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Rick Archer


By chance, in 2010 I ran across a significant piece of World War II history that in my opinion had not yet received the credit it was due.  Who would you name if someone asked you what man was most responsible for ripping the first hole in Hitler's formidable Atlantic Fortress on D-Day?  In case you draw a bland, this article will solve that problem in a very dramatic way.  His name is Joseph Dawson. 

Joseph Dawson had the good fortune to land his company on the only part of Omaha Beach that was relatively safe from the withering Nazi gunfire of Heinrich Severloh.  Better known as the Butcher of Omaha, Severloh wrote a book to claim he was personally responsible for 1,000 American casualties on that terrible day.  While historians still quibble over the total, let's just say he earned his nickname.


Seeing the nearby beach strewn with corpses, Dawson noted the utter the hopelessness of attacking Severloh's position.  He decided to improvise and took a different route up the bluffs.  At the top of the bluff, Joseph Dawson took out a deadly Nazi machine gun nest with a desperate do-or-die throw of two hand grenades.   As the Germans attempted to swing their gun around, a fraction of a second determined who would live and who would die.  Thank goodness Dawson had a good throwing arm.  This dramatic moment created the very first opening of the day on Omaha Beach. 

It isn't that Dawson's accomplishment have been completely neglected.  Far from it.  His deeds are noted at the American D-Day Museum at Normandy.  In fact, this is how I first learned his name.  I was so impressed, I took a picture of his biography and decided to research his accomplishments when I returned to Houston, Texas, my hometown. 


What I discovered during my research was that Captain Dawson was not merely 'among the first to climb the bluffs' as his bio states, Joseph Dawson was the first man to reach the top of the bluffs.

Dawson's actions allowed Philip Streczyk, another remarkable hero of the day, to reach the top safely moments later.  Working independent of Dawson, Streczyk pretty much single-handedly took out WN64, the first German Resistance Unit of the day.  Streczyk used stealth and courage to get close enough to eliminate the enemy in brutal hand-to-hand combat.  Once Streczyk was finished, the Americans had secured the first safe route to reach the top of the bluff.  Thanks to Dawson and Streczyk, the GIs were able to take out Heinrich Severloh by circling back from behind. 

When I first published my story on the Internet in 2011, I was surprised to see my story achieve a certain level of fame.  Till now, Dawson had been the unsung hero of the day.  That was about to change.  Over the past years countless people have written to thank me for focusing a spotlight on Captain Dawson's incredibly important accomplishment. 

Indeed, my article led to perhaps the most peculiar compliment I have ever received.  You see, by profession I am a dance teacher.  A man who knew me through the Houston dance community read my article in my Newsletter and forwarded it to a leading military expert. 


Here is what John Rivard said:

"Stan, I would appreciate your review of the rather interesting website linked here.  It is written by a local Houstonian whom we know from dancing.  After reading what he has prepared on the D-Day experience, you can also find a link to his bio that explains who he is, a totally unlikely person to have prepared such a piece.

He explains how he did it all with research.  I found the charts and photographs to be quite worthwhile, along with the story of unsung heroes that we have not heard about before.   It would appear that Cornelius Ryan, author of The Longest Day, did not fully understand the significance of the Dawson/Streczyk Omaha Beach invasion accomplishment."

On a personal note, when I first published my article, I expressed the hope that my story would someday bring fame to the two American heroes who turned an almost certain defeat at Omaha Beach on D-Day into triumph.  Although various authors had mentioned the names of Joseph Dawson and Philip Streczyk, at the time of my publication it seemed no one had adequately covered the incredible details of what these two men did. 

I am pleased to say I got my wish when I revisited Omaha Beach in 2018.  This time I discovered a sign written in French on the path down to the sea: "Route du Capitaine Joe Dawson".

I believe my story inspired someone to correct this oversight.  Seeing this tribute to Captain Dawson made it all worthwhile.  And now I invite you to read an amazing story about courage and heroism against all odds.  

Rick Archer
February 2019


Written by Rick Archer
June 2011

One day my daughter Sam noticed I was watching The Longest Day, the famous movie about the Normandy assault.  She was 11 at the time.

Curious, Sam watched the TV for a while.  Horrified by the violence, Sam asked me a question. 

"Dad, what does D-Day stand for?"

"What do you think it stands for?"

"Uh, does it stand for Death Day?"

I smiled.  "That's a good answer."

This cemetery next to the infamous Omaha Beach holds 10,000 graves.  D-Day indeed.


As I was growing up, I always thought "D-Day" stood for "Decision Day".  However, after checking it out, I learned that General Eisenhower clarified the meaning.  He called it "Departure Day", the day the ships depart to begin the attack. 

Every amphibious assault - including those in the Pacific, in North Africa, in Sicily and Italy - had its own D-Day.  However, for most of us, D-Day will always refer to the most important battle of our lifetime, the Normandy Landing on June 6, 1944.

I was born in 1949, a prime Baby Boomer year.  World War II was over and the world had settled into the Cold War Era.  With the notable exception of Korea and Vietnam, the Cold War Era was more about the threat of conflict than actual fighting.  Since there were no wars even remotely rivaling the scope of World War II, I never had the privilege to serve in the military.


My father saw brief action in the latter days of World War II. Dad was 19.  He was part of a large force of reinforcements that had just arrived from the States to give the war-weary veterans some relief.  Unfortunately.... or fortunately depending on how you look at it... my father was shot in the hip by a sniper while on patrol.  This occurred just before the Battle of the Bulge, the last major battle of World War II in December 1944.

Dad showed me the huge scar on his hip.  Then he surprised me by saying that injury was the luckiest thing to ever happen.  He had only been in Europe for a week when he was hit.  While Dad recuperated in the safety of a hospital, many of the men in his company were killed during the ferocious winter fighting at Belgium's Ardennes Forest.

The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's last ditch gamble.  Despite its early success due to the surprise attack, once the weather cleared, Allied air power was able to push the Germans into a major retreat.  Five months later, the war was over.

While he was recuperating, my father had the opportunity to talk to some of the men who were still recovering from wounds suffered during D-Day the previous summer.  To a man, they agreed this attack was terrifying beyond explanation.  Almost everyone had been certain there was no chance they were ever going to survive. 

How in the world were they supposed to cross those barren beaches with thousands of machine gun bullets peppering the air from the bluffs above?  How were they supposed to scale near-vertical hills without being hit?  How were they going to cross unmarked minefields without being blown to pieces?

Consequently the night before the attack every man had written a final letter to be sent to their wife or girlfriend and their parents in case they didn't make it back.  The guys my father talked to obviously were among the ones who survived, but every one of them saw dozens die right beside them that day.  In the hospital, every man had a bad case of 'Survivor's Guilt'.  Why did the guy next to them die while they were spared?

The Fates were indeed fickle that day.  Some unlucky paratroopers landed in the middle of a German company at St. Mere Eglise.  These men were shot to death in the air before they ever landed.  Yet other paratroopers landed in deserted cow pastures.   During the daylight assault, 2,000 men died at Omaha Beach while 14 miles away only 200 Americans died landing at Utah Beach.  Doesn't seem fair, does it?


After listening to some of my father's stories about the bravery of the men who risked their lives, I began to suffer from a sort of survivor's guilt myself.  I have lived a long, ultra-secure life because an army of teenagers had the guts to fight for freedom 70 years ago.  How is it fair that I have never seen action while so many unfortunate men died young that day?

I have long wondered why they always send in kids to do the fighting.  That doesn't seem right.  The young men have their entire life to lose before they even get started.  Interestingly, I found comments on this exact question.  Stephen Ambrose in his book D-Day said,

"Inexperienced troops are often preferable to veterans.  For a direct frontal assault on an enemy position such as D-Day, men who have never seen what a bullet or land mine or exploding mortar round can do to the human body are preferable to men who have seen the carnage.  Men in their late teens have a sense of invulnerability.  Their zeal and daredevil attitude far outweigh their combat inexperience."


I sometimes wonder why they don't send old guys like me lumbering across that beach.  I know a lot of men my age would be more than willing to go to war if another monster like Hitler threatened our country.  Nothing could possibly be more important than stopping a man like that.

Marv Levy was a football coach who took the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls.  One year he was asked if he was facing a 'must-win' situation in the upcoming Super Bowl.  Levy, a World War II veteran, just smiled.

"World War II was the only 'must win' situation I have ever been associated with."

None of us want to die before our time, but doesn't it make more sense to send people in the sunset phase of their life into risky situations than those with their whole life ahead of them?  Furthermore, some of the most committed people on earth are those with a lifetime of experience.  Old guys aren't fast and we don't see too good, but if we believe in what we are fighting for, guys my age... and gals too!... are certainly tough enough to fire a weapon.

