Thursday, January 30, 2020

Franz Halder: Enabler of World War II

A Controversial Enabler Turned Subversive

Franz Halder at Nuremberg
Franz Halder at Nuremberg.
Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Franz Halder was Chief of Staff of the Army High Command during the decisive days of World War II. His was a unique role because he oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Army (Heer) and also had input to strategic questions. General Halder was dismissed by Hitler on 24 September 1942, when the outcome of the war for all intents and purposes had been decided. So, he was in charge of the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres) apparatus during the most critical days of World War II.

Hitler fired Halder just as things were beginning to turn sour for the Wehrmacht. Therefore, he served as a scapegoat for the army's increasing problems on the Eastern Front. Since then, a myth has arisen that the failures that began for Germany at Stalingrad were due to Halder's interference in operations.

Franz Halder with Walther von Brauchitsch
Franz Halder with Walther von Brauchitsch on 19 October 1939 (Federal Archive Figure 183-H27722).
Halder has become such a target because of his lofty position in the Wehrmacht chain of command. Some criticism certainly is warranted on a number of counts. However, within the Wehrmacht, titles actually meant much less than they did in other armies. More than on rank, real influence depended on things like closeness with Hitler, the enthusiastic and successful execution of his orders, and effective self-promotion as the true instigator of success. Halder fell short on all of these measures despite remaining in his position for a full four years. There are explainable reasons for that.

Let's take a close look at what Franz Halder actually did during World War II and see how accurately people view him.

Franz Halder
Franz Halder on a diplomatic trip to Finland during the Winter War.

Franz Halder's Background

Franz Halder was a classic product of the German military system. There was a narrow path to advancement into the upper reaches of the high commander. One had to attend one of a limited number of schools, find a powerful patron, and acquire a certain world-view appropriate to leaders in the army (Heer). Halder checked all the boxes.

Franz was born in Würzburg, Franconia, northern Bavaria on 30 June 1884. His father was an officer, the first box that he had to check, as family military history was of critical importance. After enlisting in 1902, he then went to the Bavarian War Academy and graduated in a very timely fashion (considering world events) in 1914, checking off another box. Halder received the Iron Cross 1st Class despite serving primarily in staff roles, checking off a very important box that gave him credibility. He showed enough promise to be retained in the tiny 100,000-man post-war Reichswehr, a highly prized position which assured slow but steady promotions and a steady paycheck.

During his time in the army training department, Halder served under Walther von Brauchitsch. Showing great promise, he became the chief of staff of a military district. Finally, after more than a decade of deskwork, Halder was promoted to generalmajor in October 1934 and given a field command. His command, the 7th Infantry Division, was based in Munich. This was quite fortuitous considering that it was also the home base of Adolf Hitler. This led Halder to meet Hitler in 1937. It also enabled Halder to meet many of the important military men around Hitler.

General Ludwig Beck
Ludwig Beck, Chief of Staff of the German Army between 1935 and 1938. Beck is one of the most overlooked figures of World War II - he held no commands but indirectly influenced events (Federal Archive Image 146III-286)
Halder's promotions began to come faster after he arrived in Munich. This was not so much because of any friendship with Hitler but because of one with the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army Walther Heinrich Alfred Hermann von Brauchitsch, who found Halder bright and capable. This was the final and vital box checked, finding a powerful patron. Halder soon was promoted to General of the Artillery on 1 February 1938 upon receiving the post of Oberquartiermeister thanks to Brauchitsch's intercession. This purely administrative post was a perfect fit for the paper-pusher Halder, but it did not last long. When Halder's superior, Ludwig Beck, suddenly resigned due to the Sudetenland crisis, Brauchitsch convinced his protégé, Halder, to replace Beck as chief of the OKH General Staff on 1 September 1938.

It might seem unrealistic to state that Halder required "convincing" to take the lead role in the army. However, Halder was leery of taking the position because he agreed to a certain extent with Beck's opposition to the dangerous military adventures Hitler was embarking upon. Taking the position required convincing Beck that he deserved it, which wasn't easy. One complication was that Beck resented Halder because Halder had insisted on hiring his own cronies rather than retain Beck's people when he became Oberquartiermeister.

General Ludwig Beck
Ludwig Beck saw a kindred spirit in Franz Halder.
Fortunately, according to Halder's later account, he had something important in common with Beck: they both disliked Hitler and feared his war-mongering. Having established that common ground, Beck accepted Brauchitsch's judgment and accepted Halder as his own replacement.

The Beck/Halder relationship illustrated one of the weaknesses of the rigid Wehrmacht hierarchy. Promotions often were based as much or more on cronyism than on competence. The theory was that good officers would promote others like them. Thus, things generally would work out well. However, when a disaffected officer was in a position to influence promotions, like Beck, he could advance other unhappy officers just like him. This was the case with Beck and Halder. Such situations created cells of hidden power that opposed the orders of their superiors. Beck displayed his true feelings much later when he became a key player in a series of attempts to assassinate Hitler. He perished during the last one on 20 July 1944. Halder, as we shall see, followed Beck in that area as well, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

A typical Hitler map session at Fuhrer Headquarters
Field Marshal von Brauchitsch spent endless hours poring over maps with Hitler - sparing Halder the chore until about two months after this photo. Nobody who did this lasted very long, for Hitler blamed everyone around him when things went wrong. The others around the table include Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel (nearest) and General (later Field Marshal) Friedrich Paulus (Federal Archive Bild 101I-771-0366-02A).
Halder's appointment as OKH Chief of Staff in 1938 theoretically placed him at the heart of relations between Hitler and the military. However, he still remained very much a protégé of von Brauchitsch, who handled most of the glad-handing with Hitler. Many disparaged Brauchitsch for being a powerless figurehead, but he served the useful function of shielding Halder from Hitler's scrutiny. Halder, in turn, supported Brauchitsch and his decisions. Halder sometimes tagged along with Brauchitsch to meetings with the Fuhrer, but he was the "aide with the details." Brauchitsch would look over at Halder while talking to Hitler, and Halder would quickly produce reports and statistics. Despite being the chief of staff of the army, Halder basically was Brauchitsch's aide. What Halder was not was a master strategist or a deep thinker sharing insights with the head of state. He was just in the room with the two men with actual power.

