D-Day: The Unheard Tapes (2024) s01e03 Episode Script

Episode 3

This programme contains scenes
which some viewers may find upsetting
The morning of June 7th,
you've got to imagine the two of us
waking up in this field.
It's quiet, and
..and we don't know
which way we want to go.
Where is the enemy?
Where is the line?
And you have to guess.
And, boy, that's what you call
being scared shitless.
Reel One.
Can you tell me about D-Day itself?
Testing, testing. One, two, three.
Testing, testing. One, two, three.
All right, we're on.
What had they told you
beforehand to expect?
Expect hell.
They didn't lie to us about that.
It was sheer nerves.
But exhilarating nerves,
if you know what I mean?
ARCHIVE: Your task
will not be an easy one.
Your enemy is well-trained,
well-equipped and battle-hardened.
He will fight savagely.
Normandy, 7th of June, 1944.
Daylight was coming upon us fast.
So I give the trooper alongside
of me a poke and I says,
"You'd better get your stuff
together, it's almost daylight."
And I'm looking at the sky,
and I said, "By God,
I welcome the daylight.
"Now we can get on the move
and maybe can warm up a bit."
With all this uncertainty of not
knowing where we were going,
fear began to grip us.
I know I was scared as hell.
I couldn't imagine what
was going on.
Those men who'd survived
the beaches on D-Day
would have woken up
the next morning -
if they'd been asleep at all -
completely exhausted.
Some of them had seen their
friends killed on those beaches,
or they'd lost their commanders.
They have no idea
how close the enemy is.
So there's this air of fear
and uncertainty
as they go into the next day.
They quite literally had no idea
what was to come.
The battle ahead would last
a gruelling three months,
and it would be a turning
point in the entire war.
What D-Day had done was
was to create a foothold.
But that foothold would be
completely meaningless
if further progress through
France wasn't achieved.
The key strategic objective
for the British
and the Canadians in the Battle
of Normandy was to capture Caen.
It was this hub of communication,
of roads, of railways.
There was an airfield just nearby.
So controlling Caen
would allow the Allies
to advance, and ultimately push
the Nazis out of France
and back to Germany.
But with an inevitable counterattack
coming from the Germans,
the Allies had no time to waste.
Tell me about the events
following D-Day.
We moved off soon after dawn.
We had to move down
and occupy Escoville.
This had been planned in the UK
..and we'd studied maps
and photographs.
John's next objective would be
advancing towards Escoville.
Escoville is a crucial element
in the taking of Caen.
It was on a ridge overlooking
Caen to the north-east,
and taking it would be
important for the Allies
to keep an eye on what
the Germans were doing.
I think we got a couple of hours'
sleep, no more than that.
I still can't remember
when we ate.
I think we had some grub
in our packs or something,
I can't quite remember.
And then it was up,
and we're moving to Escoville.
Forces that were protecting
Escoville were of a very
different order to the ones
like John and Wally
would have been met by
on D-Day itself.
Werner Kortenhaus
is a young corporal
in the 21st Panzer Division.
They were an elite division,
they are better equipped,
better trained than
the average German division.
On the morning of the 7th of June,
they prepare
for a big counteroffensive.
At this point, tens of thousands of
German soldiers are on their way
to the Normandy front.
Tank formations, heavily armed.
The German soldiers have been
told again and again,
"This is a decisive battle of
the war, so you don't give up.
"This is a battle we WILL win."
We suddenly came under
very heavy fire.
Whether or not it was a tank
or what, I don't know.
But it was certainly
a propelled vehicle.
John Howard and his men
were met by German tanks waiting to
unleash a horrifying counterattack.
We lost communication with our HQ.
I thought I'd go round and find out
what damage had been done
to the other platoons.
I went forward,
put my binoculars to my eyes
..and then there was a "zip",
and I was knocked out.
When I came round, there was
blood on my head and face,
and I had a hell of a headache.
Somebody was looking at me,
had taken my helmet off to see
what was wrong, and told me that
I got a bullet through my helmet.
And there it was, dead centre.
