~ D DAY LANDING INTERACTIVE ~
The image below is from a painting called
"Combined Operations - a Normandy Beachhead" by David A Thorp. It's set in
Normandy, early D-Day morning, June 6
1944. The coordinated sea, land and air operation to establish a beachhead,
from which to liberate Europe, was gaining momentum but the beaches and
their approaches, remained extremely hazardous.
Click on the map opposite to see the location of the beach and on the numbers
in the image below for an explanation of the key events and actions, or
just scroll down the page and let the story unfold.
The painting, from which the image above was taken, was gifted to the Combined
Operations Memorial Fund by military artist, David A Thorp, with consent to
produce a range of prints. The action portrayed in the painting did not happen
as a single event but did happen over a few hours on D Day morning.
This was the largest Combined Operation in history
and is unlikely to be surpassed, or repeated, because of changes in the conduct of
war since WW2. The objective was to land an overwhelming force of assault troops,
together with their supplies and
equipment, in pre-planned designated places at the right time and in sufficient
numbers. All other activity on land, sea and in the air, was in support of these
Because of the landing craft
chosen to appear in this painting, the honour of representing the hundreds of
thousands of Allied troops which landed on the Normandy beaches, fell to
the men of the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment of the 8th
Infantry Brigade of the 3rd British Division and the Royal Marines.
The assault infantry are moving
off the landing beach supported by a Bren Gun carrier, (25)
while a colour sergeant is holding aloft the battle flag
of the regiment. (26)
To carry the flag into action
was neither expected nor required by regulations because of
targeting by snipers. Whatever
motivated the colour sergeant that day, his action was unselfish and courageous
and no doubt promoted a spirit of camaraderie amongst the troops of the EYR.
At the water’s edge,
further infantry are dashing ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault), small
flat bottomed craft with a capacity to carry about 36 troops.
Earlier, the LCAs had been
into the waterfrom the troopship SS Empire Battleaxe
and had made their way to their designated landing area. Nearby,
a Sherman tank
momentarily takes up a position in support of the landing troops before leaving
the beach area. Meanwhile, more LCAs
from the ship are
heading for the beach.
carried in her davits the
18 craft of 537 LCA Flotilla, each with a crew of 4 and
space for 36 assault troops - a total of around 650 men on each full deployment
of the craft.
The Empire Battleaxe had a total capacity
of 1195 fully
She and many others ships destined for Sword beach that morning,
sailed from Spithead the previous evening arriving at
their place for disembarking her first batch of LCAs at 5.30 hrs, two hours
before H Hour.
H Hour, the time of the initial assault landings, varied from beach to beach
according to the passage of the tide along the Normandy coast.
At the appointed time, the Empire Battleaxe lowered her LCAs into the water, much as a modern ship
would lower her lifeboats during an emergency at sea.
The build-up of troops and equipment was
relentless and awe inspiring as LCAs 770, 429 and 778 (14)
poured more troops onto the landing beach. Progress was made but at considerable
cost in lives.
Further east along the
water's edge lie the bodies of men (21)
caught in a hail of gunfire as they landed. The bodies of others,
who drowned or were fatally wounded before they reached the landing beach, are
washing back and forth with the tide. No beach was free of such gory images and
in places the sea turned red. The wounded on the beach are receiving attention
from regimental medics (20)
as a chaplain kneels in prayer over a man close to death. Stretcher bearers
are transporting casualties to the relative safety of cover provided by an
embankment and parked vehicles.
Lancaster bombers (01)
are making their way inland from the beaches to bomb heavy gun emplacements,
enemy strong-points, fuel and ammunition dumps, troop concentrations, radar and
communications facilities and HQ buildings; mostly targets in support of the
advancing land forces. In the run up to D-Day their primary purpose had been to
destroy rail and road routes into Normandy to delay the arrival of enemy
reinforcements, although their area of operation was more extensive than
necessary to confuse the enemy. In this way the Allied plans for the invasion of
Normandy were not compromised. After D-Day, the
heavy bombers increasingly returned to operations
against strategic targets with the exception of the largest fixed defensive
installations that impeded the Allied advance in the battle grounds.
