Wartime News

 

Vol 7. 2nd Edition

 

May 2002

Operation Overlord - D-Day 6 June 1944

 

 

During the latter part of 1942, a new division was rapidly taking shape in the south of England.  The 6th Airborne Division, as it was called, was destined to play an important part in the liberation of German occupied Europe and in the conquest of Germany itself.

The units of the Royal Engineers in the Division comprised the following:  HQRE, 3rd Parachute Squadron, 591 (Antrim) Parachute Squadron, 249 Airborne Field Company, 286 Airborne Field Park Company.....   This account largely concerns the 3rd Parachute Squadron but it is also the story of the divisional engineers and, in part, the story of the Division.....  By 3 June, we knew the place - Normandy, the name of the operation, ‘Overlord’ and every detail of it.  What we still had to find out was when exactly was D-Day?  On 4 June, we received orders to load the containers onto the aircraft and to fit ’chutes to them.  Thus we knew the following day was D-Day and we knew that we had passed our last night in England for some time to come.  We knew this because we were due to take off on D-1 before midnight, and the ’chutes would not be fitted until D-1 in case they become damp.  However, the rain and a rising wind soon damped our boosted spirits and the same evening we took the ’chutes from the containers and put them inside the aircraft.  D-Day was postponed for 24 hours, we could hardly believe it at first....

The scene opens at midnight on 5 June, the setting is the interior of a crowded Dakota which is one of a formation of 50 ploughing their way through the night, carrying a battalion group to Normandy.  I was stick commander of this aircraft and also, being the only officer jumping, I had to go No 1 in order to release the containers.  The whole stick numbered fifteen, of which the first five carried kitbags.  Our ’plane carried six container loads of trolleys and explosive in its bomb racks.  Each container carried a delay action device which would bring it near the centre of the stick after release, providing we could get out of the ’plane quick enough.

“Forty minutes to go,” came over the intercom from the pilot.  “Hook up and inspect each other.”  The two rows of men who had been sitting in almost total silence for the last few minutes were galvanised into action as I passed on the order.  “Twenty minutes to go,” found us sitting in darkness with, it seemed, the moon above, the sea below and only the crew to comfort us.  “You’ll be bang on,” said the navigator to me, “it’s a piece of duff.”  The RAF had a very tough job that night and I later realised that it would have been impossible to have dropped every stick, “Bang on”.

“Ten minutes to go,” and then the French coast was in sight.  Here we had our first taste of fire-crump!  “What the hell?  Flak - the b...s are shooting at us.”  We could see the winking bursts on all sides, and could hear the steady “whoof-whoof,” but so far as we could see there were no casualties amongst the aircraft.  We hardly heard the five minute warning, but I found myself half standing, half crouching in the door with one hand near the container switches, the other clutching my kitbag and my eyes glued to the red light.  By this time we had come down to 700ft in preparation for the downward glide over the dropping zone.  We now had a new experience, it was tracer coming from the LMG posts in the region of our DZ.  No-one was hit but the kite took evasive action which nearly had the stick on the floor, a frenzied clutch saved me from making a premature exit.  We were now really at Action Stations....  I dashed to the nearest green container lights.  I was greeted by another burst and realised he was shooting at the light, so I quickly smashed it.  Much to my relief, I saw a figure doubling up, “Hello Green, thank God I’ve found someone, where are the rest?”  “Oh sir, they are spread out for miles.”  Saying no more, we swiftly carried out our container drill and began to erect a trolley in order to load it with explosive.  We were then joined by Sappers Hurst and Dickson.  Leaving them to it, I made an attempt to find out where we were.  Another figure stumbled up across the ploughed field and asked me the way to the 7th Para Bn RV.  “Sorry, I can’t say,” I replied, as I realised to my dismay that we were on the 7th Battalion DZ at Ranville, instead of the 8th Battalion DZ at Touffreville, some four miles away.   Our Squadron Commander, Major J C A Roseveare DSO RE (‘Rosie’), quickly organised us and we set off in the direction of Touffreville, en route for our bridge objectives at Troarn and Bures.   After a rapid division of the explosive, Rosie set off with Dave Breeze and half a dozen determined escorts, Sgt Hannah, L/Sgt Irving, L/Cpl Knight and Sappers Moon and Peachey.  In the trailer behind them was a heavy load of the special charges we had brought for this job.  As they disappeared in a cloud of dust, we turned left into the Forest of Bures.......    (An extract from "Go to it")  by Major John Shave MC

 

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Take off - Tarrant Rushton

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Landing Zone

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Pegasus Bridge - Caen Canal Normandy

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Troarn Bridge

Blowing the bridge at Troarn

I was in the Royal Engineers and our instructions were to blow the Troarn Bridge in Normandy in June 1944.  We were first dropped five miles away which meant a longer march, but what we didn’t realise was that the Germans had flooded the area and we were up to our waists in water.

 After 30 minutes, the gliders came in and a Jeep and trailer came out of the mist.  The Officer-in-Charge stopped the driver who was a medic and confiscated the Jeep and trailer.  The medical supplies were thrown out and explosives put in with eight men.

The only dry road through the village was occupied by Germans, so we stopped and a sergeant went to the first house where a German squaddie was on a bike with a rifle.  The sergeant shot the German which blew our cover, whereupon the officer put his foot down and drove through the village like a bullet, with one Sapper with a Bren gun on the back of the trailer firing like mad.  The trailer was bouncing all over the place with the rough roads and unfortunately Sapper Peachey fell off.  Many years later I saw his name on the Regimental Register.  Only one man was lost as we drove through the village with-out any airborne cover.  The original plan allowed us one and a half hours to set the charges in the bridge, but because of the lack of cover we finished in 20 minutes.  We then had to make our way back on foot through the deep irrigation ditches.

There is now a stone pillar alongside the bridge with a brass plaque commemorating the blowing up of the bridge by the 3rd Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers.

As published in editions of Wartime News -  ©

by Harry Barnsley