Whether I passed out again
or not, I don't know.
But the whole of that half hour
or hour is very hazy.
They all thought you were dead.
Yes, I believe some did.
People have told me that afterwards.
During that time we were
..strafed by air
..and counterattacked
very heavily by 21 Panzer.
Eventually, John and the men
alongside him were forced
to withdraw, when it became clear
that their assault
on Escoville wasn't going
to be successful -
that it was just going to
lead to catastrophic losses.
I went in with 121 men
and came out with 52.
As Johnny may have told you,
we took a hell of a beating there.
..it took me a long time to get over
those casualties at Escoville.
So much so, that
..I became very, very depressed.
Escoville was a direct
with the reality of what the Battle
of Normandy would really be like.
It was clearly going to be brutal
and it was going to
take a huge toll -
not just on the health and wellbeing
- and lives - of the people who
were being asked to wage it -
but also on their minds, too.
This was going to be a victory that,
if it was going to be secured,
would have to be ground out.
Ultimately, the force that could
provide the greatest firepower
would win this battle.
This was going to be a battle
of machines, of ammunition,
supplies and reinforcements.
So on the beaches the activity,
if anything, is increasing.
So the first question, if you
would just tell me your name
and what unit you were in.
My name is Allen Price,
I was with the 3275th
Quartermaster Service Company.
And a Quartermaster Service Company
was an outfit that serviced
all the other units.
Everything to make
the front line clear.
What had they told you
beforehand to expect?
Expect hell.
And it was the truth.
They didn't lie to us about that.
Everybody started going inland,
but we stayed on the beach
another two or three days
cleaning the beach up.
Whatever they asked us
to do, we did it.
Picking up the dead.
Now that's a stinking job.
A leg here, and an arm there,
and a head here.
Bodies in the water,
blood all over the place.
It was horrible.
I had nightmares when I first
came home, I had nightmares.
And, er, I still don't like
to talk about it.
The beaches would have been littered
with corpses, broken machines,
ruined German defences,
and it had to be cleared.
Because the follow-on forces
and follow-on supplies
had to be landed on the beaches.
If we didn't break our butts to get
the gas, the ammo and the food
up to them, they'd have been
up shit creek without a paddle.
While the British front line
was pushing towards Caen,
the Americans were trying to
get to Cherbourg.
Cherbourg was critical to the
Germans AND the Allies
because it was a deep water port,
and that meant a faster route
to bring in supplies.
But getting to Cherbourg
would be tough for the Americans.
They were about to face a steep
learning curve in the battle ahead.
Combat in Europe
..was actually a simple,
stupid procedure.
You dig in for the night,
get up early in the morning
..walk until you
started to get killed,
then you have a battle
during the day.
Sundown would come, you dig in.
Germans would move back,
start all over again.
This would go day after day,
after day, after day.
As the Allies advance inland
towards Caen and Cherbourg,
they were forced to progress
through this landscape in Normandy.
And this landscape was interlaced
with these really dense hedgerows.
Very thick, very tall,
very well established.
And that represents a real problem
for an invading force,
because they can't see over them,
they can't see through them
and they can't move through them.
And that really, really
favours the defender.
I want to tell you
something about the hedgerows.
You've heard about the hedgerows?
The hedgerows wereboundaries
..and these became barriers,
or emplacements,
where we fought one another.
We would sometimes fight all day,
with the Germans firing down on us.
If we came over one of the hedgerows
and dropped into the field
with the hedgerow toward our back,
we were dead. Mm-hm.
Cos they would be mounting
their machine guns.
And so it was guesswork, running
parallel trying to flank 'em.
They were like mazes.
The Allies could not play their
biggest trump -
their artillery - there, because
it was difficult to observe
where the Germans actually are.
They had to pull through from field
to field, and each time they had
just conquered a field, the Germans
were waiting in the next field.
There were about six of us,
about two feet apart, heads down,
squatting walk along a hedgerow.
And suddenly there was
this popand
..the sergeant's head was blown
apart, through the helmet,
and left his skull like a saucer
and he fell over into my arms.
