Commemorative episode for 75th anniversary of D-Day landings June 1944
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings with memoirs about the tough training for D-Day and stories about Landing Craft Tanks delivering their cargo of hardware and humans to the battle-strewn WWII beaches.
More great unpublished history - of World War 2
Link to feedback/reviews at Apple Podcasts - Thank you.
Best podcast for World War 2 history and the second world war
Interested in Bill Cheall's book? Link here for more information.
Fighting Through from Dunkirk to Hamburg, hardback, paperback and Kindle etc.
Eric Ernest Clark D-Day veteran, wireman aboard an LCT
Gold Beach craft beaching diagram - rescued from a skip at Green Howards Museum
Joseph Kerr Middleton MM
D-Day, Signalman Eric J Loseby WWII
(The singer's real name is James Burrell.)
Fighting Through Podcast - Episode 42 - D-Day 75
More great unpublished history! WWII
WW2 and WWII history podcast.
We were off marching to the Docks where our ship lay. Thousands of people came out of their houses to stand on either side of the marching men. They’d come to see us off but did not make a sound.
I heard the hiss of a bullet when it passed between myself and Sub Lieutenant Rae as we stood on the open bridge. Signalman Eric J Loseby, Royal Navy
Our skipper decided to return our Landing Craft Tank to England. We were close to our shores when we pancaked down so hard in the sea that we broke our craft’s back. Eric Clark, Leading Wireman, Royal Navy, D-Day.
Middleton proceeded to machine-gun the enemy infantry on the tank, although he was outnumbered by at least 30 to 1. BL Montgomery, 1 March 1945
My American great uncle and comrades were in a foxhole. A German armoured machine gun truck stopped next to them and the officer barked “Raus! Raus mit den Händen hoch!” (Out! Out with your hands up!).
I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall whose WW2 memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH.
My dad fought at Dunkirk, North Africa Sicily D-day and Germany.
The aim of the Fighting Through Podcast is to give you the stories behind the story. You’ll hear memoirs and memories of veterans connected to Dad’s war in some way – and much more.
This is a commemorative episode, where we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Nice feedback from the previous episode
Some more podcasts to recommend
Sgt Brian Moss RE – How the troops were trained and what his journey across the Channel to Normandy was like.
I’ve got a memoir from someone taking the troops to Normandy – not just once but eight times!!! Eric Clarke – Landing Craft Tank, D-Day landings.
And don’t forget the usual PS, located in Normandy where I’ve got a seriously super citation for a MM, and the story of an American soldier who only escaped death upon capture because of ... well, you’re going to have to listen in at the end to find out - Oh boy!
Feedback time – WWII history podcast
This is a bit of feedback from Eve Jeffries, daughter of Henry Jeffries whose exploits we covered in the last episode on Wilf Shaw.
Eve wrote to me after the podcast with a few reflections: My Mum wouldn’t tolerate talk of the war, the mere sound of an air raid siren featured in old movies and she would shudder at the memory. Houses were bombed very close to where she lived in Tottenham, so I can’t blame her.
I do remember her teasing dad though, telling him the army got all the best food while the folks back home made do with egg/milk powder, and dad's reply was 'yeah sure we got the best food, biscuits as hard as bricks!'
I enjoyed the episode very much, Wilf made much of the bravery of others but plays down his own, what a star.
Listener you might remember we heard that Henry carried a wounded comrade on his back, away from the enemy …
Well, Eve observed: I’m not too surprised at my dad's valour under fire. Back in the mid-sixties, in Tottenham where we lived, I watched him stare down and walk towards a thug holding a knife (the little so-and-so backed down and sloped off).
A hard east end childhood and the severity of an Essex orphanage had toughened him up, he was a fair-minded, hard-working man who trained as a cabinet-maker after the war. His boss took him to Buckingham palace - tradesmen's entrance - where the company had the contract to repair furniture that had been scuffed or damaged by the royal children.
At one point during the war he shook King George's hand. Mum asked what he was like, and Dad just said 'e 'ad bad skin'. Nobility didn’t impress him much! Thank you Eve – it’s been great hearing from you. WW2 History Podcast
Tristan Smith on Facebook History WWII
Hi Paul being a trucker myself I listen to your podcasts a lot – I used to love reading ww2 books when younger but don’t get enough time nowadays – so listening to podcasts is the way forward for me!
Thank you to Sara and Steve for feedback and comments made on the Castbox app.
Amanda Smith, Georgia, USA, Email
There is nothing like hearing war stories from those who were actually there. Hello from Georgia, USA
I am really enjoying hearing the anecdotes of the war in the words of the people who were there. I think these should be played to all school children to open their minds and teach them what this greatest of generations has done for us.
I listen as I feed my animals and work on my croft (small farm in the highlands of Scotland), and when I am driving to and from my work as an emergency responder.
They are informative and thought provoking and have me blown away by the enormity of what these people faced. I am sad, impressed and laughing all in minutes as I listen.
PS you may be interested in some of my grandfather's history. He was a senior police officer in South Wales during the war and then was shipped to Greece to retrain the police out there after occupation.
He dealt with all sorts, from royal functions to guerrilla fighters. If you would like more info, I can ask my mother as she has all of his papers and records and moved with the rest of her family from bomb strewn Wales to Greek diplomatic banquets!
Elliot get your Mum on your phone voice recorder – test it first –and see if you can’t get one or two stories out of her as I’m sure everyone would love to hear some more! WW2 history
Josh Rose Ballarat Australia
Hey mate absolutely loving the podcast - Only discovered it a few days ago and already up to episode 33 and loving it still.
My great grandfather was in ww2 but not much of his history is available due to him changing his name and age – we’re finding some stuff out though.
Kade Oswald Email
I’m from California USA and I'm 15, I love all of your podcasts, unfortunately I just started listening so I'm still in the first few episodes.
Alan McManus from Carlisle
… my grandfather lost a leg in the battle of the Somme in WW1 and my father was badly shot up in Reims France WW2, but survived.
Hiya Paul. My dad Edward or Ned Toms was in 14th platoon C company 7th GH. He was known as Tommo in the army. On D-Day he sailed over on the Empire Lance before they got into the landing craft. Eddie your Dad might have been eating breakfast sat next to my Dad on that fateful journey across the channel because all the Green Howards were on the Lance.
My dad's platoon sergeant was in the Territorial Reserves in the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, and escaped from Dunkirk. My dad really looked up to him. His name was John Bell known as Dingy. He came from Ashington in NE England and was awarded the MM. Dad said he should have had the VC, many times over.
My son and myself are going to do an oral history of my dad's time in the army, just for a family thing. Dad passed away in 1990 aged just 69 and I still miss him.
My dad told me a few little things about his relationship with Dingy Bell, such as he always took my dad with him every time he went on night patrol. Something of a back handed compliment as far as my dad was concerned. [Eddie I can’t help feeling it was because he trusted your Dad with his life, and not because he thought maybe he was dispensable!]
Another story was that one night in Normandy, Dingy caught some of the lads drinking a couple of liberated bottles of Calvados [Normandy Pear Brandy]. He bollocked them and smashed every bottle. Quite rightly according to my dad. Drunken soldiers on the front line is not a good thing.
Another time Dingy went to the company commander reporting a newly arrived young lieutenant saying he was dangerous and was going to get his platoon killed. The lieutenant was duly removed.
Eddie – if you think of any more, give us a shout. And if you fancy talking through any stories onto your phone it would be great.
