Friday, June 6, 2014

Operation Neptune

Today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the name given to Operation Neptune, on 6 June 1944, for the Allied invasion of Normandy, the largest seaborne invasion in history. The invasion led to the restoration of the French Republic, and significanlty contributed to an Allied victory; indeed D-Day is considered to have been a turning point in the Second World War. The following is a random selection of diary entries written on, or close to, 6 June 1944, each one with its internet source (except for the last - ‘waiting for Winston’ in the House - which I have transcribed from Harold Nicolson’s published diaries).


Winifred Basham [Ipswich]
6 June 1944
‘Once more the balloon has gone up, only this time it’s our balloon. D-day, H-hour and all the rest of it has come at last and our troops have landed in France again after four weary years. They seem to be mainly in Normandy and are fighting in Caen. Mr Churchill says all is going well. We have done nothing but switch the wirelesses on and off all day as the news has filtered in. It all seems a bit of an anti-climax Climax in a way for we expected them to bomb us to glory as soon as we started, but so far not a plane has crossed the coast. All the same I am not looking forward to tonight which is Percy’s night on.’

WW2 People’s War

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Arthur Ward [A Battery 11th (HAC) Regt. R.H.A.]
6 June 1944
‘We heard on the wireless that the Invasion of Europe had started on the Normandy beaches and it would be called D Day, the same day we heard that Rome had fallen to the Allied 5th army. We had a lecture by the C.O. that we were to have more extensive training, then join the 5th Corps in the 8th army. 5th Corps includes 1st Armd. Division, 1st British Infantry Division and 4th Indian Division.

We saw a film at Gravina, “Keeper of the Flame” with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, it was very good. Later we heard that on the OP shoot a shell had accidentally fallen near the OP and the C.O. Lt. Col. Goodbody was wounded and his driver killed.’

WW2 People’s War

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Andrew John Broodbank [Radar Operator (Navigator) with 488 (NZ) Squadron, RAF]
6 June 1944
’00:30
DH Mosquito XIII HK534 (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL - Line “BAKER” - OPERATION “NEPTUNE”
The first “D day” patrol covering airborne landings in Normandy. Patrolling in R/T silence, listening out on Hope Cove (Type 16). Completely uneventful - total observations: 4-6 yellow flares; the same boat twice; & slight A/A activity near Guernsey. 5 patrols completed before returning home.
3:20

14:25
NFT, CINE-GUN & AI EXERCISE III
Crossing contacts with hard evasive by target.
1:00’

Broody’s War blog

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Chick Bruns (7th Army, 3rd Division, 10th Combat Engineers)
June 6, 1944
‘We left for Rome and the Company early this morning. While in convoy a British fellow told us that France was invaded this morning. Everyone went wild. We tried cutting in on the convoy and a tank hit us. Little damage was done. When we got to Rome we didn’t care whether we saw the company or not. We went all over the city and stopped at every tavern or bar. We finally ran into one of the officers so we went out to camp. I took off after dinner and went to town. Cushman and I was all over the city. Went to see St. Peters, but it was closed. Bought quite a few presents and started home about 10 pm. We got lost in the park and wandered all night. We went to a nice hotel but it was full so we just flopped down in a chair and went to steep. We got out to the company about 7 am.’

70 Years Ago

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Alwyne Garling [Colchester]
6 June 1944
‘THE INVASION HAS STARTED. THIS IS D-DAY. Allied troops have landed on North Coast of France between Havre and Cherbourg. Big airborne forces have been launched. Churchill says operations are going in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. Our losses have been much lighter than expected. Fighting is going on in Caen 10 miles inland. We were woke up in night about 2.30 by endless planes going over. We could see them with their lights on and they kept on all night. Thought something special was on. It’s been dull and cold and windy all day, and now it’s raining hard. Does not seem very good weather for them. Listened to King broadcast. R.A.F. dropped over 5,000 tons on the coastal batteries during night.’

Heather Johnson’s blog

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William Henry Smith [Private in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders]
7 June 1944
 ‘As we approached the beaches yesterday, all I could think of was one specific line in the speech General Eisenhower wrote us before we left England, “The free men of the world are marching to victory!” I felt reassured as we left in the L.C.I.’s (Landing Craft Infantry) even though I could not hear myself think because everything was exploding around me. I knew that I would fight with all my heart for my country. I would fight with pride. But now, words are jumping out at me. I still can’t describe the horror I saw yesterday as I got out of the L.C.I. and got in the water, some guys were really scared, I could see it in their eyes. Hell, we were all scared. The water was freezing. As I approached the beach, I saw my own friends a few feet away from me, have their arms shot off or even worse die instantly in front of me. Everything has a different meaning once you live through it. Right now a third of my company, a third of us are hiding out in a pit until darkness sets in so we can start looking for the others. I don’t even know where the hell we are!’