One of my heroes of D-Day is Teddy Roosevelt, Jr, son of President Theodore Roosevelt.  At age 57, Roosevelt was the only General to go in with the first wave at Utah Beach.  His major contribution that day was getting American troops and tanks directly into the French countryside before the Germans could react.  Sadly, Roosevelt died of a heart attack one month later.  No doubt his demise was stress-related, but he did not care because he was doing what he believed in.  Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his work.  His grave at the Normandy Memorial gives strong testimony to my suggestion that old guys can contribute as well as the young.

I deeply respect and admire the men who charged into the face of death at Omaha. Their sacrifice allowed an entire generation of kids like me to enjoy a life of safety.  The Greeks have their heroes from Thermopylae and the British have their Royal Air Force, but to me, the brave men of Omaha are my all-time heroes.

Cowardice and Courage

George Patton once said that Courage isn't the absence of fear, but rather the ability to fight in spite of one's fears. 

One of the questions that has haunted me my entire life is whether I would have the same courage to fight at D-Day as the men who were able to overcome their fears and still fight.  My guess is that like Patton suggested, I would be scared out of my wits, but would do my best to force myself to act responsibly nevertheless.  Still, until one is tested, one never knows, yes?  I am the perfect example.  I have lived 60 carefree years in the greatest, most secure country on the planet.  I have little to worry about while people in other parts of the world starve to death and die at the hands of tyrannical governments.

As I write, I am 60 years old.  I spent 32 years running a successful dance studio, the largest in the country at one point.  In my retirement years, I have spent over 10 years taking my dance students on cruise trips around the world to awesome places like Hawaii and Italy.  When I am not traveling, I spend my time in the comfort of my home writing stories about the places I have visited. 

Dancing.  Traveling.  Writing.  Can you imagine a softer, happier existence than mine?  No, of course not.  But my story could have been far different.  A monster named Hitler came frighteningly close to subjugating the world.  If it hadn't been for the brave men at Normandy, today I might 'spreche Deutsch' and 'lebe in Amerika'.

I am smart enough to understand the debt I owe... the same debt we all owe... to the heroes of Normandy.  This explains why I feel an overwhelming gratitude towards the men who fought during World War II.  I am keenly aware that a
lot of good men died at D-Day so today's generations could live in America safely.  So how can I show my gratitude?  How can I somehow thank these men? 

I decided there is one thing I can do.  I can help spread the word about the men who are my heroes to a new generation.  Following the grand tradition of Homer's Iliad and Tolstoy's War and Peace, there is still a place in this world for bards, writers and poets to sing praise to the glories and courage of our heroes. 

So that is my motivation.  Since I enjoy writing, I will retell the story of Omaha Beach because this is my way to honor those brave fighting men of yesterday.  We all know the legends of the Spartans, Romans, and Vikings.  However, let us never forget that American soldiers fighting in Europe and the Pacific proved time and again that when called upon, Americans are just as brave and just as bold as the celebrated warriors of centuries past.

Rick Archer
June 6, 2011, the 67th Anniversary of D-Day


Background on the Story of Omaha Beach


Rick Archer's Note:

I have written a Short Version and a Long Version of the Omaha Beach saga.  This page is the 'Short Version'.  If you enjoy the Short Version, I promise the 'Long Version' is equally fascinating.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Google Earth.  Through the miracle of Google Earth, I was able to create maps to illustrate my story in a more concise way. 

Prior to D-Day, the Allies did everything in their power to maintain the secrecy of their intended D-Day landing point.  The French town of Calais was considered the likely target for the Allied invasion. 

Lying a mere 20 miles off the coast of England, Calais was looked at.  However, the Germans had Calais so heavily fortified that the Allies decided Normandy offered them a better chance of success.


At this point, the Allies went to a serious amount of trouble trying to deceive the Germans into thinking Calais was indeed their objective.  Meanwhile, Normandy was divided into five sectors: Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah, and Omaha

Utah and Omaha were assigned to the Americans.  Due to the difference in terrain, taking Utah turned out to be a much easier task than Omaha.  As we shall see, the daunting hills, bluffs, and cliffs of Omaha Beach turned the attack on this location into a horrible nightmare.  200 men died at Utah Beach.  2,000 men died at Omaha Beach

In particular, half of those men died trying to take down the German stronghold known as WN62, short for WiderstandsNester, German for 'resistance nest'.  WN62 was notable because this is where Heinrich Severloh, the so-called Beast of Omaha, was positioned.  Severloh, the German soldier who manned a well-placed machine gun, is said to have personally sent 1,000 men to their deaths.  Severloh's staggering death count explains why the American cemetery is located where it is today... his victims were buried at the nearest available spot. 

Our story revolves around two men - Joseph Dawson, Philip Streczyk.  Their decision to bypass Severloh by taking a different unplanned route up the hill is what provided the day's first Breakthrough.


Rick Archer's Note:

I have a fascinating secret to share.  The Viewing Platform at Omaha Beach is virtually the identical place where Joseph Dawson took out the German machine gun nest.  As we shall see, it is not a coincidence that the two locations are side by side.  I will explain why shortly.

Dawson's orders had been to attack Severloh's position directly.  One look at the current body count on the beach signaled the futility of that directive.  So instead Dawson studied the ravine directly in front of his landing point.  That ravine took Dawson to the spot identified as the Viewing Platform. 

Someday you might get a chance to visit Normandy.  If you do, you will definitely want to visit the Viewing Platform due to its importance as the FIRST BREAKTHROUGH POINT in Hitler's Atlantic Wall.  I have identified the platform using the Yellow X in the pictures above and below. 

In the picture below, please note Heinrich Severloh's position is listed as 600 yards from the Viewing Platform.  His powerful machine gun had a reach of about 500 yards.  In other words, one reason Dawson and his company were able to climb the ravine up the hill is because it was just barely out of range of Severloh's deadly weapon.  That said, they still had to face the serious obstacles in front of them. 


This Yellow X is the place where Joseph Dawson threw two hand grenades to eliminate a Nazi machine gun nest at the top of the hill.  Due to his do-or-die grenade toss, Dawson singlehandedly opened up the first safe route to the hilltop on D-day at Omaha Beach.  

This was an incredible moment!!

And yet as of 2010 there was absolutely not one statue or plaque to memorialize the powerful significance of this location. 

Consequently not one visitor has any idea of the importance of this spot.  Once I learned the truth, I was very upset that nothing existed to memorialize Dawson's heroic action.  Indeed, thanks to Joseph Dawson, the Americans made the 'Breakthrough' to reverse an almost certain defeat into an amazing victory.  I hope my story will someday change that oversight.  If you know someone in a position to address this issue, please take action.  Our children and our children's children should be told the importance of this exact spot.

When I first made my discovery, at first I thought it was an unusual coincidence that Joseph Dawson made his 'Breakthrough' at the exact same spot as the Viewing Platform.  However, as I learned more, I realized it was not a coincidence at all.  Heinrich Severloh was the reason the two spots coincide.  However, before I detail how the Viewing Platform is connected to Dawson and Severloh, let me explain how I happened to learn what I did.


Cherbourg was a major objective at D-Day.  Cherbourg was a deep-water port about 40 miles west of Normandy.  One of the main reasons for choosing Normandy as the landing point was its proximity to Cherbourg. The Americans coveted this port as the perfect spot to land supplies and reinforcements sent from the USA onto Europe's mainland.

It was Teddy Roosevelt Jr, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who sent the Americans in a sprint to seize Cherbourg the moment the soldiers landed at Utah Beach.  Unfortunately, the Germans knew full well the potential of Cherbourg and had the city well-defended.  So the plan was attack Normandy first since it was a somewhat easier target.  After D-Day, it took a pitched two month battle to finally dislodge the determined Germans from Cherbourg.


Today Cherbourg is valuable for another reason.  It is the only port near the Normandy landings deep enough to handle ultra-large cruise ships.  Cruise ships regularly dock in Cherbourg to allow visitors like me to come see Omaha Beach, site of one of the fiercest battles of World War II... with a nod of course to other intense battles such as Iwo Jima and the Battle of the Bulge.

My discovery about the secret of the 'Viewing Platform' came about thanks to a cruise trip my wife Marla and I took to France in May 2010.  Our cruise ship landed at Cherbourg and then I took a bus tour over to Omaha Beach.

I owe my pastime as an amateur travel writer to my dear wife Marla.  Marla organizes several cruises a year for our group of friends and former dance students who live nearby in Houston, Texas. 