We had not been trained
for hedgerow fighting.
And I think I've carried
that grudge for years.
I had terrific training
..for the assault
and self-preservation,
killing the enemy
..but they never told me
about the hedgerows.
The ongoing campaign through
Normandy became a real slog
as they were confronted
with this landscape.
It really slowed the Americans'
advance on Cherbourg.
As the Americans were
pushing toward Cherbourg,
British commandos
were tasked with taking
German strongpoints as the
British advanced towards Caen.
We were detailed for a job
a mile and a half inland.
There was an
underground radar station
which had about 300 or 400
German troops in it.
The Douvres radar station
was an incredibly important
position to take.
It was a communications hub.
It was a vast network of underground
bunkers which had been
sending vital intelligence back to
German headquarters in Caen.
The station was close
to the landing beaches,
and Warwick and James' commando unit
was sent to take it.
They had hoped to capture
this on the first day.
But in actual fact they didn't.
We only mustered about 30 men,
where we should have had something
like about 100 and odd.
So we were well below strength.
The radar station was becoming
a thorn in the side of the Allies,
that the Allies had to smash
to move beyond
and advance into France.
When we arrived there,
there must have been about 600 yards
of dead flat open field.
And you could see the wire, and the
bunkers, and the gun emplacements
on top of these
concrete bunkers that they had.
It was a minefield surrounding it.
And we had to clear the mines
before we could actually go in.
It'd be a very dangerous situation.
And entrenched underneath
the radar station,
there were hundreds
of German soldiers,
so it was imperative that the Allies
took it as quickly as they could.
The German defences were so strong
that the commandos needed to
call in specialist units.
And we did many, many
little patrols against it
from different angles.
It was very well booby-trapped.
So we mounted this
big fighting patrol.
And we had Bangalore torpedoes,
which the engineers brought.
They were like scaffolding tubes,
filled with high explosives.
You could link them
all together, you see.
You'd have one big, long
scaffolding pole eventually.
The idea was that we'd blast
all the wire out the way
and detonate any mines
that were underneath it.
The Germans did open up
straight away.
As soon as the explosion had gone,
we started to run,
and they started to fire.
It was flashing all over the place.
After several days of patrolling
the station,
they were finally able to
mount an attack strong enough
to reach the bunkers.
Eventually, the time come
when the powers that be say,
"Right, enough's enough,
take them out."
So we were given a couple
of Churchill tanks,
and they trundled up
over the wire
and blew up any anti-personnel
mines, and we followed behind.
And that was most curious attack
I've ever known in my life.
We all wandered in, at the back
of these tanks, spread out,
and occupied the
..various positions
that the Germans had built there.
And we did that in broad daylight.
The Germans were all underground.
Eventually, they all came out.
So there were about 300 of them.
They surrendered then.
Packed it up altogether.
So we had a little
relaxez-vous day after that.
We were allowed to wash and clean up
and generally relax
completely, you know.
I remember the officer in charge
of this underground radar station.
I don't know whether he was SS
or not, but he was tall,
he was arrogant, and he had a lovely
leather raincoat, overcoat
..which I liked.
So I asked my I asked my
Sergeant Major if I could have it.
And he went over to this bloke
and said, "Take it off."
Which he did.
And the Sergeant Major
gave it to me,
and I used it for months
as a ground sheet in my foxholes.
Various places.
Lovely coat.
All the edges of
the Allied invasion zone,
pockets of German strongholds
had resisted capture.
One of the largest was
the Merville Gun Battery,
and it was repeatedly attacked
by the Allied troops.
Raimund was an interesting character
because he was politically
an opponent to the Nazis,
but still he's an officer
serving for the Germans, knowing
that this is probably not the right
cause he's fighting for, but
still felt loyalty towards his men.
After struggling,
trying to progress towards Caen,
it became really clear to
British forces
that actually capturing Caen was not
going to be straightforward at all,
as any route towards it
was increasingly well reinforced
by Germans in the area.
Getting to the city itself
became nigh on impossible.
