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Operations Neptune & Overlord - The D Day Landings.

Normandy 6th June 1944


Operation Neptune, the largest amphibious invasion force in history, was the seaborne phase of Operation Overlord. On June 6th 1944, 4,000 landing craft, supported by 3,000 naval combat ships, ancillary craft and merchant vessels, transported 132,600 assault troops from the south coast of England to the Normandy beaches, together with thousands of tons of vehicles, tanks, supplies and ammunition.

[Image; Print of painting by David A Thorp entitled 'Combined Operations - A Normandy Beachhead'.]

Earlier, 23,400 paratroops were dropped behind enemy lines, 15,500 in the American sector and 7,900 in the British/Canadian sector. Their mission was to capture strategic bridges, road junctions and installations. Meanwhile, RAF and USAF bombers and fighters flew in support of the initial assault troops to soften up beach defences in advance of the landings and to destroy targets inland identified by Forward Observation Officers and the advancing troops.

Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the Allies created the "Combined Chiefs of Staff" (CCS) comprising the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff. Their function was to assist and advise President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill on the direction and conduct of the war. The CCS confirmed a previous policy of "Germany first" and, from March 1942, their planning group began work on an outline plan for a full-scale invasion of occupied Europe. Initial hopes of mounting an invasion in 1943 proved unrealistic with limited human and material resources and the demands of already agreed commitments on other operations. The invasion was delayed until 1944 despite persistent agitation from Stalin to open a second front in the west to relieve pressure on his forces in the east.

The CCS planning group, with the lessons learned from the ill fated Dieppe raid in their minds, ruled out a frontal attack on a fortified port so determined to find safer landing sites. The requirements for a suitable landing site were for it to;

  •  be within range of fighter aircraft based in southern England,

  •  have at least one major port within easy reach,

  •  have landing beaches suitable for prolonged support operations, with adequate exits and backed by a good road network,

  •  have beach defences capable of being suppressed by naval bombardment and bombing.

The Normandy coast between Caen and Cherbourg met these requirements and they prepared a basic outline paper in support of this proposal which was approved by the CCS. In March 1943, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan was appointed Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC).

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

His heavy responsibility was to prepare detailed plans for the largest amphibious invasion force in history. In doing so his plans would utilise the combined forces of the three mainstream services of the participating Allied nations. Morgan was an excellent choice having been involved as a task force commander in the 1942 invasion of North Africa and in the preliminary planning for the invasion of Sicily which was to take place in July 1943.

The ultimate goal was to secure Germany's unconditional surrender through the destruction of its armed forces if necessary. Morgan worked backwards from that outcome to determine what manpower and material resources would be required to complete the task. It was a complex task of monumental proportions which would produce detailed plans down to specific landing areas, at specific times, with specific orders for all involved. The overall invasion plan was given the codename "Overlord" with the amphibious phase codenamed "Neptune."

The Assault Plan

American General Dwight D Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Allied Commander in December 1943 and as his senior commanders took up their posts, the original plan was modified. The ground commander, during the initial assault phase and subsequent beachhead build up, was British General Bernard Montgomery. He increased the extent of the landing beach spread from around 25 miles to 50 miles and increased the size of the initial assault from 3 to 5 divisions, together with an additional 2 American airborne divisions and 1 British airborne division of paratroops. Their primary task was to seize vital bridges and crossroad strong-points at each extremities of the invasion area to protect the eastern and western flanks from counterattack during the initial landings.

The assault force itself was divided into an American western task force landing on two beaches and a British and Canadian eastern task force landing on three beach areas in the eastern section. Commando and US Ranger forces, as part of the initial assault, were to neutralize specific coastal strong-points thought to be too difficult for regular infantry to tackle successfully.

On D Day, each of the 5 assault forces was to secure their respective beachheads and to progress inland. On D+1 the separate beachheads were to combine into one continuous front. During D+2 to D+9 they should form a secure staging area to accommodate the substantial follow up forces and their supplies and equipment.

