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The Battle of Longues-Sur-Mer

Discussion in 'Longues-sur-Mer' started by Jim, Sep 13, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Werner Pluskat was a German Major who died in 1996, commander of the 352nd Artillery of the German 352nd Infantry Division during Allied invasion in Normandy 1944. He was the first German officer who saw the Allied invasion fleet on June 6, 1944, heading toward their landing zone at Omaha Beach. In the film The Longest Day, about the D-day invasion, Pluskat was a military consultant. In the movie, he was portrayed by Hans Christian Blech. Pluskat was with Generalleutnant Kurt Dittmar when they surrendered to soldiers of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division at Magdeburg on 23 April 1945.

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    The Longues-sur-Mer Battery, located in the very centre of the invasion area, was as every bit as dangerous as either the Merville Battery, on the British flank or the St Marcouf Battery north of UTAH Beach. Its guns were sited to cover the sea to its front out to a range of fourteen miles, which included the approaches to GOLD, JUNO and OMAHA Beaches that were on D-Day crowded with craft of all types. Unlike other batteries in the central invasion area, Longues-sur-Mer was built, manned and commanded by the Kriegsmarine. Work had started in September 1943 to produce heavy concrete casemates for the four C/36 152mm torpedobootskanone, made in the Skoda Works at Pilsen. These highly effective guns, which had been dismounted from a destroyer of the blockaded Kriegsmarine, had a much greater range and throw weight than their field gun equivalents. The type M272 casemates housing the guns were of a different design to Wehrmacht constructions, the chief difference being the wide formations that gave the casemates greater stability in the event of a near miss by large bombs or shells. In addition, in line with normal Kriegsmarine practice, most of the four hundred rounds of ammunition per gun were kept in magazine shelters to the rear of each casemate. This contrasted with Wehrmacht practice where the first line ammunition was stored in the gun casemates. On the cliff top, three hundred yards in front of the battery, stands the equally massive M262 command post casemate, where the battery’s optical range-finder was located, along with radio and line communications from outside. As Colonel Ocker of 352nd Division complained in his post-war questioning, the battery was under command of the Kriegsmarine until the Allied landing began; as a result, little co-ordinated fire control planning had taken place. This was typical of Hitler’s web of duplicated and overlapping responsibilities that was designed to divide and rule and did so much to undermine the operational effectiveness of the German forces. Both Resistance and air recce closely monitored the construction of the massive casemates over the months before D-Day, as its guns were a significant concern to the naval planners. However, of equal importance to 2 Devon, who were to deliver the ground attack on the battery, was the proliferation of surrounding minefields and wire. The April 1944 edition of 231 Brigade’s Intelligence Summary described the battery, which was still under construction:

    Map Showing the plotted mine fields.

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    “A thin belt of wire, probably double apron contains the strong point, but is thickened up at the main defences overlooking the beach, and covering an exit up the cliff. A track leads up from the beach, but is blocked by a wall. The defences consist of weapon pits and trench systems, with concrete shelters to the rear of them. Work is still progressing on the gun site. ... The mine field consists of zig-zag belts of four to eight rows of mines; no two adjoining belts appear to have the same layout, and the width of the belt varies from 30ft to as much as 110ft in the case of belts with eight rows.”

    In addition, after the battery’s capture, the Devon’s found that shells, primed for remote detonation, had been positioned on the cliff to deal with attack from the sea. As more intelligence came in during May, the increasing seriousness of the task facing 2 Devon became more apparent. While the casemate neared completion, the ground defences were thickened up. In total, there were fourteen concrete structures, either shelters or weapons pits. The latter contained machine-guns and, according to the report of a Special (naval gunfire) Observer Party, ‘two 20 mm guns for ground and air defence, three 80mm medium mortar pits and a searchlight’.

    Unlike Merville, the Longues-sur-Mer battery was not to be subject to an airborne attack before the landings, despite being a more significant threat. The airborne drop at Merville was partly due to the fact that it was coincidentally in the centre of 6th Airborne Division’s area and, secondly, Merville could not be directly observed and engaged by Allied warships. As a Kriegsmarine coastal battery, Longues-sur-Mer was sited to engage targets out to sea, over open sights if necessary. Whereas, sited inland, Merville’s task was to neutralize troops landing on the beach, with fire being directed by an observer. However, the Allied navies were confident that they could successfully engage the Longues-sur-Mer casemates on the cliff-top and prevent the battery from inflicting significant damage. The first phase of the Allied plan to deal with the threat posed by Longues-sur-Mer was bombing, in the weeks before the invasion, to slow construction. In the days before D-Day, the Battery was heavily bombed on the nights of 28/29 May and again on 3/4 June. A total of 1,500 tonnes of bombs was dropped. The effect of the 28/29 May bombing impressed the Devon’s and Colonel Nevill recalled seeing air photographs of the battery:

