Tag Archives: D-Day

Firepower on Omaha Beach : A new Interpretation

Planned counter battery bombardment Operation Neptune

“1. The aerial bombardment and Naval Gun Fire failed to reduce the German fortifications and failed to neutralise enemy artillery and machine gun fire.
2. A German Infantry Division thought to have been in reserve around St Lo had moved up the beach defenses on a “maneuver” and added materially to the opposition.
….. things had not gone altogether as planned. Items 1 and 2 were chiefly responsible and particularly 1…..Those bluffs were captured and those exits opened solely through the plain undaunted heroism of the infantry the 1st and 29th Divisions and their attached engineer teams”[i]
This is an extract from the report by Colonel E G Paules the Engineer member of the War Department Observers Board after visiting Omaha Beach on D +6. Many would agree with Colonel Paules’ verdict, especially the heroism and initiative of the infantry and engineers.  The same sentiments can be found in the official history.  The failure of the aerial and naval bombardment to neutralise defences of Omaha Beach remains controversial.  But a re-examination of critical data about D Day reveals a different interpretation of what happened on Omaha Beach on D Day.

One problem in studying the story of Omaha Beach is that there is still only sketchy information about the true strength of the German defences at Omaha Beach.  Some aspects  are extremely well documented.  The positions on the bluffs and beach have been documented in create detail over the years. We even know the names and faces of the individual German soldiers defending some positions. Much less is known or documented about the artillery support for the same defenders. Artillery was the dominant lethal arm in the twentieth century, responsible for well over half of all casualties.  The US Official History made no attempt to locate artillery positions that were not on the coast or in the Op Neptune Target List.  Even modern detailed studies such as Stephen Badsey and Tim Bean’s Battle Omaha Beach Zone Normandy[ii] and Peter Caddick Adams’ Sand and Steel[iii] are vague about the German guns.

TO WHAT EXTENT WAS THE D DAY AERIAL AND NAVAL GUN FIRE A FAILURE.

General Kraiss the commander of 352nd Infantry Division, killed in August 1944. . Much of the information we know about the German side of the battle is from the post war interrogation of his chief of Staff.

George A Harrison in the US  Official History “Cross Channel Attack”[iv] described the beach drenching bombardment as “Generally ineffective”, against an enemy that was twice as numerous, unexpectedly strong and included soldiers from a different and higher quality formation than they had expected to face. Harrison mentions this faulty intelligence as a curious failing.[v]

The D Day naval bombardment plan worked – up to a point.  The planners knew that the preliminary bombardment would not destroy all, or even the majority of, the German defences. Precision guided munitions had not been invented in 1944. There was nothing in the Allies armoury that could eliminate the hardened concrete bunkers and shelters which were the framework of the defences. The bombardment might destroy a proportion of the defenders weapons, as well as disrupting communications and keep the defenders heads down long enough for the assaulting infantry to close with them.

This was shared down the chain of command, and there are several accounts of briefings before D-Day with gloomy estimates of up to 80% losses by the assault troops.

Omaha Beach from the artillery Observation post at WN62

The aerial bombardment by the heavy day bombers of the Eight Air Force was a key part of the bombardment plan. To make up for the short naval bombardment 327 B24four engine heavy day bombers were scheduled to drop 13,000 bombs on the Omaha Beach defences. However, one consequence of the decision to launch the operation in marginal weather conditions was that the heavy bombers would have to bomb blind through cloud. As a safety measure the point of aim adjusted 1000yards inland, with the hope that some bombs would fall on the defences, and the knowledge that most would not.[vi]

Harrison acknowledges that the preparatory navel bombardment did have some effect, including the detonations of minefields and destruction of enemy rockets.[vii] The testimony of one of the best-known German survivors, Franz Gockel described how the trigger mechanism for flame throwers were destroyed by the bombardment.[viii]

German tactical map captured by the US Army. The named blocks on the beaches were pre-registered artillery targets for which firing data had been at least partially calculated.

There is information that can help to understand more. Immediately after D Day British 21st Army Group Operations Research scientists carried out a series of studies to check the effectiveness of various allied tactics and technology- a sort of CSI Normandy. At the end of the war a study was made of the casualties and effects of fire Support on the British Beaches in Normandy, from which the authors deduced a model for casualties inflicted per weapons type using the concept of “machine gun equivalents” to compared mortars with machine guns . The study (AORG 261)drew the conclusion that the preliminary bombardment and drenching fire knocked out around 10-20% of weapons and reduced the effectiveness of machine guns by two thirds and mortars by three quarters.  By comparing casualties from beaches on which no reports of mortar fire with this with a mix of machine guns and mortars they could build a best fit model, 17-19 casualties per machine gun equivalent across the three British beaches.   For example, the 14 machine guns and seven mortars that could engage Sword beach should, under range conditions have resulted in 70% casualties among the assaulting infantry, but only inflicted around 22%. The German defensive fire was only one third as effective as it could have been, had no one been firing at them.[ix]

A follow up study comparing the British with Americans beaches (AORG 292 )drew the conclusion that the effects of machine gun fire had been reduced by about a half, which was less than on the British beaches because of the terrain and strength of the defences.[x]  However, this analysis was flawed because it assumed that German artillery had been neutralised by the naval and aerial bombardment.  We know this to be untrue from the testimony of American soldiers under bombardment and from the German records that the artillery under command 352nd Infantry Division had fired almost all of their first line stocks of ammunition.[xi]

One reason that the Omaha Beach story has missed the effects of German artillery is because the wartime fiction that the 352nd were at Omaha Beach on temporary maneuvers carried over into the post war narrative.

The Vth US Corps Plan was based on the assumptions that Omaha beach was defended by a single second rate infantry Regiment of the 716th Static division.[xii] Instead they faced soldiers under command of the 352nd Infantry Division, formed in late 1943 from around 2,0000 east front veterans and drafts of young recruits. In March 1944 Rommel, the German commander of the invasion front, had ordered the 352nd division to take over the Bayeux sector, between Asnelles and the river Vire. 352nd Division took command of the 726th (Static) Infantry Regiment and two of its three regiments of the 352 were superimposed over the existing defences, from the river Vire to Asnelles east of Arromanches.[xiii] War is a kind of democracy, the Germans had a say.

FAULTY ALLIED INTELLIGENCE

Allied plan showing faulty dispositions taken from 1945 “Omaha Beach”

Allied staffs were reluctant to admit that the intelligence picture was wrong. The highly detailed maps showing German defences and the awareness of senior commanders of Ultra intercepts gave a misleading impression of accuracy and reliability if not omniscience. However, allied intelligence was flawed. Ultra was of little help identifying details of gun pits and trenches or an enemy using line communications. It was easier to find concrete emplacements using a photo reconnaissance aircraft than camouflaged field positions. It was also hard to locate an enemy that they were not looking for. The target lists identified the positions of the 716th that they expected to find. They weren’t looking for the field positions occupied by the 352nd, and when they did find gun pits they assumed that they were for something else.

However, one explanation for disproportionate information about coastal defences is that the Germans made extensive use of French contractors to complete the fortifications on the coast, which also happened to be easily spotted by allied aircraft. The resistance may not have had the same access to the troops deploying into field positions inland, which were also much harder to spot from the air.

FIRE SUPPORT FOR THE GERMANS DEFENDING OMAHA BEACH

As regards Omaha beach itself, the defences were doubled, as an additional battalion deployed in the sector. The number of machine guns was doubled from some 40+ machine guns to 85.  V Corps estimated that there were some 24-36 field guns “completely integrated into the strong points along fifty miles of coast,” Instead thirty-six 10.5 cm howitzers and sixteen 15cm howitzers were deployed a few miles behind the coast in range of Omaha Beach, in addition to the artillery integrated within the coastal strongpoints.  There were seven batteries.