Air cover was provided by the RAF and USAF. The patrolling Spitfire (02)
is one of hundreds of Allied fighter aircraft of many types that took to the air
that day. Once the beachhead had been secured and the Allied Armies had moved
inland, fighters operated in support of the troops using the 'cab rank'
arrangement described below. As it happened, the Luftwaffe were conspicuously
absent for much of D-Day and when they finally made an appearance, they were very
few in number.
The versatile Mosquito light/medium bomber (03)
was used in many different roles. Here, it is responding to a request from the
advancing troops for support to clear an enemy strong point, successfully
avoiding the flashes of anti-aircraft flak in the process. Later, when Army and
RAF "Forward Air Controllers" were operating on, or near, the front line with RAF
radio equipment, requests for air support were channelled through them. 'Mossies'
were called upon so regularly that they circled in the forward areas like taxi
cabs cruising for a fare to allow them to respond very quickly to any request
Barrage Balloons (04)
were attached to many craft to deter low level strafing and bombing attacks by
enemy planes. Although not clearly visible in the painting, the tethering cables
were lethal obstacles to low flying aircraft. However, not everyone aboard the
landing craft felt they were a power for good. Some believed the balloons could
be used by enemy observers to pin-point the location of their craft, thereby
increasing the accuracy of the enemy's fire.
On the horizon far out to sea, (05)
battleships, cruisers and destroyers had completed their shelling of the beach
area but they remained on station to shell predetermined targets inland of the
beaches or specific targets identified by observers and the advancing troops. LCT(R)s (Landing Craft Tank Rocket) had fired salvos of rocket propelled bombs
onto the landing beaches in advance of the assault troops to soften up the enemy
defences and salvos of spigot bombs had been fired from LCA(HR)s (Landing Craft
Assault Hedgerow). Hedgerow was the code for spigot bombs launched in salvos,
while fairly close to the shoreline onto the landing beaches. The pressure wave
they created detonated mines blocking exit routes from the beaches.
HQ ships of many types also occupied
these waters at varying distances, as they received information on the progress
of the invasion and intelligence on enemy activity. Much of the information came
from the three Fighter Direction Tenders, converted LSTs
(Landing Ship Tanks). These craft were close to 400 ft long and normally carried
heavy tanks and large lorries. However, instead
the above deck area of the FDTs bristled with radio aerials and rotating
radar gantries. The main HQ ship off Sword, HMS Largs, used the
information from the FDTs to call on the support of the RAF and the Navy's big
guns while the smaller HQ craft controlled the flow of landing craft to and from
the beaches according to need and priorities .
The 2nd East
Yorkshires were supported by ‘swimming tanks’, more properly called DD or Duplex
They were Sherman tanks of ‘B’ Squadron of the 13th/18th
Hussars of the 27th Armoured Brigade carried by Mk3 LCTs of the 14th
LCT Flotilla of E Squadron Landing Craft under the command of Acting Commander
Kenneth Sellar RN. Prior to launching, their floatation skirts were raised and
secured in place to provide sufficient buoyancy for the tanks to ‘swim’ ashore
under their own power transmitted through two propellers. They were launched
about 5000 metres from shore and on reaching the beach the propeller mechanism
was detached and the tank proceeded along the beach in the
was part of the 100th LCT(A)(HE) Flotilla (Landing Craft Tank High
These were tank carriers adapted to allow the leading tanks to fire onto the
beaches on the approach. She was hit by an errant rocket
fired from a LCT(R) further out to sea. 2433's bow door sustained damage but she
still managed to successfully unload her cargo and withdraw from the beach. One
DD tank was sunk after being rammed by an LCT,
while those on LCT 467 were landed
directly onto the beach after the leading tank damaged its flotation skirt and
could not be launched.
