Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On Both Sides

Joseph Beyrle was born on the 25th of August 1923 to a second generation immigrant family in Muskegon, Michigan. His grandparents were originally from Germany, and so Beyrle learned German as a second language. Beyrle's childhood was not an easy one, as the great depression hit his family hard, causing them to lose their house. Despite this Beyrle graduated from school and immediately joined the US Army. Beyrle volunteered for parachute training, whereupon he was posted to 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Beyrle arrived in the UK in September 1943 as part of the build-up in preparation for D-Day. However, he was to reach France earlier than that. Twice in 1944 he was selected to drop into France as part of covert supplies of gold coins to the resistance. After being sheltered for a couple of days in France he would be returned. After his last mission he returned to his unit just in time for the isolation that all soldiers were put into in the run up to D-Day.
On D-Day itself Beyrle was part of the miss-drop, and he hit the roof of the church at Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Here he had his first near miss, as there was a German soldier in the tower of the church, who started shooting at him at a range of only a few meters. Beyrle made it to the ground in one piece and set off towards the objective, a pair of bridges nearby. As he was leaving he used his demolition training to blow up a power-substation for the village. Whilst he was heading for his objective Beyrle's luck ran out, when he stumbled into a German machine gun nest, and was promptly captured.

As a POW Beyrle and a large number of other captured US paras were sent in a column towards Carentan. On the way they were struck by friendly artillery and Beyrle took a wound to his posterior. After providing first aid he used the chaos to escape from captivity, however after just a few hours he was recaptured. This time the captives were dispatched to St. Lo by train. On the way the Allied air forces attacked the train but caused no damage. Beyrle arrived at St. Lo just in time for a large US air raid to hammer the town flat, again the Allied aircraft managed to miss the POW's. The same could not be said some weeks later when put on a train for Germany. Again, the Allied air forces attacked the train, this time causing several casualties amongst the POW's.
Once reaching Germany the POW's were moved further east into Poland, arriving at Stalag III-C. After several weeks Beyrle worked out a plan for escape. He, along with another POW, would bribe a guard with cigarettes to allow them to cut the wire fence whilst he was on duty. Then they would conduct the escape after the guards had changed. The POW's carried out this plan and managed to jump on a train nearby which they had been told was heading east. The next morning they peeked out from their hiding place and found themselves in Berlin. Not knowing what to do the POW's hid all day in the train. Then that night the RAF launched a bombing raid. Realising they were in danger they set off to find some cover, and ran into an elderly German. Eventually the German agreed to help, and gave them a secure place to hide and some food. The next evening, he returned and transported them to a German underground safe house.

The following morning the safe house was stormed by the Gestapo, and Beyrle and the other POW were captured. The Gestapo thought he was an American spy and began to torture him for several days until the German armed forces asserted their jurisdiction over him as a POW.

At Stalag III-C the hospital for prisoners was outside the wire to the compound. This allowed Beyrle and three others to conduct a plan for escape. During the exercise period one of them would fake a heart attack, the other two would arrive with a stretcher. Then as they went past the gate to take the injured POW to the hospital a fight would break out distracting the guards. The plan worked perfectly and the three POW's hid themselves inside barrels on a supply wagon and waited.

As the wagon was leaving it took a sharp turn too hard and spilled the barrels from its bed, and the three POW's were spotted. As they were some distance away from the camp the POW's began to run for it. The Germans opened fire, hitting Beyrle's two comrades. Beyrle managed to throw off his pursers, and headed east to find the Russian forces.
For several days he moved towards the sounds of the fighting, eventually just behind the front line he hid in a hayloft and waited. After a while he could hear Russian voices and the sounds of tanks. Beyrle very carefully made contact with the Russians, who were of course suspicious of his story. However, after a long discussion Beyrle was issued a PPSH-41, and assigned as a hull gunner on one of the Soviet tanks. These were actually M4 Sherman's, so Beyrle knew how to operate and clean the machine guns. Beyrle's demolition training also came in useful, as it allowed him to blow up German roadblocks. This knowledge was very useful several days later when the tanks arrived at Stalag III-C. The Russians had been issued with US explosive, however, they had no idea of how to use it but Beyrle did. He used it to blow open a large safe in the commandant's office. Inside were stocks of valuables seized from the POW's, this included large sums of western currency, which Beyrle was allowed to keep, while the Russians took any Roubles or gold that was found.
Beyrle continued to fight with the Russians until early February 1945 when he was caught in a Stuka attack and badly wounded. Whilst at the hospital Marshal Zhukov conducted a visit, and was surprised to find an American there. He ordered Beyrle returned to the US embassy in Moscow, and thus to be returned home. When Beyrle arrived home he was surprised to find that he had been declared dead in 1944, as his dog tags had been found. Beyrle actaully died aged 81 in 2004.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hunter's Dawn

India and Pakistan are two countries who share a common border but have been to war with each other many times. In 1971 there was another outbreak of fighting, but things did not go as well as the Pakistani planners had hoped. The plan was to launch a lightning attack into Indian territory seizing as much ground as was physically possible before the international community could react and impose a cease fire. This would allow bargaining chips for other lands lost in the previous war. With this in mind the Pakistanis planned an armoured offensive aimed at Ramgarh.

