1. British 6th Airborne
Formed in 1943, from other units in the British Army, especially from units who served in North Africa, like the Cornwall Light Infantry. Men joined as they were offered more money and training back in good old blighty. None of the men had jumped out of an aircraft before, but a lot were trained for glider landings. Several new gliders had been developed. The main glider was the Horsa glider, but larger gliders called Hamilcars were developed to carry jeeps and tanks. The parachute jumps were carried out by using Albemarle and C47 Dakotas. Training was intense. Special training occurred outside Newbury where a reconstruction of the Merville Battery was built for Lt Colonel Otway, 9th Parachute Infantry Brigade. The operation called Mallard depended on good weather, but the division took off in bad weather (remember there was no satellite navigation). The units were guided in by beacons and Eureka beacons from the Pathfinders (22nd Independent Parachute Brigade) who were the first to take off.
The gliders did a remarkable job, in particular the 2nd Battalion Ox and Bucks landed within 50 yards of their objective Pegasus Bridge, however many units were blown off course and didn’t land anywhere near their targets. (e.g. 1 glider Ox and Bucks landed by the River Dives, D Company of the 9th landed on the other side of the River Dives and were captured).
The Objective of the Division commanded by Major General “Windy” Gale was to hold the Eastern Flank of the beaches from German Counter attack until relieved. They were to blow all the bridges over the River Dives (the Germans had flooded that area), except Pegasus Bridge over the River Orne and Orne Canals. The Germans had planted stakes in the ground to stop glider landings and had batteries overlooking Sword Beach (Merville Battery) which had to be taken otherwise the Sword Beach Landings would not succeed. The 6th Airborne Division had no tank support; only 20 Tetra Recon Tanks very light weight, some of which were knocked out quickly by German anti-tank weapons. In the books you will see a write-up by Captain Vere who guided the guns on HMS Ramillies and Warspite to support the Airborne. There was a big battle at Le Mesnil to stop a German Counter attack and many actions. The drop zones had to be defended by land reinforcements. Eventually the 6th British Airborne had support from Sword Beach, 1st Special Service Brigade – Lord Lovat, and then tank support from the 13-18th Hussars followed by the 1st Polish Armoured Division from Juno Beach.
Casualties were high and this is recorded in the book by unit, together with the citations and medals won. Many of our soldiers are buried in the cemetery at Ranville, I recall that one man in particular Lieutenant Chicken commander of D platoon 2nd Battalion Ox and Bucks who is buried there. He died on the 6th of June and was in charge of the Mortar Platoon, he was at Pegasus Bridge.
2. Sword Beach
SWORD was the code name for the British landing beach for the 3rd Division. Prior to the landings the Allies had tried a dummy landing at Dieppe in August 1942 and had lost 75% casualties as they were not prepared. The Allies, in particular the British, were prepared against the fortifications and the troops had been well trained. The British had gathered intelligence (in particular Operation Hardtack 21) on what the Germans had in place owing to the use of Bletchley Park code breaking and the courage of the French Resistance and agents such as Violette Szabo. The British had practised landings at Studland Bay. They dropped window (aluminium foil) to confuse the Germans’ radar. They had formed the 79th Armoured Brigade under Major General Hobart and designed a range of tanks to overcome the obstacles on the beaches. They were ready. The weather was still against them and there were rough seas, but this did not deter them.
The 3rd Division landed on Sword with support from the 13-18th Hussars in DD Tanks. Many units were Royal Marine Commandos, and the objectives are in this book. Some of the units were ordered inland from Sword to take the German Batteries and defences of Hillman and Morris. Many medals were won at Sword. The objective to take Caen was halted when the Germans released the 21st Panzer Division which halted the advance, but the beach on the first day was secured. One fortification in Ouistreham, the Grand Bunker WN08, was so strong that it was surrounded for 3 weeks until it surrendered. The 1st French Commandos under Capitaine Kieffer with No.4 Commando stormed the Riva Bella fortification which was formidable. Code names had been given to all the German fortifications with WN reference numbers (Wilderstandnesten – “nests of resistance”) – all these fortifications are mapped and photographed in the books.
3. Juno Beach
JUNO was the code name for Canadian beach landings for the 3rd Canadian Division supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, reinforced by the 1st Polish Armoured Brigade. The objective of the Canadians was to take Carpiquet airfield. They had three objective lines, Yew, Elm and Oak, each of which was achieved on D-Day. In this book there is a write up on the counter attack by the 12SS Panzer Group and the executions of Canadians by them. Many of the Canadian troops had never been out of Canada and this was a big adventure for them. The medals they won are documented and were very brave. A lot of them are buried in the Canadian cemetery at Reviers, but there is a small cemetery at Secqueville-en-Bessin and also the Château d’Audrieu where executions took place.