Michael WW2 blog

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Eugen Herzog [Luftwaffe)
6 June 1944
‘When it became cooler in the evening, I went out and took a wonderful walk around the town. At home now, it must be pretty during this time of the blooming lilacs.’

WWII Diary of a German Soldier by Helga Herzog Godfrey

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Edward Francis Wightman [Royal Navy Seaman/Gunner on board HMS Ramillies]
7 June 1944
'10.15pm
Had neither the energy nor the time to write yesterday so I’ll try and give a record of the events in chronological order.

We were at our bombardment position about 5am after passing through the minefields in the Channel, swept and Dan-buoyed by the sweepers. As we approached the French coast numerous air raids were seen and we watched pretty fireworks displays for quite a while. About 5.10am, just five minutes before schedule, we opened fire with 15” on a 6” battery on a high ridge. This battery had six guns and they were in armoured casemates, so it was no walkover. After about one to two hours firing, enemy shells landed uncomfortably close without doing damage. This went on intermittently all day. About 6.30am two enemy destroyers attacked with torpedoes. Five were fired and three came perilously close. No more than 50 yards away the nearest. A pack of E-boats was observed and the 4” and 6” armament were blazing away and were very effective, causing the enemy to retire. They attacked again later on and were again driven off. By this time we had ranged the enemy battery and put four of the six guns out of action The remaining two were quite a nuisance and some of their shells landed no more than 20 yards away.

In the meantime one of the tinfish fired at us, and hit the destroyer Svenna, a Norwegian escort of ours. She sank almost immediately and I don't think any survivors were picked up. Bodies and wreckage, rafts, timber etc floated past and we observed the bow and stern of the wreck showing above water. Must be pretty shallow here. Apparently she broke her back. Poor chaps - leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.


Aircraft were now thumping the hell out of German positions ashore and at 6.30am the first wave of troops landed. Later in the day we heard they had succeeded at all points and our Royal Marine Commando battalion had taken a coastal defence battery intact! The day wore on with numerous alarms for aircraft but we saw none. One dropped a stick of bombs between a destroyer and cruiser. JU88 I believe. We carried out several bombardments in the afternoon and evening and eventually completed the obliteration of the last 6" gun of the battery. We then had orders to proceed to Portsmouth to re-ammunition. Fired 220 15” shells and goodness knows how many 6” and 4”. Not one AA gun opened fire! What a difference to 1940.

Just as we were preparing to leave, hundreds and hundreds of gliders came in, in great masses. Each one had a towing plane and they came over for an hour, solid. We estimated over a thousand, so they probably landed at least one complete division. What a sight! Just like a Wellsian dream of the future. I forgot to mention before, that as we went into battle, the captain donned the Maori skirt so how could we come to any harm? Battle ensign was flying from the gaff. Lots of fireworks displays as we left. RAF again giving Germans a bad night.

Time 6.30am: arrived Portsmouth and re-ammunitioned all day. Were we worn out! Sailed again 8.30pm and we still had our deck full of cordite to be stowed. Wonder where we are bound now.

Time 11pm: Too dark now. Write again tomorrow.’

WW2 People’s War

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J. J. McAndrews [Petty Officer 3rd Class]
6 June 1944
‘We heard the French invasion started. We missed the first wave, but are on our way to be in on the 3rd wave.’

Coast Guard Great Lakes blog

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May Hill [Lincolnshire Seaside Village]
6 June 1944
‘So, at last the long-talked of Second Front has begun. I have not even given it a new page and that seems a fitting symbol of how it appears to me. What excitement there may be in towns or elsewhere, in the country does not seem to have touched us here. It is just an ordinary day, after nearly 5 years of war it takes a lot to make us demonstrative. I went on with my ordinary work and made my first toy for sale, a white duck with green wings and yellow beak and feet. It is for Mrs Russell to give to a baby friend. I must make the rabbit for Emmie next and try to send an extra one too. Ciss cleaned her pantry and Rene washed. Jean went to school, indeed she had gone before the announcement.