The Mk 5 LCT(A)
(Landing Craft Tank Assault) 2052
were built in the USA and crewed by the Royal Navy. The could carry a couple of
heavy tanks and field guns that were mounted on the bow to fire on the enemy as
they approached the beach. They were also part of the 100th LCT(A)(HE)
Flotilla of Assault Group S3 Support Squadron out of Portsmouth. There were
originally 8 craft in the Flotilla but only 6 reached their destination,
including 2052 and 2191, the other two having broken down. They were
transporting the 5th Independent Battery of the Royal Marine Armoured
Support Group with their Centaur and Sherman tanks. Both LCTs received direct
hits from an enemy mobile 88mm gun and became total losses. Fortunately, in both
cases their tanks had already been off-loaded.
LCT(A) 2191 lost half
her crew with others severely wounded. LCT(A) 2052 did not fair much better.
Their coxswain was killed at his station in the wheelhouse and other crew
members were severely wounded. The dead from both craft are buried in Hermanville cemetery. Full story here.
Mk4 LCT 947 (Mk 4
Landing Craft Tank)
was the mainstay of the Royal Navy in ferrying troops, tanks, lorries and
supplies from the UK to the landing beaches. Over 800 were built. 947 led the 45th
Craft Tank Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers). They were LCTs
adapted to carry Hobart's
"Funnies", tanks adapted for beach clearance work.
Only one tank managed to disembark LCT 947 that morning.
The second tank in line
carried Commander Royal Engineers, Lt Col ADB Cocks. As the tank moved forward
the LCT took three direct hits in her bows. The tank lurched sideways and
stopped in its tracks blocking the exit. Despite frantic efforts by engineers
and the forecastle party, it proved impossible to move the tank out of the way
so the remaining tanks on board could not disembark. A greater explosion soon
when pipes packed with dynamite on board a neighbouring AVRE 'Carpet
exploded. The blast killed Lt Col Cocks and the tank commander. Despite the
damage, LCT 947 turned about and returned to England with most of her original
cargo and the bodies of the men who had been killed aboard that morning.
Landing Craft Infantry (Small) could carry up to 96 fully equipped troops.
519 was ‘Leader’ of the 200th LCI(S) Flotilla out of Warsash on the
River Hamble. She carried the 200th Flotilla Officer, Lt Commander
Rupert Curtis and Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade.
Amongst them were the Commanding Officer of No 4 Commando, Brigadier Lord Simon
Lovat and his piper Bill Millin.(22)
Both of them waded ashore, Millin wearing his kilt and playing the bagpipes and
Lord Lovat wearing a ‘Tam o' Shanter’, a Scottish bonnet, often tartan with a
pom pom at its centre, with his white Commando sweater under his battledress
tunic, although, on the day, his tunic would, undoubtedly, have been fastened!
Another craft of the 200th
LCI(S) Flotilla was the LCI(S) 524.
She had beached under fire and took casualties after landing her Commandos.
Having successfully withdrawn from the beach,
she received a direct hit in her
high octane tanks. The craft disintegrated and the fuel ignited setting the sea
ablaze. Survivors struggling in the sea were picked up by a US Navy coastguard
cutter but despite this 8 members of her crew were lost.
Also in view are LCI(S) 506
(09)and nearby LCI(S) 531 lying on her side. Although originally part of the 201st
these craft were assigned to the 200th LCI(S) Flotilla on D-Day. 506
was badly damaged but managed to take off the crew of LCI(S) 531 which was
At the rear of LCT(A)
2433 is the American built LCI(L) 269
(Landing Craft Infantry Large). It could carry 190 troops below deck with
room for 50 more above deck when the weather permitted. She was fitted
with communications and radar equipment and re-designated LCH 269 (Landing Craft
Headquarters). Her role during the assault was to direct the flow of
landing craft to and from Queen Red beach.
Because of their
considerable experience of recovering downed pilots and air crew, particularly
from the waters around the south coast of England, the RAF Search and Rescue
patrols off the beach in search of men in the water.
