When the GIs stormed the Normandy beach in June 1944, they were met with murderous fire. In some places the dead lay meters high. A simple private had killed most of them.

Nobody will forget this scene from “Saving Private Ryan”: The American soldiers sit huddled together in their landing craft. Just short of Normandy Beach, the ramp lowers, but as they attempt to charge through the water, the troops are met with a hail of bullets. Tak-tak-tak. The typical sound of the German MG-42 – the so-called Hitler saw.

The film scene is largely authentic, Spielberg virtually recreated the famous photos of Robert Capa for the film. The photographer went ashore with the first soldiers in June 1944. In the American section, the so-called Omaha Beach, the cargo troops, unlike in the other sections, met massive resistance already on the beach – here from the German 321st Infantry Division. A unit that was practically “overlooked” in the planning of the company.

Fight from a simple foxhole

In the cinema, the furious fire of the Germans came from powerful bunkers dominating the beach. In fact, much of the beach was essentially defended by one man: Heinrich “Hein” Severloh stood in a simple fortified foxhole in the flat dunes immediately behind the beach. On June 6, 1944, the 20-year-old fired for hours at close range at the oncoming Allies.

After the war, the man kept these experiences to himself for a long time. Only his wife knew what made him wake up at night.

On the morning of the invasion, Severloh ran to the beach with “his” lieutenant – to resistance nest 62. “Then he said to me: ‘Hey, when they come out of knee-deep water, you have to start shooting so they can’t run apart. “

Since then, Hein Severloh has had the same dream, of the first death of the day. A GI leaps through the outgoing waves and takes cover behind a block of concrete that the Germans had placed there to prevent tanks from landing. The shot from Severloh’s carbine hits him straight in the forehead. “That was a very tall American soldier. I hit him in the head. First the steel helmet fell off, then his chin fell on his chest. I can still see him today, I close my eyes.” The man rolls into the water and dies. “What should I do?” Hein Severloh later said as an old man in the German-Canadian documentary “Death Enemies from Omaha Beach – The Story of an Unusual Friendship” (2004). “I thought I was going to shoot for my life: they or I, that’s what I thought.”

Critical of Nazi ideology

After D-Day, the war is over for Severloh, the next day he is taken prisoner. The GIs don’t know about his role the day before, though, and Severloh is smart enough to keep quiet about it. He only came out as an old man – which earned him the title “The Omaha Beach Monster” in the British press.

Hein Severloh is anything but a Rambo. He is the personal lad of an officer, Oberleutnant Bernhard Frerking. In an interview, he was asked why he hadn’t run away when he realized the overwhelming American superiority. His simple answer: “I would have had a bad conscience all my life if I had let my lieutenant down. That wasn’t possible.”

The son of a heathland farmer was not a Nazi. Because of critical statements he was punished in 1943, the harassment of excessive “grinding” led to long-term damage to his health. “As a soldier I didn’t meet any enemies, no bad people. There weren’t any in France, there weren’t any in Russia. Just nice people.”

Bloodbath on the Beach

But in 1944 Severloh stands in his hole and fires at the US troops all day long. for nine hours. In the end, Severloh is the only German still fighting on the section. It should have been more than 12,000 shots. The boxes with the cartridge belts have to be changed almost 50 times. The coolness of Severloh is amazing. He doesn’t panic and works precisely like a machine. It only fires short bursts to avoid overheating the machine gun. In short pauses he fires the standard Wehrmacht carbine – 400 times. That was easier than target shooting, Severloh said later. “Out of 50 shots with the carbine, less than five missed.”

“Anyone who was injured drowned, that was cruel.”

A comrade from the 321st Infantry Division recalled in the TV documentary. “I saw how he stuck in there. Where the loading flap fell down. There were 45 to 50 men in there. They all got it, they all fell into the water. They didn’t want to get out of the next boat. I’m then left later at three o’clock, only Severloh stayed in longer.”

The Last Stand at Omaha Beach

In Severloh’s memory, every sheaf of the machine gun hit – no wonder, the US soldiers were crowded on the beach – less than a hundred meters away. But later estimates of 2,000 to 3,000 deaths are likely to be far too high. Hein Severloh himself said: “Oh, does it depend on the number?”

“That so many died just because I was there with the MG. From up there I could see the blood going into the water. In some places the dead were three meters high.”

At 3 p.m. the resistance collapses. Ammunition is running out in the resistance nest, other positions have already been abandoned by German troops. In WN 62, Frerking and Severloh are among the last fighters. Then tanks roll onto the beach. The Americans have broken through next to Severloh and are now on the hill behind the beach. Only now does Oberleutnant Frerking order a retreat through the dunes.

Heinrich Severloh did not receive an award such as the Iron Cross or the famous Order of the Neck, the Knight’s Cross. And his loyalty to his first lieutenant is also in vain. Frerking falls in the dunes behind Resistance Nest 62 on the afternoon of June 6. “He didn’t make it out. He was my boss. My buddy. A fine man he was.”

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