An atrocity unfolds. War brings out heroics, love for one another and infinite barbaric cruelty and atrocities. The German hierarchy searched for brutal personalities, dressed them in black uniforms, given a name easily abbreviated to SS and a symbol of a skull as a badge of impending death.
Even now so many years after their obliteration the new German army only quietly refers to them as the “Black Soldiers”. The past history of the SS exploits is a shunned subject. Let me briefly describe the actions of one of the colonels in 12th SS Panzer Division whose reputation so proceeded him that he warned his soldiers “do not expect to be captured” by the Allies’ troops.
In the town of Falasie, Normandy, 50 SS “youngsters” (as they were all 17-22) held the high school to the very last man. There were no wounded for later memoirs. In nearby, la Merri, 25 SS soldiers were holed up in barn fighting off the Canadians. Suicide was chosen as the alterative to being captured.
Colonel Kurt Meyer, commander, 25th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Division occupied a walled commune, the 12th century Abbey Ardennes, 10 miles south of the Juno invasion beach and just two miles from the city of Caen. 
From one of the four turreted towers of the ancient abbey building Meyer could easily observe the Canadian tanks and infantry advancing through the waist high wheat fields towards the village of Authie, a half mile to his left. A telephone line and radios connected his observation post to antitank guns hidden in the stocks of wheat. The Canadian Shermans passed through Authie continuing on towards the Carpiquet airport ignoring the abbey commune. Silhouetted against the early afternoon sky background the anti-tank guns fired accurately and destroyed the tanks.
From behind the 10 foot high walls the SS troopers and tanks charged the half mile into Authie and the Canadian infantry. The Germans successfully captured 120 men. The dead Canadians soldiers were laid across the road leading to Bures and run over by the German tanks and tracked vehicles. The wounded were shot. Desecration of the dead was profound. In taking the prisoners back to the abbey headquarters many to slow or out of line were shot. The remaining group was split in two. Twenty four were directed through a gate into the commune enclosure.
The remainder were marched towards Caen. A German supply truck going to the abbey drove into and over the POWs. The narrow sunken road denied escape. Those still breathing were shot.
With in the commune the Canadians were allowed to wash in the animal drinking trough and then herded into a stone walled stable. The sergeant in charge went to the abbey church building being used by Meyer as his regimental headquarters. Standing beneath the elevated pulpit Meyer said “Get rid of them we cannot handle prisoners”.  The statement’s meaning was clear, eliminate the prisoners. Called by name, one by one,after shaking hands all around, each soldier was taken from the stable, lead around the corner, up four steps into a garden and shot in the back of the head. (see a photo of the garden go to Tour and click on #24). The bodies were buried haphazardly in shallow graves throughout the garden.
The commune remained in German hands until late July . The Colonel Meyer had become the commanding major general of the division. Over June, July and August the 77 day campaign closed with the decimated Germans fleeing  eastward into Belgium. A few of the SS involved in the abbey event survived to later become witnesses at Meyer’s trail. The Canadian atrocity had been discovered so the hunt was on for the SS general, previously a colonel. Belgian resistance men were killing Germans when found. Meyer was captured, in September, hiding in a pig pen (that still exists) at Spontin. About to be shot, on the spot. his rank announcement that he was a general, uniformed as a private, saved his life. Captured generals were wanted by the allies.
His trial was held in the Dachau concentration camp (near Munich)administration buildings. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. His successful appeal gave him life imprisonment in Canada’s Dorchester Federal prison in New Bruswick province. The Canadian Appeal court officers had concluded that “We all shot POWs. That’s war.” Ten years later a reporter from the Montreal Star newspaper went to the prison for an interview and surprisingly discovered Meyer had been returned to a German jail where he had weekend passes and had been elected as the President of the German Waffen SS Association !! He was released shortly thereafter and became a brewery representative selling his company’s products to the Canadian occupying troops PXs and bars !! He visited the Abbey Ardennes. Monsieur Jacques Vico, who as a young boy with his brother Pierre had discovered the murdered soldiers bodies “would not shake hands with Meyer”. Meyer died of a heart attack shortly afterwards.
There is much to visit on the grounds. The garden has a memorial wall of enlistment pictures of the murdered soldiers. During the battle period the occupying German soldiers sculptured insignias on the soft stone walls. The trough and stable remain. Little has changed, in the commune, beyond the essential repairs to the war torn abbey/church. Truly a place of remembrance and sorrow.


DEAD MAN’S CORNER Tour (click on #10 to enlarge the 1944 aerial photo, points marked)

The “T” junction highway corner had to be taken by the American paratroopers and held for expansion of the beachhead.  The German viewpoint was to  keep the corner open as their possible escape route.  Dead Man’s Corner was a focal point for several days of close hand to hand fighting. Few roads ran north-south entering and exiting the Contentin peninsula. National Highway 13 was the main road of the only three usable roads. Cutting all the  roads at the base of the peninsula would eliminate three German divisions’ resupply opportunities and their potential southern retreat route if needed.