  • Three from 1st Battalion AR 352, (I/352) each equipped with four 10.5 cm German howitzers, marked as (1./352, 2./352 and 3./352)
  • Three from IVth Battlaion AR 352 each equipped with four 15cm German howitzers, marked as (7./352, 8./352 and 9./352)[xiv]
  • One from 10th Battery from Artillery Regiment 1716 (10./1716) equipped with four 15.5 cm (f) captured French howitzers.[xv]

Map

Map 1 This map drawn by ObserstLeutnant Ziegelmann in 1947 shows the artillery deployment in 352 divisional area. (Annex 16a to FMS 490)

1 shows the location of these batteries.[xvi] Map 2 is a German map which shows the detail of Omaha beach area and the ranges from 10./1716’s position. The map also shows the Omaha beach defences and three triangles marking the artillery observation posts on Omaha Beach. One for the 10./1716 and two from Artillery Regiment 352.  The 352 Divisional signals log includes reports from observations posts from each of I and IV/352 indicating that they were observing Omaha Beach.

This map shows the positions of some of the batteries behind Omaha Beach. At he centre of the map is 10th Battery AR 1716. Its observation post is shown by the black triangle just above the number 67.

Each howitzer was about three times as lethal as an MG 42 machine gun. A machine gun firing an average of 250 rounds per minute created a beaten zone some 25 wide by 250 meters long. A howitzer shell flung thousands of supersonic shell fragments up to 250 metres. A battery of four howitzers could deny an area 50m x 200m. British world war two figures estimate that ten rounds per gun would inflict 20%+ casualties on troops in the open crossing that area. The fragments from howitzers could reach men hiding behind cover such as the shingle bank.

28/32cm Schwer wurfgeräte 41 Metal frame containing four heavy rockets

The Germans had a further nasty surprise for the assault troops.  There were 38 pits each containing a wooden or steel frame, a 28/32cm  Schwer wurfgeräte or heavy throwing equipment.  Each frame held four unguided rockets, either 28cm containing 110 lb TNT high explosive or 32 cm incendiaries, containing 11 gallons of oil.  These had a short range , just over 2,000 yards and were very inaccurate.  A detachment of

84th Werfer Regiment are thought to have operated these at Omaha from position near the village of St Laurent.

The German 352nd Artillery Regiment fired almost all its first line ammunition on the morning of D Day. That is the best part of 225 rounds per 105cm Howitzer and 135 rounds per 15 cm Howitzer. 20 rounds per 105mm Howitzer would be enough to cause 20% casualties on a body of men caught under one of the 200m x 50m defensive barrages (according WW2 era calculations.)  But each battery could fire ten such concentrations before ammunition became perilously low.  By 10.00 ammunition was running low, in particular for the heavy battalion[xvii].[xviii]  The Artillery Regiment commander ordered ammunition to be conserved for emergency use – three rounds per gun only to support units under immediate attack.[xix]

The 15.5cm 414 f was a French WW1 vintage howitzer. It fired a 43.61 kg (100 lb) HE shell to a range of 11.3 km (7 mi). Four of these equipped the heavy 10th battery of Artillery Regiment 1716 deployed near Formigny.

Although strongly sited on commanding ground overlooking the beaches, the Omaha Beach defences were far from perfect. Even on this most strongly held beach, the defences were spread far thinly than normal. Infantry and anti-tank guns were sited on a forward slope where they could be engaged from the sea. The fortification programme was incomplete.  Only 15% of the fortifications in the 352nd Divisional area were bomb proof and 45% splinter-proof.. Many of the defenders were in field defences vulnerable to allied direct fire weapons on the beach or afloat. Furthermore, there was little depth.

Thirty eight pits like this containing wurfgerat 41 were dug in the St Laurent area behind Omaha Beach.

The big advantage the artilleryman of Artillery Regiment 352 had over the German infantrymen defending Omaha Beach was that they were not under fire. Return fire reduced weapon effectiveness by around two thirds. Over the course of D Day the number of assault troops would soon match and then outnumber the defenders and offshore naval firepower and tanks would eventually supress direct fire weapons targeting the beach. Previously hidden howitzers in the countryside up to five miles from the beach were not easy to find quickly on the morning of D Day. The gunners of Artillery Regiment 352 would not be under fire as they engaged in the industrial warfare of dispatching howitzer shells.

A REVISED MODEL OF WHAT HAPPENED

Reworking the British study referred to earlier, to include the seven batteries in range of Omaha Beach, with one howitzer equivalent to three machine guns results in a very similar figures to those modelled in the study of the British beaches.

I have assumed that all 28 howitzers fired on Omaha Beach.  We know Pluskat’s I/352 were firing. IV/352 was short of ammunition by 10.00 and was not firing at Gold or Utah beaches which were out of range.

Despite the claims of total ineffectiveness, we don’t know how many of the German weapons were damaged by the aerial bombardment.  Nor do we know how many of those weapons were fired.  The study of the British beaches found that a proportion of weapons were serviceable but had not been fired. There is no reason to believe that the naval bombardment at Omaha was delivered less effectively than on other beaches. Nor that the soldiers on Omaha Beach were less resistant to panic or the confusion of battle.

Table 1 Percentage of casualties caused by different weapons on Omaha Beach
Proportion of weapons on beach destroyed or unmanned by preliminary bombardment
Numbers of weapons (1) 0% 10% 20% 30% 40%
Machine guns 85 45% 43% 40% 38% 35%
Mortars 6 9% 9% 9% 8% 7%
Wurfergerate 41(2) 152 2% 2% 1% 1% 1%
105mm (3) 12 19% 20% 21% 23% 24%
150cm (3) 16 25% 27% 28% 30% 33%
Total Artillery 28 46% 48% 51% 54% 58%
Casualties per MG Equivalent (4) 15.8 16.7 17.8 19.0 20.3
Notes
1.  The number of machine guns and mortars are taken from AORG report 292. The number of artllery pieces is taken from Zetterling
2. The 152 Wurfergerate 41 is considered to be the equivalent of a mortar or artillery piece with 152 rounds of ammunition. The increased destructive power cancelled by inaccuracy.
3  Mortars and artillery calculated as three machine gun equivalents as per AORG 292
4. Total 3,000 casualties taken from AORG 292

The tables 1 models the distribution of casualties by weapon on D Day with assumptions of the effectiveness of the preliminary bombardment from having no effect at all, to 40% of weapons, the upper end of the AORG findings from British beaches.

There is still debate about the precise number of casualties on Omaha Beach. I have taken the figure of 3,000 from AORG 292. The leftmost figure for casualties per MG equivalent , assumes that the preliminary bombardment was totally ineffective, as is sometimes claimed.  If this were so, it would mean that if all of the weapons on Omaha Beach survived the bombardment they would be on average less effective than comparable machine guns or mortars on Gold or Sword beach.  It would seem more reasonable for the figure to be as high as the British beaches – which would assume that 10-20% of weapons were knocked out by the bombardment and 10-20% left unmanned – just as in the bombardments on the British beaches.

10.5 cm FH18 howitzer like these equipped the 1st Battalion of Artillery Regiment 352.. This fired a 14.81 kg (32.7 lb) (HE) to a range of 14.10,675 m (11,674 yd)

There is a rationale behind there being a similar average number of casualties inflicted by each machine gun. The allied forces on each beach landed with very similar forces, trained to a common standard using similar tactics supported by very similar forces off shore.  Is it unreasonable that across all of the individual engagements on the four beaches the number of casualties that a machine gun might inflict before being suppressed is similar?

There are of course a lot of assumptions in a simplistic model.  If you want to put in your own figures the model is here.

The key implication is that around half of the casualties on Omaha Beach were inflicted by artillery that had not been located before D Day; could not be engaged by the ships or armour landed on Omaha Beach. The casualties from artillery alone on Omaha Beach were probably higher than lost to all causes on any other beach.

Not as infamous as his brew-boy Hein Serveloh, Artillery Observer Bernard Ferking may have inflicted more casualties than the so called “Beast of Omaha”

The assault troops could do nothing about the rain of artillery shells until either the observation posts were captured or the Germans ran out of ammunition, which they did around lunchtime on 6th June. Allied air power did play a part, by interdicting German road movement inland.

HOW MUCH LOWER MIGHT CASUALTIES HAVE BEEN IF THE BOMBARDMENT WAS LONGER?

The bombardment on Omaha Beach lasted for a bare hour, an hour less than on the British beaches. The time of H Hour, the landings was determined by the tide, which reached low tide earlier at Omaha Beach. It has been argued that an additional hour of bombardment might have made a big difference to the number of casualties on Omaha Beach.  Modelling the effect of increasing the level of damage by a further 10-20%  shows a reduction in casualty numbers by perhaps 300-450, around 20% of the total historic casualties – but could have little effect on the undetected artillery.