The Indians spotted the build-up, and matched it with their own. At the border guard post at Longewala the border guards were replaced by a small force of infantry. When the Indian infantry (who were Sikhs) took over, the outgoing border guards (Hindu) worried about the state of their small shrine. However, they were re-assured by the Indian commanding officer, Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, that it would be looked after. Indeed, Major Chandpuri even assigned one of his sergeants to look after the shrine. Major Chandpuri pointed out that the Indian Army was well trained in diversity as it had several religions as part of it.
Major Chandpuri
The force of Indians consisted of 120 soldiers on foot, and one jeep mounted M40 106mm recoilless rifle. Some sources state there were two jeep mounted weapons, others one. The border guard post was on top of a hill surrounded by steep sand dunes, at the base of the hill was a small helicopter pad. The Indians laid some barbed wire around the border post.

On the 4th of December 1971 a patrol from the Longewala outpost heard noises of engines from across the border. An air observation post was directed into the area and soon confirmed that it was a large column of tanks. Major Chandpuri contacted his headquarters to report. He was given the option to retreat, however, as his companies only transport was the Jeep and ten camels from the border force he decided to stay where he was, instead of being cut down in the open. While on the radio some Indians went out to lay a few mines. Sometime between 1230 and 0230 the attack on the border post opened with Pakistani artillery firing on the position. Under the cover of this bombardment a column of tanks advanced. The Indians waited until the Pakistani Type 59's were at point blank range before opening fire with their PIATs and recoilless rifles. The leading two tanks were hit and destroyed, blocking the trail.
Over the next few hours several attacks were made on the outpost, each one from a different direction as the position was slowly encircled. These were thwarted by the horrible going for the tanks, with several becoming bogged in the sand. One attack was stalled when it reached the wire, which the Pakistani's mistook for a minefield. The Pakistani attack halted and waited some two hours for sappers to advance.

To make matters worse the Indians had moved up two artillery regiments that the Pakistanis were unaware of. Major Chandpuri acted as a FAO for these guns throughout the night. The defenders spotting was made easier as several of the tanks they hit burnt in the darkness which, along with the full moon gave them good vision on the battlefield. However, it was not perfect. As the sun rose a single tank was spotted sitting some 50 meters away abandoned by its crew. During the night the Indians had knocked out twelve enemy tanks.
With the morning the Indian response arrived. With a screeching roar several Hawker Hunters thundered over the battlefield. The Pakistani tanks began to drive about wildly before the outpost trying to make themselves as difficult a target as possible for air attack, and cause confusion. Major Chandpuri watched as the Hunters circled the battlefield several times waiting them to begin their attack. In the end he contacted their FAC who was orbiting in a small spotter plane and asked why were they not attacking?
The response was that the pilots had found it impossible to separate Indian tanks from Pakistani ones. When updated on the situation on the ground and the absence of Indian armour, the pilots began their attack.
The first two Hunters screamed in each loaded with twelve T-10 rockets, the first Hunter selected a tank nearing the outer perimeter of the outpost and loosed half its payload setting the tank on fire. The second Hunter picked a tank that had made it onto the outpost's helipad with similar results. This support had arrived not a moment too soon as the Indian recoilless rifles were down to their last round.
Shot from the air of Longewala, showing the track marks of the Pakistani tanks as they tried to avoid the hunters.
Later that morning Wing-Commander Suresh took off as part of a strike package. Like the others his Hunter was armed with twelve rockets. After expending these in three passes Suresh switched to the 30mm guns. As he barrelled in on a tank, coming in low and fast he found his target pointing its main gun towards him. The tank fired, its round missed the incoming plane. However, the blast and dust slapped the plane and the flash momentarily startled and dazzled Suresh. Out of control the plane skimmed over the tank and hit a sand dune with its tail. Heartbeats before Suresh had recovered and tried to pull up but too late to avoid the impact, but just enough to avoid crashing the plane. Even at full power his plane would not get above 250 knots. Suresh managed to limp his aircraft home and land safely.
I have no idea! It is what google gave me when I asked it for pictures of Indian Hunters at low altitude!
Back at Longewala the battle ended with the Pakistani's withdrawing. In total they had lost 36 tanks, 500 other vehicles and about 200 men. On the Indian side only two men had been killed, (along with five camels) and one of the Jeep mounted recoilless rifles. It might be the last loss that caused many accounts to state only one M40 was at the battle. The small shrine also came through unscratched.