And, for that very reason,
the Allies turned to increasingly
applying air power -
bombing Caen -
in order to break
the German defence.
Nobody quite expected that
extent of bombing over Caen
and over Normandy in those days.
Bombing is, you know, inaccurate
at the best of times.
All around are the homes,
the neighbourhoods
and the workplaces
of French civilians.
The city was subject
to this bombardment,
with huge consequences
for the civilian population.
But it was considered
to be so necessary
to target the German tanks,
resources in the area,
that it was a price worth paying.
Andre had been working secretly with
the Resistance for a very long time.
And when the bombing
started to come
he went with his sister
to the hospital, you know,
helping anyone he could.
The Germans threw as many of their
forces as they could into
defending Caen, because they knew
that was the gateway into France.
They had to hold it.
But it came at the expense
of the defence of Cherbourg.
The advantage of that for the Allies
was that the American forces
could advance with greater ease.
We were marching to a village.
Everywhere you looked, you
could see homes were damaged,
destroyed, blown up.
It was a horrible sight to see.
And I thought to myself,
"What the hell have we done to these
people over here in their houses?
"My God!"
Don't forget, the French were
supposed to be our friends
and all that.
And I thought to myself,
"This is the price that they have
to pay for their freedom.
"They have to sacrifice
their lives, their homes.
"It's a horrible thing."
After a grinding
and bloody four-day battle,
the Americans finally manage
to take the port of Cherbourg.
But they discovered that the German
garrison, who'd been in retreat,
had destroyed
the port instillations.
Now this meant that they
couldn't use it
for those all-important supplies.
They turn south towards
the town of Saint-Lo
..and relied more than
ever on supplies
being brought up to them from
the landing beaches by road.
We were up at Saint-Lo.
23rd Regiment
of the 2nd Infantry Division
..got annihilated up there,
and we had to go up there
and clean all them bodies up.
And we had a few fellas killed.
Some wounded.
Every time somebody go up a hill,
somebody's not coming back.
Every time you go on a detail,
somebody's not coming back.
Allen was running supplies
up to the front line,
part of the quartermaster battalion,
which was a
predominantly black unit.
The Army was segregated.
Blacks served in separate units
and were subjected to
the exact same kind of racism
they experienced
in the United States.
Allen was coming from a country
where blacks, in the South,
couldn't drink out of the same
water fountain as white people.
You couldn't share
the same bathrooms.
You couldn't go to the same schools.
When we was in England,
seven of us went over,
tried to get in the Paratroopers.
Sergeant asked us, he said,
"What do you want?"
I said, "We understand you're
looking for Paratroopers."
He said, "You see anybody
in this room your colour?"
We said, "No."
He said, "Get the hell out!"
They wouldn't accept us.
So what are you going to do?
It's a hell of a thing.
You wanted to fight?
Yeah, we wanted to fight.
What the hell we go into
service for? To fight.
It was very, very hard to be
a black soldier in the US Army.
You were almost always put in roles
that were subservient
to white people.
They weren't allowed to fight
with dignity on the front lines.
And they liked to keep you far
away from anything where glory
could happen,
where you could be a hero,
where you were doing
something honourable.
We was in the Black Army,
and they were the White Army.
We were second-class citizens.
We did all the dirty work.
And I admired the fellas up there
who were being popped,
and we supplied -
and we got popped at
going up to take supplies to them.
See, that's what hurt me.
And when you go up
there at chow time,
some of them
didn't want to feed you.
And after you've brought them food,
and ammo, and gas and water
and all that other stuff
you bring up to 'em,
and they don't want to feed you.
That's what I got ticked off at.
Still makes you angry
when you talk about it?
That's the way
they was taught to think.
They were superior
to anything other than white.
They were superior.
So, that's the way they was taught.
As collective Allied forces attempt
to press German defences
out of Caen, the war became
one of attacks and counterattacks.
Progress was very slow, and casualty
rates were incredibly high.
James and the commandos were stuck,
trying to hold the eastern edge
of the Allied territory
whilst losing men
at an appalling rate.