    “As I was about to go on board, I was met by the Brigade Commander who said, “I have got here photos which will delight your eyes. The RAF is apologetic about them, saying that of course it is only their first bombing of the place; they hope to do much better later!” We could hardly believe our eyes. The whole area looked amass of craters. The photographs were passed rapidly round the ship and the atmosphere was “Well, if the RAF bombs every enemy position like that, the whole party will be a complete picnic”. We no longer felt as anxious about Longues.”

    Map showing the Longues-sur-Mer Battery under construction, prior to being bombed.

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    This, however, did not represent the end of the aerial bombardment. While the Allied airborne divisions were dropping shortly after midnight on 5/6 June, the battery was deluged by five hundred tons of bombs and was later attacked by five squadrons of heavy bombers from H-40 to H+10. The next stage of the attack was to be a bombardment by the Royal Navy’s HMS Ajax with her eight 6-inch guns. She would engage the casemates in a traditional gun duel that was designed to neutralize the battery until it could be cleared by 2 Devon, sometime after H+5 hours on D-Day.

    D-Day Action
    There is a degree of controversy between the British and French over the naval engagement of Longues-sur-Mer. However, naval logs of the ships concerned provide a precise record of the action. At 0500 hours, HMS Ajax was lying at anchor six nautical miles to the north of Longues-sur-Mer. Captain Weld, searching the coastline through his binoculars in the early dawn light, saw the low silhouette of the battery on the cliff top. At 0530 hours (sunrise minus forty minutes) he ordered his eight 6-inch guns to open fire. At first, there was no response. However, the battery opened fire, initially at the destroyer USS Emmons at 0537 hours, but switched its fire to the battleship USS Arkansas lying off Omaha at a range of ten miles. Arkansas and the French cruiser Georges Leygues joined Ajax’s engagement, firing twenty twelve-inch and one hundred and ten five-inch shells, and the battery fell silent. At 0557, the battery again opened fire, this time to the east, at the anchored HMS Bulolo off Gold, with the first rounds from Number 3 and 4 guns straddling the target. Bulolo was a prime target, being the Naval Force G’s flagship and 50th Division’s HQ ship and, therefore, a vital nerve centre. She quickly weighed anchor and moved seaward. At 0605 hours Number 1 and 2 guns re-engaged Arkansas and the two French cruisers. In response, FFS Montcalm joined HMS Ajax in her redoubled rate of fire and, by 0620 hours, the battery was again silenced. Over the next two hours, the battery came into action again several times, engaging targets in the Gold area. HMS Argonaut joined Ajax and fired twenty-nine and one hundred and fifty rounds respectively before the battery was silenced at 0845 hours. The guns in casemates 3 and 4 were knocked out, while numbers 1 and 2 were damaged. By late afternoon, the Kriegsmarine gunners had repaired Number 1 gun, which, because the open front was facing slightly to the west, had been more difficult for Ajax to engage effectively. This gun opened fire on shipping off Omaha, where the battle was only just swinging in the Americans favour. George Leygues, under command of Naval Bombardment Force C, replied. There was a terse exchange of Aldis Lamp signals between Captain Weld and Admiral Jaujard, the former claiming the battery as Ajax’s exclusive target. The French were not impressed and George Leygues continued to engage! Number 1 gun was finally put out of action at 1800 hours, by the fire of both ships. From the number of empty cylinders in the casemates, it is estimated that the battery fired approximately one hundred and fifty rounds during the course of D-Day. Without the air and naval bombardment, the effect of these shells, and 1,050 rounds found in the battery’s magazines, would have been highly significant, especially off Omaha, where the battle hung in the balance for most of the day. Commander Edwards attributes Longues-sur-Mer’s neutralisation to some exhibition shooting on the part of Ajax, which will long be quoted as an instance of amazing gunnery by a ship against a shore battery. 2 Devon’s ground attack planned for D-Day did not take place as scheduled. The delay on the beach and more determined resistance than expected caused the battalion to halt at Ryes for the night.

    The Longues-sur-Mer Battery after the bombing on 28/29 May 1944.