To day the Liberty Expressway replaces the bypassed wartime N13 road. Exiting on to the D913 road when driving west, on the expressway, from Bayeux one can go right, 6 miles, to UTAH Beach or left, a half mile, to Dead Man’s Corner. The 101st Airborne paratroops heading to the Corner had landed in the fields to the east of the expressway intersection. The American paras had been scattered creating regrouping delays and causing objective schedules to change.

The Allies air activities, over the area, in the early hours of June 6th gave cause for German Lieutenant Colonel von der Hedyte to move his paratrooper regiment, by bicycle, 14 miles to St Come du Mont a half mile north of the Corner. As reports came in of American airborne landings von der Heydte dispatched his three battalions north, east and south of his headquarters in the St Come church. At dawn he ascended the belfry and viewed the 5600 ship invasion fleet in awe. His thought was, “We are finished”.

During D-Day the two enemies manuvered moving into the hedgerows facing each other across the N13 roadway. Skirmish lines were established. The American objective was to capture the Corner then move southward down the N13 road towards Carentan. As sniping went on between the paras, in the afternoon, American C-47s unknowingly dropped seemingly endless re supplies of ammo, guns, medical supplies, cigarettes and food, behind the German lines. The enemy paras were ecstatic. Real cigarettes (not ground wood chips rolled in leaves). Sanka and Nescafe! Not dry leaves boiled. Carnation Eagle Brand milk to which they added the instant coffee, stirred and drank developing a sugar-caffeine high. Cellophane packaged toilet paper ?? Never had the German army ever supplied that practicality. Their morale tumbled. How could they possibly win against an army so amply and thoroughly supplied by an untouchable manufacturing supply base headquarters 4000 miles away in America ???

June 7th, (D-Day +1), afternoon, Dog Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, (that would 11 months later capture Hitler’s mountain home in Bertesgarten, Austria) advanced on the Corner accompanied by a column of light tanks that had landed across UTAH Beach the previous day. From the Douve hamlet, a few hundred yards south, on the N13,  the crack of a 57 mm German PAK anti tank gun echoed along the road shoulder hedgerows. The armor piercing missile found its mark on the first tank at the corner as it pased next to the concrete posted steel mesh fence present today. To-days museum building, at that time, was an aid station manned by American and German medics handling the wounded of both sides.

The shell penetrated the tank in the driver’s area, exploded ripping part the crew. The resulting blast of enveloping flames flushed through the open turret incinerating the lieutenant commanding the tank. The battle progressed. The Corner fell and the 506 PIR’s men moved south towards objective Carentan. The Germans withdrew south from Ste Come du Mont along the elevated railroad embankment a few hundred yards west of the N13 road. (This story will be covered in a separate Blog.)

The burned out tank and the officer’s corpse remained at the corner several days before graves registration could remove, identify and designate a temporary cemetery for burial of the four sets of remains. The T-junction had much traffic but no official name so the passing soldiers and vehicles described it, “where the dead man is in the tank turret”. Heavy supply traffic from UTAH Beach and Cherbourg continued to go through the Corner over the following 8 months until the north coast ports of France and Belgium were captured and opened to off load the incoming  US shipments. So named “Dead Man’s Corner” is official. It’s name commemorates not just the crew of one tank but the casualties of human lives it cost to gain the insignificant but important “T junction”. A place of honor to “Stand Where They Fought”.


