Monday, 22 June 2009

D-Day, Normandy, June 6th 1944 – 65 Years On

Sword Beach[1] - 07:25 a.m. June 6th 1944

Lord Lovat, CO of 1st Special Service Brigade, on the right of the column, wades through the water. in the foreground is Piper Bill Millin

By Alan O'Reilly

Introduction

65 years ago the men of D-Day fought for deliverance from dictatorship. Their efforts should never be forgotten.

Hitler’s Empire

Chester Wilmot[2] writes that “In the summer of 1942 four hundred million people in Europe lay under the yoke of German rule. The empire of Adolph Hitler...stretched from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, from the English Channel to the Black Sea and almost to the Caspian.”

By the spring of 1944, most of continental Europe remained under the German yoke. However, the yoke was about to be broken, by means of D-Day.

Command Decision

But D-Day depended on the weather and a storm was raging. The invasion, scheduled for June 5th, was postponed for 24 hours. Transports underway were ordered back to harbour. Wilmot writes “As Sunday, the 4th, dragged on, the storm gathered in fury...A surging wind drove white breakers against the fog-bound beaches of Normandy...Out in the Channel, the recalled convoys, punching into a head sea, strove to reach the shelter of Weymouth bay...In the crowded harbours from Falmouth to Harwich the rest of the armada tossed uneasily and tugged at its anchors. Many of the hundred thousand troops who were packed in their ships had already needed their anti-sea-sickness pills.”

Cornelius Ryan[3] describes how on June 4th, the C-in-C, U.S. General Eisenhower, reached his fateful decision about the re-scheduled D-Day.

“Shortly before nine-thirty that night, Eisenhower’s senior commanders and their chiefs of staff gathered in the library of Southwick House [Allied HQ]...”

Eisenhower entered at 9:30 p.m. and with his commanders reviewed the weather forecast, “a barely tolerable period of fair conditions...would prevail for just a little more than twenty-four hours” for June 5th-6th. Eisenhower then made his decision. “Tuesday, June 6, would be D-Day.”

Assembled Armada

The Imperial War Museum[4] states that, “More than 7,000 warships, landing craft and merchant vessels were assembled to carry, escort and support five army divisions – some 130,000 British, US and Canadian troops – across the channel on the first day of the attack. Thousands more airborne troops were ready to seize and hold the flanks of the invasion beaches to prevent German counter-attacks in the critical hours following the landings. Air force bombers and fighters flew more than 14,000 missions on D-Day alone.”

D-Day is a vast subject[5] and can only be outlined here, specifically the British effort, beginning on the night of June 5th with the 6th Airborne Division.

6th Airborne Objectives

Wilmot describes 6th Airborne’s vital tasks, “that of seizing and holding the left flank of the bridgehead – the open flank against which the main weight of German counterattack was likely to fall as the panzer divisions moved in from their garrison areas south-east and east of Caen...”

Key objectives were the bridges across the Caen Canal and the Orne River and the Merville battery, east of the mouth of the Orne, which could fire on Sword Beach, the easternmost invasion beach. Glider-borne troops of D Company[6], 2nd Battalion, the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, commanded by Major John Howard, would capture the bridges. 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway, would capture the Merville battery.

The Bridges

Ryan writes that just after midnight on June 6th, “Like huge bats, the six gliders, each carrying approximately thirty men, swooped silently down...[heading] for two parallel waterways, shimmering in the moonlight, the Caen Canal and the Orne River...”

Three gliders aimed for each bridge. In one was 19-year-old Private Bill Gray.

“Private Bill Gray, a Bren gunner in one of the three gliders heading for the Caen Canal bridge, closed his eyes and braced himself for the crash...there was a splintering, rending crash. The undercarriage ripped off...the glider screeched across the ground throwing up a hail of sparks. With a sickening half-swing, the wrecked machine smashed to a halt, as Gray recalls, “with the nose buried in barbed wire and almost on the bridge.”

The other two gliders arrived seconds later and the assault began, as Ryan describes. “Someone yelled “Come on, lads!”...Now everybody stormed the bridge. There was bedlam. The Germans were shocked and disorganised. Grenades came hurtling into their dugouts and communication trenches. Some Germans...asleep in gun-pits woke to the blinding crash of explosions and found themselves gazing into the business ends of Sten guns...

“While teams mopped up resistance of the near side of the bridge, Gray and some forty men led by Lieutenant ‘Den’ Brotheridge charged across to seize the all important far bank...A few hundred yards ahead...the garrison [on the Orne bridge] had already been overrun... Stunned by the swiftness of the assault, the Germans were overwhelmed.” The battle lasted a mere 15 minutes.