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    The Attack on D+1
    At 0530 hours, B Company led 2 Devon’s advance westward from Ryes to the Masse de Cradalle, which was occupied without opposition at 0700 hours. C Company rejoined the battalion from its overnight location in la Rosiere and took the lead towards the village of Longues with Lieutenant Colonel Nevill’s Tactical HQ and the remainder of the battalion following. The commanding officer recorded that:

    “When we got to within 3,000 yards of the village we had our first view of the battery itself Lieutenant Frank Pease, now commanding C Company, and I, looking through our field glasses, wondered whether in fact it was occupied. Our doubts were soon dispelled by the appearance of two Germans walking slowly across the area. At this moment, the Brigade Commander arrived to say that HMS Ajax and a squadron of fighter-bomber’s would be available to support the attack. As we knew the strength of the position was still formidable, in spite of the RAF softening up, we gladly made use of their assistance. It was decided that Ajax would fire from 0815 until 0845 hours, at which time the squadron of fighter-bombers would blast the place for five minutes. The MG Platoon of 2 Cheshire, under Capt Bill Williams, would give direct support to the infantry attack, timed to take place at 0900 hours.”

    C Company was to deliver the attack. Lieutenant David Holdsworth recalled that the bombardment was “a marvellous spectacle, and we wondered how anybody could still be alive in the great concrete-faced battery”. The plan was to attack through the village, astride the road, where the minefields appeared to be fewer. Lieutenant Holdsworth described C Company’s advance, which began at 0852 hours, “accompanied by a party of Brigade and Divisional staff officers who had come along for the fun of it”:

    “This was a set piece battle and, apparently, a lot depended upon it. The two leading platoons and the acting company commander (Lieutenant Pease) made their tortuous way towards the battery. There was no sound from it, either because the enemy were holding their fire or because they were dead.”

    HMS Ajax in action on D-Day against Longues-sur-Mer Battery.

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    There is no mention in any accounts of casualties from mines during the attack. Presumably, a high proportion of the minefields were dummies and the Royal Navy and RAF bombardment had sympathetically detonated many others. It is highly likely that, with landmines not being a normal Kriegsmarine inventory item, the number laid was limited. Lieutenant Holdsworth continued:

    “In the rear came my platoon. To my surprise, the two leading platoons made their way beyond the place from which they were expected to carry out the final assault. My platoon was just about level with it. The acting Company Commander realized this. Time was against a complete reorganization to carry out the original assault plan by 0900 hours. There was only one thing to do. And he did it. He ordered an about turn. The effect was to make my platoon into the lead platoon and, therefore, commit it to immediate attack. Faced with barbed wire encircling the whole of the approach to the battery, and with those wretched “Achtung Minen!” signs generously scattered round the area, we felt pitifully inadequate to the demands of the situation. The only pleasant feature about the whole affair was the fact that no-one was firing at us from the battery. We advanced to the wire in a very open formation. Still there was no sound from the enemy. Gingerly we stepped over the wire and down one of the criss-cross paths. At that moment one of the massive iron doors of the battery swung open. Out came the enemy with white flags held out in front of them.”

    However, not all of the Kriegsmarine gunners were prepared to surrender so easily and machine-gun and rifle fire was directed at the Devon’s from across the battery. This complicated and slowed down the clearance of the positions, which was a labyrinth of bunkers, blown-in trenches and a few tunnels. With some enemy still active, the Devon’s had to assume the worst and methodically clear the battery. In doing so, they suffered a number of casualties, including Captain Nobby Clark, who was killed near the German command post on the cliff edge, which held out longer than other parts of the battery. Private Kerslake recalled:

    “We attacked one of the gun bunkers, where we had to go round to the front as we couldn’t make any impression on the heavy door at the back. As we went around the mounds of earth, we came under fire from a very heavy calibre machine gun, probably one of the 20mm guns, and only survived as there were plenty of craters from near-misses to hide in. After my experience of the landing the day before, I was not looking forward to clearing the gun bunker and, even though it was hot, I was in a cold sweat. Under covering fire we went in. After the bright daylight, we couldn’t see anything. There were shots that dangerously ricocheted off the walls. I never did find out if they were ours or theirs. We went through the bunker; we had been warned not to use grenades, as we would have in normal buildings, as we could have exploded ammunitions and ourselves with it. We reached the back door and opened it and I nearly got shot by a very young lad from our platoon who was on his own; very jumpy and very white.”