4000 ships and a great many smaller craft crossed the channel. Great air-liners took air-borne troops behind the German lines. Montgomery is speaking now, a message to the troops of which he is the head. Now a service. Almost 10 o’ clock. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken and now they are singing “Oh God, our help in ages past.” At nine o’clock the King broadcast a call to prayer, not just one day but all the days of crisis. In the news afterwards we heard that all was still going well in France. I fear the “little people” like us would not just go on with this ordinary work. However pleased they may be at the thought of deliverance, at present it means danger and hardship and war. Many will have to leave their homes and many I fear will lose their lives. The service is over, a beautiful service, ending with the hymn, “Soldiers of Christ Arise.”

We are in bed. A motor cycle has just gone by and a swiftly moving plane. Percy was with Home Guards last night. I am pleased he is at home next door tonight. God be with us all those whose sons or husbands or other dear ones have already fallen in this new front. Be with the wounded and comfort the dying and those who are afraid. We had 12 letters from Ron to-day - a record. I had 6, the others 3 each. In the most recent one, only a week since he wrote it, an air mail letter, he says his hopes of return are practically nil. I am almost pleased much as I long to see him but somehow he seems safer there at present. I must try to sleep now. The longed for D-Day has arrived. Deliverance Day, Jean says it means.’

Brian Hill’s website

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Joe Haworth [Sergeant in the Royal Engineers[
6 June 1944,
‘D-Day, it being 07.25 hours this morning. Rose and went for a walk on deck. Feeling pretty rough. Ship rolling pretty bad. Couldn’t face any food. Arrived at our location ‘somewhere in France’ 13.30hours. Began to load on to Rhinos. Assault troops broke through beach head and advancing rapidly. No Sleep.’

Daily Mail

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Sidney J. Montz [lieutenant in Co. D, 8th Regiment, of the 4th Infantry Division, US Army]
6 June 1944
‘2400 - Eating a good meal, may be the last boat team. Sea very rough. Started loading one, went down to compartment with my men about 0230, went over side, down net + it was really tough. Took off to rendezvous area, had a tough time finding it, made it o.k. Started circling, finally the other boats came in. Planes lit up the beaches, AA fire starting, flares dropping, beautiful sight but it scares the hell out of you. All hell broke loose from the beach, some boats hit by 88. We are near beach + 88 opened up on the boat on our right + almost hit us. Some boats hit land mines, lucky we landed because much more we would have sunk - water still rough. Jumped out in waist deep water, about 500 or 600 yds from seawall, the longest I have ever seen in my life. M.G., mortar, + artillery fire around us.

Finally in shallow water + able to run, had to miss all types of obstacles in + out the water. Picked up six rounds of 81mm ammo on the way, it seemed as though we would never reach the seawall. Men being blown up and hit all around me, you could hear them scream, it was horrible. Finally hit seawall, stopped to get a blow and bearing, Gen. Roosevelt walking around telling everyone to clear the beach or they would get killed. Rockets hit the third section [. . .] Time to move or they will kill us all. Gen. Roosevelt gave me lots of courage. Under small arms + artillery fire. Navy left us 1000 yds. too far left, the left outfit caught hell. Moved in very fast, every house + tree loaded with men, they fire at you from all directions, very hard to see them as they use smokeless powder. Will get on to them soon then they will catch hell.’

National WWII Museum, New Orleans

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Cyril Hare [Royal Navy, part of 525 Landing Craft Assault]

6 June 1944
‘At 6.20am all landing craft were lowered into a heavy sea and proceeded to beaches of France on Port side of Cherbourg. There was very heavy shelling from our ships and shore batteries. Bombers were bombing gun positions inland. We landed on the beaches at 7.35am and were met with quite a lot of opposition although our troops soon quietened them. We got off the beaches OK but several were stuck. One of our boats received two direct hits . . . and sank within a few seconds. Four men were killed and four were seriously wounded. The sea was really our worst enemy. It was far too rough for our little craft, although they stood it well. On the way home, one of the casualties died. At 8.45pm, a short service was held, and his body was borne to the sea.’

