In November, 1943, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met together in Teheran, Iran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Until the Soviet's victory at Stalingrad in January, 1943, Stalin had feared that without a second front, Germany would defeat them.
Stalin, who always favoured in offensive strategy, believed that there were political, as well as military reasons for the Allies' failure to open up a second front in Europe. Stalin was still highly suspicious of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and was worried about them signing a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. The foreign policies of the capitalist countries since the October Revolution had convinced Stalin that their main objective was the destruction of the communist system in the Soviet Union. Stalin was fully aware that if Britain and the USA withdrew from the war, the Red Army would have great difficulty in dealing with Germany on its own.
At Teheran, Joseph Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942. Later they postponed it to the spring of 1943. Stalin complained that it was now November and there was still no sign of an allied invasion of France. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944.
General Dwight Eisenhower was put in charge of what became known as Operation Overlord. Eisenhower had the task of organizing around a million combat troops and two million men involved in providing support services.
The plan, drawn up by George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Bernard Montgomery, Omar Bradley, Bertram Ramsay, Walter Bedell-Smith, Arthur Tedder and Trafford Leigh-Mallory, involved assaults on five beaches west of the Orne River near Caen (codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah) by the British 2nd Army and the American 1st Army. Follow-up forces included the Canadian 1st Army and the American 3rd Army under Lt. General George Patton.
Juno was assigned to the Canadian Army. Canada contributed 110 ships to the invading force, 14,000 troops, including paratroopers, and 15 RCAF squadrons of fighters and fighter-bombers. It is estimated that Canada contributed about 10 percent of the D-Day invading force.
The invasion was preceded by a massive aerial bombardment of German communications. This resulted in the destruction of virtually every bridge over the Seine.
On 6th June, 1944, 2,727 ships sailed to the Normandy coast and on the first day landed 156,000 men on a front of thirty miles. It was the largest and most powerful armada that has ever sailed.
The Allies also sent in three airborne divisions, two American and one British, to prepare for the main assault by taking certain strategic points and by disrupting German communications. Of the 23,000 airborne troops, 15,500 were Americans and of these, 6,000 were killed or seriously wounded.
Over the next couple of days 156,215 troops were landed from sea and air in Normandy, at a cost of some 10,300 casualties.
Churchill laid fore the Teheran Conference his plan for an Anglo-American invasion of the Balkans, which was to delay still further the invasion of France. At once the animosity between Stalin and Churchill which had lingered on since their meeting in August 1942, burst forth with new intensity. In 1942 Stalin suspected that the motive behind the postponement of the second front was the intention of the allies to let Russia and Germany mutually exhaust themselves.
Stalin pointed out that those operations could not be decisive and that they might fritter away much of the allied strength. In contrast, in an invasion across the Channel, the allies would have the benefit of a short and well-protected line of communication; they would bring their concentrated pressure to bear upon the enemy; they would, in liberating France, inflict an irretrievable moral blow on Germany; and they would, finally, have in front of them the shortest and the most direct route to the Ruhr, the hub of German industrial power. Stalin put his argument bluntly and tersely, interspersing it with caustic remarks, which made Churchill growl and redden in the face.
Judging from what he said, I think Stalin was more sympathetic to Roosevelt than Churchill because Roosevelt seemed to have considerable understanding for our problems. In disputes during the working sessions in Teheran, Stalin found Roosevelt siding with him against Churchill. Thus, Stalin's personal sympathies were definitely reserved for Roosevelt, although he still held Churchill in high esteem.
Churchill certainly played an important role in the war. He understood the threat hanging over England, and that's why he did everything he could to direct the Germans against the Soviet Union - in order to pull the Soviet Union into war against Germany.
It's difficult to judge what the intentions of the Allies were toward the end of the war. I wouldn't exclude the possibility that they desired to put a still greater burden on the shoulders on the Soviet Union and to bleed us even more. They wanted to take advantage of the results of the war and impose their will not only on their enemy, Germany, but on their ally, the USSR, as well.