WHAT IF THE NAVAL BOMBARDMENT HAD FOLLOWED THE PACIFIC WAR MODEL?

Some have argued that the Omaha Beach should have been prepared in the same way as the Japanese defences on the islands captured in 1944-45. A lengthy bombardment systematically demolishing the defences talking a week if necessary. This is similar to the tactics developed in the first world war and implemented at Vimy Ridge and Messines in 1917. While this would indeed demolish the beach defences, it would do little to neutralise the undiscovered artillery. Furthermore, it would give the Germans ample warning of the target area and allow them to concentrate their artillery, and deploy reserves in depth. This would risk an attritional battle on the beach itself reminiscent of Paschendaele.  A mere doubling the number of defending batteries might be expected to cause an additional 1,500 casualties.

The 15 CM sFH 18 equipped the heavy IVth battalion of Artillery Regiment 352. It could fire its 43.52 kg (95.9 lb) (HE) shells to a range of 13,325 m (14,572 yd)

WHAT IF THE WEATHER HAD BEEN BETTER?

The fire plan was predicated on fine weather and good visibility.  With good weather the Eighth Air Force bombers might have dropped more ordnance on Omaha Beach. On the British beaches many of the defences were further inland than at Omaha Beach.On the British beaches  air attacks were considered to have knocked out 13% of defences.  Had that been repeated on Omaha Beach that might have resulted in the destruction on nine machine guns and a mortar,  which according to the model might have saved 193 casualties

WAS THERE A WAY TO FIND THE HIDDEN GUNS?

Locating enemy guns was a science and an art. The Allies had a range of scientific techniques for finding artillery, sound ranging wireless DF and flash spotting.  Unfortunately none of these were of any use against artillery which had not previously disclosed its positions or indeed could be deployed on ships.

There was an art to finding hidden positions in aerial photographs, or for human agents to locate positions on the ground.   About the only tool for locating artillery the allies had on D Day were aerial observers, artillery officers flying planes. The Senior British Artillery Officer in the Second British Army was Brigadier HJ (Hatchet Jack) Parham. He was acutely   aware of the need for aerial observers on D Day. He did his best to argue for an aircraft carrier for Air OP aircraft and even the prototype Sikorsky helicopter to provide more eyes in the sky on D Day.  This is perhaps the only route that might have led to the discovery and neutralization of the artillery that bombarded Omaha beach.

PARACHUTE ASSAULT

With hindsight, perhaps the best way to have prevented high casualties among the assaulting infantry on Omaha Beach might have been to land paratroops inland.[xx] This isn’t original Stephen Badsey made this point in 2004 The parachute drops on the Cotentin peninsular landed on and behind many of the artillery positions severely disrupted the German artillery which could have made Utah as fatal as Omaha beach.

TOO HIGH EXPECTATIONS

It is worth remembering that the assault on Omaha Beach was a success. The beachhead was secured and over 34,000 troops landed at a cost of around 8-10% of the assaulting force.

The balance sheet for failure in C20th battles looked somewhat different. On July 1st on the Somme the British VIII Corps lost 14,000 casualties in about 20 minutes from some 24,000 assault troops attacking a comparable frontage to Omaha Beach after the barrage lifted prematurely. No ground was gained.[xxi]

Even successful assaults on defended positions with heavy artillery support incurred high casualties. The set piece attack on the Hindenburg line 29 Sep-2 Oct 1918 cost the 27th Infantry Division 3,076 casualties[xxii] and the 30th Infantry Division 2,494 casualties[xxiii], mainly on the 29th.  Between 18 and 22 July 1918, the Big Red One took part in the very successful Franco-American counter stroke on the River Aisne at a cost of 6,800 casualties over the five days.[xxiv]  Three weeks before D Day the IInd Polish army corps lost 4,199 casualties in the final assault on Monte Cassino.

A little too much is made of the failure of plans to work as intended.  War is inherently chaotic. There is an Anglo-American misguided belief that military commanders can impose their will on the elements and an un-cooperative enemy.  Perhaps it is time to move on from hunting scapegoats for the high casualties at Omaha beach and appreciate the role of fortune elsewhere on the D Day beaches.

 

[i] War Department Observers Board Report No 23 report Observations on the Invasion of France and the Fall of Cherbourg. 25 July 1944

[ii] Badsey S and Bean T Omaha Beach: Battlezone Normandy (2004)

[iii] Caddick Adams P Sand and Steel, (2019) P562

[iv] Harrison, Gordon A, United States Army in World War 2 European Theatre of Operations: Cross Channel Attack. (1950) p319

[v] Harrison Footnote p319

[vi] Harrison P300

[vii] Harrison P302

[viii] Liddle P, D Day by those who were there. (2004) pp125-130

[ix] WO 291/243 AORG report 261 Casualties and effects of Fire Support on the British Beaches in Normandy (1945)

[x] WO 291/270 AORG Report 292 Comparison of British and American areas in Normandy in terms of fire support and its effects. (1945)

[xi] FMS B432 352d Infantry Division (5 Dec 1943-6 Jun 1944). By Oberstleutnant Fritz Ziegelmann (1946). Organization and fighting on D day in Normandy.

[xii] HQ V Corps Operations  Plan  Neptune Annex 1 G2 Estimate of the Enemy Situation 1st April 1944

[xiii] Ziegelmann

[xiv] Gliderung der 352 I D Stand 1.5.44 T312,R1566 F000216 quoted in Zetterling, N: Normandy 1944 German military Organisation, Combat Power and Organisational Effectiveness (2000) p278

[xv] Gliderung der 716 I D Stand 1.5.44 T312,R1566 F000215 quoted in Zetterling, ibid  p298

[xvi] FMS B490 Map 16a. This is a revised version of Map 5 in FMS B432, which was drawn from memory. Drawn a year later it corrects the identity of the battalions and adds the 10ht battery of AR 1716.

[xvii] FMS B-388 352d Infantry Division (6 Jun 1944). By Oberstleutnant Fritz Ziegelmann; 36 pp; D Day in Normandy. Extracts from the operations officer’s telephone log.

[xviii] FMS B432 Ziegelman P26

[xix] Milano, V and Connon , B Normandy Front D Day to Saint Lo through German eyes (2011) Chapt 5

[xx] Badsey S, Culture, controversy, Caen and Cherbourg: the first Week in Buckley J, The Normandy Campaign 1944 Sixty Years on (2004)

[xxi] Prior R and Wilson T Battle of the Somme (2005) P80

[xxii] 27th Division Summary of Operations in the World War ABMC (1944) p36

[xxiii] 30th Division Summary of Operations in the World War ABMC (1944) p35

[xxiv] 1st Division Summary of Operations in the World War ABMC (1944) p33

Aldbourne’s War Dead and Easy Company’s Band of Brothers

Albourne Heritage Centre Curator John Dymond points out the layout of the 506 PIR camp with the help of Ww2 era photographs.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of being the historian guide for the US National World War 2 Museum  “Band of Brothers Tour”. They are partners of the Liberation Route Europe. I accompanied the group to Aldbourne in Wiltshire, where the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment were billeted in 1943-44. The Aldbourne Heritage society were splendid hosts.

Memorial to Second World War dead: Aldbourne Parish Church
Memorial to Second World War dead: Aldbourne Parish Church

Travelers were curious about the reaction of villagers to the influx of American soldiers doubling the population. One of the overwhelming thoughts must have been reminders to them of their own menfolk, doing their bit for the war effort far from home.

The names on the memorial plate in the church provide evidence of the war service of villagers. Most of those who served came back, and the memorial is merely a fragment of the part that Aldbourne played in the war. By the time that Easy Company arrived in Aldbourne many men were serving in one of the armed forces, and eight people from Aldbourne had already died.

