Firefight at Stützpunkt One-Oh

May 3, 2024 | D-Day 80 Years On

The D Day landings involved over 150,000 Allied soldiers and over 50,000 German defenders. Let’s look at what D Day was like for just 177 of those men…

The coast of Normandy was heavily defended by a series of fortified positions and strongpoints, known to the German defenders as Wiederstandnests (Wn) and Stützpunkten (‘resistance nests’ and strongpoints.) These ranged from large casemated artillery batteries to armored pillboxes to entrenched machine gun positions, all defended by a wide variety of antitank devices, minefields, and barbed wire.

German defenses ranged from major artillery positions, armored pillboxes (known as Tobruks) to machine gun nests

These defenses were manned by the German 716th Infantry Division—a ‘static’ division, intended to fight in place and not considered to be an elite force. The 716th was supported by a variety of reserves including three very powerful Panzer divisions.

The extreme left (east) flank of the Allied invasion was at the Caen Canal at Ouistreham. Ouistreham was defended by a major artillery battery (Wn08) and a large, heavily armed Wiederstandnest built on the site of the Riva Bella casino (wn10.) Unless Ouistreham could be taken, and the Caen Canal could be secured, the entire invasion force was open to a flank attack that could drive the Allies back into the sea. The elite German 21st Panzer Division was in Caen, a mere 12 miles from Sword Beach.

Responsibility for capturing Wn10 at the Riva Bella casino was assigned to a special commando unit designated No. 10 Inter Allied Commando.    The Inter Allied Commando Units were small units within the overall British Special Forces organization which were manned by foreign volunteers who had escaped from German-occupied countries. In this case the unit consisted of 177 Free French members of the 1er Bataillon de Fusiliers Marins Commandos, known as the Bérets Verts, the Green Berets, led by the charismatic veteran French commando, Capitaine de Corvette Philippe Kieffer.

Keiffer’s Berets Verts advance toward Bella Riva

Because of extremely strained relations between the Free French leader, Charles De Gaulle, on the one hand, and Roosevelt and Churchill on the other, these were the only French troops who landed in Normandy on D Day.

Keiffer’s Green Berets landed on the beach codenamed Sword/Roger/Green and proceeded to attack Wn10, a series of fortified gun positions which had been built over the cellars of the old casino. Wn10 included a 75mm Flak 38 cannon, a 50mm antitank gun and a fortified MG 34 machine gun position.

The lightly armed commandos took substantial casualties and were unable to overrun Wn10. Keiffer himself was wounded. Keiffer returned to Sword/Queen/Red and contacted a Centaur tank belonging to the Royal Marine Armored Support Group, a specialized tank force designed to support commandos.  He rode the Centaur back and directed its fire as the commandos assaulted Wn10. The enemy 50mm gun was silenced with two rounds from the Centaur. Keiffer was wounded again but continued to direct fire until the 75mm Flak 38 was silenced. After intense hand-to-hand fighting the Green Berets overran the defenders. Wn10 fell at approximately 10.00 and its surviving garrison surrendered.

With Wn10 secured the Green Berets continued inland and reached the Pegasus bridge over the Caen Canal, which had been captured by British paratroopers the previous night, and assisted in reinforcing the position. Late in the afternoon Keiffer finally allowed his wounds to be treated. He was subsequently awarded the Military Cross.

RMASG Centaur with 95mm gun

Allied commandos at the Pegasus Bridge

In total, the Green Berets suffered 10 killed in action and 31 wounded, a 25% casualty rate. (When the unit returned to England at the beginning of September only 40 of the original 171 had not been killed or wounded, a 75% casualty rate.)

This is just one story out of thousands of stories of brave men doing what had to be done. For the men who fought on D Day—over 200,000 on both sides—the day ended in one of four ways.

The survivors

The dead

The surrendered

The wounded

As always, we must remember that our freedom isn’t free, and many have died paying for it.