The plan then envisaged a breakout towards Paris and the Rhine but the senior Allied commanders knew a crucial race against the Germans would come into play. To succeed in this, the Allies' build up of their forces in the beachhead area, would need to be faster than the Germans' build up of forces to mount an effective counter attack. To impede the movement of German men, supplies and armour, road and rail communications across the north of France were bombed intensively prior to the landings but over a wider area than necessary to prevent the enemy from identifying the landing beaches.

Lessons learned on previous raids and landings were incorporated into the overall plan on D-Day, including extensive bomber, fighter and naval bombardment support and improved radio communications at all levels. Novel techniques and equipment were adopted to overcome enemy beach obstacles while under enemy fire on heavily defended open beaches. These were most likely used on the British and Canadian beaches, where specialized armoured units led the attack. Former Major General, Percy Hobart, an eccentric lateral thinker, was personally selected by Churchill to modernize Britain’s tank program. He developed so called "Hobart's Funnies" which included the "flail tank", whose rotating drum and chains cleared paths through mine fields, while other adaptations were designed to clear tank obstacles and pill boxes and to lay down pathways to aid movement of heavy wheeled vehicles over soft sand. 

There was no guarantee that a working harbour would fall into Allied hands since they were heavily defended and would be destroyed in the event of a  determined attack. Although supplies could be landed on the beaches, a fully functioning harbour would provide relatively safe and secure docking facilities less susceptible to the vagaries of tide and weather. Many thousands of tons of supplies and equipment needed to be landed each day during the build up period. One planner suggested that the invasion force should "take a harbour over with them" an idea Churchill had considered during WW1. Twenty thousand workers laboured for eight months to construct an ingenious solution to the challenge which became known as "Mulberry Harbours". They were installed in both American and British sectors.

There were a number of disparate factors that determined the date of invasion given that it would take place just after dawn. Amongst these, were Rommel's extensive beach obstacles, which would become visible and thereby more easily destroyed by engineers during a low or rising tide. Those being dropped behind enemy lines the night before the landings required sufficient moonlight for the airborne forces (parachutes and gliders) to find their predetermined targets. These and other factors restricted the periods of opportunity in June to the 5th, 6th, 7th or 19th.

The German Defences

"It is my unshakeable decision to make this front impregnable against every enemy" declared Hitler in a speech he delivered in December 1941 when he boasted, to the world, that Germany controlled the entire west coast of Europe from the Arctic Ocean to the Bay of Biscay. His impregnable defences included some 15,000 strong-points which were to be manned by 300,000 troops.

Construction of the obstacles officially started in early 1942. For 2 years, a quarter of a million, mainly slave labourers, worked night and day. They used more than a million tons of steel and poured over 20 million cubic yards of concrete. The heaviest concentration of defence works was along the narrowest part of the English Channel between the Netherlands and Le Havre in Normandy.

It was no secret that the Allies were building up to an invasion, although the location and timing were beyond 'top secret' and known only to a select few.  In November 1943, Hitler appointed Field Marshall Rommel, initially to the position of Inspector of Coastal Defences and later to the command of Army Group B, which occupied the channel coastal defences. He moved to France in December 1943 and immediately set about further improvements to the defences. He planned an impassable zone, initially100 metres deep, along the whole channel coast, which would be extended to a kilometre by deploying 200 million mines. He dramatically accelerated the rate of construction and, by May 11th, over half a million mines had been laid along the channel foreshore and on likely glider and parachute landing zones behind the beaches. Additionally, some areas immediately behind the beaches, were deliberately inundated with water to further inhibit movement off the beaches and to contain the Allies.

In November 1943, in anticipation of an amphibious invasion in the west, Hitler issued Fuhrer Order 51. Meantime, Rommel planned to stop and contain the invading force on the beaches, since the Allies air supremacy would inhibit the daytime movement of his troops and tanks once battle was joined; a lesson he learned to his cost in North Africa.

As part of this strategy, he planned to locate enough Panzer (Armoured) divisions, sufficiently close by, to counter attack and overrun the beachheads before they became established. From May onwards the Germans braced themselves for an attack and were puzzled when the relatively mild weather of May passed by without incident. They took the opportunity to complete more beach obstacles. Rommel was now sure that his improved "Atlantic Wall" would hold the enemy on the beaches and believed the Allies would attack on a high tide at dawn. These two conditions coincided for a few days around the middle of June.

