Heinrich Severloh

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Heinrich Severloh
Nickname(s)"The Beast of Omaha"
Born23 June 1923
Metzingen, Weimar Republic
Died14 January 2006(2006-01-14) (aged 82)
Lachendorf, Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branchBalkenkreuz.svg Wehrmacht
Years of service1942–1944
RankGefreiter
Unit19th Light Artillery Division, 321st Artillery Regiment, 352nd Infantry Division
Battles/warsWorld War II

Heinrich Severloh (23 June 1923 – 14 January 2006) was a soldier in the German 352nd Infantry Division stationed in Normandy in 1944. He became infamous for a memoir WN 62 – Erinnerungen an Omaha Beach Normandie, 6. Juni 1944, published in 2000. This book is noted for the authors' claim that as a machine gunner, Severloh inflicted over 1,000 and maybe over 2,000 casualties to the American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day.[1][2] Subsequent to the book being published, some have referred to Severloh as "The Beast of Omaha." However, Severloh's claim is not viewed as credible by either US or German historians. Total US casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) from all sources along the five-mile length of Omaha Beach on D-Day are estimated at about 2,400.[3]

Early life[edit]

Severloh was born into a farming family[4] in Metzingen in the Lüneburg Heath area of North Germany, close to the small city of Celle.[5]

Service in the Wehrmacht[edit]

Conscripted into the Wehrmacht on July 23, 1942, at the age of 19, Severloh was assigned to the 19th Light Artillery Replacement Division in Hanover. He was then transferred to France in August to join the 3rd Battery of the 321st Artillery Regiment, where he trained as a dispatch rider.

In December 1942, he was sent to the Eastern Front and assigned to the rear of his division to drive sleighs. As punishment for making dissenting remarks, he was forced to perform physical exertions which left him with permanent health problems and necessitated six-month convalescence in hospital. After this, he went on leave to his family's farm to help gather the harvest.

In October 1943, Severloh was sent for non-commissioned officer training in Brunswick, but was recalled after less than a month to rejoin his unit which had been reclassified as the 352nd Infantry Division[6] and was stationed in Normandy.

Omaha Beach[edit]

Omaha Beach extends for 5 miles (8 km) from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer. The beach defences at Omaha consisted of 8 concrete bunkers containing 75 mm or greater artillery, 35 pillboxes, 18 anti-tank guns, six mortar pits, 35 Nebelwerfer (multi-barrel rocket launchers), 85 machine gun nests, 6 tank turrets and supporting infantry.[7]

Infantry deployments on the Beach consisted of five companies concentrated at 15 strongpoints called Widerstandsnester (Resistance Nests), numbered WN-60 in the east to WN-74 in the west. Severloh was part of WN-62, the largest strongpoint defending Omaha Beach.[8]

The American plan of attack divided Omaha Beach into ten sectors, codenamed Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red. WN-62 at the eastern side of Omaha Beach overlooked both Easy Red and Fox Green sectors.

Widerstandsnest 62[edit]

View out of a foxhole from WN-62

WN-62 was 332 meters long by 324 meters wide and between 12 and 50 meters above the beach, depending on the distance from the shore, with a good overview of the beach area. The foxhole Severloh fired from (49°21′36″N 0°50′50″W / 49.36000°N 0.84722°W / 49.36000; -0.84722 (MG42 Foxhole at Widerstandsnest 62)) was 170 meters from the sea wall and around 450 meters from the landing area of the first wave of Higgins Boats.

On D-Day (June 6, 1944) WN-62 was manned by 27 members of the 716th Infantry Division and 13 members of Severloh's 352nd Division, whose task was to direct fire of the 10.5 cm artillery batteries located 5 kilometres inland at Houtteville.[9]

Defences included two type H669 concrete casemates, one empty and the other with a 75mm artillery piece, a 50mm anti-tank gun, two 50mm mortars, a twin-barrelled MG34 7.92mm machine gun on an anti-aircraft mount and two prewar Polish machine guns. Another 50 mm anti-tank gun covered the rear, and the perimeter was ringed by barbed wire and anti personnel mines.[10]

Severloh was assigned to a Senior Lieutenant Bernhard Frerking as an orderly.[11] While Frerking coordinated the artillery fire of the battery at Houtteville from a bunker, Severloh says he manned a MG42 machine gun,[12] and fired on approaching American troops with the machine gun and two Karabiner 98k rifles; while a sergeant whom he did not know, kept him supplied with ammunition from a nearby ammo bunker until 15:30. He claimed to have fired over 13,500 rounds with the machine gun and 400 with the rifles.

