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A Fallschirmjäger’s Reflections on

Fighting in the Normandy Bocage

Sergeant Alexander Uhlig

 

 

Iron Cross Second Class recipient, Norway 1940,

and Knight’s Cross recipient, Normandy 1944

I was a member of Third Battalion, Sixth Regiment, Second Fallschirmjäger [Parachute] Division. The Second Fallschirmjäger Division was commanded by General Ramke, and there he headed Regiments 2, 6 and 7. Major Von der Heydte was my regiment’s commander.

During the first days of the D-Day beach invasion, I was at home in Liepzig on leave for my wedding on the fifth of June 1944 -- one day before the invasion. And I was sent back to Normandy by train about 15 days later, so about June 20th. I was south of Carentan, between Carentan and Périers. I was around the flooded areas in the bocage, near Méautis and Sainteny and la Roserie. These towns were near the highway [the N171] connecting Carentan and Périers. We were fighting for control of that highway against United States infantry units.

At this time, I had war experience from years before. I fought in Poland, Norway, Crete, Italy, Africa -- so I had a lot of experience, but not against Americans. So, Normandy was my first battle experience against Americans. They had a lot materiel, a lot of materiel, we had less materiel which made a difference. They were a lot of men, we were less. Our regiment was in action from the first day of the invasion until end of July 1944 and our companies were small; we were 140 to 160 men at the beginning, and at the end of June there were 30 to 40 men. We lost most at Carentan, one battalion, the First Battalion against American paratroopers.

The bocage terrain, the hedgerows and so on were difficult. You couldn’t . . . it was difficult for both sides because you couldn’t see what goes on. You could see only 50 or 100 meters and then the next hedgerow came. I think the Americans did a good job but they used always a lot of artillery, a lot of artillery. And a lot of air force planes, so it was hard for us to attack. We had no German planes in the air. So in the daytime, it was hard for us to move.

We had a feeling of danger, but I myself I felt good and confident -- because I believed I had to do my duty, had to do my job there and there was no question for me, I had to do it. I could feel we could win the war, I do believe there was a possibility for us with new weapons to change the situation, like the V-1 and the V-2 rockets.

After my battle at Seves Island [Editor’s note: Mr. Uhlig is referring to the Normandy town of St. Germain-sur-Seves; see the February 2000 issue of World War II magazine’s cover story], I came back to my regiment’s post. On the next few days there was a big raid by the American air force against St. Lô. From my post I saw many American bombers bombing St. Lô, because Périers is not so far from St. Lo. Then our front line was broken by American infantry, maybe be it was 27 July. On the next night, Major Von der Heydte gave me orders to withdraw my men in the direction of Countances. But we were cut off by an American armored division. So we tried to make a breakout but it was not possible so I became a prisoner. I was captured near St. Michel south of Périers. I think I was captured on the 29th or 30th of July. And so the war was over for me.

They sent me to a prison camp, it was only a base with barbed wire around, near Utah Beach. Then I came by ship to south England in a special camp, American camp, I think. I remember the name of the camp was Devise. The American officers at the camp knew my military history. They told me, "you were captured in Norway 1940 but you were freed. This time we send you to USA so you cannot be freed." (Laughter.) And then from south England I came to a POW camp near Liverpool, England. Then I was sent by ship with 1,000 other German POWs from Liverpool to New York, and then by train from New York to Missouri. The name of the camp in Missouri was Camp Clark. All the German prisoners on the ship came not to Camp Clark. In New York, they took some men to this camp, some men to other camps. Camp Clark was a camp for non-commissioned officers. We were not forced to work there.

 

 

Interview by a Drop Zone Volunteer