There was an action to take out a German radar station at Douvres with a German battery; the Germans had low range radar all along the coast, which gave early warning of the invasion, so a window was dropped to confuse them.
4. Gold Beach
GOLD: The British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division landed on this beach supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade and three squadrons of Royal Engineers’ tanks (Hobart’s Funnies) to clear obstacles. The first VC was won on this beach by Company Sergeant Major Hollis of the Green Howards and this action is documented.
The allies had spent a lot of time on Operation Hillside (Hughenden Manor) mapping the beaches and fortifications in place and this helped the landings on all the beaches, especially this beach. One of the objectives of Gold was to secure Arromanches and also Port en Bessin to allow the construction of the British Mulberry Harbour (Mulberry B – code named Winston) at Arromanches and also lay the fuel supply line PLUTO (Pipe Line under the Ocean). This would allow the allies to be resupplied until Cherbourg or another port had been secured. The Americans also had a Mulberry Harbour at Saint Laurent (Mulberry A), but this was destroyed in a storm in July. Read about them in the Gold Beach book.
The Germans had laid some traps for the Allies and an action at Hilltop 50 is documented in this book, as this was a surprise to the British. The Germans had a lot of conscript troops in their divisions – a lot had been killed on the Russian front. The Allies brought trucks over with them, full of new uniforms, for these troops to change to the Allied side once the officers had been removed.
5. Omaha Beach
OMAHA was the codename for the landings for the US 1st Division (The Big Red One) and the US 29th Division (the Blue & Grey). In this book there is also a write-up on the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Lt Colonel Rudder on the attack on Pointe Du Hoc (a battery that had to be taken).
There is a write-up on Operation Tiger, the disaster at Slapton Sands, training exercise.
Omaha was a disaster – quote from the film the Longest Day: “Omaha’s a bloody shambles, they have to get off the beaches or the landings will fail”. Omaha nearly made the landings collapse, General Eisenhower had prepared a speech just in case and agreed he would take the blame. An analysis from my research is in the book of what went wrong.
Eventually the US divisions secured the beaches, read about it – liquid courage. The book has lots of photographs and maps and also the medals won. The US cemetery above Omaha is very moving and should be visited. I believe that divine providence was on the Allies’ side. God Bless them all.
6. Utah Beach
UTAH, codename for landings for the 4th and 90th US Infantry Divisions. In this book is also described an action by the US 4th Cavalry Regiment securing an Island off Utah Beach, which readers may not be aware of.
Utah was not a disaster; a lot of US Navy ships hit their targets and destroyed German fortifications. The Utah landings were supported by the 10th and 82nd Airborne who dropped inland from the beaches and took out some of the German batteries. However some US ships were sunk, from our research we think that a battery across the River Douves Estuary was responsible the Maisy Battery, but there were other German Batteries further along the coast with longer range guns. The Germans had conscript troops in many regiments mainly 919th German Infantry Regiment at Pouppeville who were largely made up of men from Georgia in Russia; this may have helped the landings at Utah as they did not have a great willingness to fight.
There is a write-up in this book about Operation Fortitude, the Allied deception plan for an invasion in the Pas du Calais.
7. Western Flank of the Beaches
101st and 82nd US Airborne
The job of these divisions was to protect the western edge of the beaches and Utah from German counter attack, also taking out the batteries at Holdy and Brecourt Manor. These batteries and the attack on Brecourt were documented in the series Band of Brothers with Lieutenant Winters (Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st US Airborne) and are documented in these books.
Brigadier General Gavin was commander for the 82nd Airborne (youngest brigadier in the US Army) and their task was to secure the Northern Sector above Utah. Several actions are documented in the book, notably as filmed in Saving Private Ryan the action to secure the bridge crossing over the river Le Merderet, outside Sainte-Mère-Église. Also an action North of Sainte-Mère-Église as documented in the film The Longest Day by John Wayne playing Lt Colonel Vandervoort, action at Neuville-au-Plain.
The 101st Airborne job was to secure the Southern part of Utah and then Carentan, all these actions are documented in the book, including Brecourt Manor as already mentioned above.
There are maps of the drop zones and an analysis of why so many planes were lost; there are write-ups on the Pathfinder Units and the equipment that they used.
All books have a list of medals won with the actions that took place by the participants. There is also a big write-up on the German Units in the areas and where their headquarters were.