On Sunday, May 9, 2010, I had the privilege of visiting the Normandy American Memorial.  This Memorial contains the World War II cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.  This site honors the many thousands of American soldiers who died fighting in Europe during World War II.

There were twelve people in our group that day.  Sorry to say, the only person who didn't get to see Omaha Beach was Marla.  The poor woman was suffering from a bad case of Norovirus, the stomach bug that takes about 24 hours to pass. 

In a way, maybe it was better that Marla wasn't with me.  In a very odd way, Marla's illness contributed directly to my discovery.  I depend on Marla to keep me from wandering off too far when I get curious about something.  Without my constant companion beside me, I was on my own all day.  By disengaging from the group and the tour, I was able to cover more ground than any other person in our group.  I did this because I wanted to see as much of Omaha Beach as I possibly could. 



At the end of my long loop around the grounds, I discovered the Visitor's Center.  This addition was completed in 2007.  The first floor was lined with pictures and biographies of men who distinguished themselves at D-Day.  I was incredibly moved by what I saw.

Twelve men received the Medal of Honor for their actions that day.  Unfortunately Dawson and Streczyk were not among them, a terrible oversight in my opinion.  Considering the magnitude of this oversight, now we know where the phrase 'Unsung Hero' comes from. 

As I read the stories and realized the kind of courage it took to accomplish their responsibilities, I shook my head in astonishment.  Unfortunately, this wasn't the movies where everyone lives happily ever after.  I burst into tears as I read how brave heroes such as John Pinder, Frank Peregory and Jimmy Monteith died fighting in this bloody battle.  It made me heartsick.

Things were even tougher to handle downstairs.  That is where I saw videos about the men who fought that day.  These stories were so wrenching that I found myself filled with tears.  Trust me, I wasn't the only one crying.  Everyone down there was overwhelmed.

I am not ashamed to admit I ended up making a fool of myself.  I don't wear a watch nor did I have Marla to help keep me focused.  I ended up being 20 minutes late back to the bus.  Overwhelmed with tears, I became so oblivious to reality that I lost l track of time.  That's how bad it was for me... I was completely lost in grief over the senselessness of it all.  To lose brave men this way was so difficult to accept. 


One of the men featured at the Visitor's Center was Joseph Dawson.   Please note what it says about Dawson in the picture.

"Dawson guided his men through an unmarked gap in a minefield, assaulted and seized formidable enemy positions, and was among the first to climb the bluffs overlooking the beach."

This sentence hardly gives justice to the immense contribution Dawson made that day.  This brief biography at the Visitor Center does not even scratch the surface.  I believe that is because so far the historians never quite grasped the significance back when the deeds were being chronicled.  

Please keep in mind that there were many American heroes at Omaha Beach, but for some reason Joseph Dawson stood out in my mind.   Although I had no way to realize the importance of Dawson's contribution during my visit, I found myself curious to know more about him in particular.  Why was Dawson 'competent'?  What exactly did he do?

When I returned to Houston, I began to read.  That is how I learned that Joseph Dawson was the man who created the initial wedge that broke the battle open.  In fact, Joseph Dawson likely played the most important role of the day in turning the tide for the Americans.  And yet few Americans have any idea what Joseph Dawson did!! 


Now it is time to explain why the Viewing Platform and Joseph Dawson's grenade throw are virtually the same spot.

01. On D-Day, Dawson and his men landed in what was likely the only poorly defended spot on the beach.
02. The spot identified as the Viewing Platform was roughly 600 yards from water to the top of the hill. 
03. Dawson's orders said to directly attack the heavily-defended German Resistance Unit on his left known as WN62.
04. Taking note of the massive body count to his left due to Severloh's commanding position, Dawson decided a direct attack was futile. 
05. Instead, Dawson thought a more promising route was to explore the gully before him.  Why not try to climb to the top of the hill?
06. After treading carefully past the initial minefield, Dawson told his men to wait for him at a midway point on the hill.
07. Taking one other man with him, Dawson reconnoitered the terrain above. 
08. Captain Dawson went with just one other man.  He did not want to endanger his own men, so he choose to take the risk himself.
09. Half the way up, Dawson and the other man drew machine gun fire from above.  They quickly dove to the ground.
10. Dawson told the other man to go back down and bring the rest of the company up to this spot.
11. At this point, another unit led by Lt. John Spalding and Sgt. Philip Streczyk appeared some distance away.
12. Using sign language, Dawson signaled Spalding to distract the Germans above with intense fire.
13. While Spalding's company kept the Germans occupied, Dawson crawled 100 yards on his belly and slowly made his way to the top.
14. Dawson reached a giant outcropping directly below the machine gun nest where he could not be seen.
15. From there, Dawson circled clockwise around the large rock till he was about ten yards from the Germans, but still unseen.
16. Just before he revealed himself, Dawson took the pin out of two grenades.
17. The Germans saw Dawson when he stood up.  They desperately turned the machine gun at him as Dawson hurled both grenades.
18. Dawson's throw was perfect.  It not only saved his life, it created the first 'Breakthrough' of the day on Omaha Beach.
19. The path to the top was now open.  Dawson was joined at the top by his company and by Spalding and Streczyk.
20. Dawson's company continued south towards Colleville while Spalding and Streczyk moved west to search for WN64.

(To avoid confusion, the machine gun unit eliminated by Dawson and Severloh's machine gun location are not the same.)

There is a winding Walkway that allows visitors to walk down from the Viewing Platform to the beach below if they wish.  During my 2010 visit, I took quite a few photographs of the terrain surrounding this walkway as I headed to the water.  After reviewing my 2010 photographs and comparing them to military charts which detailed Dawson's movements, I suddenly realized this zigzag Walkway was likely the same route Captain Dawson took during his fateful climb up the hill.  In that case, I concluded the Viewing Platform at the Normandy Memorial is located in the same spot where Dawson took out the German machine gunners. 

That seemed like quite a coincidence, so I asked myself, "Is there a reason why the Viewing Platform is located in the same spot where Dawson's Breakthrough took place?"

As I learned more, I realized it was not a coincidence at all.  My first clue was the existence of the nearby Cemetery.  My second clue came when I realized Heinrich Severloh's deadly killing ground was nearby.  The position of the Viewing Platform is the direct result of Heinrich Severloh's deadly machine gun which had been located 600 yards to the east.  

Struck by a chilling thought, I suddenly realized that the beach directly below was covered with 1,000 bodies on D-Day.  That is why the cemetery was located nearby as the most convenient place to inter the bodies.  That also explained Dawson's route up the hill.  By taking the ravine, Dawson's company was able to operate out of sight and out of range of Severloh.  But first they had to get past a different machine unit located at the crest of the hill right where today's Viewing Platform is located. 



Heinrich Severloh, Butcher of Omaha


Rick Archer's Note: 

The powerful German Resistance Unit facing Joseph Dawson's sector was known as WN62.  The cornerstone of WN62 was a well-placed machine gun unit manned by Heinrich Severloh. 

In a book written by Severloh after the war, he claimed to have single-handedly killed 1,000 Americans at Omaha Beach.  Military experts have concluded that Severloh is likely correct.  For this reason, Severloh became known as 'The Butcher of Omaha'. 

I do not wish to demonize this man.  In fact, I want it to be known that in his book Heinrich Severloh expressed extreme remorse for his actions during this battle.  Let me share a 2004 interview from the Washington Post.

"Severloh had taken up a concealed position on the eastern side of the beach along with 30 other German soldiers, and he recalls watching the horizon turn black with dozens of ships and landing craft racing for the shore.  His commanding officer, Lt. Bernhard Frerking, had told him not to open fire until the enemy reached knee-deep level, where he could get a full view.

"What came to mind was, 'Dear God, why have you abandoned me?' " he recalled. "I wasn't afraid. My only thought was, 'How can I get away from here?' "

But rather than run, Severloh slipped the first belt of ammunition into his MG-42 machine gun and opened fire. He could see men spinning, bleeding and crashing into the surf, while others ripped off their heavy packs, threw away their carbines and raced for the shore. But there was little shelter there.  Severloh said he would occasionally put down the machine gun and use his carbine to pick off individual men huddled on the beach.  He is still haunted by the memory of a particular soldier.  The man was loading his rifle when Severloh took aim at his chest. The bullet went high and hit the man in the forehead.

"The helmet fell and rolled over in the sand," Severloh said. "Every time I close my eyes, I can see it."

Severloh said he was the last man firing from his position. By mid-afternoon, his right shoulder was swollen and his slender fingers were numb from constant firing.  When a U.S. destroyer pinpointed his position and began to shell it, he fled to the nearby village of Colleville-Sur-Mer, where he was captured that evening (
probably by Dawson's unit stationed there).  

