Starting today, we will regularly post a historical story on World War II Western front. The posts are written by our military historian Maarten Collewijn. Through these topics, you can read about the history that Divided We Fall’s setting is based on. Enjoy!
We are off for (Early) Access!
By May 1944, preparations for acquiring access to the German-occupied mainland Europe had grown into a huge operation. The invasion had three million soldiers on standby on the south coast of England. Under Operation Bolero, codename for the American build-up, the U.S. alone had shipped 1.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 450,000 tons of ammunition to England. Most of the men and equipment were transported by ship across the Atlantic. General Eisenhower said that England had become “the largest operative military base of all times”. 1
U.S.A. Staff sergeant Frank J. Soboleski (Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st. Airborne) recalled the voyage on board the RMS Queen Mary from New York to England:
“When we left the harbour all lights of New York were dimmed, including those of the Statue of Liberty. The only thing we saw was its silhouette. What a hell of a voyage it was. Most of the men believed they would never come back, so they smoked, drank and gambled twenty-four hours a day. The ocean was rough during the whole passage and everybody got seasick . I couldn’t stand the filth of the vomit on the sleeping quarters’ floors so I stayed in a lifeboat during the whole voyage. It took the Queen Mary seven days to reach England. Every time when we spotted a submarine the engines were stopped.” 2
Luckily for the Germans, the Allied attempt on invading the western continent was not very ‘early access’. Germany had been building the Atlantic Wall, a series of fortifications on the west coast of Europe designed to defend the Reich against an Allied invasion. However, its construction only began in earnest from mid July 1943 when 260,000 men were tasked to build the planned 15,000 bunkers3. Morale was low in the German camp as most of the soldiers manning the coastal defences no longer believed the war could be won - waiting for the invasion was both tedious and nerve-racking. For the German soldiers, there was only one certainty: the enemies’ attempt to access the continent would come.
German Lieutenant Heinrich Fuerst (Medical officer, 706/8 Festungsdivision):
The RMS Queen Mary, which already transported troops to England in July 1943 gave US troops “early access” to Europe (D-day was June 6th, 1944). 5
German Soldiers operating a machine gun French “Hotchkiss” somewhere on the Atlantic Wall waiting for Allied attempt to access Europe from the sea(May, 1943). 6
“We knew that the invasion had to come sometime soon and that when they came they would come in force. The situation was like you were sitting on a tropical beach, well protected, but expecting a huge hurricane(…). We couldn’t run and hide, we had to stay, what else was there to do? It was not a very pleasant prospect, knowing you had a good chance to get killed” 4
1 Duncan Anderson, De val van het derde rijk, van D-Day tot de val van Berlijn 1944-1945(Oosterhout, 2003)26-27.
2 Marcus Brotherson, Onvertelde verhalen van Band of Brothers (2010, Amsterdam)125-126.
3 Duncan Anderson, De val van het derde rijk, van D-Day tot de val van Berlijn 1944-1945(Oosterhout, 2003)7-13.
4 Russel Miller, Nothing less than victory, the oral history of D-Day (London, 1993)98.