Rommel didn't know that General Eisenhower had set the invasion date for June 5th. However, in the event, bad weather caused a postponement of 24 hours. It was an unwelcome delay for the combat ready force and even more so for those onboard ships recalled while at sea. On June 6th the armada of over 5,000 vessels set off. It comprised minesweepers, heavy battleships, troop carriers, landing craft of many types, HQ ships and Fighter Direction Tenders to provide extended radar and communications cover off the Normandy beaches.

D-Day – June 6th 1944

The Airborne Forces

Hours before daylight, over 1000 bombers dropped their payloads on German coastal defences to soften them up prior to the arrival of the initial assault troops. Additionally, over 800 planes dropped paratroops or towed gliders to pre-determined locations behind enemy lines. To add to the confusion and alarm other bombers parachuted hundreds of dummies all over Normandy.

Shortly after midnight, the American 101st and 82nd airborne divisions parachuted into their prescribed landing zones at the base of the Cotentin peninsula to the west of the invasion area. Some planes deviated from their final approach because of cloud and flak with unfortunate consequences. Many paratroopers, who landed in areas deliberately inundated by the enemy, drowned but despite these losses these elite troops secured their main objectives and held on grimly – their link up with the main sea-borne landings was only hours away.

The British 6th airborne division of paratroopers and a special task force in gliders, simultaneously landed in the east side of the invasion area. The glider task force quickly captured the key bridges on the Orne River and Caen Canal. After a fierce fight, a substantially under strength paratrooper force subdued the Merville battery, which was a threat to the approaching Allied invasion fleet. The vanguard airborne troops landings were considered a heartening success.

The Sea-borne Forces

The thousands of ships and landing craft of the invasion fleet arrived off the beaches before dawn. Despite a slight improvement in the weather, gusty winds churned up five to six foot waves in the English Channel and most of the 132,000 seaborne assault troops suffered from seasickness.

[Photo left - LCT Flotillas in Southampton prior to departure for Normandy.]

Stan Grayland (photo below right) recalls... for four days our Landing Craft Flack, ( LCF 30), numbered because such small ships were not permitted names, sat tied to a buoy off Whale Island, the Royal Navy Gunnery School at Portsmouth, on the South Coast of England. LCF 30 was sealed, meaning no one could leave the craft and was readied for what everyone knew was inevitable... the invasion of France, considered to be the beginning of the end of World War 2... D-DAY.

It was Monday June 5th 1944 and our craft, together with some 4000 other forms of shipping with thousands of fully trained men lifted themselves, took up their stations and, with a last wave to onlookers on the shore, headed slowly out into the English Channel to assemble on the southern side of the Isle of Wight. In the early evening, with high winds and rough seas, the journey to France was about to begin.

Large passenger vessels crammed with troops, minesweepers, escort ships scurrying about, large warships and landing craft took up their p1aces ready to move off and the men entrusted with the initial assault looked, thought and wondered where they would be tomorrow. Barrage balloons floated above at the end of steel ropes to deter low flying aircraft from attacking the invasion force. They were blown from side to side in the strong winds and the men watched the choppy seas and knew it would be a very uncomfortable trip ending with disembarkation onto heavily defended enemy held beaches. Sadly the journey for some would end all too soon.

"Action Stations" for the men of LCF 30 required the manning of small Pom-Pom and Oerlikon anti aircraft guns throughout the night, not knowing what the morning would bring. For most of those 18 and 19 year olds, this was to be their first big adventure. Hundreds of planes flew overhead, some to drop bombs on the beach defences, some to slow down the deployment of enemy reinforcements and some troop carrying planes towing gliders packed full of troops with the task of landing silently to capture strategic positions before the main assault force had landed.

At sea the invading armada kept steadily on, no lights were visible. "Maintain your station" was the order, a very difficult thing to achieve with flat bottomed craft with no hull. Collisions at sea at this crucial time would be disastrous and could not be allowed to happen. During the night, the coast of France came into view. Along the 80 kilometre of landing beaches, fires caused by bombing and shelling were visible. At this early stage there was no indication that the enemy knew we were coming.