Interviewed in 2004, he said: "It was definitely at least 1,000 men, most likely more than 2,000. But I do not know how many men I shot. It was awful. Thinking about it makes me want to throw up."[1]

Surrender and captivity[edit]

Severloh retreated to the nearby village of Colleville-sur-Mer, with Kurt Warnecke also from the 352nd and Franz Gockel from the 716th,[13] where he surrendered the next day. His commanding officer, Lt. Frerking and most of the other defenders of WN-62 were killed at their posts by American troops.

Top Casement of WN-62, with the memorial honoring 5th Engineer Brigade

Severloh was first sent as a prisoner of war to Boston, USA. In December 1946, he was transferred to Bedfordshire, England as forced labor working on road construction. Severloh was returned to Germany in March 1947 after his father wrote to the British military authorities saying he was needed to work back on the farm.

Later life and death[edit]

Severloh's story became known for the first time in 1960, when his testimony was used in Paul Carell's book Sie kommen! Die Invasion der Amerikaner und Briten in der Normandie 1944.[citation needed]

In the 1960s an American military chaplain, David Silva, who had been wounded by three bullets in the chest on Omaha Beach, was contacted by Severloh - who had found his name in the Cornelius Ryan book The Longest Day. They later met several times, including at the 2005 reunion of Allied Forces in Normandy.[citation needed] On 5 June 2004 RTL showed a two-hour documentary in co-production with CBC Radio: "Mortal enemies of Omaha Beach – the story of an unusual friendship," by the filmmaker Alexander Czogalla.[14][15]

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the landing in Normandy, a one-hour documentary was broadcast on June 6, 1984 by the American broadcaster ABC. As part of the research, Heinrich Severloh gave a four-hour interview.[citation needed]

In 2000, Severloh's memoir, WN 62 – Erinnerungen an Omaha Beach Normandie, 6. Juni 1944, ghostwritten by Helmut Konrad von Keusgen was published.[16]

Severloh died 14 January 2006 in Lachendorf near his home village of Metzingen, aged 82 years, 6 months and 22 days.

Scepticism[edit]

Total US casualties (killed, wounded, or missing) at Omaha Beach on D-Day have been variously estimated between 2,000 and over 5,000.[17][18][19][20] Severloh's claim to have inflicted 2,000 casualties is considered high by some historians.[citation needed]

Widerstandsnest 62 today[edit]

The Lower Casement of WN-62, with the Monument to the 1st Infantry Division

The remains of Resistance Point 62 lie just east of the American Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and close to the viewing platform.[8] On the top of one casemate is a monument to honor the 5th Engineer Brigade and further toward the beach is the needle honoring the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One).

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "'Beast of Omaha' weeps as he recalls slaughter of thousands on beach". The Scotsman. 6 June 2004. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  2. ^ "The Story of D-Day and Omaha Beach: The Situation Leading up to D-Day". SSQQ. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  3. ^ "D-Day: The Beaches" (PDF). Dod.defense.gov. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  4. ^ Botting, Douglas; Books, Time-Life (1 March 1979). "The second front". Time-Life Books. Retrieved 22 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Carell, Paul (22 April 1963). "Invasion--they're coming!: The German account of the Allied landings and the 80 days' battle for France". Dutton. Retrieved 22 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Miller, Russell (22 April 1995). "Nothing Less Than Victory: The Oral History of D-Day". HarperCollins Publishers. Retrieved 22 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ a b "The Germans at Omaha-Beach". omaha-beach.org. Archived from the original on 2012-06-14.
  9. ^ (Full list of WN-62 personnel Archived 2012-06-26 at the Wayback Machine)
  10. ^ Locke, John (February 25, 2007). "D-Day Normandy Battlefield Tour 2009: WN 62 Map". PBase. Archived from the original on April 7, 2012.
  11. ^ "U.S. News & World Report". U.S. News Publishing Corporation. 22 April 1994. Retrieved 22 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Whitlock, Flint (29 April 2009). "The Fighting First: The Untold Story Of The Big Red One on D-Day". Basic Books. p. 144. Retrieved 22 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Peter van der Linden (14 September 2011). "Franz Gockel". Oisterwijk-marketgarden.com.
  14. ^ Path of Forgiveness - A Long Way Back to Omaha Beach on YouTube
  15. ^ Path of Forgiveness - A Long Way Back to Omaha Beach (2004) on IMDb
  16. ^ "Buchtitel" (in German). Von Keusgen. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  17. ^ Balkoski, Joseph (2004). Omaha Beach. USA: Stackpole Books. pp. 350–352. ISBN 0-8117-0079-8.
  18. ^ Citino, Robert M. (2017). The Wehrmacht's Last Stand: The German Campaigns of 1944–1945. Kansas: University Press of Kansas. p. 135. ISBN 9780700624942.
  19. ^ "D-Day: The Beaches" (PDF). U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  20. ^ "D-Day Museum and Overlord Embroidery". Ddaymuseum.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-06-05.

Bibliography[edit]

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