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The Batterie at Azeville

Discussion in 'Azeville battery' started by Jim, Sep 11, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Batterie at Azeville was one of the first constructions of the Atlantic Wall in France, the cannons arriving here in December 1941. The serious construction of the Atlantic Wall in France was not undertaken until the end of year 1942. This battery is one of ten on the Cotentin grouped under the same regiment the HKAR 1261.Most German batteries have a view of the sea but Azeville is one of the few that does not.

    The #4 Bunker is now the Museum at Azeville, this is the rear view of the bunker which is the entrance to the museum.

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    A fire control post was built on the hill overlooking St Marcouf which is 2.5 km away. The fire control post should have been equipped with a telemeter, but these were in short supply and because this was not a high risk area none was supplied and the men stationed here made their own rather inaccurate device. A telemeter is a device rather like a wide pair of binoculars that when focused will give you the distance and range of a ship out at sea. Two years later the same site was used for the larger St Marcouf batteries which were equipped with three Skoda guns of 210mm and one 155mm Schneider gun. The scarcity of equipment in both men and machines was very evident here and when the batteries were being constructed, local farmers were made to fetch and carry materials from the station with their horses and carts.

    This is the Control post that was shared between Azeville and St Marcouf (Crisbecq)

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    The guns installed here were captured Schnieder cannons of First World War vintage. Several hundred of these guns fell into German hands after the fall of France in 1940. Because of their age, (the guns installed here were built in 1913), they were not as accurate or as quick to fire as modem guns. The Casemates here are of identical design type, H650 and the later ones have rounded corners, which was to help deflect incoming shells. The senior officer was a Captain Kattnig who commanded 170 men. This would be about the number required to equip a batterie of this size. After D-day many German soldiers who were retreating north from Utah beach took refuge here, and this swelled the number to about 250. The same thing happened at St Marcouf and from the normal garrison of 300; it raised to about 400 men the extras coming mainly from the beach positions to the south.

    The front view of the museum that was once the aperture for the guns to bunker #4

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    At Azeville most of the troops lived in the village, and some farmers had as many as 30 Germans living with them.
    The Germans built a Play House on the Azeville site to relieve their boredom of being isolated in Normandy. This was a very ordinary wooden hut thou the interior was rather grand, with two pianos and a bar, and it was said to have been the best bar south of Cherbourg. The Germans called it "The Casino" and it even boasted a small stage at one end with red velvet curtains. Dancers, singers and truck loads of girls were brought here from Cherbourg to brighten the lives of the men stationed here.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The first troops stationed here remained here until early in 1944 having come from the Russian front and were very pleased to find themselves posted here. When they were moved back to the Eastern front, the replacements were much younger conscripts who did not get the chance to enjoy their first summer here. In the early days when the last two casemates were being constructed, a large reservoir was constructed to enable the mixing of the concrete.
    During the summer the troops painted a beach scene with a large red sun around this reservoir and used it as a swimming pool. Besides this reservoir their are two windows that led to the underground tunnel that runs below this battery, the Germans would use these windows to gain access to the guns in case of attack.
    When you first enter the tunnel there are several storage areas which would have been used for everything including small arms ammunition?

    Inside the Tunnel at Azeville.

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    The garrison should have been able to hold out against attack for sixty days, but there were never enough food stocks available. Inside the tunnel is an artesian well, and this small chamber would have housed the water pump as the Germans took away large quantities of water from this well to be used in the construction of the battery.
    Today inside the tunnel the floor is covered with gravel and there are steps leading up and down to different levels during the Germans time here there would have been no gravel in the passageways and no steps down to the bunkers, just slopes. There were quite a few underground bunkers at Azeville, some were just standard and had a roof thickness of two metres. During the allied bombardment before D-day, not one bunker of this design was damaged in Normandy.

    Another section of the tunnel at Azeville.

