Four Lessons from Normandy

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

As a young captain in Normandy, General DePuy was impressed by several things the Germans did:

First, I was impressed with the positions that the German infantry soldiers constructed. I was impressed with the skill and the care that they took in finding positions which had cover and natural concealment. They were almost impossible to see and yet, they afforded fields of fires exactly where they needed them in order to stop us. In other words, their fieldcraft was super, and you may remember that in the 1st Division, I spent a lot of time on that. My favorite battalion in the 1st Division really was the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, because they did more of that than anybody else. George Joulwan and Jim Madden really put in imaginative positions wherever they went. That idea caught fire with the soldiers of that battalion more than it did with the others. They were doing precisely what I think infantry should do. I took that lesson with me to the 8th Infantry, the 30th Infantry, and the 1st Division, to the dismay of some people, but, nonetheless, that was a pet pigeon of mine. And, that’s where I got it.

The second thing that I learned was about the depth of German positions. We just had one line. The Germans had a little zone defense so that they had elasticity and resilience. You could not punch through it very easily. They didn’t do things in a linear way. They took pieces of terrain and knit them together into a position from which they were able to fire in all sorts of directions. They used the terrain, they used cover and concealment, and they used imagination. In Normandy our people always lined right up on one hedgerow and then down another hedgerow. You know, one line. And, if you observe many units in the American Army today, you will find that that still is exactly what we do. The linear mentality in the defense. Now, hopefully, we’re getting better, but it’s a natural thing to do. It’s the way a layman imagines a war — a line. So, I learned that from the Germans.

I guess I was impressed with their use of just one, two or three mechanized vehicles like assault guns or tanks. Only two or three times did I see them use a lot of tanks in what we would call a tank attack. But, most of the time, when you ran into German positions, you would run into a mixture of infantry and some kind of tracked fighting vehicles. Sometimes they were only little vehicles with 20 millimeter cannons, often 20 millimeter antiaircraft guns. Whatever they could find, a self-propelled 88mm, a self-propelled 76mm, or a self-propelled 57mm, they integrated into their defenses. And, they moved them around a lot. They wouldn’t just sit in one place. We’d hear them moving; they’d be over here firing at us, and then, the next time, they would be over there firing at us.

The fourth thing that I was absolutely convinced of was suppression. The Germans were masters of suppression using machine pistols. They’d spray our front, drive our soldiers to the ground, and then, they’d come in on us. And, the more they shot, the less our people shot, and the more dangerous it got, until finally, when all of our people had stopped shooting, we knew that the Germans were either going to overrun us, or capture some of our people, or kill our people, by getting right on top of us and throwing hand grenades. So, I guess I came out of Normandy having learned those four things.

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