A Nazi general’s drinking helps Allied D-Day plans
In June 1944, Allied troops launched their invasion of mainland Europe. Most famously, tens of thousands of men landed on the beaches of northern France to bring the fight to the Nazis. At the same time, some troops also dropped into France. Operation Tonga was the codename given to the operation which saw airborne divisions drop onto Caen, in Normandy, between June 5 and 7. Some men parachuted in, while others landed in special gliders. For the most part, the plan was a huge success. The enemy were largely taken by surprise – especially those Nazi officers who were sleeping off hangovers when D-Day got underway.
The plan was simple enough: strategic bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River were to be captured so as to ensure that the German High Command could not send reinforcements to the beaches where the main Allied attacks were happening. As well as capturing key bridges, others were to be destroyed. The Nazis realized the importance of these bridges, and they too wanted to keep them out of their enemy’s hands, which is why they primed some of them with explosives. At the first sign of invasion, commanders were to give the orders to blow the crossings up.
However, according to one legendary war yarn – made famous in recent years by historian and popular writer Stephen M. Ambrose (of Band of Brothers fame), some bridges were left intact due to the drunken shenanigans of a certain high-ranking Nazi. Major Hans Schmidt was tasked with guarding two bridges over the River Orne. Given their strategic importance, he was told the crossings were not to fall into enemy hands. If necessary, Schmidt was to blow them up.
When the time came, however, he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, when the first paratroopers and gliders were landing in northern France, the Major was in bed. He had been out for a big night the night before, drinking with a lady friend until the early hours of the morning. Once the alarm was raised, he needed some time to sober up and even then, he lost his way. Rather than making it to the two bridges to oversee their demolition, he drove straight into the British. He was taken capture and the Allied forces held the bridges.