65 years ago today – ‘but the Germans…’

German troops in action at Arnhem

German troops in action at Arnhem

In September 1944 the German Armed Forces had been fighting solidly for 5 years, in Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, the Balkans, Russia and North Africa. The Blitzkrieg brought vast swathes of Europe under the domination of the jackboot.

However, the tide of the war turned, at Stalingrad and El Alamein, and even more decisively in June 1944 with the Normandy Invasion. The Germans were forced onto the offensive, and Hitler’s increasingly nonsensical orders and refusal to let his field commanders use their initiative led to massive losses in the Falaise Pocket. The forces mauled in Normandy included the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, who were both reduced to the strength of weak brigades.

After the victory in Normandy the Allies were streaming towards Germany, and it seemed that the Germans were melting away before them. In one day in early September, known as Dolle Dinesdag, or Mad Tuesday, it seemed that the whole of the occupying force in Holland was on the move.

But something changed. Rapidly, the Germans began to gather their forces and form ad-hoc battle groups, with real improvisation. A lull in the Allied advance allowed the Germans to firm up their defences on the Dutch-Belgian border. This recovery was nothing short of a miracle. Even though many of them were scratch units, formed of half-fit troops, Luftwaffe or Naval personnel, their performance came to exceed all expectations.

The 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions had both been withdrawn to near Arnhem to rest, before going back to Germany to refit. Although seriously weakened, they still contained a high proportion of highly motivated and experienced troops. Worse, they had been specially trained in attacking airborne landings. In particular, they had been taught that airborne landings had to be attacked right away, with swift reactions.

Despite the faltering economy and industry in Germany, the Germans could still call on far superior equipment to their British counterparts. Veterans often speak of the quality of German equipment and weapons. Also, as often the case in totalitarian regimes, the state propaganda influenced the average German soldier to keep fighting on steadfastly, even though most of them felt that the war was already lost. By this stage of the war most troops seem to have lost their faith in Hitler, and fought on out of duty. Hitler had ordered that all Paratroopers were to be summarily shot as spies, but this was an order that was completely ignored by most German officers and men.

As we will see, all this bode very ominously for the British Paras, who were led to believe that their enemy would consist of old men on bicycles and Hitler Youth.

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Filed under Arnhem, World War One

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