the Defenders’ Story
D Day, 6 June, 1944 was arguably the most decisive day in military history. The Allied invasion of Nazi occupied Europe started on that day with the landings on the Normandy coast of northern France. The final outcome of ‘Operation Overlord’ was the downfall of Hitler and the liberation of the world from the yoke of the Axis powers.
There were five invasion beachheads and the westernmost, known as Utah, was defended by a pair of artillery batteries near to the village of St Marcouf. The Crisbecq battery in particular became a real thorn in the side of the attacking American forces. One listener was his son and I was the other, a guest of the family in a schools exchange. We had stopped to seek respite from the heat, and I can remember the shadows of bicycle spokes lengthening across the dusty soil as the evening drew on. Fritz was as tentative in English as I was in German, and so at first Torsten took translation duties on himself. He must have heard some of his father’s story before, but not all of it, judging by the way his attentiveness increased and the interruptions declined. In the end, two boys listened in wide eyed silence, while language dissolved as completely as the years.
Whe tommy hilfiger uk n stories are told well, these details are remembered.
The Atlantic Wall [John]
By 1944, the Second World War was going badly for Germany. For four years since the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk, the Nazi occupation of France had been unchallenged. Now an invasion was imminent.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel came to Normandy in the January of 1944. His name had been a watchword for tactical brilliance, but the prospects and reputation of the ‘Desert Fox’ took a downturn when the North Africa campaign ended in defeat. Rommel was not even the first choice overseer of France’s coastal defences. His rival von Rundstedt enjoyed that status, and was now concentrating on Pas de Calais to the east, where the Channel was narrowest and where German military intelligence anticipated the main assault. The surveillance services had intercepted many communications and captured several documents, all of them pointing to that target.
As Rommel saw it, this profusion of evidence only suggested an enemy ruse. The Normandy coast, with its wide beaches and stream riven bluffs beyond, was wide open to a concerted attack. Its defences were minimal at the beginning of 1944, and it could be reached from the south coast of England under the cover of a single night.
Rommel spent the spring laying mines, strewing the tideline with tanktraps and fortifying the bluffs with gun emplacements. On the Cotentin peninsula, close to the village of St Marcouf, there were already two huge artillery batteries, but they were exposed to the sky and susceptible to bombing. Rommel ordered the fortification of them both. The smaller one, a little way inland, lay close to the hamlet of Azeville. The larger was constructed at the head of the promontory, and took its name from a nearby straggle of derelict farms. Along with its neighbour, it was destined to become part of the legend of D Day.
Luneburg Again [Mick]
I was just making conversation. I had asked him if he was born in that part of Germany.
No, said Fritz, he was a Berliner, more or less. He had settled here because this was where his unit surrendered. It was either that, or retreat into the lap of the Russians. Once the War was over, there was no going back further East.
I fell silent, mortified by accidentally bringing up the unmentionable subject, but Fritz was thinking. I remember how his bearing changed. He was a small man, but he swelled with pride and his eyes grew bright. The precise complement of artillery at the St Marcouf Battery is uncertain to this day. What is certain is that the largest guns were of 210 millimetre calibre, designed to be capable of launching 135 kilogram shells at 40 second intervals, and with a range of 30 kilometres. These K52s were of Czech manufacture, built by Skoda, and there were at least three of them at Crisbecq. By D Day, two of the guns were housed in immense casemates, with concrete walls and roof between 3 and 4.5 metres thick. I was sixteen years old. They had lowered the conscription age for artillerymen, but I was still a year too young even then. I just wanted to serve the Reich, so I made up a name and a birthday and gave myself a new identity. There were hundreds in those years who did the same.
It said on my papers that I was assigned to the Azeville battery, but when I got there they’d reallocated me to Crisbecq, where the construction was well behind schedule. The Feldwebel who altered the form commiserated with me. He said that Azeville was a model unit and that Captain Kattnig, the battery commander, was a gentleman soldier. He’d been there for three years and was admired by his men and the locals alike. Crisbecq, in contrast, was a shambles and its commanders were always being replaced, with every newcomer an even bigger bully than his predecessor.
At Crisbecq, there were dozens of us living in a string of underground bunkers. It was claustrophobic. On the first morning, all the new arrivals were addressed by Commander Ohmsen, standing on a huge circular concrete platform. I would later find out that the platform was the base of what was to be the third casemate, and I worked on it for days on end, though we never finished it.
I can recall what Ohmsen said v tommy hilfiger uk ery clearly. He congratulated us, because we’d come just in time to fight a war, and we wouldn’t spend long playing the pitiful game he’d been engaged in since coming to Crisbecq six months before. It had taken him most of that time to work out the rules. When he was winning the game, the troops would hump bags of cement. When the troops were winning the game, they would hump farm girls instead. Allied a tommy hilfiger uk ircraft could reconnoitre the Normandy coastline with alacrity by this stage of the war, and so an artillery battery like Crisbecq revealed itself the moment that test firing took place. The first of the new K52 guns loosed its first round on April 19th, and the very next day the Allied bombing began. By mid May, more than 800 bombs had fallen on Crisbecq and its vicinity. After a particularly heavy air raid, Ohmsen suspended firing from the battery. None of the guns were damaged, but it was useful to make the enemy believe they had succeeded in disabling some or all of them.
The commanders at Azeville and Crisbecq were very different, and so were the casemates they built. The casemates built by the amiable, sensitive Captain Kattnig were built on time, to specification. The main gun at Azeville was ultimately destroyed by a direct hit, with appalling and demoralising loss of life. The casemates built by the awkward, difficult loner were very different.
Ob tommy hilfiger uk erleutnant Ohmsen did not place his guns where he was told to. They were not at the highest point of the promontory, and so the enemy could not get an easy fix on them. The foundations of the casemates were dug nearly four metres deeper than planned, and as a result they were finished late and only two guns were protected by D Day. But the depth meant that there was a steady downhill slope from the munitions stores, deep inside covered tunnels, and those two guns were still fed with shells even though the ground above was blasted out of recognition.
Both the Crisbecq casemates took many direct hits, but they kept firing. Ohmsen was vilified for building submarine nets into the roof, but they contained tonnes of spalled masonry and so the disaster that befell Azeville was avoided. In the very end, with the battery surrounded, Ohmsen lead his men to safety through a secret path through a minefield. They escaped because their enemy was sure they were trapped.
Valour takes many forms. Bravery might earn the respect of enemies, but it takes planning to confound them.