“It’s the Invasion!….Ten Thousand Ships Headed Right at Me!”

the Germans on D-Day
D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23844) Landing ships and other invasion craft seen from HMS BEAGLE, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155881

“Which way are the ships headed?” 

 “Right for me!”

Major Werner Pluskat, First German to Sight Allied Invasion Fleet, informs his higher echelon headquarters of the German 352nd Infantry Division.

At dawn on 6 June 1944, from this German bunker on a rise above Omaha Beach, Major Werner Pluskat was the first German officer to see the Allied invasion fleet which he described as headed  “straight at me.”  During the Normandy invasion, he served as the commander of the artillery battalion of the German 352nd Infantry Division, a scratch division built around a handful of surviving veterans from the 321 Infantry Division which had been torn to shreds during the Battle of Kursk in July and August of 1943 and the subsequent Soviet offensives.  *

l310

German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day, based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan.

(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

“The Longest Day,” an account of D-Day written by American journalist and narrative historian Cornelius Ryan, Pluskat told him the following in a personal interview.

Dawn of 6 June 1944

 

From his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach, Major Pluskat rang through to the headquarters of the 352nd Infantry Division to which his artillery battalion was assigned:

“It’s the invasion! There must be ten thousand ships out here!”

Division HQ: “Which way are the ships headed?”

Pluskat: “Right for me!”

Division to Pluskat several minutes later: “What’s the situation?”

“We’re being shelled!”

“Exact location of shelling?”

“For God’s sake, they’re falling all over. What do you want me to do? Go out and measure the holes with a ruler?”

 Pluskat obviously survived the war, surrendering to the Allies on 23 April 1945.

Hans Christian Blech in The Longest Day

German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day.

In this movie still from 20th Century Fox, Major Pluskat is talking to his division command after intense shelling. Most German bunkers were well constructed and survived Allied naval gunfire. 

D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23934) The Normandy coast around Bernieres-sur-Mer, Juno assault area, with smoke rising from burning buildings during the Allied naval bombardment which preceded the landings, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155953

 

Unfortunately, the naval guns of the era had a relatively flat trajectory. While battleships could, and did, hit German units 30 miles inland, targets as close as Pluskat’s bunker were harder to destroy because naval guns could not generate plunging fire like an army howitzer. So complete was Allied control of the sea, that many battleships assigned to the bombardment force were able to anchor in a long row in the English channel.

On Omaha, for instance, where very few tanks made it ashore, smaller ships such as destroyers and destroyer escorts closed the beach and directly engaged the German artillery firing from bunkers. There were occasions when the Germans were firing over the heads of the GIs on the beach at Allied destroyers who were firing back.

Naval captains took their ships in as close as they could, scraping bottom occasionally. But the invasion had to succeed. There wasn’t a “Plan B.”

####

Like most accounts of historical events, there is controversy over Pluskat’s whereabouts at dawn on 6 June.  Speculation on a number of World War Two discussion boards suggests Pluskat wasn’t at his post at dawn on 6 June and fabricated his entire story which became part of the historical record and has been repeated a thousand times in various books until taken for truth.

Yet Pluskat did command the artillery battalion of the 352nd German Infantry Division. This division was dug in behind Pluskat’s artillery. The task of 352nd was to defend the stretch of beach known as “Omaha” to the Allies.

And Pluskat’s command bunker was on the heights above Omaha and remains there to this day as shown in the first photo of this post. His battalion did not retreat until they had fired all of their ammunition. So we know that he basics are true.

In an article about D-Day  in the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, on 3 June 1964, their reporter writes:

“Major Werner Pluskat, commander of four coastal batteries the 352nd Division in the landing section “Omaha” was one of the first who saw the Armada. From his forward command post, he peered through the telescope, when morning dawned and the mist of the night lifted above the sea: The horizon was dotted with ships – ten thousand estimated the Major. The inferno broke out.”

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR: OPERATION OVERLORD (THE NORMANDY LANDINGS), JUNE 1944 (A 23977) HMS RODNEY bombarding gun positions in the Caen area as seen from the cruiser HMS FROBISHER. In support of the Normandy landings British Naval guns have been constantly bombarding enemy positions, often many miles inland. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187109

 

Cornelius Ryan, who wrote the book, The Longest Day, was a well-known journalist of the era and a careful researcher. Born in Ireland (he became an American citizen in 1957) he worked as a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph of London.