It was very hard going,
cos they never stopped firing at us.
Somebody was always shooting at us.
And you've got to lie concealed
all through the day.
You can't drink or eat properly
if your movement is the thing
that's going to give you away.
Yeah, I was promoted to a corporal.
When I said I didn't want to be
a corporal, and I didn't want
any responsibility I said,
"I don't want to do that."
So they said,
"Well, you're already doing it."
Looking after other people
became the thing with me,
more than looking after myself.
It was always the feeling there that
the more of these things we do,
the more of the troop
will disappear.
And, you know, your turn will come -
you know, eventually.
My men were in a
..pretty poor state.
Some of the men actually
were on the breaking point.
They were ready to refuse,
without they got some rest.
It's a very hard thing
to tell menyou know,
to ask a man to go over there
and do this and do that,
knowing that he's
likely to be killed.
And, really, you know, you're
sending him to his death.
We had been joined by some of
these British commandos
and our own Rangers
and Paratroopers.
I thought I was crazy -
They were absolutely crazy.
Iwas witness to a number of what
I would call instances of butchery,
where we did capture
a German or two and, er
..I was witness to throat-cutting
and disembowelment.
We were crazy.
It was kind of creepy, because
..I considered myself a good soldier
and those few hours
I was involved
..with what I would say was madness.
One of the things which really
marks out the Normandy campaign
from D-Day onwards
is the level of brutality.
Both sides have been told
that these people are
a kind of an existential
threat to them.
So there's two sides
that are like coiled springs.
And when they come face to face,
they absolutely go at each other.
This is extraordinarily
bloody and brutal.
It becomes particularly brutal
when you've got formations
fighting against each other which
consider themselves to be elite.
So particularly when you see SS
troops fighting against US
Paratroopers, you see quite a lot of
atrocities happening on both sides.
I asked, "What about my
Corporal of our company?"
And somebody related a story
that they found his body.
The Germans - they bayoneted, they
mutilated his body and they cut
They cut his testicles
and his penis off
and they stuffed them in his mouth.
We found GI corpses hung
from trees and burnt.
Burnt alive.
The danger for the Allies is that
the longer that this campaign
was going on, and the more
attritional it was becoming,
morale was starting to drift
lower and lower and lower.
But one thing that the Allies
did have very much
going in their favour
was ongoing air superiority.
If the Allies could cut off
the German supply chains,
they'd have a much better chance
of winning the battle.
So they destroyed railways,
they destroyed roads
..ammunitions dumps, tanks
..convoys that they saw moving.
Anything to hold the Germans up.
Well, over time, that started to
really take a toll on the Germans,
because they weren't able
to reinforce as quickly
as they otherwise would have been.
And so aerial bombardment
really helped the Allies.
We were marching through a village
that was heavily damaged.
It was like a nightmare.
It was really horrible.
There were dead Germans
lying all over the place.
The front part of a house
was still standing.
All that remained
was a window and a door.
I saw a rose vine
clinging to the wall.
And I said to myself,
"This rose is alive.
"Among all this death and
destruction over here, it's alive."
And, to me, it seemed like
it was a direct defiance
to all the horrors
that man can create
..and there it stood.
I went over to the wall and I picked
about three of them off of the vine.
And we marched through the village.
No-one spoke.
Everything was quiet.
You could smell
the death of the day.
You could smell it. You felt it.
You felt all the death that
that had happened that day.
I don't why I told you this,
I just want you to know -
I wanted you to know that it
wasn't It wasn't too easy.
There was a body in this road.
And it's not the first
body we've seen.
I noticed that the head was gone,
and it was just a torso left
and there was a big hole, er
..in their ribcage.
I couldn't believe it was
a human being.
What got me all upset,
that some of the GIs,
as they marched,
they were eating their K-rations,
they were throwing the wrappers
and cans inside this body.
My decency was stunned.
I couldn't believe -
even if we were out in war -
that we'd have such disrespect
forfor the remains
of a human body.
I just couldn't believe it.
