“Right for me!”
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. *
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
Comments Charles McCain: Stagg was the considered the top weather forecaster in Great Britain. He was a civilian but during the war he was given the rank of Group Captain and made Chief Meteorological Officer of the RAF.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower aboard the HMS Apollo, a mine layer, on a visit to a beachhead along French coast, June 7, 1944.
(photo courtesy of Eisenhower Foundation)
“OK, let’s go.”
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, giving the final order for D-day, the assault on Nazi-occupied France, June 5, 1944
The greatest invasion force in the history of warfare stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. It was the beginning of a campaign of liberation to eliminate Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and its commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, called it “The Great Crusade.”
Eisenhower gave the final order that put the vast operation in motion in the early morning hours of June 5, as meteorologists predicted a temporary break in the stormy weather. Hours later he wrote this note, in case the operation were to fail. In the statement, he praised the men he commanded and accepted total responsibility for the failure the next day could bring. The only apparent hint of nerves on his part is his error in dating the note “July 5” instead of June 5.
(courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Presidential Papers, Principal File: Butcher Diary 1942-1945). Harry Butcher was Eisenhower’s naval aide.
US Army troops heading for the beaches at Normandy 6 June 1944
(photo courtesy of USA Today)
As this Coast Guard LCI noses into a French Invasion beach to debark it’s load of American troops, a Nazi mine explodes close off its port bow. Exposed to enemy fire in the beach dashes, Coast Guard Coxswain and Gun Crew felt the first fury of German shell and machine gun fire, as well as the blasts of hidden mines. From the Records of the U.S. Coast Guard (RG 26).
“To go or not to go?”
Gen. Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist, Group Capt. James Martin Stagg, made one of the most important weather forecasts of all time. Defying his colleagues, he advised Ike to postpone the invasion of Normandy by one day from June 5, 1944, to June 6, because of uncertain weather conditions….
Stagg — who was actually a geophysicist by training — and his fellow British and American meteorologists were operating without any of the technology and equipment that today’s forecasters take for granted, such as satellites, weather radar, computer modeling and instant communications.
Predicting the exact timing, track and strength of these storms put Group Capt. Stagg and his colleagues under almost unimaginable pressure and conflict… with the fate of the war and perhaps the world hanging in the balance.
Years later, during their ride to the Capitol for his inauguration, President-elect John F. Kennedy asked President Eisenhower why the Normandy invasion had been so successful.
Ike’s answer: “Because we had better meteorologists than the Germans!”
sources: USA Today and The Forecast for D-day: And the Weatherman behind Ike’s Greatest Gamble, by John Ross
D-Day 6 June 1944. A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach (Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France) on the morning of June 6, 1944. American soldiers encountered the newly formed German 352nd Division when landing. During the initial landing two-thirds of the Company E became casualties.
(Photo by USCG Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
June 6, 1944
A paratrooper loads for take off in England in preparation to leave for invasion
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
WWII French General Charles De Gaulle A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969.
Office of War Information, Overseas Picture Division.
 The image prefix (LC-USW3) at the Library of Congress image page matches that of pictures from the OWI collection (see prefix list here. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b42159.
I have put this detailed photo information in because I came across this photo (before I went directly to the Library of Congress) on a website called Maritime Quest. These people constantly slap their copyright on photographs which are in the public domain. It is outrageous that they do this and it is simply a way to get their website mentioned. Any photograph which is released to the public taken by a photographer working for the US Government is immediately in the public domain and no one can copyright one of said photographs.
Royal Air Force ground crew “bombing up” a Vickers Wellington MkIII strategic bomber with a 4,000 pound “cookie”.
(photo courtesy of the BBC)
more information on this bomber here:
Prior to D-Day, the Allies wanted to bomb and keep bombing important French rail junctions to make movement on the railroads difficult for the Germans. Since railroad tracks are easy to repair, we had to keep bombing them over many months and bomb rail junctions all over France so as not to give away that we were going to invade in Normandy.
The Allies sought the permission of the Free French under de Gaulle to bomb these rail junctions knowing that many thousands of Frenchmen would be killed. Nonetheless, de Gaulle gave his permission. We bombed to many areas in France that it is hard to say exactly how many French civilians were killed in Allied bombing raids on just rail junctions.
I think the estimate which many historians use is 15,000 to 20,000 dead. Many more French civilians were killed in Allied bombings of German military installations in German occupied France. Nonetheless, the bombing of rail junctions was critical to the success of D-Day. It is worth noting that according to Anthony Beevor’s history of D-Day, more French civilians were killed by Allied friendly fire on D-Day than Allied soldiers.
While the efforts of the French Resistance are wildly overestimated, it is worth noting that not one train moved on the French rail network on 6 June 1944.
An excellent piece on the number of French civilians killed in Allied bombing can be found on the BBC website here. A British historian calculates 57,000 French civilians were killed by Allied bombing of France in WW Two. He makes some disparaging remarks about why we bombed certain French cities which subsequently were quickly taken by Allied troops which they could have done without having the city bombed.
I sincerely doubt the Allied combat soldiers who were in the front line moving into attack after the bombing would agree. Second, we were bombing German strong points in French cities. We weren’t bombing the French cities for the hell of it.
Interesting article on this subject from the BBC here:
It has been a taboo subject in France for 70 years but in his D-Day commemoration speech on 6 June, President Francois Hollande will pay tribute to the terrible civilian casualties suffered by the French due to Allied bombing up to and during the liberation of France.
Historians believe Allied bombardments killed almost as many French people as German bombs killed Britons during the Blitz.
RAF Bomber Command Halifax strategic bomber in flight during World War Two
(photo courtesy British MoD)