Memories of D-Day: Crossing the Channel

US landing craft crossing the English Channel on the way to Normandy (US Coast Guard)

US landing craft crossing the English Channel on the way to Normandy
(US Coast Guard)

Operation Neptune was the name given to the naval side of D-Day: moving over 130,000 troops across the Channel in 24 hours. This involved 6939 vessels and 195,700 personnel, including the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Merchant Navy, US Navy, US Coast Guard, Royal Canadian Navy, and other Allied forces.

Eric Broadhead of 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, describes the crossing:
“ By mid-day on the 2nd [June] we were aboard a small flat-bottomed craft holding around 150 troops – LCI 501, US Navy – which was to take us across to a still unknown destination. Comfort aboard was almost nil. Bunks were six deep and each hold held around 50 men. The water we used for washing was seawater, and getting soap to lather from seawater is almost impossible. Killing time was our worst problem. We only went ashore once a day, for a meal.
At 9pm Monday evening we were issued with seasickness pills. That was enough, we knew by morning we should be in less peaceful waters than we were then. That evening, 501 weighed anchor. As darkness fell, we went below decks and lay on our bunks fully clothed. Outside the wind was howling even more as we turned out to sea. I dozed off before we really turned on full steam, only to be awakened by a horribly sickly feeling inside. 501 was rolling in every imaginable direction. The seasickness pills had failed if ever anything did fail. There was only one thing to do, that was to lie still, even that was dreadful and only served to make one feel worse.”
LCI = a “Landing Craft, Infantry”, one of the medium-sized craft that carried infantry only.
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Mr R. Haig – Brown, 93rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, crossed the Channel in an LST (Landing Ship, Tank). He describes the crossing on the night of 5-6 June:
“ Much the most memorable impression I had that night was, seasickness apart, the terrific morale of the troops. Such was their training and briefing, and so muddle-free the assembly, that none of us thought it possible that anything could go wrong or that we were on anything but a rather super exercise where live bullets would not actually be aimed at us, but so as to miss, and death never really happened. At 2am on 6th June, I was sent for and given an envelope by the ship’s captain. In it was the key to the code on the maps I had seen at briefing; for the first time did I know that Nan Beach in Juno Sector was at the village of Bernieres-sur-Mer, just west of Ouistreham, and that the river was in fact the Orne. We had already been told we were to land at H-Hour plus a half; now we knew that H-Hour was 7.30am, just a few hours hence. I spent the rest of the night pouring over my maps, translating the codes on them, telling the men all about it and issuing them with a couple of hundred francs each in new notes.”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Photographs courtesy of the D-Day Museum, the Imperial War Museum, US Navy/US Coast Guard, and The News, Portsmouth. Images may not be copied without permission.