So, as chief of staff, Halder was in a comfortable position where everybody reported to him and he basically only had to report to his old friend Walther. He was at the nerve center of military plans and estimates flowing up to him from below, of orders flowing down from the Fuhrer Headquarters, and of the multitude of reports coming in straight from the front. Nobody on the Eastern Front knew more about the true state of operations than Halder, and it wore on him. He served as the army's true communication center, almost like a telephone operator, plugging away despite his growing dissatisfaction with how the war was being run.

Above everything else, Halder's greatest talent was the pushing of a lot of papers. His detailed daily diary entries, made despite an increasing avalanche of information passing through his hands, shows a fanatical devotion to routine. In those days, one had to sit down a secretary who would take the notes down by hand. This was not a quick process. The multitude of diary entries also suggested that Halder prioritized routine matters which weren't of the greatest importance to the war effort or even his own development as an officer. However, that did not matter. With the Heer growing rapidly, there was an increasing flow of papers to push, and Halder was just the man for the job. The Chief of Staff position was the ideal slot for Franz Halder - in peacetime.
Franz Halder with Field Marshal Wilhelm List
Franz Halder (right) with Field Marshal Wilhelm List, probably during the summer of 1942.

Halder's Role in OKH

Franz Halder's chief role during peacetime was to oversee the planning of potential operations and ensure the smooth running of the army's administration. Several generals (such as Wilhelm Keitel) made their careers by being the best paper-pushers in the building, and Halder was one of them. While a competent staff officer, Halder gained no operational experience while sitting in his office. Despite his Iron Cross, there is no record of him leading any troops in battle. He fairly recently had led an infantry division, but only during peacetime when such positions mostly involved the type of paper-pushing at which Halder excelled.

During the war, Halder's role changed. The Chief of Staff basically served as a relay between the top field commander (primarily Army Group commanders but also some leading generals such as Heinz Guderian) and Hitler. As the pace of the war picked up following the invasion of the Soviet Union, Halder became the key “point man.” In baseball terms, Hitler was the owner/manager (a very active and meddling manager), while Halder was the general manager. Never on the field, Halder worked behind the scenes making all the arrangements for those actually ordering and fighting the battles.

To continue the baseball metaphor, talking about Halder in the abstract is like discussing a home run hitter without actually mentioning specific homers. Halder participated in many critical decisions, some of which he passed along as ordered and some of which he fought against with mixed success. There were instances where Halder displayed good military sense and others where he did not. Let me give some concrete examples of Halder’s military judgment.

Time cover of Franz Halder
Franz Halder on the cover of Time magazine, 29 June 1942. Strangely, these cover illustrations of German generals usually occurred just prior to or just after their dismissal (Ernest Hamlin Baker).
On 27 September 1939, Hitler set a date for the invasion of France (Fall Gelb) of 15 October 1939. Halder realized immediately that this was inconceivable with winter approaching and threatened to resign. Halder was correct in this situation and the plan was postponed until the spring.

On 24 May 1940, Hitler grew worried that his panzers were advancing too far ahead of the infantry as the British retreated to Dunkirk. He peremptorily ordered them to stop. Halder joined General von Brauchitsch in protesting this order, believing that General Guderian’s panzers could reach the sea and disrupt the British evacuation. However, Hitler muttered about the “Flanders marshes” that he had experienced during his service in World War I and the panzers were halted for two critical days. This is considered one of the great blunders of World War II.

This situation, where the professionals all realized that Hitler had made a mistake but could not change his mind, became typical.

Franz Halder's projected offensive into Russia
The Marcks Plan of July 1940 anticipated an advance during the first summer of campaigning to the "Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line" (dotted line at right). The farthest the Wehrmacht ever advanced into the USSR in 1942 was the shaded area.
Halder did have a certain strategic vision. He was the first officer to consider the Soviet Union as an inevitable opponent and, on 3 July 1940, he ordered his staff to draw up plans as a “desk exercise” that, after many revisions, became Operation Barbarossa. This initial invasion plan (Operations Draft East, also called the "Marcks Plan" after the staff officer, General Erich Marcks, who prepared it) was ready for review on 5 August 1940. Halder thus got the planning process off to an early start because of his ability to look ahead. Hitler himself apparently did not reach the same conclusion about the USSR until the very end of July 1940. Unfortunately, Halder shared everyone else’s extravagant optimism about a campaign in Russia and viewed the notorious “Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line (the "A-A Line") worked up by Marcks as a reasonable objective for a summer campaign. Perhaps this was due to Halder's own lack of combat experience. This flaw got the planning process off to an unrealistic start which lasted through the invasion itself. It is important to note that Halder had no input on the decision to invade the USSR.

There are other examples of Halder's perceptive vision. He was among the group of generals who viewed Moscow as the most important objective while Hitler focused instead on Leningrad and Ukraine, for instance. The point is that Halder was not some “loose cannon” who made poor decisions or just followed other people's lead. He was a hard-working, conscientious staff officer who may not have been very imaginative, but did his job well. He even sometimes ignored Hitler’s decisions in subtle ways, which infuriated the Fuhrer, but when he did, he was usually proven right.

Franz Halder at Nuremberg
Franz Halder was not prosecuted at Nuremberg. Instead, he gave testimony in the trials of other top Third Reich figures. He just as easily could have been prosecuted himself, but his participation in plots against Hitler saved him.
However, Halder did not have infallible judgment. Far from it. His rigid adherence to his "duty" at the expense of his own humanity made him an enabler to some of the worst excesses of the war effort. Halder's dedication to his career rather than to honor or morals caused him to commit some serious misdeeds, even moral crimes.

For instance, Halder drafted, or at least edited, the infamous "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia" that was sent to the troops on 19 May 1941. This is another in a string of highly questionable orders covering the conduct of soldiers during Operation Barbarossa. It states in part that the invasion:
demands a ruthless and strenuous crackdown on Bolshevik agitators, irregulars, saboteurs and Jews, and the complete elimination of both active and passive resistance. The Asiatic soldiers, in particular, are inscrutable, unpredictable, underhand and unfeeling."
Jews are singled out throughout the Guidelines for special treatment, and no doubt is left that this includes their elimination. As with many other OKH orders issued during this period, the Guidelines are highly illegal under any remotely reasonable interpretation. Halder was never prosecuted for these types of orders issued through his office, however.