Roosevelt and Churchill had established that intimate relationship which was to remain unimpaired until death removed the former in 1945. There was no such useful working entente with our Russian ally. Foreign Minister Molotov had been m Washington in the late spring and had gone back to Moscow with the understanding, at least on his part that the United States and Britain would attempt to create a second front in Europe in 1942.
The Russians could not have been more disappointed than our own Army people that plans for a 1942 cross - Channel invasion had to be abandoned. There was much grumbling about the British and considerable criticism of Churchill the Prime Minister was convinced that England was not ready to undertake such a major effort, and I did not think that we were either. I personally was interested in the safety or the United States. A cross-Channel operation could have failed and we still would have been safe, but England would have been lost.
I think that is what Churchill had in mind. He wanted to have much more assurance of success than General Marshall could give him. Marshall's country would have been safe, but England was sitting twenty miles across the Channel, right under the Nazi guns. England could not afford to be defeated in an invasion attempt. Churchill, in his responsibility for preserving the integrity of England, had to be satisfied in his own mind that the expedition could succeed. I cannot blame him for that.
I ought to let you know that the War Cabinet is unanimous in its anxiety about these French slaughters, even reduced as they have been, and also in its doubts as to whether almost as good military results could not be produced by other methods. Whatever is settled between us, we are quite willing to share responsibilities with you.
I share fully with you your distress at the loss of life among the French population. However regrettable the attendant loss of civilian lives is, I am not prepared to impose from this distance any restriction on military action by the responsible commanders that in their opinion might militate against the success of Overlord or cause additional loss of life to our Allied forces of invasion.
Up to 1943 there had been fifty to sixty divisions in France which were repeatedly being replaced by badly-damaged divisions from the Russian front. This continual interchange was detrimental to a proper system of defence on the coast. So permanent defence divisions were formed, with a specialized organization adapted to their particular sectors. This system had the advantage of ensuring that they were acquainted with the sector they had to guard, and it also enabled the most economic use of the limited equipment available in the West. But it had inevitable weaknesses.
The officers and men were mostly of the older classes, and their armament was on a lower scale than m the active divisions. It included a large proportion of captured French, Polish, and Yugoslav weapons, which fired differing kinds of ammunition - so that supplies were more liable to run out, at awkward moments, than in the case of standard weapons. Most of these divisions had only two infantry regiments, with two field batteries comprising 24 pieces in all, and one medium battery of 12 pieces. As the artillery was horse-drawn it had little mobility.
Besides these coast-defence divisions there was the coastal artillery. But this, whether naval or military came under the Naval Command - which was always inclined to disagree with the Army Command.
All that side of the Intelligence was directed by O.K.W. under Hitler, not by us - and was carried out by a special branch of the S.D. We were dependent on them for our information. They gave us reports of where, broadly, the British and American forces respectively were assembled in Southern England - there were a small number of German agents in England, who reported by wireless transmitting sets what they observed. But they found out very little beyond that. We were so weak in the air that reconnaissance over England was very limited. Towards D-day, however, night-flying planes reported large movements of transport towards the south-west coast-which they could follow because the vehicles had their headlights on.
We also intercepted a wireless message from the British Fleet which gave us an indication that something important was about to take place in the Channel.
Another hint came from the increased activity of the Resistance in France. We captured several hundred
wireless transmitters, and were able to discover the bearing of the code phrases used in communicating with England. The messages were veiled, but the broad significance was evident.
I thought the invasion would come across the narrower part of the Channel, between Le Havre and Calais - rather than between Caen and Cherbourg. I expected the landing to take place on either side of the estuary of the Somme. I thought the first landing might take place on the west side, between Le Treport and Le Havre, followed by a further landing between the Somme and Calais.The Somme-Galais area seemed to us so much
better, strategically, from your point of view - because it was so much closer to Germany. It was the quickest route to the Rhine. I reckoned you could get there in four days.
Although we had no definite report of the date of the invasion that did not matter, as we had been expecting it any time from March onward. The one real surprise was the time of day at which the landing was made-because our Naval Staff had told us that the Allied forces would only land at high water. A further effect of your choice of low tide, for the landing, was that the leading troops were protected from fire to a considerable extent by the rocks.