Severloh was fortunate to leave when he did as several GIs who had circled around from the rear attacked the WN62 position brief moments after his escape, putting a decisive end to the deadliest spot on the beach that day. 

In Severloh's telling of D-Day, there are few heroes and several surprises.  The German occupiers had warm relations with their French farm hosts before the invasion, he contends.  Lt. Frerking, who died on D-Day, was an honorable man Severloh said Frerking spoke fluent French and once gave a man 10 days' punishment for failing to help an elderly French woman with her shopping bags.

Severloh first told his tale to an inquisitive correspondent for ABC News during the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984.  But the real breakthrough came when an amateur war historian named Helmut Konrad von Keusgen tracked Severloh down. Von Keusgen, a former scuba diver and graphic artist, said he had heard from U.S. veterans about the machine gunner they called the "Beast of Omaha Beach" because he had mowed down hundreds of GIs that day.  Severloh confessed he was that gunner.  Von Keusgen ghost-wrote Severloh's memoirs, published in 2000, and still visits him regularly.

The two men contend that Severloh might have killed or wounded as many as 2,000 GIs.  That's an impossible figure, according to German and American historians, who say that although the numbers are far from exact, estimates are that about 2,500 Americans were killed or wounded by the 30 German soldiers on the beach.

"My guess is yes, he helped kill or wound hundreds, but how many hundreds would be hard to say," Roger Cirillo, a military historian at the Association of the U.S. Army in Arlington, wrote in an e-mail. He added: "Omaha Beach is like Pickett's Charge.  The story has gotten better with age, though no one doubts it was a horror show.  Men on both sides were brave beyond reason, and this is the sole truth of the story."

Hein Severloh said he takes no pride in what he did, but telling his tale has given him a sense of relief.

"I have thought about it every single day that God gave to me," he said.  Now, he said, "The pressure is gone."

In my opinion, Heinrich Severloh was a solider who was doing his duty.  He was ordered to shoot the enemy.  Had he refused, Severloh would have been accused of cowardice and no doubt shot in the back by a bitter comrade.  The real villain of this story is Adolf Hitler, not Heinrich Severloh.  That said, I will agree that Severloh was the major nemesis of the day.  Severloh was brutally effective. 



By chance, Joseph Dawson landed just barely out of reach of Severloh's deadly fire. 

Once Dawson saw all the dead bodies as well as the countless men pinned down by Severloh's fire to his left, Dawson was persuaded to 'improvise' and try a different route.  This decision explains why Dawson's men lived when so many others died.

(Author's note: the remnants of WN62's concrete bunkers can still be seen today.)


So what about that Viewing Platform/Dawson coincidence?

Heinrich Severloh was the reason Dawson took the path that ended exactly where the Viewing Platform is located today.  Severloh's weapon had a range of 500 yards.  Dawson's unit was lucky to land in a spot 10 feet beyond the range of Severloh's deadly machine gun.  Although Dawson had been ordered to attack Severloh's position directly, that looked like an invitation to suicide.  Dawson took one look at the gruesome number of mounting casualties and realized following orders would ensure death for all his men.  Dawson decided he would rather try the funnel-like ravine on the hill before him. 

And what about the Cemetery?  Heinrich Severloh is said to have gunned down 1,000 American soldiers from his dominant view of the landing area.  The American Cemetery is located 800 yards from the spot identified as 'Severloh's firing position'.  In total, 2,000 Americans died at Omaha Beach at D-Day.  This means that due to Severloh, 50% of those casualties took place in one spot. 

Now we know why the American Cemetery is located where it is... this area atop the ravine was the most convenient place to bury all those bodies.  In other words, Heinrich Severloh was the reason the American Cemetery is placed where it is today.  The sad thing is without Joseph Dawson, the cemetery would have had many more graves. 

It was Dawson's decision to disobey orders that turned almost certain American defeat into victory on this fateful day.  Dawson's courage saved the lives of countless men.

In my opinion, Joseph Dawson deserved the Medal of Honor.  However Dawson was given the Distinguished Service Cross instead.  Personally, I believe the battle was so complex that the full extent of Dawson's contribution was not understood until well after he had already been decorated.  Fortunately, over the years, Dawson has begun to receive more credit.  The ravine he climbed that day was renamed 'Dawson's Draw'.  At the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Joseph Dawson was selected by the Army to speak at the ceremonies as the representative of the troops who landed that day.


Introduction to Joseph Dawson's Story at Omaha Beach



Rick Archer's Note:

Before I start my story, I wish to point out you will be reading an important piece of American military history that has been largely overlooked.  Although I would hardly call myself a military expert, after extensive reading I reached the conclusion that Joseph Dawson is the man who turned the battle around.  It is my hope that after reading my story, each Reader will reach a similar conclusion. 

The American strategy at Omaha Beach was to attack the German WN units with a frontal attack.  Unfortunately, by going straight into the teeth of the German defense, 2,000 men met their death.  So how exactly did the Americans finally succeed?   To tell the truth, they almost failed.  There was a point during the early fighting where General Omar Bradley concluded that Omaha Beach was a lost cause. 

I contend that Joseph Dawson was the first man at Omaha Beach to penetrate the Nazi defenses and get to the top of the hill.  Once Dawson cleared the area of machine guns, he created the first safe zone on the entire Omaha Beach.  For the next hour, every incoming unit was directed to follow Dawson's path up the hill, i.e. 'Dawson's Draw'.  This breakthrough allowed the Americans to take out the dangerous German WN62 unit from behind.  By creating the first SAFE ROUTE TO THE TOP, Dawson saved countless lives. 

I did not get this idea from a history text, but rather reached this conclusion myself.  If I am correct... and I believe I am... my 2011 story became the first to directly point out the full extent of Joseph Dawson's contribution. 

And now to our story.


Tanks Running Wild


To truly understand D-Day, one needs to understand the death-dealing tanks were the most feared weapon by both sides.  German General Erwin Rommel was charged with defending Omaha Beach.  His greatest concern was how to prevent American tanks from reaching the French countryside where they could do extensive damage.  Fortunately, the American tanks could not climb the French hills, cliffs and bluffs at Omaha Beach.  Those imposing hills and bluffs served as a natural defense against the American tanks. 

The problem for Rommel were openings known as 'Draws' which existed 'between' those hills.  In the valleys where small streams emptied into the Atlantic, these openings were known as 'Draws', a military term for any valley or gap wide enough to send a tank through. 

Two of the most important Draws on D-Day were E-1 and E-3 (see maps above and below, one facing north, one facing south).

In particular, the Americans coveted E-3 because it was 600 yards wide.  If the Americans could knock out the German defense at E-3, their tanks would have all the room they needed to penetrate into the French countryside.  The strategists decided to concentrate their attack on the gap at E3

However, Rommel knew this was a likely strategy.  Anticipating the attack would hit this spot, Rommel devised a very effective defense.  In particular, this is where Rommel positioned Heinrich Severloh's machine gun.  Severloh was point man for the defensive position known as WN62.   In other words, since E-3 was the most valuable spot of the day, 1,000 Americans met their death because they were ordered to directly attack this position. 



In the map above, take note where Severloh was positioned.  Heinrich Severloh, nicknamed the 'Butcher of Omaha', is said to have personally gunned down 1,000 American soldiers from his dominant view of the landing area.

In his memoir, Severloh related that he was located in a concealed position on the eastern side of the beach along with 30 other German soldiers.  He recalled watching the horizon turn black with dozens of ships and landing craft racing for the shore.  His commanding officer had told him not to open fire until the enemy reached knee-deep level in the water. 

When the time was right, Severloh slipped the first belt of ammunition into his MG-42 machine gun and opened fire.  Many men died before they even reached the beach.  He could see men spinning, bleeding and crashing into the surf, while others ripped off their heavy packs, threw away their carbines and raced for the shore.

Unfortunately there was no shelter on the beach.  Lying face down in the sand, these men were sitting ducks.  And Severloh had plenty of ammunition... enough ammunition to gun down 1,000 men.   Such was the futility of the American decision to attack the E-3 Draw with a direct assault. 


The Possibility of a German Counter-Attack

Although the Germans had many reasons to believe the invasion would take place in Calais 170 miles to the north, they realized the Allies could conceivably land anywhere in a 500 mile zone stretching from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Brest in France.  Even Norway was considered a possibility.   There was no conceivable way the Germans could defend this entire stretch given their limited manpower.  So they attached different probabilities to various landing points.  The more likely the probability, the better the preliminary defenses.

The Germans understood there was no way to keep the soldiers from landing.  Their idea was not to prevent a landing, but rather to SLOW THE LANDING DOWN.  If their beachside defenses could keep the soldiers pinned down on the sand long enough, they would have enough time to bring their crack Panzer tanks from a distance to obliterate the relatively defenseless men while they were still vulnerable on the beach. 

