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Late on June 5, 1944, an alert summoned Wehrmacht Private Heinrich Severloh and First Lieutenant Bernhard Krerking to their stations at a Winderstandsnest [“resistance nest”] overlooking Omaha Beach. Severloh describes what happened next:

At 12:55 a.m. on June 6, 1944, we arrived at Widerstandsnest 62 by horse cart. We had allowed plenty of time, and had traveled at a leisurely pace. In the west droned the motors of large aircraft. Once we were inside our perimeter, a soldier of Grenadier Regiment 726 barricaded the entrance with mines and barbed wire. Lieutenant Frerking went to his bunker; I went to my machine gun. Ammunition had been put out. I loaded the gun and readied it for firing, then climbed out and peered into the dark. The tide was out; I noticed five or six-ship silhouettes far at sea. I called for Lieutenant Frerking. By the time he came, accompanied by a lieutenant named Grass, the ships had vanished. I advised Frerking that he might want to call our commanding officer, Major Werner Pluskat, at battalion headquarters. Frerking wasn’t able to reach Pluskat, however.

“Probably he’s taking the girls of the front-theatre back to Paris,” I said. My lieutenant smiled. A high school teacher of English, French, and sports, Frerking was 32 years old. Like me, he had served in Russia and was a true combat soldier. We had developed a friendly relationship. I liked and respected my chief for his human qualities, and he enjoyed my mischievous nature. Frerking phoned the naval artillery strongpoint at Port-en-Bessin. Gunners there fired two red and two green flares to see if the vessels I had glimpsed were German. No answer. Around 5 a.m. the horizon parted to reveal an endless, uninterrupted band of ships, some of them huge. The sight was eerie. Things were about to get ugly.

Read the rest of the story in D-Day: This Great and Noble Undertaking, HistoryNet’s (formerly Weider History Group) publication from the editors of World War II magazine. For a preview of its 70th-anniversary coverage, see the Table of ContentsClick here to order online.