But the attackers had suffered losses, including 28-year-old Lieutenant Brotheridge. Shot in the throat, he died shortly afterwards, the first Allied soldier killed in action on D-Day.

Awaiting reinforcements, the glider troops dug in to hold the bridges. They numbered only 150 but they had landed in the right place. Not so 9th Battalion.

The Merville Battery

As Ryan explains, the British paratroops suffered a scattered drop “over a huge area, victims of navigational errors, bucketing planes forced off course by flak fire, badly marked drop zones and gusty winds. Some were fortunate but hundreds fell anywhere from five to thirty-five miles from the drop zones.”

Colonel Otway could muster only 150 of his 700 men. A bombing attack on the battery had failed and gliders in support with demolition equipment and artillery pieces were lost. Moreover, Otway and his men “lay under heavy machine gun fire at the edge of the barbed wire and the minefields protecting the massive Merville battery...and, to take the battery with its garrison of two hundred, [Otway’s] soldiers had only their rifles, Sten guns, grenades, a few Bangalore torpedoes and one heavy machine gun...”

Undeterred, the paratroopers cut through the outer wire belt with wire-cutters. One group cleared a path through the outer minefield, crawling on their hands and knees under the moonlight, feeling for trip wires and prodding with their bayonets. The troopers then placed their Bangalore torpedoes against the inner belt of wire. Ryan describes the ensuing battle.

“With a blinding roar the Bangalore torpedoes blasted great gaps in the wire. Lieutenant Mike Dowling yelled, “Move up! Move up!”...Yelling and firing, Otway’s paratroopers plunged into the smoke of the explosions and through the wire...across the no-man’s land of minefields, manned trenches and gun-pits [to] the battery....machine-gun, Schmeisser and rifle fire poured out to meet them...Mines exploded...

“Now there were yells and screams and the flash of grenades as paratroopers piled into the trenches and fought hand to hand with the enemy...The battle was gory and wild.”

Overwhelming the Germans, Lieutenant Dowling’s party charged into the battery and disabled the guns, though not without cost. Ryan states “[Dowling] stood before the colonel, his right hand holding the left side of his chest. He said, “Battery taken as ordered, sir. Guns destroyed.”” In the short, 15-minute action, of his 150 men, Otway lost 70 killed or wounded, among them 21-year-old[7] Lieutenant Dowling. “He had been dying,” Ryan says, “at the time he made his report.” However, the Merville Battery was silenced. Now the seaborne invasion began, across beaches with names approved by the PM.

Sword, Juno and Gold – Churchill’s Choice

The Royal British Legion[8] states that, “Originally, the British and Canadian beaches had the codenames Goldfish, Swordfish and Jellyfish. For Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the names did not bear sufficient authority: ‘If men are being asked to die on and for these beaches, the names should be more dignified than “Jellyfish”.’ The names were changed, and for the last 65 years have been renowned as Gold, Sword [both British] and Juno [Canadian].”

Hobart’s ‘Funnies’ – Armoured Spearhead

The specialised 79th Armoured Division, known as “Hobo’s Funnies” after their commander, Major-General Sir P.C.S. Hobart, led the British and Canadian beach assaults. Its regiments included amphibious Sherman ‘Duplex Drive,’ DD tanks, with all-round canvas screens and propellers, enabling them to ‘swim’ from the landing craft, LCT-borne Sherman ‘Crab’ tanks with chain ‘flails’ for destroying mines and AVREs, Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers, Churchill tanks modified to carry bridging, gapping and road-laying equipment and a 12-inch ‘Petard’ spigot mortar, firing 40 lb ‘dustbin’ charges up to 90 yards to shatter concrete gun emplacements. 79th Armoured would lose 12 of 50 Crabs and 22 of 120 AVREs on D-Day, and sustain 169 casualties but Hobart’s Funnies[9] were destined for “a magnificent first day in action.” They would assault at H-Hour, 0730 hours for the British and Canadian beaches.

Sword Beach – Frogmen and Skirl of the Pipes

Ryan states that all along the British beaches, “The first men in had been the frogmen – 120 underwater demolition experts whose job it was to cut thirty-yard gaps through the [beach] obstacles.” These included jagged pyramids of welded steel called ‘Tetrahedra’ and ‘Hedgehogs,’ huge welded lengths of protruding angle iron, many fitted with mines. The frogmen blew up such obstacles as they could but, says Ryan, “Even as they worked, amphibious tanks came swimming in among them, followed almost immediately by first wave troops...landing craft, turned sideways by the heavy seas, crashed into the obstacles. Mines exploded, steel spikes and hedgehogs ripped along the hulls...landing craft began to founder.”