    At 1053, the battery was reported as captured; in addition to the naval guns, a 76mm field gun was captured, along with its crew, dug-in within the perimeter. Following the German surrender and the taking of ninety prisoners, out of a reported strength of 184 Kriegsmarine gunners, Lieutenant Holdsworth explained:

    “Tension eased immediately. The enemy walked down one of the paths towards us. We walked up the same path towards them. The battery was ours. Over a hundred enemy soldiers came out of the concrete-covered chambers inside the battery, all with their hands up. Inside the chamber was a smell, which I can only describe as the smell of human fear. Having witnessed the bombardment to which they had been subjected, it wasn’t really surprising that they had surrendered. I would have done the same.”

    A Devon recalls a chance meeting at the battery with one of the German prisoners many years later:

    “The German told us he was a sailor not a soldier but he had never been to sea. This we had not known and I began to feel for him when he explained how the RAF had hit his battery regularly and how they felt like sitting ducks on the cliff top. The sight of the invasion fleet was intimidating and it was only our Navy’s gunfire that prevented many of them from running away! They had no instruction what to do but the officers said that they were to fight us “Tommies” when we came but the final bombardment convinced several groups to surrender.”

    The massive M262 Command Post casemate on the cliff edge was a key part of the battery. The holes in the concrete were cast as a part of the camouflage screen

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    Lieutenant Holdsworth described the aftermath of the attack:

    “Having disposed of the battery successfully and, to their relief without much trouble, my platoon displayed many of the usual symptoms of a victorious army. Inside the fortified central chamber were pictures of Hitler and other German leaders. Possibly because we hadn’t had to shoot anyone in anger, mixed feelings of relief and achievement found expression in the destruction of all the pictures hanging on the walls. Fortunately, this mood of destruction didn’t last long, and within a few minutes we collected ourselves together and formed again into a fairly recognisable, disciplined unit. Some pockets bulged with loot but, on the whole, we had behaved as well as any soldier can be expected to behave on these occasions. It had been exciting and, thank goodness, an entirely successful military operation for us, and we now indulged in noisy high spirits. Back we went to our company transport.”

    Overall, the Longues-sur-Mer Battery, arguably a formidable fortification, did not prove to be as dangerous as was thought. The weight of well coordinated Allied firepower was brought to bear and effectively neutralized the enemy guns and gunners. So shocked were the Germans that 2 Devon’s ‘attack’ was more a mopping-up operation than a true attack.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    "Major Werner Pluskat in his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach had heard nothing from his superiors since 1am. He was cold, tired and exasperated. He felt isolated. He couldn't understand why there had been no reports from either regimental or divisional headquarters. To be sure, the very fact that his phone had remained silent all night was a good sign; it must mean that nothing serious was happening. But what about the paratroopers, the massed formations of planes? Pluskat could not rid himself of his growing uneasiness. Once more he swung the artillery glasses over to the left, picked up the dark mass of the Cherbourg peninsula and began another slow sweep of the horizon. The same low banks of mist came into view, the same patches of shimmering moonlight, the same restless, white-flecked sea. Nothing was changed. Everything seemed peaceful.

    Behind him in the bunker his dog, Harras, was stretched out asleep. Near by, Hauptmann Ludz Wilkening and Lieutenant Fritz Theen were talking quietly. Pluskat joined them. "Still nothing out there", he told them. "I'm about to give it up". But he walked back to the aperture and stood looking out as the first streaks of light began to lighten the sky. He decided to make another routine sweep.
    Wearily, he swung the glasses over to the left again. Slowly he tracked across the horizon. He reached the dead centre of the bay. The glasses stopped moving. Pluskat tensed, stared hard. Through the scattering, thinning mist the horizon was magically filling with ships - ships of every size and description, ships that casually manoeuvred back and forth as though they had been there for hours. There appeared to be thousands of them. It was a ghostly armada that somehow had appeared from nowhere. Pluskat stared in frozen disbelief, speechless, moved as he had never been before in his life. At that moment the world of the good soldier Pluskat began falling apart. He says that in those first few moments he knew, calmly and surely that "this was the end for Germany".

    He turned to Wilkening and Theen and, with a strange detachment, said simply, "It's the invasion. See for yourselves".
    Then he picked up the phone and called Major Block at the 352nd Division's headquarters. "Block", said Pluskat, "it's the invasion. There must be ten thousand ships out there." Even as he said it, he knew his words must sound incredible.

    "Get hold of yourself, Pluskat!" snapped Block. "The Americans and the British together don't have that many ships. Nobody has that many ships!"
    Block's disbelief brought Pluskat out of his daze. "If you don't believe me," he suddenly yelled, "come up here and see for yourself, it’s fantastic! It's unbelievable!" There was a slight pause and then Block said, "What way are these ships heading?" Pluskat, phone in hand, looked out of the aperture of the bunker and replied "Right for me."
     

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