Since the Germans did not know where the Americans would land, they placed their tanks in a geographic central location near the France/Belgium border.  Like a free safety in American football who sprints to the ball the moment the Quarterback throws a pass, the tanks would fly at lightning speed the moment the Germans were sure of the landing spot. 

In other words, the Germans were depending heavily on their ability to counter-attack the Allies.  The LONGER the Germans could keep the Allies pinned down on the beach, the better chance they had to defeat the invasion. 

The Allies were well aware of this strategy and were terrified by it.  The possibility of seeing their men annihilated on the beach by a Panzer counter-attack was their greatest fear.  They based their entire attack strategy on preventing this from happening.

Normandy had several advantages for the Allies. In particular, the beaches of Normandy gave the Allies 20 miles to work with. Omaha was considered the toughest landing point.  Other parts of the beach were much harder for the Germans to defend.  This explains why the loss of life at the other four attack points - Utah, Sword, Juno, and Gold - was relatively small compared to Omaha. 

Bloody Omaha Beach would mark the fiercest fight of the day.


Erwin Rommel's German Defense


The German's biggest concern was keeping the Allied tanks out of the French countryside. 

That's what worried them the most.  They could deal with paratroopers and random infantry incursions, but the tanks running free could cause real trouble. The Germans were determined to prevent all tank penetration.

Fortunately for the Germans, Omaha Beach gave them a tremendous defensive position.  The hills made penetration by American tanks into the French countryside virtually impossible.


Since the beach was overlooked by huge bluffs and cliffs, the Germans knew that no American tank could climb these obstacles.

That meant the tanks would be forced to use the narrow valleys.  Therefore all the Germans had to do was defend the valleys between the hills.

Accordingly, the Germans placed their most formidable defenses on both sides of every valley. 

These defenses were called Widerstandsnester, or 'resistance nest'.  'WN' is the abbreviation.

The largest gap was known as the Colleville Draw, E-3

To protect it, the Germans built their deadliest strongpoint known as WN62

Using this modern-day Google Earth image, we can see two of the valleys.  The valley on the top was known as the Colleville Draw, E-3.   The lower valley was known as the St. Laurent Draw, E-1

Please note the  Yellow X .  This point marks the Viewing Platform, a lookout point located at the Normandy Memorial.  This 'X' also marks the point of Dawson's first American breakthrough on D-day.


Heinrich Severloh was the German soldier who had control of the dominant position overlooking the beach at WN62.  Thanks to him, WN62 would become a Killing Field at Omaha Beach.

As previously noted, Severloh, the so-called "Butcher of Omaha", is said to have personally killed 1,000 American soldiers during the Allied assault.  There is much circumstantial evidence to believe his claim.

So why was Heinrich Severloh so effective?  I hate to say it, but the American strategists were largely to blame.  The American's worst nightmare was the fear of being caught by the Panzers while stuck on the beach. This fear made the battle planners fixate on removing those powerful defenses as quickly as possible. 

The American strategy called for an all-out assault on the German WN strong points to gain control of a 'Draw' as fast as possible.  As we recall, a 'Draw' was the military term for the gaps between the hills, i.e. the points where small streams had cut holes in order to reach the ocean.  This concept set up a deadly contest centered around control of the Draws.  American strategy sent men directly into the teeth of the German defense.   


Would the Americans break through fast enough to establish their tanks in position to retaliate the vaunted Panzer counter-attack?  Or would the German defense hold the Americans on the beach long enough for the German tanks to arrive and mow down the remaining defenseless men? 

As we now know, the initial phase of the attack was an unmitigated disaster.  The few men lucky enough not to have been hit immediately were pinned down on the beach with their faces in the sand.  Unfortunately, as General Omar Bradley later explained, 'Retreat' was impossible for the men pinned down.  To stand up invited certain death.  Their only hope was that someone would find a way to knock out a WN unit and save them from the deadly fire before the German tanks got there.

The sooner the American tanks could begin to operate in the French countryside before the Panzers appeared, the safer their men would be.  With this in mind, the Americans wanted desperately to take control of one of those valleys as quickly as possible.  This explains the suicidal preoccupation with a frontal attack on WN62 guarding the coveted Draw E-3.

In hindsight, it becomes clear that the weakest part of the German defense were the hills themselves, not the Draws.  Therefore the correct plan would have been to climb the hills and take down the WN strong points from behind.  But that is easy for us to say, yes?   In defense of the planners, they probably had no idea how weak the defenses were on the bluffs.  In all fairness, it is unlikely they had adequate information to make the better choice.  Forced to operate blind, the American strategists made a poor decision.  They planned to send soldiers directly at the WN strong points.


The Americans targeted the Colleville Draw, E-3, as their primary target. 

Since the Colleville Draw was the widest gap of all the "draws", the American strategists assumed it was the logical place to start.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely no protection in the water or on the beach for these men. 

This is why Severloh was so effective.  With his gun controlling an unusually wide stretch of beach, he shot down one brave young man after another who tried to attack WN62 head-on.


Give Erwin Rommel some credit.  The Americans fell right into Rommel's defensive trap by going directly at his strongest position.  It was Rommel who was responsible for those 1,000 deaths.  All the Butcher of Omaha had to do was reload and keep shooting. 

Obviously the American strategy was wrong.  This was a futile effort.  In hindsight, rather than send their men into a hail of bullets, the planners should have identified the weak points and attacked there instead.  As it turned out, it was Dawson's indirect attack at a weak point halfway between  WN62 and WN64 guarding the beach and valleys that saved the day. 

The defenses between the WN strong points were nowhere near as imposing as those concrete bunkers with powerful long-range weapons.  What a shame there was no way to study the German defenses closely enough to realize this ahead of time.  It was all a guessing game.

How much leeway did Captains like Joe Dawson have to change his orders?  Good question.  It is said the genius of Napoleon was his willingness to allow his field lieutenants the liberty to make decisions instantly on the field of battle rather than send messengers to ask for permission.  Napoleon believed no enemy could be predicted completely, so he gave his leaders free rein to adapt to any unexpected situation as it developed during battle.  Perhaps the spirit of Napoleon infused the Americans on the battlefields of France's beaches.  American ingenuity in the form of Joseph Dawson was about to save the day. 

This is said to be a picture taken after the battle.  Take a look at all the empty shell casings piled up at Severloh's position.  That is quite a gruesome image.


Dodging the Kill Zone Triangle



Erwin Rommel used a Triangle to create the Omaha Beach Kill Zone.  The powerful German MG-42 machine gun could effectively reach up to 1,100 yards.  By placing an MG-42 machine gun unit in WN62 and WN64, Rommel created a withering crossfire.  In addition, he placed smaller machine gun units directly in front of the beach.

Machine guns can reach a long way, but even these deadly weapons have their limit.  Spalding and Dawson landed at the weakest point equidistant from both MG-42 units.  They were roughly 750 yards away from Severloh's gunfire at WN62 and the less dangerous fire from WN64 on the other side.

The companies of Captain Dawson and Lieutenant John Spalding landed at the same spot on the beach about 15 minutes apart.  These units got lucky in several ways.  As it turned out, something was wrong with the machine gun in WN64.  There are two possibilities.  One, there are reports that work on WN64 may not have been complete on D-Day.  Two, WN64 was built into a cliff amidst heavy forestation.  Unlike WN62 which had the trees removed to provide an unobstructed view of the beach, WN64 had been deliberately concealed inside the existing forest.  Perhaps the heavy forestation limited the sight lines to the right side of the unit's machine gun. 

There was also a strong possibility that a machine gun nest directly in front of Spalding and Dawson's landing spot was either unmanned or had been eradicated earlier.

"We walked on across the beach because nobody stopped us.  I was curious why there was no MG (machine gun) fire to speak of.  Someone pointed out a pillbox on the hill facing us that didn't seem to be in operation.  It doesn't hurt to be lucky."  -- Lt. John Spalding

Consequently Spalding and Dawson's units were placed in perhaps the only spot in the Kill Zone Triangle that was relatively free of the WN62 and WN64 crossfire. 


Dawson's Company G was part of the second wave at the Easy Red sector.

Dawson's unit landed just barely out of range of the Severloh's deadly gun.  More than likely, Severloh's gunfire landed ten feet away. 

In addition, Dawson and Spalding were also out of range of WN64, the other strong point defending this sector.  This stroke of fortune meant these two units would not be pinned down in the sand like all the rest.

Yes, there were machine guns defending from higher up on the hillside, but they were not as powerful or long-reaching as Severloh's weapon.

