A previously forgotten battery has been uncovered and it is about to re-write the story of D-Day. Military enthusiast Gary Sterne came across the buried 40 acre site a few years ago whilst studying a wartime officer's map of the area marked 'Area of High Resistance'. "Not knowing where I was going or what I was looking for, I continued walking across the fields until to my amazement I found I was standing on concrete. I followed the concrete to the edge of the tree line and discovered a bunker entrance... then a tunnel, an office, store rooms, headquarters buildings, radio rooms, bunkers … and most importantly mounts for 155mm cannons," he recalled.
Thus began a four year project to
buy the land from its various owners,
and to uncover the largely untouched
bunkers and tunnels. After the war
it had been buried beneath a metre
of top soil and farmed. The virtually
impenetrable Normandy hedgerows had
covered the evidence and the site,
which had housed hundreds of German
soldiers, was forgotten by the locals
and ignored or overlooked by historians. “After
studying the RAF reconnaissance photographs
it was clear that the site was of major
importance - it was not just another
little gun battery but a major complex
- a similar size to that at Pointe
du Hoc but virtually undamaged." Further
research in the Washington and Berlin
archives revealed that in 1944 the
Maisy Battery was a headquarters complex
for the coastal defence of Omaha Beach
and its guns included four 10.5 cm
cannons – three in casements
and one in a field, it had six 155mm
howitzers in open emplacements, a Russian
Howitzer cannon captured at Dunkirk,
two 50mm KwK anti-tank cannons, two
Renault Tank turret tops mounted into
casements – not
to mention many machineguns, mortars
Nearby Pointe du Hoc had 3 x 20mm anti-aircraft guns guarding it - along with a wooden false battery in the field next door – Maisy was guarded by 12 x 88mm anti-aircraft canons (8 in front and 4 in the fields behind). As well as its usual personnel who had manned it since it was built in 1942, it was guarded by infantry from the 352nd & 716th Infantry Divisions and a flak battalion arrived on the 3rd of June and was ordered to defend it. This flak battalion was commanded by Colonel Kistowski and in his original interviews with Longest Day writer Cornelius Ryan he provides graphic details about the Allied planes flying over Maisy on D-day and how the Germans kept up the pressure to repel the invasion by shooting them down. He reported that they captured 19 US paratroopers at Maisy on D-day alone.
On D-Day and for two days afterwards, the Maisy Battery fired on American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach - 'Bloody Omaha' - as it has been ever afterwards known. During the landings men from the US Rangers scaled the 60
ft high cliffs at Pointe du Hoc near Omaha to put out of action the gun battery there. Those who have watched the film ‘The Longest Day’ will recall that when they reached the casemates there were no guns there. Since then the question has been asked by historians – where were the guns from Pointe du Hoc?
After three years of research Gary believes that he may have the answer: the huge casemated guns at Pointe du Hoc were an elaborate bluff – the gun barrels pointing from the concrete bunkers were telegraph poles - a 'ruse de guerre' by Rommel to distract the Allies who diverted men and bombing raids to destroying it. This is borne out by the French Resistance leader in the area who told his contacts in England before D-Day that there were no guns at Pointe du Hoc. Meanwhile the well camouflaged nearby Maisy Battery was pounding the beaches until it was captured on June 9th. This is evident in the US G-3 after battle reports which continually state that Maisy Battery was firing at Omaha Beach during these 3 days despite being bombed, shelled and straffed. Its survival was inpart helped by the fact that the Germans designed and built the whole battery on the reverse slope of the fields at Maisy, allowing its cannons to be protected from the Allied ships which could not fire directly at them.
On the morning of the 9th of June 1944 Maisy Battery was attacked by units of the US 2nd and 5th Rangers, soldiers from the 116 Regiment of the 29th Div. (Maryland, Virgina National Guard) and 83rd Chemical Weapons Battalion (Heavy Mortars) and was supported by a barrage from a US field gun battery. In another of Ryans interviews with Staff Sgt. Donald Chance of A company 5th Rangers, Chance wrote that “we were the lead company in the behind the lines action to attack the complex at Maisy”. The firefight lasted all morning until the Germans eventually surrendered. The scars of the battle can be seen so vividly at the site today - in the tunnel walls and building fronts and are a testament to the ferrocity of the encounter.
When it was eventually captured by the Rangers the site was well stocked with food and over 180 tons of ammunition and could have continued to fire at Omaha Beach. So why has it been ignored by historians after the war?” There is also no mention the 19 US paratroopers who dropped onto the site and were captured by the Germans on D-day, they were mentioned in Kistowski's interviews - were they just part of the Allied mis-drops, were they shot down or were they part of an attack force sent to neutralise the battery which failed? "Maisy Battery was probably the largest combined German gun battery and HQ complex outside of Cherbourg and Le Havre and it has not been seen by anyone at all since the war - which also makes it one of the most significant military finds of the last 60 years and a huge potential local tourist site.” Having spent the last few months finishing the site with the enthusiastic help of local volunteers it is hoped that it will be open to the public sometime in 2006. There are also plans to unveil a memorial plaque June 9th 2006 – to commemorate the 18 members of 2nd and 5th Rangers who were killed and wounded capturing it on the 9th of June 1944.