South of Brussels. When, in the evening, three columns started on their way, it was to be assumed that the enemy was already fully informed of their strength and direction through the Belgian Resistance Movement. The C.O., who personally led the Northern column, intended to march as far north-east as possible, making full use of darkness. For the time being everything went according to plan with the help of a marching compass, but the lack of maps made itself evident by producing various difficulties. The further the march went north-east, the more effects of the enemy artillery disrupting fire on villages, roads and bridges could be seen. However, no contact was made with the enemy before midnight.
At 0200 hrs on 4 September the Northern column of the 47th Inf Div met parts of the Middle column (104 Inf Regt) in the region of Havay, where lively fire was going on. They had come upon a blocking position running roughly from North to South. Heavy fire from enemy artillery and automatic weapons prevented any further advance, and the firing started to spread to the wings. In the wake of a motorized 3.7 cm antiaircraft gun, the C.O. entered the village of Givry, apparently not yet occupied by the enemy. In the middle of the village a hidden enemy tank set the antiaircraft gun on fire with its first shot at point blank range. At the same time lively machine gun fire, raking the whole of the village street, commenced. This village had to be evacuated again. The fighting south-west of Givry was still in progress, but contact with the staff of the Division severed. All attempts to resume contact with it, to reform the units and to gain an overall picture of the situation proved fruitless in the dark. After dispatching all available messengers, only 1 officer and 7 men remained with the C.O., whose car, now without gasoline, had to be destroyed.
As the morning of 4 September dawned, it became evident that one was close to one of the main lines of supply of the U.S. Army, along which continuous traffic was rolling in the direction of Mons.
The Divisional C.O., as was now ascertained, was cut off from his troops. With his few companions, he proceeded to a piece of woodland located off the main road, in order to rally the staff of the Division here, and, if possible, to resume command of the remainder of his Division and to attempt to break out to the north.
As was later found out, the above mentioned piece of woodland was in between an American airfield and a Field Hospital.
Belgian partisans, who had kept an eye on the C.O. ever since the night engagement at Givry, had, by 0900 hrs reconnoitered and reported his whereabouts, so that, shortly afterwards, his little band, lightly armed with 4 revolvers and 3 rifles, was surrounded by American troops and taken prisoner. Further resistance was useless.
All this happened at approximately 0930 hrs on 4 September, about 1 ½ km south of the railroad station Givry – Homs.
Under the heading “Germans massacred in Mons pocket”, the “Daily Mail” of 5 September reports on the last battles of the 47th Inf Div:
“The German flight back to the Siegfried Line has led to a new battle of Mons – a battle on the lines of the Falaise trap. Thousands of Germans are dying in frantic efforts to break out of the pocket; outside the trap Allied air might is smashing nonstop at massed columns of fleeing enemy. There was no attempt by the Luftwaffe to defend their troops. Inside the pocket the Germans have for 48 hours been hurling themselves against the Americans in a frantic effort to break out to the Siegfried Line. Their escape attempt has already resulted in ‘one of the largest mass slaughters and surrenders since the invasion.’ Thousands of Germans are being smashed as their columns run against the American north-south line on the escape route to Germany. The fields are littered with thousands of German dead and countless enemy vehicles. One German horse-drawn column, carrying every sort of German soldier, wound its way uphill on Sunday morning just behind us into the range of waiting American guns. The guns raked the line from end to end. Only a handful of Germans were spared. Some Germans died hard. One ran through a field trying to surrender. He was shot in the back by his own comrades…A short distance ahead American forces firmly hold the Belgian city of Mons.”
An account of the effect of the enemy’s weapons, of the weather and of the terrain has been given in the above report at the appropriate stages in the descriptions of the various battles and engagements. The crises in the time from 27 August to 4 September – and for the 47th Inf Div there was not a day without at least one – I have also tried to depict at the right place. Thus, in conclusion, I do not have to recapitulate about them. Only the question as to how much the 47th Inf Div contributed to the failure of the Northern France campaign remains to be answered.
With the break through in Normandy, the result of the campaign in Northern France was virtually a foregone conclusion, unless a defensive front along the Seine or Somme could be built in time and held. Was it all possible to establish a cohesive front under these circumstances? I think not. The prerequisites for this, such as sufficient troops, reserves and an undamaged railroad system, to mention only a few, had been missing for quite a while. After the available reserves had been squandered in the Normandy battles, the last static Infantry Divisions were pulled out of their coastal positions too late. They were not deployed according to any plan. The idea of using the 47th Inf Div on the Somme, together with some other Divisions, was soon given up, instead of which it was thrown in at Paris, also too late. What follows is hard to comprehend and justify.
From a German radiogram which was overheard at the Divisional Staff on 25 August, and which contained the order for the withdrawal of all Armored and Motorized Divisions from the Seine to far behind the German frontier, it could be presumed that these battle exhausted troops were to be rested and given a chance to recuperate. The only units left to oppose the enemy to gain time for this, however, were Divisions which only had auxiliary transport. Whether this was really the intention of the German High Command, or whether they were still under the illusion that the Seine and Paris could be held, I do not wish to judge.
The Seine and Paris had to be given up before the 47th Inf Div could be employed. And still this Division was tied down in unprepared and unfavorable positions on the Northern edge of the suburbs of Paris, where the main enemy thrust never came. This went to the East and the West of the city (See extract X from the “Daily Mail”, page 19). In the further developments of events on 28 August this caused the 47th Inf Div to attempt the impossible: To start a race to the German frontier against the superior, modernized mobile Armor of the enemy without the protection of its own Luftwaffe. There could be no doubt as to the outcome of this right from the start.
How these events are to be judged within the framework of the overall picture of the war will be the job for those who write the history of this war. Long before the start of the small part of the war which is depicted here, voluntary departure from certain operative and tactical principles had shaken the whole Wehrmacht and headed it towards a debacle which no amount of human bravery was able to avert. The German soldier fought for a lost cause. If he bravely stuck to his post under hopeless circumstances, then the future histories of the war will justly give him his due for it.
Sgd. Carl WAHLE
1. As I lack personal notes, war diaries and good maps, I have used extracts from the “Daily Mail” for the purposes of the above reports. This paper was put at my disposal in England after I was taken prisoner. It has to be taken into consideration that these maps were drawn, not from a military, but from a journalistic point of view. This lessens their value for a true historical account of the war.
2. The same thing can be said for extracts from the “Daily Mail”, used in the above report.
3. The reports of the war correspondents of the “Daily Mail” are, in my opinion, reliable enough to be confirmed and used in this report. It was naturally essential to keep the true situation a secret from the enemy.