A New York Times bestseller! The untold story of what really happened on D-Day.
The Rangers’ mission was clear. They were to lead the assault on Omaha Beach and break out inland. Simultaneously, other Ranger units would scale the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to destroy the ostensibly huge gun battery there and thus protect the invasion fleet from being targeted. But was the Pointe du Hoc mission actually necessary? Why did the Allies plan and execute an attack on a gun battery that they knew in advance contained no field guns? And more importantly, why did they ignore the position at Maisy that did? Using personal interviews with the surviving Rangers who fought on the beach and at Pointe du Hoc, The Cover-Up at Omaha Beach presents exceptionally detailed new research that takes the reader into the middle of the action with the Rangers.
Gary Sterne has made a painstaking study of what the Allies actually knew in advance of D-Day, including what was known about Maisy Battery. Maps, orders, and assault plans have been found in American, British, and German archives, many of which have only recently been released after staying classified for more than sixty years. Radio communications of the Rangers as they advanced inland have been found, and Royal Air Force intelligence evaluations of bombing missions directed at the site have now been released. All of this combines to make The Cover-Up at Omaha Beach one of the most up-to-date references on the subject.
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About the Author
Gary Sterne is a keen collector of militaria and was a co-founder of The Armourer and Skirmish Magazines. He has always been fascinated with the D-day landings and in particular was intrigued by the lack of precise information relating the mystery of the "missing guns" of Pointe du Hoc. His research led to the finding of a map which indicated the position of an "unknown" German gun position buried in the village of Maisy. After buying the land, he was able to open the huge site to the public. The re-discovery of the Maisy Battery made headline news around the world and has subsequently changed the history of the Omaha Sector forever. The site is now one of the major Normandy D-day attractions.
Don Mann’s impressive military resume includes being a decorated combat veteran; corpsman; SEAL special operations technician; jungle survival, desert survival, and arctic survival instructor; small arms weapons, foreign weapons, armed and unarmed defense tactics, and advanced hand-to-hand combat instructor; and Survival, Evade, Resistance, and Escape instructor, in addition to other credentials. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
The story you are about to read is one that certainly contains mystery, but it also features examples of misdirection and bravery of the highest order. The information included in this book was known only to a few Second World War American veterans and a handful of people from the villages of Grandcamp and Maisy, who are now in old age. Even people who lived nearby and many of the US soldiers that fought in the vicinity were unaware of what existed there.
The reason for this is simple. It was buried. The site was buried physically under 1m to 3m of soil. A whole area of battlefield which in total covers approximately 144 acres was wiped off the face of the earth and buried before the end of the war, ensuring that the site drifted into obscurity — until 2004. For sixty years it simply vanished.
Fast forward to January 2004. It was a cold winter's day and the end of a fruitless search for me. I was driving around in drizzle looking for somewhere to build a Second World War museum. My brother and I had been looking at old maps for days — the general idea was to find a building that would provide both historical Second World War interest in itself and be an interesting backdrop for the proposed museum. I was looking for somewhere to house my collection of US and German militaria and artifacts related to D-Day and it was proving to be a far more difficult proposition than I had originally thought.
That was until I recalled that I had bought a US Army veteran's uniform some years earlier and that it had come in a box with a map and other personal items. I found the map, which was in itself not of particular interest, except for an area marked on the coast near Grandcamp-Maisy. This was about a mile from the sea and marked in red pencil with the words 'area of high resistance.' Knowing the area quite well, my brother and I went down the lane called Route des Perruques the following day. On arrival, I could see nothing other than three old and frankly fairly uninteresting looking gun casements facing Utah Beach. Certainly not the place to consider putting up a museum, I thought.
We turned the car around and headed back up the lane. But some 500yd later I slowed down to look at the map again. The area marked on the map was to my right in fields, not behind and to my left where we had just come from. I double-checked the field edges and decided that I was indeed looking at the correct place, but I could see absolutely nothing.
We stopped the car and debated the merits of getting out on such a miserable day. The wind was blowing sideways and the rain was starting to pick up. But something inside my head told me to get out of the car, so I did. There was a row of small 2ft-high posts every 10yd and a single-strand rusty barbed wire fence running along the roadside. I stepped over the wire and I walked into a series of overgrown fields, literally untouched and unploughed — just empty, unkempt fields. The vegetation had become so dense over the years that the area had become a wilderness, forming almost a forest of weeds and scrub. In some areas there were brambles with inch-thick stems, while bushes and trees were impenetrable, but there was nothing visible to indicate that anything had been there during the Second World War.
It was a pretty awful day and there were no signs that the weather would improve, so I was intent on not going far. I walked probably only 100yd and found myself in a clearing and standing on concrete. It dawned on me that this was obviously the floor of a building which had been destroyed in combat and this was all that was left on the ground. Logically this must be what was marked on the map. Interesting, I thought, but that is nothing out of the ordinary in France. So I turned to leave, but as I did, I stepped back and nearly tripped up over a small chimney pot. It was then I realised that I was on the roof of a building — not standing on its floor. Whatever the building actually was, the top had been uncovered by years of rain and I was standing on it, and it was sunk in the ground beneath me.
We searched and searched for an entrance to the building and eventually found the top of a tunnel some 20yd away. Only about 12in of it was visible, but it was most definitely the top of a tunnel. At first it looked just like a wide rabbit hole that had given way over time due to the rain, but it had a ramp of soil going inside into the gloom and it was shouting out to be entered.
We went back home and returned more suitably dressed and armed with torches. If the building was still there underground, then logically it would have an entrance somewhere. We found the small mound on the surface where water had flowed in. Using the torches, we entered what turned out to be a concrete and brick entrance and slid down into the darkness. It opened out as the soil decreased and led us into a German ammunition store. The whole building that had been virtually invisible from the surface consisted of two big storage areas on our left for large- calibre ammunition and another smaller room to the right, which would have been used for fuses. There was a 2m-thick concrete, bomb-proof roof and the floor was littered with ammunition and debris — just as it had been left when it was filled in. It was clearly part of a textbook German artillery position designed to be hidden from the Allies as they attacked the coast.
That sparked off my interest. After this initial discovery, we spent hours in the fields looking for emplacements and other things that would give us a clue as to the purpose of the bunkers. Over time, we stumbled across the central spine for mounting a large-calibre weapon, presumably a 155mm howitzer or 150mm cannon — the rest of the gun pit around it was buried, but it was not difficult to imagine what the area looked like. Water had washed away the soil around the central spine and created a pit with raised sides. It became obvious that the pits were for large guns and the bunkers and shelters around each pit were still there, just buried.
I was sure that this could be a piece of D-Day history that helped solve the long-standing Pointe du Hoc gun mystery. As a result, I approached one landowner after another and four years later, I had bought all the pieces of land that formed the site. I was the proud owner of a buried German Second World War position. But what position, that was the question.
The search began to find out what the site could have been. The Internet revealed only two websites with mentions of there being a gun battery at Maisy La Martiniere, and in one large-volume work on the Atlantic Wall it was referred too as having 'played no part in D-Day.' These books did not suggest there was a significant site on this land, so perhaps I had bought a dummy site — I honestly did not know. I could find no other recorded information about the site and there was nothing written about it in any of the major academic works on the subject, so I started to investigate myself.
I wrote to some members of the 2nd Rangers who were still alive via their association and to most who had fought at Pointe du Hoc. I logically assumed they would have come on towards the Maisy area after the Pointe du Hoc battle. Surely they would have information and know if anything existed on the site. I received replies from a number of Ranger veterans, with most of these telling me that the site that was attacked in the area was called Pointe du Hoc and that the battle was well researched. Many sent me details of their D-Day experiences, but nothing related to what I had found.
I then began to wonder what academics thought about Maisy. While I was in the process of buying the last couple of pieces of land I began corresponding via email with a professor at Texas University, whom I met some months later at Pointe du Hoc. It transpired that every year a group of students from Texas University visited Pointe du Hoc and that they were working on a seven-year study investigating what had happened to the guns at Pointe du Hoc. I was lucky as this was one of their annual student visits to Normandy to examine the site. I remember clearly walking over to discuss the Maisy site with their main man, but the problem was that I didn't own all of the Maisy site yet and therefore I couldn't really go into detail about its existence. However, I did want to pick his brains on what was known about the area, but I had to be careful what I said.
