Memories of D-Day: Fighting inland

British Sherman tanks in Normandy, 8 June (IWM B5267)

British Sherman tanks in Normandy,
8 June (IWM B5267)

D-Day – 6 June 1944 – was just the beginning. The fighting continued for two and a half months before the German forces in Normandy were forced into retreat.

Eric Broadhead landed on Gold Beach with 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.
“ The surrounding scenery in Normandy was famous for its narrow country lanes, small villages and corn fields, which were waving in a sea breeze as we pushed along a lane leading from the beaches inland, our bikes being very useful. I’m afraid a lot of us had a cowboy complex as we rode along armed to the teeth. We reached the high ground without incident, and from here one could see a perfect view of the bay with its vast array of ships of all shapes and sizes. It was just after this that we came under fire in earnest for the first time. Strangely enough, it was not enemy fire. We were pushing along done the lane, all keyed up and expecting almost anything except what happened. Overhead came a flight of fighter planes, from the Channel and heading over France – RAF fighters. As they zoomed overhead, they peeled off one by one and machine-gunned the column. This was far from pleasant, and we dived in all directions, as bits of dirt were flying everywhere. It was over as quick as it started, and we pushed on with nerves that had been somewhat stirred. It was later that we learned that we hadn’t come through without loss. The price of victory had been paid and a little cross sprang up in Normandy.”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Mr R. Haig – Brown served with 93rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, which was equipped with Crusader tanks fitted with 20mm anti-aircraft guns. His unit landed on Juno Beach early on D-Day.
“ Our job was to get eventually to two bridges, one over the Orne canal at Benouville, and the other 100 yards to the east, over the Orne river. We were to protect them from air attack as they were the only road link between the beach and the 6th Airborne Division who had landed to the east of the river. The bridges lay on the other side of a minefield. As I had been on the course, I was told to organise a way through for the tanks. I knew exactly what to do until I came across the first mine. I had never seen one like it before. Even if I knew all about German mines I was not prepared for this and all the others to be British, captured at Dunkirk in 1940 and used against us now. I had no idea how to handle any of them. When eventually I did clear a way through, no-one would volunteer to drive the first tank down my taped path. ‘You cleared the way, Sir’ said the troop sergeant major, ‘and if you don’t mind’, he added with a huge grin, ‘perhaps you would prove it is all right by taking No.1 tank down there yourself.’”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Mr R. G. Lloyd served in the 12th Parachute Regiment, 6th Airborne Division. With the rest of his unit, he landed from the air to protect the eastern flank of the seaborne landings.
“ Without orders we dug our slit trenches. Little did we know it during our previous training, but these trenches were to play a very important part in our life during the days ahead in Europe. They would afford vital protection, but would for long periods be our homes, where we would eat, sleep, wash, shave, write letters, in fact do practically everything. Unfortunately they were not weatherproof, and when the heavy rain came, you just sat with a wet backside and hoped that the incessant drip-drip would stop soon, and mostly it did. In the morning you dried out the best you could and hoped that you’d find a better hole next night.”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

British infantrymen during fighting in a Normandy village (IWM B5967)

British infantrymen during fighting in a Normandy village (IWM B5967)

Mr Mackenzie was a Sergeant in the Royal Signals, attached to a headquarters unit rather than frontline troops.
“ It was learnt that a couple of Tiger tanks along with approximately 100 infantry had been bypassed by our forward troops, and were dug in a wood a few hundred yards up the road. The three tanks attached to our HQ had got up, but two of them were ‘brewed up’ [hit by enemy guns and immobilised]. Apart from our own personal arms, we had nothing! We expected them to attack us that night, so every man slept with his weapon and ammunition, ready for a do! I didn’t mind the infantry, but tanks! You can’t knock them out with personal arms fire. Went to bed resigned to the fact that we would be for it! Woke up surprised to find we were OK! An hour later, twelve rocket-firing Typhoons came over, the first time we had seen them in action! What a sight, what a terror. They got those tanks alright.”
Tiger tanks = these well-armoured German tanks, with their powerful guns, were feared by the Allied troops.
Typhoons = British fighter-bomber aircraft, which attacked tanks with unguided rockets.
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Mr R.M.S. Maude was a Major in the Royal Engineers, with 246 Field Company, 3rd Division, and 12 AGRE. In a letter to a relative, he described life behind the lines in Normandy:
“ You have entirely the wrong impression of what a battle is like! I will try and explain. You see you are only actually fighting for a very small part of the time, then you don’t get much time to sleep or eat. But most of the time both sides just sit and look at each other, and nothing happens except sporadic shelling and patrolling at nights. And a Field Company does not sit in the front line, but two or three miles back if it has any sense. When I was with 246 there were periods when we sat in our orchards in the sun and there was literally nothing to do, and we were bored. But apart from D-Day we were never involved in any heavy fighting except very sporadically, and most of the time it was quite peaceful and I used to play with the children next door and visit the doc in the evenings for a cup of tea and a chat. Our work consisted of road mending and mine clearance or tidying up, which was done as though we were in England except that there was always a risk of shells, but they are alright provided you get warning of the first one.
The French seem extraordinarily unconcerned about the battle and the swarms of troops in their orchards and villages. They just carry on their normal lives. They are always friendly and helpful if you approach them directly, but they don’t go out of their way to help or take notice of you.”
[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.