Picture of M V Zealandic
M V Zealandic

At 00.45 hours on 17 Jan 1941 the unescorted M V Zealandic was hit underneath the forward mast by one torpedo from U-106 about 230 miles west-northwest of Rockall. The ship stopped for a short time, sent distress signals and then continued. The ship sank slowly after being hit amidships by more two torpedoes at 00.59 and 01.27 hours. The Germans observed how the crew abandoned ship in three lifeboats, but they were never seen again. The master, 64 crew members, two gunners and six passengers were lost. The passengers included 31 year old Wing Commander D. P. Lascelles RAF, and his wife Diana Trelawny,who lived on the Green, Aldbourne. Wing Commander Lascelles’ younger brother Flying Officer John Richard Hasting, had been lost over the Atlantic three month earlier, aged 20.

HMS Hood in 1924

Two others died at sea before 1943. 17 year old Desmond Trevor Wooton was serving as a Boy 1st Class in the Royal Navy on 24th May 1941 aboard H.M.S. Hood when it was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Straits between Iceland and Greenland. He was the youngest of the village war dead.

HMS Tigress in 1918
A sister ship to HMS Niger
Map of the Denmark Strait
The Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. Both HMS Hood and HMS Niger were sunk in this water

Commander Arthur Jelfs Cubison, (D.S.C. and Bar) RN was a naval hero. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) as the Gunnery officer of the 770 ton destroyer HMS Tigress, when the Tigress and three other small craft gave chase to a German-Turkish squadron including the 22,500 ton battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (Ex German SMS Goeben) and 4,500 ton cruiser Midilli (Ex German SMS Breslau). Cubison showed marked ability, quickly straddling and hitting an enemy destroyer. Between the wars his career included service on river gun boats in Iraq during the Arab Rebellion in 1924 and ended with his retirement in 1934, after 21 years in the Royal Navy. At the outbreak of war, he re-joined the Navy and served at HMS Vernon, the Navy’s torpedo and mine recovery school. He took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk and was awarded a bar to his DSC. In 1942 he was the Captain of the 835 ton minesweeper HMS Niger. In fog on 5 July 1942, with visibility of less than a mile, he mistook an iceberg for Iceland’s North Western Cape and led six merchant ships of the Murmansk to Reykjavík convoy QP 13 into Northern Barrage minefield SN72 laid one month earlier at the entrance to the Denmark Strait. Every ship detonated British mines. 46 civilian crew and 9 Naval Armed Guards died aboard the American Liberty ship John Randolph, and the freighters Hefron and Massmar. There were only eight survivors of the 127 men aboard Niger. Only one freighter could be salvaged. An expensive accident and a tragedy for mariners who had survived the Arctic passage to Russia.

Four airmen died before Easy Company arrived. Corporal Leonard John Barnes died in the UK on 12th June 1942, aged 26, and is buried in Aldbourne Churchard.

Picture of spitfiare
Spitfire Mk V in markings of No 234 Squadron April 1942.

There is also a private headstone to Pilot Officer George Roxberry Bland, of 234 Squadron RAF who died on 16th April 1942, age 20, but his body was never found. His was one of two Spitfire aircraft from, 234 Squadron RAF probably shot down by German fighters as cover to an air sea rescue patrol off Cherbourg. Sergeant Robert Herbert Charles Crook of 45 Squadron RAF was lost on 18th April 1941 over the Western Desert. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the El Alamein Memorial in Egypt.

Lancaster Mk 1 R5573 ZN-B of 106 Squadron RAF

 

Memorial in Harze to the aircraft

Sergeant Ronald Charles Barrett, 21, was the wireless operator of Lancaster Mk 1 R5573 ZN-B of 106 Squadron RAF, returning from a raid by 287 bombers on the city of Cologne when it was shot down at 01.53 on 9th July 1943, by a German night fighter over the Ardennes. He is buried in Heverlee War Cemetery near Louvin Belgium. There is a memorial in the Ardennes village of Harze to the crew of the aircraft. Two other Lancaster bombers were lost by 106 Squadron on the night of 8/9 July. One was flown by 1st Lieutenant Eugene Leon Rosner USAAF, from Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania who had initially served with the RCAF before transferring to the USAAC in early July. This was the first mission in which Rosner flew in

1st Lt Eugene Rosner USAAC who died as captain of Lancaster III ED720 ZN-R 8/9 July 1943

USAAC uniform.  Rosner is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery in Plot A Row 3 Grave 38, above Omaha Beach.
During the period that Easy Company were billeted in Aldbourne before D-Day, three more men from Aldbourne would die. 35-year-old Captain Dermot Horace Thomas Hanbury, Royal Engineers died in India in January. Lieutenant Thomas Martin Francis Lowinsky of 1st Battalion Scots Guards died 16th February 1944, age 22, at the height of the fighting at Anzio, Italy. Sapper William Robert May, of 42 Field Company, Royal Engineers also died in the battle for Rome, on 1st June 1944, and is buried in Cassino War cemetery. He left a widow, Florence, in Aldbourne.
Easy Company’s campaign is entwined with the fate of Aldbourne’s war dead through the remainder of the North West Europe Campaign. Sapper Derek Thomas Brind died in Normandy on 24th August 1944, aged 24, and is buried in the Bayeux War Cemetery. Lieutenant Colonel

Picture of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Irwin Bishell, DSO TD
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Irwin Bishell, DSO TD

Thomas Irwin Bishell, DSO TD commanded the 94th (Dorset and Hampshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment Royal Artillery throughout the Normandy campaign. Born in 1899 he was a veteran of the First World War. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his inspirational leadership during the tough fighting south west of Caen during the first two weeks of July 1944. He met all emergencies with calm and resolute action and set an example of devotion to duty $rand contempt for danger. His regiment was part of the divisional artillery of the 43rd Wessex

Image of Route marker for 94 Field Regiment 43rd Wessex Division
Route marker for 94 Field Regiment 43rd Wessex Division. Markers like these would have been familiar to the 101st.

Division which played an important role in Operation Market Garden. He was killed by a shell splinter on 1st October a dozen miles from where Easy Company made their attack on the same day. “Every single man in the regiment had the greatest confidence and admiration for him, and whenever he visited the gun position during lulls in the battle he always had a cheery word and smile for everyone.” Bishell is buried in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

305 (Polish) Squadron RAF Mosquito Mk VI

Not far very far away, across the German border is the Commonwealth Reichswald War cemetery, which contains the graves of many RAF airmen, including that of Flight Sergeant Kingsley Osbern George Nugent, the Navigator of a twin engine Mosquito fighter bomber downed on 26th November 1944. He is buried alongside the Bahamian pilot, flying in the 305th (Polish) Squadron, an illustration of the patchwork of nationalities in the RAF. Easy Company’s route to Berchtesgarten passed within ten miles of the War Cemetery at Durnbach where Sergeant/Air Gunner Bernard Conrad Ricketts of 170 Squadron, Royal Air Force is buried after his Lancaster bomber was shot down in the last RAF raid on Nuremburg, Bavaria.

PIcture of oldiers from 6th South West Borderers Burma 1944
Soldiers from 6th South West Borderers Burma 1944

The British army in Burma is sometimes known as the “Forgotten Army.” But there were some 20,000 British soldiers who fought in the Chinese American Northern command under US General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell. They weren’t “forgotten” because few people ever knew they existed! One of these men was Private Ronald Arthur Hacker, 6th Battalion South Wales Borderers, who died on 15th November 1944, age 25. At Gyobin Chauang on the road to Mandalay, his battalion fought a five day battle with the Japanese 128th Infantry Regiment in thick jungle. Hacker has no known grave and is commemorated on the memorial at Yangon(Rangoon), Burma.

The last Aldbourne fatal casualty of the war was Flight Lieutenant Guy Richard Brown, DFC RAF who died, aged 24, on 6th September 1945, three weeks after the Japanese surrender and is buried in Heliopolis War Cemetery, Cairo, Egypt. Brown was awarded the DFC for his service in 50 operational missions over Egypt and Libya leading to the capture of Tripoli. After then he seems to have flown for a electronic countermeasures unit in Britain against Germany. At the time of his death he was serving in an air ferry unit. The bus shelter was built as a memorial to him.

