June 7, 2016
My Operation D-Day Experiences
George Lage was a Battalion Surgeon with the 101st Airborne 2/502nd Pathfinders. His daughter and son in law, Brenda and Alan Mitchell, have made available letters Doc Lage wrote to his wife about the D-Day landing which I reproduce here.
Part 2 of 3
My Operation D-Day Experiences
Somewhere in England
August 10, 1944
Dr. George H. Lage and his medics in Normandy, D-Day
Photo courtesy Dr. George H. Lage and the Lage Family.
I’ll try to write another chapter of my D-Day experiences. In my last letter we had just gotten to the crossroads where some paratroopers were pinned down by machine gun fire from two angles. As we came up, a private from that group came to me and reported the situation. He described what they knew of the enemy, what their positions were and what weapons they had.
I found that the rest of our original column had not passed here which surprised me as I hadn’t seen any place for them to turn off between the two points. I knew I couldn’t walk much further as my ankles were giving me a lot of trouble. Also the four other injured men with me couldn’t go much further, so I decided to throw in my lot in with these fellows.
Being a medical officer I am not supposed to know anything about military tactics, but being in a spot, I put the little knowledge I had absorbed by association into practice. We set up our machine guns in a better position and sent two patrols to find out what was in front of us. (Our orders had been when we went in we were not supposed to fire any weapons because of danger of hitting our own men, but now because we were scattered so badly, it was every man for himself.)
By this time the injured lieutenant had come up. I had set up a temporary Aid Station by the side of the road and fixed up the boys with sprained ankles and knees temporarily so that they would be able to go with us. I then had the lieutenant take over the tactical situation as he knew a lot more about it than I did.
About this time, we heard a lot of shooting going on not very far away and bullets began whistling over our heads. This was German fire. Then soon we heard our answering fire. After 15 minutes, one man came back and said there was a group of 5 buildings about a quarter mile down the road and the Germans had been driven out. This was about 2:30 A.M.
We left a machine gun and three men to guard this road junction and the rest of us moved very cautiously into the village. The first thing we did was to cut all of the telephone and electric lines to disrupt any communication. We then inspected the buildings and found hot coals in the fireplaces of two of them showing that they had been occupied only a short time before. The next morning we learned that the French people who lived there had been having a party and the Germans had made everyone leave for protection.
I picked out the best building I could find, inspected it for booby traps, then set up my Aid station in it. I had one aid man with me. This part of the house had a small bedroom 8x10’ and a larger room about 10x15’ with a fireplace. This room was used as a living room and kitchen. There were some dirty dishes and pots giving evidence that people had left in a hurry. The house had shutters and so was blacked out. I had some candles and flashlights with me and very soon was ready to take care of cases.
When we went into the village we had about 10 or 12 men and within an hour, 10 more had drifted in. As fast as a man with a weapon came in we would send him out to help man our defensive line about the building. During the next half hour, another medical officer, a dental officer, and 4 aid men came in with a large load of supplies. These men were from the 506. I knew them so we were soon set up for anything medically as we had enough personnel and supplies and a place to work. This was about 4:00 A.M.
Then another of my aid men turned up and said he knew where a bundle of machine guns and ammunition was. It was in the middle of a field surrounded by Germans, but three fellows took off to get it. They were gone about a half hour and I was beginning to worry that they had been shot or captured when they showed up with 2 machine guns, lots of ammunition, and a Bazooka with a couple of rounds of ammunition for it. By this time we were very well armed, had a fairly good force of men and more men were turning up all the time.
About 5 A.M. the gliders began to come in. In the meantime, two of our men had been badly wounded in their legs while knocking out machine gun nests. They had knocked out one, but then were hit by another nest across the road. We had brought them back, and were busy giving them plasma treatment, when a couple of the gliders crash-landed near us. Part of our boys immediately went out to cover the landing and protect the glider riders from machine gun and sniper fire. A few of the glider men were injured in the crash landings and so they were brought into the Aid Station and treated, the rest of them formed into their groups and joined their outfits.
Doc Lage's ID card
Photo courtesy Dr. George H. Lage and the Lage Family.
About this time we found out where we were - about 6 miles from our objective, but only one mile from the 506 command post (C.P.) so we decided to stay and fight with them as we knew there were many enemy between us and our objective. Also we had been told that if any of us were lost, we were to hook up with the first outfit we found until such time that we could get back to our own outfit. Between us and the 506 C.P., however, there were enemy snipers and machine guns that had to be cleared out first. This was done by 10:15 A.M.
About 6 A.M., it seemed that all Hell had suddenly broken loose when bullets started hitting the house and all around it. A force of Germans had started a counterattack. Every available man and weapon was sent out to repulse it. After about an hour of pretty heavy hot fighting the Germans were driven back so our boys kept right on pushing them on the run. We had only 3 or 4 wounded and a couple killed, but the Germans lost 10 to our one. Shortly after this fight the rest of the 30 men I was with showed up. They had heard the fighting so came to join in the fun. It was their timely arrival that helped us drive the Germans back. The wounded were taken care of and everything seemed quiet for the moment. We started to eat breakfast when a runner from the C.P. came over and told us to attack a gun position containing 8-105 mm guns which were aimed to repel any beach landing.
