6 Juni 1944

The Beast of Omaha Beach: Heirich Severloh

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Heirich Severloh took 40 years to begin to process what happened to him on Omaha Beach. He had taken up a concealed position on the eastern side of the beach along with 30 other German soldiers, and he recalls watching the horizon turn black with dozens of ships and landing craft racing for the shore. His commanding officer, Lt. Bernhard Frerking, had told him not to open fire until the enemy reached knee-deep level, where he could get a full view.
“What came to mind was, ‘Dear God, why have you abandoned me?’ ” he recalled. “I wasn’t afraid. My only thought was, ‘How can I get away from here?’ ”
But rather than run, Severloh slipped the first belt of ammunition into his MG-42 machine gun and opened fire. He could see men spinning, bleeding and crashing into the surf, while others ripped off their heavy packs, threw away their carbines and raced for the shore. But there was little shelter there. Severloh said he would occasionally put down the machine gun and use his carbine to pick off individual men huddled on the beach. He is still haunted by a soldier who was loading his rifle when Severloh took aim at his chest. The bullet went high and hit the man in the forehead.
“The helmet fell and rolled over in the sand,” Severloh said. “Every time I close my eyes, I can see it.”

“There were small pauses, when no landing craft came, when I could cool
down the machine gun.” His weapon became so hot it burned the grass around him. But they still came on, wave after wave disgorged from the landing craft that made it
ashore.

“I remember the first to die” said 80 year old Mr Severloh at his home
near Hanover. “The man came out of the sea. He was looking for somewhere
to hide. I shot him in the head. I saw his steel helmet roll into the sea. Then he
dropped. I knew he was dead. What could I do? Them or me- that’s what I
thought.”

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Rommel ” the enemy has to be stopped on the beach… if not …the war’s over

For the next nine hours in machine gun nest 62, Corporal Severloh sprayed
the beach with his MG-42. His position 75ft above the broad sands gave him
a perfect field of vision and fire.

Corporal Severloh had 12,000 rounds for his machine gun.
“I started shooting at 5am,” he said. “I was still shooting nearly nine
hours later. There was no panic, no hate. One did what one had to do and knew that they
as sure as hell would be doing it to you if they got the chance”

“At first the corpses were 500 metres away, then 400, then 150. There was
blood everywhere, screams, dead and dying. The swell of the sea bobbed
more bodies onto the beach.”

Severloh said he was the last man firing from his position. By mid-afternoon, his right shoulder was swollen and his slender fingers were numb from constant firing.

“In the early afternoon, I realised I was the last person still firing. I
could see tanks manouvering on the beach and knew that I couldn’t hold
them alone.”

“I heard an order to shouted by Lieutenant Ferking-a fine fellow and, at
32, a veteran-that we should retreat.”

“I ran from bomb crater to bomb crater behind our bunker complex. I waited
but he never came.”

“I visited his grave in Normandy ten years after the war. He took a head
shot from one of the Americans as he tried to follow me. I was taken
prisoner that night. I don’t think I would have survived had I been
captured at my post.”

“They knew what I had done to their friends. I don’t think those
first-wave troops would have shown me any mercy.”

Some 2,300 Americans died on ‘Bloody Omaha’ before overwhelming the German
defenders.

Mr Severloh was sent as a PoW to America and put to work picking cotton
and potatoes before returning to Germany in 1947 to resume his pre-war
life in farming.

Through his many visits back to Normandy he became friends with visiting
American veterans, and realised they has christened him The Beast of Omaha
Beach. One veteran, David Silva, who took three bullets in the chest that
day-possibly fired by Severloh-became his close friend.

“I told David how I had dreams about two men that day-the first American I
killed and Lieutenant Ferking,” he said. “The memories make me cry.”

 

 

 

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Published in: on June 6, 2018 at 7:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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