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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Inverted Skyscraper

The Atlantic Wall is often held as a mighty fortress of concrete, and a perfect example of this would be the Radar station at Douvres. The site was first occupied in 1940, when two Freya radars were installed, later these were upgraded to Wassermann 3. As the war went on the site was expanded to include Wurzburg sets. By the time 1944 rolled around the station consisted of two sites either side of a main road to the west of Douvres. The first site was a smaller location to the north of the road, while the much larger site was to the south. 
Today the radar site at Douvres is actually a museum.
The site was described as an inverted skyscraper by one reporter who saw it. Extending some 50ft deep it was fully climate controlled with central heating and air conditioning. There were comfortable spacious rooms with hot water and electrical supplies delivered from a diesel generator. The site was stocked to the brim with ammunition, food and a large water reservoir. It had numerous defences including a thick belt of mine fields and wire. Multiple machine gun emplacements were dotted throughout the site along with several mortar posts. Firepower wise there were twelve 37mm FLAK 43 and two 20mm AA guns. There were also five 50mm anti-tank guns of varying types and a PAK-40. The site also had a buried phone line extending to Caen. This fortress was home to some 238 Luftwaffe personnel, and after the opening of D-Day some members of the 716th Infantry Division had also ended up there. 

One of the 50mm emplacements at Douvres. It is actually a KWK not a PAK.
The village of Douvres (renamed in 1961 to Douvres-la-Délivrande, which is how you see the later name in many accounts) was a first day objective for the Canadian forces. As history records they were unable to make these objectives. On about D+2 the Canadians had reached a nearby village, and ran into fierce resistance. After clearing that village, they had stopped to re-organise. Then were ordered to halt and an attack to be launched on D+3, with the radar station as an objective. The morning of D+3, was spent dealing with a strong enemy position, and an exploding ammo dump, as well as dodging sniper fire. Even with a Sherman squadron in support, as well as a regiment of 25 pounders, the Canadians were unable to make any headway. None of the guns were big enough to dent the concrete emplacements. As the day wore on the Canadians simply surrounded the position and pushed on. The Black Watch was brought up with a pair of AVRE's to take the position, however the AVRE's were destroyed by an 88mm gun sighted in the village of Douvres, and the Scots were unable to make any progress. 
Commando's in Douvres
On the 10th of June 41st Commando took over the positions surrounding the station. For the following week the commando's mounted aggressive patrolling over the area to harass the Germans, including patrols of the radar station at night. They were so close that the German speakers in the commando ranks were able to listen to Germans talking within the bunkers. On one occasion a frustrated commando banged on the door of the bunker with his sub-machine gun and yelled 'Come out you silly bastards!'.

During the day the commando's used their 2" mortars, PIATs, small arms and a captured anti-tank gun to harass the German positions. As a more pointed reminder sometimes Typhoons would strafe and rocket the site. In return the Germans would take pot shots at Typhoons landing and taking off from the forward airstrip a short distance away.
Not actually Douvres
On the 14th intelligence suggested that the smaller northern site was abandoned, so a probe was made to capture the site if possible. This had support of a handful of AVRE's. However, the Germans had not left and after a brief firefight the attack was cancelled. Two days later the Germans attempted to air-drop supplies to the garrison, but a commando patrol reacted first and carried the containers away. Inside were spare parts for the German's guns and extra instruments. The latter item was to help the Germans maintain their observation equipment. Throughout this period at least some of the radars were still active to some degree. Plus, the Germans were able to observe Allied movements and report them back.

This along with the attempts to shoot up the planes using the airfield and growing space pressures within the bridgehead meant that the Germans had to be silenced. So, a major assault was planned. An artillery barrage would be laid on, this included 7.2" pieces. Then some 44 tanks, a mix of Crabs and AVRE's would assault the position along with the men of 41st Commando.

At 1630 on the afternoon of the 17th the assault began with the thirty minute bombardment. This largely proved irrelevant, as even the 7.2" shells proved ineffective against the bunkers. At 1700 the flails moved out, each kicking up a huge column of dust and smoke from exploding mines. More flails covered the advance elements and once the flails were inside the enemy lines the AVRE's moved up to batter the Germans into surrender. As they entered the swept lanes one Churchill managed to get itself stuck as its track slipped sideways into a trench and the tank bottomed out. The following AVRE then turned to go around but was struck by an anti-tank round. The shot hit the co-driver in the head killing him outright and set the tank on fire. As the driver scrambled out the BESA ammo detonated injuring him in the leg. Two others scrambled out of the doomed tank and second later the main ammunition exploded blowing the turret clean off and rupturing the hull.
Despite this the other AVRE's arrived in the radar site, and began to fire. Soon afterwards the Germans began to surrender. The site was policed up and secured by 1830, and some 227 Germans were captured. The Commandos lost one man, while the flails had four tanks damaged by mines. The AVRE's had lost seven vehicles with four total losses.

Image credits:
warfarehistorynetwork.com

1 comment:

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