Dawson's men probably didn't know how lucky they were.  By landing on the only spot on the beach where the German gunfire wasn't nearly as heavy, the company had no bullets to dodge to cross the beach to safety.


Decision to Improvise

Once Dawson got his men across the beach, he took stock of the situation.  His orders were to attack the German strongpoint WN62 located 700 yards to his left. 

Dawson could see dead bodies strewn everywhere.  In addition, there were living men on the beach to his right and left pinned down by heavy fire coming from the WN62 and WN64 Kill Triangle.  Those men weren't going anywhere.  Dawson shook his head.  Right or Left, not a good idea.

Dawson turned his gaze to the hill in front of him.  He was facing a ravine which afforded him protection from Severloh.  At the top of the hill, the incline became very steep, almost cliff-like. However, up the hill about 350 yards away there was an unusual gap in the incline that made this particular approach seem more accessible.  (see picture below). 



Dawson studied the hill in front of him. The distance to the top of the bluff was 300 to 400 yards.  The crest of the hill was about 200 feet high with an incline that got much steeper as one neared the top.  The slope of the hill was about 25 degrees near the beach.  It became steeper in the middle at 40 degrees.  Right at top, the slope appeared to be 75 degrees, almost cliff-like.  Dawson's men would have had great trouble climbing that cliff... except for that inviting gap at the top.

Dawson noticed the gunfire coming down from the hill directly in front of his company wasn't nearly as heavy as he had expected it to be.  Why was the gunfire so much lighter here?  In hindsight, it turned out Rommel had limited resources for defense.  His main objective was not to stop the attack cold, but rather to slow it down long enough to get his Panzers here to slaughter the men who were pinned down on the beach.

Rommel knew that no tank could climb these steep bluffs.  Once he reinforced the 'Draws' with extra weapons, he decided that barbed wire, mine fields and a limited number of machine gun nests and snipers would be sufficient to defend the hills from any attack not supported by tanks. 

What a shame it was that the planners did not know about Rommel's gamble in advance.  Dawson's orders may have said to attack the strong point WN62, but Dawson thought otherwise.  This particular hill was a very inviting target.

What should he do??  Follow his orders or follow his instincts?

150 years earlier Napoleon had given his leaders carte blanche to adapt to unexpected situations in any manner they saw fit.  Today that is exactly what Dawson did as well.  To him, it seemed like suicide to attack Severloh's powerful machine gun head on.  Instead of attacking the WN62 beach gap directly as planned, Dawson decided to improvise.  He chose to go directly up the hill rather than send his men to certain death. 

Dawson noticed there was a gulley in front of them that turned into a natural bowl at the top.  This proved to be another advantage because the nearby WN62 stronghold was completely out of sight.  This meant Dawson only had to deal with the thinned-out German defense in front of him. 

The lower terrain in front served to funnel any climbers directly towards that gap at the top.  There wasn't much cover going up the hill.  The Germans had completely cleared the shrubbery the previous Fall.  Fortunately, in the spring at least some cover had recently grown back.  Thank goodness.

However, Dawson still had serious problems.  For starters, where were the minefields?  Finding and crossing the minefields would be a huge problem.

Rick Archer's Note:  Here are pictures I took during my visit.  The Cemetery is behind those trees at the top.  This is next to the spot where Dawson began his climb.  Keep in mind that the vegetation had been deliberately trimmed back by Germans.  There was little cover.


Another problem was the powerful machine gun nest situated at the top of the hill.  In addition, there seemed to be gunfire from hidden points dug into the middle of the hillside.  More than likely there were snipers posted. 

No one could see where the fire was coming from since these nests were hidden rather than fortified.  Rommel had decided that hiding the guns would be just as effective.  Each weapon was certain to have an excellent view of the terrain below.  The Germans could see the Americans, but not vice versa. 

All in all, climbing this hill would be very dangerous.


It wasn't easy to defy orders, so Dawson took one more look to his left. 

Those men were still totally pinned down. 

Dawson made his choice. It was clear that the direct assault on WN62 wasn't working.   Therefore climbing the hill was the best option.

These hills might be able to stop tanks, but what about his men? 

Dawson decided to find out.

The lower X marks Dawson's starting point, the top X marks the likely location of Dawson's one-man attack on the critical machine gun nest above.  That top X is beside the Viewing Platform next to the Cemetery.


Two dead bodies in the marsh area just past the beach alerted them to danger.  It was a huge break to know this area was mined before learning the hard way.  Dawson's first responsibility was clearing a path.  Getting past the minefields at the bottom of the hill was going to be a huge problem. 

Gruesome as it seems, Dawson assumed that the ground underneath the bodies was safe since their death had likely defused the mine that had killed them. Dawson ordered his men to use the bodies as stepping stones, then stop and look around for any dangerous clues. 

With his men on high alert, they spotted several mines that the engineers were able to defuse.  It was their good fortune that the absence of gunfire allowed them to take their time.

After clearing the minefield, the company carefully began to climb.  One-third of the way up the hill, Dawson ordered his men to stop.  Dawson made a brave decision.  He took it upon himself to check things out personally. 

Dawson had several reasons.  For starters, Dawson was worried about sending his men into another deadly minefield or a hidden machine gun nest.  Better to risk his own neck than send his entire unit into an unseen trap.

A second reason Dawson went ahead was to see the terrain with his own eyes.  He wanted to study that opening above.

A third reason to go alone was to employ stealth as he climbed the hill.  Dawson bravely went forward with one other man beside him.  More men would have likely been spotted. 

Clearly Dawson was a gifted leader with a strong instinct to protect his men.  What happened next was the stuff of legend.

This is a modern-day view of the ravine where Dawson climbed.  That is the Viewing Platform.  Notice how the bluffs get much steeper right below the Platform.  Once Dawson crawled to the base where that hill gets steeper, the sharp angle of the incline probably made him invisible to the machine gun nest at the top of the hill where the Platform is.  This allowed him to creep within 30 feet of the gunners.


An Excerpt regarding Joe Dawson from
US Army Military History

(Material is drawn from this link)


The mined areas slowed up every unit that crossed the beach.  Company G, commanded by Captain Joseph T. Dawson, found one route through the mines by climbing over the dead bodies of two soldiers who had been caught there earlier.

While the company was making its way across the flat, bothered more by the minefields than enemy fire, Capt. Dawson and one other man went on ahead to reconnoiter. 

When they were halfway up the hill, an enemy machine gun at the head of the small draw forced Dawson into cover behind a dead log.  Dawson sent his companion back to bring up the company.  That is when Dawson noticed another unit coming up from behind. 

Separated by 75 yards, Lieutenant John Spalding's section of Company E, 16th RGT, was climbing the other side of the draw at the same time as Dawson's company.  This unit quickly knocked out two machine gun placements and took a key prisoner.

Company E under Spalding had been aided in its advance by covering fire from Dawson's Company G on the other side of the ridge.  Now it was time to return the favor.  Dawson signaled to Spalding's unit to provide cover fire on the German machine gun unit at the very top. 

Using the distraction from the ensuing barrage, Dawson secretly crawled on his stomach from one patch of brush to another.  By the time Dawson was 75 yards from the gun, the enemy lost sight of him.  Circling to his left, he came to the crest of the ridge just a little beyond the machine gun.  He was now directly below the enemy and invisible.

Here is a modern day view of the ravine Dawson climbed.
The German machine gun nest was situated exactly where this lookout point is set today or slightly to the left.  Keep in mind this thick shrubbery was non-existent on D-Day.


Moving sideways to the left, Dawson got within 30 feet before the Germans spotted him and swung their weapon around.  Before they could fire, Dawson accurately threw a fragmentation grenade which killed the crew.

This dramatic action had just opened the way up the little draw.  Dawson climbed to the top and waited for his men to join him.  However it took some time to get Dawson's company up as a result of disorganization suffered in crossing the beach flat. 

Having eliminated three separate German resistance pockets on the ravine, men from both companies completed the climb at roughly the same time.   They gathered at the top of the hill to plan their next move.  In a conference held at the top of the bluff with a representative from Dawson's Company G, Spalding decided to take his men on a totally different route than Dawson. 


Spalding turned west along the bluff crest, losing contact with Company G as Dawson's unit headed south towards Colleville.

Moving through hedgerow fields and wooded areas, the Company E group came up on the rear of the strongpoint guarding E-1 draw (WN64).

The Germans were manning trenches overlooking the beach. The American attack from the forest at the rear of their post caught them by surprise.

In two hours of confused fighting, Spalding's men got through the outworks of this strongpoint and overcame opposition by close-in work with grenades and rifles.