Will Leggett, Email
I think it is crucial to hear the stories of men and women at their best when situations are at their worst, as it gives us all hope in what the human race can achieve. Will, I love that sentiment! Ww2.
Further to this, I don't know if you have come across a group on Facebook called WarGen, who are collecting interviews with veterans - very good listening! Will, no, I haven’t, but I have now and I took a look – it’s great – there’s a link in the show notes
Ruud (RuudenHerma Schermer)
A few remarks about Ep 41 - Wilf talks about his experiences with the Dutch, and how it was to cross the Waal River at Nijmegen. Recently I came across a book, called “18 Platoon” which has been written by Sidney Jary (https://www.amazon.co.uk/18-Platoon-Sydney-Jary/dp/1901655016). This man assumed command of No 18 Platoon of the 4th Somerset Light Infantry (part of 43rd Wessex Division) shortly after they completed the Normandy Campaign.
It describes the war from the viewpoint of a 20 year old infantry lieutenant who won the hearts and respect of his veteran team of soldiers. It is excellent and what struck me, listening to Ep41, is that Wilf describes crossing the Waal River almost literally as Sidney Jary did.
It was nice of you to ask Wilf what he thought of the Dutch! Again, his response almost exactly matches Sidney Jary’s in that book. So listener, that’s 18 Platoon – link in shownotes. WW2 Podcast history WWII
Finally from Ruud:
I have a question too. I'm looking for a picture of Tank Capt Roger Bell, Westminster Dragoons, who took out a German pillbox on King beach (La Rivière) with his Flail tank.
Have you heard of this? He moved his tank in front of the aperture with an 88mm gun sticking out and fired into it. He then tried to signal his kill using a green flare which misfired inside his tank so he got completely covered in green goo.
He seems to have won a medal for this action but there’s hardly a trace on the web. Listener – do you know anything about this? Please write in if you do! That’s Tank Capt Roger Bell, Westminster Dragoons.
Ruud from Holland
I just finished your Dad’s book (in 3 days!). I found it a thrill to get the story almost first hand. Apart from the active war scenes I appreciated his descriptions of ‘life as a soldier’’. It also struck me how morals, such as religion, love for your country; the GH, comradeship, etc, played such a prominent part in his life, which, despite the horrors, he very consciously seemed to have preserved.
It reminded me strongly of my own dad (from 1920) and the way he and my mum upheld those principles during their marriage. Your Dad’s description of post-war Hamburg I found especially interesting since my dad, as a forced laborer, was caught in the bombing of that city at the end of 1943.
He never (!) spoke about what he went through and I was too young to press for that at the time, so that kind of information is helpful.
Start at Dunkirk if you can. If you have any connection with it, or even if you don’t, go and see the East Mole. It’s also called the Jetty (locally, La Jete Est). Dunkirk itself is a nice little town and there’s a good museum with parking just a stone’s throw from the East Mole. As you come onto the beach if you look to your right, you can see Bray Dunes in the far distance – that’s where my Dad’s company was holed up for a day in dugouts before they hiked along the soft, heavy sand to board the Lady of Mann at Dunkirk.
After Dunkirk. It’s a long drive over to Normandy. My Dad landed on Gold Beach so that’s like a shrine to me and it’s very accessible.
Museums – Arromanches, Gold Beach Museum at Ver sur Mer. Green Howards memorial at Crepon.
Normandy Memorial Trust, the charity which is building a new British Normandy Memorial. This national memorial to D-Day and the Battle of Normandy will commemorate the deaths of 22,442 service personnel. It will eventually overlook Gold Beach. And our very own Rufty Hill that you’ve heard about in previous episodes is mentioned in it because of course Rufty did die an awful death that day.
The organisers are producing multimedia content for a series called: ‘D-Day - 75 Stories’. The whole series can be found at a link I’ve put in the show notes – and it includes a bit about Rufty, produced with the assistance of yours truly!
If you can’t go to these places or you’d like a preview of some of them, take a shufty at my videos page where you’ll see short clips of them with me talking you through.
Bayeux – Plenty of great hotels – my favourite is the Lion D’Or, partly because my Dad once stayed there when he was visiting and partly because it’s steeped in the history of the war. During the war a lot of the German officers used to stay there.
Now a word about GPS. Global Satellite Positioning. By a country mile, my most urgent recommendation to anyone ever driving in France is to set your sat nav using GPS settings whilst you’re still at home. It’s just great to be able to sit back and enjoy the scenery, so long as your concentrating on your driving of course, while the sat nav takes the strain in working out the route.
A final word from Ruud was regarding his or my prep for a June trip to Normandy. He said
“I took your advice and fixed all points of interest we may want to visit by means of way points. I found out how easily they can be imported into Google maps, so navigation will be quite simple.
From my own experience, another option to the use of way points in Google maps is GPS.
GPS and Sat Nav is a way to reliably set a destination and avoid any ambiguity on place names and postcodes etc. Find the place on Google maps, take down the GPS coordinates and stick them in your sat nav. I’ve put a list of my favourites in the show notes. If anyone has any to add, drop me a line.
Now, here’s a few Podcast recommendations from me:
We have ways of making you talk
BBC historian James Holland and English comedian, actor and writer Al Murray have created a new weekly podcast all about the Second World War. They tell battlefield tales and bring forgotten events back into sharp focus. So far they’ve talked about rations, Rommel, Arnhem, Normandy, machine guns, the Spitfire and Nazi menswear.
Funny but the episode I’ve just listened to included some discussion on what a Bren Gun was like and it was so poignant to hear this because in his memoirs Dad said he would have loved to go back in time and strip and rebuild a Bren Gun which he was once able to do blindfold!
I think the two gents interact really well in conversation and produce a very entertaining, informative and informal show. And they even have loo breaks! So you’ll find we have ways of making you talk in any podcast listening app.
And their latest episode discusses the pros and cons of certain tanks and the merits or otherwise of Monty.
Bletchley Park – E87 – D-Day, Interception, Intelligence, Invasion – some really good stuff in it. I must say these Bletchley podcasts are getting better and better so if you haven’t tried them yet, start at the last few episodes and go from there.
Fighting Through Episodes in incubation:
I’m slowly putting together some stories from the German side of things and I’ve recently got some great stories about someone’s father who was a German soldier. I’ve also got a very poignant poem written on the Eastern front by a young soldier to his girlfriend.
Has anyone else got any?
This is a short story I discovered on the Twitter account of Andrew Featherstone.
Andrew said that on a flying visit to the Commonwealth war graves commission Arnhem Oosterbeek war cemetery he found this lovely note left on a soldier’s grave.
This is a very poignant story, about the grave of a fallen soldier who was a gunner in the Royal Artillery. His name was CJ Tayler service number 174 0552, died 11 April 1945 aged 35.
Dear CJ Tayler
We are very grateful that you had the courage to fight. We appreciate your work and we are very thankful. Today is your 74th death day and because of that we think, especially, about you.
We respect your work and courage!
In love, Carla, Jule, Anna-Sophie
So, coincidentally, the girls in question found this gravestone on the same date as the date of death so they must have searched around the cemetery to deliberately find it.
I don’t imagine you girls are listening but on behalf of everybody who is listening, I’ll just say well done and thank you for such a wonderful gesture. How good was that?
I’ve put the photograph of the grave and handwritten note in the show notes together with a link to Andrew’s Twitter account.