I approached the Texas group and stood outside a stripy plastic cordon that they had erected around a slight mound on the ground. It was a little like the tape that is put round a crime scene on the TV and ironically I had stood on that very ground (without the tape) some weeks earlier. I thought it was a bit odd that they would put up tape so that they could sit and eat their sandwiches behind it, but what do I know?
I introduced myself to the professor and asked him if he remembered my emails to him. He did, which was good, and I asked him if he thought it would change their research if it was found that there was another gun battery covering this sector locally? I was trying to draw him out. I wanted him to tell me he knew about Maisy and if he thought it was insignificant — or that it was a dummy. It was important to me as I wanted some acknowledgement from his group that Maisy was at least known to exist.
I was fairly vague with my opening question, but at the same time trying to eke out any information they had. The professor was polite, but I remember his words well. He addressed me, and his attentive group of students:
It appears that Mr. Sterne has not quite got the exact D-Day situation of gun batteries correct. We have Longues-sur-Mer to our right and the battery of Crisbecq to our left giving interlocking fields of fire ... there were no other significant coastal defence gun batteries in the area. Perhaps Mr. Sterne needs to go and study his maps a little closer.
This elicited a laugh from his students, but stung me.
There was little I could actually say at that point, so I simply replied, 'OK, but can I remind you of this conversation in the future.' I left soon after, spitting feathers at having been embarrassed in front of so many students.
It made me more determined to look into the history of the Maisy site, so I increased my efforts to buy the remaining fields. I succeeded in doing this shortly after the meeting with the party from Texas. The next step was to dig up the site. Suffice to say, I spent eleven weeks with a 22-ton digger and began the process by starting to follow the German trenches. The colour of the trenches differed from the surrounding fields, so once I located one it was easy to follow the rest. I just followed one after another and uncovered dozens of structures. Eventually I had a large part of the Les Perruques Battery uncovered and had dug up building after building, not to mention about 2 miles of trenches, gun platforms, fortified positions and there was still more stretching out in all directions.
As I continued day after day the digging was causing a stir locally. Town officials would come past to look and I was asked by a local reporter for the Ouest-France newspaper if I would discuss the site for a piece he was doing on Second World War, and I happily agreed to this.
That is when the fun started. I had let Pandora out of the box. Every newspaper in the world wanted to feature the 'new attraction' in Normandy and it was major headline news. Everyone was talking about the 'new' discovery that was going to change history. And that was also when the criticism began, as academics told me that no such place existed and I had created something that was a nothing, staged only for publicity purposes. I had a lot of problems with the (old) mayor and the town was divided on what I had done, after all it could not have been a significant place or they would know about it, surely?
I knew it was for real. I had found ammunition by the bucket full, as well as fuses, equipment and objects that could only have been lost in combat conditions, such as gas masks, etc. I also discovered a German officer's skeleton, 155mm live ammunition and lots of evidence of German occupation and combat.
Once the papers got hold of the story they started to invent things to sensationalize it. I quickly found myself having to justify the newspapers' outlandish claims, which were often not ones that I had made, but newspapers do that. The sensible scholars knew differently and more information started to come to me via local people who remembered the Germans in their houses and remembered the site being attacked.
In the eyes of the public the site was seen for the first time in sixty years and it appeared across the world on the front pages of newspapers, in magazines and wildly on the Internet. In one weekend it appeared on nearly every television news report across the world and I was inundated with requests for interviews from magazines, newspapers and radio stations. I even had a friend call me from Australia saying I was on his 6pm TV news report! It was indeed big news.
But why was 'another German gun position' so interesting, after all as one historical analyst put it to the BBC, 'there are plenty of bunkers like this in Normandy,' and strictly speaking he was right. But Maisy is far bigger than any simple bunker alone —and its position directly between Utah and Omaha Beaches is really what makes it special.
