Lt Col. Keil
Memories of the 919th Grenadier Regiment Stationed around Utah Beach
A strip of dunes extended from the Carentan canal up to La Croix 200 to 500 meters wide with a broad, firm beach.
Behind the strip of dunes there was an area 1.5 to 2.5 kilometres wide extending from the mouth of the Carentan Canal as far as Quineville which was flooded by our troops.
The depth of the water was only about one meter, but the inundated area was interspersed with numerous ditches, two to four meters wide and two to three meters deep.
At Quineville itself the hills were close to the seashore hills dominated the entire forward area. The hedges, characteristic of the meadow covered terrain of the regimental area, provided good cover against observation. West of the hills was hilly terrain covered with meadows and hedges. Brooks running from east to west presented no obstacles.
The regimental sector could boast an excellent network of roads, only in the flooded area were they limited to five.
When his regiment arrived some work had already been done on the beach defences, but it was not adequate.
Along the strip of dunes, close to the beaches, pockets of resistance (Wp) and strong points (Stp) had been established. During the time of the regiments commitment these were located from 1,200 to 3,000 meters apart. Exceptions were StP9, StP12, StP16 and StP18 which were to be fortified by the Organisation Todt and construction companies and which were to be ready for occupancy by May. All Wp positions were built of concrete in a makeshift manner by the troops themselves.
Although of concrete, they were no longer strong enough, according to tests made in 1944. Wn10 had a fortress type gun emplacement for an anti landing-craft gun and an additional1 emplacement for an antitank gun was under construction. In the W-20 position, two fortress type gun emplacements for heavy 150mm antiaircraft guns were under construction. The positions Wn2, Wn2a, Wn4, Wn10 Wn5, Wn4a, Wn1, Wn22 and Wn23.. . had not yet been built.
Thus of the twenty-nine pockets of resistance which existed at the time of the invasion, nine were not in operation when we took over the area in January and the construction of four strong points (Stp positions) had just begun, so that actually only 16 pockets of resistance were ready for defence. Narrow cordons of antitank and antipersonnel shrapnel mines were established between these pockets. There were no other strong points except artillery positions and Wn6, Wnlla and Wn20 positions on the heights of the inundated area and west of the coastline.
Extensive inundated areas. . . represented obstacles which in case of an advance. . . would be difficult to pass, but easy to defend.
The regiment was committed in the Carentan Canal area along the coastline, the sector was approximately thirty-five kilometres wide. In the East a defensive sector of similar size would have been occupied by two or three divisions, while the German Field Service Regulations prescribed 3 or 4 divisions. As long as we were to occupy and hold the Wp and Sip positions it was obvious that these should be in such proximity to each other that lighter weapons, such as light machine guns and rifles, were capable of flanking each other effectively, meaning that they should be no farther apart than 1,200 or at the most 1,400 meters.
Otherwise the enemy could pass between two Wp positions almost unmolested, except for mines, especially during the night or at dusk For this reason I ordered construction of [additional] Wp positions.
Four-fifths of the Wp and Stp positions commanders were NCOís.
They were on their own and were, according to orders, to defend their positions to the end or as long as there was ammunition available. Ammunition and food supplied for the Wp positions was sufficient for eight or perhaps fourteen days, depending on size and the Stp positions for three weeks. The construction of the positions was not as simple as had been expected... The available materials were divided evenly among the units. Fortress-type construction had to be ordered a year ahead. I issued the following order: Construction of small field type Wp positions with wooden bunkers, as commonly in use in the East. Whenever I needed concrete urgently I procured it off the record from the Organisation Todt assigned to my unit. Camouflage against aircraft was especially emphasised. Six construction companies were assigned to the construction of Stp positions The already existing Wp positions were each equipped with at least one antitank gun, one anti landing craft gun and several machine guns as stationary weapons. These were captured weapons from various countries; German, French and Russian guns; French and Czech antitank guns; Polish and French machine guns; German and French mortars; and flame throwers of various makes, mostly of the stationary type with electrically controlled ignition. Every soldier in a Wp position was to be trained to handle all weapons in his position. I was obliged to transfer some young officers to the Eastern Front and received in exchange excellent officers with experience on the Eastern Front. Keil had described the conditions and actions taken before Rommel arrived. When Rommel made his visit in the last half of January the colonel was not impressed: "He appeared to be ill... He confined himself to tactical matters [and] ... he failed to instill confidence and seemed to be out of place." But on the positive side " as a result of his visit, shipments of materials now arrived in a more expedient manner and transfers to the Eastern Front were stopped." After Rommelís Army Group B took command the changes began: "Upon Rommelís orders large dummy minefields were established on the hills.
This measure required much work and was of little value since the location... quickly became known to enemy spies. All large-size meadows were to be secured against landing by airborne troops by stakes. Since the Cotentin Peninsula was sparsely wooded, this was a problem not easily solved. Days of rest were completely unknown to us."
As Keilís regiment and the others units in Normandy worked on the coastal fortifications, they were bombarded with propaganda from home gloating about the fact that the invasion would be defeated. The green troops derived some degree of confidence from the propaganda. In addition, observed Keil, increased enemy air activity late in April provided them with some experience in battle.
The Morsalines Battery in the sector of the 729th infantry was subjected to severe bombing attacks. The Morsalines hill was covered with craters, Keil had described the conditions and actions taken before Rommel arrived. When Rommel made his visit in the last half of January the colonel was not impressed: "He appeared to be ill. He confined himself to tactical matters and! .he failed to instill confidence and seemed to be out of place." But on the positive side, as a result of his visit, shipments of materials now arrived in a more expedient manner and transfers to the Eastern Front were stopped." After Rommelís Army Group B took command the changes began: "Upon Rommel's orders large dummy minefields were established on the hills.
