june-1944

‘Tall German’
Canadian Cpl Bob Roberts was overseeing the surrender of dozens of enemy soldiers during the Battle of Normandy when the 7ft 6ins German loomed into his view. Cpl Roberts, who stood two feet below him at 5ft 6ins, had the daunting job of frisking the German lance corporal for weapons before taking him prisoner.
It was a moment of lightness during the grim duty of war.

For just a few minutes before the picture was taken, Cpl Roberts faced a life-or-death duel with another German soldier who pulled out a pistol as he pretended to surrender. Luckily, he raised his gun in the nick of time and shot the enemy soldier dead.
The photo has been unearthed by an amateur historian who sent it to Cpl Roberts, from Bournemouth, Dorset, in the hope he could identify the Allied serviceman. But the great-grandfather went one better than that and instantly recognised himself in the photo.

Holding the picture, Cpl Roberts said: “I didn’t take a lot of notice of this guy at the time because I was so focused on what the Germans were doing after what had happened to me. I just passed the prisoners on one after the other after searching them.
But my mates who were watching the rest of the men saw this giant of a guy approach me and I was aware they and the Germans were having a good laugh. The Germans were saying that he was the tallest man in the German army, he was 7ft 6ins tall. My mates took some pictures of me with him with a camera they had taken from the Germans. Luckily he didn’t give me any aggravation. I couldn’t believe it when I received the photo after all these years. It took me back to a moment of light-heartedness so soon after I had been a blink of an eye from death.” Cpl Roberts, who was 21 at the time, was a member of the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment of the Canadian Army and stormed Juno Beach on D-Day in June 1944.
Cpl Roberts carried on fighting with his regiment through Belgium and Holland until February 1945 when he was badly injured in his right leg by a piece of shrapnel at Kappeln on the Holland/German border.“
Caption from the Telegraph. Colourised by Paul Reynolds

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D-Day, 6 June 1944

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, led to the liberation of France from Nazi control, and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.

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The American Paratrooper Who Served in the Red Army During World War II.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Joseph R. Beyrle enlisted in the US Army and volunteered for the elite paratrooper service.  After completing paratrooper training and training as a demonlitions expert, he was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) with the rank of sergeant. Little did he know where the winds of destiny would blow him. 

His first two missions were secret clandestine operations in which he covertly parachuted into German occupied France wearing bandoliers filled with gold, which he delivered to the French Resistance. On June 6th, 1944 Beyrle participated in the legendary D-Day drop during the Normandy Invasions. When his plane came under heavy fire he was forced to jump early and only 120 meters above the ground. Despite being separated from his unit, Sgt. Beyrle continued his mission, performing acts of sabotage behind enemy lines which resulted in the destruction of two bridges and a power station.  Unfortunatley a few days later he was captured by the Germans when he accidentally stumbled upon a German machine gun nest.  For the next 7 months he was held as a prisoner of war, where he became notorious as an escape artist, making several attempts, two of which were seccessful.  After each attempt, the Germans tortured, starved, and beat him, then transfered him to a different camp.  During his time in German captivity he was shuffled between seven different camps.  After his 7th escape attempt, which was successful except that he accidentally boarded a train for Berlin, the Germans sent him to a camp deep within Poland, with the idea that it’s distance from the Western Front would discourage him from further escape attempts.  Promptly after arriving at the camp in January of 1945, he successfully escaped and made his way to Soviet lines.

After his escape, he came upon the 1st Battalian of the 1st Tank Guards, where he met the famous lady tank commander Captain Aleksandra Samusenko, introducing her with the greeting, “Americansky tovarishch” (American comrade), while handing over a pack of Lucky Strikes. 

Wanting to get back into the war, Bayrle convinced Samusenko to allow him to join the Battalion. Samusenko agreed, and he was appointed a tank machine gunner.  For the next month he would serve with the Red Army, even taking part in the liberation of the POW camp from which he had escaped.  In February of 1945, he was seriously wounded after an attack by a Stuka dive bomber, and was evacuated to a Soviet hospital. During his recuperation, he met none other than the Soviet supreme military commander, Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov. 

 When Bayrle arrived at the US Embassy in Moscow, he learned that he was officially listed as dead, and that his family back home in Muskegon, Michigan had celebrated his funeral.  As it turns out, when he was captured during the Normandy Invasion, his uniforn and dogtags were taken and used by a German infiltration unit.  The German soldier wearing the uniform was unexpectidly killed in September, the corpse being recovered by the Allies and mistakenly identifed as Bayrle’s and buried in France.  Bayrle returned home in April of 1945, married in 1946 (coincidentally in the same church that held his funeral) and lived a happy life raising three children. In 1994 during the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he was awarded with medals by both US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the White House. He was also personally awarded a specially made presentation AK-47 dedicated to him by Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Beyrle passed away in 2004 while visiting the paratrooper training grounds in Toccoa, Georgia. He was buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Scenes From D-Day, Then and Now

On June 6, 1944, Allied soldiers descended on the beaches of Normandy for D-Day, an operation that turned the tide of the Second World War against the Nazis, marking the beginning of the end of the conflict. Reuters photographer Chris Helgren compiled archive pictures taken during the invasion and went back to the same places to photograph them as they appear today.


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D-Day in Color

On the 72nd Anniversary of the Normandy Landings of June 6, 1944, some rarely seen color photos of the preparations for D-Day from the holdings of the National Archives.  See more at the Unwritten Record Blog:  Images of the Week: D-Day in Color | The Unwritten Record.

Series: Color Photographs of Signal Corps Activity, 1944 - 1981
Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 - 1985 


See our series from the 70th Anniversary of D-Day:

Originally posted by todaysdocument

Don’t miss the online exhibit at Google Cultural Institute:  1944 – D-Day and The Normandy Invasion”.

Looking for more color photos of World War II?  See rare color photos from the Battle of the Bulge.

SS-Obersturmbannführer Max Wünsche, commander of the SS-Panzer-Regiment 12, in the turret of his Panther on 7 June 1944. The Allied invasion of France had begun early on the morning of 6 June but it was the middle of the afternoon before 12. SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend finally was released by OKW for deployment with Seventh Army. Here, Wünsche is seen wearing a tunic custom made from Italian camouflage material. He was awarded Knight’s Cross on 28 February 1943 while commander of  I Bataillon/ SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 of the Leibstandarte Division in Russia.

By morning, in the square of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, paratroopers of “Easy” Co. 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division, F. Guth, F. Mellet, D. Morris, D. West, F. Talbert and C.T. Smith, pose with 3 GIs at 4th ID (behind) that came from Utah Beach. 7 June 1944. by World War 2 Photos on Flickr.

Band of Brothers “Easy Company” @USArmy

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