The scale of me invading forces was not a surprise - in fact we had imagined that they would be larger, because we had received exaggerated reports of the number of American divisions present in England. But that over-estimate had an indirect effect of important consequence, by making us the more inclined to expect a second landing, in the Somme-Calais area.
Tactical bombing of the German lines of communication was very far from being our sole commitment. Within a few days of the landing in Normandy we were called upon to take part in a long campaign against German synthetic oil plants in Germany and, as soon as the first flying bombs were launched, to give very high priority to the new flying bomb launching sites and supply depots in the Pas de Calais. Besides this there was an even more urgent call to destroy the enemy's large fleet of E-boats and other light naval craft in the Channel which the Navy thought an extremely serious threat to the invading army's sea communications.
Again the Allied armies in France would like to thank you personally and Bomber Command for your magnificent co-operation last night. We know well that your main work lies further afield and we applaud your continuous and sustained bombing of German war industries and the effect this has on theGerman war effort. But we also know well that you are always ready to bring your mighty effort closer in which such action is really needed and to co-operate in our tactical battle. When you do this your action is always decisive. Please tell your brave and gallant pilots how greatly the Allied soldiers admire and applaud their work. Thank you very much.
At 01.11 hours - an unforgettable moment - the field telephone rang. Something important was coming through: while listening to it the General stood up stiffly, his hand gripping the edge of the table. With a nod he beckoned his chief of staff to listen in. "Enemy parachute troops dropped east of the Orne estuary. This message from 716 Intelligence Service struck light lightning.
Was this, at last, the invasion, the storming of fortress Europe? Someone said haltingly, "Perhaps they are only supply troops for the French Resistance?" While the pros and cons were still being discussed, 709 Infantry Division from Valognes announced: "Enemy parachute troops south of St Germain-de-Varreville and near Ste Marie-du-Mont. A second drop west of the main Carentan-Valognes road on both sides of the Merderet river and the Ste Mere-Eglise-Pont-l'Abbe road. Fighting for the river crossings in progress." It was now about 01.45 hours.
Three dropping zones near the front! Two were clearly at important traffic junctions. The third was designed to hold the marshy meadows at the mouth of the Dives and the bridge across the canalised Orne near Ranville. It coincided with the corps boundary, with the natural feature which formed our northern flank but would serve the same purpose for an enemy driving south.
There was a strong wind, thick cloud cover, and the enemy aircraft had not bothered us more that day than usual. But then - in the night - the air was full of innumerable planes. We thought, "What are they demolishing tonight?" But then it started. I was at the wireless set myself. One message followed the other. "Parachutists landed here - gliders reported there," and finally "Landing craft approaching." Some of our guns fired as best they could. In the morning a huge naval force was sighted - that was the last report our advanced observation posts could send us, before they were overwhelmed. And it was the last report we received about the situation. It was no longer possible to get an idea of what was happening. Wireless communications were jammed, the cables cut and our officers had lost grasp of the situation. Infantrymen who were streaming back told us that their position on the coast had been overrun or that the few "bunkers" in our sector had either been shot up or blown to pieces.
"This is D-day", came the announcement over the British radio. 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.
The green light flashed and at seven minutes past midnight. The jump master shouted, "Go!" I was the second man out. The black Normandy pastures tilted and turned far beneath me. The first German flare came arching up, and instantly machine-guns and forty-millimetre guns began firing from the corners of the fields, stripping the night with yellow, green, blue, and red tracers. Fire licked through the sky and blazed around the transports heaving high overhead. I saw some of them go plunging down in flames. One of them came down with a trooper, whose parachute had become caught on the tailpiece, streaming out behind. I heard a loud gush of air: a man went hurtling past, only a few yards away, his parachute collapsed and burning. Other parachutes, with men whose legs had been shot off slumped in the harness, floated gently toward the earth.