OK, without further ado - D-Day 75. The 75th anniversary of D-Day. This is so exciting.
Sixth June 1944
Dad said it was cold in Inverary – in fact not just cold but bloody cold – and he never used to swear normally!!! This is a passage from Dad’s book about the preparations for D-Day, when the troops were taken up to Scotland for training … It’s called
“We prepare …
Inverary, March 1944, the weather was dreadful and we had never experienced such bitter cold pouring rain and snow, but the weather hadn’t to interrupt our training. The place was rough and tough and any weaknesses in our condition soon surfaced and were cured. Now we knew why those Scots lads of the 51st Division were a hardy lot.
We would say: ‘God, who would live in Scotland?’ But that was at the start of the course. Later, when we realised how weak we had been, and how perfectly fit we were at the end, well, Scotland wasn’t so bad after all.
The camp had been very specially prepared so that the soldiers completing the course would be at the peak of their physical fitness. When we left there were no weaklings amongst us. This was to be a commando-training course and it was to prepare us for strenuous times ahead. We were billeted in Nissen huts once more but these, because of the climatic conditions, were very warm and comfortable.
Each hut stood in its own clearing and all huts were nestled amongst tall pine trees. How the wind howled through them. Everywhere looked desolate, wind-blown and very wintry, without any amenities or comfort whatsoever. Roll on time; the course hadn’t even started yet. There was not going to be any spare time for us. It was a slog from the beginning to its conclusion. What a life!
We were told to stop moaning; it was not going to be a rest cure but a kill or cure. And it cured us! There were no common colds and sick parades weren’t allowed. If there was anything wrong, tough, just get on with it. That was discipline with a capital D.
We really got stuck into what had to be done, although the first day or two played havoc with muscles we didn’t know we had. We were urged on continually by regular commandos, with all sorts of training. On the second day, we did a forced march in torrential rain, never allowed to stand still, running up and around mountain sides and crawling through swampy ground and ditches, half full with mud, until we were up to the eyes with filth.
We went across ropes suspended over the river, which was fast flowing, though only three feet deep. Two of the boys fell into the water but there was a net across to stop them drifting away. There were ropes tied on strong branches of the trees and we had to climb up hand over hand. Everything was most strenuous. We also had a go at storming a beach from a landing craft. I wonder why we thought we would be taking part in an invasion. It was no place for the faint hearted!
As each day passed, we all became fitter and fitter and it felt great. We were very well fed with good
wholesome food and, being kept on our toes, the end of the course soon came in sight and time seemed to have passed quickly. On the last evening, drink was provided and we all made merry and sang our heads off. The two weeks of hell were behind us. It was a sight for sore eyes when we saw three-tonners, lined up to collect us and take us to, again, nobody knew where.
We felt not a bit sorry for the battalion taking our place; poor devils didn’t know what they were in for.
Bill Cheall 6 GH, WW2 podcast history
Sgt Brian Moss 233 Field Company, RE
This is a passage from the memoirs of a Royal Engineer, Brian Moss who was part of Dad’s 69th brigade in 50 Div.
Brian details the foreboding lead up to the invasion in his unpublished memoirs, so we’re very privileged to hear this. You’ve already heard other passages from Brian in episodes on North Africa and The London Blitz and more.
This one starts same time same place as Dad - with training in Scotland – It was so exciting for me when I first read this because it really improved the picture I’d formed of that period in Dad’s war.
Combined Ops. Training in Scotland
We boarded a train. No one had a clue where we were going. All day, we thundered northward. After a long, uncomfortable journey we arrived at Inverary, Scotland, almost at the head of the loch. This was the location of Combined Ops. H.Q., and we were going to do a Combined Ops course.
We had already done combined operations for real, so it seemed strange to us that we should go to a training school now. But there it was; the entire Brigade was there, and we were to start off as if from scratch. [So this was 69 Brigade which included my Dad in the 6 Green Howards, 7GH and 5EY which is who Brian Moss was attached to as an engineer]
In the Loch floated an assault ship of the type that would be used on D-Day. It was a converted Liberty ship and carried Landing Crafts Assault (LCAs) at its davits, like lifeboats. Accommodation and messing was done just as it would be done on our D-Day ship and the training was designed to represent as accurately as possible what was to come.
At dawn, we would leave our assault ship in the LCAs, get the craft into formation, and head at full speed for some unfortunate portion of the beach. As we travelled through the water, our Field Regiments on the other side of the Loch would shell the beach that we were heading towards. Trees would be felled and heather set on fire before we arrived and we would storm ashore through the smoke, seeking to carry out the primary tactic of an invasion landing, i.e., to penetrate beyond the beach as far and as fast as possible in the first few hours.
The Inverary Estate was heavily damaged by our efforts, and I trust that the Duke was compensated for the mess we made. It was something like the real thing and the Brigade even managed to have some fatal casualties.
At length, we finished our course and were transported by truck to the railway station at Arrochar at the head of Loch Long. We left on a train that did not stop until it pulled into Bournemouth West Station. What a journey! We were moving towards our assault position.
Listener I realise now that my Dad must have been on a different train because his return journey proved far from uneventful – there was a tragic accident – but that’s a story for another day.
We left Weymouth in early May, and moved into our final location before the invasion, the woods known as South Holme Copse, on either side of the road from Romsey to Ampfield. Here, Major Carver left us. I found it astonishing that our leader would be taken away only days before the balloon went up. We were given a new Commanding Officer, whose name I cannot even recall. I do not think I ever spoke to him!
This is a wwii history podcast.
His second- in-command was also new, a Captain McDonald. These changes grossly altered the character of the Company. No one among us knew our own leaders any more. No longer did men refer to our CO as ‘Ken’ as they had in the golden days in the desert.
Alan Howard was in Hospital at Winchester. I have no idea what was wrong with him. I visited the Hospital to recover his issue watch, one of those Mk.2 GSTP things.
“You shouldn't be going on this invasion,” said Alan. “All these new people. They'll make a mess of it. Besides, you’ve done your bit.”
He spoke as if the matter was at my discretion, as if I could wave a magic wand and be out of it all.
From South Holme Copse, we went on exercises. Our assault ship, Empire Rapier, would be alongside the dock at Southampton. We would file aboard and she would pull out and anchor in the Solent. In the middle of the night, when we were asleep, she would sail and, by dawn, be seven miles offshore at Studland Bay. We would storm ashore under gunfire and rockets, and race hell for leather all over the countryside towards Wareham.
Our vehicles were waterproofed. This involved a complex process of covering all apertures, bearings and so on, with a mixture of asbestos fibre and grease, and then sealing it all with waterproof membranes. This was a major task, as was the dreaded loading list.
Lt. Garrett directed that lists of all materials to be carried were made, and remade, many times over. These were materials that each man and each vehicle would carry, from mine prodders to first aid kits, from M 160 oil to ration boxes. I began to hate the loading lists. I thought it silly to invest too much effort in them, in view of the fact that vehicles would be lost or landed wrongly, and that men, too, would die or get lost in the myriad happenings of an amphibious assault. Not to mention the enemy, who would also have something to say about it all.
Suddenly, we were moved into Broadlands, Mountbatten's home, where we were to stay less than 24 hours. This was different. This was it!
From Broadlands, we were taken to the Public Park in Southampton, only yards from the Docks. Here we squatted behind iron railings, like monkeys in the zoo, while the townsfolk stood and stared at us. The people did not shout encouragement or laugh about what their men would do to Hitler. They looked upon us as if with compassion. Like Churchill himself, they probably viewed the prospect with foreboding.
