This book falls into two halves. The first half looks at a series of issues related to the organisation of the German army, its combat efficiency, overall losses, equipment etc. The second provides unit histories for each of the combat units that fought in Normandy, focusing on organisation, size, casualties and reinforcements etc.
The first thing to say is that this is mainly a reference work. You won’t find a narrative of the battle, or any overviews of what each combat unit did during the battle. Instead the focus is on providing a more accurate order of battle for the Germans in Normandy, and on establishing more accurate casualties figures. The first part of the book lays the ground work for this, looking at the available sources, how the Germans reported unit size and casualties, what that means for the number of soldiers who actually reached Normandy, what delayed German movements to Normandy etc. The section of unit size will be of particular value, as the Germans recorded many different figures for a units size, from its overall ration size (everyone the division had to feed) down to the kampfstarke or ‘front strength’, which referred only to the fighting men at the front and was normally well under half of the ration size. The phrases used to describe a battalion’s combat efficiency are also covered. This part of the book provides a valuable look at the real nature and size of the German army in Normandy, and provides rather different (and lower) figures to those used in many books on the battle. However towards the end of the book there is a discussion of which front was most dangerous for the Germans, which suggests that divisions fighting in Normandy lost more men per month than those fighting on the Eastern Front, even during some of the fiercest fighting of 1943 and 1944.
There are some flaws here. The author almost always chooses to believe the most optimistic report on German casualties, often dismissing unit’s own commander’s memoirs if they don’t fit his picture of German losses being lower than reported. He can sometimes support this with official reports from the period, but elsewhere has to admit that sometimes German casualty reports lagged behind reality, with casualties not showing up in the records for some time after they occurred. Having made a big (and correct) point about the importance of using German sources for German units, you can’t then just dismiss the ones you don’t like. We rarely get any estimates of the size of units that were lost during the siege of Cherbourg. Although he has looked in detail at the number of reinforcements that reached Normandy from outside, there are several occasions where battered units are considered to have been absorbed by other units, without those extra men being taken into account elsewhere. I would also argue with his definition of what counts as a destroyed division – in one case he acknowledges that almost all of the infantry from a division became casualties, but refuses to consider it as lost because the rear area staff had escaped! Finally he has an annoying habit of refusing to just say ‘Falaise Pocket’ – instead we get ‘so called pocket’, ‘what became know as’ etc. One sometimes gets the impression that the author’s aim wasn’t to provide accurate figures for German losses, but to prove that they were lower than normally believed.
Part two provides the unit histories. The focus here is on the organisation of each unit, which parts of the unit actually reached Normandy and when, how strong they were when they arrived, in both men and equipment, the casualties they suffered and the reinforcements they received and their fate at the end of the fighting in Normandy. This is very much a reference section, and will be of great value to the researcher. Each of these sections is well documented from German sources, in particular official working documents. No doubt some of these lagged behind reality under the pressure of battle, but the overall picture will be accurate, so we get a good picture of when each part of each division reached Normandy and how badly they suffered in combat.
Overall this is an excellent contribution to the literature on the fighting in Normandy, and a rare example of a book that does something new – an impressive achievement at this point!
Part I: Campaign Analysis
1 – The Sources Available
2 – German Terminology
3 – German Combat Unit Organization
4 – Number of Soldiers Employed in Normandy
5 – The Effects of Allied Air Power
6 – German Tanks Employed in Normandy
7 – German Losses in Normandy
8 – German Combat Efficiency
9 – Movements to Normandy
Part 2: German Combat Formations
General Headquarters Artillery Formatons
Miscellaneous General Headquarters Formations
General headquarters Panzer Formations
Author: Niklas Zetterling