The answer to my quest for information came to me quite unexpectedly as I had never met a Second World War US Army Ranger veteran. It began with a discussion I had with one of the 2nd Rangers called Tom Herring, who gave me a clue. He suggested that perhaps it was the 5th Rangers who were involved in the Maisy battle not the 2nd, something I had not considered. Logically the 2nd had not been in that area so he assumed, that if it was Rangers, perhaps the 5th Battalion had been there. It sounded plausible so I wrote to the Ranger veterans association again and asked them if any 5th Battalion men remembered a place called Maisy. It was a long shot as naively I thought that anyone involved in Maisy would be long dead. As the 2nd Battalion of the Rangers knew nothing about it, then that was that. A huge percentage of the 5th Battalion of the Rangers were killed later on in the war at a place called Irsch-Zerf, so not many survived the war — I thought my chances of information were zero, but I asked anyway.
A number certainly did survive and I was contacted by a couple of men who remembered Maisy well. From then on the information really started to flow and I began to record their stories and remembrances of their time in Normandy. It is only right that I let them tell their story in their own words and I have tried where possible not to include information that has been used before. This is obviously difficult in places because the veterans tend to tell their experiences in the same way each time they are asked. I realised also that in some sources, such as the 'After Action' Reports, there is a degree of repetition with other publications. That is necessary because the objectives and purpose of particular missions will be the same as described in other books.
I hope this book is different in that it will tell a version of their story that you will have not read before. Hopefully, also I have gained information from these men that is not available elsewhere —if for no other reason than that I asked them different questions. I asked them about their feelings and how they reacted to certain things. I have sometimes put difficult questions to them about their colleagues and I am respectful of the fact that these were not always easy for them to respond to. This book is about what these brave men did in reality. If I was to sensationalize it in anyway, that would demean their efforts, so this is a real account of what they experienced and where possible written exactly in their own words.
From a historical documentary perspective, the book is also a collection of intelligence information. The reason for this is two-fold. First, it gives you a glimpse of what was actually known in Allied Headquarters about Maisy Battery before D-Day and, secondly, it tells you that information reported in many other books is not a full and accurate picture of the opposition the Germans had prepared for the American troops when they landed. If anything, the difficulties faced by the Rangers when they landed were actually worse than many books have thus far reported.
Why other books have not covered this subject I do not entirely know. It is perhaps that the authors did not have access to the pre-sixty-year TOP SECRET information, so they used the same information that others had, which was all that was available to them at the time. Perhaps is it also that in most other books attention has been focused on the activities of the Rangers on Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc — after all why would authors consider a gun battery elsewhere down the coast to be of interest. The big-selling, widely acclaimed books don't mention Maisy, so why should other authors?
Perhaps it is a mixture of the two, who knows for sure. I do however commend Cornelius Ryan for his research undertaken in the 1950s, which I have seen and it is superb. He did know Maisy existed, but the remit for his work, The Longest Day, only extended to 6 June 1944 — D-Day. Had he been able to cover other Ranger activities over a longer period, I am 100 per cent sure he would have written about Maisy.
What you are about to read is a true story ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Cover-Up at Omaha Beach"
Copyright © 2014 Gary Sterne.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Uncovering Maisy 1
Chapter 2 The US Rangers on D-Day 11
Chapter 3 Rangers Lead the Way 57
Chapter 4 The Close of D-Day 78
Chapter 5 The Assault on Pointe du Hoc 84
Chapter 6 Starting from Zero 141
Chapter 7 German Operations 162
Chapter 8 Allied Air Force and Army Intelligence 180
Chapter 9 The Rangers' Advance on Maisy 229
Chapter 10 The Battle for Maisy 244
Chapter 11 Challenging a D-Day Myth 271
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this book exceptionally interesting and informative. Having also visiting the Maisy Battery myself, it puts things further into perspective about the Rangers and their amazing feats on D-Day and the days after!
This book is a disaster. The first eighty percent of the book is a repeat of every other history of D-Day with the exception that it is crammed with irrelevant information. There are errors in the book that would have been caught if the book had been proof read. The many small errors bring into doubt the rest of the author's information. The illustrations are the worst that I have ever seen. Photographs have so much contrast that there is almost no gray scale. In addition, they are way to small to be of use. They would have been interesting if they had been much larger and printed with much higher quality. Perhaps on slick paper as is done in many books. The maps are miniature reproductions of original maps. The small size makes them almost impossible to decipher. The author would have been much better off if he had used maps drawn specifically to relate to the text of the book. One gets the impression that this book was done on the smallest budget possible. The subject matter certainly deserved better.