But the assault pushed on, against mixed resistance. Ryan writes “For most of the men the obstacles proved to be the toughest part of the assault. Once they were through these defences, troops found the enemy opposition...spotty [but] in some sectors first-wave troops were heavily machine-gunned and mortared. In the Ouistreham half of Sword [the eastern half], men of 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment lay dead or dying from the water’s edge all the way up the beach...the East Yorks suffered most of their two hundred D-Day casualties in these first few minutes...[But] although bloody, the beach fight was brief. Except for initial losses, the assault on Sword went forward speedily.”

Among the troops landing at Sword were commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade, led by Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser. According to Ryan, “As...Lord Lovat’s piper, William Millin [see picture]...floundered towards the shore, Lovat shouted at him, “Give us ‘Highland Laddie,’ man!” Waist deep in the water, Millin put the mouthpiece to his lips and splashed on through the surf, the pipes keening crazily.” Lovat’s commandos had a vital objective; relieve Major Howard’s men at the bridges.

It was as well therefore that progress from Sword was steady. R.W. Thompson states that “By 0930 hours, Hobart’s armour...had cleared seven lanes through the [beach] exits. [Now], the squadrons were rallying...to aid Commandos fighting for possession of the Ouistreham locks and for Lion-sur-Mer [on the western half of Sword] [and] to spearhead the infantry on the road to Caen.”

Major Howard’s company, reinforced by 7th Parachute Battalion, had been beating off repeated counter-attacks. By early afternoon, the jaded troopers, says Ryan, “anxiously awaited the link-up from the sea,” Bill Gray and his friend Private John Wilkes among them. Suddenly, the pair heard bagpipes.

Ryan states “Down the road came Lord Lovat’s commandos, cocky in their green berets. Bill Millin marched at the head of the column, his pipes blaring out “Blue Bonnets over the Border”...Disregarding the heavy German fire, the [6th Airborne] troopers rushed out to greet the commandos...As the red and green berets intermingled, there was a sudden, perceptible lightening of spirits. Nineteen-year-old Bill Gray felt “years younger.””

Sword was secure. Gold, the other British beach, was being secured.

Gold Beach – The One D-Day Victoria Cross

R.W. Thompson describes Gold as “a shallow arc streaked with treacherous strands of soft clay.” Behind it lay “to the west the powerful...fortified villages of Arromanches and le Hamel, and to the east, la Rivière.” Near la Rivière stood the Mont Fleury battery, an objective of the 6th Battalion Green Howards[10], who would suffer 100 casualties on D-Day and scene of D-Day’s only Victoria Cross, won by 31-year-old Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis, tough Teessider and veteran of Dunkirk, North Africa and Sicily.

As at Sword, mines disabled some of the armour and as Thompson relates, “On-coming craft, driven like surf boats by the strong wind and heavy seas, fouled obstacles and armour, creating a sense of chaos on the edge of the sea.” At Gold, the sea was too rough for the D-Day tanks to ‘swim’ in so they would later be landed dry and therefore, “the spearhead role belonged to the flails and their supporting AVREs.” At le Hamel and la Rivière, “the flails and the AVREs...fought their way with infantry across the beaches in the face of intense mortar, anti-tank, and machine-gun fire directed from well-sited pillboxes, and [fortified] houses linked together in systems of strongpoints...While petard tanks supporting the infantry blasted the coastal crust of strongpoints with their giant mortars, like ancient cannon, the bobbins [modified Churchills] laid [artificial road] mattresses over patches of soft blue clay, AVREs filled craters and anti-tank ditches with fascines...bridged culverts, and bulldozed tracks for the host of vehicles and men coming in fast on the rising tide. Within the hour, armour and infantry were more than a mile inland...”

Bovington Tank Museum historian David Fletcher adds[11] “A team of three AVREs on the beach at la Rivière was busily demolishing pillboxes but the infantry were pinned down by German troops lurking behind the sea-wall., who were lobbing grenades, firing machine guns and generally being a nuisance. The team leader, Captain D.A. King RE, led his and another AVRE in a charge up and over the wall, crashing down a 1.2 metre (4-foot drop) to the road on the far side, thereby putting a stop to the defenders’ activities.”

By 1100 hours, 7 exit lanes had been cleared on Gold Beach and the strongpoints of Arromanches, le Hamel and la Rivière fell by the end of D-Day. However, the 6th Green Howards’ assault on the Mont Fleury battery was held up by machine gun fire from a hidden pillbox. CSM Hollis described what happened next, as recorded by historian Mike Morgan.