I was caught in a machine-gun cross-fire as I approached the ground. It seemed impossible that they could miss me. One of the guns, hidden in a building, was firing at my parachute, which was already badly torn; the other aimed at my body. I reached up, caught the left risers of my parachute, and pulled on them. I went into a fast slip, but the tracers followed me down. I held the slip until I was about twenty-five feet from the ground and then let go the risers. I landed up against a hedge in a little garden at the rear of a German barracks. There were four tracer holes through one of my pants legs, two through the other, and another bullet had ripped off both my breast pockets, but I hadn't a scratch.
My concentration relaxed for a moment as my gaze took in the roughness of the sea. It needed little imagination to conjure up a miserable picture of the thousands of troops cooped up in their landing barges, many of them prey to sea sickness despite their wonderful pills. The greyness receded from the early morning, and soon I was able to pick out the shape of the Cherbourg Peninsular ahead on the starboard. My keen sight soon spotted the low formation lying inland and covering the beach area.
Almost immediately afterwards I saw a sight that brought a flood of feeling into mind and body, both of which had felt little emotion, except resentment for so long.
Hundreds of ships of all sizes and shapes, from the vast battleships to small barges, littered the surface of the sea. Some were still completing their rough passage across the Channel, others lay at anchor while the big grey men-o-war belched forth sixteen inch shells from their gun turrets in the direction of the French countryside; two Seafire fighters buzzed above the battleships like flies around a cart horse, spotting the accuracy of the gunners below and supplying them with corrections.
Sleek destroyers guarded the flanks of the shipping armada, while overhead patrolled the ever-watchful fighter cover. Minesweepers plied their steady patrol back and forth, and an occasional column of water rose to prove the value of their efforts.
Superimposed on this fantastic picture were the ghostly outlines, in my mind, of the pathetic little fleet that I had watched standing off the beaches of Dunkirk. The pendulum had gone full swing. A feeling of savage delight passed through me.
A dog barked at my approach. From the corner of my eye I could see a stealthy figure flit from behind a haystack into the shadow of the barn. There was no answer to my first knock. The household was obviously fast asleep. I knocked louder, and this time I heard a scurrying on the stairs and a sudden clamour of French voices. Footsteps approached the door, withdrew, hesitated, then approached again. The door opened.
On the way I had been searching for suitable words with which to introduce ourselves - some calming, yet elegant, phrase worthy of the French gift of expression and of their infallible flair for the dramatic moment. But at the sight of the motherly, middle-aged peasant the gulf of the years disappeared, and I might have been back in 1939, an English tourist on a walking tour dropping in to ask for a glass of cider and some camembert.
"Excusex-nous, Madame. Nous sommes des parachutists anglais faisant partie du Débarquement Allié."
There was a moment of scrutiny, then the woman folded me in her arms. The tears streamed down her face, and in between kisses she was shouting for her husband, for lamps, for wine. In a moment, I was carried by the torrent of welcome into the warm, candle-lit kitchen. Bottles of cognac and Calvados appeared on the table, children came clattering down the wooden stairs, and we found ourselves - an evil-looking group of camouflaged cut-throats - surrounded and overwhelmed by the pent-up emotions of four years.
According to German reports, our air-borne troops are involved in the fighting in Caen. British pilots, however report seeing Allied tanks moving towards that town.
General Eisenhower's second communiqué, issued a few minutes before midnight, deals mainly with the naval and air operations preparatory to and during the landings. Naval casualties, it says, were regarded as being very light, "especially when the magnitude of the operations is taken into account."
Between midnight on Monday and 8a.m. yesterday Allied aircraft flew 7,500 sorties and dropped 10,000 tons of bombs on targets in Normandy. Half of this quantity fell on ten selected coastal batteries.
Our troops have penetrated in some cases several miles inland. Lodgments exist on a broad front. The airborne troops, landed with extremely little loss and with great accuracy, are well established, and the follow-ups are all proceeding with very much less loss than we expected.
We have captured various important bridges which were not blown up by the enemy. Fighting is proceeding in the town of Caen, 10 miles inland.
The passage of the sea was made with far less loss than we apprehended, and "many dangers and difficulties which appeared at this time last night extremely formidable are behind us."