The beaches were heavily
defended by gun emplacements, pill boxes and beach obstacles, the latter
designed to obstruct and impede the progress of landing craft as they approached
their predetermined landing areas or, in the case of those obstacles primed with
powerful mines, to destroy or disable the craft. Other obstacles placed above
the waterline had a similar purpose but were aimed at tanks and other mechanised
vehicles and the assault troops. An armoured bulldozer
is clearing an area of the beach of
The Royal Marine sniper
may well have had a German officer in his sights,
whose elimination would add to
the confusion and bewilderment spreading amongst the German troops defending the
landing area. The Royal Marines were reputed to be amongst the best of snipers
since they had a tradition of sniping from the cross trees of sailing ships
centuries before. They had continued with sniper training when most warring
nations abandoned it during periods of peace.
to warn of mine fields and other hard to see dangers were hastily erected. The
skull and crossbones captured the attention of passing troops and vehicle
drivers, while the direction and distance of the danger, scrawled underneath,
provided the vital information they needed, in this case about mines.
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The Story of the Painting
The painting and prints were generously donated to the Combined Operations
Memorial Fund by military artist, David A Thorp. Advising on the content was
Tony Chapman, archivist and historian of the LST and Landing Craft Association.
The painting measures 750 mm by 550 mm and is set on the eastern flank of Sword
beach early on D-Day morning between 7.30 am and 8.30 am, about an hour or so
after the first assault troops ducked and dived as they tenaciously fought their
way up the beach between Riva Bella (Ouistreham) and Lion sur Mer. The painting
does not portray a particular event but all the actions depicted did take
place in the area over the space of a few hours. With the skill of the artist,
they were brought together in a seamless montage.
It is impossible in a single painting to show the
vast extent of Operation Neptune
since its 5 landing beaches stretched around 50 miles (80k) to the west of Lion sur Mer. While British and Canadian forces were attacking Gold, Juno and Sword
beaches, American forces faced major challenges of their own on Omaha and Utah
beaches. Although the painting concentrates on a small area of one beach, the it honours the
memory of all land, sea and air forces from the UK, USA, Canada and all who
served the Allied cause.
The German defences were still holding out and the beach and its approaches
were extremely hazardous as the lines of machine gun bullets striking the water,
the huge explosion out to sea, the stretcher bearers going about their
life-saving work and the blood stained water lapping the shore, all testify. It
was not a place to tarry unless your name was Bill Millin who, against HQ
orders, piped Lord Lovat and his No 4 Commando off their landing craft and then
proceeded to march up and down the beach to the tune of "The Road to the Isles."
The Germans could easily have shot Millin dead but they had no wish to kill
someone who had clearly lost his mind!
On D-Day alone, around 6000 vessels crossed the Channel and over 150,000
men with their supplies and equipment were transported to Normandy. Around 800
RAF and USAF bombers dropped their payloads on selected targets inland of the
beach areas and 13,000 paratroops were dropped behind enemy lines. All the while,
Allied fighters patrolled the skies in support of the invading force and harassed the enemy.
Six days after the events described in the
painting, Churchill and his military advisers visited the Sword, Juno and Gold
beaches. On returning to Downing Street, Churchill sent a signal to Mountbatten,
by then in Burma. It readily acknowledged the vital role he and Combined
Operations had played in the operation and expressed the Nation's gratitude. David
Thorp's painting captures the essence of what Churchill described as "this
Today we visited the British and American Armies on the soil of France. We
sailed through vast fleets of ships with landing-craft of many types pouring
more men, vehicles and stores ashore. We saw clearly the manoeuvre in progress
of rapid development. We have shared our secrets in common and helped each other
all we could. We wish to tell you at this moment in your arduous campaign that
we realise how much of this remarkable technique and therefore the success of
the venture has its origin in developments effected by you and your staff of
(Signed) Arnold, Brooke, Churchill, King,