Franz Halder inspects the Finnish White Guard
Franz Halder inspects the White Guard of Finland on June 30, 1939.
After his post-war arrest, Halder pretended that the Army, as opposed to the SS, had nothing to do with mass killings and was not even aware of them. This was a common tactic by captured Wehrmacht men, and it worked for Halder as it did for many other former German officers. However, he certainly knew of the killings and very early on. On 19 September 1939, barely two weeks into the war, he wrote in his diary that Reinhard Heydrich had informed him that the SS had begun to "clean house" in Poland of undesirable classes: Jews, intelligentsia, Catholic Clergy, and the aristocracy. This was the earliest stage of the Holocaust and Halder did nothing more than writing about it in his obscure diary for posterity. In typical fashion, though, while he actually did nothing about the "cleaning," he did note his doubts about the draconian "measures intended by Heinrich Himmler."

Moral faults aside, Halder’s failings primarily centered around his passivity and lack of real battlefield experience. He was much too trusting of the flawed work that his staff produced, particularly during the critical days of Operation Barbarossa. For instance, on 26 July 1941, he wrote portentously in his war diary, "The mass of the operationally effective Russian Army has been destroyed." This, of course, was far from the truth. Such over-optimistic conclusions recur repeatedly in his war diary, intermixed with expressions of doom and gloom when the Red Army fought back.

Franz Halder and Antonescu
Romanian Marshal Ion Antonescu and Franz Halder during a state visit in March 1942.
Perhaps more dangerously, Halder also allowed his staff to repeatedly work up estimates of Soviet troop strength that were tied to narrow assumptions that made appear to be losing strength. For instance, when an enemy unit was reported as destroyed, Halder's office simply crossed that unit off the tables as if every man in it had been killed. This led to a fatal underestimation of Soviet strength shared by Hitler. In fact, Hitler repeatedly told people that the Reich's best chance of winning the war was the Soviet Union running out of manpower. This likely was due in no small measure to Halder's wildly inaccurate estimates. Lack of experience at the front made Halder much too reliant on erroneous facts and figures that were fed to him by others who used imprecise language or weren't careful or were simply overstating their performance to make themselves look good. It appeared that Halder let his hopes and dreams blind his critical eye.

So, Halder received all the reports of casualties and troop strengths, all the phone calls from the generals at the front, all the voluminous estimates of enemy dispositions. He was a font of useless information and eager to share it with the true decisionmakers. He himself, however, had no way to effectively use that information. From time to time he inserted himself into decisions, usually with good effects, but far more often, he just served as a sounding board and “held the generals’ hands.” Halder’s most common job was just to act as a relay between Hitler and the generals at the front. It was extremely frustrating for Halder, and you can watch the frustration grow day by day as you read his war diary. But, the key decisions were not his to make.

Hitler, Franz Halder, and General von Brauchitsch
Adolf Hitler studies an Eastern Front map with Field Marshal Walter Von Brauchitsch (left), the German commander in chief, and OKH Chief of Staff Col. General Franz Halder (right) on August 7, 1941.

Halder's Downfall

As noted above, things ran smoothly for Halder as long as there was a buffer between him and Hitler. Up until late 1941, Brauchitsch attended the Fuhrer conferences daily. Halder, however, only appeared, on average, twice a month. Thus, Hitler had little idea what Halder, the "stats guy," was really all about.

All of this changed in December 1941. The Soviet counteroffensive at Moscow caused a lot of German casualties, and one of them was Brauchitsch, Halder's shield against Hitler. The Fuhrer fired Brauchitsch on 19 December 1941 and assumed "this little matter of operational command," as he put it. In actuality, he had been exercising direct command for well over a year already. Suddenly, Halder was the point man himself and had to attend the daily Fuhrer headquarters briefings rather than remaining comfortably ensconced in his office while Brauchitsch faced Hitler and his wildly erratic moods and changes of strategy.

It is the same in any business: coming into close contact with the "big boss" can be good for one's career if you get on well with him. However, it also can go the other way in a hurry. Halder had never particularly liked Hitler and, as expressed in his candid war diaries, felt that Hitler was an amateur playing a dangerous game. Halder, however, was quite shrewd. He hid his disdain for the Fuhrer under a mask of professionalism. To the astonishment of those who knew the real situation, he also began to blame the departed Brauchitsch for the difficulties the Heer now faced outside Moscow. This pleased Hitler, as it absolved him of all blame, but the stage was set for a reckoning. It came as the critical 1942 summer campaign in Ukraine, Case Blue, begun with sky-high hopes, became stuck in the ruins of Stalingrad.

Franz Halder with Field Marshal Fedor von Bock
A signed postcard showing Field Marshal von Brauchitsch (left) and Field Marshal von Bock. German generals were celebrities in their day.
Hitler already had begun releasing his fury on top commanders for failures in the field. He sent Army Group South Commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock home in mid-July as the all-important Case Blue began to run tight. Von Bock's error in Hitler's eyes was putting too much weight on the northern axis of advance, reflecting a lingering difference in strategy between Hitler and the generals. Moving armor to the north at Voronezh built up the force in that city into a potential springboard to capture Moscow from the rear. The top generals still felt that Moscow was the decisive objective in Russia. Hitler, however, had been fighting them since well before Case Blue even began. He had made clear on numerous occasions that he wanted to capture the Caucusus first because that was where the oil was that the Reich needed. With von Bock interfering with this grand (and flawed) plan by orienting the offensive north toward Moscow rather than south toward the oil, he had to go home.

Von Bock's dismissal and replacement left Halder more vulnerable than ever before. Now there were no more scapegoats left in the Army Group South sector. If the problems were not the execution of Case Blue in the field by von Bock, perhaps it was the fault of the plan... Halder's plan. So, Halder was the next victim in line. With the Sixth Army reduced to battling through apartment blocks in Stalingrad and winter closing in, Hitler brusquely fired Halder during a routine daily Fuhrer conference. Halder was forced to leave the map room alone. He was shunned by the other members of Hitler's entourage with only the assistance of  Hitler's Army Adjutant Gerhard Engel (who later wrote about the incident in his memoir "At the Heart of the Reich: The Secret Diary of Hitler's Army Adjutant") until he could pack his bags and leave for home.

