Last stand of the Wehrmacht in St Lo

A German photograph of the devastation in St Lo, taken in June or early July 1944.

A German photograph of the devastation in St Lo, taken in June or early July 1944.

A young German soldier surrenders as the US Army approaches St Lo.

A young German soldier surrenders as the US Army approaches St Lo.

The strategic town of St Lo had been the American objective in Normandy for weeks. Finally they emerged from the hedgerows of the bocage to begin the liberation of the town on the 18th July. It was a scene of devastation, shattered by Allied bombing and shellfire. Now German shellfire added to the destruction, as they fired very close to their own troops in an attempt assist the withdrawal.

Grenadier Karl Wegner had arrived in France in January 1944, along with a group of other 17-18 year old German youths sent to rebuild the 352nd Infantrie Division. After only basic training in Germany the experienced officers and NCOs of the Division, veterans of the Eastern front, had sought to train them as best they could, despite the limitations on the equipment available to them. The young men had formed close friendships, and it was as a group of friends that they fought in St Lo:

Many times our little group had to dive for cover. Kalb was very mad about this and I knew why. The artillery was ours.

We skirted through the city, peering cautiously around every corner or pile of rubble. Often Kalb would look around a corner then pull back quickly, telling us quietly to go the back the other way. It was like a game of cat and mouse and we were the mice. Then it happened, I suppose it was inevitable.

Kalb looked around a corner and was shot at. The bullet hit him in the right hand, but it was only a scratch. I sent off a burst from the machine gun and we bolted down another alley. Kalb was in the lead followed by Willi, Gunther, then myself. We went from the frying pan into the fire.

When Kalb rounded the next corner he ran right into a group of Amis and armoured vehicles. He turned and yelled for us to go back down the alley we just passed. Gunther and I were able to make the turn on the run.

The Amis were reacting by now. Willi was not able to stop quickly enough, he slid forward on the cobblestones because of those damn hobnailed boots. He bumped into Kalb, knocking him down, then tripped over him falling around the corner into the open. Gunfire pierced the air, screams and shouts followed.

Gunther and I got down behind this destroyed wall in a hole made by a shell, we then sprayed mad gunfire over our friends’ heads to keep anyone from coming around the corner. I watched Kalb drag Willi by his boots back around the corner. Then by the belt with his good hand he dragged Willi towards us, both toppled over the wall.

Willi’s cries of pain sent shivers down my spine. I gave the machine gun to Gunther and told him to fire at anything that came around that corner. I went to Willi and Kalb, whose bloody hands were placing a second bandage on Willi’s chest. The Wounds were bad, through the lung and stomach. My God how Kalb tried to save him, as if he were his own brother, the look on his face told me that.

I held Willi’s hand and cradled his head in an attempt to calm him. Kalb looked at me and shook his head, Willi was going to die. His face became sunken and lost its colour. He knew he was finished. He stopped shrieking in pain and began to cry, softly. He looked at me with eyes one cannot I describe and said his last; I never forgot it. Willi said to me ‘Karl, through all this just to die in the rubble, it makes no sense.’

Question or statement I didn’t know, either way it struck us both. I held him until he died. The whole event only took a few moments. Willi’s last words may have been the trigger for Kalb’s next action. He took off his helmet and placed it over Willi’s face, then broke off the bottom of Willi’s identity disc. He took this, his watch, medals, wedding ring and the pictures of his family and wrapped it all in his handkerchief, which he thrust down the front of his trousers. No one would look here. He placed his battered cap on his head and told us to do the same.

He took Gunther’s rifle, tied a dirty undershirt to it and waved it above the wall. He told us that he would go first, if everything was OK, we should follow. He stepped over the wall with his arms held high. I looked one more time at Willi’s lifeless body lying there in the rubble, then scrambled out into captivity. Thank God it was finally over

This account appears in Normandiefront: D-Day to Saint-Lo Through German Eyes.

The scene in St Lo, shortly after the US entry into the city.

The scene in St Lo, shortly after the US entry into the city.

American M10 Wolverine tank destroyer firing near Saint-Lô, France, July 1944

American M10 Wolverine tank destroyer firing near Saint-Lô, France, July 1944


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