Sometime around 6.30am, and still some 8 kilometres from the beach, the ships carrying the assault troops hove too. The assault landing craft, LCAs were lowered, mostly with men already in their allotted places and then, when all were in place, escorts like LCF30, turned to the beach and the dangerous journey began.....

Two things remain vividly in my memory. The first were the Rocket ships that went in with us. They carried 1020 5 inch rockets and on each firing of say 30 rockets, at least 1 would misfire and after wobbling its way out of the launcher would land amongst the assault craft. My guess is there were more casualties on landing craft at sea caused by them than any enemy fire from the beach. And my second memory is of the sky being full of planes in the early evening, Stirling bombers towing gliders - the planes dropping supplies and the gliders landing men some 1 or 2 miles inland. Then, when darkness came, we took station in TROUT LINE, where we were able to watch the tracer bullets being exchanged between sides.

German coastal batteries started firing on the fleet at 5.30 am and the Allied naval bombardment countered at 6 a.m. The battleships and cruisers were about 6 miles off the beaches and the destroyers held off at about 4 miles. As the orange flames from their gun muzzles lit up the dawn, the thunderous noise of their bombardment rolled up and down the coast. The bombardment detonated some large minefields and knocked out a few defensive positions but the clouds of smoke and sand soon made the shore almost invisible. Many German strong points escaped serious damage.

The American western task force approached their landing beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha. The US 4th division was scheduled to land on the westernmost beach (Utah) at the foot of the Cotentin peninsula. When about 300 yards off the beach, they fired smoke signals high in the air; the signal to end the coastal bombardment and to target enemy defensive positions further inland. At 6.31 am the first amphibious soldiers to land in France on D-Day walked off their landing craft into waist deep water and waded 100 yards to dry land. There was surprisingly little response from the German defenders. Many Germans had been killed and their guns destroyed by the preliminary bombardment and many survivors were too dazed to provide an effective response. The beach area was cleared inside 3 hours and some 23,000 men and 28 tanks landed. Casualties were less than 200.

The next beach to the east, Omaha, was an entirely different matter. The US 1st division ran into heavy artillery and machine gun fire as soon as the landing craft ramps were lowered. A lateral current along the shore had badly scattered the men and their units and in the confusion the exceptionally strong German fire took its heavy toll on the initial assault units. Many wounded men were drowned in the rising tide and the initial assault stalled at the waterline.

To compound the problems on Omaha, only around 58 of the 112 planned tanks reached the beach. A number of Sherman DD 'swimming' tanks disembarked into the sea too far out and floundered, leaving many troops opposing the enemy's beach strong-points with their personal weapons. Destroyers from the bombarding fleet moved in as close to the beach as they dared to provide some covering fire. The outcome was in doubt for the first 3 hours and only through improvisation and courageous personal leadership were the troops at last able to get off the beach and onto the heights beyond. By nightfall, some 34,000 men were ashore at a cost of 2,000 casualties. At this point the beachhead was only 2 miles deep.

Two US Ranger battalions scaled the 100-foot high cliffs at Point du Hoc, three miles west of Omaha Beach, to silence six 155mm German howitzers believed to be in the battery. These mobile guns had recently been moved one mile inland to new positions and by nightfall the Rangers had suffered 60% casualties in attacking the defending German troops and beating off their counterattacks. Despite these losses, the Rangers located the guns and put them out of action.

[Photo; Troops from 50th Division coming ashore from LSI(L)s - Landing Ship Infantry (Large). Gold area, 6 June 1944. IWM.]

The 3 beaches to the east of the invasion area, codenamed respectively Gold, Juno and Sword, were the responsibility of the British Second Army's Eastern task force. Their landings commenced around almost 7.30 am to accommodate the tidal conditions in that area and their plan to beach on a rising tide. On Gold beach, nearest to Omaha, the 50th Division and the 8th Armoured Brigade were scheduled to land with the tanks in the vanguard. Some initial assault units were pinned down by accurate German fire, while  others overran the German defences within half an hour. Subsequent waves flanked the defenders and pushed inland. By nightfall they had advanced about 2.5 miles inland on a front of 3 miles. However, there remained a seven mile gap between them and Omaha.

