The Longest Day

In the award winning book “The Longest Day” writer Cornelius Ryan describes the arrival of Flak Regiment No 1 at Maisy – a day before the Invasion.

Everywhere now resistance groups were quietly told the news by their immediate leaders. Each unit had its own plan and knew exactly what had to be done. Albert Auge, the station-master at Caen, and his men were to destroy water pumps in the yards, smash the steam injectors on locomotives.  Andre Farine, a cafe owner from Lieu Fontaine, near Isigny, had the job of strangling Normandy’s communications; his forty-man team would cut the massive telephone cable feeding out of Cherbourg. Yves Gresselin, a Cherbourg grocer, had one of the toughest jobs of all: His men were to dynamite a network of railway lines between Cherbourg, St.-Leo and Paris. And these were just a few of the teams. It was a large order for the underground. Time was short and the attacks couldn’t begin before dark. But everywhere along the invasion coast from Brittany to the Belgian border men prepared, all hoping that the attack would come in their areas.

For some men the messages posed quite different problems. In the
seaside resort town of Grandcamp near the mouth of the Vire and almost centered between Omaha and Utah beaches, sector chief Jean Marion had vital information to pass on to London. He wondered how he’d get it there–and if he still had time. Early in the afternoon his men had reported the arrival of a new antiaircraft battery group barely a mile away. Just to be sure, Marion had casually cycled over to see the guns. Even if he was stopped he knew he’d get through; among the many fake identification cards he had for such occasions was one stating that he was a construction worker on the Atlantic Wall.

Marion was shaken by the size of the unit and the area it covered. It
was a motorized flak assault group with heavy, light and mixed
antiaircraft guns. There were five batteries, twenty-five guns in all,
and they were being moved into positions covering the area from the mouth of the Vire all the way to the outskirts of Grandcamp. Their crews, Marion noted, were toiling feverishly to emplace the guns, almost as though they were working against time. The frantic activity worried

Marion. It could mean that the invasion would be here and that somehow the Germans had learned of it.

Although Marion did not know it, the guns covered the precise route the planes and gliders of the 82nd and 101/ paratroopers would take within a few hours. Yet if anybody in the German High Command had any knowledge of the impending attack, they hadn’t told Colonel Werner von Kistowski, commander of Flak Assault Regiment 1. He was still wondering why his 2,500-man flak unit had been rushed up here. But Kistowski was used to sudden moves. His outfit had once been sent into the Caucasus all by itself. Nothing surprised him anymore.

Jean Marion, calmly cycling by the soldiers at work on the guns, began to wrestle with a big problem: how to get this vital information to the secret headquarters of Leeonard Gille, Normandy’s deputy military intelligence chief, in Caen, fifty miles away. Marion couldn’t leave his sector now–there was too much to do. So he decided to take a chance on sending the message by a chain of couriers to Mercader in Bayeux. He knew it might take hours, but if there was still time Marion was sure that Mercader would somehow get it to Caen.

There was one more thing Marion wanted London to know about. It wasn’t as important as the antiaircraft gun positions – simply a confirmation of the many messages he had sent in the previous days about the massive gun emplacements on the top of the nine-story-high cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. Marion wanted to pass on once again the news that the guns had not yet been installed.

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This following extract is taken from “The Cover Up at Omaha Beach”……

Colonel Werner von Kistowki was commander of Flak Assault Regiment No. 1 attached to the 3rd Flak Corps. It was fully motorised and it consisted of three artillery groups, the 497th, a mixed group, the 226th, also a mixed group, and the 90th, a light anti-aircraft group. The two mixed groups had five batteries in all, and the light group had three batteries. Each of the two mixed groups had three batteries apiece. These had in them four 88s, nine 37mm and twelve 20mm. The light battery had 37mm and 20mm guns.
The entire Flak Regiment had 2,500 men with approximately 600 men to each battery and 100 attached to headquarters and general duties, such as cooks and so on. Not all these men were gunners, of course. They were protective infantry which guarded the batteries. Flak Assault Regiment I arrived on 5 June in the morning at La Cambe, which was their headquarters, and it was to position at the mouth of the Vire at Grandcamp.
The light group of batteries were placed at the mouth [of the Vire Estuary – at La Martiniere] and the mixed groups were placed at Maisy and stretched across to the outskirts of the town itself of Grandcamp.
There had been no mention of the invasion, however. Kistowski was told his unit was being moved because of the continual bombing attacks and the planes seemed to be swinging over Grandcamp as they made their runs into and from the Continent. They dug in on the 5th, ‘just foxholes and camouflaged tents’.
On the evening of the 5th the Colonel drove to St Lo to the headquarters of the 84th Corps under the command of General Marcks. He went there for a specific reason. He had been warned that he should be ready to move again soon and since he had used up all his gasoline he needed new supplies.