There is another name on the village war memorial, Sergeant Ernest Wakefield Royal Engineers. This name cannot be linked to any name in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. Village memorials were erected by the local parish and we may never know anything more about this man.
Of the seventeen names on the memorial, seven have no known grave. Their relatives would have received a message that their loved ones were missing, and that it was possible that they would be found or had been taken prisoner. Much later there would be a letter stating that their status was “missing presumed killed.” It must have been hard to hope that it was all in error, and that one day they would come home.
The Band of Brothers of Easy Company 506 PIR fully illustrates the experience of every and any American soldier in the liberation of Europe. Aldbourne is a village which can represent every and any English village. While every village has its own unique history and Aldbourne seems to have been the home of a higher proportion of officers than many, the war service of its villagers covers all three services, across the globe. The fortunes of war took many of them into contact with American servicemen in general and several of them even cross the paths of Easy Company. They all did their bit.

SOUTH NOTTS HUSSARS BATTLEFIELD STUDY NORMANDY 2014 “PAYBACK FOR KNIGHTSBRIDGE”

Ex Hussar Hindsight was the final exercise for 307 (South Nottinghamshire Hussars) Battery Royal Artillery before the battery was disbanded, and took place in Normandy in May 2014. It’s an example of how a battlefield study focusing on the story of a specific unit can cover many aspects of the Normandy battles than might be expected, while focusing on the ethos and heritage of the unit itself.

The exercise aims included the following:-

  • Practice decision making, planning and carrying out battlefield procedures in a simulated all arms environment, etc”
  • Practice in the estimate and orders process, etc.
  • Extract the lessons from operations in Normandy relevent to sustained operations, the  “realities of war” and the significance of the core values of the British Army.
  • Appreciation of the SNH Ethos and an the human dimension to the battery’s military heritage.

The study started with a long drive from Nottingham on Friday returning on Sunday which allowed a day and a morning for visits to the battlefields. What follows is a sample of battles and incidents in the Normandy campaign in which the South Notts Hussars took part.

The 107th (South Nottinghamshire Hussars) Field Regiment Royal Artillery a territorial artillery unit from Nottinghamshire, best known for the desperate battle fought at “Knightsbridge” the nickname for a desolate piece of desert in Libya. On the 6th June 1942 the battery, unsupported by infantry or armour fought to the last gun and man against the Afrika Korps. The story of the gallantry of these men in their doomed action has been captured in books and on canvas. However, that was not the end of the story. The title and cap badge of the “South Notts Hussars”(SNH) was adopted by the 107th Medium Regiment (107 Med Regt) and 150th Field Regiment RA,(150 Fd Regt) which also received a trickle of survivors from the battle and some escapees from prisoner of war cages.

SATURDAY MORNING – 150 FD REGT AND THE D DAY BEACH AREAmap1Two years to the day after the destruction of the Regiment, members of the SNH landed in Normandy and played their part in the defeat of the German armies. Although neither unit landed on D Day, individual soldiers and officers from both SNH units served as additional FOO parties, which did land on D Day with the airborne forces and assault troops. The allies had a huge advantage in fire-power over the Germans, in the form of artillery, naval gunfire and aircraft. However, this fire-power could only be brought to bear if controlled by a forward observer. The scale of the airborne and seaborne invasion on D-Day meant that many more artillery observers would be needed for D-Day itself and shortly afterwards.

Captain Sharman from 150 Fd Regt trained as a Combined Operations Forward Bombardment Observation Officer and took part in the amphibious landing on Juno Beach supporting the Queens Own Regiment of Canada on D Day with fire from HMS Kempenfeld. (Stand 1. in the map above) The assault on Bernieres-Sur-Mer was quite costly and Sharman found it difficult to keep himself and his radio set fully under cover from enemy fire.

This was a good place for the battery to discuss the options facing the protagonists and practice military decision making.

The 6th Airborne Division, with a key role on the Eastern Flank of the beachhead had only one RA Regiment, one third of the proportion within an infantry division. Additional artillery OP parties were dropped by parachute or glider to provide the airborne troops with artillery support from artillery units landed by sea. LT Hastings also from the 150 Fd Regt SNH was one of these observers. At one point in the campaign these two officers met at the top of Ranville Church tower. Capt Sharman spotting ships while Lt Hastings, wearing his red beret, was observing artillery fire. These were not the only SNH soldiers to take part. Gunner John Woolmore of 107 Medium Regiment is recorded on the Bayeux memorial to the missing as killed on the 6th June 1944, the first member of the South Notts Hussars to be lost in the Normandy campaign. Presumably he was a member of a similar party, and either lost at sea or in the inundated ground.

150 SNH Fd Regt was part of the 4th Army Group Royal Artillery (4 AGRA) but for almost the entire Normandy campaign was under command of the 6th airborne division. The recce parties landed on the 7th June and the guns on the 9th June. Between 9 June and 15 July the Regiment was deployed in action in the fields immediately West of the village of Coleville- Sur Mer, now Coleville Montgomery.(Stand 3)

It took part in the defensive fires which stopped the German attacks mounted between the 9-12th June. During the 24 hour period from 12 June 1944, 150 Field Regt fired 7,828 rounds, starting with Fire plan “Arrow” that supported the attack by 12 Para which seized Breville. This is regarded as the turning point, after which the airborne bridgehead east of the River Orne was never seriously threatened.   The battle of Breville is suitable for a TEWT and to explore the realities of war.

After this 150 Field Regiment settled into a static routine, supporting the programme of raids undertaken by the paras and commandos, a counter mortar campaign and several fire plans supporting the other formations of 1st British Corps The Gun position was subject to occasional artillery fire and regular night time bombing from the Luftwaffe. The evidence of this is in the Hermanville CWGC Cemetery, on the edge of the next village. (Stand 2) Lt Davey, an Assistant CPO was killed by bomb fragments of an anti personnel bomb which hit his command post on 9th June 1944, the first night the Regiment deployed. Other problems facing them were the mosquitoes and the flies which fed on the bloated corpses of animals and humans.  This was a good place for the battery to explore the implications of sustained operations.

The OP Parties took part in the raids and shared the dangers of the infantry. The second SNH grave in Hermanville is of Bdr Nelson, the BC’s assistance who died of wounds received when a shell burst over his and the BC’s heads on 14th June.

One of the more hazardous jobs in the Regiment was that of the OP Signaller, responsible for maintaining line and radio communications – even under fire. LBdr Dickie was a member of an OP Party at St Honorine on 11 July 1944, in support of an attack by 51 Highland Division. (Shown with the purple arrow)  The OP Area was subjected to intense and prolonged mortar and shell fire, and as a result of this fire all means of communications were useless. LBdr Dickie volunteered to carry an urgent request to fire in support of our own troops to another Arty OP. He successfully crossed 250 yards of open ground under very heavy fire to deliver the messages. The artillery support thus obtained undoubtedly did much to relieve the heavy enemy fire. For this, Lbdr Dickie was awarded the Military Medal.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON – 107 MEDIUM REGIMENT ON THE ROAD TO FALAISE

map2The 107th (South Notts Hussars) Medium Regiment was given the title and number of the 107th RHA destroyed near Knightsbridge. It was a medium Regiment of 18 x 5.5” guns formed into two batteries 425 and 426 batteries. The latter was commanded by Major W F Barber who had commanded the original 426 battery pre war, been captured at Knightsbridge, but made a dramatic escape from Italy.

The Regiment landed in Normandy in July as part of 9 AGRA. By 21 July the Regiment had been deployed to Demouville SE of Caen. (Stand 6 in the Battle for Caen Map) This was a low lying, unhealthy, much shelled and bombed location in a salient further forwards than medium guns were usually deployed. From this area the Regiment supported the 2 Canadian Corps in its attacks south from Caen to Falaise. It took part in the fire plan to support the innovative Operations Totalise and Tractable as part of 9 AGRA. These assaults used heavy bombers by night and day to try to support deep attacks by Armours, mechanised and motorised troops into the German defences. The use of heavy bombers carried a high risk of “friendly fire” and the War Diary of 9 AGRA notes that action by a pilot from B/Flight 662 AOP Sqn managed to prevent US Bombers from bombing 107 Med Regiment.

On 14th August as part of Operation Tractable 107th Med Regt was under command 4th Canadian Armoured Division. The plan was to was to attack with phalanxes of armour, accompanied by infantry mounted in carriers and APCs and supported by engineer vehicles through a smoke screen, to enable the armour to penetrate the German defences, supported by a fire plan of artillery fire and bombing by medium and heavy bombers. (Stand 2 in Road to Falaise Map)  The operations between Caen and Falaise offer a very different terrain and tactical setting to that of the D Day beaches and a place to explore mechanised operations..

