Story of the Day for Monday August 20, 2012
The Gift You’re Given
The eye isn’t able to say to the hand, “I don’t need you.”
On June 6, 1944, Allied forces staged the largest-ever amphibious assault and established a foothold on European soil.
Nazi commanders, however, knew the invasion was coming. Once a beachhead was established, their strategy was to advance their formidable tank divisions and destroy the Allied forces – who were backed up by the sea and had no means of escape.
Germany’s fearsome 2nd SS Panzer Division was ordered to advance. The division’s new Tigers were the best tanks yet produced. Yet, because of its formidable size (sixty-three tons), the Tiger was a gas-guzzler – getting only a half mile to the gallon. In addition, the steel tracks wore out quickly on highway travel. The Germans had to move the tank division into position by railroad.
To prevent air attacks, the rail cars were carefully camoflauged at village railway sidings in the area of Montabuban. These transport cars were unguarded.
In his book, D-Day, Stephen Ambrose narrates the actions of a sixteen-year-old girl named Tetty. Joined by her boyfriend and fourteen-year-old sister, Tetty would slip out in the dark on bicycle and siphon off the axle oil from the railroad cars and replace it with an abrasive powder.
When the Allied invasion hit the shores of Normandy, the Germans loaded their Tigers onto the railroad cars and prepared their counterattack. But every railroad car soon seized up and the damage to the axles was so extensive they couldn’t be repaired. The German division was stuck in southern France and couldn’t find replacement railroad cars for a week.
By the time they were able to move, the French Resistance was in place to harass any movement by rail.
Instead of arriving while the Allies were pinned down on the beaches, the German division didn’t reach the front until seventeen days later—when the Allied forces had already been able to organize, advance, and disperse.
So, did a French teenager prevent the annihilation of the Allies’ precarious foothold on the continent? Did her brave action tip the balance, which enabled us to eventually win the war?
I don’t know. But I do know that she did what she could.