The Canadian 3rd Division landed on Juno beach and met stiff initial resistance. Due to choppy seas they were half an hour behind schedule leaving little time for the assault engineers to clear beach obstacles before the incoming tide covered them. The mined obstacles and German shell fire disabled or sunk around 90 of the 306 landing craft but the Canadians attacked furiously and refused to be stopped. Some sections of the landing beach were strongly defended, which delayed the advance until the afternoon, while other parts were quickly overrun, allowing the assault troops to move rapidly inland. By the end of the day, they had almost reached their final D-Day objectives and were astride the vital Caen/Bayeux highway. They manage to link up with British troops from Gold beach and by the end of the day their beachhead was 12 miles wide and 6 miles deep; but they were still 3 miles short of linking up with the British forces on their left – the Sword force.

Bill Newell a young Canadian Commando recalls;

 It was an event beyond imagination. The magnitude of activity was such that one could not take it all in but yet could easily understand its purpose. The difficulty was in comprehending that I was part of it all.

After a year of extremely arduous navy commando training in the hills of Scotland, our small Canadian unit was expected to be conditioned and ready for most circumstances anticipated in such an operation. In relieving a British commando unit, we were not the first to hit the beach but that did not dissipate the feeling of apprehension, nor did it affect the sense of confidence earned by our training.

There were ships of all types and sizes, from battleships with 15 inch guns firing inland over the beach, destroyers and minesweepers sweeping in closer, smaller supply trawlers, and many different landing craft going in full and coming out empty. There were heavy-duty tugs manoeuvring huge sections of floating steel docks into position together with damaged and crippled ships to form a line of sunken breakwater. This would reduce the wave action on the beach.

Wreckage of landing craft and armoured vehicles were impediments to be avoided until conditions permitted their salvage. The water was cluttered with the debris of combat from enemy bombing, strafing and shelling. Precision night shelling of Juno by a 200mm railway gun at Le Havre continued for some time.

LST’s (Landing Ship Tank) beached, unloaded in a hurry and withdrew with the tides, if they hadn’t been hit with shell-fire or bombs. If they had to wait for the next tide, they were loaded with casualties on stretchers, including those of the enemy. The safest time for this was in the dark of night with no lights but the risk of accidents, with so much activity in the darkness, was high. I spent much of my time guiding in tank and assault landing craft, unloading Sherman and Churchill tanks, retrieving bodies floating in on high tides and generally doing what had to be done to help keep the operation moving.  

Mobile casualty stations were quickly improvised along with emergency airfields, which soon became assembly lines, with DC3 and C147 aircraft landing, being loaded with twelve occupied stretchers and taking off for England. Having the opportunity to see the entire operation of the five invasion beaches from my stretcher in one of these evacuation aircraft was not of my choosing but the sight was truly breath taking.

On approaching the airfield in the Midlands of England, one could see hundreds of ambulances with red crosses on their roofs on the roads leading to the airfield. On being offloaded, each casualty was examined as to the need for emergency surgery, nationality and hospital assignment. A large hanger, its floor literally covered with stretchers, was being used for washing and feeding the patients by young nursing aids.

The next morning, I awoke in a large ward at No11 Commando Military Hospital and spent the next few days focusing on an unspeakable element of the true cost of this war. Medical teams were constantly working during the days and nights. The sounds in the ward were pathetic, with many of patients still in shock. The two patients in the beds next to mine were only eighteen, with one having his leg off above the knee and the other with both hands missing.

After being transferred to a convalescent hospital for a few days, I was posted back to my operational base on the Isle of Wight and from there to Portsmouth and back across the channel on an MTB to Normandy. During the two days it took me to find my unit, I operated tanks for an armoured unit behind Gold Beach. Things were now much less hectic in the beach areas and it was time for further changes. Sixty years is a long time but still not long enough to diminish my memories of the greatest invasion in history.

