~ Explore D Day Morning using an Interactive Painting ~
Combined Operations - A Normandy Beachhead
Learn about D-Day by
clicking on the embedded numbers in the monochrome
version of the beach
landing scene below or just scroll down this page and let the
story unfold. It's an easy to follow introduction to Combined Operations
raids and major landings directly onto unimproved landing
beaches often against entrenched enemy defensive positions.
The page is particularly suitable for those with little or no prior
knowledge of the subject.
Setting the Scene
The painting (small coloured version opposite) depicts a landing on the eastern
flank of Sword beach between 7.30 am and
8.30 am (5.30 am to 6.30 am local time), an hour or so after the first assault
troops ducked and dived, as they tenaciously fought their
way up the Normandy beaches that D-Day morning.
The German defences are still holding out. The beach and
its approaches are extremely hazardous, as the lines of machine gun bullets
striking the water, the huge explosion farther out to sea, the stretcher bearers
going about their life-saving work and the blood stained water lapping the shore,
all testify. It was no place to tarry, unless your name was Bill Millin, who,
against HQ orders, piped Lord Lovat and his No 4 Commandos 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!
There were five landing beaches, Sword being the most easterly,
with Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah stretching out to the west for a distance of
around 50 miles (80k). On D-Day alone, around 6000 vessels crossed the Channel
and around 156,000 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 24,000 paratroops were dropped behind
enemy lines. All the while, Allied fighters patrolled the skies in support of
the invading force. Illustrated map
Click on the numbers embedded in the painting for an explanation of the key events and
actions or just scroll down the page and let the story unfold. [Print
Friendly Version of Text.
Print Friendly Copy of Numbered Painting.]
This was the largest Combined Operation in history, which is
unlikely to be surpassed or repeated because of changes in the conduct of war
since WW2. The objective was to land assault troops, with their supplies and
equipment, in pre-planned designated places, at the right time and in sufficient
numbers to overwhelm the enemy. All other activity on land, sea and in the air
was in support of this.
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, has fallen to the men of the 2nd
East Yorkshire Regiment /
8th Infantry Brigade /
British Division and the Royal Marines.
The assault infantry are moving off the landing
beach supported by a Bren Gun carrier ,
while a colour sergeant is holding aloft the battle flag 
of the regiment. To carry the flag was neither expected nor required by
regulations, because of the risk of attracting the attention of 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(a)
that were lowered from the troopship SS Empire Battleaxe
earlier that morning. 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 making their way to the beach. She 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. Her
total capacity was 1195 fully equipped men. The Empire Battleaxe and many
others ships destined for Sword beach that morning set out from Spithead the
previous evening, arriving at their planned position at 5.30 hrs, two hours
before H Hour.(b) At the appointed time, she 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
overpowering as LCAs 770, 429 and 778 
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 
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  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 
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
Air cover was provided by the RAF and USAF. The patrolling
Spitfire  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 
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. This was to allow them to respond very quickly to any request
Barrage Balloons 
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 thus
allowing the enemy's big guns to fire on them.
On the horizon, far out to sea ,
battleships, cruisers and destroyers had completed their shelling of the beach
area but remained on station to shell predetermined targets inland of the
beaches or specific targets identified by observers and the advancing troops. LCT(R)s(C) had already fired
their salvos onto the beaches, in advance of the landing troops, to soften up the
enemy defences. In addition, salvos of spigot bombs had been fired from LCA(HR)s(d),
specially adapted craft designed to clear mines from the exit routes of 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(e)
bristling with radio aerials and rotating radar gantries. The main HQ ship off
Sword, HMS Largs, used this information 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 Drive tanks [13.]
They were Sherman tanks of ‘B’ Squadron of the 13th/18th
Hussars of the 27th Armoured Brigade. They were
transported to the beaches
Mk3 LCTs of the 14th
LCT Flotilla of E Squadron,
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 conventional manner.
LCT(A) 2433 ,
of the 100th LCT(A)(HE)(f)
was hit as it approached the beach 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(g)
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)(h)
and 2191 
were built in the USA and crewed by the Royal Navy. 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 also
severely wounded. The dead from both craft are buried in Hermanville cemetery.
Full story here.
Mk4 LCT 947(i)
‘Leader’ of the 45th LCT(AVRE)(j)
Flotilla assigned to the 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers. 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–Layer'(k),
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.
‘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.
Both of them waded ashore, Millin wearing his kilt and playing the bagpipes and
Lord Lovat wearing a ‘Tam o' Shanter’(m) with his
white Commando sweater under his battledress tunic, although, on the day, his
tunic would undoubtedly have been fastened!
A memorial to Bill Millin was
dedicated in 2013
near to the landing beach.
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
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 
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,
At the rear of LCT(A) 2433 is the
American built LCI(L) 269(n)
procured under the Lend Lease arrangements with the USA. She was fitted with
communications and radar equipment and re-designated LCH 269.(o)
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 Launch 2687
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 
tetrahedron shaped girders
from an area of the beach.
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
over centuries past. They had continued with sniper training, when most warring
nations abandoned it, during periods of peace.
Makeshift signs ,
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.
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.
available to purchase
proceeds go into the
Combined Operations Memorial Maintenance and Development
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, 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,
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