The park was run by Yanks. Why this should be, I could not understand. The Americans fed us and looked after us and, in due course, they would send us across the Channel. One American treated us to a music show of his own, singing a song that I still remember:
“I'm getting tired so I can sleep.
And when I sleep I want to dream,
For when I dream,
I always dream of you.”
There’s a link in the show notes
Embarking for D-Day WWII
Then we were off. Up on our feet, battle order adjusted, and marching out of the Park. It was only a few hundred yards to the Docks where the Empire Rapier lay. Thousands of people came out of their houses to stand on either side of the marching men, watching us go in silence.
They came to see us off but did not make a sound.
Our ship was loaded quickly. We had done it so many times before. [On 4 June], we pulled away from the quayside and headed off down the fairway, where we anchored in our appointed position among the mass of shipping. Empire Rapier was just one of a line of such which stretched up and down the fairway as far as the eye could see. All around us lay naval escorts and weird craft of every description, including something that looked like an enormous cotton bobbin floating in the water, and big block-like things that appeared to be built of concrete.
That afternoon, we were treated to a fly-past of captured enemy aircraft, so that we would know what to shoot at. It may seem like a good idea but I thought it was a pointless exercise. I had come to realise that aircraft identification was a matter that some learned and others never would. So if you had not learned this by the fourth year of the war, you never would.
Later that day, a rumour went around the fleet that everything had been postponed for twenty-four hours. Then we learned this was true. D-Day would be the 6th of June and not the 5th, as originally intended.
The following day, the 5th, was spent quietly on board. I sat in the sun on the upper deck with Johnny Halliday, the leader of No. 2 Section of the platoon. We talked of the days after the war although it was almost unbelievable that it would ever end.
Privately, I could not see an end to it. There was always Russia. Our leaders had Russia in mind when designing the invasion. If we did not march into Europe now, then the Red Army would sometime appear on the Channel Coast.
Johnny told me of his girlfriend, Joan, whom he hoped to marry after it was all over. I wondered how he saw things. What would the world be like through Johnny's eyes? Did he really understand what tomorrow could bring? The way he chattered on, one would think he hadn't a care in the world.
That night, below decks, the lighting was a dim reddish glow, to preserve our night vision. The lights garishly illuminated the steel bed frames let down on chains. Many of us would become infected with scabies from these beds. We had been issued strangely shaped books, especially dimensioned to fit in uniform pockets.
Some men tried to read them, but the lighting was unsuitable. I must have slept soundly that night, being awakened by the sounds of reveille over the tannoy system. The ship was moving fast, and there was a heavy swell out there.
In the canteen, breakfast was served on large trays of steel plate, pressed to form dishes and plates of different sizes into which our food was greasily ladled. Having eaten and shaved, I took a quick look outside. It was still dark but I could see long lines of ships in the gloom, closely stationed and driving on towards the enemy coast. I got the feeling that I must be part of the most enormous undertaking ever attempted. In our quarters, everyone was giving his equipment a last look over. Those damned lifebelts! What use would they be? I checked the magazines of my Sten.
There was a distant and gigantic rumbling clearly heard over the noises of the ship. Thousands of aircraft were unloading their bombs on the coastal defences. We had been assured that all defensive positions would be obliterated before we landed, and this message had been received with a derisive cheer, since we knew all about promises of this kind.
Salvoes from the heavy guns of the Royal Navy had now joined in and, at least, we knew these would be on target. “Good old Navy!” we said to each other. The iron voice ordered us to board our assault craft, and we went to take our places on those hard bench seats as we had done many times in practice …
An LCA carried thirty-five men. Ours carried thirty-three infantrymen and two sappers.
As I write this, it is now fifty years since D-Day, and I will recount the principal features. 50 Div. had been brought home especially to take the centre stage of the proceedings, with two US Divisions on our right and a Canadian and a British Division on our left. For the event, 50 Div. comprised of four Brigades incl 69th.
Taking into account additional troops under command, the entire Division totalled 38,000 men, a very powerful force. 50 Div. were directed at Gold Beach which ran from, and included, the little seaside village of La Riviere, on its extreme left.
50 Div’s initial two Brigades would each put in two Battalions, making a total of four Battalions in the early attack. 69 Brigade would attack with the battalions 5 EY on the left, and 6 GH on the right. 2 Platoon always worked with 5 EY, so we would go with them in the first wave to La Riviere.
The plan was that 5 EY should capture La Riviere then 7 GH would arrive, pass through them and capture Ver sur Mer, a mile and a half inland.
If I recall correctly, an infantry Battalion possessed no more than five hundred riflemen, all told. Two thousand riflemen would therefore be hitting the beach on the divisional front. These men arrived on the beach in two closely following waves; one thousand men would arrive first, followed by a second wave of another one thousand men.
So, of the 38,000 men of 50 Div, only one thousand would be in the first phase of impact. This spells out clearly who does the fighting in war - the poor bloody infantry. Of course, there would be others with them including a few sappers like me, and the odd armoured vehicle.
But the burden of the day would be borne by those who were essential to war and who had been decimated over the years through competition from the RAF and other services that also demanded men. Indeed, before the invasion, Monty had been warned that available infantry reinforcements would last only a few months and that infantry divisions would then have to be cannibalised or broken up to provide reinforcements.
In Normandy, the nature of the fighting and the terrain was such that even this estimate was wildly optimistic, and problems over infantry reinforcements arose very quickly indeed.
My platoon then consisted of sixty-seven men. Allowing for those men held back on transport to land at a later date, only about forty men would actually land at H hours. It was decided that I would go with twenty of these men distributed among the left hand infantry companies of 5 EY, while Lt. Garrett would go with the other twenty, spread among the right hand companies of 5 EY.
The reason for distributing the sappers among the infantry was on the basis of ‘not all in one basket’. Lance Corporal Ivor Tooze, from Port Talbot, would go with two sappers in a recce boat heading our little fleet.
Every one of us knew then exactly which LCA was the one he would travel in. I believe mine was number 2479 but I cannot be certain now. Anyway, I knew where to find my craft and my EY lads, so I hurried to board and take my place.
There are three hard bench seats in an LCA. All run fore and aft, one along the centre line, one on the port side and one to starboard. My position, decided long before, was in the bows, at the head of a line of men on the starboard side. Another sapper should have been sitting behind me. On this occasion, he was missing, and I never knew why. Without delay, another sapper was produced, just like that!
He was new to the Company, and I had never seen him before. I believe his name was Shoesmith. So, on the starboard side were Shoesmith, and ten EY lads, all behind me. Sitting astride the narrow centre plank seat was 2nd Lt. White of the EY, and behind him were 10 EY infantrymen. On the port side was an EY Sergeant, with another 11 EY men behind him.
Two Ford V8 engines powered the LCA, we had been told. These were started up and the falls were lowered away rapidly. Immediately we struck the water, the falls had to be cast off; otherwise there was a danger that the boat could be suspended from one end only as the waves fell away beneath us.
On top of all our gear, we each wore a lifebelt that resembled a length of inner tubing wound around the waist. I had grave doubts about this device. It could float a man just as easily inverted as right way up!
This time, our craft were manned by three Marines, instead of the naval personnel who had taken us in to the beach in Sicily, incidentally getting us lost. H-hour was planned to be 07:25 hours.
