The German Nineteenth Army – Awaiting the ANVIL

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German armor passing through Toulouse

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MAJ. GEN. WEND VON WIETERSHEIM

The steady transfer of Army Group G’s best units out of the zone and the continued deterioration of the German position in northern France may have convinced Blaskowitz that any attempt to resist a major Allied amphibious assault against the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts was futile. In the west his coastal defenses had been so weakened that they were no more than an advanced outpost line. On 8 August OB West had even reduced the missions of the Atlantic forces, requiring the LXIV Corps to hold only three strongpoints in the event of a major landing. The corps’ remaining forces-two understrength divisions, some separate regiments, and a variety of paramilitary organizations (police or security units)-were only to maintain a screen along the coast and protect Army Group G’s northwest flank on the Loire River. But, outside of holding local FFI forces at bay, little more could be expected from this command.

Along the Mediterranean coast, the situation was different. There Blaskowitz retained the ability to contest a major assault. Although greatly reduced, the forces that made up the Nineteenth Army were still reasonably strong, their defensive missions unchanged, and their commanders veteran soldiers. As of mid-August Wiese’s forces totaled seven infantry divisions controlled by three corps headquarters. Although most of these formations were still understrength and short of equipment, many were rested and experienced units that could be expected to give a good account of themselves if well led and well positioned. Wiese’s problem, like Rommel’s in the north, was to decide where the Allies would land or, more accurately, how he could best deploy his forces to enable them to carry out their defensive missions under a variety of contingencies.

In early August, responsibility for the defense of the French Mediterranean coast from Toulon to the Italian border rested with the Nineteenth Army’s LXII Corps under Lt. Gen. Ferdinand Neuling. Neuling’s LXII Corps consisted of the 242d and 148th Infantry Divisions and a host of smaller units of all types. The 242d Division, under Maj. Gen. Johannes Baessler, was deployed from the Toulon area east to Antheor Cove, a few miles north of the Argens River, and was thus responsible for a sector that would include almost all of the ANVIL assault beaches. Baessler was also designated the Toulon garrison commander, responsible for the defenses of the port. From Antheor Cove northeast to the Italian border, the coast was defended by the 148th Division of Maj. Gen. Otto Fretter- Pico. Fretter-Pico’s zone included the smaller ports of Nice and Cannes.

Guarding the German center, from Toulon west to Marseille and across the Rhone River delta, was Lt. Gen. Baptist Kniess’ LXXXV Corps, with the 338th and 244th Infantry Divisions. But by 15 August the 338th Division had already redeployed one of its regiments north and had pulled its remaining units back to the Arles area, preparing to follow. Kniess’ remaining unit, the 244th Division, was still relatively intact, but was repositioning itself to take over the 338th’s area of responsibility. The unit commander was also charged with organizing the defense of Marseille and had no troop units to spare elsewhere.

In the west the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps under Lt. Gen. Erich Petersen held the area between the Rhone delta and Spanish border. His major units were the 198th and 716th Infantry Divisions and the weak 189th Reserve Division. One of the 189th’s two infantry regiments, the 28th Grenadiers, 12 constituted Army Group G’s reserve and was located north of the coast in the Carcassonne Gap area; the rest of the division was in the process of moving into the Rhone delta positions vacated by the 338th. At the time, Wiese had also ordered Petersen to send the 198th Division east of the Rhone where it could serve as a reserve unit behind Kniess’ coastal defenses. As a further precaution, Blaskowitz was transferring Army Group G’s principal reserve unit, Maj. Gen. Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzer Division, from the Toulouse area to the vicinity of Avignon, also east of the Rhone. Both Blaskowitz and Wiese considered the Marseille- Toulon region the most likely target of an Allied attack and were now hurrying forces to the threatened sector.

These movements were actually part of a more ambitious internal reorganization conceived by Wiese. Since early August the Nineteenth Army commander had been expecting an Allied assault at any time, but the continued redeployment of units northward forced him to alter his defensive dispositions regularly. The impending departure of the 338th Division made yet another reshuffling necessary. But by 13 August Wiese had also concluded that the most likely area for an Allied assault lay east of Toulon, a prediction that agreed remarkably well with Allied plans. To meet this threat, he wanted to have his weaker 189th and 198th Divisions assume responsibility for the static defenses of Toulon and Marseille, thereby freeing his two best units, the 242d and 244th Divisions, to act as mobile reserves. If these units could be further reinforced by the 11th Panzer Division, the Nineteenth Amy might be able to give any invaders a real fight at the beachhead and buy time for a more determined defense of the larger ports and the Rhone valley. Although Hitler had ordered Wiese to have strong garrisons defend Toulon and Marseille to the death, most of the German defenses there faced seaward, and little had yet been done to fortify the land approaches to the two ports. The movement of the 189th and 198th Infantry and the 11th Panzers east of the Rhone was thus the first step of this larger internal redeployment. But Wiese needed time to complete the transfers, and the involved units would need additional time to organize their new positions and deploy their components in an orderly fashion. Yet, by the night of 14-15 August, the movement of the three divisions across the Rhone had barely begun and was being severely hampered by a lack of transportation, by FFI mines and ambushes, and by something the German staffs had forgotten to consider, the complete destruction of the Rhone bridges by Allied air attacks. How soon the units could. overcome these obstacles and reposition themselves was crucial to the German defense.

Whatever happened, the effectiveness of the initial German response to any Allied landings west of Toulon would depend greatly on the actions of the LXII Corps already in place. At first glance the state of what was to be the principal German command and control organization in the beachhead area left much to be desired. The corps headquarters had been sitting at Draguignan, about midway between Toulon and the Cannes-Nice area, since late 1942, operating generally as a training and occupation command. Although the headquarters had dropped its previous “reserve” designation on 9 August, the change in nomenclature was cosmetic, and the headquarters never acquired the staff sections and corps troops necessary for effective combat operations. OKH had almost retired General Neuling, the corps commander, for physical disability when his health broke down on the Russian front in the spring of 1942; and his two division commanders, Baessler for the 242d and Fretter-Pico of the 148th, were also combat fatigue cases from the Russian campaign, during which both had been relieved of division commands. However, Neuling’s service and his reputation as a training officer had brought him the corps command in southern France, and all three generals had a wealth of military experience between them that could not be discounted.

Of Neuling’s two divisions, Baessler’s 242d was the stronger. Its 918th and 91 7th Grenadier Regiments held the coast from the Toulon area east to Cape Cavalaire, which would constitute the western edge of the ANVIL landing area. The division’s third regiment, the 765th Grenadiers, defended the coastline northwest of Cape Cavalaire, a stretch that included most of the future ANVIL assault beaches. Each regiment had the support of a battalion of the 242d Artillery Regiment, as well as various naval artillery batteries, and each had an Ost unit as a fourth infantry battalion. Of the three grenadier regiments in the 242d Infantry Division, the 765th was by far the weakest. Having just been formed in the spring of 1944, it was only partially trained. Its fourth battalion (the 807th Azerbaijani Battalion) was an Ost unit of doubtful reliability, while its other three battalions had a high proportion of ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland, Poland, Russia, and the Baltic states. At the time the only other unit in the future beachhead area was the 148th Division’s 661st Ost Battalion, located just north of the 765th Grenadiers. How long these forces could effectively oppose a major assault was a question mark.

Concerned with his weakness in the expected invasion area, Wiese directed Neuling to move the 148th Division’s reserves to the rear of the threatened zone. This reserve consisted of the division’s incomplete third regiment-Regiment Kessler-an infantry battalion from one of the division’s full regiments, and a combat engineer battalion. But for unknown reasons, LXII Corps was slow to carry out the order; and the 661st Ost Battalion’s controlling headquarters, the 239th Grenadiers, together with the 148th Division’s other major units, the 8th Grenadiers and Regiment Kessler, remained in the Cannes-Nice area farther north. In the initial defense the 765th Grenadiers could thus expect little assistance from the 148th Division or anyone else.

Accurately estimating total German strength in southern France on the eve of the landings is difficult. The two Nineteenth Army corps primarily concerned with the assault area, Neuling’s LXII and Kniess’ LXXXV, reported their corps and divisional strength as approximately 53,670 troops, with an effective combat strength of 41,175. These totals do not include Army Group G or Nineteenth Army units not under the control of the two corps headquarters, nor do they include naval and Luftwaffe organizations stationed in the assault area. But even adding this non-corps elements, it is doubtful that the Germans had as many as 100,000 troops there, and the total may well have been as low as 85,000 on 15 August. In addition to the forces in the assault area, the German order of battle in the south still included the IV Luftwaffe Field Corps and the LXIV Corps, both west of the Rhone; the 11th Panzer Division under the direct control of Army Group G; the 157th Reserve Mountain Division and many police and security units under Army Area Southern France; Ost Legion organizations not attached to regular formations; a host of naval and air force units outside the assault area; and a large number of army administrative and logistical units. Adding all these troops to those in the assault area, German strength in southern France as of 15 August probably amounted to somewhere between 285,000 and 300,000 troops of all services and categories. By that time Wiese had been able to position approximately one-third of these forces at or near the expected invasion area west of Toulon.

German dispositions along the specific ANVIL beaches were extremely weak on the eve of the assault. Despite Wiese’s reasonably accurate estimate of Allied intentions, the defenders were having severe difficulties strengthening the expected assault area and positioning their reserves for an effective counterattack. The command structure in the region still left much to be desired, and the defending troops were of a generally mixed caliber and stretched over a wide area with little depth. Much depended on how quickly Wiese could complete his current redeployment effort. Nevertheless, the evening of 14 August found all elements of Army Group G on full defensive alert with Wiese desperately trying to accelerate the movement of his reinforcements from the west over the Rhone River. Aerial reconnaissance at dusk had reported the approach of Allied convoys from the direction of Corsica, and, ready or not, everyone realized that an invasion was imminent.

Ritterkreuzträger Gen.-Oberst von Blaskowitz Chef des Stabes einer Armee. PK-Erwin Schulz/Scherl 598-44  B S 73 086

Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz, heading Army Group G

Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim...

General der Infanterie Friedrich Wiese, Commander 19th Army

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