This position was less than 1/2 mile from where we were located and it was the Germans manning those guns, who we had been having fun with. This was about 7:30 A.M. About this time another counter attack started, but this time they were using mortars which made it much more dangerous. Because the boys’ breakfast was interrupted, it made them mad so we opened up with everything we had: A few tommy guns, rifles and 3 machine guns. We held our own for about a half hour and bullets would go whizzing by the building as if they meant business. One of the boys grabbed a machine gun and went up into an attic window firing it from the hip. This new position gave us the advantage. The Germans moved back with our boys on their heels. We captured the gun positions killing about a hundred Germans and taking 30 prisoners. Of this 30 about 20 were wounded so our medical force had a busy time until they were patched up. This was about 11 A.M. and things were quiet again.
Some of the boys on patrol came across a wrecked glider containing a jeep that had been abandoned so they pried it out, picking up a trailer someplace, and came riding in like kings. This was all very serious business, but everybody was having the time of their lives. Their confidence was building up every minute and I don’t think anybody could beat these fellows by now.
The boys gave me the jeep to use as an ambulance. I got me a driver, and set off to find a place to take our patients to. Our road between our place and the C.P. had been cleared except for occasional snipers. I had made some red cross flags using red & white parachute material, so we thought I was fairly safe in driving off. I guess I was, because the snipers missed me as we drove along. We would tear down a stretch of road ‘til we came to a curve, then go very cautiously ‘til we knew there weren’t any enemy waiting, then tear off again!
We located the Division C.P. and they were starting to set up a hospital as the supplies and personnel had come in by glider. We turned about and dashed back to our little outpost, and thus started evacuation of our patients. On the first trip back I found 4 of my 8 re-supply bundles that I had dropped the night before so drove out into the field and picked them up. We could see Germans about 200 yards from us across a field, but they didn’t attempt to shoot at us. (I don’t know why unless they thought there were more paratroopers about) From that time on, we had lots of medical supplies. We had transportation, K-Rations, and supplies of all kinds, so we were pretty well set up.
Our force then began spreading out in a circle sweeping everything in front of us and as we made contact with units on either side, we kept strengthening our position. During the afternoon an occasional German sniper would get foolish and take a potshot at somebody, so about 3 or 4 boys would pick up their guns and go after him. Sometimes it would take only a few minutes to locate him and sometimes they hunted for a couple of hours, but they always got him. Snipers weren’t taken prisoner. Three boys went out one time and brought back 15 prisoners who had been hiding a half mile away. The Germans were scared to death and no fight left in them. Our boys came marching back in and had a smug grin like a cat who had swallowed a canary. We got a lot of information from them and found out where some more Germans were hiding. These other Germans then had to be persuaded that paratroopers were better - so only a few prisoners were brought back from that patrol.
The afternoon was quiet except for these scouting parties. I got a couple of hours sleep and something to eat so felt better as I was about all in. By this time, I could barely hobble about because my ankles were so sore and swollen. By now I was afraid to take my boots off because I knew I would never get them back on again! We had been so busy up ‘til this time, I hadn’t had time to do anything about them anyway and now it was too late. The other medical officers tried to evacuate me, but I wouldn’t go. Now that I was there, I wanted to stay and see the rest of the action. I could work OK in the Aid Station and knew I was needed there so I made up my mind to stay.
About dusk more gliders came in and we had about a half dozen injured from them, which we fixed up and evacuated. Around this time mortar shells started dropping close to us, and it was getting pretty hot and unhealthy for a while, but we stuck it out and after about 15 minutes, it stopped. We set up our defenses for the nite and it was so well covered from every angle that I don’t think a cat could have slipped in without being noticed. After things were quiet, we slept in shifts - each of us got about two hours’ rest.
There were many other things that happened from the time we landed until the present time, but I am not going to say much about them as they are things I’d prefer to forget. These were some of the atrocities that the Germans did to some of the paratroopers. Many were shot as they were coming down, as was to be expected, but some of the cruel, cold-blooded things that some of the Germans did made us all see red and from that time on, we decided that if they wanted to fight dirty we could too. We took very few prisoners compared to the number we could have just for that reason. The others didn’t get away, either. At first we averaged 15-20 Germans killed for every one of our boys killed. This war business is ghastly business even at best, but can be terribly horrible in some respects. Thank goodness we didn’t run up against very many fanatical Germans at first as we did later. Most of them were young kids from 14-20 years old and had been forced to go into the army to fight. Some would have given up without firing a shot, but they would have been shot by their own officer if they had.
Darling, I’m going to close this chapter now and go to bed so will continue in the next letter.
Good nite my love.
All my love and kisses,
The war is endlessly fascinating for me. I was born in Berlin ten months before the breakout of the war in September 1939. I was raised in wartime Hungary. My earliest memories are of war. It’s like a slideshow of disjointed images. I was too young to understand and to be scared. It was only as an adult that I understood how lucky I was to come out of it alive. As an adult I also understood that had it not been for the Allies I probably would not have survived, my brother didn’t. I owe these men and women a huge debt of gratitude.
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