General Friedrich Dollman (1876-1944) was the commander of the German 7th Army at the time of the D-Day landings, with direct responsibility for the defence of the Normandy coastline. He had taken command of the 7th Army in September 1939, after serving as a corps commander in Poland. During the battle of France in 1940 he took part in the attack on the Maginot Line, and on 15 June managed to break through the French defences around Colmar. Dollman and the 7th Army were then given the task of garrisoning Normandy and Brittany, and remained there in comfortable surrounding for the next four years. In 1944, when an increasing number of eastern front veterans were moved west to stiffen the defences of France, many believed that Dollman had been softened by the four years of garrison duty.
Like many senior German commanders Dollman was away from his command post at the start of D-Day. On the night of 5-6 June he was at Rennes, conducting an exercise designed to simulate an Allied landing in Brittany and it took him some time to return to his head quarters. Even when he had returned to Le Mans Dollman wasn't able to react to the Allied landings – Rommel was absent for most of the day and Hitler refused to release the Panzers until too late in the day. Dollman was also partly blinded by Allied air activity and the general confusion behind the German lines on D-Day, so much so that he didn't learn that American troops had landed on Utah Beach until late in the afternoon. As a result he failed to move the few reserves available to him from Brittany to the Cotentin Peninsular on 6 June, and only ordered them to move at 11pm on D-Day, forcing them to move in daylight on 7 June.
The same fate befell the Panzer Lehr Division, which was finally released to him late on D-Day. Despite the protests of its commander, General Bayerlein, Dollman ordered the division to move in daylight on 7 June, and that day the division lost 40 fuel trucks, 90 other trucks, 5 tanks and 84 half tracks, prime-movers and self-propelled guns. When the division straggled into its assembly point on 8 June it was too disorganised to be used in a counterattack and instead had to be fed into the German line.
Dollman soon began to be overwhelmed by problems at both ends of his lines – on the Cotentin, where the Americans were slowly advancing across the peninsula – and at Caen, where the British and Canadians were pinning down the German panzers. The first crisis came on the Cotentin, where on 15 June Dollman reported that his lines resembled 'a bow at breaking-point'. On the following day the Americans broke through the last nature barrier between them and the west coast and on 18 June the peninsula was cut. Dollman found himself under constant pressure from Hitler, who wanted Cherbourg to be held at all cost but also refused the troops on the Cotentin to retreat back to the port. Inevitably this interference from Berlin meant that Cherbourg fell more quickly than it might otherwise have done, and Dollman found himself facing the prospect of a court martial investigation into the fall of the city.
An equally serious crisis began to develop around Caen, where by late June the British and Canadians were advancing around the western flanks of the city, and were south of Cheux (due west of Caen). By now reinforcements were on their way in the shape of General Hausser's 2nd SS Panzer Corps, which had left Poland on 12 June. Hausser's men reached Lorraine on 16 June, but the final journey across France took them another ten days. Rommel had ordered Hausser to assemble south of Bayeux to take part in a counterattack against the centre of the Allied beachhead, but as the Panzers approached Normandy Rommel and von Runstedt left for Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler, leaving Dollman in command in Normandy.
This extra stress was too much for Dollman. On 26 June, as the situation around Caen deteriorated, Dollman twice ordered Hausser to alter course and help with the defence of the city, before on both occasions cancelling the order. On the morning of 28 June, with Allied troops south of Cheux, Dollman changed his mind again and ordered Hausser to launch an immediate counterattack. This time Dollman was unable to change his mind, for that morning he died, either of a heart attack induced by stress, or after taking poison. Hausser's counterattack was a total failure. Allied air and artillery bombardments meant that it didn’t take place until late on 29 June, and then at half the planned strength. Despite the failure of this attack Hausser was appointed to replace Dollman.
|The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]|