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Inverted Skyscraper

The Atlantic Wall is often held as a mighty fortress of concrete, and a perfect example of this would be the Radar station at Douvres. The site was first occupied in 1940, when two Freya radars were installed, later these were upgraded to Wassermann 3. As the war went on the site was expanded to include Wurzburg sets. By the time 1944 rolled around the station consisted of two sites either side of a main road to the west of Douvres. The first site was a smaller location to the north of the road, while the much larger site was to the south. 
Today the radar site at Douvres is actually a museum.
The site was described as an inverted skyscraper by one reporter who saw it. Extending some 50ft deep it was fully climate controlled with central heating and air conditioning. There were comfortable spacious rooms with hot water and electrical supplies delivered from a diesel generator. The site was stocked to the brim with ammunition, food and a large water reservoir. It had numerous defences including a thick belt of mine fields and wire. Multiple machine gun emplacements were dotted throughout the site along with several mortar posts. Firepower wise there were twelve 37mm FLAK 43 and two 20mm AA guns. There were also five 50mm anti-tank guns of varying types and a PAK-40. The site also had a buried phone line extending to Caen. This fortress was home to some 238 Luftwaffe personnel, and after the opening of D-Day some members of the 716th Infantry Division had also ended up there. 

One of the 50mm emplacements at Douvres. It is actually a KWK not a PAK.
The village of Douvres (renamed in 1961 to Douvres-la-Délivrande, which is how you see the later name in many accounts) was a first day objective for the Canadian forces. As history records they were unable to make these objectives. On about D+2 the Canadians had reached a nearby village, and ran into fierce resistance. After clearing that village, they had stopped to re-organise. Then were ordered to halt and an attack to be launched on D+3, with the radar station as an objective. The morning of D+3, was spent dealing with a strong enemy position, and an exploding ammo dump, as well as dodging sniper fire. Even with a Sherman squadron in support, as well as a regiment of 25 pounders, the Canadians were unable to make any headway. None of the guns were big enough to dent the concrete emplacements. As the day wore on the Canadians simply surrounded the position and pushed on. The Black Watch was brought up with a pair of AVRE's to take the position, however the AVRE's were destroyed by an 88mm gun sighted in the village of Douvres, and the Scots were unable to make any progress. 
Commando's in Douvres
On the 10th of June 41st Commando took over the positions surrounding the station. For the following week the commando's mounted aggressive patrolling over the area to harass the Germans, including patrols of the radar station at night. They were so close that the German speakers in the commando ranks were able to listen to Germans talking within the bunkers. On one occasion a frustrated commando banged on the door of the bunker with his sub-machine gun and yelled 'Come out you silly bastards!'.

During the day the commando's used their 2" mortars, PIATs, small arms and a captured anti-tank gun to harass the German positions. As a more pointed reminder sometimes Typhoons would strafe and rocket the site. In return the Germans would take pot shots at Typhoons landing and taking off from the forward airstrip a short distance away.
Not actually Douvres
On the 14th intelligence suggested that the smaller northern site was abandoned, so a probe was made to capture the site if possible. This had support of a handful of AVRE's. However, the Germans had not left and after a brief firefight the attack was cancelled. Two days later the Germans attempted to air-drop supplies to the garrison, but a commando patrol reacted first and carried the containers away. Inside were spare parts for the German's guns and extra instruments. The latter item was to help the Germans maintain their observation equipment. Throughout this period at least some of the radars were still active to some degree. Plus, the Germans were able to observe Allied movements and report them back.

This along with the attempts to shoot up the planes using the airfield and growing space pressures within the bridgehead meant that the Germans had to be silenced. So, a major assault was planned. An artillery barrage would be laid on, this included 7.2" pieces. Then some 44 tanks, a mix of Crabs and AVRE's would assault the position along with the men of 41st Commando.

At 1630 on the afternoon of the 17th the assault began with the thirty minute bombardment. This largely proved irrelevant, as even the 7.2" shells proved ineffective against the bunkers. At 1700 the flails moved out, each kicking up a huge column of dust and smoke from exploding mines. More flails covered the advance elements and once the flails were inside the enemy lines the AVRE's moved up to batter the Germans into surrender. As they entered the swept lanes one Churchill managed to get itself stuck as its track slipped sideways into a trench and the tank bottomed out. The following AVRE then turned to go around but was struck by an anti-tank round. The shot hit the co-driver in the head killing him outright and set the tank on fire. As the driver scrambled out the BESA ammo detonated injuring him in the leg. Two others scrambled out of the doomed tank and second later the main ammunition exploded blowing the turret clean off and rupturing the hull.
Despite this the other AVRE's arrived in the radar site, and began to fire. Soon afterwards the Germans began to surrender. The site was policed up and secured by 1830, and some 227 Germans were captured. The Commandos lost one man, while the flails had four tanks damaged by mines. The AVRE's had lost seven vehicles with four total losses.

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