Tag Archives: world war two

Europe, the Wehrmacht and USSR

“The war against Russia will be such that it cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion. This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.”

– Adolf Hitler March, 1941

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen visiting Normandy it is important to pay your respects to the French, British, Polish, Canadian and American forces who were involved in the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day landings. However, it is also important to remember those who lost their lives elsewhere during the Second World War. Of course, this is all stuff you have learned at senior school or “high school” (for those of you who are joining us from across the pond!), but I was surprised at how much I didn’t know… or have forgotten since I dug out my History 101 textbook.

For example, the Wehrmacht attacked the USSR in the summer of 1941. By the time the leaves fell, the Germans and their allies (Finland, Hungary, Italy and Romania) were occupying territories just short of Leningrad and Moscow. For Nazi Germany, the invasion was a crucial conquest for vital space, in addition to being an ideological war and an annihilating racial war against the threat of “judeo-bolshevism”.

What really surprised me during my visit to Normandy this year was the number of soldiers and military personnel who came from all corners of the world to visit Normandy to pay their respects. I was touched by this act of affection and appreciation. I was also pleased to see so many young soldiers visiting and taking the time to visit the region. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how many families and individuals were affected by the war and continue to be affected today.


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Interview: Graham and John Stevenson

I met Graham Stevenson and his nephew, John Stevenson at a lunch held by L’association Libération de Berjou for the 70th D-Day Anniversary.

Graham, who is 89 years old, served with the Sherwood Rangers who landed on Gold Beach on D-Day. They were the first British battalion to enter Bayeux. Bayeux would become the first French town to be liberated on 7th June, 1944.

Two months later, the Rangers navigated their tanks to the village of Berjou to close the emerging ‘Falaise Pocket’.

Graham explains that it’s important to realise that 90% of the soldiers who fought during the Second World War had no training. Only a few battalions, such as the Sherwood Rangers, were privileged enough to have some preparation in warfare.

He also emphasizes that the real casualties in war are the women and children.

Graham landed in Normandy two weeks after the 6th June, 1944. Only a third of the original Rangers who landed on D-Day were still able to fight by the time of his arrival. They regrouped and waited another two weeks before they advanced to Tilly-Sur-Suelles.

He was in one of three tanks that advanced forward while the rest of the infantry followed not too far behind.

He explains: “The ‘Gerries’ used to call the tanks we were in ‘Tommy Cookers’, because of all the petroleum that was in them.”

An unseen, camouflaged German tank fired at the tank next to Graham’s which caused it to explode.

Consequently, the infantry pulled back; leaving the three tanks (one ablaze) alone.

Before Graham knew what was happening, these tanks were under intense fire. He remembers mortar bombs landing everywhere.

Graham stuck his head above the turret a few times and narrowly missed one of these mortar bombs. It hit the tank cover just below him and ricocheted off the tank.

Graham explains: “The tank commander was terrible… He just did not know what he was doing.”

The tank commander took up a gun and left the tank. When Graham next stuck his head above the turret in the midst of explosions, something hard hit him on the back of his neck. He assumes it was the body of his tank commander.

The wireless operator was also panicking. He left the tank and ran off.

Graham and his troop commander later both left the tank, leaving the driver and co-driver of the tank behind with the gun turret empty.

They ran down a narrow trail. Graham has since guessed that a German tank caught him in a gap through the hedges. Bullets were lodged into his right arm.

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M. Podyma Interview at Mont-Ormel

The hill at Mont-Ormel, overlooks the site of the last and one of the bloodiest battles of Normandy. It was here that the Allied forces enclosed the Germans in a pincer movement, forcing tens of thousands of German soldiers to retreat through an ever-narrowing gap – the ‘Falaise gap’ or ‘Falaise pocket’ as it’s often called. The road along which the Germans had to flee became piled high with the carnage of corpses, dead horses, abandoned carriages and tanks, that the Germans called it, ‘the Corridor of Death.’

M. Podyma is a franco-polish veteran, who landed at Arromanches on Gold Beach in July 1944 and fought in the 1st Polish Armoured Division through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany until 8th May, 1945. He played a decisive role in the battle of Mont-Ormel – from August 7th until August 21st, he found himself on the front line. On August 18th, 1944 he was confronted with the 2nd SS Panzer ‘Das Reich’ Division. On August 20th at Boisjos, he saved his Sherman tank and his two radios from destruction – this action allowed the Canadian artillery to direct their fire to the German troops and to circle them.

Since the war, M. Podyma has participated in all the major commemorative events at Mont Ormel. He will be 93 in a couple of months’ time.

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An interview with Jean François Brisset

L’association Libération de Berjou held an official ceremony and lunch in honor of the Sherwood Rangers who liberated the village on the 16th August 1944. This is the first time in 70 years that there has been an official commemoration celebrating the Sherwood Rangers in Berjou.

The association for the Petit Musee de la Liberation de Berjou was founded in 2011 to show the many military memorabilia that were found in the surrounding fields and collected by the elders of the village. Since then, there has been a great interest taken in the liberators of Berjou and in time with the 70th anniversary, it was the perfect opportunity to thank those who risked so much for freedom here.

More to follow…

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