OP Parties were mounted in Sherman OP tanks, which were modified for use as OP vehicles by removing the main armament to fit a map table and the replacement disguised with a rubber barrel. Capt Turner was travelling with the HQ of 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade when it came under fire from anti tank guns. His was one of several knocked out. Turner was wounded in the arm and bailed out. He managed to get Gnr Craig his signaller out of the tank before it caught fire. Gnr Craig and the other seriously wounded were loaded into an armoured ambulance which was itself knocked out and Gunner Craig’s body has never been found.

Captain Dobson, whose OP Assistant was Gnr Moore MM set off in support of the Lake Superior Regiment, an infantry unit mounted in carriers. Captain Dobson’s Sherman was described as “like a battleship among destroyers,” attracting enemy fire. His coolness under fire over two days was rewarded with a Military Cross.

The 4th Canadian Armoured Division was then ordered to block the escape route of the Germans trapped in the Falaise Pocket. 107th Med Regt’s guns were brought forwards to bring fire into the pocket. On the 17th August the gun batteries came under air attack from German fighter bombers while on the move in the village of Epaney.(Stand 2 Road to Falaise Map)  One of the aircraft was shot down by Gunner Farmer with a Bren gun, for which he was awarded the Military Medal, but within half an hour one gun tractor hit a landmine, killing Gnr Cornish and wounding three other men. The speed of the advance and the confused situation around the edges of the Falaise pocket brought new problems.

A recce party, led by the CO, Lt Col Oswald and escorted by a troop of tanks was ambushed and the CO captured. He later escaped from captivity and returned a few days later. One newly occupied battery positions came under fire from German infantry and mortars and at one point the medium artillery was ordered to prepare for tanks. The medium artillery was need to both fire South West into the pocket and east to prevent the Germans from breaking back in. (In the area of Trun shown as Stand 3 on the Road to Falaise map)

The 29th Canadian Armoured Regiment, the South Alberta Regiment, was the lead armoured battle group, was ordered to take Lambert-sur-Dives, which dominated the river crossings through which many of the trapped Germans were heading. It was the cork in the neck of the Falaise Pocket. Captain Marsh of the 107th was an FOO deployed in support of D Squadron of the 29th regiment under the command of Major David Currie, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in this action. The citation for Captain Marsh’s MC was signed by Canadian Corps commander General Simmonds the Army Commander. “Enemy tanks were at times within 500 yards of Captain Marsh’s tank before being knocked out either by anti-tank guns or the shells of Captain Marsh’s Regiment. It was largely due to his accurate shooting in a difficult situation that the Reconnaissance Regiment was able to hold on to the high ground north of St Lambert-sur-Dives and thus capture a great quantity of Prisoners of War. The latter stated that our shell fire was the cause of their collapse. Over 100 rounds per gun having been fired by Captain Marsh from his own Regiment, it was the fire from 107 med Regt which enabled the 29th Canadian armour Regiment to hold their positions and that their fire, over 100 rounds per gun was instrumental in the capture of the thousands or prisoners.” One of the Germans formations trapped inside the pocket was the 21st Panzer Division, which had been among their tormentors at Knightbridge. (Capt . Marsh’s Op is shown on the map in Blue East of Trun, close to the viewing platform for St Lambert -sur-Dives

SUNDAY MORNING – 150 FD REGT IN OP PADDLE – A NEGLECTED CHAPTER IN THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN

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The journey home on Sunday Morning started with an act of Remembrance at Bannerville Commonwealth War Cemetery, where several South Notts Hussars as buried.    The route followed the actions fought by 150 Fd Regt in the second half of August and the beginning of September 1944.

The situation on the Eastern flank changed in mid August 1944 as the German position in Normandy collapsed. At the same time as the allies executed a short envelopment of the German 7th Army at Falaise, Montgomery planned a wider encirclement, trapping the Germans outside the Falaise pocket against the river Seine. The I Corps, with 6th Airborne Division (6 AB Div) on the left flank, on the coast, would form the left wing of this advance, with the intention of linking up with the Third US Army. The 6th AB part was Operation Paddle. This operation, often overlooked in the story of the Normandy campaign took two weeks and was no walk over.

The operation was a frontal attack on the positions held by the German 711th Infantry division, which had been ordered to hold a series of delaying positions, based on the rivers emptying into the bay of the Seine. While the Germans were, at this point trying to extricate as much of their army as possible, every day’s delay

The 6th Airborne Division was a lightly equipped infantry formation intended to seize and hold objectives, rather than undertake mobile mechanised operations. It lacked the communications equipment for mobile warfare and the integral artillery. For this operation 6th AB Div’s three airborne brigades were augmented by two commando brigades, a Dutch motorised Brigade and a Belgian motorised battle group. It had some armour from its own recce Regiment. The 150th SNH Fd Regt, was placed under command of 6 Airborne Division for the advance supporting different parachute, air landing and Special Service, (commando) brigades.

The operation started with an attack from the positions which had been occupied for the past three months and ended on the banks of the Rover Seine. The first stage was to cross the river Dives. The battlefield was littered with minefields, marked and unmarked. Late in the evening at 11 pm. on 17 August, 1944, north west of Troarn, (Stand 2 on the Pursuit to the Seine map) a soldier from a Royal Marine Commando reported that several of his men had been blown up in an uncharted minefield and were lying wounded. On hearing this, Gunner Rawlings dashed to their rescue but while attempting to carry away one of the wounded on a stretcher was himself seriously wounded. Rawlings then gave verbal directions to the rescue parties which enabled them to pass safely through the minefield until all the injured had been brought to safety. For this action Rawlings was awarded the George Medal.

Two days later, at Putot-en-Auge on 19th Aug 150 Fd were key in assisting 3rd Para Brigade to break up a German counter attack and help them to drive back the Germans capturing 160 prisoners as well anti tank and anti aircraft guns.

At the next river, the Touques, 6th AB Division tried to force an attack at Pont L’Eveque. (Stand 3 on the Pursuit to the Seine Map)  The fighting around Pont L’Eveque took the best part of three days from 21-24rd August. On the 22nd 5 Para Brigade attempted to force their way through with a battalion infiltrating through the town while a second battalion attacked via two fords south of the town. This assault was beaten back. On the 23rd the attack was resumed through the town and a foothold made on the eastern bank, but again forced to withdraw. Only seven men reached the objective, but were forced to withdraw. Two of these were Captain Saddleworth the FOO, who had been wounded the previous day. He was pinned down in the river itself and, while attempting to neutralise a sniper with a Tommy gun was wounded again in both hands. His OP Ack Bdr Tustin was fatally wounded in the same engagement. A second FOO, Captain Clough was wounded on the same day. The Germans brought down sufficiently heavy and accurate fire, for the actions taken by Bdr Warner the Op Signaller that day to re-establish communications between the Op and guns, to be rewarded with the MM.

The last river before the Seine was the River Risle and the crossing at Pont Audemer was also heavily contested by the Germans on the 26th August. The following day 150 Fd were detached from 6AB Division which would return to the UK. 150 Fd’s next battle was the final major operation in Normandy itself, the capture of the port of Le Havre as part of Operation Astonia.  The port of le Havre can be seen from the post war bridge over the Seine.  150 Fd Regt’s  part in the attack is documented on the Op Astonia Fireplan schedule and trace, included on the map.

The South Nottinghamshire Hussars were a British yeomanry unit which spent the first 150 years of its existence maintaining law and order, and war service in the First World War as mounted cavalry. In 1922 the SNH were one of the Yeomanry Regiments which converted to gunners. They retained their own cap badge the acorns and a selection of customs. It was one of some 20 former yeomanry regiments which took part in the Normandy campaign as Regiments of Royal Artillery. Despite this tradition, the 307 (South Notts Hussars) Fd Battery RA is about to disband, with the title and traditions being subsumed into the Royal Yeomanry

“Normandy” was not an honour title for 307 Battery. The battles in Normandy did not eclipse the gallantry, and steadfastness demonstrated by its predecessor at Knightsbridge. This was a chance to see how artillery was used in different phases of war and in a mechanised and dismounted environment over different types of terrain. It was possible to tell the story from D-Day to the Falaise Gap and the Seine through the stories of members of the South Notts Hussars. The 307th Battery RA was not very different to other batteries whose lineage includes service in Normandy. The 150thFd and 107th Med Regts were not elite units. Nor had they been singled out for a special role.

