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Corporal Hans Rudolf Thiel

Discussion in 'The War In Normandy' started by Jim, Aug 24, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Corporal Hans Rudolf Thiel, in the Regimental platoon of 6th Paratroop Regiment, recalls how it was left to him to sound the alarm for the airborne invasion of the Allies over Cherbourg, on 6 June 1944.

    “The invasion alarm of the previous day and last night has been lifted. The storm has abated and it has stopped raining. The sun is even shining today, as if it wants to compensate us for the unbearable tension of the last 24 hours. The rumour is going round that the Allies have ordered their invasion fleet to turn back because of the poor weather. This can only help us … a stay of execution.

    Today no Rommelspargel [Rommel's asparagus, anti-glider obstacles] are planted, instead of this we have machine-gun exercises in the field. We march out to the surrounding meadows and move into cover positions. Sergeant Major Geiss, our platoon commander, allows us to catch up on the sleep we missed last night. As well as we can, we all seek out a place with good cover in the hedges, or sunbathe. At high altitude above us one enemy bomber squadron after another flies into the hinterland, and from there we can hear a terrible thundering. The daily reconnaissance plane does his rounds and now and then a few fighter bombers buzz by like hornets. Our morale is good, but the old front veterans have 'something in their water'. They don't trust the overall aura of peace. Arthur Volker, my bunker comrade, has indigestion. He says he always feels like this when something's afoot. Even I can't conceal a sense of unease. After the relative calm of the last few weeks I turn my thoughts to the massive bombardments of the hinterland. Something is going to come down on us. The food today was wretched once again, a lot of groats and no meat, a lot of jam and no sausage. Hopefully it will remain quiet tonight, and we're all hoping that there won't be another' false alarm'. Arthur and I are assigned the task of 'highchair watch'. This is a very exposed and windy job. There's a stiff breeze coming in from the sea, the moon shines brightly now and again through the gaps in the clouds. It is not cold just chilly, and up on the highchair in the poplars you get a real shaking. At midnight I have to take over from Arthur, and until then I try to get a few winks of sleep. No chance. I just can't get to sleep. I'm getting more restless with every hour that passes. I try to read with only the Hindenburg light, but I can't concentrate. What the devil is going on? The night is so quiet, no sound of engines. Only the wind rustling through the poplars. I have to take over from Arthur soon. Since I can't get any sleep anyway, I take over from him earlier. I get dressed, fasten my belt, check my machine pistol and magazine and crawl out of the bunker. The fresh air suddenly makes me shudder and I look around in the darkness. Strange, this peace is just not normal. I have the feeling that there's something lying in wait for us. I go up to the highchair tree and call out, 'Arthur, come down. I can't sleep, I'm going to take over now'. Arthur climbs down the ladder and says, 'Bloody wind. It's damned cold, and there's absolutely nothing to report,' and he disappears into the night.

    I climb up to the high chair and look at my watch. Still 10 minutes before midnight. I hang my binoculars round my neck, load my machine pistol and put the catch on, and then I sit down and make myself comfortable. A few minutes later I can hear the familiar but distant sound of aircraft engines. 'Bloody hell', I think to myself, 'there's more than a few, I hope they're not going to drop their bombs on us.' I look at my watch again, and take a look through the binoculars. It was seven minutes after midnight when I saw masses of red and bright white lights in a north-westerly direction. To every soldier with any experience at all this could mean only one thing … ENEMY ATTACK! ! !

    My common sense told me 'this is the invasion'. After the first shock I grabbed the telephone connecting the highchair position with the regimental command post and turned the handle like a madman. At the regimental command post: 'Duty clerk here, Corporal?' I told him what I had seen. In the meantime the sound of the engines could be heard over our position. Duty clerk: 'One moment, I'll get the adjutant'. Regimental command post: 'Lieutenant Peiser! What's going on? Report!' I give the report: 'Corporal Thiel here, platoon, direction north-west, Cherbourg, red and white lights sighted, loud aircraft noise. The enemy is attacking!' As the receiver was not put down at the command post I could hear Lieutenant Peiser give the duty clerk the order to fetch the Major straight a way. Then I could hear the major rushing up and could pick out a few scraps of the conversation … 'this afternoon' … Frenchmen' … 'damn' ‘why no alarm?' … (a word I couldn't understand). Major: 'Platoon, report!' Me: 'Corporal Thiel here, platoon.

    Me: 'Corporal Thiel here, platoon. Mass of lights direction of the coast and Cherbourg. Enemy attacking. This is the invasion, Herr Major, should I sound the alarm?' I look at my watch, it's now 11 minutes after midnight.

    Major: 'Sound the alarm! Sergeant Major Geiss to me immediately.' The receiver is put down. I put down the receiver and shout out as loud as I can: 'Alarm, alarm!' Again and again I shout 'Invasion!, Invasion!' and fire off two machine-pistol magazines ..."
     

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