Franz Halder at Nuremberg
Franz Halder being interrogated at Nuremberg (United States Holocaust Museum).
But Halder had a secret. Underneath his mask of professionalism, he had been involved with the resistance to Hitler for several years. Following the famous 20 July 1944 failed attempt on Hitler's life, the Gestapo found evidence incriminating Halder in previous plots against Hitler. Tellingly, the evidence suggested that Halder's objections to Hitler centered around Hitler's poor military strategy rather than any moral concerns. The Gestapo arrested him, and he wound up first in the Flossenbürg, then in the Dachau, concentration camps. Unexpectedly, this turned out to be to Halder's benefit after being picked up by the US Army early in May 1945. This led Halder to a second career as a historian of World War II. Franz Halder holds the distinction of being the only man decorated by both Adolf Hitler and an American President, John F. Kennedy, who gave him the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his historical work.

Franz Halder
Franz Halder not long before his death in 1972.


If this article presents a mixed picture, that is intentional. There was nothing extraordinary about Franz Halder. He followed the standard German military path, met the right people, and was in the right place at the right time. There was a common feeling in the Wehrmacht that generals of the Artillery were good strategic thinkers but somewhat behind the cutting edge of military thought, and Halder fit that mold. He made his best effort to understand and encourage imaginative thinkers like Guderian, but he primarily was the recipient and transmitter of ideas, not the creator of new ones.

It goes without saying that Halder had to be bright and agreeable to take advantage of his opportunities. He certainly filled his role with great energy and some insights about military strategy. However, Halder did not earn his promotions by winning battles or planning campaigns. Instead, despite his attention to detail, occasional bursts of true insight, and intense concentration on operations and the people running them, Franz Halder still was a classic staff paper-pusher, of the type that Hitler would later disparage as a "swivel-chair officer." Halder's work product thus affected Hitler's own view of the war with dismal results.

However, to focus on Halder as a weak link in the Axis war situation is to miss the big picture. Tactics did not lose the war for Germany. The German generals were excellent tacticians, probably the best of the war, and did not need much guidance. The big strategic decisions that decided World War II - Germany invading the Soviet Union and declaring war on the United States, Japan's attack upon the United States - were completely outside of Halder’s control. These are what lost the war for the Axis, not a paper-pushing general far behind the lines. Those decisions turned World War II into the war of the factories, and Germany was always going to lose that kind of war. Halder did a good, maybe even excellent, job, but he had no impact whatsoever on the outcome of World War II.

Franz Halder


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Hitler and Switzerland: Why Didn't He Invade?

Hitler Wanted To Invade Switzerland, But Never Got Around To It

Swiss Army troops during World War II
Swiss Army troops during World War II.
One of the most clouded areas of World War II is the relationship between Switzerland and the Third Reich. It's not that there is misinformation so much as there is no information. You see scholarly books appear regularly which treat the role of Switzerland in World War II as if it were a study of Vikings exploring the North Atlantic. There is a cloud of mystery, obscure sources, tantalizing leads to hidden artifacts, tales of lost treasure, but little substance. The relationship seems as if it all had something somehow to do with bankers and mountains. Other than that, it seems as if historians just haven't quite gotten down to that lowest level in the archaeological pit to pin things down for good.

Let's see what we know. We'll break this down into chunks to make it manageable.

Hitler in the mountains during World War II
Hitler taking Blondi for a walk in the mountains.

What Did Hitler Think of Switzerland?

There is surprisingly little information about how Hitler viewed Switzerland. The most we have to go on are a few offhand remarks that seemed to express a mixture of contempt, annoyance, and disdain. These were not unusual feelings in Hitler, but he usually acted on them. The difference with Switzerland is that Hitler never got annoyed enough to actually invade even though it was right next door.

Trying to figure out what was in Hitler's mind about Switzerland is impossible. However, there are enough clues to at least provide a framework. Let's start from the beginning.

August Kubizek
August Kubizek.
Hitler loved the mountains. This began fairly early in his life, not long after he left home and went to the "big city" of Vienna. His friend and roommate, August Kubizek, recalled in "The Young Hitler I Knew" (1955) how Hitler would drag him on long walks in the mountains near Vienna. Apparently, Hitler would sit on bluffs near the city and fill the air with his attempts at opera, which he passionately loved. Just as someone today might be obsessed with football, Hitler loved opera, and the mountains were central to operas such as Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring Of The Nibelung). This all ties into a deep affinity that Hitler held throughout his life for Germanic culture (Kultur). Later in life, he sought out the mountain town of Berchtesgaden for his hideaway, the Berghof. So... Hitler thought a lot about mountains, and Switzerland, as everyone knows, is full of them.

While Hitler and Kubizek went their separate ways in 1908 when the former began a long stint in poverty, they reunited after Hitler became chancellor in 1933. Hitler unexpectedly replied to a congratulatory note from Kubizek and they met again on 9 April 1933 in Linz. Kubizek did some minor NSDAP work which involved writing about the young Hitler, and the two last met in 1940. Hitler even sent Kubizek's mother a fruit bowl on her 80th birthday in 1944 even as the world was starting to close in on him.

I know this seems to be getting off track, but we ignore trivia from Hitler's childhood at our peril. Many of Hitler's basic impulses stemmed from his early years, such as his views of politics, races, and military strategy, He showed a strong sentimentality at odd times, such as his quirky trip to Paris shortly after conquering it, the highlight of which was a visit to the Paris Opera. Switzerland was very Germanic and encapsulated many of the most romantic aspects of Kultur, such as remote mountain passes, craggy peaks, and self-sufficient (meaning well-armed) peasants. It also didn't hurt that Switzerland reportedly was 60% of Germanic descent. Hitler had nothing against Switzerland and thus no motivation to invade or destroy it.

Emil Georg Bührle
Swiss industrialist Emil Georg Bührle, the longterm chairman and majority shareholder of the Oerlikon-Bührle AG and of German origin, was a German sympathizer.
During the 1920s, Hitler personally earned a great deal of money in Switzerland. In one famous incident in 1923, the son of Ulrich Willie, Jr., Switzerland's World War I commander-in-chief, invited Hitler into Switzerland to give a speech in Zurich. Hitler reportedly returned to Germany "with a steamer trunk stuffed with Swiss francs and American dollars." Hitler was still struggling financially at this time, so such opportunities were important to him. There also were prominent industrialists and bankers in Switzerland who helped Hitler at various times.

