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Mighty Fine Soldiers
Mighty Fine Soldiers:
German Perspective of “What a Day”
The sky was deep gray in hue, the sun barely peeking out over the cover of clouds. The English Channel kicked up a violent series of waves, sending barrages of mist through the firing hole of our concrete bunker. It was yet another day on the beach head of Normandy, and I seriously questioned why the Fuhrer would waste such vast manpower on such an unnecessary fortification. “The Allies will surely attack at Pas- de- Calais, the closest point between England and France, not as far as Normandy…” The thoughts lingered in my head as the others began to awake from their night’s sleep.
My machine gun partner, and the operator of our bunker’s MG 42, Corporal Karl Keitel, awoke first, and sluggishly sat up to man his post on the MG. Quite soon after, Privates Kurt Hausser and Friedrich Blaskowitz rose, and we all dined to a pleasing meal of French cheese and biscuits. “That is the best part about occupying France… Excellent food indeed.”
“Hans, are you ever going to trade in that Gewehr 98 for a Kar98k? You know that those Gewehrs are outdated.” Blaskowitz loved firearms more than anything in the world, and always tried to convince me to trade in my older issue rifle for a newer model.
“Sorry Friedrich, but I love my Gewehr just the way it is.” The truth of the matter was that I actually did love my rifle, largely because of the fact that I had used one similar to it for hunting back on the family farm before the war started. Needless to say, I welcomed its familiarity immensely.
“You kids shouldn’t care about which gun is better.” Cpl. Keitel began. “As long as it shoots a bullet that can kill Tommy, it wins my vote.” The experience of the corporal was invaluable to myself and my two other young peers, our trio all at the naïve age of 21. Karl had been on the Eastern Front, but was put out of action for a period of time due to frost bite. After making a slow recovery, he returned to battle on the Western Front, and has not really opened up to us about the horrors of battle against the Russians. However, he has made it clear to us that we are lucky to be going up against the less-hostile Western Allies on Normandy, which didn’t comfort us a whole lot. A stone-cold killer at age 33, I sincerely prayed to the Lord that the War wouldn’t do that to me as well.
Out of nowhere, the concrete walls of our bunker began to vibrate, and an unmistakable droning sound penetrated the once silent air. “Tommy’s coming in for another run boys! Take cover!” Pvt. Hausser was the most worried by the constant Allied bombing which had been occurring regularly over the last few days. Nevertheless, we all quickly hit the ground, covered our heads, and prayed for the best. As the sound of the bombers was directly over top of us, the unforgettable sound of bombs falling onto one’s position filled my head. “Pewww, boom!” This chaotic orchestra of noise occurred with hundreds of explosions happening in unison, and the unrelenting bombardment took its toll on our defensive positions. Dust-like forms of the concrete from our bunker continuously fell to the floor, as the damage from the constant attacks weakened our fortification. Finally, after a few minutes of living in what felt like Hell, wondering when a bomb would smack into the centre of my comrades and I, the rumble of the bombers’ engines began to die out, moving further into the French countryside.
“Are all of you in one piece?” Cpl. Keitel’s damage assessment sounded in our bunker, and the nods of my own, Friedrich and Kurt, signaled that all was well, for the time being. We hopped back to our defensive positions in the bunker, although I was still personally shaken by the bombing. My head always throbbed, and my eardrums rang after the Allies had unleashed their payloads, and I wished that the Luftwaffe could at least send fighters to intercept the bombers, minimizing our losses on the ground. “If only we hadn’t suffered so many casualties during the Battle of Britain… Maybe then we’d have some air support.” The thought was grim, as I remembered my older brother Erwin, who had been a Me-109 pilot during the battle over the skies of Britain. Only 3 years older than me, he was shot down over the English city of Dover on September 9th, 1940. His fellow pilots said that they didn’t see him bail out, and so he was presumed dead. “I can’t die now… Both of my parents’ children can’t die in this war…”
I myself had applied to be a pilot, wishing to follow in the aerial path of my brother. However, I was not accepted into the Luftwaffe, on the condition that I was not able to hit any airborne targets while flying. It just so happens that I’m an excellent shot while I’m on the ground, but that changes 7,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Now I’ll just have to settle with stopping Tommy with a rifle on the ground, instead of with a cannon mounted on an ME-109 in the skies. “Oh well…”
Standing on the parapet of the bunker, I was to be the loader of the fortification’s MG 42. Cpl. Keitel was to man the MG, while my fellow privates were to fire their rifles through the slot in the bunker as well, protecting the machine gun. “Hopefully, this will just be another boring day of blankly staring out to sea.” But boy was I ever wrong in my prediction, as the 6th of June, 1944, was to be some day indeed.
