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Ernie's House of Whoopass! June 6, 2012
June 6, 2012

"Rangers, Lead The Way!" ~ Colonel Francis W. Dawson on the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944.

On the night of 5 June 1944, a force of 181 men, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, southern England in six Horsa gliders to capture Pegasus Bridge, and also "Horsa Bridge", a few hundred yards to the east, over the Orne River. The object of this action was to prevent German armor from crossing the bridges and attacking the eastern flank of the landings at Sword Beach. Five of the Ox and Bucks's gliders landed as close as 47 yards from their objectives from 16 minutes past midnight. The attackers poured out of their battered gliders, completely surprising the German defenders, and took the bridges within 10 minutes. They lost two men in the process: Lance-Corporal Fred Greenhalghdrowned in a nearby pond when his glider landed, and Lieutenant Den Brotheridge was killed crossing the bridge in the first minutes of the assault and thus became the first member of the invading Allied armies to die as a result of enemy fire on D-Day. The Germans knew the invasion was imminent if not the exact location; Major Hans Schmidt, in command of the bridges, had been told that they were one of the most critical points in Normandy. The German defenders however were not on full alert and only two sentries were on duty when the gliders landed. The sound of a gunshot alerted the two sentries on the bridge. As Brotheridge's platoon attacked, one ran off shouting "paratroops" while the second fired a flare gun to alert nearby defenders. Brotheridge shot him while other members of his platoon cleared the trenches and pillbox with grenades. Alerted by the flare, the German machine gunners opened fire at the men on the bridge, mortally wounding Lieutenant Brotheridge as he threw a grenade. The successful taking of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the days and weeks following the invasion. A memorial plaque to commemorate the events of Den Brotheridge's death was unveiled at Smethwick Council House on 2 April 1995 by his daughter, Margaret Brotheridge.

Canada's Royal Winnipeg Rifles landed on Juno Beach at 7:49 at 'Mike Red' and 'Mike Green' beaches on the western edge of Courseulles. The Winnipeg Rifle's history titled The Little Black Devils describes the objective: In the dunes were coastal fortifications, lines of concrete and steel pillboxes, big-gun emplacements, elaborate trench systems, underground chambers, hidden machine gun posts and gun batteries in the earth. Houses near the beach were fortified; guns on slopes beyond the beaches were sighted in on every approach to the beach and dunes, and stretching inland were numerous other positions and defence lines, hinged on fortified towns, villages and cities. Elaborate minefields had been laid and exits from the beaches covered by artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire. A pillbox on the west side of the Seulles River contained a 75 mm field gun and a very large anti-tank gun. A story of unimaginable courage took place near this pillbox. It concerned Corporal W.J. 'Bull' Klos. Rushing the enemy, 'B' Company encountered heavy enemy fire. Corporal Klos, badly shot in the stomach and legs while leaving the assault boat, made his way forward to an enemy position. Men fell all around him as Corporal Klos thrashed through the deep water. Klos was a big, powerful man. Thus the nickname "Bull". The corporal’s rage was greater than his pain. He staggered to the beach and shot an enemy gunner. Despite being wounded, he engaged in hand-to-hand combat with three German soldiers he came across in a pill box. He knifed two of them and was strangling the third with his bare bands when he was killed. His hands still gripped about the throat of his victim produced a chilling sight!

Robert Capa was a Hungarian combat photographer and photojournalist who covered five different wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the First Indochina War. He documented the course of World War II in London, North Africa, Italy, the Battle of Normandy on Omaha Beach and the liberation of Paris. His action photographs, such as those taken during the 1944 Normandy invasion, portray the violence of war with unique impact. At the start of World War II, Capa was in New York City, having moved there from Paris to look for work, and to escape Nazi persecution. During the war, Capa was sent to various parts of the European Theatre on photography assignments. Probably his most famous images, The Magnificent Eleven are a group of photos of D-Day taken by Capa who came ashore with the men of 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division on 6 June 1944 (D-Day) in the second assault wave on Omaha Beach. The men storming Omaha Beach faced some of the heaviest resistance from German troops within the bunkers of the Atlantikwall. While under constant fire Capa used two Contax II cameras mounted with 50 mm lenses and several rolls of spare film, and took 106 pictures in the first two hours of the invasion. Capa returned with the unprocessed films to London, where a staff member at Life made a mistake in the darkroom; he set the dryer too high and melted the emulsion in the negatives in three complete rolls and over half of a fourth roll. Only eleven frames in total were recovered. Steven Spielberg is said to have been inspired by these images to create Saving Private Ryan.

William Millin, commonly known as Piper Bill, was personal piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, commander of 1 Special Service Brigade at D-Day. Millin is best remembered for playing the pipes whilst under fire during the D-Day landing in Normandy. Pipers had traditionally been used in battle by Scottish and Irish soldiers. However, the use of bagpipes was restricted to rear areas by the time of the Second World War by the British Army. Lovat, however, ignored these orders and ordered Millin, then aged 21, to play. When Private Millin demurred, citing the regulations, he recalled later, Lord Lovat replied: "Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply." He played "Hielan' Laddie" and "The Road to the Isles" as his comrades fell around him on Sword Beach. Millin states that he later talked to captured German snipers who claimed they did not shoot him because they thought he was crazy. Millin, whom Lovat had appointed his personal piper during commando training at Achnacarry, near Fort William in Scotland, was the only man during the landing who wore a kilt – it was the same tartan kilt his father had worn in World War I – and he was armed only with his pipes and the sgian-dubh, or "black knife", sheathed inside his kilt-hose on the right side. Millin, who suffered a stroke in 2003, died in hospital in Torbay on 17 August 2010, aged 88. One set of Millin's bagpipes are exhibited at the Memorial Museum of Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, France.

Heinrich Severloh was a soldier in the German 352nd Infantry Division, which was stationed in Normandy in 1944. He has been referred to as the "Beast of Omaha Beach" by the media of English speaking countries. He fired on the waves of approaching American GIs with an MG42 machine gun and two Karabiner 98k rifles, while comrades kept up a continuous flow of ammunition to him. He alleges in his autobiography that this resulted in an estimated 1000-2000 American deaths, however this is likely a gross overestimation, since total American casualties on Omaha Beach were approximately 3000. In the 1960s, Severloh found American GI David Silva’s name in a book about the invasion. Several months later, Severloh discovered that Silva was once more active in the U.S. Army as a military chaplain and was stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany. It was there that they met for the second time. Severloh asked him how he had come to be a chaplain. Silva's answer was: "In the moment when I had to get out of that landing boat and run up into the fire of your machine gun, I cried out to God to help me to get out of this hell alive. I pledged to become a chaplain and as such to help other soldiers." The erstwhile enemies became good friends and at the 2005 reunion of Allied Forces in Normandy, Severloh and Silva met once more. According to eyewitnesses, the two seemed to be the best of friends. Between the time they first met after the war, until Severloh's death in 2006, the two wrote to each other often. Silva is now living in Cleveland, Ohio as a priest and has visited Severloh's gravesite more than once.

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