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Thread: Heinrich Severloh (ᛉ1923 – ᛣ2006) - The Hero of Omaha Beach

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    Senior Member Ediruc's Avatar
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    Heinrich Severloh (ᛉ1923 – ᛣ2006) - The Hero of Omaha Beach

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Severloh

    Heinrich Severloh (23 June 1923 – 14 January 2006) was a soldier in the German 352nd Infantry Division, which was stationed in Normandy in 1944. He has been referred to as the “Beast of Omaha Beach” by the media of English speaking countries. He rose to notoriety as a gunner in a machine gun emplacement known as WN 62 “Widerstandsnest 62”. In his autobiography he claimed that in that position he inflicted 1500-2000 casualties while American soldiers were landing on Omaha Beach as part of Operation Overlord.
    I need a confirmation if this is true. From what I know approximately 3,000 U.S. soldiers were counted as casualties overall from Operation Overlord. So that means Severloh killed about 1/3 of the invading forces on Normandy?



    The creator of the above video claims it's just Nazi propaganda. Anyone can confirm this?

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    I have a copy of Hein Severloh's memoir, and also of a book which mentions him at length in describing the German defences on that stretch of coast.

    There seems little doubt that he shot down more enemy troops in legitimate action than any other soldier of the Second World War. He was firing for eight hours without a break and always had unprotected US troops in the water to shoot at. He was not a well young man and had been sent to Normandy for the climate.

    In his book he estimates that he was responsible for the majority of the deaths of US soldiers attempting to land on Omaha Beach. He used an MG-42 and resorted to a sniper's rifle while the barrel of his MG was being changed and the ammunition belt reloaded. For most of the time his MG was the only gun in action along the Omaha Beach foreshore.

    The cause of this disaster was the failure of the aerial bombing and naval shelling to create craters on Omaha beach in which landing troops could shelter. Because of this failure they came ashore on open beaches and could be picked off in droves by a single machine gunner. There were also mutinies in the landing craft when the troops saw that the sea was red with blood. The great majority of the US casualties during the entire landing operation occurred on Omaha Beach for the reasons stated.

    Let me know if you require any more information from the two books.

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    Sees all, knows all Chlodovech's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ediruc View Post
    I need a confirmation if this is true. From what I know approximately 3,000 U.S. soldiers were counted as casualties overall from Operation Overlord. So that means Severloh killed about 1/3 of the invading forces on Normandy?
    A few years ago I saw a documentary with new information on the Battle of Omaha Beach, I don't recall its name, but it claimed that American losses were higher than hitherto had been assumed. Twice as many. They numbered about 5000. These losses were expected in advance by the Allied Headquarters though, the planners predicted there would be 5000 casualties for an invasion force trying to gain a foothold on Omaha Beach. So Severloh might have inflicted far more casualties than we think.
    "If we were going to stand in darkness, best we stand in a darkness we had made ourselves.” ― Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

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    Senior Member Ediruc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ohrdruf View Post

    Let me know if you require any more information from the two books.
    Thanks I think I have enough information and evidence to believe Severloh did inflict that many casualties on the Allied forces. One particular argument I favor is the fact that the soldiers were all compact with each other (shoulder to shoulder) upon entering the beach, making it nearly impossible to avoid MG fire initially.

    One thing though I'm unclear about is that if there was another MG nest or two set up near him? If so wouldn't that discredit Severloh's claim?

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    Senior Member Ediruc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chlodovech View Post
    A few years ago I saw a documentary with new information on the Battle of Omaha Beach, I don't recall its name, but it claimed that American losses were higher than hitherto had been assumed. Twice as many. They numbered about 5000. These losses were expected in advance by the Allied Headquarters though, the planners predicted there would be 5000 casualties for an invasion force trying to gain a foothold on Omaha Beach. So Severloh might have inflicted far more casualties than we think.
    Is this the documentary?


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    The two expert books on this subject are:

    Hein Severloh: WN 62 Erinnerungen an Omaha Beach, Normandie, 6 Juni 1944, publ HEK Creativ verlag Garbsen, 5th Reprint 2007; and by the same publisher the splendidly illustrated volume by Helmut K. von Keusgen: Stützpunkt WN 62 Normandie 1942-1944. Von Keusgen has his own publishing house which specializes in the Normandy landings and nothing else, and has about ten books on offer.

    Omaha Beach from west to east had the following resistance nests (WN):
    WN 64 and WN 65 as observation posts:
    WN 62, then 250 metres further east WN 61 armed with one 5-cm Pak anti-tank gun, another kilometre east WN 60 with no armament and two kilometres east of that WN 59 a battery command post from which the commanding officer, Major Pluskat, had absented himself.

    The defence of the coast was based on artillery and not machine gunners, HE shells bursting amongst unprotected troops was considered a more lethal form of defence and much more difficult to take out since they stood several back miles from the coast.

    WN 62 was the largest resistance nest. It was intended to be a gunnery strongpoint, but by D-Day few of the installations had been completed.

    WN 62 was the principal artillery direction post and was equipped with a telephone exchange plus light and signals transmission equipment inside two bunkers. The post was situated on an elevation of maximum height 60 metres above sea level, surrounded entirely by a vast minefield. Oberleutnant Frerking was the commander of WN 62, Obergefreiter Hein Severloh was his gunner. The bunker complex was built into a slope at an elevation of 30 metres and from here Severloh's task was to defend the artillery spotting post against attack, not guard the beaches.


