Adolf Hitler made, oh, somewhere around 650,000 mistakes during World War II, but one of the most ridiculous ones is that he straight-up slept right through the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Being the absolutely insane man that he was, Hitler often stayed up super late, but not because he was riddled with concerns about the war effort. No, he spent that time watching movies and goofing around on his own interests like a teenager. So the fact that he slept in until noon on the most important day of the war doesn’t exactly come as a huge surprise.
And really, Hitler being awake would have done nothing to stop the fact that the Germans had built an easy-to-defeat Atlantic Wall populated mostly by those in the Ost battalion, that is non-German soldiers conscripted into the Nazi military, forced to man weapons and fire upon the Allies or risk being shot in the back of the head by a German commander. Throw in the teenagers and old farts the Nazis were putting on the battlefield, and it wasn’t exactly the terrifying fighting force of the early late ’30s and early ’40s. It shouldn’t come as a shock then that these soldiers often surrendered the first chance they got.
But defending an entire coast with a battalion of enslaved soldiers isn’t the craziest piece of Nazi strategy; that was reserved for the overall chain of command. On D-Day, the Germans had some formidable Panzer divisions available to provide defense of the coast, despite the fact that the Luftwaffe was nonexistent and the Allies had complete air and naval superiority. They might not have pushed the obscene number of soldiers in the Allied fighting force back into the English Channel, but they could have at least stymied some of the effort until more reinforcements arrived.
There were a couple problems with that tank defense, though. Since a number of German commanders were off hanging out in and around France during D-Day, there was some chaos as to what exactly should be going on and who exactly was in charge. But more importantly, none of the more than 1,000 tanks could be put into battle without Hitler’s express order to do so. Unlike the Allies, where Eisenhower allowed his commanders to make calls in the field, Hitler was obsessed with controlling every aspect of his war machine – he just couldn’t be bothered with it before noon.
But maybe the most egregious error the Nazis committed, other than not waking up Hitler while hundreds of thousands of soldiers, weapons and tanks poured onto the Normandy beaches throughout the morning, was that they were convinced the Allies would never make their big invasion on the Normandy beaches in the first place. Even after seeing it with their own eyes, the Nazis were positive it was a diversion tactic, and that the Allies were instead gearing up to invade the Pas-de-Calais coast, which the Germans were far more ready to defend. Thanks to dummy parachuting operations, the Nazis were sufficiently tricked into still thinking this way, opening up Normandy for an easier invasion (for some).
All the while, there Hitler was, snoozing away, I imagine partly because the intelligence reports weren’t fully confirmed (or the Nazis just didn’t want to believe them) and partly because I have a feeling no one wanted to deliver Hitler such devastating news. Although it must be said that the Nazi propaganda machine outdid itself by eventually saying a full-scale Allied invasion into France meant the Germans had them riiiight where they wanted them. If you are to believe the notion that the Nazis didn’t bother to wake up Hitler, the one guy who could put a true resistance effort into action at Normandy, because they might not have felt this was the real invasion, why wouldn’t they do so no matter what? They knew SOMETHING was going on.
The delayed response by the Germans allowed the Allies to get across the beaches in the morning. After tons and tons of poured concrete, the placement of mines and obstacles and the horrifying capabilities of the German 88mm guns, the British, Canadians and Americans got through it all over the course of one afternoon, working their way through the hedgerows and into French villages by the end of the day.
To me, World War II is an infinitely fascinating piece of history for so many reasons, but the most important thing to remember, and to make sure future generations know is that Nazis – past, present, and future – are morons.