Eisenhower complained that Dempsey was leaving all the fighting to the Americans. His attention was drawn to my basic strategy, i.e. to fight hard on my left and draw Germans on to that flank whilst I pushed with my right. It was pointed out that he had approved this strategy and that it was being carried out; the bulk of the German armour had continuously been kept on the British front. Eisenhower could not refute these arguments. He then asked why it was we could not launch major offensives on each army front simultaneously - as the Russians did. It was pointed out to him that the German density in Normandy was about 2.5 times that of the Russian front, and our superiority in strength was only in the nature of some 25 per cent as compared to the 300 per cent Russian superiority on the eastern front. We clearly were not in a position to launch an all-out offensive along the whole front; such a procedure would be exactly what the Germans would like and would not be in accord with our agreed strategy. We had already (on the 25th July) launched the break-out operation on the right flank. It was an all-out offensive; it was gathering momentum rapidly. The British Second Army was fighting to keep the Germans occupied on the left flank. Our strategy was at last about to reap its full reward. What was the trouble?
A British parachute unit formed part of the Allied airborne force which was the spearhead of the Second Front. It was landed behind the German lines, seized vital positions, and then linked up with the Allied forces which had landed on the beaches.
I watched the unit go to war at dusk on D-1 (the day before D-Day), parading with everybody, from its brigadier downwards, in blackened faces and wearing the camouflage smocks and rimless steel helmets of the airborne forces. Each of the black-faced men appeared nearly as broad and as thick as he was tall by reason of the colossal amount of equipment which the parachutist carries with him.
The brigadier and the lieutenant colonel made brief speeches. `We are history,' said the colonel. There were three cheers, a short prayer, and in the gathering darkness they drove off to the aerodromes with the men in the first lorry singing, incredible as it seems, the notes of the Horst Wessel song at the tops of their voices. The words were not German.
It was nearly dark when they formed up to enter the 'planes, and by torchlight the officers read to their men the messages of good wishes from General Eisenhower and General Montgomery.
Then from this aerodrome and from aerodromes all over the country an armada of troop-carrying 'planes protected by fighters and followed by more troops aboard gliders took the air.
The weather was not ideal for an airborne operation, but it was nevertheless decided to carry it out. The Germans would be less likely to be on their guard on a night when the weather was unfavourable for an attack.
First came parachutists, whose duty it was to destroy as far as possible the enemy's defences against an air landing. Then came the gliders with the troops to seize various points, and finally more gliders carrying equipment and weapons of all kinds. Out of the entire force of 'plane which took the unit into action only one tug and one glider were shot down.
Below stairs all the partitions had been torn out and for three decks the inside of the ship was a vast ward with double tiers of bunks. The routing inside the ship ran marvelously, though four doctors, six nurses and about fourteen medical orderlies were very few people to care for four hundred wounded men. From two o'clock one afternoon until the ship docked in England again the next evening at seven, none of the medical personnel stopped work. And besides plasma and blood transfusions, re-dressing of wounds, examinations, administering of sedatives or opiates or oxygen and all the rest, operations were performed all night long. Only one soldier died on that ship and he had come aboard as a hopeless case.
It will be hard to tell you of the wounded, there were so many of them. There was no time to talk; there was too much else to do. They had to be fed, as most of them had not eaten for two days; shoes and clothing had to be cut off; they wanted water; the nurses and orderlies, working like demons, had to be found and called quickly to a bunk where a man suddenly and desperately needed attention; plasma bottles must be watched; cigarettes had to be lighted and held for those who could not use their hands; it seemed to take hours to pour hot coffee, via the spout of a teapot, into a mouth that just showed through bandages.
But the wounded talked among themselves and as time went on we got to know them, but their faces and their wounds, not their names. They were a magnificent enduring bunch of men. Men smiled who were in such pain that all they really can have wanted to do was turn their heads away and cry, and men made jokes when they needed their strength just to survive. And all of them looked after each other, saying, "Give that boy a drink of water," or "Miss, see that Ranger over there, he's in bad shape, could you go to him?" All through the ship men were asking after other men by name, anxiously, wondering if they were on board and how they were doing.