However, much as he might like the idea of Switzerland, Hitler did not seem to like the Swiss themselves. Tossing off one of his offhand opinions to Mussolini, Hitler opined that “Switzerland possessed the most disgusting and miserable people and political system,” in June 1941. Why, exactly, Hitler thought that is unclear.

George Elser
George Elser tried to slip across the Swiss border after his failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Again, let's look back into Hitler's past to see if that reveals any hints. Switzerland was well known as a "haven" from Germany. This was sort of like Mexico in the 1800s when banditos would flee across the Rio Grande to escape justice. Somewhat famously, industrialist Fritz Thyssen, for instance, escaped across the border to Switzerland (and then to France) away from Hitler's clutches in August 1939 due to his opposition to Hitler's war plans. The Vichy French later turned Thyssen back over to Hitler, who had him executed. George Elser, who planted the bomb at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on 8 November 1939 that almost killed Hitler, was caught at the Swiss border at Konstanz. It was the well-known quick escape route if the Third Reich was looking for you.

Unity Mitford with Hitler at the Berghof
Unity Mitford with Hitler at the Berghof in Berchtesgaden.
Hitler himself even used Switzerland for similar purposes. When his English girlfriend (how close they really were is a bit unclear) Unity Valkyrie Mitford shot herself in the head on 8 November 1939 due to the outbreak of war, Hitler took care of her. He paid Unity Mitford's bills for hospital treatment in Munich and visited her often. When she continued to have physical and emotional problems, he had her sent across the border to a hospital in Bern in December. There, Unity's family came to take her home to England. This showed that Hitler well understood the value of having an unthreatening outlet that was close at hand and useful for odd purposes - sort of like Mexico.

Factory workers in Switzerland in World War II
Female factory workers making gas masks in Geneva, Switzerland, during World War II. There was a good likelihood that these would be sold to the Reich.
The Union Bank of Switzerland in Bern also reportedly held accounts in which Hitler deposited the royalties from his book "Mein Kampf." Considering that it was one of the best-selling books of the 20th Century, Mein Kampf's royalties would have been enormous. Max Ammann, head of the NSDAP's publishing company, apparently opened the accounts for him. These accounts were uncovered in 1996 by investigators relying on documents dated October 1944.

Hitler's attitude toward Switzerland seemed to harden as the war went on, though. He began to call it a "pimple on the face of Europe." General Franz Halder, the Chief of Staff of the OKH (Army High Command), recalled that Hitler often complained about Switzerland:
I was constantly hearing of outbursts of Hitler's fury against Switzerland, which, given his mentality, might have led at any minute to military activities for the army.
This anger that Hitler felt toward Switzerland is never explained. But the important question is, did he ever do anything about it. The answer to that, which we'll get to below, is ... almost.

Border guards in World War II
Swiss and German border guards in 1940.

Was An Independent Switzerland Useful To Hitler

Switzerland was helpful to Hitler in a variety of ways. It helped the Reich, and there is some evidence that he valued it for more personal reasons, too. The Swiss went well out of their way to ingratiate themselves to the Third Reich. Their neutrality masked a great deal of accommodation to German objectives.

It was well known that the majority of the Swiss population sided with the Allies. However, there were at least 40 fascist and superpatriotic nationalist societies in Switzerland during World War II. These had groups in more than 150 Swiss communities. The fascistic element was quite prevalent in the German-speaking cantons. The Swiss Fatherland Association fostered ties with the Reich and also with fascist Italy. While Swiss fascists were a minority, they were very influential, especially among military and industrial leaders.

Swiss Air Force Junkers Ju 52 in World War II
One of three Junkers Ju 52 transport planes sold by Germany to Switzerland in October 1939. This was a training mission near Rapperswil, Switzerland (Swiss Aviation Museum).
This led to a great deal of trade between the fascist countries and Switzerland. The Swiss sold the Germans steel - much needed during the war - in exchange for coal and farm goods. Late in 1943, the Swiss government prepared a report on its trade relations with Germany for the British and American governments. It showed that between 15 September 1939 and 31 August 1943, Swiss exports to the Reich totaled 1.972 billion Swiss francs, while imports totaled 2.258 billion Swiss francs. This led to a net trade balance of 286 million francs, though this trade balance turned slightly negative when factoring in "invisible" items such as banking services, insurance, tourism, licensing fees, and freight charges.

Switzerland also was a useful conduit to the outside world. It could obtain rare and essential items that Germany might not. German gold wasn't very useful if it couldn't be used to buy the things Germany needed. Switzerland helped it to do that.

Switzerland also helped to support the German economy. During the war, the German Reichsbank regularly made huge gold deposits to the Swiss National Bank. These totaled 1.638 billion Swiss francs. In effect, Switzerland acted as the Reich's reserve bank. The Allies did not like all these trade dealings but could not do much about them - except for putting Swiss firms on a blacklist. This blacklist was not lifted until well after World War II had ended.

20 mm Oerlikon in World War II
"A 20 mm Oerlikon gunner onboard HMS DIDO getting a light from a pal between bombing attacks in the eastern Mediterranean." © IWM (A 9575).
The British were aware of all this trade between Switzerland and the Reich long before the Swiss admitted to it in 1943. While the Swiss as a neutral country was prohibited by international law from selling the Reich steel because it could be used for war goods, the Swiss did it anyway. The Swiss also sold finished products such as machine tools, aircraft cannons, radio parts, military trucks, freight cars, chemicals, dyes, industrial diamonds, jewel bearings (vital for bombsights), and ball bearings. They even made anti-aircraft guns and other weapons for the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine at the Oerlikon works, which was run by German sympathizer Emil Buhrle. When capturing German naval vessels, Royal Navy crews always made off with their prized Oerlikon guns, which were considered of high quality.

The Swiss also crossed the border to help the Reich's industrial plant directly. They built armaments factories inside Greater Germany. Somewhat incongruously, Dr. Max Huber, the Swiss president of the International Red Cross, owned several of these factories in southern Germany which ran on slave labor.

US Army Air Force bombed Schaffhausen in April 1944
The US Army Air Force bombed Schaffhausen in April 1944. This was ascribed to poor navigation.
Facing a stonewall of Swiss indifference to British complaints, the RAF decided to take direct action. RAF Bomber Command bombed Basel, Switzerland on 16 December 1940, killing four women. It also bombed Zurich on 22 December, killing 22 people. On 18 February 1941, the British ambassador delivered a note to the Swiss Federal Council in Bern expressing "deep regret" for these attacks and agreeing to pay for damages. However, at least the first bombing wasn't quite as accidental as the British pretended at the time. In fact, they were targeting a ball-bearing factory in Basel which was suspected of supplying the German war machine. As with many aerial attacks of the time, the navigators aimed poorly and completely missed the factory and hit a residential area instead.

Boeing B-17 in Swiss markings in World War II
Boeing B-17F-95-BO Fortress sn 5347 # 42-30233 of 95th BG 336th BS "Rhapsody in Flak" coded QW-V. This bomber landed at Altenrhein, Switzerland, due to Flak damage on 13 April 1944. The Swiss quickly changed the markings to Swiss insignia and interned the crew at Dübendorf. The bomber was returned to the United States on 17 August 1945.
Swiss help to the Reich extended far beyond trade. The Swiss ran several internment camps for Allied soldiers who wound up in Switzerland one way or another. The main camp for Americans was at Adelboden, about 30 miles northeast of Lake Geneva, where over 1000 American soldiers wound up. The guards at these camps were under orders to fire on anyone attempting to escape, and the treatment of Allied internees was comparable to that in German POW camps. There also were rumors that Swiss pilots and anti-aircraft crews fired on Allied planes, though, to be fair to the Swiss, they were firing at any airplanes that violated their airspace.

Border guards also were not friendly to Allied soldiers trying to escape from the Reich into "neutral Switzerland." Several memoirs of escaped prisoners of war recall how they felt they were free once they got across the border - only to be turned back over to the Germans by the Swiss border guards.

Border guards in World War II
German and Swiss border guards during World War II.

Did Hitler Plan to Invade Switzerland?

There is evidence that Hitler planned to invade Switzerland eventually. He sarcastically said at one point that when the time was right, he would just send in the Berlin Fire Brigade to secure the country. However, Hitler had a tendency to vow to invade a place and yet never get around to it. When Albert Kesselring, for instance, argued strongly in favor of occupying Malta during 1942, Hitler replied, "Don't worry, Field Marshal, I will get to it!" However, as with Switzerland, he never did.

The Swiss did what little they could to deter an invasion. During the 1930s, as Hitler's expansionist philosophy became an increasing threat, Swiss defense spending skyrocketed. From an already-high 15 million Swiss francs (out of a total budget of 100 million francs), it jumped to 90 million francs in 1935.

Swiss Bf 109  in World War II
A Bf 109 in Swiss markings during World War II.
The Swiss pride in national defense, which they called geistige Landesverteidigung, revolved around the efforts of the individual. Thus, Switzerland invested heavily in small arms. It manufactured 350,000 K31 rifles, which were considered superior to the standard Wehrmacht Kar98. The Swiss Air Force (yes, it did have one!) produced an upgraded model of the French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 under license. Early in the war, the Germans actually sold the Swiss 90 Bf-109D fighters, all of which were delivered before the invasion of France. These Messerschmitts eventually wound up shooting down eleven German planes that strayed into Swiss airspace, causing some stern messages between the two capitals.

At the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939, the Swiss issued Operationsbefehl Number 1 and called a general mobilization (age of eligibility raised from age 48 to 60). The Swiss Army only had three corps, which were oriented to the east, north, and west - against Germany. It began raising a new army corps of 100,000 soldiers, which was ready by the end of the year.

Border guards in World War II
French (left) and Swiss troops on the border during World War II.
Against these four army corps, the Wehrmacht wound up in France with three army groups comprising 2 million soldiers. Until the Vichy French government was set up and took control of southern France on 10 July 1940, the Axis powers completely surrounded Switzerland. Around the time of the French surrender, Hitler became worried that Switzerland might retain its contacts with the Allies through Vichy France. So, he attempted to retain control of the area around western Switzerland anyway. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for Switzerland, he thought of it too late.

Faced with this overwhelming force, the Swiss evolved the concept of the "national redoubt" (Réduit national). This was intended to make Switzerland harder to defeat and, frankly, not worth the trouble. Hitler at first wanted to invade anyway. Immediately after the French surrender, he had Captain Otto Wilhelm von Menges in Halder's OKH draft up an invasion plan for Switzerland. This later became Operation Tannenbaum.

Border guards in World War II
A group of Wehrmacht soldiers chats with a Swiss border guard.
Called at this stage "Special Task Switzerland," the plan called for an invasion by Generaloberst Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe ‘C’ (HGr. C), led by Generalleutnant Wilhelm List and the 12th Army. Italian troops would invade from the south. The 12th Army would have three army corps and an independent division, the 12th Motorized Division. General Heinz Guderian also would lead his Panzergruppe Guderian toward Bern. All told, the plan envisioned 15 battle-hardened Wehrmacht divisions including a healthy sprinkling of panzer divisions, but little resistance was expected. Operational orders for the invasion were sent to Army Corps C

However, the German invasion did not take place right away despite the transfer of the 12th Army to the western border of Switzerland in early July 1940. Perhaps Hitler was convinced that Switzerland was not a threat when, on 25 June 1940, Swiss Federal Councilor Marcel Pilet-Golaz made a radio address announcing demobilization. Menge updated his invasion plan on 12 August 1940. This plan, now named "Fall Schweiz" (Case Switzerland) foresaw Wehrmacht troops invading from the north and west, eventually linking up with Italian troops advancing from the south.

Swiss Army patrol in World War II
A Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.
By this point, however, the Swiss had shown their bona fides by interning about 42,000 Polish and French troops - who the Swiss could have released to participate in the defense. They also had heavily reinforced the "National Redoubt" in the Zentralraum (Central Area) with guns, troops, and supplies. The weakness of this plan was that it left the entire productive part of the country and almost the entire population at the mercy of invading troops. The National Redoubt probably could have held out for quite some time, though eventually, its troops would have been starved out.