A ghostly collection of seaborne figures seemed to be lurking in the shadows of The Channel, and I worriedly pointed this out to Karl.
“Shouldn’t be much more than a few of our own battleships out there Pvt. Meyer… just relax.” Cpl. Keitel’s casual veteran approach to the situation didn’t comfort me at all, and I grew more uneasy.
“I sure hope they’re friendly Keitel, because if they aren’t,-“
“-Take cover! Enemy naval shells!” Blaskowitz’s pleas thundered in the bunker, and we all hit the deck in total shock. “What did I tell them…. Now we really have a problem.” A combination of 14 and 6 inch shells, and everything in between, slammed onto the beach head, catching us all by complete surprise. The screams of comrades in other positions pierced our bunker walls, and I was left wondering why the enemy would attack us here, of all places. “They will attack at Pas-de-Calais, not Normandy. This must merely be a decoy force…” Soon after, the naval bombard was lifted, and I cautiously peered through our firing slot. But what I witnessed at that very moment, turned my pulsating veins to ice.
Hundreds, if not thousands of enemy ships lay off the coast of Normandy, and many smaller vessels were headed to the beach. “Landing craft.” The alarm which was to alert us of an enemy presence sure enough, sounded loud as ever, and we all ran to our battle stations, locked and loaded our weapons, and prepared for the fight of our lives.
A cool bead of sweat lingered down my back, tingling my spine with eerie delight. My thoughts seemed to slow down considerably, and for a quick instant, my vision blurred into one large haze of motion. An explosion to the right of the bunker quickly brought me back to my rightful state of mind, and I anxiously glanced at my fellow comrades momentarily, before fixating my eyes on the closing enemy.
As the first wave of enemy troops approached, explosions ripped through their ranks, as many of their ships made contact with our sea mines. Almost instantly, artillery from our Flak 88 guns rained down on the Allies, and even more of their vessels erupted into flames. Despite the constant menace of artillery and mines against them, the first enemy landing vessels soon touched shore on our beach head, and we immediately opened fire. Judging by the Red Ensign I noticed being flown on one of the vessels, I guessed that these troops were Canadian, and I immediately knew that we would be in for a hell of a day.
Karl opened up with the MG 42, spraying the open mouths of the landing crafts, cutting down soldier after soldier. Kurt and Friedrich fired their rifles at a much slower pace than the MG, but still managed to hit their targets. After reloading a new belt of ammo into the MG, I looked out onto the beach, and horrifyingly noticed that the Canucks were being cut to pieces. Most of their men laid on the ground, screaming for medical assistance, but with our snipers picking off their medics upon landing, there was no one to save them now.
Although the battle seemed to be going lopsidedly in our favour, I feared that this was not to last, and by God, was I ever right.
Out of nowhere, a Canuck hoisted himself onto a tank turret, which was probably knocked out by a Panzerfaust, and aimed the mounted 0.30 cal machine gun directly at our bunker. “Get down!” As I shouted to my comrades, I dropped to the ground, just as bullets ripped through the bunker’s firing slot. Hausser and Blaskowitz hit the floor just in time with me, but Keitel was too late. He laid on his back, on the floor of the bunker, his upper chest riddled with bullet holes. His helmet was at his side, revealing his short black hair, dully shaven beard, and deep black eyes looking up to the heavens. After so long, after enduring so much for the Third Reich, Cpl. Keitel was dead. “I mustn’t dwell on his death now… Now, I must fight.”