Viewed from the sea, the 69 Brigade front included the tiny seaside village of La Riviere on the left and extended to the right across a sandy beach with no buildings behind it at all. The township of Ver sur Mer could be seen on rising ground a mile inland, and the houses of Mont Fleury were also visible, on the right.
I landed at 07:40 hours. By this time, those of the left-hand assault Company just landed had almost ceased to exist.
If you want to hear more of Brian Moss’ story you need to head over to Episode 3 of this podcast where you can hear Brian Moss’ story of the beaches, combined with my own Dad’s account, both on Gold Beach – oof my word!
If you ever visit Gold Beach, you should include Ver sur Mer in your itinerary – they have an excellent Gold Beach museum.
Then of course there’s also the museum at Arromanches, site of the Mulberry Harbour, which is dedicated to the 50th Division who liberated that and other towns in this area. Arromanches is a must see in my view but the bit of Gold Beach where my Dad landed is just 4 miles further West up the coast.
But right now as an extra to this passage I want to share with you a little bit of information I found recently at the excellent Green Howards museum in Richmond, Yorkshire. They’ve just been refurbished and as I walked in, the very first display at the entrance included a chart showing the order of battle on Gold Beach, in other words the times and order of landing of the various battalions, landing craft, ships and armour etc. Steve Erskine at the museum explained to me how this precious document had been found in a skip before it was rescued, thankfully in as pristine condition as the day it was drafted.
I’ve put a copy in the show notes. But it shows the who, what, where and when of the entire D-Day landing on Gold, so what a treasure it is. And as a result I reckon I can work out to within five landing craft which one Dad was in, though sadly not the exact number..
There’s another diagram of the beach sectors for all of Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. If you want to see them in the flesh, get yourself up to the GH museum in Richmond, Yorkshire.
Once again – if you want to hear stories of the action that took place on Gold Beach, go to episode 3, D-Day. Meanwhile, I’m going to share some more stories with you, two are from crew aboard an LCT – a Landing Craft Tank. Two electricians aboard similar craft performing similar duties, but experiencing different adventures. Two memoirs of the same event. Here’s the first:
Eric Clark – Landing Craft Tank, D-Day landings
Vicky Zarajewski (Zarooski?) Hewitt from Wisbech in Cambs kindly sent me a story from her Dad. He wrote the memoir based upon his experiences on board a Landing Craft transporting troops and tanks to the Normandy beaches. It is jaw dropping and I feel so very proud that we’ve got it for the show. Here goes.
Eric Ernest Clark
Ex leading wireman Royal Navy,
Combined operations D/MX542393
To whom it may concern
I volunteered for the Royal Navy near my 18th birthday. I had previously tried to get into the RAF, since I was an air cadet and was fed up with working 5 1/2 days every week and all day Sunday studying at the Northampton Polytechnic in London to obtain a national certificate in electrical engineering.
However, the RAF found out I was underage and also that I was in a reserved occupation so I was turned down. When my call up papers arrived from the Royal Navy I waited until the very last day and approached my engineering manager who gave me a good dressing down but wished me luck and allowed me to go, provided I promised to return on demobilisation (which I did).
I was met at Ipswich railway station along with many more and taken to an annex which was an extension to an ashore establishment known as HMS Ganges. For nearly 2 weeks we all underwent medical and aptitude tests. Those of us who passed were kitted out and transferred to the main barracks. We were allocated a large hut known as Drake where we spent six weeks learning to be sailors.
We were drilled each day on a large parade square which had a quarterdeck and a high mast which we climbed over most mornings and evenings.
We had to negotiate an assault course built on the foreshore and because there were insufficient rifles to go round … we carried lengths of steel barrel [piping] with a bayonet welded on the end.
We attended special classes and learned various knots and splicing of ropes, signals, flags, boat crews, gunnery stations et cetera
There was also lots of physical training which came hard after all the inoculations.
However, after six weeks some of us went to a former Butlins holiday camp at Skegness which had been taken over by the Royal Navy and known as HMS Royal Arthur.
Here, we were segregated into various branches and my depot was changed from Chatham to Devonport and I was classed as a Wireman for Combined Operations and with several more was drafted to Hitchin town where we were lodged in civilian homes and travelled back and forth each day to the Ascot factory in Letchworth to attend a special instructional eight weeks course which dealt with electrical wiring and equipment aboard a landing craft.
On completion of the course, we were drafted to HMS Hopetown which was a depot near Troon on the west coast of Scotland. I was assigned to the 42nd flotilla of landing craft tanks (LCT’s)
Since the craft were still being constructed, I attended more courses to learn the electrical circuitry of plant and equipment aboard LCT’s. This information had to be confined to memory.
Our [Landing Craft Tanks] LCT’s (Mark 4’s) were being built at Joe Brovyn’s dockyard on the River Clyde and as each craft came off the stocks we were allowed to join the crew and sail them down the Clyde and around to Troon harbour. When 12 craft were docked they were allocated numbers and formed into a flotilla. We needed three flotillas to make up a squadron, then for months we trained together around the coast of Scotland or in the Irish sea on sea trials on such things as formation, beaching etc.
We made numerous practice beach landings and in the main with the 35th and 36th divisions of the Royal artillery (RA’s).
After many months of training we sailed as a squadron around the north of Scotland and down south to Poole Harbour.
We had a couple of problems en route. One was when we were compelled to anchor off the coast of Cromer because of thick fog. We stayed until it cleared then orders came from ashore to be careful when weighing our anchors because we were all on top of a minefield.
We weighed anchors with much care and all of us got away with no problems and again formed up - three flotillas in line abreast - and hadn’t gone far when we were attacked by two E boats.
This was my first action and since I was a wireman (electrician) I had no particular action station job and I just didn’t know what to do or who to assist.
However, the three flotillas separated and each craft opened fire with their Oerlikon guns. One E boat was hit and belched smoke, then both rapidly disappeared. We all formed up again and sailed on to dock in or close to Poole Harbour.
Within a short period and after more training on 4 June we all sailed to New Haven, Sussex where concrete ramps (hards) had been constructed, leading down to the sea. Each of our flotilla loaded up in turn and took aboard tanks and Tommy trucks and met up again with the lads of the Royal Artillery whom we had spent many months training with up in Scotland.
After loading we formed up and joined the rest of the squadron, now to be known as part of S force. This was a difficult task since the weather was bad and the sea was very rough. Most of our soldiers were bored and were suffering with seasickness. Orders were received for us all to proceed on to Portsmouth and to lay over from Buoys.
The next day, early sixth of June, we received orders to sail to Normandy.
The weather was still bad with heavy sea swells making headway and steering difficult to stay in formation. Most landing craft needed special handling during bad weather because of their flat bottoms and shallow draft, especially LCTS’s because of the length and flat bow (loading ramp).
They would buck and judder with a screw action and in certain sea swells would leave the sea and pancake down hard, often with the stem in the air with the propellers exposed, causing the main engines to race away.
By the time we neared the Normandy coast, most of our soldiers aboard were showing signs of fatigue due to lack of sleep and seasickness, but they put on a brave front.
All around the sea was littered with ships of all types, coming and going in all directions. Big warships were shelling over the coastline, smaller warships buzzing around them with loudhailers blasting away and numerous assault craft everywhere. The noise from the big Navy guns and machine guns and the stench from smoke and cordite was overpowering.