He saw the Chief of Staff, a Colonel Von Criegern and the Quartermaster General and requested gasoline. It was a requirement that he must always have 33,000 litres of gasoline – that was enough for a hundred kilometres and his motorised vehicles could not use synthetic gasoline.
It was about 2200hr when he got the okay on the supplies and then he set out for his headquarters at about 2300hr. It was as he was driving back towards La Cambe that he saw the ‘Christmas Trees’, the flares that had been dropped by aircraft and were hanging in the sky floating down to earth.

He said to his engineering officer who was with him, a certain Lieutenant Colonel Busche, ‘Busche, I think this mess is starting.’ The bunches of Christmas Trees hung all the way from Carentan to the mouth of the river at Grandcamp. They drove very slowly as they headed for his headquarters. Then he heard his guns firing and he could see the flashes in the distance.
At about 0145hr he sent out a pre-arranged signal to 84th Corps, ‘LL’, meaning that the invasion had begun. At 0148hr he received a telephone call from the 90th Artillery group (at Maisy) that the first POWs – paratroopers – had been taken. There were four prisoners and, ‘This was immediately followed by another seventeen near Maisy … These paratroopers fell on a battery between Maisy and Gefosse Fontenay’. He wasn’t sure whether they were paratroopers or bomber crews that had parachuted down to earth. In fact George Rosie of the 101st Airborne and fellow paratroopers had landed near the Maisy Battery:
The plane came down low and fast and as my chute opened the ground was upon me. I came down a top a hedgerow, ran down a small hill and went through a wooden fence headfirst – knocking loose my 2 front teeth. I gathered together some other troopers – seventeen in total and almost immediately we were engaged by a large force of Germans. When we surrendered five paratroopers had been killed. But we had shot some of them including an officer, whom we had to pick up and then carry away.
Rosie was taken to a farmhouse by Russians or Poles, interrogated and then he was later paraded through Paris in a cage where residents spat on him. He was then sent to a POW camp.
Meanwhile, Colonel Kistowski decided that he had time to write to his wife Ruth, who lived near Bonne. He had taken a room in a nearby farmhouse so he wasn’t living in a tent. As he wrote he heard the pounding of the waves of bombers as they flew over and it began to get louder and louder to such an extent that halfway through the letter he wrote: ‘Darling, I must stop now because the bombs are coming too close.’
There were more reports of paratroopers landing so Kistowski drove to Maisy to see for himself what was going on. He described the bombing as ‘absolutely hideous – it was just murder’. His men cowered in foxholes and the bombs laid pattern after pattern across their positions. He and his men did not think they could possibly survive the pounding. When they climbed out of these holes, they were absolutely shivering but every time they thought it was going to stop, another wave of planes would come in and no sooner had the air bombardment ceased then the naval bombardment, which was much worse, began.
All the time in his foxhole Kistowski was able to follow the path of the gliders as they were towed in over the mouth of the River Vire passing over Grandcamp. All the time he thought to himself, ‘If only this foxhole was smaller’. The foxhole itself seemed to him much too wide and he felt that every shell, every bomb that fell was aimed at him.
Instinctively Kistowski tried to make himself as small as possible. In fact as he put it, he was trying to duck and crawl inside his helmet. The moment it let up he lifted his head out of the foxhole and yelled to his communications officer, ‘Schmidt, are you still there?’ Next he called his adjutant, 1st Lieutenant Gelaubrech, ‘Are you still alive?’ He was astonished to discover that they were. The bombs he remembered were dropped by the air force and were a special type that detonated just above the ground. This is substantiated by the Allied air force reports that they were dropping air-burst bombs on targets on D-Day to clear mine fields and wire emplacements – today they are known as ‘Daisy Cutters’.