I hopped to my feet, cocked the MG 42, and began to erratically spray the enemy with gunfire. Kurt and Friedrich joined in the melee as well, and we seemed to be holding the enemy back. The enemy .30 cal ceased to fire, and I wondered if we had killed its operator. As we continued to combat the enemy, the MG finally called it quits, as the last of its bullets smacked into the enemy. Ammunition depleted, I picked up my Gewehr, and took a few pot shots at the Canadians. Sadly, the fire of three rifles in a bunker was no match for the onslaught thrown at us by the enemy, and we soon decided that it was best to fall back to the trenches. Myself and the two other privates readied ourselves at the door, and as I kicked it open, we made our frantic, mad dash for cover.
The air was full with bullets and the screams of men, both in English and German. Although I sincerely wished to help my fellow comrades, I felt that it was best to fight for them in the trenches instead of out in the open. The trench wall was about 30 feet from the bunker, and the sprint to its limited safety was nightmarish.
Sweat poured down my face, and the weight of my rifle and kit seemed to make my feet sink in the sand on which we ran upon. A bullet zipped past my ear, and I could feel its heat warm my skin. I sincerely hoped that Blaskowitz and Hausser were still in one piece, and that they were following right behind me.
“Don’t look back! Keep going!” I shouted words of encouragement to my comrades, and as I reached the trench, I jumped in feet first, relieved to be in some form of safety. Directly behind me, Hausser hopped into the trench, and as I waited a tense moment for Blaskowitz to do the same, he never came. I peered over the trench wall and saw my fellow brother laying face first in the sand of the beach, only a few feet from the door of the bunker. A deep red substance had seeped onto the surrounding ground, and I knew that he had undoubtedly been fatally hit upon exit of our fortification. His body did not move at all, and his eyes were shut in an eternal rest. I sadly noted that he too, yet another member of my former bunker, had been killed by the Canucks.
That left just me and Pvt.Hausser, along with a handful of other comrades who have survived the initial attack, to fight off the enemy. “If we lose the trenches, then we lose the beach head, and if we lose the beach, we may just lose the war…” My will was resolved, and although I did not wish to perish senselessly, I felt that my parents would rather have their last surviving son die heroically for his country on the battle field, instead of cowardly surrendering to the enemy. “I won’t surrender… I’ll fight to the death.”
“Attach your bayonets men! We shall not surrender! Fight until the last breath in your body is lost!” Heading my advice, my peers fastened their bayonets to their rifles, ready for whatever evil would come over the trench wall.
“Charge!” The order sounded by a Canadian triggered an uproar from the enemy, and they began to swoop into the trenches in vast numbers, easily overwhelming our thinly spread forces. As one Canuck landed right beside me, I fired my rifle right into his chest, and he slumped to the trench floor immediately. He had wielded an automatic weapon of some sort, and I quickly picked it up and fired on the enemy that continued to hop into our trench. Many Canucks fell at my feet, but as the light MG ran out of ammo, I dropped it and re-slung my Gewehr, bayonet attached, and furiously hacked and slashed at the Canadians. Despite my best effort, I saw that our cause was wasted, and instructed my German brothers to fall back to Bernières, where we could mass a counter attack on the Canadians.
“Let’s go Hausser!” I desperately called for my friend, but could not make out a reply. Suddenly I saw him, at the unforgiving hands of a Canadian bayonet. The Canuck thrusted the knife into Hausser’s chest, and Kurt looked from the weapon to its user, before falling to the ground. “No!” With that, I turned and ran as hard as I could into the direction of Bernières, but this was not meant to be.
I zigzagged unpredictably, or so I thought, in the direction of our German- held town, just before an enemy bullet crashed through my left leg, undoubtedly shattering its bones. I hit the ground hard, but I couldn’t dare to see myself die like this. Blood trickled down my pants, and I stared horrifically at the exit wound made by the bullet. I could see straight through my leg, from one side to the other.