    The six batteries of Artillery Regiment 352 were well inland at Houtteville, Mosles and Etreham, Vierville, St Laurent and Formigny. The batteries were equipped with 1917 model Czech 7.65-cm field guns.

    After the aerial bombing and naval bombardment of WN 62 had failed and the landing craft began to approach WN 62 directly, Severloh was ordered to fire on the landing troops. This was at about 0630 hrs.

    By 0800 hrs American forces had reached the western minefield of WN 62 and the US seaborne force was under fire only from the anti-tank gun on WN 61, the artillery batteries from the villages behind the beach and Severloh's MG 42. Severloh stated that towards midday a sergeant arrived wearing a version of Army uniform he had never seen before and though bleeding profusely from a neck wound continued to supply Severloh with MG ammunition for an hour.

    Severloh estimated that he fired 8,000 rounds of MG ammunition during the occupation of WN 62 before the position had to be abandoned around 1500 hrs that afternoon. In his book he remarked that although he had little experience on the MG, he was a marksman with the rifle and he found no difficulty in becoming accustomed to the MG.

    The photographs taken from seaward in both books all show the muzzle flashes from Severloh's MG on the elevation. There was no doubt in their mind that only one MG was firing, and this was it.

    The official US report stated that American casualties on the beaches overall were 1465 dead, 1928 missing and 3184 wounded, but the Germans consider this a very low figure while Severloh estimated that at least 3,000 GI's were dead in the water in front of WN 62.

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    The MG42 could fire something like 1200 rounds per minute. It was a two man operating team so Severloh didn't work alone. The gun's barrel was air cooled so it came as a unit with a spare barrel which was changed with the first barrel became too hot. This gun was a marvel of its time.

    According to alternative history/science writer Dr. Axel Stoll (a Geophysicist) the MG42 contained a component, a spring or something, which was made of a special alloy which we are now unable to duplicate.

    Stoll, Axel, Ph.D., Hochtechnologie Im Dritten Reich...Amun Verlag, D-98553 Schleusingen (description found in author's notes at rear of book)

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    Severloh estimated that he fired 8,000 rounds of MG ammunition during the occupation of WN 62 before the position had to be abandoned around 1500 hrs that afternoon. In his book he remarked that although he had little experience on the MG, he was a marksman with the rifle and he found no difficulty in becoming accustomed to the MG.
    Severloh used the rifle while his MG42 was cooling. He claims to have fired 12.000 rounds with the MG42 and another 400 with the rifle.

    I won't say he was indifferent to the hundreds/thousands of invaders he shot on the beach, but he seemed particularly affected by the lone GI he shot in the head at relatively close range. He suddenly realised what he'd been doing all along - killing people! - and said this vision haunted him for years afterwards.

    Here are a couple of photos of WN62. The top one shows the unimpeded view he had over the beach - a perfect place for a sniper to operate! - and the bottom one shows what I believe was his actual firing position. It's the smaller and more advanced of the two foxholes to the right of the bunker ...




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    Sees all, knows all Chlodovech's Avatar
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    Severloh has been in the media several times throughout the years. I think the position shown in SP's pictures above does indeed depict WN 62 (Widerstands Nest 62) but perhaps not Severloth's bunker and firing position. As far as I can tell WN 62 is not the name of a single bunker, but a group of concrete fortifications. Severloth may have switched positions during the fight, yet this bunker (picture below), which looks like an antitank bunker and is also part of WN 62, should've been his main firing position - that's what I'm reading and how I recall his position being depicted during reanactments - not sure what the story is here, why an antitank bunker was used for this purpose or whether there was an antitank gun in the bunker at all on D-Day.









    "If we were going to stand in darkness, best we stand in a darkness we had made ourselves.” ― Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

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    I think the position shown in SP's pictures above does indeed depict WN 62 (Widerstands Nest 62) but perhaps not Severloth's bunker and firing position. As far as I can tell WN 62 is not the name of a single bunker, but a group of concrete fortifications. Severloth may have switched positions during the fight, yet this bunker (picture below), which looks like an antitank bunker and is also part of WN 62, should've been his main firing position - that's what I'm reading and how I recall his position being depicted during reanactments - not sure what the story is here, why an antitank bunker was used for this purpose or whether there was an antitank gun in the bunker at all on D-Day.
    Chlod, you are quite right that WN62 is the name of the whole complex.

    For the record, I've visited all of them in the Omaha Beach section from WN60 to WN75 (a.k.a. the Pointe du Hoc). Many of them - despite their name - are not really 'resistance points' at all and are little more than observation posts, whilst others may just have a single gun or some other token gesture.

    WN62 is one of the larger ones and I've actually been inside that anti-tank bunker you've shown. It's down almost at sea level and was not set up for Severloh's purposes. He operated from an open field position much higher up which corresponds to the place on my photo.

    If I'm honest, there's about a 5% doubt in my mind whether this was his precise location but an American and a Frenchman both agreed with me that this was the spot. The whole complex is in such a poor state these days that many of the bunker emplacements are now overgrown (hence my slight doubt) and vegetation has all but filled in the communications trenches between the various bunkers, which are now barely a foot (30 cm) deep!

    As for whether the anti-tank bunker saw any action on D-Day, this is not something I've paid attention to but perhaps not because most of the Germans fled during the heavy bombardment which preceded the landings. I don't think it played a significant role therefore, and perhaps none at all. In fact, the place was almost deserted with Severloh and another chap called Franz Gockel being the only two active defenders until the latter got wounded, leaving Severloh alone.

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