The area opened up by Dawson's Company G and Spalding's Company E became the major funnel for movement off the beach throughout the rest of the morning.  

(Excerpt drawn from US Army Military History.
It has been paraphrased for 'readability')



Joseph Dawson continued...

Rick Archer's Note:

The U.S. Military History excerpt above gives strong hints as to what Dawson accomplished.  However I wish to add more details. 

The following excerpt is taken from Dawson's personal combat journal titled From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge

Col. Cole C. Kingseed was the co-author of this book.  Dawson's combat journal and personal recollections were edited by Col. Kingseed, the former chief military historian at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  Kingseed succeeded masterfully in capturing the essence of combat leadership through the actions of this citizen-warrior.

Before you begin, here is something to ponder. 

In Major League Baseball, the pitcher's mound is 60 feet from home plate. 

How would you feel about gambling your life on the accuracy of throwing a hand grenade at a German machine gun nest from 30 feet away? 


From Dawson's biography:

"Halfway up the slope, Capt. Dawson and PFC Frank Baldridge found themselves caught between the fire of their own men below and the enemy machine gun nest at the top of the draw.

Both men dived next to a fallen log for cover.  Dawson told Baldridge to leave his equipment behind and go back to bring up the rest of the company.

Immediately after that, Dawson spotted Lt John Spaulding coming up with remnants of his platoon from E Company.  Like Dawson, Spaulding's company had landed in the same 'blind spot' on the beach where the gunfire was weakest. 

This allowed Spalding to become one of the first officers to make it across the seawall.  His company had crossed the beach flat, cut through barbed wire, traversed the swamp, and avoided the minefields.  Now they began to climb the bluff.

Spalding's unit was close enough for Dawson to signal for help. Directing Spaulding to cover his advance across open ground.  Spaulding's fire from below distracted the Germans.  When he saw the Germans above duck for cover, he made his move.  Dawson used the distraction to proceed closer to the summit.

As Dawson neared the crest, the terrain changed.  Where Dawson had been climbing a gradual 40 degree slope, now he reached a ledge just below the crest that was nearly 80 degrees vertical.  Dawson had reached a point where the Germans could no longer see him.

As the machine gun busily fired downwards towards the beach, Dawson noticed an opening to his left.  Using the concealment, Dawson was able to circle around to the side of the machine gun nest unnoticed.  Aware of the danger, Dawson withdrew two grenades ahead of time and pulled the pins just in case. 

When he was 30 feet from the machine gun nest, the Germans spotted him at the same time he spotted them.  Instantly Dawson threw the grenades with their 4-second time delay.  Panic-stricken, the Germans swung their weapon around to shoot.  It was kill or be killed.  If Dawson missed his target, he would be cut to shreds.  Under extreme pressure, he threw a perfect strike from 30 feet to take out the German gunners. 

Finally the coast was clear.  Signaling to Spalding below, Dawson was soon joined by a couple other men.  There were still other German units operating nearby.  Dawson's gunfire kept the Germans pinned down to pave the way for Company E under Lt. Spalding to make it to the top of the hill unscathed."

One can assume the machine gun nest was somewhere close to those steps since it provided the best view of the terrain below.

Although the terrain has been landscaped and smoothed out, this picture demonstrates the sharp drop-off that allowed Dawson to sneak below the machine gun nest without being spotted. 

This is a guess, but Dawson likely circled to his left below and resurfaced where that small tree is at the top of the picture.  He was able to get within ten yards before the Germans saw him. 

Panic-stricken, the Germans swung their weapon around.  It was a remarkable do or die situation.  They were about 2 seconds too late.

Please keep in mind that Dawson threw his grenades from 30 feet away.  In other words, it took a PERFECT THROW to save his life.

How about that for drama?   If Dawson failed, all those men on the beach would have remained pinned down.  Dawson's heroism saved countless lives.


Footnote to Joseph Dawson's Story


Rick Archer's Note:  This story has explained how Joseph Dawson used his sense to override the game plan, then showed courage and ingenuity to become the first officer to reach the top of the ridge overlooking Omaha Beach.  His willingness to risk his own life was the key that opened up this entire area.  His actions were without a doubt heroic and brave.  However, Dawson wasn't finished.  In fact, he was just getting started.

Once at the top, Dawson led his men to his objective at Colleville-sur-Mer one mile inland.  They successfully overwhelmed the German outpost there.  Despite repeated German attacks, Company G held their highly vulnerable position at the forefront all day long.  That afternoon while holding his position, Dawson was wounded in the leg.  Although he would later be hospitalized for several weeks, throughout D-Day Dawson ignored his injury in order to keep his command until reinforcements arrived late in the day. 

Dawson would earn the Distinguished Service Cross for his service to America that day.  I understand that the DSC is a major honor, but personally speaking, I don't understand why Dawson didn't get the Medal of Honor.  Without his fateful Breakthrough, who knows how many more lives would have been lost down on the beach?  There were many heroes at D-Day and many brave men.  However, to my way of thinking, it was Joseph Dawson above all who rescued the American attack from the jaws of almost certain defeat. 

Joseph Dawson deserves a far more prominent position in the history of D-Day at Omaha Beach.


Philip Streczyk, the other Unsung Hero

Rick Archer's Note:  

The term 'Unsung Hero' applies to many men on D-Day.  With the passage of time, the names of the men who made D-Day a success fade from memory.

Best remembered is General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during this operation.  It probably helps that Eisenhower later became President of the United States. 

Many people remember Omar Bradley, a talented General in his own right.  It probably helps that Bradley played a major part in the Oscar-winning movie Patton.

When comes Major General Leonard Gerow, however, that is when I have to drop out of the name game.  I have never heard of Leonard Gerow... and that leads me to my next point... there are many heroes we have never heard of.

For example, most of you have heard of war hero Audie Murphy.  And why is that?  Murphy played himself in one of the most famous war movies of all time, To Hell and Back.  

There is an excellent chance that Joseph Dawson and Philip Streczyk matched the heroic Audie Murphy deed for deed, yet virtually no one has ever heard of either man. 

So what did Philip Streczyk do?  Study the map below.  Streczyk took out the resistance unit known as WN64 virtually single-handed.


Philip Streczyk was a true 'Unsung Hero'.  Let me offer a simple example.  The U.S. Army Military History recap of Omaha Beach contains the map above.  It has 192 pages.  In this volume, Joseph Dawson was mentioned 3 times.  John Spalding, leader of Philip Streczyk's unit, was mentioned 8 times.  Philip Streczyk was not mentioned once.  And yet the insiders report that Streczyk practically took out an entire German Resistance Unit singlehanded via intense hand to hand combat. 

The story of Philip Streczyk is an awkward story to write about.  Company E had two leaders.  One was Lt. John Spalding who was brand new to the unit.  Fresh out of military school, Spalding had taken over in England just weeks before D-Day.  This was his first command.

The de facto leader of the group was a crack sergeant named Philip Streczyk who had been with the men since Africa and Sicily.  Streczyk was like a cobra when it came to fighting Germans.  Tough, brave, crafty, and more than slightly loony, Streczyk had the kind of guts and fighting skills reminiscent of Audie Murphy, the famous war hero.  Streczyk was a leader too.  Streczyk's men would follow him anywhere, and so they did into the dangerous bunkers of WN64.

Although Spalding did a creditable job of leadership, it seems that Streczyk, his second in command, was the guy who deserved the lion's share of the credit.  However, knowing how the military works, Spalding's name will always come first.  Is that fair?  Well, probably not, but it is what it is. 

After you read my story, it will become obvious who the real hero was.  Dawson's action created the first breach of the day.  And into that breach came another hero, Philip Streczyk.  Streczyk led the charge to eliminate the first Resistance Nest of the day, WN64.  Together, these two heroes opened the door for the amazing comeback victory at Omaha Beach.


Take Down of WN64 and Subsequent Breakthrough


After Dawson cleared out the main defense at the top of the bluff, Lieutenant Spalding's men were able to climb the rest of the way safely. 

The two units had worked perfectly together during Dawson's precarious climb up the ravine.  Thanks to teamwork, it was the gunfire of Spalding's Company E that allowed Dawson to sneak behind the machine gun nest. 

Then Dawson and two other men returned the favor by firing at another position until Company E could make it to the top.

While Dawson awaited for his own men to arrive, he sent a man over to confer with Spalding.  At the conference, Spalding and Streczyk decided to take their company on a lateral path across the hill in search of WN64

Their route took them through a heavily wooded area.  This forest would later be cut down to make room for the cemetery after the battle.


To their surprise, they stumbled across Widerstandsnester 64 by accident. 

WN64 was masterfully disguised.  Rommel put it underground on the side of a cliff.  The forest was thick and the WN64 trenches were cleverly concealed.  Spalding's unit had no idea the Germans were there until they passed a suspicious air tube jutting up from the ground.  

While conducting surveillance, Spalding's company heard gunfire.  Based on their position, they guessed they had found WN64, the German strongpoint that was guarding the St. Laurent Draw at Exit E-1. 

There was no question they had to attack.  But how?  Their small company of 20 was badly outnumbered by the Germans.  However, they were coming undetected behind the Germans.  This gave them the element of surprise. 

Lt Spalding wisely asked Sgt Streczyk to lead the attack.  Streczyk, a born fighter, was more than willing to take the risk. 

Thanks to the noise of the battlefield and the concealment of the forest, Streczyk and his small detachment was able to sneak up on one underground bunker or trench at a time.  They would either eliminate the Germans or force them to surrender. 

Then they would move on to the next target.  Amazingly, they were so quick and there was so much battlefield noise that the Germans never discovered the American presence until it was too late. 

After brutal hand-to-hand combat in a half dozen different skirmishes, Streczyk and Company E finally subdued the Germans.

The fighting had taken over two hours.  The stealth attack had been a dangerous plan.  One mistake and anyone with an automatic weapon could have wiped them all out.  But it was worth the risk. 

WN64 became the first German Resistance Unit to fall that day.

The news quickly got better. Now that WN64 had fallen, men down on the beach were able to use the breach established by Dawson's Company G and Spalding's Company E to safely reach the top of the hill.  From there, they snuck in from behind to put a decisive end to the deadly WN62 defensive position.  It took most of the day, but the Americans were finally able to interrupt the killing spree of Heinrich Severloh, the Butcher of Omaha.

Although Dawson himself did not take out WN62, it was his ability to put the gunners at the top out of commission that cleared the way.  Dawson's bravery allowed others to finish the job for him.

As for WN64, Streczyk took the baton from Dawson and searched the thick forest for the hidden fortification.  Although they were badly out-manned once they discovered the secret location, the unit courageously annihilated by attacking from the rear one bunker at a time. 

WN64 and WN62 were finally gone.

The irony here is that neither position was taken using the original planned frontal attack.  Thank goodness Dawson decided to improvise. 


Joseph Dawson and Philip Streczyk had secured the first safe route to the top of the bluff.  Now that this section of the beach was safe for every man and boat to land, a steady stream of GIs climbed the hill and fanned out throughout the day.  Dawson and Streczyk had created the Breakthrough

The Americans finally had their objective.  With these two defensive positions subdued, there was finally a sector on the beach that was safe from enemy fire.  The men were not pinned down any longer.  Better yet, two valleys were now under American control.  American tanks began to roll onto the beach and into the countryside.  The Panzer threat was gone. 

Rick Archer's Note:

If you ever get the chance to visit the Normandy American Memorial, be sure to visit the Viewing Platform shown in the picture on the right (located at the Yellow X).

It is fascinating to note the main View Point at the Omaha Beach Memorial is also the exact place where Dawson's heroic effort completely changed the course of the entire battle.

This is the spot where Dawson used two hand grenades to plunge his stake into the heart of the Nazi Empire!   

So why is there no recognition?  Because the historians have largely overlooked the dramatic contribution of Joe Dawson. 

What bothers me is that no one knows this.  For example, I stood at the Viewing Point listening to a guide.  He didn't have a clue.  Nor are there any historical markers.

We now know a lot of history passed through this very spot on D-Day.  As you gaze out at the sea and look down at the ravine below, be sure to remember this is the exact spot where Joseph Dawson made the first breach of the day in the German defenses.

I think there should be a sign or statue at this viewpoint to commemorate this amazing accomplishment. 

Perhaps someone who reads my story will know the right person to contact to rectify this omission.  A simple explanatory plaque would help visitors learn what the American heroes did here on that fateful day.  They will be amazed and proud of these men.

It is high time that Joseph Dawson received more credit for what he did.   And I think another plaque should be erected in Philip Streczyk's honor where WN64 once stood as well.

In my opinion, Dawson and Streczyk belong right up there next to Audie Murphy in America's pantheon of war heroes.

(This was written in 2011.  Things have improved.  In 2018, the Ravine route was renamed for Captain Dawson.  It is now known as 'Dawson's Draw'.)

It is no coincidence the Cemetery lies next to Joe Dawson's Breakthrough Point.  Dawson went up this hill specifically to avoid the killing fields of WN62.  After the battle, 1,000 bodies lay on the beach at the footstep of WN62.  Consequently the forested area at the top of the hill became the most logical place to bury the dead.  


The Origin of Rick Archer's D-Day Story


Rick Archer


Rick Archer's Note: 

You have just finished reading the 'Short Version' of my article on D-Day and Omaha Beach. I hope you are sufficiently fascinated to begin reading my 'Long Version' of the same story.  I wrote the short version for busy people, but I promise you the long version is even better. 

So how much credibility does my story have?  That is an interesting question. 

For thirty years, I owned the country's largest independent social dance studio.  A nice accomplishment, but not exactly the background one would assume for a battle historian. 

(Rick Archer Bio, contact Rick Archer: dance@ssqq.com )

I fully acknowledge that I do not know a great deal of military history.  Therefore my story should be a considered a fluke of sorts, an accidental stumble like finding buried treasure on a beach.  I began this story as a recap of my visit to Omaha Beach during my 2010 cruise trip.  I thought my friends in our Travel Group would enjoy a brief synopsis of the story of D-Day after we visited the location. 

All I intended to do was write an edited version of what happened on that terrible day at Omaha Beach.  However, once I started my research, I was much too amazed at what I discovered to stop writing.  So I kept digging around.

My first insight came when I visited 'John's Military History'.  I do not know who 'John' is, but he completely understood the connection between Dawson, Streczyk and that Viewing Platform.  In particular, on his Colleville page John included a remarkable picture. (see below)


In particular, the moment I saw that picture above, I realized it had been taken from the Viewing Platform.  I put two and two together and realized I had been standing on the exact spot where Joseph Dawson had taken out the machine gun nest.  Once I figured that out, I got goose bumps.  Now I was hooked big-time. 

I began my project by re-reading The Longest Day, the famous account of D-Day written by Cornelius Ryan in 1959.  Then I read Joseph Balkoski's Omaha Beach.  Then I visited Wikipedia for an overview.  Then I ran across Joe Dawson's personal combat journal From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge.  From there I began to comb the Internet for pictures and further information.  Finally I added pictures and observations gleaned from my visit to the Normandy American Memorial.

As you read my story, keep in mind that everything I have written was drawn from the writings and comments of others.  Born in 1949, I obviously did not participate in D-Day. 


Therefore I had no choice but to rely on the tales that I found on the Internet.  If you want to learn more, do the same thing I did - use Google!  Google Internet searches will help you gather almost all the details you could ever ask for.

My story is meant to be enjoyed as a fairly accurate short story on the events of the day.  However, I openly admit I may have misinterpreted some of the things I read, so please don't expect total historical accuracy.  Furthermore, since I am relying on the work of other people, I have no way of verifying their accuracy.  That said, my hunch is that my version is quite accurate.

I wish to add that I combined elements of different stories to make the saga more readable.  One of the problems of the different books about D-Day is that they skip around from one story to the next.  I understand why - each book was trying to tell the complete story.

Omaha Beach was just one of five beaches at Normandy.  There was also Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno.  Although Omaha Beach was very dramatic, every single landing point had amazing stories of its own.  The books about D-Day have no choice but to skip back and forth between all five beaches. 

I wanted to concentrate on Omaha Beach because that was where I visited.  However, I quickly learned that Omaha Beach was divided into ten different sectors.  Their codenames were Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red

I quickly discovered that every one of these sectors had its own amazing stories and brave heroes.  However, sad to say, there was no way I could do justice to all the amazing individual stories of Omaha Beach and keep the length down.  For every personal saga I covered, I was forced to omit many other equally amazing tales such as George Mabry and Frank Peregory.


Once I decided there was no way I could do justice to the drama of ten different sectors, I chose to concentrate my story on Easy Red, the sector I had visited.  I focused my story on Dawson and Streczyk, two individuals who did so many remarkable things.  By taking different accounts of the same incidents, I wove them together like making a quilt out of patches.

Let me add that I found several 'contradictions' in these stories that I had no way of reconciling. 

Therefore I beg that everyone read this story with the understanding that this is NOT a 'scholarly work', but rather a collection of interesting tales that are meant to give insight into the amazing event. 

And now let's begin the Long Version of my story! 

Rick Archer


Chapter One
- Before D-Day



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