The British 3rd Division on Sword beach met intense opposition. They fell behind schedule due to offshore reefs and tricky tidal currents giving the German defenders valuable time to recover from the earlier bombardment. Despite this, the British broke through the crust of the German defences in an hour but, by then, the resultant build up of landing craft waiting to unload their cargoes caused congestion and further delays on the beaches behind them. By early afternoon, they had expanded their beachhead and linked up with the 6th Airborne Division holding their left flank. In late afternoon, they repulsed the only serious German counterattack against the beachheads, destroying 76 of the 21st Panzer Division's 145 tanks.  However, they were stopped short of their vital D-Day objective of taking the port city of Caen.

By the end of the day, the Allied commanders assessed the landings were successful in achieving most of what had been planned. While the beachheads were not continuous, or as deep as planned, they had successfully broken through Rommel's 'Atlantic Wall.' They had expected 10,000 dead but in the event about 2,500 lost their lives. Total casualties, including killed, wounded, missing and prisoners amounted to around 12,000, comprising 6,500 Americans, 3,500 British, and 1,000 Canadian.

Omaha Beach - Supplying the Troops

Considering that the invasion of Normandy involved the greatest amphibious invasion force in history, it's not surprising that most accounts of D Day concern Naval Ships and the ubiquitous landing craft. US Army Lt. Carroll Turner was with the Third Platoon, Company A, 348 Engineers and his perspective on the invading force was seaward from Omaha Beach. His job was to offload supplies from Landing Craft Tank (LCTs), across the sand and into trucks for distribution to the troops.

[Photo; Lt C Turner.]

In November of 1943, his Company moved to Swansea, England. Of this time, he had many happy memories and friendships, including a British family who appreciated the special significance of Thanksgiving to a soldier from the United States. He was invited to dinner in the course of which he produced some corn kernels his mother had sent from home. Despite severe shortages, frying fat was found and heated up and the kernels thrown in. The family were amazed when popcorn filled the pan as if from nowhere... something they'd never seen before!

In the spring of 1944, the Company moved from Swansea to the New Forest on the south coast of England. The trees provided cover from the unwelcome attentions of enemy aircraft but it was very damp and cold. Out of 201 troops and 7 Officers only 32 reported for duty one day, the remainder being confined to barracks with colds and pneumonia.

By the end of May, Lt Turner's Company were briefed on their role in the forthcoming invasion, although not the timing or location. Their job was to take supplies from beached landing craft and to transport them across the beach to waiting trucks. The impression was given that German resistance would be softened up by bombing and shelling and that it would be an easy walk ashore.

The men were issued with special invasion currency for France and Belgium before they went ashore. They boarded LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks), which were "loaded to the gunnels" with trucks and heavy equipment. The LSTs were capable of 10 mph but with 'Rhino Ferries' in tow, this was reduced to 3 mph. The Rhino Ferries were constructed of  4' x 4' x 6' welded steel plates with a diesel engine to the rear. Each had an operator and carried around 28 vehicles.

[Photo; Loaded Rhino ferry going ashore.© IWM (A 24186).]

In the early morning of June 6th, the Battleship USS Texas fired on the German positions with her 14-inch guns. Each shell cost $10,000, a huge sum of money in 1944, which brought home to Lt. Turner the great significance of the events that were about to unfold.

As dawn broke, the troops descended rope ladders down the side of their LSTs into LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), which would take them on to the landing beaches. The rough sea and swell made the transfer difficult with 40 lb packs on their backs. Lt Turner's platoon was to land at Omaha Easy Red beach. Their LCVPs and DUKWS (an amphibian wheeled vehicle) patrolled up and down the landing beach but could not find a suitable place to land. The water was full of bodies and debris and despite early reassurance to the contrary, enemy machine gun fire was heavy. Before the beach was declared safe for off loading, dead bodies were removed up the hill to where the cemetery is now located. 620 bodies were moved that day, which had a profound and lasting effect on the men concerned.

The Infantry and regular troops landed on D-Day + 1. An interesting insight into the enemy's use of conscripted men from Eastern Europe and Russia was provided when the frightened faces of men and boys confronted them when a bunker door was opened. They had no desire to fight and just wanted to be taken prisoner, have a meal and a place to sleep. They had little allegiance to the German Army.