Hertfordshire Mercury

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Walter E. Marchand [Surgeon with the 4th Infantry Division, US Army]
6 June 1944
‘D day is here! - D day has begun, how will it end? We are now close to the German held coast of France - all is unbelievably quiet, but it isn’t for long. At about 1 A.M. I hear a low sounding drone - I go on deck and here I see plane upon plane flying over our ship toward the hostile shore, towing gliders - these are the Paratroopers and Airborne Infantry - I wish them God’s speed and wish them well, for as I am watching the first planes are over the Atlantic Wall I see tremendous flares go up and great quantity of anti-aircraft fire and flak. God what great numbers of planes there are, and all ours. To our right - toward the Barfleur Peninsula area our Bombers are wreaking havoc on some coastal installations, we can hear the detonations clearly. In the midst of this, the little Cavalry C.T. is preparing to debark and to take St. Marcouf island - this is at H minus 4 hours. At this time also, the C47s are returning from France - flying home after letting go of their gliders or human cargo.

Had very early breakfast - then lay on my bunk for a while - I couldn’t sleep and I can’t sleep - I keep thinking of my wife and my family - I love you my Corinne.

At 0400 the first wave of our Assault Battalion is called to stand-by to load into the boats - there is a great hum of activity throughout the ship. The Captain speaks - our LCM3’s haven’t come yet, but there is still plenty of time. We wait for 20, 40, 55 minutes. Then they come out of the dawn alongside - still enough time to make the H hour landing, for H hour has been upped because of the heavy seas. The LCM3’s are having great difficulty tieing up to the boat - they toss around like corks - but the landing nets are overside and the troops make their way down - but with great difficulty. Often large hausers, 2 inch thick, would snap like a thread and often the man climbing down would be thrown into the small boats. It was especially difficult to get the vehicles overboard into the small boats. “Man overboard” was heard once - a British sailor was knocked overboard but rescued.

First wave - Away, then the second, then the third, then it was my turn to get into my boat with 5 of my men and part of the Battalion Command section - it took long, the boat crashed against the ship time and time again, bending the ramp, and tearing loose, snapping the hausers. Finally we are all in our boat with our equipment, and the men are getting seasick, and they huddle together toward the rear of the boat. I stay near the front of the boat, getting sprayed continuously and I look about me and see hundreds upon hundreds of boats, from the little LCVP’s, LCM’s, LCT’s and LCI’s, to the huge battleships and cruisers, and smoke is billowing from their deck guns, for this is H-40 min. and the Naval barrage starts then, the fire directed against enemy shore installations. Our wave has now formed and we are heading toward shore 7 miles away through rough waters, while on the way in our Dive bombers get to work, pouring tons of bombs against the enemy fortresses.

We are getting close to shore and the boats of our wave go from a line in file to a line abreast formation and speed for shore. I can now hear cannon fire clearly as well as machine gun fire. We all pray that our boat will not strike a mine or an underwater obstacle or get hit by a shell from a coastal battery. All sounds become closer, when about 50 yds. From shore I see 2 splashes on our port bow - enemy fire. The boats streak for shore and hit the beach and we almost make a dry landing - we only have to wade knee deep thru about 20 yds. of water. As we hit, the ramp goes down and we debark - wade in the water, then on hitting dry land start to run. I see dead Americans floating in the water - a ghastly sight. I get my men together and we run up across the beach to a concrete wall, faced with barbed wire and bearing signs.

There are many wounded lying about and we start to care for them, and carry some to the Naval Beach Party Aid Station which just landed after us. I try to orient myself, but we landed at a different place than was originally planned. Enemy fire is increasing, landing just to our left, from our right there is machinegun fire. I have only 1 choice I lead the men thru a break in the barbed wire into the Mine Field and we go in about 50 yds. - enemy fire increases, we dig in hurriedly to rest - we are all exhausted from the fear which we all know as shells come whistling overhead and landing close by. But we must get out of the Mine Field! - I find a path to the right and we start along it, seeing mines all around us - and then the path disappears and we turn back to our former spot - from there we find a small path to the left and we follow it - we see wounded about us and we care for them, carrying some along with us on litters, and the small path leads us to a road and we follow it to the first right turn and we follow it.

Troops and vehicles are now storming ashore in great quantities - some vehicles are hit and burst into flames. We pass burning houses and many dead German and American soldiers. It is now noon - God the 5 hours passed like lightning. At 1300 we come to the “Old French Fort”, now we are close to where originally we were supposed to land. I scout ahead and find my Battalion just 300 yds. up the road, so I and Capt. Scott set up our Aid Station off the side of the road in a large hole and crater made by a 14 inch Naval shell - 12 feet by 5 feet and about 6 feet deep. By this time one of our Jeep ambulances has reached us and we are ready to function as an Aid station. We send out litter bearer groups into the mine fields to pick up casualties. This is ticklish work, but the boys are excellent soldiers and go bravely although they have no paths to follow.

