Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944

Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944

Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944

Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944

Excerpt

Traditionally, German military history research has concentrated on two groups of topics in analyzing the ground warfare operations in the west in 1944. The Allied invasion in June and the defensive fighting in Normandy, followed by the preparations for and execution of the Ardennes Offensive in the autumn and winter of 1944, were the primary subjects of scholarly investigation. Nonetheless, there so far has been no corresponding study of the breathtaking interim campaign of maneuver and the rapid sequence of combat actions that shifted into a situation of positional warfare conducted along fixed lines.

Within this period, encompassing the months of August and September 1944, the focal points of military events shifted over distances of up to one thousand kilometers in a matter of just a few days: from Normandy and from the French Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts into the region of the Netherlands, Germany’s western borders, and the Vosges Mountains of Alsace.

The retreat of the German military forces from the sectors of Western Europe that had been occupied since 1940 constitutes an important facet of the final phase of World War II that is quite worth studying in terms of its course and consequences. The military events in France meant that Germany lost the advantageous strategic position it had held when its continental back door was still secure—something that Hitler considered essential in any successful move to the east. The nature of the German retreat, especially the rapid progress of operations following the Allied breakout from the Normandy beachhead in early August, caused the Allied military commanders to nurture the hope of finishing the war in Europe in 1944. That estimate of the situation was also shared by many of the German senior commanders. The fall of Paris on August 25 was perceived by world opinion as a symbolic indicator that the end of the Third Reich was near. Instead, following the disastrous defeats and the heavy losses during the fighting withdrawal, the German army within a matter of days was able to reestablish a contiguous front line and achieve a relative consolidation of its situation in the west.

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