Incident Report from CARL H PORTER, Service Company Parachute Riggers.
Incident occurred during and immediately following the NORMANDY DROP,
June 6, 1944.
Two commands I remember from our pre D-Day briefing were: "Take no
prisoners until we hook up with our land forces'" and "You are not to
load your weapon until you are on the ground".
Fortunately I was not tested on the first and, even more fortunately,
I believe the second saved my life.
The drop was low and fast and I was more concerned with the tracers
piercing the 'chute above my head than I was in checking oscillation and
where the 'chute and I were headed. Crashing through the branches of a
large hedgerow tree and winding up dangling among the lower branches
reminded me that it's always a good idea to check your landing position!
By the time I had extricated myself from harness and branches three
German soldiers (who had probably been responsible for the tracers thru
my canopy) materialized. I made a partial turn toward their shadowy
figures and, as realization that I held an unloaded rifle electrified my
brain; I dropped the M-l as if it were a white hot poker and responded
to a harsh "Handa Hoche".
One of the Germans motioned me into the clearing that was encircled by
hedgerows and as the moon brightened their figures I saw that one held a
rifle and the other two machine pistols. It's a pretty sure bet that if
my rifle had been loaded and put to use I wouldn't be here to write this
The two with machine pistols took positions a few yards apart while
the rifleman put his weapon down a safe distance away and proceeded to
disarm me of my grenades, trench knife, bandoliers (which I had strapped
around my thighs above my bulging patch pockets for better balance), a
picture of my girl friend, Marly, from my breast pocket, and literally
everything else that would come off, including my musette bag, my watch
and - oh yes - the pocket knife that was carefully concealed in the
"secret" pocket near the collar of my jump jacket.
Apprehensively I followed the command to "Mach" (March!) across the
field. I admit to a somewhat theatrical conscious thought that, if they
were going to shoot me, I would die like a man so I squared my shoulders
and marched, wondering as I did so if I would hear the sound of the
shots that killed me. Crazy thing to think about at a time like that but
the mind has to do SOMETHING all the time.
Through the field, across the road, and into what this mid-western
boy would call a barnyard, I walked ahead of my captors. There I was
deposited with what I took to be a dozen or so American paratroopers
and/or glidermen who had preceded me in becoming prisoners of war. They
took one boot from each of us so we couldn't run off and left us with
two guards for the rest of the night.
In the early morning we were marched, with fingers laced and hands
locked behind our heads, a mile or two down a dusty road to a formidable
headquarters area. You have seen many men marched that way in the
movies, but let me tell you, marching for a long distance in that
posture becomes excruciating. Even so, not one American allowed his
discomfort to show and we made the distance in orderly marching style.
Even as prisoners we were of a single mind to give the best account of
ourselves that circumstances allowed.
Our new home was within a stonewalled courtyard and we were
imprisoned in a room about twenty by twenty-five feet. The stone walls
were perhaps two to two and one-half feet thick, with two small windows
about head high from the floor. I believe we numbered 17, thirteen of
whom were paratroopers and four were glidermen.
As the Fourth Division worked its way inland from the beaches (did
they land on Omaha? No, Utah) they encountered enemy opposition in this
area which eventually boiled down to the old estate which had been
turned into a German headquarters and in which we were held prisoners.
In the June 26, 1944, Time magazine the article you will see [below]
TIME, JUNE 26, 1944
MEN AT WAR
Penned in a Normandy farmhouse, 13
paratroopers of the crack 82nd Division,, heard the rising crash
of American rifle and mortar fire outside. Downstairs their
German captors fought savagely in defense of the house: the
American prisoners heard the German commander tell his troops to
fight to the last man.
At last it got too rugged for the Germans. After an hour the
prisoners heard frantic cries: "Nicht schiessen." The
German machine gunners outside at the gate kept on firing. So
did the American attackers. But inside the house the German
defenders surrendered to their own prisoners, sat down, sweating
How to tell the attackers that the fight was over? The paratroopers
hung their own shirts from the windows for recognition signals.
The firing only grew heavier. They yelled to cut it out, but
their friends could not hear. Then a U.S. paratrooper found a
bullet-pierced German bugle. He thrust it out the window.
Above; the firing rang the shrill familiar, notes of "chow
The American fire slackened, died.
Tech Sergeant Hank Shillinger and Corporals Bob Watt and Carl Porter
were very instrumental in that "prison breakout". Here's what happened.
