Black & White: How Did the Germans Respond to Surrendering British Troops in Normandy?

While the amphibious landings of D-Day can be seen as a major Allied success, The Battle for Normandy was heavily contested as the British, Canadian and American forces advanced inland. The Allies saw themselves up against the largest concentration of heavy SS panzer divisions since the Battle of Kursk. In the ill-fated attempt to take Caen as an early objective after D-Day, many Allied troops saw themselves trapped behind enemy lines and captured. Below are contrasting stories of how the different German divisions responded to their encounters with the enemy, with extracts taken from Anthony Beevor’s book D-Day: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. It should also be noted that atrocities were far from limited to the German side.

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They tried to slip back to their own lines but were captured and marched back to Lebisey wood. The panzergrenadiers were very nonchalant and ‘elegant’. They asked their prisoners what they would like to dink, milk or win. The shells from the HMS Warspite began roaring overhead. The German guarding them said to the lieutenant, ‘I think we better dig a hole, don’t you?’ and the two of them began digging together. They sat in the trench side by side as the bombardment continued, both shrinking each time a shell came over. ‘You will be back in the sea in a few days,’ the German remarked. ‘No, I am sorry, Bannerman replied, ‘We will be in Paris in a week.’ Agreeing to disagree, the panzergrenadier showed a snapshot of his fiancée. The lieutenant repaid the compliment by producing a photograph of his wife. He could not help thinking that just half an hour before they had been trying to kill each other.

The 2nds Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles made a brave charge across open cornfields towards the village of Cambes. They fought their way in, but a newly arrived detachment of the 12th SS Hitler Youth forced them to retreat. The Ulster Rifles had to leave their wounded from D Company in a ditch outside the village. They were certain that the young soldiers from the Hitler Youth shot them all as they lay there afterwards.

James Carson graduated from the University of York with a degree in English and History and have a keen interested in both World Wars and popular science - particularly space.