This measure required much work and was of little value since the location quickly became known to enemy spies. All large-size meadows were to be secured against landing by airborne troops by stakes. Since the Cotentin Peninsula was sparsely wooded, this was a problem not easily solved. Days of rest were completely unknown to us.í
As Keilís regiment and the others units in Normandy worked on the coastal fortifications, they were bombarded with propaganda from home gloating about the fact that the invasion would be defeated. The green troops derived some degree of confidence from the propaganda. In addition, observed Keil, increased enemy air activity late in April provided them with some experience in battle:
The Morsalines Battery in the sector of the 729th Infantry. . . was subjected to severe bombing attacks. The Morsalines hill was covered with craters.
the crews entered their concrete shelters in good time and had suffered only two wounded. Only one gun had been upset.
The battery was now withdrawn and took up well camouflaged open firing positions close to its former emplacement. The bombing attacks increased during May.
The main interest of enemy bombers centered around Battery Erben of the Triple Army Coast Artillery near St. Martin de Varreville. The bombing, although severe, was not successful, since the battery was no longer in its old position. It had been planned to establish embrasured fortifications in the old positions, but construction on them had only just begun. The battery was stationed in well camouflaged alternate position to the west of the old position. The Marcouf naval battery was also repeatedly attacked, which considerably delayed the completion of its position. At the beginning of the invasion only two of three embrasured positions were finished. Work on the third had not even started. The bombing and strafing attacks had one advantage: they served to acquaint inexperienced troops, at least to some extent, with actual combat conditions. . . . the second stage of alarm was ordered. This meant that everything had to be ready for defensive action day and night.
Rommel made a second inspection trip at the beginning of May. During his visit, he stressed the point that the enemy was to be annihilated before landing could be effected. Considering his superiority in material it would be too late if the enemy was permitted to gain a firm footing. . [He] stated that it was not of decisive importance to hold the hills in the right sector of the regiment, but that it was imperative to defend the Wp positions. He therefore ordered, contrary to the conception of the commanding general and my division commander, that all available forces be thrown into the Wp and Sip positions. The beach obstacles which had been ordered during his first visit were to be reinforced with all means at the disposal of the command.
The Wp and Sip positions were now occupied by strong forces by order of Rommel.
The company commanders at the front were not permitted to retain a platoon as a reserve, but only their company detail of about ten to twelve men. The reserve companies of the battalions were likewise moved up to the front line with the exception of one rifle platoon, one heavy machine gun and one medium mortar squad.
Work continued on the beach defenses at the expense of valuable training which most of the troops needed. Keil stated: The foreshore had consisted hitherto of concrete dragons teeth which had been delivered by Organisation Todt. Small plans for the manufacture of dragonís teeth had been set up on the beaches.
Triangular iron obstacles and railroad rails, which had been used as antitank obstacles, had been installed on the foreshore. Even the roadblocks at the exits of localities on the main roads had been brought up to the beaches. Stakes had been installed in the soft sand by means of fire hoses and antitank mines had been attached to them. The 920th Infantry was employed for two weeks in placing stakes in my right sector, which later on were washed up on the beaches by a tidal wave. In any case, when the invasion came a continuous line of obstacles had been finally established in my sector on the foreshore, but it lacked the necessary depth. Rommel justified the construction of foreshore obstacles by stating that the enemy would land only at high tide.
The construction of Wp and Sip positions was in general completed toward the end of May. The permanent fortifications in the Sip positions were ready, but some of the trenches and field type positions were not as good as they could have been.
This was due to the fact that in some cases work on them could only start after the permanent fortifications had been completed. The strip of mines between the Wp and Sip positions had been partially reinforced. Keilís troops had completed much of the needed work on the beaches, but the rear area still needed some preparations although most of his regimentís units had been moved forward to the coast.
I ordered the plains north of the Carentan Canal flooded, wrote Keil, but by the end of May inundation's had been only partially achieved and the water was not deep enough. The remaining plains had been partially secured with barbed wire and stakes. Good progress had been made in the installation of stakes on the meadows.
I had the two newly organized platoons [a medium and heavy antitank platoon] employed on the roads leading through the inundated area and assigned one rifle group to each as protection. Especially dangerous points were covered by one heavy and one medium antitank gun. The roads were also blocked with antitank mines. By order of Rommel, heavy antitank guns were to be brought up to the coast in the beginning of June and part of them installed along the sea wall in an open firing position. Only the medium antitank platoon with an additional French 47-mm antitank gun remained on the hill at the crossroads at Herbert.
The coast positions were all manned: "Several Wp positions were equipped with remote control Liliput panzers [Goliath midget tanks] filled with explosives to fight advancing tanks." In addition: "Each Wp and Sip positions, as well as the reserve units, was to have at least one machine gun as air defense."
In mid-May, Keil was reinforced with a Georgian Battalion, minus one rifle company which was employed as a regimental reserve. The Georgians were also employed in the construction of foreshore obstacles since the work was not complete. When the invasion came his regiment was as ready as it could be, but still lacked training and needed more time to complete its defenses. Behind him stood the 91st Air Landing Division, which provided the only possible immediate reinforcements.
General Karl W. Schlieben, commander of the 709th Division, complained that the Belgian Gates (Element C) had been removed from the roadblocks covering Cherbourg and hauled down to the sea. His other regiment was responsible for the defense of Cherbourg. He flatly admitted that the place was no fortress. The 243rd Divisions was wasted guarding the west coast of the peninsula which was difficult to invade, but also received two of Cherbourgís most effective dual-purpose Czech 84-mm guns. Schlieben asked Rommel for permission to destroy the harbor of Cherbourg in mid-May, but was denied.
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