We defended Normandy is a slim and frankly disappointing account of the Battle of Normandy as seen through German eyes. The author is Lt Gen Hans Speidel, Chief of Staff to Army Group B until his arrest by the Gestapo for involvement in the failed July 1944 coup against Hitler.
He survived the war and the Nazi interrogators to become the first commander of the (West German) Bundeswehr. In April 1957 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Allied ground forces in Central Europe, a post he held until September 1963.
We defended Normandy is a translation of Speidel`s Invasion 1944: Rommel and the Normandy Campaign published in Germany in 1950 when he was teaching philosophy and modern history at the University of Tübingen (he had a prewar doctorate). The English translation followed a year later with a foreword by General Henry Pownall, then assisting Winston Churchill with his memoirs of the great conflict.
The translator assures that the book is a direct and accurate translation from the original. There is a scarcity of such material in English and as such this book fills a welcome gap. It is certainly listed in the bibliography of every significant work written about D-Day and the subsequent Normandy campaign, including Max Hasting`s Overlord – one of the more recent.
However, to the reviewer it was all a bit superficial, a tad vacuous. Under the German General Staff system, abolished in 1945, the Chief of Staff was no mere functionary, he was in effect the administrative commander, freeing the titular commander to focus on operational matters.
As such Speidel was a key figure in Army Group B, commanded first by Erwin Rommel, then Gunther von Kluge and lastly, during Speidel`s tenure (up to September 7), Walter Model. To give the book its due, it sketches well the poisoned atmosphere that was the German High Command in 1944, the care conspirators had to take in the hatching of their coup against Hitler and Rommel`s planned role there in. The difficulties the Germans faced in defending Normandy are touched on – just – by reference to the fragmented command structure in the West versus the integrated structure employed by the allies; but then the Führer was an acknowledged exponent of “divide and rule”.
Once the invasion starts we see Rommel struggle between realities on the ground and flights of fantasy further to the rear, a contradiction that comes to a head at an ill-tempered meeting between Hitler and Rommel at the former`s Margival bolt hole. (The Margival Führer headquarters near the World War One Soissons battlefields from where Hitler had planned to supervise the invasion of Britain.)
What is lacking is an understanding of the pre-invasion logistic and operational preparations for the invasion, the contingency planning and the like. Ditto the post invasion period. Pownall is probably correct that the book was written more as a monument to Rommel than as an account of the actual campaign. In that – and linking him to the anti-Nazi coup – Speidel was certainly successful.
We defended Normandy