He thought how much worse this was than the forty days of bombing night after night he had experienced in Berlin in 1943. Lieutenant Schmidt said to him afterwards, ‘Colonel, now I know what my wife is going though in the Ruhr.’
When it all stopped the air was filled with the acrid smell of cordite, both from his own guns and the explosives. Very slowly they came up from their foxholes and even more slowly looked around. The Colonel stood up and one by one he saw heads appearing.

Everybody was black and covered with dust and everybody was trembling. Some looked around cautiously, some were braver than others and stood up and stretched. Then everybody got out of the foxholes and washed.
The entire Flak Regiment had lost only one man killed and three wounded at that point in time. He was absolutely amazed. He drove across to Grandcamp and there for the first time he realised the terrible bombardment they had just experienced because of the huge craters that covered the ground.
It was while Kistowski was at Grandcamp that he happened to look out to sea and there to his amazement he too saw the fleet on the horizon steadily steaming towards the coast. Quickly he drove back to his guns and just as he did the naval bombardment began again. Because he had been a former naval officer, he knew how devastating the naval bombardment could be. He knew that it was laid out in squares and that whole areas would automatically be covered, so he ‘drove like hell’ back to his positions. During this naval bombardment, he had one 88mm gun destroyed and four or five other smaller ones, and there were terrific casualties among his men. He forgot what the casualties were, but he said it was more than a hundred. Now Kistowski found that he had no communications except for one radio set.

At the time he thought this was due to the ‘Daisy Cutters’, but the real damage was done by naval shelling. It was different from the air bombardment and was absolutely ‘devastating’. Now he fully expected the invasion as he watched the fleet come in closer. He ordered his communications officers out on the coast with a small radio to act as an observation post for his 88mm guns.
This goes some way to providing an understanding of how the guns at Maisy were still able to operate. By this time many of the Germans’ conventional observation posts had been destroyed. Kistowski’s men would have had a clear view of the Utah and a partial view of the Omaha landing sectors from this area because of the high ground.
The terrible situation which the Colonel found himself in was one of being caught squarely in the middle, along the seam between both Utah and Omaha Beaches and his guns could not hit the beaches where the landings were taking place. He could not depress his guns sufficiently to reach these areas and anyway the boats were too far away for his guns to have any effect.
This is interesting because in 99 per cent of interviews with the Rangers they state that they were coming under fire from 88s when in most cases – for example on the beaches and the approaches – it would have been from heavier calibre guns. For example, the 75mms (Pak 40s) situated on Omaha Beach were designed to fire laterally to the beach and not out to sea, or on the beach approaches.
Kistowski was caught in the middle and he remembered saying to his communications officer, ‘Damm it, if only we were a bit to the right, or the left we would show them’. He never did finish his letter to his wife. He couldn’t hear his own voice that morning because of the shelling that was taking place.
Kistowski’s guns ‘fired right, left and centre’ at the hundreds of planes that came over and by the end of that day he was able to record that his light battery had shot down the following:
01:38 a B-26.
01:42 a B-26.
06:10 Two Lightnings.
09:15 a Thunderbolt.
10:00 a Thunderbolt.
04:15 a Mustang.

To the Colonel it was, ‘A very good day, a very good day indeed, one of the best.’ One of the planes came down near his headquarters quickly followed by a terrific fire as the plane’s ammunition exploded. Throughout this morning and afternoon, the Colonel was absolutely on his own with no communications with the 3rd Flak Corps, his headquarters, and the 84th Corps. General Marcks and the 7th Army had nothing whatsoever to do with them so he did not receive any orders.
On the afternoon of the 6th he decided to move his headquarters to Littry. He had sent one of his officers to Le Mans to telephone to the 3rd Corps to get more instructions and set off himself to co-ordinate his activities with those of the 352nd Infantry Division. The night of 6 June Kistowski moved out the battery at Maisy.

Maisy Battery. D-day 1944, Omaha Beach – Pointe du Hoc