As we neared the beach, we had to break formation and each craft was left to its own salvation. I believe we should have beached on Sword beach, but because of obstructions on the shore, we actually beached on Juno near Courseulles.
It was difficult getting in because we had to allow enough distance to drop our kedge anchor before beaching in order to pull ourselves off. And apart from the obstructions and damaged craft, there were also rows of constructed obstacles on the beach line, some of which exploded on impact.
However, we managed to drop our seven ton loading ramp (or door) and the soldiers started to disembark with their armour.
The first Tommy truck sank up to its front axles in shingle and sand - because in the confusion they had forgotten to lay out the rolls of wire mesh, so it was all hands to drag it back aboard.
Meanwhile, all sorts of missiles were flying about. The beach masters were shouting, our barrage balloon deflated and the cable dropped and tangled on the vehicles in the well deck.
It was a shambles and our captain was shouting at me to cut the cable free and stand by the capstan which was our aid for winding in the kedge anchor in order to pull us off the beach.
When the six tanks and Tommy trucks were finally unloaded, we waved our RA soldiers and tank crews lots of good luck, then fortunately managed to pull our craft off the beach (our kedge anchor had gripped well).
We turned about and headed back to Newhaven to reload with more army units.
We did this journey three times to near enough the same area of the Normandy beach and each time there was more and more obstruction on the beach shoreline - damaged landing craft, tanks, lorries, piled up enemy metal [fences] structures, which we learnt later were called Belgian gates. Also, quite a lot of the damaged and abandoned vehicles were Canadian.
During the third beaching, we were hailed back to the beach and took aboard around 150– 200 German prisoners which we unloaded at Portsmouth. They gave us quite a problem because there was nowhere they could sleep except in the well deck. They had no buckets for their necessaries [toilets] and we had no food to offer them since we ourselves were eating stale bread with mouldy green, baked beans.
We managed another five trips back and forth but on these occasions we unloaded on Gold beach, Arromanches. The last couple of journeys inside or on the Mulberry harbour.
On the eighth trip we were ordered to leave the Mulberry and seek shelter elsewhere because of the bad weather and the danger of the harbour breaking up.
Our skipper decided to return to England. We were close to our shores when we pancaked down so hard in the sea that we broke our craft’s back. The forward half (Well deck) wanted to float away.
We made many attempts to carry out temporary repairs using rope and steel springs from bow to stern, but to no avail, so the engine crew stayed with the stern [the rear] and the rest of us stayed on the focsle (the forward upper deck) but still moored to the stern.
I have to add that LCT’s were constructed by welding each section to form an enclosed sealed tank, making it almost impossible to let water in and sink the craft, but of course in bad weather they could turn turtle.
We were finally rescued and taken into Portsmouth harbour then onto our respective depots for leave and to be re-kitted out.
Some of us were drafted to HMS Royal which was originally the Royal hotel in Brighton! From there I was further drafted up to Hull to pick up a landing craft gun boat (LCG194) And further kitted out for the Far East.
This particular craft was fitted out with two 22 pounder guns, which were an army gun so we had two Royal Marine gun crews aboard. The sergeant of these marines was Jack Parnell the drummer! He had with him his drumsticks, brushes and practice pad and since this was to my interest I spent many hours taking tuition from him.
The main purpose of these gunships was to beach, flood the bilge tanks then open fire with the guns. We spent many weeks on sea trials and gun firing until we passed all tests and were waiting for orders to sail, when all hostility ceased - and in consequence we received orders to sail with a skeleton crew to Saltash in Devon. Here, our craft and many others were paid off.
I subsequently returned home on leave via my depot and reported for demobilisation (civvy street).
The older I get, my memory tends to want to remember only the good things that occurred during my service period but of course in reality there are some experiences I can never forget - like during our first landing when we were all working on the Tommy truck which had become stuck leaving our loading ramp and seeing a bloody mess being three Canadian soldiers crushed under the raised loading ramp of an LCT adjacent to us and leaving the beach.
Also, many more hurt and wounded soldiers wandering about not knowing what day it was and we were so busy with our own problems that we couldn’t help.
I can recall so many more experiences but will end here.
Eric Ernest Clark
Ex leading wireman Royal Navy,
Combined operations D/MX542393
Thank you so much again to Vicky for sharing her Dad’s story with us – just in time for this D-Day 75 Commemorative episode of the FTP. As usual you can read this account in the show notes and also see some photos of Eric both as a young seaman and in later years. Cracking photos! All at fightingthrough podcast.co.uk, WW2 and WWII history.
You’re listening to the Fighting Through Podcast, Episode 42 D-Day 75 Great Unpublished History –
WW2 and WWII
LANDING CRAFT TANK MARK 4 821
I’ve now got yet another memoir for you, also about a Landing Craft Tank. Coincidentally a sister ship from the same flotilla. There are similarities between the two memoirs, but enough differences to make both worth telling.
This one was posted on the Combined Opps website – more information about that later and I’m grateful to Geoff Slee the custodian of the web site for allowing me to use this story.
On D-Day, Signalman Eric J Loseby served on HMLCT 821 of the 42nd Flotilla of ‘I’ Squadron Landing Craft bound for Sword beach. This is his story.
My preparations for war began with 10 weeks of gunnery and seamanship training at HMS Ganges, a naval shore base near Ipswich, England, followed by many months of Combined Operations exercises at HMS Dundonald in south west Scotland. We trained in small arms weaponry and physical fitness through endless rounds of assault courses.
At nearby Troon Harbour, we were introduced to landing craft, which later included day long trips to Brodick Bay on the Isle of Arran, where we learned the many skills required to operate a landing craft tank.
The flat bottomed landing craft were designed to land directly onto unimproved beaches just ahead of high tide, speedily disembark their cargoes and make their way back to England before the tide went out. If there was any delay, the landing craft would be beached high and dry for about 12 hours until the next tide. The quick turnaround was aided by partly lowering the ramp and, with sufficient speed, forcing the bows of the craft on to the beach to secure a good hold.
On the approach, the heavy kedge anchor would be slipped from the bed on the stern of the craft and the cable freely paid out. On beaching, the slack on the kedge anchor would then be winched in and, with help from an occasional turn of the propellers, the craft would be held at right angles to the beach. Once in this position, the ramp would be fully lowered, giving added hold on the beach. 'Un-beaching' was achieved by winching in the kedge anchor after raising the ramp from the beach.
LCT 821 was a drab battleship grey but she soon acquired a refreshing coat of white paint with accompanying Mediterranean Blue camouflage stripes. We then proceeded to Largs, where our Oerlikon guns were tested and then to Troon to take our place amongst our sister craft of the 42nd LCT Flotilla.
As the early summer of 1944 approached, the 42nd Flotilla proceeded to the south coast of England. We passed through the Dover Straits under cover of darkness to arrive at Portslade. The contrast between the weather on the south coast of England in summer and that of the north of Scotland in winter was truly amazing. With most of our training completed, we spent a good deal of our time in harbour with shore leave in Brighton and Hove.
One of our crew, known affectionately as Jock from Scotland, arrived back on board after shore leave carrying a large wicker chair, not unlike those typically seen on the verandas of plush hotels along the Brighton sea front. He had acquired a lift from a motor cyclist and we were left to imagine the sight of Jock and his wicker chair on the pillion seat of a motor cycle! The chair found a good home….on the quarter deck of LCT 821!
Briefing sessions were held when we learned our destination.
