Four Phosphorus Grenades Compell Thousands of Germans to Surrender

During the American advance on Cherbourg, an American regiment came upon a substantial German defense work. Rather than assaulting it, the US regimental commander brought forward a number of artillery pieces along with a loudspeaker truck. Bellowing through the loudspeakers in German, the US commander said if the Germans did not surrender in ten minutes, then all of the artillery of the American division would blast them to hell. Hundreds of German soldiers swarmed out to surrender.



Then five German officers appeared representing the garrison commander. Seems there were still quite a number of German soldiers in the fort. Would the American commander please fire one phosphorous shell at the German position? Then their commander would feel he had satisfied his obligation to the Führer and he would surrender.

But none of the American front line artillery batteries had any phosphorus shells with them. How about if the Americans threw five phosphorous grenades? After some debate, the German officers agreed. Unfortunately, the front line infantry units only had a total of four phosphorus grenades between them. Would four grenades satisfy the honor of the commander? Much discussion among the German officers and then haggling with the Americans. Finally the Germans agreed.



The Americans threw four phosphorus grenades into a nearby field where I’m certain they started a small fire. The German officers inspected the result and agreed that the Americans had thrown four phosphorus grenades. Therefore, the honor of their general had been upheld and the rest of the garrison surrendered.

As cited in D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

Both sides were deeply fearful of phosphorus shells and grenades because phosphorus ignited in the air because of a chemical reaction. If it touched you, it couldn’t be extinguished and the phosphorus would burn through you.


German shakes hands with american soldier

American GI shaking hands with German prisoner of war (abbreviated as PW in the era and not POW) late June 1944 at the surrender of Cherbourg. This obviously posed photograph is mislabeled on the net but I would say it was either taken by the US Army Signal Corps or a photographer from Stars and Stripes or an American news organization.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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