With 2 bulldozers, 2 cranes and dump trucks at the ready, the platoon was set up and ready for action. The LSTs unloaded their supplies into cargo nets which were picked up by the cranes and lifted into dump trucks. Early loads included barbed wire, TNT and mines. That night, German 88 mm shells landed close by but failed to hit their target. Another early load comprised 4 tons of beef, which warranted an extra guard on duty.

Since Lt. Turner was a Junior Officer, he was on night duty from 6 pm to 6 am. Difficult though it was, with noisy activity all around, he slept as best he could during the day.

[Photo; Omaha Beach in June 1944.]

The work of unloading between 650 to 800 tons of materials for each of the 6 Battalions was hard, requiring the cranes and dump trucks to operate 24/7. Between June 7th and August 31st, 300 LSTs, some LCTs and ‘dumb barges" were unloaded. In mid June, stormy weather, lasting several days, interrupted the supply chain, when LSTs were unable to cross the Channel. By the time the storm broke, ammunition and food was in short supply.

The objective was to unload and, where appropriate, load the landing craft on the same tide but this was not always possible causing some vessels to be beached high and dry until the next tide. Usually 3 to 6 LSTs would be unloaded at a time.

Several weeks after D-Day, enough dunnage (rough lumber used to stabilize shipments) to build a mess hall had been gathered. The Troops appreciated eating at a table instead of individual K-Rations. Lt. Turner, himself, acquired enough wood from containers to build an 'office' with space for his paperwork and a couple of beds. Some of his troops used stone walls around field boundaries as the sides of makeshift shelters by throwing a tarpaulin over them. The area at the base of the walls provided enough space and cover for the men to rest and sleep regardless of the weather.

Over the succeeding weeks and months the beach was well established and supplies flowed more smoothly through them and the Mulberry Harbours. As the Allies advanced, useable harbours also became available, so for Lt Turner and his men on the beaches, their important work was largely done. He and his platoon were then assigned to march toward Germany... but that's another story well outside the remit of this website

LST 427 - Normandy Photographs

HM LST 427 served in the Mediterranean from June 1943 to early 1944 as part of the 3rd LST(2) Flotilla under the command of Flotilla Officer Acting Commander D S Hore-Lacey RN. She participated in the landings on Sicily, Salerno and Anzio.

On her return to England to begin 'working-up' for the D-Day landings in Normandy, 427 remained part of the 3rd LST Flotilla, still commanded by Acting Commander Hore-Lacey who once more took passage aboard the LST 322.

On D-Day 427 was accompanied by sister ships 322, 367, 408, 419, 420, 423 and 428 forming part of Assault Group S1. Also part of Group S1 was the 'Reserve' 9th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd British Infantry Division. They would assault Sword beach between La Breche and Lion sur Mer, which was the extreme eastern flank of the D-Day assault. The landing beaches were given the code names Queen Red and Queen White. Prior to the arrival of the 9th Brigade, the 8th Brigade led the way as 'First Assault' but suffering grievously in the process. They were followed up by the men of the 185th Brigade.

[Extract from the Admiralty's 'Green List' showing the disposition of 3 LST(2) Flotilla just prior to D-Day.]

Ron Hite who served on LST 427 recalls;

It was the same hum drum stuff while at sea...  on watch, off watch, bit of dhobing (washing), playing cribbage, chess, perhaps starting a letter home or something to pass the time. If just finished an evening watch I'd usually shower and go straight into the flea bag, hoping action stations wouldn't sound, so I'd get a few hours kip.

When close to a landing it was a hive of activity in the engine room, especially the auxiliary engine room. It was essential to know what engines would be required after the 427 beached. The cooling systems for those engines were transferred from direct sea intake to on board tank cooling system as 427 would soon be high and dry. All generators were started and on line to provide enough power to open the bow doors, lower the ramp ready for discharge, and operate the elevator to transfer vehicles from the top tank deck to the lower deck for discharging.

[Photo; Reunion of ship's crew. Date unknown but possibly late 40s. The CO is 4th from the right in the second row from the front, and Ron Hite is in the front row first from right.]

There was of course a risk of enemy action against the craft while she was beached so we made sure that fire hydrants on the upper deck were clear of obstructions. When all was done it was a case of keeping our heads down hoping the enemy were otherwise preoccupied. We were vulnerable to attack while 427 waited for the next tide to take her off the beach.