                                                                                                  PEGASUS BRIDGE
The first British soldier to die on June 6th, 1944, was Freddie Greenhalgh at 18 minutes after midnight. He drowned in a swamp, very close to a bridge code named Pegasus (a divine winged stallion in Greek mythology mounted by Bellerophn, the first winged warrior) the 6th British Airborne Division symbol. Glider number 91 landed at 0015 hours, glider 92 at 0018 and glider 93 a few seconds later. The three large Horsa gliders carried 181 men into the initial skirmish for the Pegasus towed by four engine Halifax bombers at 180 miles per hour they had cut loose and slide across the hard ground at 80 mph tearing off the landing wheels and the belly skid causing the seated soldiers to pull their legs up for fear of having their legs torn off. The rapid deceleration had plummeted the pilots and numerous soldiers through the windshield into the swamp. Freddie died ingloriously in a heroic action.
Normandy clocks displayed 11:45 PM, Summer Time, June 5th. To the allies it was 00:15 AM, British Double Summer time, June 6th. It is only reluctantly the French concede the invasion started June 6th.
At both ends of the 50 mile invasion front lay vulnerability to the beach assaults planned for dawn of D-Day. Since Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had taken over the defenses of the potential invasion areas, in Januray, the northern coast of France had been greatly strengthened. The Field Marshal had seven armored divisions around the Calais, 200 miles distant, in anticipation of the allies attacking across the 20 mile wide English Channel. In Normandy at the eastern end of the intended invasion front was the German 21st Panzer Division ready to counterattack any intrusions.
Connecting the large Normandy city of Caen to the English Channel, ten miles north, was the Orne canal and its parallel Orne river a few hundred yards to the east. As a defensive means the Germans by closing locks on the nearby small Dives river back water had created a morass of low lying swamps crossed by small utilitarian farm type bridges. Seizing the key bridges across the Orne canal and river plus destroying the smaller bridges to thwart German counterattacks was the objectives of the 6th Airborne Division. “Seize, Destroy and Hold”. The British infantry landing across Sword Beach, at dawn, would move quickly to reinforce the airborne troopers by noon in anticipation of strong German counter attacks by the 21st Panzer Division standing by for orders.
The important bridge was near the village of Benouville hence the bridge’s name to the local citizens. Later, in honor of the actions, it was renamed Pegasus.
Seizing the bridge early, quickly and defending it in a coup de main operation was the task assigned to Major John Howard’s re enforced company (181 men) of the  2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire (Ox & Bucks) of the 5th Brigade / 6th Airborne Division.  Although the gliders were wrecked upon landing, the troopers tossed about, some knocked unconscious and wounded they dispatched  the Germans  at the east end of the bridge completely surprising the defenders. Leading his team across the bridge Lt. Denny Brotheridge was shot in the neck falling in the middle of the roadway. He was the first British soldier killed by enemy fire in the invasion. His wife gave birth to a daughter a few months later who frequently attendees airborne memorial services, on June 6th, at the bridge  Howard’s men spread out forming a defensive bridgehead and waited for the noon hour arrival of Lord Lovat’s commandos, who had landed on Sword beach, meet their objectives clearing the Germans out of Ouisterham and moved south to link up with the Pegasus bridge force. Lovat’s bag piper, Bill Mullins, played as the commandos marched over the canal.
A German sniper in the nearby le Port church belfry created harassing fire on the bridge activities. Major Howard, in his distinctive British accent,  told a team “go get that buggar”. Armed with a spring loaded rocket (PIAT rocket launcher) the soldier stood across from the church, backed by the bakery window, fired through the arched slatted belfry tower killing the sniper. A soldier then ascended the belfry internal ladder and threw the sniper’s body 40 feet below into the church yard. The following day while the church was being used as a British medical aid post a German roving platoon entered the building and murdered the wounded, the medical personnel and the chaplain. All eighteen are buried in the last row, near the wall, of the church cemetery . The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) encourages relatives to have their loved one’s headstone inscribed with a personal commemorative phrase of reflection. One particularly poignant memorial phrase stands out, “To the World he was one of many, to us he was the World”.
At the west end of the bridge stands a cafe that is the meeting place of heroes, returning veterans and multi national visitors. It was the bridge keeper’s lodge in 1944.The attractive lady hostess, Madame Arlette Gondree Pritchard was10 years old on that significant date. She, her sister and father and mother served hidden champagne to Major Howard’s troops D-Day morning. Surrounded by her British 6th Airborne veteran friends of many years she is the spirit and personality of Pegasus Bridge history. Superb coffee, tea and “a cold one” plus pastries under an awning.
A mile away to the east is the Ranville church and the 6th Airborne Division cemetery containing 2287 Allied graves and 322 Germans. 47 of the British are along the wall of the civilian cemetery including that of Lt. Den Brotheridge. 


OMAHA Beach, D-Day 0630 hrs

Easy Red-Fox Green Sectors

The long awaited invasion begins.
Thirty two dual drive (DDs, propellers/tracks) heavily modified amphibious Sherman tanks of the 741st Tank Battalion (B & C Companies) were launched from tank carrying landing craft several miles off the Omaha beach objective. These tanks were in support of the 16th Infantry Regimental Combat team of the 1st Infantry Division. The 30 ton iron monsters descended the landing craft ramps into into 3-6 foot waves, 18 knot winds, 3.5 miles off Easy Red/Fox Green beach.  Under these extreme severe conditions 30 tanks were swamped, sinking immediately. The majority of the crews were rescued by the US Coast Guard. Of the two remaining water logged DDs only one actually reached the beach to be effective. It was joined by three others a few minutes later but all four were destroyed by German shell fire within ten minutes. Later, after maneuvering through the  layers of German underwater and shoreline obstacles, 16 tanks and bulldozers arrived “dry shod” from Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs). The first engineers and infantry casualties on Omaha were at this location at 0620. In the weeks previous to the invasion uniformed British commandos, reconnaissancing this beach were captured, brutally interrogated then shot as spies. They were buried by the French citizens and remain in the Coleville-sur-Mer church cemetery high on the bluff overlooking the English Channel. This is but just a half mile from the brother soldiers in the Coleville American Military Cemetery. Standing on the beach or walking across the sand bars, at low tide, one can imaginatively visualize the torrential weather, hear the din of constant gunfire from the 16 inch shells of the battleships passing overhead. Turning around looking at the vacated German positions still visible but previously only identifiable by twinkling machine gun fire ravishing the soft skinned assault troops awaiting their anticipated supportive tanks and armored protection. This is “standing where they fought”.

Mont St. Michel