Incredibly, he flew 14 bombing missions over Germany as part of his work as a journalist although not required to do so. He also witnessed the D-Day landings as a journalist. It would have been difficult to fool him.

Since Ryan interviewed so many participants in the battle, Allied and German, I find it hard to believe that Pluskat made up the story about himself he told Ryan. Further Pluskat only died in 2002 at age 90 so other German veterans of D-Day from the 352nd Infantry Division had decades to accuse Pluskat of lying. To my knowledge, such accusations were never made.

Ryan’s book is a well-written narrative history of the D-Day. It contains a number of small inaccuracies. However, these are mainly due to his lack of access to records about D-Day which were still classified at the time he wrote the book in 1957 and 1958. But his interview with Pluskat is accurate.

“The Longest Day” was published in 1959.

ryan1

Sadly, Cornelius Ryan died tragically early in his life at age 54 in 1974 of prostate cancer.

*a fascinating “look behind enemy lines” can be found in the correctly translate reported written for the Allies after the battle by one of the captured regimental commanders of the 352nd German Infantry Division. Historian Stewart Bryant tracked down the original document in German written by the officer. About twenty years ago, historians discovered that hundreds of these documents had been incorrectly translated.

Bryant has translated this German report into English himself and has added valuable commentary and explanations.

You can read his excellent work here:

http://www.omaha-beach.org/US-Version/352/352US.html

Terrorist Bomb Plot Foiled by Postage Due

36 packages of dynamite rigged as bombed were mailed to prominent US officials in April of 1919. Thought to be the work of anarchists although this was never proven. For various reasons none of the people the bombs were addressed to actually reached them.

Author and historian, Tim Weiner, writing in his Pulitzer Prize winning book,  Enemies: a History of the FBI,  says: “A postal clerk in New York found sixteen of them [dynamite bombs] on the postage due shelf; the bombers hadn’t used enough stamps.”

Squander Bug Don’t Be One

Hitlers_ally800

courtesy of Imperial War Museum and copyright by IWM

 

From the Imperial War Museum:

“This unpleasant-looking character is called the Squander Bug, and it was created during the Second World War by artist Phillip Boydell, an employee of the National Savings Committee. The Committee raised funds by urging the public to save their own money and invest it in the war effort.

The cartoon bug appeared in press adverts and poster campaigns as a menace who encouraged shoppers to waste money rather than buy war savings certificates.

The campaign was extremely popular and the cartoon was adapted for use in other countries, including Australia and New Zealand. The American children’s author Dr Seuss created his own version of the Squander Bug for use in war savings campaigns in the United States.”

 

Dont_listen_800

mirror_800

Squash_800

Additional “Squander Bug” posters produced by the same artist and issued by the British Government in World War Two.

all posters copyright by the Imperial War Museum

iwm.org.uk/meet-the-squander-bug

London Underground Saved Thousands During Blitz

london-underground-logo

a welcome sight to Londoners during the Blitz—- mainly heavy night bombing of London by Nazi Germany.

When someone is bombing you from the air then you instinctively want to get as far underground as you can and during the Nazi blitz on London the London subway system known unofficially as “the tube” and officially as the London Underground provided a safe place during the bombing. However, not all London Underground stations were very deep since they had been built by “cut and cover” method. This usually involved tearing up a street digging to the minimum depth required, putting in the concrete pieces of the tunnel then covering the “cut” with excavated soil.

children-sleepig-in-hammocks-during-blitz

ARP warden looks over children sleeping in hammocks in the underground. ARP was the abbreviation of “Air Raid Precautions,” the government’s umbrella organization which organized a series of services to help people during and after German bombing raids. (The Italian Air Force also joined their German allies several times in bombing London).

playing-cards-in-the-tube

Playing cards to pass the time. What the photographs don’t show is the stench and dirt.

At the beginning of the Blitz few Underground Stations had sanitary facilities to handle hundreds and hundreds of people. Chemical toilets were hastily installed but that wasn’t a panacea. Most tube stations smelled like public latrines and were filthy. Rats were a common site and mosquitoes and other bugs flourished in the warm environment. All of these problems were addressed but it took time and money and only later in the war were the Underground stations capable of handling huge crowds and providing them with bathrooms, etc.

