We think of the sixth of June as D-Day, the first day of the Normandy Landings that led to the Allied victory and the end of the Second World War. And although many men lost their lives that day, on balance we think of it as a day of hope and triumph. But consider the perspective of the German soldiers in France, who, like the rest of Europe, had been expecting an invasion.

I came across this communication in the French archives that pretty much sums up what D-Day meant for the Germans. It comes from the German douane (border guards) posted along the Franco-Swiss border. All German troops in that region had already been fighting a guerilla war with the maquis (armed Resistance) since at least March 1944.

“6-6-1944. Communication to all principle border posts. From the sector HQ at Bellegarde to the command post at Annemasse. According to the news on the radio, the invasion began today. Necessary to take measures to control all traffic due to expected concentration of terrorists [ie maquisards].”

Notice that the border patrol received its information from the radio rather than their commanding officers. It was probably the Swiss radio, although the Germans may well have been listening to the BBC. These men did not have complete confidence in their superiors and perhaps felt isolated.

Also notice that it says “the invasion” rather than, say, “enemy troops attacked beach in Normandy.” The possibility of an Allied invasion had already attained mythical proportions for them.

Furthermore, they expected concentrations of “terrorists” the sole purpose of whom would have been to attack people such as themselves. Terrorists had as negative a connotation then as it does now. They attack in a terrifying manner.

We can conclude that the German border patrol on the Franco-Swiss border met the news of the Normandy Landings with a certain amount of dread. Because the tables were turning and they had become the hunted.