“Major Lofthouse said to me, “there is a pillbox there, Sergeant Major.” Well, when he said that, I saw it. It was very well camouflaged and I saw these guns moving around in the slits. So I got my Sten gun and I rushed at it...spraying it hosepipe fashion. They fired back at me and they missed. I don’t know whether they were more panic stricken than me, but they must have been, and I got on top of it and I threw a grenade through the slit and it must have sickened them. I went round the back and went inside and there were two dead, quite a lot of prisoners. They were quite willing to forget all about the war.”

Mont Fleury was captured and CSM Hollis won the VC. His CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Robin Hastings, said “[CSM Hollis] was absolutely dedicated to winning the war – one of the few men I ever met who felt like that.”

But others, too, were dedicated, like the British Army military nursing Sisters.

Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service – Normandy Heroines

25-year-old Nursing Officer Brenda (n) McBryde[12], from Whitley Bay, served with the 75th British General Hospital and tended casualties on June 23rd, D+17.

“We entered the names of many famous regiments into the Admission Book that day: the Staffordshire Yeomanry, 4th Wilts, Dorsets, Green Howards, and East Yorks, men of the 7th Armoured Division and 50 (Northumbrian) Division. Most of their proud uniform, stiff with blood and caked in mud, had to be cut from them. We sliced through tough boots with razors to release shattered feet. The stretcher bearers came again and again until every trestle was occupied and the floor crammed so that there was barely room to put a foot or kneel between the stretchers...In the trauma of that first day, everything I had learnt during four hard years of training suddenly made sense...That tent, full of men, reeking of blood, was where I was needed. These men were my fulfilment...since they could no longer help themselves.”

The medical corps minimised the cost of D-Day but it was high, nevertheless.

Cost – and Retribution

The D-Day Museum[13] has a sobering revelation about the cost of D-Day. “The Allied casualties figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2500 dead... However recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate - and much higher - figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord [D-Day], and so far they have verified 2499 American D-Day fatalities and 1915 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4414 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2500 dead).”

The Allied cost of D-Day would mount until May 1945, when, in the words of U.S. President Truman[14], “The flags of freedom fly all over Europe.” In Great Britain, those flags are being lowered. They will not fly again until the betrayal of our country is punished as treason. That is what D-Day is all about.

Alan O’Reilly
June 2009

Sources

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_Beach

[2] The Struggle for Europe, Chester Wilmot

[3] The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan

[4] www.culture24.org.uk/places+to+go/london/art21042

[5] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_Landings

[6] Pegasus Bridge 6 June 1944, Stephen E. Ambrose

[7] D-Day, The Great Gamble, R.W. Thompson

[8] www.britishlegion.org.uk/media/66297/poppypress.pdf

[9] Churchill’s Secret Weapons, Patrick Delaforce, Hale, 2000.

[10] D-Day Hero, CSM Stanley Hollis VC, Mike Morgan

[11] Vanguard of Victory, David Fletcher

[12] A Nurse's War, Brenda McBryde

[13] www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/faq.htm

[14] The Last Hundred Days, John Toland

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15 comments:

Dr.D said...

A great article, Alan. Thank you.

I wonder how many will understand what it means? Not too many I fear.

alanorei said...

Thank you, Dr. D.

You are right, not as many as should.

We still have the freedom to remind them, though, thanks to D-Day and the hard-won battles in the bocage and hamlets of Normandy all those years ago.

Anonymous said...

Great Accounts of the D - day Landings. Brought a lump to my throat

18 k@rt said...

You have your Freedom? ha ha ha.

Your reward for "winning" the Second World War; is to lose your country to multi-culturalism.

Study the real history of the Second World War; not the Hooray we beat the Hun tosh that you learn in school!

teacher.paris said...

The vast majority of the troops landed on D-Day were heavily propagandized draftees with no option but to obey the orders of the the criminl cabal in Washington and London.

alanorei said...

Thanks, Anon 03:23, much appreciated.

Re: Criminal cabals, when appeasement doesn't work, try revisionism. For a real criminal cabal regime, read the history of the Channel Islands, June 1940-May 1945.

Re: the real history of WW2 and multi-culti-ism, read the last sentence of the article. I also seem to recall that VE and VJ Days commemorate the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers to the Allies, not the other way around.

Dr.D said...

"...the criminal cabal in Washington and London." What are you smoking/drinking teacher.paris? Do you really think Nazism would have been a good thing for the world?

On the contrary, they were patriots who saw their duty and did it, something that is rarely done in today's world. They saw something greater than their own lives and they were willing to give their lives for that. Shamefully, we have allowed that vision to be almost lost today when it is largely every man for himself and preferably more for me. These men understood duty, heroism, valor, self-sacrifice, the idea of putting their nation before themselves. Their heirs today are a disgusting lot, but it is not the fault of the men who fought and died; they gave their all that freedom might continue.

