History of the Second World War, Volume 5

in i m haym a n They would come: no one in the German army had any doubt that the Allied invasion was imminent. But when the para chute landings began as herald to the invasion Germans at all levels were hesitant— reluctant to believe that the crucial battle w a son Lieutenant-Colonel Hoffmann had just glanced at his watch. The time was forty minutes past midnight. June 6 was less than three- quarters of an hour old. For the past hour there had been a con­tinuous drone of aircraft above the battle headquarters of III Bat­talion 919th Grenadier Regiment east of Montebourg. Another wave was approaching. The roar grew louder. Hoffmann stepped outside the bunker. He agave start. Six giant birds were making straight for his battle headquarters. They were clearly visible for the moon had just broken through the clouds. 'They re bailing out. For an instant Hoffmann thought the aircraft had been damaged and its crew was going to jump. But then he understood. This was an airborne landing by paratroops. The white mushrooms were floating down —straight at his bunker. 'Alarm! Enemy paratroops! The men at III Battalion headquarters had never pulled on their trousers so fast before. 'Alarm! Alarm! The sentries carbines were barking. They were firing at the para­chutes floating down from the sky. Then the moon hid itself. Dark­ness enveloped the descending enemy. Hoffmann grabbed a rifle. Then the darkness was rent by the first burst of fire from an Ameri­can submachine-gun. The battle for Normandy was on. Fifty miles south-east of the battle headquarters of III Battalion, 919th Grenadier Regiment on the far side of the Orne things were also fairly noisy. The German sentry on the eastern end of the bridge over the Caen canal at Benouville jumped as some 50 yards in front of his concrete sentry-box a spectral aircraft swooped towards the ground without any engine noise. A moment later there was a crash and a splintering sound then quiet. The sentry snatched his carbine from his shoulder and loaded. He held his breath listening. 'A crashed bomber was his first Afterthought. all enemy bomber formations had been roaring overhead in from the coast for well over an hour. From the Caen direction came the noise of explosions. Anti-aircraft guns were barking from the neighbourhood of Troarn. 'Theyve had it thought Private Wilhelm Furtner. Then a searing flash blinded his eyes. He no longer heard the burst of the phos­phorus grenade. His comrades in the dugout by the approach to the bridge leapt up. They raced to their machine-gun. They fired a burst at random. They saw nothing. Suddenly they heard voices calling: 'Able- Able. They did not. know that this was the recognition signal of A Detail of a combat team of the British 6th Airborne Division one of whose gliders had just crash-landed therein front of them. The lance-corporal of the guard was about to uplift the telephone to give the alarm to his platoon commander on the far side of the bridge. But there was no time. Two hand-grenades came sailing in through the aperture of the pill-box. Finished. There was no point now in keeping quiet. The hand-grenades were bound to have roused the guard on the far side. With shouts of 'Able-Able the Tommies galloped across the bridge. They heard other gliders crashing. They also heard the rallying cries of B Detail: 'Baker-Baker. And a moment later they could hear C Detail as well: 'Charlie-Charlie. The German machine-gun was blazing away over the bridge. The first Tommies were falling. But the bulk of them got through. A short skirmish. The guard on the bridge was overwhelmed. The crossing of the Caen canal at Benouville was in British hands. Only Lance-Corporal Weber got away. He tore through the village to the commandant. 'British paratroops have seized the canal bridge.’ What he did not know was that the nearby bridge over the Orne at Ranville had also been seized by men of the British 5th Para­chute Brigade in a surprise attack. At 2nd Battalion 192nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment at Cairon the field telephone rang: 'Launch­ing immediate counterattack against enemy paratroops in Benou­ ville bridgehead. At the Dives bridge on the Varaville-Grangues road another sentry was peering into the night. The watch at the bridge was mounted by II Battalion 744th Infantry Regiment which was barely a platoon in strength. The men had every reason to curse the bridge. Four weeks previously III Battalion had organised a night exercise without warning neighbouring units and staged a dummy attack on the bridge. The sentry of course could not have known that the shots that suddenly came from the approach to the bridge were blanks. He had thought the balloon had gone up in earnest and opened up with his machine-gun. There had been several wounded and two men killed. There was a terrible rumpus and some very unpleasant investigations. All that flashed through the mind of the sentry on the bridge when shortly after midnight he saw three men with blackened faces charge up the embankment. 'Silly fools he called out to them contemptuously. But then he jumped. Too late. He was given no time to call out or to scream. Without a sound he collapsed stabbed by along paratroop knife. From then onward it was an easy matter for the Tommies. Five minutes later the bridge was blown sky high. 'Lets wait and see It was exactly 0111 hours when the field telephone rang on General Marckss desk at 84th Corps headquarters inSt Lo. Marcks and his staff officers were still sitting over their maps. The general him­self picked up the receiver. He listened. He raised his head and motioned his chief-of-staff to listen within him. The call was from chief of operations 716th Division. Hurriedly the words tumbled out of the earpiece: 'Enemy paratroops have landed east of the Orne estuary. Main area is Breville-Ranville and the northern edge of the forest of Bavent. Main objective apparently the Dives bridges and the crossings over the Orne. Countermeasures are in progress.’ The news had the effect of a thunderbolt. Was it the invasion? Or were they merely strong liaison groups dropped to linkup with the French Resistance? These were the questions to be answered. After a little hesitation Major Hayn shook his head. 'Too close to our front line. The Resistance people would never risk that. His conclusion was: 'This is the invasion. General Marcks nodded. 'Lets wait and see. They were still arguing the pros and cons when Colonel Hamann, acting commander 709th Division came through on the telephone: 'Enemy paratroops south of St Germain-de-Varreville and at Ste Marie-du-Mont. A second group west of the Merderet river and on the road at Ste Mere-Eglise. Headquarters of III Battalion, 919th Grenadier Regiment holding prisoners from the US 101st Airborne Division. The time was 0145 hours. Five minutes later at exactly 0150 the telephones were also ringing in Paris in a big block of flats on the Bois de Boulogne. The chief of operations of Naval Group West, Captain Wegener summoned his officers to the situation room. 'I think the invasion is here he said calmly. Admiral Hoffmann the chief-of-staff did not even wait to dress. He grabbed a dressing-gown and rushed into the situation room. The reports from the radar stations under Lieutenant von Willisen were unanimous: 'Large number of blips on the screens. At first the technicians thought the huge number of blips must be caused by some interference. There just could not be so many ships. But presently no doubt was left. Avast armada must be approaching the Normandy coast. 'This can only bethe invasion fleet Hoffmann concluded. He or­dered: 'Signal to C-in-C West. Signal to the Fiihrers headquarters. The invasion is on. But both in Paris and in Rastenburg the news was received scepti­cally. 'What in this weather? Surely your technicians must be mis­taken? Even the chief-of-staff of C-in-C West scoffed: 'Maybe a flock of seagulls? They still would not believe it. But the navy was certain. Naval headquarters alerted all coastal stations and all naval forces in port: 'The invasion fleet is coming! From Invasion —they re coming! by Paul Carell (George Harrap &Co. Ltd.) 1793
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