The day arrived when there was unusual activity in the harbour. It was clear that the time had come to put the many months of training to the test. Late in the evening, puffs of smoke issued from funnels, as main engines were fired up. One by one the vessels in our flotilla slipped their moorings and proceeded out of the harbour to an assembly area off Newhaven, where we dropped anchor. The change in the atmosphere amongst our crew and our army passengers was palpable as animated conversation gave way to our own private thoughts about what lay ahead.
During the day of June 5th, 1944, the military personnel were ferried ashore to Newhaven and exercised around the docks area, while we rode at anchor from the stern capstan. This afforded little comfort in all but a calm sea, as the flat stern of the craft reacted to each wave with a shudder throughout the length and breadth of the craft... and always present was the seemingly incurable ingress of water through the propeller shaft glands. This was made worse by exposure to an oncoming sea and, after a while, about a foot of bilge-water would be swilling around the mess-deck directly above.
With improving weather conditions on the evening of June 5th, the vast assembly of craft and ships began to move, setting course to the south under heavy and darkening skies. We all received a copy of the now familiar message of good luck from General Eisenhower. Our passengers were a mixture of Royal Marines, Infantrymen and members of an RAF Signal Corps. Many suffered gravely from sea sickness - the luckier ones were offered our hammocks, since none of our crew would find time to sleep that night.
For the greater part, the outward journey was monotonous. There was little room and nothing to see other than the dim blue stern light of the craft ahead. The tedium was broken only by the occasional increase or decrease in engine revs to maintain a safe distance. By the first light of dawn on the morning of D-Day, we arrived at the lowering position some few miles short of the Normandy beaches, the French coast being just discernible on the horizon.
At this point, various groups of vessels began to break away to their assigned sectors, giving us a feeling of isolation and exposure. Before LCT 821 began her advance, Sub Lieutenant Rae produced an enormous White Battle Ensign to replace the usual one that flew from our mast.
During our dash for the beach, I tried to ignore a couple of water spouts on our portside. Obviously intended for us, they were the first visible sign that the natives were not at all friendly!
The heavily laden and exceptionally low cloud absorbed the orange glow from the fires caused by Allied shells and rockets, which were fired in advance of the initial assault troops landing. As we drew closer to the beach, we saw a typical seaside residential area with a promenade and a roadway at the top. The houses were closely grouped on the far side, most of which were burning freely, while others were already just smouldering ruins. By the time we reached the shoreline, the beach was cluttered with stranded vehicles, tanks and landing craft, not to mention the enemy's beach obstacles.
Despite the difficulties, we successfully beached and our ramp was eventually lowered and unloading commenced. We soon attracted the attention of snipers installed in the upper windows of one the few houses left standing. I heard the hiss of a bullet when it passed between myself and Sub Lieutenant Rae as we stood on the open bridge. After that we kept our heads down, despite wanting to monitor mortar bombs landing further along the beach, which had been fired from gardens at the rear of the burning houses.
We saw many gruesome sights around us, including a number of tin and enamel tea mugs floating a few yards from the water’s edge along the shoreline. When the tide went out, we could see they were attached to the knapsacks of earlier casualties floating face down in the water and now being deposited on the sand.
It usually took twenty minutes to unload our cargo but we hoped to break all records, as the Germans were expected to disrupt the landings with their heavy artillery. However, fate conspired to detain us, when we discovered that our kedge anchor cable had parted having fouled one of the beach obstructions.
It was this anchor cable that would normally winch the craft off the beach. LCT 821 settled on the bottom as the water receded. We were stuck for the rest of the day. With no sea water to cool the engines they were shut down, which also shut down the lighting.
821 became a dark, silent hulk except for the occasional rattle of flying debris against the hull. We were grateful to have an old fashioned coal burning stove on board, since we could still have hot food and drink. We were in an exposed and helpless position, so I also had a shave to take my mind off things!
Later in the day, a lone enemy fighter bomber flew under the low cloud ceiling along the coast. As it passed directly above us, we saw the pilot bale out, while his plane flew away into the distance. It only took a few seconds to realise the pilot was still in his plane and a bomb was coming our way! It exploded a few hundred feet away along the beach.
By this time Sub Lieutenant Rae had contacted a Beach Control Party. We soon discovered that Midshipman Hockings, Coxswain Albert Chapple and I had volunteered to salvage the lost kedge anchor with the aid of a giant recovery truck.
As the beach was not yet clear of mines, we walked in the vehicle’s tracks as it towed the spare cable out for attachment to the kedge. We looked in awe at the many beach obstructions now revealed by the low tide, all of which, thankfully, LCT 821 had missed as she made her approach.
These consisted of logs, with the bark still attached, forming enormous tripods at the top of which were lashed large calibre shells with impact fuses pointing seawards. There were also lengths of steel girder welded together in criss-cross fashion with pointed ends presenting a hazard in all directions.
After securing the anchor cable, we hastily returned aboard to await the incoming tide. A party of Germans appeared at the top of the beach. It was a worrisome sight for us, in their unmistakeable helmets and jackboots and seemingly without guards or escorts. They split into groups of four and strolled down to collect the fallen ‘Tommies’, laying them in neat rows above the water line. One German in particular was calmly smoking his pipe as though he was pottering around in his garden.
Never had an incoming tide been more welcome than on this occasion. As the water lapped under the stern, Motor Mechanic Charles Bratt anxiously peered over the side at the cooling water intakes. Once these were submerged, he fired up the main engines.
Return from Normandy
We were informed that 130 German POWs and a few wounded Royal Marines would be embarked for the return trip and that no guards would be provided. We could spare only 2 crew members for guard duty, which left us grossly outnumbered and vulnerable to attack, even by unarmed men. We placed a row of tank chocks across the well-deck as a boundary marker, confining the prisoners to the forward part of the ship. Another crew member and I were armed with Lanchester rifles, under strict instructions to shoot any prisoners who crossed over the line. Our two officers also carried their revolvers.
It was a pleasure to feel the movement of the ship as the incoming tide lifted us clear. As we prepared to leave, other craft were arriving on the high water and a couple of LCI(L)s beached alongside us [Landing Craft Infantry (Large)].
There was still occasional sniping from nearby houses and fire was returned from the LCI(L)'s 20mm Oerlikons straight into the open windows. Loaded with the usual assortment of tracer, incendiary, armour piercing and high explosive rounds, the effect on the houses at that range was devastating. The resulting blazing inferno was a fitting end to our day at the seaside!
We cleared the beach area without further ado but, on gaining open water, it became clear that LCT 821 had broken her back on the uneven and churned up beach. However, since LCTs for the most part are constructed of separate watertight ballast tanks, there was not much to concern us, just so long as the plates held the two halves together.
Our prisoners soon settled down into their allotted space. After a while, one of them came towards us holding up a kettle, indicating that water was needed for brewing up. Watching over them for so many hours, we came to realise that they were little different to ourselves. Some were dressed in civilian clothes and others in uniform. One spent a great deal of time scraping his uniform with a penknife in an attempt to remove what appeared to be the dried flesh and blood of a less fortunate comrade.
After steaming for a few hours, darkness fell, making it difficult to see what the prisoners were doing. All forms of lighting were prohibited at sea, so we were thankful that it never really got [totally] dark. We were particularly warned to be on the look-out for E-boats, as the enemy were now desperate to cut off supply lines to our forces established in Normandy. As it turned out the crossing was uneventful.