01_00544890-1

In this photograph taken in the Piccadilly Underground station men and women have commandeered the passenger cars themselves and are using them as dormitories–albeit very uncomfortable.

piccadilly-circus-platform-early-in-blitz

The lack of comforts in the early days is captured by this photograph of a platform in the Piccadilly Circus underground station. People are sleeping crammed together while others are just sitting on the dirty concrete platform. One of the reasons the platforms were dirty was the inability of London Transport cleaning crews to clean the platforms at night because of all the people. 

Memoirs from the era typically mention the stench of the tube stations and the smelled of diapers or nappies suddenly filled by a scared child. That stank. People copulated and those around them looked away. Life-threatening events tended to increase sexual desire among people. It wasn’t a great experience and isn’t something most people of the time remembered very fondly. While photographs of Londoners sheltering in the tube stations became an iconic part of the history of the war, less then 5% of the population sheltered in the tube stations during air raids. Others sheltered in place or went elsewhere.

asleep-on-platofrm

Safe from bombs but hardly an ideal environment. Water for cleaning yourself was not available in the Underground stations in the first months of the Blitz.

london-underground-blitz

Happy Londoners in posed photo showing them receiving refreshments after the “all clear” has sounded. The woman with her arm around one of her children in the left side of the photo appears to be wearing trousers which would have been very unusual in that era.

Hitler Describes America

“What is America anyway but millionaires, beauty queens, stupid records, and Hollywood?” Hitler to Putzi Hanfstaengl.

pl296

beauty queens at the Olympic Club in San Francisco circa 1939

(photo courtesy of San Francisco Examiner Photographic Archive)

“What is America anyway but millionaires, beauty queens, stupid records, and Hollywood?” Hitler to Putzi Hanfstaengl.

source: The Eagle and the Swastika by James V. Compton

Hitler declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941. By mid-March 1945, American and British troops and British Commonwealth troops had crossed the Rhine river, the key geographical barrier in western Germany.

8 People Made Honorary Citizens of the US

 

1 of the 8 is Britain’s greatest leader and the savior of Western Civilization, Sir Winston Churchill.

 

h-40057

Churchill greeting President Franklin D Roosevelt at the Quebec Conference in Canada, 11 September 1944.

photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum

 

I have seen numbers ranging from 2 to 6 but according to this official page of the US Senate, there are eight honorary citizens of the United States.

One of the eight, and the most important as far as I am concerned, is Sir Winston Churchill.

http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/three_column_table/HonoraryCitizens_US.htm

 

They are:

Bernardo de Gálvez
Casimir Pulaski
Marquis de Lafayette
Mother Teresa
William and Hannah Callowhill Penn
Raoul Wallenberg
Winston Churchill

Churchill Visits Bombed Plymouth

WINSTON CHURCHILL DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE UNITED KINGDOM (H 9265) Winston Churchill is cheered by workers during a visit to bomb damaged Plymouth on 2 May 1941. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Lady Nancy Astor, Lord Mayoress of Plymouth, on this visit, who can be seen behind Churchill. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196631
Winston Churchill is cheered by workers during a visit to bomb-damaged Plymouth on 2 May 1941. This was one of many morale-boosting visits he made across Britain. Public opinion polls, then in their infancy, show that between July 1940 and May 1945, never less than 78 per cent of those polled said they approved of Churchill as prime minister. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Lady Nancy Astor, Lord Mayoress of Plymouth, on this visit, who can be seen behind Churchill. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196631  

Comments Charles McCain: Nancy Astor, shown in the photograph, was an arch appeaser of the Nazis. The unofficial name for the powerful appeasers of Hitler in Great Britain was “the Cliveden Set.” Cliveden was her country home.

She was, however, the first women elected to the British Parliament and she was actually an American citizen till she married Vincent Astor, subsequently Lord Astor. She and Churchill disliked each other greatly.

Supposedly she is the person who was subjected to Churchill’s withering put-down after she accused him at a dinner party (not in Parliament) of being drunk:

“Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.”

“My dear you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”

However, like some of the best quotes in history, there is a disagreement over whether he actually said this and to whom he said it. According to this story in the Independent, Churchill may have said this Nancy Astor or to Bessie Braddock, a Labour member of Parliament or never actually said it at all. Details in this story from the Independent.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/my-dear-you-are-ugly-but-tomorrow-i-shall-be-sober-and-you-will-still-be-ugly-winston-churchill-tops-8878622.html

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: