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The 13 Amplifier Unit in the Liberation of Cherbourg

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The 13 Amplifier Unit was mobilised on 14th April 1944. Along with four other Amplifier Units and their accompanying Leaflet Units,  its function was to provide mobile loudspeaker support for Allied psychological warfare, consolidation and civil affairs activities for Operation Overlord. The 13 AU landed in France on the late afternoon of 10th June, a fortnight later it made probably its most valuable effort when broadcasts by the unit directly netted around 1,200 German prisoners of war and was instrumental in the capture of the French port of Cherbourg. The after action report reproduced here from the 21st Army Group Publicity and Psychological Warfare war diary recounts these events.

An Allied broadcast truck directing civilians in recently liberated Cherbourg

An Allied broadcast truck directing civilians in recently liberated Cherbourg

SUBJECT: Operations of No. 13 Amplifier Unit Against the CHERBOURG Garrison on 26-27 June 1914.


On the afternoon of the 26th of June, No. 13 A. U. brought about the surrender of a group of 600 German officers and men holding out in a thick wood on the front of 79 Division, the operation being performed at the request of this formation.

On the morning of the 27th of June, the Unit moved across the 9 Division at the request of the Commanding General, and brought about the complete surrender of the CHERBOURG arsenal containing 600-700 officers and men.

The Arsenal was the most strongly fortified position in the CHERBOURG defences, and its reduction without fighting was thought to have saved appreciable loss of life on both sides.

The entire crew of 13 A.U. - CSM CAMP, Sgt CONRAD, L/Cpl JONES, and Dvr RUSE have been awarded the Bronze Star by the Commanding General 1st U.S. Army.

Both operations were performed at short range in daylight in a soft vehicle in front of the advanced American infantry elements.

Details of the two operations follow below.

CSM John Camp Bronze Star Award Recommendation

Recommendation for the award of a Bronze Star to CSM John Camp, 13th Amplifier Unit

2. Operation 26th June 44

On 26th June, 13 A. U. was asked for by Col. McMANN, commanding the 315 Field Battalion of the American 79th Division. On reporting to this Battalion front at 1500 hrs the position was as follows:-

In the woods nearby were thought to be about 200 enemy, mainly field Artillery. They had been fighting for about two days, but Col. McMANN was of the opinion that if they knew that they would be treated humanely as prisoners of war, they would surrender. The van was accordingly moved into position in a narrow well-wooded lane, approximately 250 yards from the main enemy position. Col. McMANN spoke to them from the van, this being followed by an extempore speech in German by Sgt CONRAD after a speech in Polish by Mr. Severin KAVEN.

The gist of the three speeches was as follows:-

‘Your position is hopeless. If you come over to us you will be treated as honourable prisoners of war. If you insist on fighting this out, you will sacrifice your lives in vain. It is for you to decide whether you desire to see the Fatherland again or to be buried here in France. You have 10 minutes in which to decide. Should you decide to come over, you will approach this van with your hands on your head, and showing a white emblem.’

Slowly the minutes were counted out. The infantry unit that had been attacking this enemy position waited in the lane. At the end of five minutes the first German was seen approaching the van, followed by several dozen more.

At the same time more Germans were seen coming in across the fields. Within a short space of time enemy troops were pouring in from all sides until about 600 had congregated. They were marshalled some distance away and the officers were then awaited.

A few minutes after the last man had surrendered, the German Captain, together with his lieutenant and C.S.M. appeared.

He reported to Col. McMANN and informed him that the Colonel commanding the unit would not surrender until the conditions were made honourable. It appeared that the German Commander desired the American troops to throw phosphorus grenades into his position, as he had no answer to phosphorus. Six grenades were thereupon produced and thrown. The exploded grenades were then inspected by the Germany party, who appeared satisfied, and the unit as a whole was then considered to have surrendered.

The Amplifier van then continued round the district broadcasting to any Germans who might not have heard the first announcement and a few stragglers surrendered to the van. The entire party of 600 men then were marched to the Prisoner of War Interrogation Centre, the Amplifier Van bringing up the rear.

3. Operation 27 June 44

At the request of Commanding General, 9 Division, No. 13 A.U. entered CHERBOURG at 0700 hrs the following morning to operate against defences still holding out. Here the position was as follows:-

Approximately 600 man, consisting of the garrison of CHERBOURG ARSENAL and commanded by a General,[Generalmajor Robert Sattler] were holding out in the Arsenal itself, the most strongly fortified position in the port. The main body were below ground in subterranean positions which went down to a depth of 80 feet. They had been attacked for three days, and although they knew that General von SCHLIEBEN, the Commander of the German forces in CHERBOURG, and Admiral HENNECKE commanding the naval forces, had surrendered the previous day, they would not give in. Although the position was hopeless for them, they had plenty of food and ammunition and it was thought that they could have held out in this position for a considerable time, although bombed incessantly.

The van was brought into position about 500 yards from the Arsenal wall and a speech to the garrison troops was then delivered by Sgt CONRAD in German and by Mr. KAVEN in Polish, on the following lines: -

‘This is an appeal by the American General commanding the U.S. troops for honourable surrender. General von SCHLIEBEN and Admiral HENNECKE and their staffs, together with 10,000 men gave up yesterday. Your position is just as hopeless. You have fought bravely and distinguished yourselves. You have done honour to your country. But further resistance means that you wil sacrifice your lives in vain. If you come over to us you will be treated honourably as Prisoners of War, you will have good food and treatment, you will be cared for in our hospitals and you will have mail from home. You have ten minutes to make up your minds. It is now two minutes past 9. If by twelve minutes past 9 an officer of your unit, carrying a white flag does not appear, you will be reduced to dust by our artillery, which is awaiting our orders. This is your last chance to save your lives with honour’.

At 0910 hours several white flags were seen flying from the Arsenal. The German officer who came to negotiate said that the men would come out immediately but the General himself would not officially surrender unless he were shown a tank. A Sherman tank was then brought to the Arsenal walls, and the General then considered that he had been subjected to a tank-attack and could surrender honourably

Among the prisoners taken on this occasion were several Russian civilians who were so overcome with emotion at their liberation that they insisted on kissing personnel of the Amplifier Unit.

An interesting sidelight on this operation is that prisoners and Officers captured on 26 June said that although most of CHERBOURG had fallen, the troops in the Arsenal would never give up as their position was absolutely impregnable.

c/o 2nd Army HQ, C.A.

29th June [1944]

(Signed) Gordon Shepherd, Major, G.S.

[Source TNA: WO 171/168, transcribed by]



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