Further Reading

Elsewhere on this website there are 40 remarkable D Day stories - an historical legacy left behind by veterans who were there.

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just type in, or copy and paste the title of your choice, or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords.

Website pages on this site. Visit D Day Landing Craft for a nautical view of the landings from the personal reminiscences of those manning the craft. Also Coastal Command for an account of their anti-submarine patrols on D-Day.

 A Dutch website about Normandy with English version.

" D-Day Commando" From Normandy to the river Maas by Ken Ford. It also describes the part of 48 RMC in the liberation of Walcheren. Published in the UK in 2003 by Sutton P.Ltd ISBN 0-7509-3023-3.

Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose - 1994. ISBN  0-671-67334-3

Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan. 1982. ISBN 0 7126 5579 4.

The Second Front - World War II by Douglas Botting and the Editors of World Time Books. 1978. ISBN 0 8094 2498 3.

Short Sea Long War by John des S Winser. Published by World Ship Society, Gravesend, Kent. ISBN 0 9056 1786 ? - the story of 119 Cross Channel ships commandeered by the R.N. to fly the White Ensign.

Le Jour J au Commando N° 4 by René Goujon (French Kieffer Commando), published by Editions Nel 1, rue Palatine, 75006 Paris tel 00 33 1 43 54 77 42. Enquiries in English to the author's daughter at armoria.d.ylfan@hotmail.fr




Dear Sirs and Families,

Our family, the BROOKE Family, wish to extend our sincere gratitude and remembrance for those of you, your friends and to the extended families for your magnificent and brave actions of 62 years ago today, June 6th 1944, which cleared the way for the end of Nazi tyranny in Europe and the world.

Both my father and his twin brother were serving with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm on the the English Coast on June 5th and 6th 1944 awaiting transfer to Canada for flight training to become pilots. My father, John Brooke, (FX605708) died in January 21st 2004 at the age of 77.5 years, of melanoma. He was enlisted at the age of 16 in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Although by May 1945 his training ended as the war was coming to a close he never saw active service. During our visit to Normandy, a trip he wanted to do for nearly 25 years, he expressed to me his life long sincere respect and thanks to all those of his age who did see active service at the age of 17. I know that he felt some guilt as his training to become a pilot was all that possibly stood between him and the active duty. To this end he actively remembered and honoured you his peers and their families for their great commitment to world future. Before his health deteriorated in 2003 I was able to take him with my mother to Pegasus Bridge on the summer of 2003. Upon visiting Pegasus Bridge and the 6th Airborne Museum he noted to me his strong admiration for the skills of Glider Pilots of the 6th Airborne. He had started glider flying in the ATC in 1941 in Birmingham area. His emotions, along with ours were very touched.... it is a very moving place... as it should be!

Additionally, it was with great pride that I was able to take my children to Pegasus Bridge to let them experience the importance of the events of this day. They remember and are respectful.

To you all on this most important day. Thanks, and we remember.

Kind Regards

Richard S. Brooke, N.A., P.Eng., Mannerheimintie, Helsinki, Finland.

Pegusas Bridge Veterans. The photo was taken in London early June 1999. These gentlemen were returning from a tour of Greenwich on the same boat as my sister and I (and they were having a grand time!) As we were waiting to leave the boat, we noticed their lapel pins of Pegasus and we talked with them for several minutes, thanking them for their service, etc. They were in London to take part in the Trooping of the Colour (I believe the next day). I recall some of their relatives were with them, and they might remember this encounter. I am still awed at the bravery of those who took part in D-Day. Thank you. Dot Weathersby, Terry, MS. USA (6/09)


Grateful thanks to George H Pitt, Alberta, Canada for the main Operation Overlord article and to Bill Newall, Stan Grayland and Judy, widow of  Bill Spencer of LST 325 Blue Crew, for additional information. Further additions and redrafting for website presentation by Geoff Slee. HMLST 427 comments & Photos; The foreword and historical notes on the craft are by Tony Chapman, official Archivist/Historian of the LST and Landing Craft Association. Photographs provided by 427 veteran, Ron Hite.

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