It was sometime after dawn that the Sussex coast appeared as a thin line on the horizon. When this was spotted by our reluctant passengers, they began pointing and chattering amongst themselves. Then, about half the total number, who were still wearing their helmets, took them off and with great gusto, threw them as far as possible across the water, pausing to watch them sink.
When LCT 821 was some four miles off Newhaven, I sent one of my more memorable signals to the harbour authorities informing them of our unusual cargo. We were met by an assortment of army officers, armed guards, policemen and pressmen. A crane was on hand to lift off the wounded.
Once unloaded, we set course for Portslade, while attempting to restore LCT 821 to her former glory on the way. While hosing her down, we discovered that our passengers had rid themselves of their personal effects, such as pay-books, photos and letters etc., tucking them behind various ship's fittings.
We also cleared up an abandoned army bicycle with a buckled wheel, which had generated great interest amongst the Germans. We found a neatly wrapped package in green waterproof material strapped to the carrier, which contained a dozen fully primed Mills hand grenades. There was much speculation as to the outcome had the Germans been more inquisitive.
A few hours after arriving in Portslade, 821 was hauled out of the water onto a slipway, especially constructed for landing craft casualties. It was operated on by shipwrights brought down from Northern shipyards. In contrast to previous occasions, leave was granted to the crew, my watch being the first to depart.
By a strange twist of fate, the following evening I was sitting in the cinema of my home town watching the D-Day landings on newsreel, thinking that I was the only one watching, who had been in the thick of it!
I reported back aboard to free the other watch for their leave. It was during this time I saw a strange flying object coming in quite low overhead from a seaward direction. It was trailing a ragged flame and emitting a distinctive chugging sound. As we gazed upwards in amazement, we were witnessing one of the first "buzz bomb" attacks (also known as the V1).
Lots of things to contemplate in that great passage. If you want to read the full account of that adventure and lots more take a shufty at the Combined Ops website. It is absolutely stuffed with memoirs and stories from WW2. There’s a link in the show notes or just Google combinedops.com
I did mention to Geoff Slee the coincidences between the two stories and wondered if we’d stumbled across two men from the same craft – But Geoff said there were over 4,000 landing craft in use on D Day so it’s inevitable that similarities in the storylines will arise. And there would normally only be one electrician aboard each craft so I think that pretty much rules out them both being from LCT821
If you want to know what happened in the weeks and months after D-Day, take a look at Episode 6 Sgt Doug Gray, MM, where you’ll hear about the long. Hard. Grinding fight which went on after the beach landings.
Here’s a couple of short stories which have not featured in the podcast before.
from dwarf_in_a_giant via /r/ww2 sent 7 days ago
My American great uncle James replaced a man in a squad that had been through D-day and he was hated for “replacing” their fallen comrade.
He fought in the battle of the bulge with his squad. His officers ditched the squad and told them to hold the position so they dug in in their foxholes. Whenever tanks passed they would take turns popping out and cracking shots at the germans riding on the back of the tanks.
After a while a German armoured machine gun truck and an infantry squad stopped next to them and the officer barked "Raus! Raus mit den Hände hoch!" (Out! Out with your hands up!). Telling them that they would hear a gunshot each time he had to order it again.
My Uncle thought he was going to die and came out with his hands up – but, when the officer came up to him, he saw he was blond with blue eyes so he was taken as a POW for the rest of the war until he was liberated by Russians in Cczechoslovakia.
MM Citation, Sept 44
This is from Paul O’Neil, Co. Meath Ireland
Sergeant Joseph Kerr Middleton
This is an account of my Wife's grandfather’s bravery in Gheel Belgium during ww2. He was Canadian. My Wife is originally from Wigan, England.
8th Durham light infantry, Part of 50 division, the sign of the TTH logo - Tyne Tees and Humber rivers. 50th Div was my Dad’s division and as a Canadian he must have been something of a rarity.
Geel is a city located in the Belgian province of Antwerp
The Battle of Geel, also known as the Battle of the Geel Bridgehead, was a major battle between British and German troops in Belgium during the Second World War.
It occurred between 8–23 September 1944, and was one of the largest and bloodiest battles to occur during the Liberation of Belgium.
There were 4/5000 troops killed or wounded between the two sides.
So here’s the citation:
151 Durham infantry Brigade, 50th Northumbrian division
Commendation for military medal.
Sergeant Joseph KERR Middleton
Action for which commended
On the 11th September 44 near Gheel, Middleton’s company was completely surrounded by enemy infantry and tanks.
Throughout the day he so organised the defence of his platoon that every enemy attack was beaten off, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
Later in the day and enemy a JDAG Panther tank with infantry riding on it approached the company position. Sergeant Middleton seized a P IAT [anti-tank weapon] and advanced towards the tank heedless of his own personal safety.
He succeeded in creeping to within 15 yards of the tank and knocked it out with his first shot.
Not content with this he then proceeded to machine-gun the enemy infantry on the tank, although he was outnumbered by at least 30 to 1.
This so demoralised the enemy that they turned and ran, leaving all their weapons behind.
Throughout the whole operation, Sergeant Middleton showed that he was a born leader of men. His cheerfulness under very difficult conditions were a splendid example to all and his complete disregard for his own personal safety gave great encouragement to all and played a very big part in helping the company to repel all enemy attacks
Signed BL Montgomery
Awarded military medal 1 March 1945
Photo in the show notes – you should see all the signatures on it approving it. All sorts of high ranking officers, incl Monty himself.
There’s a little epilogue to all this that Paul said about his relative. “There is a bridge in Gheel named by the Americans as Joe's bridge. The information on why it is named so is vague but it makes me wonder Paul.
Paul I’d be surprised if that isn’t a connection with your Joe – and if anyone listening knows anything, please do get in touch.
And there’s more:
For your information, a PIAT was a Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank gun. It was a British man-portable anti-tank weapon designed in 1942 in response to the British Army's need for a more effective infantry anti-tank weapon and it entered service in 1943.
It’s interesting that in the early days of the war at Dunkirk, one of Dad’s comrades 2nd Lt John Hewson, was killed trying to take some tanks out with a not particularly effective weapon! If you go back to the Dunkirk episode 9 of this podcast you should hear his story.
But blow me, I’ve just been listening to the latest episode of We have Ways of Making you Talk and the two hosts have been talking about this very weapon. And from what I’ve just heard, Sgt Middleton was an incredibly brave man to do what he did and no wonder he got the MM! I won’t say any more – go and listen to the Foothold in France episode of Ve Have Vays Off Making You Talk! I vill leave you to eet!
As HMS Exeter sank, I saw this piece of wood about three foot square and another sailor was clinging on to it so I clinged along with him.
This coal mine went under the sea and it was called the hot box, and the sea was still seeping through the stones and you had to go down there and drill in sixes and drill and blast to fill these big wagons.
If you got lucky you might pick up some orange peel - or banana skin was good too.You couldn’t eat the whole lot but you could just scrape that white part out and that was luxury.
Will this man escape from his POW predicament?
WW2, The sinking of HMS Exeter - Ray Fitchet – Don’t miss it!
WW2 and WWII
I hope you’ve enjoyed the show, thank you for your various support and thanks for making the time to listen to me.
You’ve been listening to the Fighting Through Podcast, Episode 42 D-Day 75
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More Great Unpublished History!
This was a WW2 and WWII history podcast. Hear second world war stories and memoirs and interviews with war veterans.