At 5am, a German gunner began shooting young Americans on the beach.
Nine hours and 12,000 rounds later, he was still firing.
When world leaders walk through the U.S. war cemetary above Omaha beach
, a man who put dozens of young Americans into those graves
will be hundreds of miles away in Germany.
But Hein Severloh says his thoughts will still be absorbed by the events
of 60 years ago in Normandy.
He has been back to the beaches many times, to say his own private prayers
for the dead of both sides.
But on this D-Day anniversary, the first time German soldiers have
officially been invited to attend, he does not think a man with his
nickname and past would be entirely welcome.
For Hein Severloh became known to those desparate Americans on the
bloodiest of the Normandy landing places as The Beast of Omaha Beach.
He was the first to open fire on them and the last to stop, nearly nine
Manning his machine gun, he raked the Americans with bullets, turning the
sand and sea red with their blood.
His weapon became so hot it burned the grass around him. But they still
came on, wave after wave disgorged from the landing craft that made it
"I remember the first to die" said 80 year old Mr Severloh at his home
near Hanover. "The man came out of the sea. He was looking for somewhere
I shot him in the head. I saw his steel helmet roll into the sea. Then he
dropped. I knew he was dead. What could I do? Them or me- that's what I
"For the next nine hours in machine gun nest 62, Corporal Severloh sprayed
the beach with his MG-42. His position 75ft above the broad sands gave him
a perfect field of vision and fire.
"There were 30 of us," he said. "Every one had only one thought in our
heads that day-would we be coming out of this alive?"
"I didn't want to be in this war. I didn't want to be in France. I didn't
want to shoot a machine gun at young fellows my age. But there we were,
serving in a war that was already lost and obeying the orders of our
Lieutenant-to open fire as soon as they were knee-deep in water"
Having survived a spell of duty on the Eastern Front, France was a 'soft
billet' for men like Hein Severloh. That ended in the pallid dawn light of
June 6, 1944, as the Allied armies stormed ashore.
Corporal Severloh had 12,000 rounds for his machine gun.
"I started shooting at 5am," he said. "I was still shooting nearly nine
There was no panic, no hate. One did what one had to do and knew that they
as sure as hell would be doing it to you if they got the chance"
"At first the corpses were 500 metres away, then 400, then 150. There was
blood everywhere, screams, dead and dying. The swell of the sea bobbed
more bodies onto the beach."
"There were small pauses, when no landing craft came, when I could cool
down the machine gun."
"I was aware that some of my comrades had made off, but I had this
terrible vision of being confronted in the eye by my officer and so I
stayed at my post."
"In the early afternoon, I realised I was the last person still firing. I
could see tanks manouvering on the beach and knew that I couldn't hold
"I heard an order to shouted by Lieutenant Ferking-a fine fellow and, at
32, a veteran-that we should retreat."
"I ran from bomb crater to bomb crater behind our bunker complex. I waited
but he never came."
"I visited his grave in Normandy ten years after the war. He took a head
shot from one of the Americans as he tried to follow me. I was taken
prisoner that night. I don't think I would have survived had I been
captured at my post."
"They knew what I had done to their friends. I don't think those
first-wave troops would have shown me any mercy."
Some 2,300 Americans died on 'Bloody Omaha' before overwhelming the German
Mr Severloh was sent as a PoW to America and put to work picking cotton
and potatoes before returning to Germany in 1947 to resume his pre-war
life in farming.
Through his many visits back to Normandy he became friends with visiting
American veterans, and realised they has christened him The Beast of Omaha
One veteran, David Silva, who took three bullets in the chest that
day-possibly fired by Severloh-became his close friend.
"I told David how I had dreams about two men that day-the first American I
killed and Lieutenant Ferking," he said. "The memories make me cry."
"I wont be back on the beaches this year, I am sick. I suffered a stroke
and must sleep a lot."
"Besides, I think there will be a lot of glorifying events and I wouldn't
"There was no glory on the beach that day-just a lot of blood and screams
and good young men dying.".......
Severloh was sent with 500 other POW’s to Bedfordshire in England to build roads. ...
He spent three years never telling anyone there what duty he performed on Omaha Beach. He returns to his home in Metzingen in Lower Saxony, marries and had children. 13 years after his return, he reads the book "The Longest Day" and first hears of the name David Silva - an American soldier who was on Omaha Beach and survived it, although he was hit by three shots and was badly wounded.
Since the end of the 1950s, David Silva lives in Karlsruhe, in Germany. Eventually, he and Hein Severloh meet there, they become good friends. Silva said in an interview with the "SPIEGEL" that Severloh never asked to be forgiven, though David Silva did forgive him anyway. "It's important to him.", Silva said.
Stories like this are what is important such a long time after the war which changed the world. People being able to understand each other and to forgive each other. There are still a lot of people - mostly those who were born shortly after the war - who are terribly uncomfortable with the war. This year is the first time in those 60 years the German Federal Chancellor will attend the gathering in Normandy, and hopefully this means that a lot of people here in Germany will be able to deal with the war a lot better.