I was wondering, why? Why did
they Why did they do this?
And, er Well, the only reason
I could think of was
..that they felt that
a soldier's life is
..is something to be wasted,
to be discarded liketrash.
The body means nothing after you're
dead, only when you're alive.
I took the roses that I had,
and I dropped them in
..in the cavity of the body,
and Ijust kept going.
But it's something
I'll never forget.
By July, the Allies had been
battling in Normandy for weeks.
They needed a final push.
It was decided that the only way
to really free Caen of the Germans
was to absolutely
obliterate the city.
Carpet bombing was
a strategy during the war.
And here you see, in Caen,
that strategy happening.
But no-one in Normandy
had experienced
anything on this scale before.
Thousands of tons of bombs
hit the city.
It's horrifying.
The sound is deafening,
people are running.
Time would have stopped for Andre.
He was drawn into
a moment of urgency,
responding to immediate needs
of those around him.
The imprint after this bombing
campaign would be so heavy
on the civilians in Caen
and on the town as a whole.
It would last for not years,
but decades.
It would traumatise generations
of families who would live with
this memory of greyness,
of rubble, of death
for years to come.
The attack on Caen
was considered to be
one of the heaviest air attacks
in the Second World War.
The Germans were overpowered,
and when the Allies moved in,
the Germans were either killed,
captured, or they fled.
The opening the door at Caen
opened the road towards Paris,
and ultimately towards victory.
It puts the Allies in a position
to finally liberate France
and then to move on towards Germany
and the liberation
of all of mainland Europe.
What was the attitude of civilians
towards you in Normandy?
Oh, fantastic.
Well, you can imagine, can't they?
They've have had four
four-and-a-half years of captivity
and they're now, for want
of a better term, they're free,
and now they're liberated
and they were
Winning the Battle of Normandy
was absolutely essential
in order to move onwards
and go on to win
the Second World War.
But from the Allies' perspective,
D-Day was a massive gamble,
it was a huge risk.
It was a calculated risk,
but it was a risk nonetheless.
And had it not succeeded,
it's impossible to know
what the consequences
would have been.
This period is when you see
the whole of humanity
and everything
that humans are capable of -
from the most glorious
aspects of it,
to its most horrendous aspects.
This kind of spectrum of
of humanity and inhumanity,
which live side-by-side.
Despite all the awful things
that had happened to me and mine,
I'm proud, very proud indeed
to be a Royal Marine.
I was very proud of the company.
I hope I showed it at the time.
We came back to Bulford
in the same rooms we were in
before we, er, left.
I'm trying to remember
how many chaps
of the original company I had then.
Less than half.
And none of my original officers.
What would you say
to the guys who you lost?
How would you remember those guys?
One hell of an outfit.
That's how I remember.
I wouldn't want to serve with
a better bunch of fellas.
Would you do it again?
If you were called up?
This is my country.
This is my country.
The only home I ever known.
What am I do?
You talk to most Afro-Americans,
they'll tell you -
I'd go back, if I was called up.
As we marched towards the boat,
I remembered the people of Normandy.
Their country was ravaged.
Their lives changed forever.
I remember the dead enemy soldiers
who had once been alive
and young, as fearful as we.
My thoughts were
of all the troopers who died
and we were leaving behind.
Suddenly it felt
that I was all alone.
I realised I was returning
to England without my buddies.
I was the only one of 17 men who
jumped with me on D-Day to return.
Tears still running down my face,
I turned toward
the fields of Normandy,
and I gave a farewell salute
to all those we left
in the swamps and the fields
and the hedgerows.
We had come with so many
..and we are now leaving
with so few.
I think the one thing
that comes out of it all,
looking back over the years,
was the sheer bloody waste.
You know, it's a waste.
Let's face it, you could put it
down to any war that ever was.
A small one, big one,
or what have you.
The sheer bloody waste.
Experience should
teach us something.
The Open University has produced a
free booklet,
highlighting key moments of D-Day.
To order your free copy marking
the 80th anniversary, call
..or go to
..and follow the links
to the Open University.
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