Severloh, Heinrich “The Beast of Omaha”, born 23-06-1923 into a farming family in Metzingen, in the Lüneburg Heath area of North Germany, close to the small city of Cell, close to the small city of Celle.
He joined the Wehrmacht on 23-07-1942, at the age of 19, Severloh was assigned to the 19th Light Artillery Replacement Division in Hanover. He was then transferred to France in August to join the 3rd Battery of the 321st Artillery Regiment, where he trained as a dispatch rider.
In December 1942, he was sent to the Eastern Front and assigned to the rear of his division to drive sleighs. As punishment for making dissenting remarks, he was forced to perform physical exertions which left him with permanent health problems and necessitated six-month convalescence in hospital. After this, he went on leave to his family’s farm to help gather the harvest.
In October 1943, Severloh was sent for non-commissioned officer training in Brunswick, but was recalled after less than a month to rejoin his unit which had been reclassified as the 352nd Infantry Division
and was stationed in Normandy. The division was led by Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss during the Battle of Normandy, who died of his wounds on 6 August.
Omaha Beach extends for 5 miles (8 km) from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer. The beach defences at Omaha consisted of 8 concrete bunkers containing 75 mm or greater artillery, 35 pillboxes, 18 anti-tank guns, six mortar pits, 35 Nebelwerfer (multi-barrel rocket launchers), 85 machine gun nests, 6 tank turrets and supporting infantry.
Infantry deployments on the Beach consisted of five companies concentrated at 15 strongpoints called Widerstandsnester (Resistance Nests), numbered WN-60 in the east to WN-74 in the west. Severloh was part of WN-62, the largest strongpoint defending Omaha Beach.
The American plan of attack divided Omaha Beach into ten sectors, codenamed Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red. WN-62 at the eastern side of Omaha Beach overlooked both Easy Red and Fox Green sectors.
WN-62 was 332 meters long by 324 meters wide and between 12 and 50 meters above the beach, depending on the distance from the shore, with a good overview of the beach area. The foxhole Severloh fired from (49°21′36″N 0°50′50″W) was 170 meters from the sea wall and around 450 meters from the landing area of the first wave of Higgins Boats.
On D-Day (June 6, 1944) WN-62 was manned by 27 members of the 716th Infantry Division under command of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter: and 13 members of Severloh’s 352nd Division, whose task was to direct fire of the 10.5 cm artillery batteries located 5 kilometres inland at Houtteville. Franz Gockel from the 716th Infantry Division also claimed to have killed hundreds of allied soldiers Generalleutnant Richter survived the war and died age 78, on 04-02-1971..
Defences included two type H669 concrete casemates, one empty and the other with a 75mm artillery piece, a 50mm anti-tank gun, two 50mm mortars, a twin-barrelled MG 34 7.92mm machine gun on an anti-aircraft mount and two prewar Polish machine guns. Another 50 mm anti-tank gun covered the rear, and the perimeter was ringed by barbed wire and anti personnel mines.
Severloh was assigned to a Senior Lieutenant Bernhard Frerking as an orderly. While Frerking coordinated the artillery fire of the battery at Houtteville from a bunker, Severloh says he manned a MG 42 machine gun, and fired on approaching American troops with the machine gun and two Karabiner 98k rifles; while a sergeant whom he did not know, kept him supplied with ammunition from a nearby ammo bunker until 15:30. He claimed to have fired over 13,500 rounds with the machine gun and 400 with the rifles.
Interviewed in 2004, he said: “It was definitely at least 1,000 men, most likely more than 2,000. But I do not know how many men I shot. It was awful. Thinking about it makes me want to throw up.” Bernhard Frerking was killed by a shot in the head in the afternoon of 6 June 1944, age 31 as he and his remaining comrades attempted to retreat.
Severloh retreated to the nearby village of Colleville-sur-Mer, with Kurt Warnecke also from the 352nd and Franz Gockel from the 716th, where he surrendered the next day. His commanding officer, Leutnant. Frerking and most of the other defenders of WN-62 were killed at their posts by American troops.
At three o’clock, Severloh and his friends were just 250 metres from the Americans. They were the only surviving members of the Wehrmacht in Omaha. Leutnant Frerking gave the order to scape. Leutnants Frerking and Grass, corporal Beermann and Severloh scaped. Hein took his MG 42 with him, but he had to drop it because it was very hot and he burnt his hands. He had shoot 12.000 rounds with it…They ran to a hill in St. Laurent 400 metres away. Hein lost the rest of the men and kept running. Hours later he came up with private Kurt Warnecke. He told him that leutnant Frerking had been killed. They kept running and hiding and hid in a barn at night. Unfortunately, they met with some Gis and were wounded in their botts. Even so, Severloh told the other guy to keep running and reach WN 63. Once they did this they told major Lohmann that everybody in the WN 62 had been killed, but all already knew that. They were attended and cure by the doctor in WN 63. At night, major Lohmann ordered all the men in WN 63 to retreat to Colleville. Heins was appointed with another 19 Germans to take care of 4 American POWs. But at mid-night the situation was awful and a Sergeant of 716th Infantry Division offered the four American to accept their surrunder. The four Americans took all the Germans with the rest of the American army, where their weapons were confiscated. The war had finished for Hein Severloh.
Severloh was first sent as a prisoner of war to Boston, United States. In December 1946, he was transferred to Bedfordshire, England as forced labor working on road construction. Severloh was returned to Germany in March 1947 after his father wrote to the British military authorities saying he was needed to work back on the farm.
Severloh’s story became known for the first time in 1960, when his testimony was used in Paul Carell’s book Sie kommen! Die Invasion der Amerikaner und Briten in der Normandie 1944.
In the 1960s an American military chaplain, David Silva, who had been wounded by three bullets in the chest on Omaha Beach, was contacted by Severloh – who had found his name in the Cornelius Ryan book The Longest Day. They later met several times, including at the 2005 reunion of Allied Forces in Normandy. On 05-06-2004 RTL showed a two-hour documentary in co-production with CBC Radio: “Mortal enemies of Omaha Beach – the story of an unusual friendship,” by the filmmaker Alexander Czogalla.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the landing in Normandy, a one-hour documentary was broadcast on 06-06-1984, by the American broadcaster ABC. As part of the research, Heinrich Severloh gave a four-hour interview. The total number of casualties at Omaha Beach, during the landing on D-Day alone, is estimated at nearly 3,700, dead, wounded and missing (on Day + 4 this had increased to 5,221 men lost; of which some 600 killed, almost 2000 missing and about 2600 injured).
Severloh himself claimed to be a great shooter. Although he must have been hungry and thirsty, his breathing barely controlled by the adrenaline, muscle pain from shooting for hours with the MG42, he still managed to hit the mark. One young American always stayed with him … The GI had just gotten out of the landing craft and was running towards the bottom of the hill for cover when Severloh shot him in the head. The helmet flew off and the young soldier threw forward in the sand … Suddenly Severloh would realize what he was doing, and this would visit him every night in his nightmares, until his death.
Death and burial ground of Severloh, Heinrich.
In 2000, Severloh’s memoir, WN 62 – Erinnerungen an Omaha Beach Normandie, 6. Juni 1944, ghostwritten by Helmut Konrad von Keusgen was published.
Heinrich Severloh died 14-01-2006 in Lachendorf near his home village of Metzingen, aged 82 years, 6 months and 22 days. He is burid at the Cemetery of 29351 Eldingen-Metzingen, Lindenstrasse 2. My German friend Wolfgang Linke from Frankfurt am Main, visited the graveside for me and sent me, with great thanks, the grave photo’s