The OKH continued updating the Menges invasion plan. A new plan was submitted on 27 August 1940 and given an operational code: Fall Grün (Case Green). This usually meant that a plan was serious. However, this was not put into effect, and the 12th Army submitted a new plan on 4 October 1940 which acquired the new name for which all the invasion plans would become known: Operation Tannenbaum. General Halder did not like this plan, however, because it required too many units (21 divisions) and had no operational subtlety. He sent it back to the 12th Army with orders to rework it to include a feint to draw out the defenders and also to reduce the size to 11 divisions.

Switzerland in World War II
A Swiss Army parade held on 1 August 1944, which was a Swiss National Holiday. In the rear is the Palace Hotel, where US officers are watching.

Why Didn't Hitler Invade Switzerland?

By late 1940, Hitler's interest in invading Switzerland had evaporated even though he believed it could be completed within a few days. There were several reasons for this, but the most convincing reasons were that Hitler had other priorities by then and the Swiss were working with the Reich to benefit it in a way that only a neutral country could, as discussed above.

The air war with Great Britain was heating up and Hitler already had OKH officers working up initial plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). Accordingly, on 11 November 1940, the OKH announced that Operation Tannenbaum was not "urgent" and stopped updating the plans. The Swiss quietly continued expanding their own military until it numbered 800,000 troops, making invading Switzerland an increasingly expensive proposition. With Switzerland's accommodating the Reich's trade needs, the whole perceived value of invading Switzerland disappeared.

Protesters in Copenhagen, Denmark, in World War II
Denmark enjoyed an unusual amount of political freedom during the German occupation because Hitler allowed it. The Danish situation holds similarities to the Swiss one. Here, protesters of a meeting of the National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark (DNSAP) in Copenhagen are held back by police.
While he had an expansionist philosophy, Hitler's philosophy had its limits. Once he had incorporated what he viewed as historically Geman territory into the Reich such as Czechoslovakia, he was to some extent satisfied. Hitler's dreams saw that expansion largely taking place to the east and west - not the north and south. His invasion north into Scandinavia (Operation Weserübung) was done at the request of the Kriegsmarine high command, which worked out the details, and not because it was a key part of his own personal plan. Denmark was not Hitler's objective and was only invaded as a bridge to Norway. It very well might not have been invaded at all otherwise and enjoyed unusual political freedoms. Switzerland fell into the same category as Denmark, not a place that Hitler dreamed of conquering and only potentially useful as a means of achieving something else.

Hitler also had a quirk in that he greatly admired peoples that he considered particularly warlike. Of course, he was quite selective about this and never seems to have given the Soviets any credit in this area. However, he was very respectful of captured Norwegian troops, for instance, and allowed them to return to their homes with some honor. He also greatly admired the Finns and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Spaniards. Hitler may have placed the Swiss in this class and figured there was no point defeating such a proud (and, to his way of thinking, inconsequential), people. He may have calculated that he did not need a guerilla war close to the heart of the Reich. That was one of the reasons he gave for not invading Spain.

Hitler ultimately seems to have just declared victory by claiming that much of Switzerland already was part of Germany anyway and leaving it at that. German textbooks during the Third Reich included maps of Greater Germany which included Holland, Belgium, Austria, Bohemia-Moravia, and western Poland from Danzig to Krakow. These were all accepted as having fallen under German rule. However, these maps also included the German-speaking parts of Switzerland. The Swiss authorities did not complain, but they certainly did not view parts of Switzerland as being in the Greater Reich. In a sense, Hitler got his victory over Switzerland and it didn't cost him any troops.

US GIs in Switzerland in World War II
US soldiers on the Jungfrau Mountain in Switzerland in October 1945.


As with many of Hitler's contemplated invasion plans such as the Canary Islands, Spain, and Great Britain, Operation Tannenbaum never took place. Relations between the Reich and Switzerland remained on good terms until the end of the war, much to the consternation of the Allies. This held true despite the Swiss shooting down almost a dozen Luftwaffe planes. At the end of the war, having a neutral Switzerland came in handy as a temporary haven for escaping war criminals and the site of some proposed peace initiatives (Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, for instance, floated the idea of sending trains full of incarcerated Jews to Switzerland in exchange for certain concessions. The Swiss, however, paid for their collaboration with Hitler because it isolated them due to the Allied blacklist.

It took years after the war for completely normal political and trade relations to resume between Switzerland and the victors of World War II. There are still odd vestiges to this day of the war that distinguish Switzerland from its neighbors - including the peculiar fact that the Hitler salute (Hitlergruß) is not always illegal there (unless used for improper purposes). Switzerland always marches to the beat of its own drummer, and that enabled it to escape the worst of World War II.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Why Did Soldiers Exit From the Front of Landing Craft?

The Best Solution to a Bad Situation

Landing Craft on D-Day during World War II
Wading ashore on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Everybody has seen pictures of Allied landing craft disgorging soldiers directly onto beaches. Obviously, that was dangerous for the soldiers because the defenders were firing directly at them. So, the question arises, why did the soldiers run directly through the surf toward the men firing at them?
American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation 'Torch,' November 1942
United States GIs on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation Torch, November 1942.
There were at least half a dozen reasons why soldiers exited from the front of their landing craft rather than the rear. We'll get to them below, but first, let's learn about the landing craft themselves.
Patent drawing for Landing Craft during World War II
A drawing accompanying Andrew Higgins' patent application.


First, a little background. The United States began World War II without any purpose-built landing craft. That changed quickly. Andrew Jackson Higgins, a Louisiana lumberman who began designing boats for his business in the 1930s, operated in the shallow waters of the Mississippi Delta. Higgins designed boats that rode high in the water and could unload directly onshore, and he began submitting proposals in 1938. His first designs had soldiers disembark over the sides, but this exposed them to fire.
Landing Craft at the Dieppe Raid during World War II
An LCA abandoned during the Dieppe Raid of August 1942. The British lost 17 of these at Dieppe.
Still, this design was better than anything else, and in 1940 Higgins sold some landing craft to the British for Commandos (who called them R-boats). Higgins continued working on his designs in response to feedback. He filed his classic design for a military landing craft with the U.S. Patent Office on December 8, 1941 – the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor - for landing craft. This patent was granted on 15 February 1944. This design had a ramp in the front.
Andrew Higgins, inventor of Landing Craft used by the Allies during World War II
Andrew Higgins.
The United States military embraced Higgins' design. Prototypes passed a series of tests at Newport News, Virginia, on 26 May 1941. The U.S. Navy Marines then contracted with Higgins Industries to build 20,000 different landing craft under a variety of acronyms. These included LCA (Landing Craft Assault), LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized), LCU (Landing Craft Utility), LCT (Landing Craft Tank), and 36-foot LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel). The entire class of landing craft took the general name "Higgins boats." There were some variations - the LCA did not transport vehicles because it was an underpowered pre-war British design, and the amphibious LVT-4 had a rear ramp because it could just drive up on shore - but the standard format was a ramp in the front of the landing craft and the ability to transport vehicles.
Landing Craft at D-Day during World War II
 An LCVP approaching the coast of Normandy on D-Day (The National WWII Museum).
The commander of the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, told interviewer Stephen Ambrose in 1964:

Andrew Higgins ... is the man who won the war for us. ... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.