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    The one in the Picture (Below) was never used as an ammunition bunker as there-was-never enough ammunition, but one can get a very good idea of how it operated. During an attack two men would be in here waiting instruction and putting the 105mm shell through the small hole in the wall to your left. There was no mechanical handling of the shells here and another man would catch the shell outside the bunker and carry it up the slope to the gun. Each 105mm shell weighed 351b.The men who operated in this bunker would have been locked in here for the duration of the operation. They were equipped with a heater which was not for their benefit but to keep the ammunition from getting damp. The main door would be made from thick steel and was made in two pieces rather like a stable door. This design enabled men to escape through the top half if the roof outside collapsed after an attack.

    This picture is taken from inside the bunker that i am describing above.

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    If anyone was trapped in here they would kick out the same bricks that are still in place today from a partitioning wall inside the bunker the trapped men could then climb out using some metal rungs on the side of the bunker.
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Construction of the Azeville Batterie

    This batterie was constructed in two phases. After the Germans had chosen this site in 1941, they built the casemates, with just a few trenches and the wooden Casino. By 1942 the construction was complete. The site was visited by Rommel during his tour of the Atlantic Wall in 1943. He decided that this part of the Cotentin was under strength and he ordered that Azeville be increased in strength to four guns and that the construction of Crisbecq is started. The site chosen for Crisbecq was alongside the Azeville Fire Control Post. The construction of the concrete-tunnels, ammunitions and personal-bunkers here at Azeville was started towards the end of 1943 and carried on into 1944.

    Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz discusses the upcoming Allied invasion of France with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Field Marshall Gerd von Rundsted

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    Thou much work was done at Azeville the site was not completely finished by June 6th, D-day. Like most of the Atlantic Wall which was constructed by the Todt Organisation Azeville was no different. The Todt was responsible for all the major building projects for the Third Reich, and had been created by Hitler in 1933 to stop unemployment in Germany. In France 291,000 people worked for "The Todt", as it was known in France.
    Most of the professionals and officers were German around, 16,000 men, but they recruited 85,000 French workers who were either seeking work or wished to avoid the STO (Service TravaiI Obligatoire). The STO could find a man being sent to work in the factories in Germany or worse. Many men recruited for the resistance were fugitives from the STO. The bulk of the men who worked on the Atlantic Wall was prisoners of war and came from all the countries that had been invaded or were at war with Germany including the Africans, Italians, Russians, Poles, Belgians and Dutch who all worked for the Todt in Normandy.
    Here at Azeville 300 men were used to construct the casemates, and they mostly came from Poland and a few from Italy. Usually, every worker that had been taken on by the Todt Group was paid but the majority of the polish wasn't. To survive, they stole what they needed or used the black market. The Italians daily-life was better. Of all the prisoners used on the construction work, the Russians were treated the worst and many died from malnutrition. The construction work at Crisbecq was very hard and there was no protection for Polish workers during allied-bombardments. The building of Azeville was completed mostly by hand, as no digger or crane was available. Heavy materials were moved by horse and cart requisitioned from a local farmer.
    Concrete mixers were available, but they could not keep up with the rate of construction and most of the concrete was mixed by hand. The bunker for the Soldiers was of a modern design (for 1943) and built so that a crew between 12 and 15 could sleep here during the night so as to be ready to man the guns. The same amount of men would be on duty here at anyone time. They slept in bunks suspended from the ceiling which were hung from hooks so that the bunks could be placed against the wall to enable more room when not slept in.
    If the site was under attack the beds could be folded against the wall and many more men could shelter in here.

    This picture shows the Hooks still in the bunker that the bunks hung from, also the lines on the wall where the bunks were supported.

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    The Azeville Site was a naval establishment that also had a hole in the ceiling of one of the underground bunkers which housed a periscope, the type you would find on a submarine. Also in the sleeping quarters you can see in the left hand corner a connection for a speaking tube, again a naval feature.
     
  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Gas Precautions!

