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Gary Sterne had no idea that he was about to find something that could significantly alter our understanding of D-Day. A map found among the belongings of a World War II veteran living in England had brought him to a bluff near Omaha Beach. “It just appeared to be a pretty regular map of the area—not an invasion map,” said Sterne. “The fields were marked ‘area of high resistance’ in red crayon and it caught my eye.”

Sterne wanted to explore the locations on the map. “I drove down the side of the road indicated on the map and continued to the bottom of the lane….At the end of the lane there were three large concrete casements visible above ground….I realized the casements indicated on the map were not those I had seen at the bottom of the lane; the bunkers were marked as being closer to the main road.

“I counted the field edges as I drove up the lane and stopped at the one [that] appeared to be indicated on the map. I walked over a small barbed wire fence and onto the field.”

About 100 meters from his car, Sterne suddenly found himself standing on concrete. He walked to the tree line at the edge of the concrete and looked down into the entrance of a bunker. He continued down the field and found another bunker, and another, and the finds went on.

“The most important thing I discovered was a long tunnel, which was blocked at one end. It was exciting because there was a chance the tunnel had been blocked during the battle and there would be objects beyond the blockage. The other significant find was a 155mm circular gun mount.

“This instantly told me it had to be a significant gun battery. Despite many months of research, no books or films indicated that the battery at Maisy was anything other than the three concrete casements at the bottom of the field.”

Sterne decided to purchase all of the property before conducting further investigation of the site. “I was wary of making tracks into the fields before I owned them.”

The land purchase involved more than 25 separate deals with various stakeholders over a four-year period. Aerial photos helped Sterne locate many other hidden bunkers and outbuildings.

The Maisy complex covers 20 acres and sprawls over the backside of a gently sloping hill. Construction began in 1942. A survey of the site revealed gun positions, bunkers, tunnels, ammunition shelters and stores, a regimental headquarters building, offices, personnel buildings and an underground field hospital. Sterne estimates that at least 90 percent of the site’s structures are complete and undamaged.

The Maisy battery has been a relative unknown in the annals of the D-Day landings. Sterne’s research indicates Maisy may be the forgotten headquarters complex for all of the German coastal defenses guarding Omaha Beach.

The area once housed six 155mm howitzers, one British 25-pounder captured at Dunkirk, two 37mm flak guns, two 20mm flak guns, two French Renault mounted tank turrets, two 50mm KwK antitank guns, several French 1928 model heavy machine guns, and numerous German machine guns and mortars. The site was also guarded by eight 88mm anti-aircraft guns to the front and four to the rear.

Soldiers attached to the 352nd and 716th Infantry manned the guns and guarded the site. These men were supplemented on June 5, 1944, with troops from Flak Regiment No. 1. By June 6, well over 600 Germans were on site.

The Maisy battery was eventually captured by Allied troops. “The U.S. 5th and 2nd Rangers attacked the site by hand on the morning of June 9,” Sterne said. “They assaulted it from behind. I have testimonies from Rangers who took part in the raid. Accounts…only include the battle for the three finished concrete casements down the road at La Martiniere. The [fight for the] HQ and 155mm complex at Les Perruques is not well documented and I have not yet found any veterans who were actually involved in that action.” Soldiers from the 116th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Chemical Weapons Battalion (Heavy Mortars), and an American field gun battery also took part in the attack.

The main question Sterne hopes to answer through continued research is why the Maisy battery was allowed to operate for so long, given that the Allies knew of its existence. Sterne believes that the battery at Pointe du Hoc was a ruse to shift the Allies’ focus away from Maisy. Despite being bombed by the RAF in the days leading up to the invasion, Maisy was not captured until three days after the landings. Sterne’s quest now is to find out why.

The Maisy site will open for public visits this summer. An interpretive center is planned to open in 2007.


Originally published in the August 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here