Rifle fire, mortar shrapnel and chips of stone had been ricocheting
around our prison "cell" for longer than I care to remember. We had
hugged the floor originally, and Bob had even tried to shield Hank at
one point when a particularly hard volley peppered the room, but as time
wore on and the firing remained high we relaxed a little in the sure
knowledge (we thought) that the thick stone walls would provide
adequate protection and that the material coming thru the small windows
could hurt but probably would not kill.
At that point a wild-eyed German rifleman, with no rank insignia that
I could see, rushed into the room and began threatening us with his
bayoneted rifle. I don't remember if he picked me or me him, but I do
recall vividly the look in his eyes and the hateful expression on his
face as he jabbed the bayonet toward me and asked: "RUSSKIE?". "Nein,
Nein!" I replied (probably with equal desperation).
"ENGLICH?" he then shouted. I responded again with, "Nein, Nein", and
very slowly and carefully I turned my right shoulder toward him and
pointed at the barely visible American flag (barely visible because our
jump suits had been impregnated with some protective substance in event
of mustard gas or similarly abrasive chemical). "American", I said.
His face broke into a wide grin as he exclaimed, "Americanish!
Americanish!" He then leaned his rifle against the wall so he could
embrace me and, as I looked over his shoulder while in that bear hug, I
saw Hank Shillinger grab the rifle and, with Bob Watt on his heels, head
out the door of our prison room into the general headquarters.
It took me a minute to get unhitched from the now super-friendly
German so by the time I barged into the next room to help Hank, Bob, and
some of the others, there were already about 12 fully uniformed and
partially armed German soldiers trying to get rid of their weapons as
I chose a P-35 pistol and a BAR type automatic rifle from the stack
of gunnery that was building in the middle of the floor and Hank, Bob
and I (and to be fair there were probably others, though I can't
honestly remember) headed into the room just off the courtyard. Germans
were surrendering faster than we could take their weapons so we herded
many into the inner rooms with "Potato Mashers" still sticking out of
It was then that we started trying to get the Fourth Division's
attention to let them know we were in control. However, as the Time
Magazine article pointed out, they weren't listening! It was at this
point that one of the guys (a gliderman I think) saw the battle scarred
bugle hanging on the wall and took it down to blow an American message
to the infantrymen who were still pouring it on.
The way the sounds came out it's hard to say whether he was blowing
Chow Call, Taps or Reville, but whatever it was the men of the Fourth
Division heard it and the firing did indeed slacken and die. And what a
glorious sound that LACK OF SOUND was, I’ve probably never felt better
in my entire life than I did as the pounding changed to a staccato...
then to scattered rifle shots...then ceased altogether.
Several of us walked over to congratulate the guy who blew the bugle
and to tell him we were surely thankful he knew how to blow one. He
replied: "Hell, I never blew one of the damned things before in my life,
BUT I HAD TO DO SOMETHING!"
Outside, after all the prisoners were corralled in the courtyard and
Fourth Division manpower was organizing them for a march to the beach, a
fellow in suntans walked over and identified himself as a reporter from
Time Magazine. Hank Shillinger was obviously in charge at this point so
the reporter asked him how many paratroopers there were. Hank answered
"Thirteen" (the guy asked "how many paratroopers" not "how many American
soldiers"). Then he asked: How many Germans did you guys take prisoner?"
Hank shot him a quick look that said "Who had time to count you dumb
bastard?", then his face broke into that cherubic grin of his and he
said with quiet authority: "Two-hundred and ten".
From that point on we would recount with due seriousness how
seventeen paratroopers (we elevated the glider guys to parachute jump
status) turned the tables on Two-hundred and Ten Germans.
And one final note. A small mishap got me medivacted by air out of
France and to a hospital in England where I shared a ward with probably
40 to 50 other guys. Rod McLennan was in the bed next to mine and we
shared war stories as to how we arrived in Normandy and how we wound up
in the hospital so he knew the above tale.
One day in early July he shouted, "Porter, here it is. Right here in
Time Magazine!" It took me awhile to get out of him what "it" was, but
to emphasize his point he read the article aloud. "That was us all
right" I said. To which a voice across the aisle added: "You lucky
son-of-a-bitch, my Colonel was fed up with blasting away at that stone
fortress and had just told me to call the beach on the field phone and
have the Navy lob some shells up there to blow that place off the face
of the earth. I was just ringing up when we heard that damned bugle."
"And that, as Paul Harvey would say, “Is the rest of the story".
Carl H Porter
Service Company, 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment