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Enemy soldiers respond 50 years after D-Day

The Story

Herbert Walter remembers the early hours of D-Day well. A member of the Hitlerjugend -- a young, well-trained, passionate group of Nazi soldiers -- he heard the planes begin their attack. "It was so noisy. I said, 'they are coming.'" Werner Kortenhaus remembers too. When the attack began, his unit awaited orders to counterattack, but it would be hours before those orders came. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the two German vets recount their D-Day experiences. As the aerial bombardment began, German troops in Normandy were without leadership. Two top German officers were in Paris and Germany and no one dared wake Hitler. Allied subterfuge efforts had paid off, too, and the Germans thought the Normandy attack was a diversion from something bigger at Calais. Nevertheless, the day after D-Day would go down as one of the darkest chapters in the Normandy campaign. At the village of Authie, the Canadians ran into the 12th SS Panzer Division, whose soldiers were determined to take back the town. Fighting was heavy but the skilled, fanatical Hitlerjugend prevailed and many Canadians surrendered. That night, German Colonel Kurt Meyer ordered his men to shoot 23 Canadians, many with their hands tied behind their backs.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: June 6, 1994
Guests: Werner Kortenhaus, Herbert Walter
Reporter: Anna Maria Tremonti
Duration: 8:41

Did You know?

• Most of the Germans' reserves of panzer (tank) units were far from Normandy on D-Day, and it took repeated requests from officers in the region before the tanks were permitted to move. General Jodl, head of military staff at headquarters in East Prussia (now Poland), said the Normandy invasion was a fake.
• Commanded to mobilize at about 2:30 p.m., the 12th SS Panzer Division didn't arrive at the beachhead until about 10 o'clock that night.
• The Hitlerjugend of the 12th SS Panzer Division were brought together in 1943 as a fighting unit of mostly 17-year-old volunteers. These boy soldiers grew up in the Nazi era and were raised in youth camps where they became rabid followers of Hitler.
• In the summer of 1943 there were 10,000 such recruits; their training was finished by spring 1944. Normandy was their first combat experience.
• After the war Kurt Meyer was tried in the first Canadian war-crimes trial. He was convicted of the murders of 18 Canadians and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
• Meyer went to New Brunswick's Dorchester Penitentiary but was sent to Germany five years later. He served two more years before being released. Meyer then worked in a brewery, published a book and fought for war pensions for Waffen-SS members. He died in 1961.



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