D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz – A Review

by Daniel Russ on June 1, 2016

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Dieter Eckhertz, German WWII journalist did extensive interviews with German soldiers who were defending Normandy Beach on June 6th 1944. His son, Holger just recently published these.

Here for example is testimony from Second Lieutenant L.T.J. Wergens, an artillery Battery Officer assigned to the 716th Infantry Division, an amalgam of Balkan, troops and older German troops. They were on Juno Beach where the Canadan 3rd Division invaded.

Below he talks about shooting out Sherman tanks, and being astonished at the ferocity of the Allied troops. This book is a fast read and absolutely fascinating. We all have seen that sad film clip of Allies coming ashore on Omaha Beach and systematically cut down. The MG42 helped kill 1000 Allies in the bloody sands of Northern France. We know that many of the landing craft were hit dead on by 88mm shells that eviscerated entire companies of men. We know the seawater at the end of the day was red like a plague out of the Old Testament.

What surprised me was the experience of the German defenders at the business end of the Allies assault. The invasion of Normandy was prosecuted with a sort of business like fury that surprised the Germans. While Germans still needed horses to resupply and transport, whole German units were still eating anything that was edible, while the Wehrmacht was still field repairing vehicles with bailing wire and tape, the Allies had an insurmountable supply of ammunition, tanks, aircraft and troops.

If hearing how Americans scared Germans warms the cockles of your heart this book will make your happy. The Germans were incredibly afraid of flamethrowers, both mobile and those mounted on tanks. The flamethrowers were incredibly effective.

The Germans were afraid of the P-47s, the Hurricanes, the Mitchell Medium Bombers and heavy bombers. The Mustang also scared them. The descriptions of rocket attacks by P-47s and P-51s are harrowing.

The Germans were absolutely astonished at the size of the invasion fleet.

 

Here is some of Wergens testimony:

The situation was very uncertain on all sides. Is a lot of shooting and tracer fire going over the top of the trench, and shrapnel flying across as well I don’t know where I was going, but I still have only had my pistol and my vision was blurred with blood from that soldier hit in the face. I ran into one of the corners of this trench and came in to contact with three German soldiers who were also retreating away from the resistance point. They were well armed with the MP 40 machine pistols grenades. Together, we hunched down and scrambled along the stretched to its for this point, we’re were going down a path that led away from the beach sector and went inland towards the next lined up for the fences.

 

 

These men told me that there was a force already assembled at the next resistance point. I told him that we should get up out of the trench and join the fight from there. Being an officer, I went up over the top of the trench first and scrambled down the path to a point where it was not visible from the seafront area. The man who followed me was hit by mortar burst, and his arm and face were torn off. He died in a few seconds. I confess that I took his MP-40 immediately and shouted to the others to follow that this was the nature of this combat and that we had to keep moving quickly regardless of the loss.

 

 

The other two men jumped over the trench and came with me, and together we crashed and ran off along the path towards the next resistance point. I knew this point well, it was a typical Tobruk type installation with an old French tank truck mounted on a concrete ring, and several machine gun points. The approach was mined, and in our haste one of the two men with me when off the bat and onto the minefield. There was a small explosion and he fell for making horrible sounds.

 

I saw that his legs were blown off below the knee, and his trousers were burning, showing his shin-bones in the smoke. His whole body was convulsing in response to the injury, and is it thrashed about he set off another mine under his body. This blew a large piece out of his chest and he went still. I did not even have time to react to this dreadful site.

 

 

Our 88 mm gun fired again and hit the Sherman on the front plate which caused a shower of sparks. I remember cheering the Sherman now turned sideways jerking around in reverse – we shot it through the whole side of the hall and flames leapt up from its rear deck I saw the engine covers blowing up in the air and the rear wheels went spinning off into the minefield. Several crew-members emerge from the hatches in at once our machine gun teams open fire

 

The machine gunner shot wildly at first and three of the crew were able to jump clear. But then our gunners focused their fire and hit the tank and the last two crew who climbed out were shot down on the front of the whole with their bodies draped over the gun barrel. The gunners kept firing and those two tank men over there shot and ripped to shreds with their limbs falling off in their bodies exploding with spurts of flying.

 

 

The flammepanzer or flame tank or are driven by Canadians and produced a jet of fire which was a burning liquid of a yellow color. This rolled out toward us at a very high speed climbing perhaps ten meters up into the air. The front of this flying jet spread out to the left and right so that produce an absolute curtain or solid wall of flames. We all watched stricken done by this apparition. The flamethrowers

I had seen these before and they were handheld devices such as the one at the Goliath bunker and they were bad enough! This machine was 100 times more powerful this huge want to flames collapse down onto the ground in front of our position so that it fell on the two wanted machine gun man who were stranded on the Barbwire. They were swallowed up in this in infernal flames

 

 

The heat burned our skin and hair and the smell of gasoline fuel was sickening. The flames poured all over the front of our position and they went gushing into the slit trench there. There was quite a roll of men in the trench with the rifles at the ready

 

 

And this all happened so rapidly in such an unexpected way that they had no time to escape. I think there were a dozen men in there and they were all set a light at once. I saw that the whole trench was filled with this burning liquid in the middle there were incinerated where they stood. The heat was so intense that I couldn’t breathe properly as these frames for about 20 meters away from me.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin December 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm

This is an essential read, not just for information about D-Day but to understand the attitudes and organization of the Germans and also to get a perspective on war itself. What stands out is the relatively small amount of combat each individual participated in compared to the overwhelming carnage that left few survivors among the beach defenders. Most war accounts are santitized, they leave out the blood and body parts, so you never really understand how nasty this business is.

There are also other tid-bits that you never hear about in regular histories. One that I found amusing was part of the tale from the rifleman in the trench. He described seeing as dawn broke a calm gray sea with what appeared like a silent wall of ships several kilometers from the shore. Trapped between the invasion fleet and the shore were two French fishing boats. These boats “slowly raised their sails and tacked away towards Cherbourg” (I can imagine what was going through the minds of the fishermen). Then there was a line of flames on the horizon as the ships opened fire — and all Hell broke loose.

Sim Bee August 25, 2018 at 9:13 am

Be careful about these books… there is a lot evidence that they are recently written made-up stories. See also discussions about “The Last Panther” and “Tiger Tracks” from the same ‘publisher’.

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