Anonymous said...

It is laughable that they pulled out all the stops to keep resiting the Germans with the RAF and the convoys across the atlantic, and then the enormous D day effort when you look at what happened next. Just 3 years after the end of the war the first boatloads of blacks arrived. I used to buy into the ww2 thing but not anymore. Its a sick jock. Films like Saving Private Ryan, especially the bit when they wipe out the Germans in the trenches make me sick. Why go to all that effort when there is no effort to stop blacks and muslims overruning the country afterwards.

Anonymous said...

and we are undergoing enforced dispossession, displacement and genocide of our people and country
Did the 2ww result in the Eu and its ''human rights''laws and the freedom of movement of peoples legislation?
Whilst both first and second world wars took out many generations of good men and women this kind of destruction , a kind of war is continuing via mass immigration/colonization of the UK and Europe

alanorei said...

Thanks, Dr. D, wholeheartedly agree

Re: Why go to all that effort when there is no effort to stop blacks and muslims overruning the country afterwards

There is an effort. It's called the BNP.

alanorei said...

Re: Did the 2ww result in the Eu and its ''human rights''laws and the freedom of movement of peoples legislation?

It was Plan B, after direct confrontation (WW2) had failed. The EU and Nazi blueprints for occupied Europe are virtually the same.

Re: immigration/colonisation, without WW2 including D-Day, Britain would have been subjected to that AND the Nazi occupiers. The Channel Islands were, 1940-45.

Dr.D said...

White civilization suffered a horrible blow in WW I and again in WW II. We lost countless thousand of our best young men dead and many thousands more mentally scared by the horrors they experienced. One of the very worst parts of it all is that we were fighting in large part our own people, the Germans. Ethnically, the English and the Germans are all cousins, and to expend such a horrific amount of energy and blood killing each other is a shame beyond measure.

The reaction to those two World Wars left the West wanting to avoid war in the extreme. Even the defeated Germans were glad that they had lost, and they have embraced some of the most extreme sorts of anti-militarism and made laws against denying the Holocaust. Every one on both sides was in a state of shock and fatigue to say the least.

Unfortunately there was little respite because by about 1950 the communist were pushing southwards in Korea with support from China and Russia. Those who had fought together to win WW II were back in it again to push back the communists in Korea, although all we ever managed was an armistice.

Young people today, who have never seen a war at all, never lived through any part of a war, cannot imagine how weary the world was of war by the mid-20th century. So why did they no do everything right? Why do young people today not get out and fight for their rights today? Freedom is never free! The tree of liberty only grows when watered with blood. It is very easy to sit back today in from of the TV and say, they messed it all up. What have you done about it? How many wars have you lived through? How many assaults have you made? How many foxholes have you dug? Until you can give an affirmative answer to those questions, you have nothing to complain about.

teacher.paris said...

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Maximilian List (b.February 9, 1910 in Munich) was an architect in Berlin who became an SS officer, involved in the operation of a number of Nazi concentration camps.
SS-Hauptsturmführer List moved from the Neuengamme concentration camp to become the commandant of Lager Sylt, a labour camp on Alderney. [In the Channel Islands] He commanded SS-Baubrigade I, arriving on the island on February 23, 1943. The camp housed the foreign workers for the Organization Todt which was building fortifications on the island. List had a chalet built in the style of Adolf Hitler’s Berghof outside the camp perimeter, with an underground passage linking it with the camp. This building was later moved to another part of the island. List later took full control of another camp, Lager Norderney.
In June 1943, workers being deported back to Neuengamme, probably to be exterminated [\Note: Unsubstantiated allegation.], but fled and a disciplinary enquiry against him took place in September 1943.[1] Subsequently to avoid a recurrence sick workers were killed on Alderney.[Note: Unsubstantiated allegation.] List left the island in March 1944, replaced by SS-Obersturmführer Georg Braun.
After World War II a court-martial case was prepared against List, citing atrocities on Alderney.[2] However, he did not stand trial, and is believed to have lived near Hamburg until his death in the 1980s.[3]
[Comment: Since the British were happy to hang Germans after World War II, it is significant that they were unwilling to try List for alleged atrocities.]

alanorei said...

Re: Maximilian List

His case isn't unique.

A number of high-profile Nazis escaped justice at Nuremberg. They had connections. See The Secret History of the Jesuits by Edmond Paris.

alanorei said...

Thanks again, Dr. D, very true.

Just because brave volunteers put out one arsonist's forest fire, it doesn't mean that some other demented pyromaniac won't start another conflagration.