    Many Germans had been gassed at the front during the First World War and they took many measures to avoid a repetition. Firstly the inside air pressure of the bunker was slightly higher, which stopped any gas coming into the bunker.
    Secondly at the bottom of the stairwell you can still see two holes in the concrete floor, these are the remains of what used to be a shower area, most bunkers and casemates were so equipped. If attacked by the oil based gasses like mustard gas, a shower taken immediately eliminated the effects. The bunker was also protected by two machine gun positions, which protected both the stairways.

    Another precaution was the filtration system,this system, worked by electricity, it filtered the air and in case of gas the bunker carried a spare filter in case the first became saturated, the filter could be worked by hand in case of a power failure. Some of the bunkers had a telephone post so as to be able to contact all the positions on the site and also neighbouring gun batteries in case of attack.
    In the case of attack, there was a security feature to stop an attacker putting a grenade down the chimney to the bunker; the grenade would roll down the chimney and into a pipe that was blanked off, the grenade would explode in there causing no harm to those inside.

    This picture shows how the secruity feature worked, the Grenade rolled into the bottom pipe that was sealed off, causing no harm when exploding.

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    Most bunkers of this type were equipped with toilets, but here at Azeville it was felt that the men on duty were not far from their lodgings and could nip home.
    There were about 300 meters of concrete tunnels which still exist and 350 meters of corrugated iron galleries running north. Along these tunnels there are more ammunition bunkers and storage galleries. After the war the farmers reclaimed the fields to the north and the metal used in other more peaceful building projects.

    Here you can see 2 openings to the underground bunkers

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  5. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The anti aircraft gun emplacement.

    The anti aircraft gun emplacement was the very first construction on the site; it was built so as it could give some protection as the remainder of the site was in development. The gun installed was a 37 mm flak, as soon as the first casemate was completed it was mounted on the top of the casemate, which would give the gun crew a better view of incoming aircraft. Later when the two other casemates were constructed, a further flak gun was installed on the opposite side of the road.

    You can make out one of the many entrances to the tunnels in this picture, taken while standing on the anti aircraft gun emplacement and in the back ground is the casemate where the anti aircraft gun was placed

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  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    On June 5th just before D-day

    On June 5th just before D-day the Allies launched a massive air attack on Azeville along with most of the gun positions along the Atlantic Wall, at Azeville the bombs fell into fields several kilometres to the north of the site causing no damage. Thou over at Crisbecq over 598 tons of bombs were dropped causing little damage on bunkers but many villagers (at St Marcouf) were killed during the raid, while at Azeville there were no one injured during the raid. On the morning of June 6th, realising that something important was happening; the villagers left their homes and sheltered in the countryside. The sound of the DC3's carrying the parachutists of the American 82nd and 101st could be heard quite clearly. Some twenty or more Americans dropped to the north of the intended zones. Most of them escaped south to rejoin their units but an officer was taken prisoner and kept at the Azeville battery. During the following days the batteries exchanged fire with many of the allied ships out to sea. This batterie could not fire accurately on Utah beach because the landing place was 10km away and the firing range of the I05mm guns was only 11km (10km was at end range); so the Azeville-batterie regularly shot its shells at Utah, but not too much so as to conserve ammunitions. The Nevada, an American battle-ship, fired ten rounds at the batterie. These shells were of 356 mm or 14 inches, the damage caused by-one hit can be seen on the edge of Casemate No I, this shell was fired from a distance of 22 km to the north east of the batterie.

    View of the No1 Casemate, to the left you can see the Damage caused by a shell from the Battleship Navada

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    The Nevada could not see Azeville and most of its shells fell to the rear of the batterie.

    Casemate No1 from a much closer angle.

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    This angle gives you a better idea just how near the shell was to having a direct hit on the aperture of this bunker, just a few metres to the left off target.

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  7. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Extractor Fan

    The supply of electricity was essential for the operation of the guns, as each time that the gun fired it left poisonous gasses floating around the gun room. Each casemate had an extractor fitted above the gun similar to the modem day cooker hood that extracted the gasses. The exractor in the picture below is taken from the No2 Casemate.