That's quite a testimonial.
Landing Craft unloading a Jeep during World War II
An LCVP unloading a Jeep during training in 1943.

Why Troops Disembarked From the Front

As mentioned above, it wasn't obvious that troops should disembark from the front of the landing craft. In fact, Higgins' initial designs had them climbing over the sides into the water. Real-world experience, though, showed this was dangerous. After careful study, the Marines asked Higgins to install a ramp in the bows, which he did in the design he submitted on 8 December 1941. Below are the reasons why having a landing ramp in the front was necessary.
Landing Craft during World War II
An LCVP disgorges its 36 troops directly onto the beach.
First, the men exited from the front because that is where the landing ramps were. They were in the bows of the boats. It wouldn’t make much sense to have them leave on the end opposite of where the ramps were. You’d have to go back to the landing craft designers at both Higgins Industries and the Marine Corps and ask them why they designed them that way (actually, having ramps at both ends was considered and rejected).
Landing Craft during World War II
An LCVP unloads a Jeep during training in 1944.
To answer for them, the ramps were in the front in most designs because, among other reasons, the landing craft were intended to land vehicles as well as men. The LCVP, for instance, could land either 36 troops or a dozen troops and one Jeep. You wouldn’t want to land your vehicles in deep water. These were multi-purpose craft. Since the ramps were built in the front, that is how the landing craft was designed to always land and be exited regardless of whether it actually was carrying vehicles on a particular trip.
An LCT Mark 5 of Landing Craft during World War II
An LCT Mark 5.
Second, beaches tend to get deeper the further out from shore you get. The landing craft ships were quite long and not just little rowboats. The LCT Mark 5 was 119-feet (36 m) long with a six-foot draft. If you go that far out into the water (and the landing craft didn’t always make it all the way to the actual shoreline - in fact, they often had difficulties getting close to the beach at all, including because of sandbars and planted obstacles to prevent that) it gets quite deep. Even the smaller LCVP had a draft forward of about 12 inches and 3 1/2 feet aft. For many guys, 3 1/2 feet would be over waist-high. Just going into the water at the depth of the ship's rear draft meant that you could drown. You don’t want to land in deep water. Why? That leads to our next point.
Landing Craft during World War II
Soldiers wanted to get as close to the shore as possible and then run to the cover afforded by the bluffs near the beach on D-Day.
Third, the men who landed on D-Day, at Sicily, at Anzio, and at various other places weren’t wearing bathing suits. They had full gear and packs. Some of them were carrying mortars and machine-gun parts and radio gear and flamethrowers and all sorts of heavy stuff and they all had food and clothes and all that normal stuff. Stuff that you could not swim with and which you didn’t really want to get wet (and you don’t want all your spare socks getting wet, either, that’s a real drag, they never dry out). Many men carried 60 pounds (27 kg) of equipment. If the water was over your head or you stumbled in neck-deep water, you drowned - just like that. So, you wanted to go onto or very near dry land and not sink neck-deep (or deeper) 119 feet out into the ocean (or even the 36 feet of the smaller LCVP). And there were cases of men drowning in the water after leaving the front of the boat - imagine the situation if they landed from the rear in much deeper water.
Landing Craft during World War II
The Royal Canadian Medical Corps evacuates wounded Allied soldiers from the beach during the Dieppe, France raid during the Second World War (AP).
Fourth, the landing craft was not waiting around so their crew could have lunch breaks and take a mandated 15-minute break and so forth. They were not beached for the afternoon (on the initial landings). This would, among many other things, have made the landing craft excellent targets for shore artillery and other things they didn’t want to encounter. You didn’t want to be right behind a magnet for artillery fire. Landing craft were not expendable once-and-done ships. They were designed to be re-used many times. Their crews did not want to attract enemy fire. So they left - as quickly as possible. Or, if they didn't - as at Dieppe - they didn't leave at all and were captured or destroyed. The Allies learned many of these kinds of hard lessons at Dieppe.
Landing Craft during the second wave of landings during D-Day during World War II
The second wave of Canadian troops disembarks from landing craft at Juno beach on the Normandy coast, with bicycles, shortly before midday on 6 June 1944. One can clearly see how deep the water gets only a few yards offshore.
Fifth, the mission of the landing craft was to go back and get more troops for a second wave. Each group of men did not have their own personal landing craft which they could go back to throughout the day for snacks and maybe a drink and listen to the Hit Parade on the radio. The idea was for the landing craft to go back immediately and get more men from the big ships offshore to help out the first wave. So, any soldiers who thought they could just hide out behind the landing craft until things “quieted down” had another thing coming to them - which included the dangers of the propeller which would have made it quite uncomfortable back there.
Landing Craft during World War II
Even when they disembarked from the front of the LCVP, the troops often had to wade a long way into shore in waist-high water. This is a photo from Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Sixth, once the landing craft left, or even if it didn’t, any men hiding behind it still would have even further to go ashore in the face of enemy fire than if they stepped out the front as they did. And, this would have happened after all chances of a surprise landing where the men could just run ashore before the enemy could react had disappeared. The idea was to get ashore quickly because there was some cover on the shore and you could dig yourself in whereas in the water you were sticking out, had no protection whatsoever, and were an easy target for a burst of fire. At Tarawa in the Pacific, the men had to land way out in the lagoon due to very poor planning and wade in and they were mowed down in a catastrophic landing that claimed a thousand lives.
Landing Craft during World War II