If not would like to find out more about developing a customised Normandy battlefield study focusing on a particular cap badge, or unit heritage contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com  info@gunnertours.com

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13 MAY 1944 RAF BOMBER COMMAND RAID ON LOUVAIN/ LEUVEN

Aircraft of 419 Sqn RCAF line up

12/13 May 1944
Louvain: 120 aircraft – 96 Halifaxes, 20 Lancasters, 4 Mosquitos – of 6 and 8   Groups.3 Halifaxes and 2 Lancasters lost. The bombing was more accurate than on the previous night and considerable damage was caused in the railways yards.

One the same night the RAF also bombed Hasselt, ineffectively and carried out mining and intruder operations.  The total  effort for the night: 355 sorties, 14 aircraft (3.9 per cent) lost.  This appears to be the Bomber command war diary entry (whatever happened to the  Day by Day Bomber Command  Dairy entries?) pages? 

This was the second night in succession that Bomber Command had raided Leuven (knonw by Francophone Wallons as Louvain) On the night 11-12th the results had not been satiusfactory wioth the bombing scattered and little evidence of damage to the rail infrastructure. On The raid which started shortly after midnight on 13th May caused the following damage.

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Bomb Damage in Leuven.

 474 buildings in Leuven were completely destroyed, including a university building, three churches, two schools, thirty-seven factories, two buildings of city and a monastery. No less than 1300 buildings were severely damaged, including five university buildings, a church, four monasteries, eight factories and six public buildings (including the Palace of Justice and the Little Prison). A thousand buildings were slightly damaged.   In the parish of Wilsele 183 buildings were completely destroyed, 280 severely damaged buildings and 150 mildly affected panden.Te Herent 14 buildings were completely destroyed, 58 severely damaged and 80 slightly damaged. All bombing in 1944 together accounted

Damaged buildings in Leuven
Damaged buildings in Leuven

for the destruction of 634 homes and become uninhabitable for 1,166 homes on a total housing stock of 4,223 homes, about 25%. A large part of Blauwput had disappeared. The 15th century Chapel Blauwput was badly damaged as the Parish Church.

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Air Vice Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder

The Allied Commanders responsible for planning D Day were keen to use the strategic bombers of  Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force against targets which would delay rthe rate at which allied reinforcements could reach the Normandy battlefield.  These attacks would need to take place across Belgium and Northern France to conceal the site of the landings.  British Airman Arthur Tedder was Eisenhower’;s Deputy and credited with leading the transportation plan.  There were two obstacles in persuading the allies to adopt this plan.  Firstly he had to overcome the resistance of the commanders of the strategic air forces to switch from the targets they considered important,  Secondly, Churchill needed to be persuaded that the results would justify the casualties among the allied populations.

Churchill anguished about giving an order which would kill Belgians and Frenchmen.   Churchill made many decisions during the war which would result in the loss of lives which were to  some degree or other “innocent”.  He ordered the Royal Navy to sink the French Fleet in 1940, and the aerial bombing of German cities, containing civilians and foreign workers.  The decisions to bomb key points on the railway  system in Belgium and France bothered him more than most.  Alanbrooke’s diary entry for 5th April mentions “At 10.30, had to attend one of those awful  evening meetings with the PM.  We were kept up till 12.45 a,m. discussing use  heavy bombers to support the invasion. he is opposed to Tedder’s plan”.

The rais d was carried out by No 6 Group with aircraft from 419, 420, 425, 426, 427, 429, 431 and 432 Sqns RCAF.  Five heavy bombers were lost on this raid, two in the route in and one of the return.  One was shot down by flak and four by night fighters, at least three of these were by “Experten” Major Martin Dawes.

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419 Squadron Lancaster Bomber markings

419 RCAF appear to have the heaviest losses, losing two aircraft and 13 men dead.

Louvain May 12/13th 1944
Takeing off at 2155 and heading out to the target the crew and aircraft were shot down near Sint-Genesius-Rode which was 12 km S of Brussels. None of this very experienced crew survived. 
VR-W KB710
P/O H I Smith Pilot 22nd sortie 
F/O J Moore Navigator
F/O W R Finlayson Bomb Aimer
F/O W W Price Wireless Op.
Sgt. R Bull Field Engineer
Sgt. J C O’Connell Upper Gunner
Sgt. S G Livingstone Rear Gunner
VR-W ‘s crew was a very experienced one with many of them at the 16 operation mark. The Wireless Operator F/O Smith having a total of 22 trips. 
And
The crew of VR-X had P/O Edwards and F/O Campbell who were a quarter of a way through their tours while the other airmen were on their second or third operation. 
VR-X KB713 
P/O B F Edwards Pilot on his 8th sortie
F/O R R Campbell Navigator
F/S P Dewar Bomb Aimer
F/S R S Smith Wireless Op.
Sgt. J R Carruthers Flight Engineer
P/O J A Webber Upper Gunner
P/O H E Oddan Rear Gunner

419 Sqn RCAF were based at RAF Middleston St George.  This is now Teeside Airport. Photos here 

Leuven was rebuilt and its name appears on every can or bottle of Stella Artois beer, which is brewed there.

No one will know whether the Battle of Normandy would have been D Day invasion would have succeeded without the bombing campaign. The civilian and air force losses  are as much a part of the campaign as that of any infantryman storming ashore.

If oyu qwould like to find out more about visiting the heritage associated with Airpower contact info@airpowertours.com

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2 May – 70th Anniversary of the Largest Exercise ever staged in the UK

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Troops coming ashore landing from Landing ships during an invasion exercise in Britain 5 May 1944

Exercise Fabius 2-7 May 1944  was, arguably, the largest training exercise to take place in the UK.  It would be the final rehearsal for Operation Overlord .  It was a rehearsal of the landings on the four invasion beaches in the Normandy coast between the rivers Orne and Dives; ( Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches) .

Utah beach,  geographically separated from the other four beaches was considered a separate assault from  naval point of view. The rehearsal for the landing on Utah Beach was Exercise Tiger and took place on  26-30 April on Slapton Sands in Devon.

Ex Fabius  allowed participants the chance to rehearse under conditions as close as possible to those they would face.  It also allowed the ports to practice supporting a large scale landing.   This was a dress rehearsal with the landing forces approaching the beaches behind mine sweepers and landing craft lowered ten miles off shore.  The landings were accompanied by live firing from ships.

Men_of_6th_Battalion_the_Green_Howards_receive_48-hour_ration_packs_before_embarking_onto_landing_ships_during_Exercise_Fabius_5_May_1944._H38222
Men of 6th Battalion the Green Howards receive 48-hour ration packs before embarking onto landing ships during Exercise Fabius 5 May 1944. IWM H38222 These men will land on Gold beach a month later.

The assault troops for each of the D Day beaches would practice landing on a stretch of coast with a similar configuration to that they would face on D Day.   The exercise was too close to D Day for any  further experimentation or changes to the plan.  Some units would not return to their previous accommodation, but instread to their assault assembly area.

3rd British Infantry Division was assigned to assault Sword beach with the town of Ouistrhem and the River Orne on their left flank and the city of Caen as its objective.  On Exercise Fabius it landed near Littlehampton with the  River Arun on its Left and Arundel its objective.

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On 5th May Hayling Island would substitute for Gold Beach.

Robin Dunn, who was Battery Commander  of 16 Battery of 7 Field Regiment claimed post war that there were problems which were identified and if put right would have  enabled the allies to do better on D Day.