    The Extractor Fan

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  8. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Camouflage

    The Germans tried to camouflage the bunkers by painting them to resemble a Norman stone built house, many different patterns were used on the Atlantic Wall to try and hide concrete structures from the prying eyes of the RAF.

    Thou most of the paint has vanished, there is still a trace to be seen on the front of this bunker

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    The last two casemates that was built had rounded corners to give more protection as it was thought that if an incoming shell hit the rounded corner, the corner would dissipate the shell's energy, causing less damage, these rounded casemates were just covered with earth and disguised as little mounds. The lookout windows at the entrance to these bunkers had wood on the outer edges; this was not an unfinished project, but a deliberate design by the Todt. If a bullet came close to the window, which is a machine gun position defending the entrance, the bullet would embed it self harmlessly into the wood and not hit the concrete, which might have caused concrete shards to enter the chamber and injure the crew.

    The MG Window showing the wooden frames. Also this picture shows the Camouflage that the Germans used to try and hide them from air reconnaissance

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    The casemates at Azeville are built to the same design, type H650. This design was created for the Schneider 105 mm cannon; a team of twenty five was required to operate each cannon, plus another five for the Flak 37 on the roof. The gun had a rotation of 120°, and you can see where this has been extended a little by removing a piece of the concrete on the right of gun window. The three holes in the floor were just holes where spent shells could be thrown during action. They would be removed at a quieter time.

    One of the Holes (Covered up) where the spent shells would have been thrown, this is hole was directly behind the gun as in all the bunkers.

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  9. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Battle

    Just after dawn on June 6th 1944, after an eventful night, shells started dropping in the area. Crisbecq had quickly sunk a destroyer, Azeville, whilst not sinking a ship, damaged several ships during the first few hours. The Americans landing on Utah had the taking of this battery as one of their D-day objectives. The bad weather and strong wind combined with the sea currents brought the Utah task force 2 km further south than had been planned, and therefore further away from the batteries at Crisbecq and Azeville. The range of the 105 mm cannons at Azeville was around 11 km and the Madeleine beach is 10 km to the south east. This distance did not prevent the batterie from reaching the Utah landing area, where they caused a lot of damage, but being at the limit of their range, lacked precision. The lack of ammunition made the Germans at Azeville monitor their stocks very closely. Although Captain Kattnig ordered regular firing onto the beach, the firing was not as intense as he would have liked. The American troops of the 4th Infantry Division who disembarked at Utah had the objective of controlling both Crisbecq and Azeville batteries by the afternoon of D-day. The German resistance was more intense than had been anticipated.

    The lay out of the Bunkers at Azeville

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    The American troops of the 4th Infantry Division who disembarked at Utah had the objective of controlling both Crisbecq and Azeville batteries by the afternoon of D-Day. The German resistance was more intense than had been anticipated, and by the evening of D-Day the Americans had not been able to move against either batterie, and despite the best efforts of the navy force at sea, the batteries and most of their defences were still in tact. The first American assault on Crisbecq was a disaster and the Americans withdrew. On the morning of June 7th the Americans launched their first attack on Azeville, Infantry; supported by Sherman 75 mm tanks approached casemates 3 & 4 from the south east, The first tanks got to within 80 metres of the casemates, and both the Americans and Germans opened fire at the same time, A Sherman is no match for a 105 mm cannon and although the cannon in No 2 bunker was damaged it was able to be repaired quickly, the first assault amounted to nothing but there were many dead on both sides. This was the first of many assaults and between each assault the USS Nevada shelled both batteries together with Quineville a little further to the north. During the night of June 7th - 8th, the Americans tried to surround both batteries for another assault.
     
  10. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    About to Blow up the Control Post

    The commander of Crisbecq, "Commander Ohmsen", phoned Azeville to ask that them to shell his batterie to try and dislodge the Americans, the fire was very accurate and at this point the Americans were on the roof of the fire Control Post and about to place explosives into the bunker.

    Oberleutnant Zur See, Walter Ohmsen, the Commander of Crisbecq.