“They shot me from behind my back! I wasn’t even able to defend myself!” As I finished echoing my rage in my mind, the ground beneath me began to tremble, and as I rolled to my side, I saw a formation of Tiger and Panther tanks headed my way.”Thank you Lord.” I mercifully clawed my way to my feet, and used my rifle as a crutch, limping my way over to the friendly armour support. Enemy fire sliced through the air and bounced harmlessly off of the tanks armour, and I used one of the metal beasts as a means of cover. The turret popped open of the tank which I was desperately trying to keep up with, and a figure appeared, most likely the commander of the iron warrior. He limbered onto the back of the machine, braving the enemy fire, and extended a hand to me, helping me to pull my way up onto the tank. I thanked him for his kind gesture, before he clambered back into the moving tank. I then loaded my rifle, and fired in the general direction of the Canucks.
The enemy tried everything in their arsenal, from rifles and grenades to their mighty bazookas. However, try as they might, nothing was able to penetrate the thick armour of our superior tanks, which greatly relieved me of my worry. I laid prone on the rear of the tank, firing my rifle steadily at the top of the trenches, trying to make those with their heads held too high pay for their carelessness. We continued to move closer to the enemy position, and I was sure that we would be on top of them in no time at all. Suddenly, the distinctive sound of one of our own Panzerfausts screamed through the air, and hit the lead tank in the v-shaped attack formation which our armour was deployed in. Although the Tiger tank did not blow up, one of its tracks was shot off by the hit, and it was subsequently immobilized. “Just a minor setback… we’ll win the day back for sure.”
The Canadians began to steadily pour on heavy fire yet again towards our tanks, and I seriously pitied them for thinking that their bullets could actually slow our advance. If not for the large quantity of shell holes and bomb craters that littered the plain, I was sure that we would have destroyed them already. “Soon...”
The gray sky was covered with a thick layer of clouds, and it seemed as though God himself wiling, a tiny pocket was opened through the solid blanket in the sky. A heavily concentrated ray of sunlight shone intensely through the opening, casting a blinding brightness over the plain. All of the sudden, five gleaming figures swooped from the heights above, and dove onto our position. “They could be friendlies…” However, the clearly distinct able image of the British roundel was painted on the sides of the aircraft, and by the flight path which they chose to dive into the battle upon, being straight at us in a strafing pattern, I knew that all was lost.
Swoosh, swoosh. Boom, boom. The enemy planes pounded our position with rockets, before opening up with a hellish rain of anti-armour bullets. The tank which I rode on exploded upon the impact of a rocket, which sent me flying in the air several feet away. When I landed back on the ground, I could no longer feel my legs, and looked down to see a large chunk of metal, probably debris from one of the many exploding tanks, lodged parallel to my waist, just a few centimeters down on my body. A searing pain soon ripped through my chest, and a pair of .50 cal bullet holes punctured my lungs. “They couldn’t just blow us up and leave… They had to kill us all too…” Blood was being rapidly depleted from my body, as the many battle wounds took their toll. The stench of burning tank fuel and the screams of other dying comrades filled the air, mixing with the thick smoke created by the strafing run.
As I felt the life being drawn out of me, I couldn’t help to think about my poor parents, who have now lost both their sons to this never ending war. My fingers became numb and cool, my breathing slowed sufficiently, and my vision started to close in around me. A chilling sweat ran along my cheeks, and the rustling wind courtesy of the English Channel continued to shoot searing air into my body’s wounds. “I’m dying. So this is what it’s like to die. I’ll be with you soon brother. Soon.” With my last bit of strength, I pulled out my Walther P38 pistol from its holster, loaded the barrel with a single bullet, and waited. “Those Canucks are mighty fine soldiers… mighty fine soldiers indeed.” Just as the blackness of death almost consumed my eyes and body, a Canuck soldier kicked me with his boot, checking to see if I was still alive. With that, I raised my Walther and fired off a round into his chest, before succumbing to my wounds. “At least I took one more with me.”