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D-Day Through German Eyes, by Holger Eckhertz


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We have a lot of worthy accounts of the utter hell that British, Canadian and American soldiers went through to establish a beachead on June 6th, 1944.

 

But what was it like to be on the receiving end for the German defenders when Allies literally blasted their way ashore?  

 

Holger Echertz sought to answer that question with the accounts that he brought together in the book D-Day Through German Eyes.

Germans Normandy 1.jpg

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It was actually Holger's father, Dieter Echertz, who gathered these interviews in 1955.  

 

The elder Echertz had been a war correspondent for German military publications, and had visited the beach defenses as part of a writing assignment.  Ten years after the battke, he wondered what had happened to the survivors and set about finding them to record their stories.

 

The timing is significant in itself. The formal Occupation of Germany by the Allied powers was coming to an end.  The country was rebuilding.  And the actual terrors and horrors of the Nazi regime had been fully exposed to the men and women who fought on its behalf.  

 

The men who were interviewed for this book had mostly reconciled themselves with the truths of the war years.  As a group they were all grateful to have survived, some having been captured within a day or two of the battle, others later in the war.  And yet they could recall how the propaganda had swayed their thinking they had manned their stations in France to defend a "United Europe".  Some still expressed dismay that the English / Canadians / Americans were fighting them when the struggle should have been with Marxism and the Soviet Union in the East.  

 

One of the front line soldiers recalled thinking "Why are the British and the Americans attacking us?  We were not attacking them?"  This somewhat narrow view somehow avoided the reality of years of bombings of British cities and the raids of U-boats ravaging the ships of both countries. 

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Herr Echertz selected the stories of 13 participants in the battle.

 

They ranged from the common infantry who manned the open trenches of the "resistance points" along the crest of the cliffs, to soldiers who manned the fixed bunkers and fortified houses, an officer from the long range Merville battery, a Luftwaffe pilot, an officer in charge of a Goliath remote controlled vehicle section, a Stug armored crewman, and a Military Police sergeant.   Between them, they all seemed to cover many of the key points of the battlefield. 

 

Initially they'd been grateful to be stationed in France, sometimes due to disability or because of a unique skill set.  Many talked of trading rations, cigarettes and coffee with the local farmers for fresh food.  Some were eating so well they tried to send food parcels back to their families in Germany, which somehow were never received.

 

That all changed on the night of June 5th.  They all mentioned knowing something was up due to the heavily increased air traffic in the middle of the night.  

 

In the morning the ships appeared, filling the horizon. 

 

Several talked of making that initial stand in their assigned positions only be literally blown and blasted into retreat. 

 

The accounts are not for the squeamish.  Especially disturbing were the effects of phosphorus weapons on human beings for which they had no knowledge or means of providing aid. 

 

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These men did what they had to do to survive.  They fought, they ran, they played dead.  Some surrendered (while there were several accounts that this was not necessarily the safest thing to do in the middle of a battle).  Others retreated, only to be pulled into subsequent fighting.  

 

The horror was on both sides.  One told of seeing a row of dead American paratroopers, apparently shot execution style by an SS unit.  Another told of seeing a visibly marked German field ambulance shot to pieces by a strafing Mustang. 

 

There accounts of fighting Shermans and British tanks are there as well.  The Germans were shocked to see Shermans inland that were still wet from coming ashore on the beaches.  

 

American and British aircraft seemed to be everywhere, with their odd black and white invasion stripes only adding to the surreal nature of the day.  Rocket and strafing attacks could reduce a ground formation to wounded soldiers and wrecked vehicles within seconds.

 

Many recounted thinking that this was all just a raid, and would be pushed back into the sea as was done in Dieppe.  It was by the end of the second day that the realization came that this was not the case.

Germans Normandy 2.jpg

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End notes:

 

Unfortunately, there are no photos in the book.  I only added them for this review.

 

https://www.normandythenandnow.com/from-nonant-le-pin-to-german-pow-life-in-normandy/

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/282828169965

 

There is also another book in circulation with a similar title, D-Day Through German Eyes: How the Wehrmacht Lost France by Jonathan Trigg.

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Proud Kraut

Thanks for this book report, very interesting! I will see if I can find a German-language edition.

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