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    The Americans, not believing that the Germans would fire on their own position, thought it was their own ships that were responsible for the firing, the Americans withdrew and the firing stopped but not before 90 American prisoners had been taken at Crisbecq.

    The rear of the Control Post that the Americans was about to Blow up before the guns from Crisbecq had them retreating.


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    Shortly after another attack was launched on Azeville, but this time the Americans attacked from several directions, at Azeville, the only cannons able to fire through 360degrees were the anti aircraft guns mounted on the top of case mates No's I & 4, these fired on the tanks approaching from the west. The flak gun on casemate No 4 had been damaged in an earlier attack but was operational again at this time; there were many machine gun nests all able to fire on the approaching Americans.
     
  11. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    June 8th - 9th the USS Nevada damaged casemate No I

    Some days before D-Day the batterie had received a stock of anti tank mines and some of these had already been buried, this attack failed because the Americans could not get close enough to the batterie. During the night of June 8th - 9th the USS Nevada damaged casemate No I with two 356 mm shells (14 inch), the first caused the damage visible on the exterior wall and the second came in through the gun aperture, this shell did not explode, but killed the gun crew of five before entering the plotting room and also killing the crew in here, the shell then continued through the metal machine gun portal, hitting the exterior wall in two places.

    The hole seen in number 1 Bunker damaged by a by a shell fired from the USS Nevada

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    The hole from the rear left by the unexploded shell in Bunker One

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    All the men in this casemate were killed, either by concrete shards or by the violent air movement caused by the shell.

    Taken from inside the bunker after the shell had left the plotting room.

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    Unbelievably this shell was found in 1994 just outside the doorway but was in a dangerous condition and had to be exploded. This attack by the USS Nevada shocked the Germans and Captain Kattnig was not a fanatic and did not wish to loose any more men needlessly, during the morning of June 9th, the Americans bombarded the area and encountered weak resistance. The anti aircraft gun on casemate No 4 attacked an approaching Sherman, which had infiltrated the area without too much difficulty. So this anti aircraft was definitely destroyed. The Captain walked out of casemate No 4 with an American parachutist who had been taken prisoner earlier, waving a white flag. For the troops at Azeville the war was over.
     
  12. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Finally

    Of the German force of around 250 at the start of the battles 169 were taken prisoner. It was a different story at Crisbecq, where around 400 Germans had been since D-Day, on the 12th of June, when the Americans finally took the batterie without resistance, they only found the most severely wounded soldiers, 1 doctor and some American prisoners, the rest, who were able to, had fled north to the batteries at Pennell and Quineville before arriving at Cherbourg on June 13th, they had fled during the night, led by Commander Ohmsen, who himself had been injured on June 6th.

    The rear view of one of the bunkers at Azeville.
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    He was something of a fanatic believing his men should fight on for the cause.
    The Azeville batterie had troops of very young and inexperienced men, and Captain Kattnig was like a father to them, he also treated the villagers well and warned of the attacks, telling the villagers to flee from the battle zone, he attended church on Sundays and when casemates No 3 & 4 were being constructed he ordered that the cross still standing in the car park should not be damaged.

    The Cross that Captain Kattnig ordered not to be damaged.

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    Down at Crisbecq life was very harsh, with many of the population being punished for minor infringements of the curfew. Just a few kilometres made a lot of difference to life under the Germans.
     
  13. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Seen here from inside one of the bunkers at Azeville heading towards the back exit, the doors on the left are the entrance's to the ammo stores where the shells for the guns and anti-aircraft were kept. Ahead is the window where the Guard would have been.

    Bunker Exit

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    Air ducts from the underground tunnels at Azeville.

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  14. TxGirl

    TxGirl New Member

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    Those are some amazing pictures! it is really a very interesting place. When you look at the pics you can almost feel like it was you there.
     
  15. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    I read this thread a while ago and again today, it really does astound me to how much work the Germans actually did while occupying France. The amount of work done just at the site shows the determination that they had at the time. The work carried out all over France shows that they were there for the long haul.

    Some great pictures here Jim. :thumb:
     

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