Our ambulance Jeep works up forward and brings back casualties - some are Paratroopers that are pretty well beaten up, having been wounded shortly after landing. We work from this spot for 2 hours and then we move forward to the Command Post which is along the side of a road near Fortress 74 which is still holding out. Shortly after arriving here, machine gun fire becomes active and we have to duck low - pinned down here for 5 hours, could watch the attack on the fortress and the surrender of the Germans. Our boys are doing a splendid job and very few casualties so far. As the sun is setting we note hundreds of C47’s again - more Airborne Infantry landing - They swoop inland and let go of their gliders, to come swooping back. Liason Sgt., from Co. C shot in the leg while lying on the road beside Capt. Scott.

Toward dark a few serious casualties encountered - difficulty of evacuating great - Plasma given right in open. Difficulty in finding path thru mine field to farm house where we will stay for the night - had to cross tank traps filled with water and lined with mines - ticklish business in the dark.

Finally we got all of Aid station together - we were all exhausted - and were so tired that we just fell down and fell asleep - with artillery, mainly enemy, going overhead, most of it, fortunately for us being directed toward the beach.

This is the end of D day - it was hectic from the start - but we had few casualties, and those mainly from mines, which were numerous. Heavy machinegun fire heard all night.’

Black Hills Veterans Writing Group


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Anne Frank [Amsterdam]
6 June 1944
‘The invasion has begun! According to the German news, British parachute troops have landed on the French coast. British landing craft are in battle with the German Navy, says the BBC. Great commotion in the Secret Annexe! Would the long-awaited liberation that has been talked of so much but which still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy-tale, ever come true? Could we be granted victory this year, 1944? We don't know yet, but hope is revived within us; it gives us fresh courage, and makes us strong again.’

Spartacus Educational

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Harold Nicolson [London, Sissinghurst]
6 June 1944
‘I can now say (having passed through the censorship ban) that at Hatston aerodrome yesterday, about an hour before I left, a tremor passed through ward-room. ‘Panic stations order’, was the word passed around. A sense of imminence affected the whole place.

I typed this diary in my sleeper and then went to bed. I did not sleep well as I was cold. The train arrived at 7.35 and I drove straight to [King’s Bench Walk, his chambers in the Temple], missing the 8am news owing to a sudden short-circuit of the light. This was at once put right. I then turned on the 9am news in the General Forces Programme, and heard to my excitement the following announcement: ‘The German Overseas News has just put out the following flash: “Early this morning, the expected Anglo-American invasion began when airborne forces were landed in the Seine estuary.” ’ I then wait till a later flash which says, ‘The combined landing operations comprised the whole area between Havre and Cherbourg, the main centre of attack being the Caen area.’ [. . .]

I go down to the House, arriving there about ten to twelve. When I enter the Chamber, I find a buzz of conversation going on. Questions has ended unexpectedly early and people were just sitting there chatting, waiting for Winston. It was an unusual scene. He entered the Chamber at three minutes to twelve. He looked as white as a sheet. The House notice this at once, and we feared that he was about to announce some terrible disaster. He is called immediately, and places two separate fids of typescript on the table. He begins with the first, [. . .] He then picks up the other fid of notes and begins, ‘I have also to announce to the House that during the night and early hours of this morning, the first of a series of landings in force upon the Continent of Europe has taken place . . .’ The House listens in hushed awe. He speaks for only seven minutes. [. . .]

I lunch at the Beefsteak and then go down to Sissinghurst. There is a an elaborate B.B.C. news programme and Howard Marshall gives a good account of the landings on the coast. The general  impression is the ferrying across the Channel was marvellously successful; that the beach obstacles were not as severe as foreseen and that the Germans were not as numerous; that we have played the first trick better than could have been hoped. But people know very well that the hard test is still to come and that no jubilation of any kind can be permitted for several days.

During the night aeroplanes roar over the house carrying lights. They never stop. Neither Viti nor Mrs Staples nor Jo sleep a wink.’

Transcribed from Diaries and Letters 1939-45 by Harold Nicolson, edited by Nigel Nicolson (Collins, 1967)

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