” While at Bolney we had our final rehearsal of the invasion on the south coast near Arundel……..We had a new divisional commander, Tom Rennie, who had commanded  a brigade of 5lst Highland Division with distinction in 8th Army and had a high reputation. The commander of 185th Brigade was Brigadier K. R Smith, who had been with the brigade for some time and had so far in the war seen no action. He  was a good trainer of troops who had worked us hard during our training in Scotland. But he did not fully accept the role of the brigade in the divisional plan. We had  heard that 21st Panzer Division had been identified as having recently arrived about thirty miles inland of our landing beach. The presence of this division became a fixation in K.P.’s mind. He was haunted by the idea that, if 185th Brigade pushed too boldly inland, 2lst Panzer would come round our right flank, which was in open country and cut us off from the beaches. There was wooded country on the left and  KP. wished to infiltrate his infantry through the woods beside the river and approach the objective in that way along the divisional left flank. During our final rehearsal  he attempted this manoeuvre, which involved keeping one battalion on our original thrust line and passing the other two round their left flank in a wide turning movement. The result was chaos. The battalions became separated from one another  and the Brigadier lost communication with the flanking force which lost all momentum. I was at brigade HQ when Tom Rennie arrived and said wearily, ‘You won’t let this happen on the day will you KP?  It would have been better, even at that late stage, if he had sacked KP. on the spot.”  Robn Dunn   Sword and Wig.

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Littlehampton, the stand in for Ouestsrhem on the dress rehearsal for D Day

Although many fewer than on Ex Tiger, there were casualties on Exercise Fabius. On the Morning of 4 May twin engine fighter bomber aircraft of Coastal Command attached Allied motor boats inflicting many casualties.  Possibly the German attack on Ex Tiger had made the airmen a little trigger happy.

Places associated with the story of the training and rehearsals for D day can be found across Britain, from the sections of Atlantic Wall built in Scotland to the beaches which stood in for the Norman Coast.

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Pointe Du Hoc: the Unlikely British Heroes

The attack on Pointe du Hoc by the US Rangers on D Day is a famous episode in the history of the cross channel invasion. On 6th June 1944 the US 2nd Ranger Battalion stormed 30m (100 ft) high cliffs to capture a German artillery battery which had to be neutralised. The action featured in the 1961 film “The Longest Day” and in many TV documentaries. The mission epitomised the Rangers ‘s ethos, inspired by the British Commandos. Few people are aware that along with the US Rangers some British logistics soldiers played an important and heroic part in the operation and were awarded medals for gallantry.

Pointe_du_Hoc_mapOn Pointe du Hoc, the Germans had built, as part of the Atlantic Wall, six reinforced concrete case-mates to house a battery of captured French 155mm guns. Pointe Du Hoc was on a headland situated between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. These coastal defence guns threatened Allied landings on both beaches, risking heavy casualties in the landing forces. Although there were several bombardments from the air and by naval guns, intelligence reports assumed that the fortifications were too strong, and would also require attack by ground forces. The US 2nd Ranger Battalion was therefore given the task of destroying the strong point early on D-Day.

Isigny mapsheet showing Pointe Du Hoc
Prior to the attack, the guns were moved approximately one mile away; however, the concrete fortifications were intact, and would still present a major threat to the landings if they were occupied by artillery forward observers, which could still direct the fire of the guns.

US Rangers demonstrating the rope ladders used to storm the Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.
US Rangers demonstrating the rope ladders used to storm the Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.

Assaulting the 100 ft rocky cliffs was expected to be a tough challenge. This was rather similar to the problem facing armies scaling city or castle walls. If the Germans were at all alert they could rain fire down on men climbing rope ladders. The operation was planned to take place shortly before dawn in order to achieve surprise.

The Rangers planned to use a secret weapon to help them climb the 100 ft cliffs quickly; the modern equivalent of a siege tower. DUKW amphibious 2 ½ ton trucks were fitted with the turntables from London Fire engines and machine guns fitted to the top of the ladder. The idea was that the DUKW would land on the small beach below the cliffs, extend the ladders and the Rangers would rush up the ladders, which were easier to climb than ropes or rope ladders. This was tried and practiced on training exercises on the South Coast.

The DUKW and ladder in Training for D day. (Tank Museum photo No. 0999E4)
The DUKW and ladder in Training for D day. (Tank Museum photo No. 0999E4)

On D Day itself the plan didn’t work out as well. Firstly due to a navigation error, the assault took place later than scheduled. Instead of landing in the dark the convoy travelled for some way along the cliff in full view of the now very alert German defenders.

The landing took place at a higher tide than planned. Secondly, the allied naval and air bombardment had brought down some of the cliff and created a heap of rubble in front of the cliff. It proved impossible to get the extendable ladders in place or a firm footing for the DKUW. One account describes a Ranger manning the machine guns on an oscillating ladder firing at the Germans when the ladder passed through the highest point of each roll.

View from Pointe Du Hoc Battery where the Rangers -and the DUKW Drivers scaled the cliffs
View from Pointe Du Hoc Battery where the Rangers -and the DUKW Drivers scaled the cliffs

The Rangers assaulted the cliffs using rope ladders launched up the cliff with rockets. Despite the Germans throwing hand grenades and shooting at them from the cliff edge, the Rangers were successful. They cleared the battery, found and destroyed the guns themselves, which were about a mile inland and started what proved to be a 48 hour battle to fight off German troops counter attacking.

The same view 65 years later
The same view 65 years later

The DUKW drivers were RASC drivers. The fire engine ladders mounted on the cargo bay of the DUKW made them top heavy and harder to control, especially in the heavy seas on D Day. Navigating and operating these amphibious vehicles was a difficult and arduous duty performed with skill. But this isn’t the end of their story.

At least two of the DUKW drivers, Corporal Good and Private Blackmore, scaled the cliffs using the rope ladders and joined the Rangers in the fight as riflemen.  When ammunition was running low they went back down the cliffs and recovered machine guns from the DUKWs, which were under fire.  They then returned up the cliff and brought the machine guns into action.

Pte Blackmore was wounded in the foot. After receiving first aid, he then returned to the front line and rescued a badly wounded Ranger under machine gun and mortar fire. He then volunteered to carry ammunition to the front line, salvage ammunition from the beach and repair weapons until he was evacuated on 7th June.

Pte Blackmore MM (1) IMG_20121102_131748_LR

Pte Blackmore MM (2) IMG_20121102_131824_LR

Cpl Good remained with the 2nd Rangers  until Pointe Du Hoc was relieved by a force arriving by land from Omaha Beach to the East on 8th June.  As you can see Pte Blackmore was originally recommended for a DCM, the second highest British Medal for Gallantry,  but it was downgraded to an MM.

Cpl Good (1) IMG_20121102_131557_LRCpl Good MM (2) IMG_20121102_131635_LR

Colonel Rudder, the Commanding Officer fo the 2nd battalion US Rangers recommended that the actions of these two soldiers should be recognised.  Corporal Good was awarded the Military Medal Private Blackmore was recommended the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but was awarded the Military Medal.

US President Ronald Reagan at the Pointe du Hoc Rangers memorial 1984
US President Ronald Reagan at the Pointe du Hoc Rangers memorial 1984

For most of the British assault troops on D Day, the fighting on the beach was over within a few hours. These two RASC  soldiers fought one of the longest infantry actions undertaken by the RASC in North West Europe. They fought alongside specially selected, commando trained US Rangers in one of the actions which defined the US Ranger ethos.  They are the exemplar of soldier first tradesman second and deserve to be role models.

When I first heard about this story I tried to find out what training these men would have received.  The US Rangers and the British Army Commandos on which they were based were specially selected raiders expected to undertake physical feats not normally expected of ordinary soldiers, such as for example, such as scaling 100′ cliffs under fire. However, according to Andy Robertshaw, the Curator of the Royal  Logistics Corps Museum it is very unlikely that these men would have been given any Commando training. Their bit of the operation was to drive these amphibious trucks, top heavy with the extension ladders through heavy seas.

It is remarkable that these men, specially selected for their qualities as helmsmen and DUKW drivers, after what must have been an arduous and difficult voyage, then chose to join the Rangers in their fight.  I cannot find any pictures of these every-man heroes and been unable to trace any relatives or old comrades. The Sustainer magazine, the Journal of the Royal Logistics Corps published this article in their Winter issue  Their story deserves to be more widely known.

There are a lot more men like Corporal Good and Blackmore, who served in many different roles, doing their bit.  If you are interested in finding out more about other forgotten heroes please contact me and I can help you to find out more and where to visit the places where their did their bit..