My failure to write earlier has not been due to being always on the move. Between our periods of movement and excitement we have been able to have short but very pleasant rests. These 'rests' are often my busiest times, and somehow I always just failed to write the fuller type of letter. Often too, experiences crowded on one another so fast that there was too much to say in anything less than a small book. Now that another phase seems to have ended, it is possible to look back and see things in truer perspective.
On that and on many other occasions we have felt that if the Germans were not such swines we could feel some pity for them. We feel not a shred of pity. I have talked with many German prisoners; do not do so now as they make me feel furious. They have a sort of mental leprosy which render parts of their minds and emotions entirely insensitive. I know that when they are destroying and burning in their heyday they felt no pang or qualm for the suffering they caused. That they lack a sense of persona conscience is understandable, but it is baffling to find all their kinder emotions equally atrophied.
How you who have not come into close contact with the Germans can hope to understand them I do not know. It is difficult enough for us who meet them constantly. I hope that those who control our post-war relations with Germany shall be men who know the German as the Soldier does.
The Germans were very frightened of the Maquis, the armed civilians, in France and Belgium. It was the fear of a guilty conscience. They were delighted to surrender to us and so be protected against the vengeance of the partisans. Never was protection given less willingly. There were many cases in which natural justice was speedily meted out by the civilians. We could not countenance this when we were present, but did not regret it when we could not prevent it.
The joy of the people is equalled only by their hatred of the Germans. This can almost be felt. Their great fear is that the mass of the English, so far away in detached England, will again be too lenient towards the Germans owing to a mistaken sense of fair play. Most of them wish to see the Germans literally exterminated, and all say we must go right to Berlin and impose our will from there. We realise how fortunate we are that England is an island; it is hard for Englishmen to appreciate the feelings of these smaller countries who are on Germany's doorstep and who cannot stand up to Germany without strong support. I think our prestige has been very high since Autumn 1940, when we stood alone, but never in all our history has it been so high, at least in Europe, as it is today.
It was strange to see the huge cemeteries of the last war, stretching away over the plains with their limitless rows of small white crosses, the imagination boggling over so much slaughter. None of this war's cemeteries, not even that at Al Alamein, compare in size with these we saw, and still think that this is an easy war for the
soldier in every way in comparison with that of 1914-1918.
Mail is arriving faster than ever from home just now. We have been receiving English papers the day after they are published, and have plenty to read though not much time to do it in. The cigarettes and tobacco were very welcome. If you are sending any more, please make it cigarettes only, as my tobacco stock is high just now. We left the Normandy area with piles of cigarettes, chocolate and sweets, but over some hundreds of miles these have been given away until now we can only give away some of up our issue cigarettes and chocolate. I wish we could have given away a hundred times as much. All these people had only a few rationed, foul cigarettes and had not seen chocolate for more than 4 years. How pleased they are when we give them a bar! They give us all they can, we give them all we can, there is no mention of money at all, and it is all quite a Christian affair. For four months now, money has just not meant a thing to me; rather like it.
I went back to my foxhole and I was suddenly drained. It was about one-thirty in the morning. I had to stay on duty until two. Ed was to come and relieve me. I couldn't stay awake. I was just plain exhausted. We never turned the crank or rang the bell on the telephone. When you are an officer - and this included the top noncoms
- you went to sleep with your headset at your head. Instead of ringing the bell or speaking, we'd just go (whistles softly), and that would waken you from a sound sleep. This voice came on and said, "Yes, El?" I said, "Can you relieve me? I'm just bushed." He said, "I'll be right over." He came walking over to where I was and for some reason he began to whistle. I'll never know why. A young artillery man, one of ours, I'm sure had dozed off. The whistle wakened him. He saw a figure and fired.
I was out and running, and I caught Ed as he fell. He was dead in my arms. Call it foolish, call it irrational, I loaded Ed in a jeep. I had to take him in for proper care. Now! I went to our battalion headquarters, and I was directed to this drunken colonel. He came out and said, "Get that goddamn hunk of rotten meat out of here." You have no idea of my feeling toward him. It's remained with me for a long time, hard to get rid of. That was a very, very hard experience for me, even to think about now.
The allied invasion of France took place on 6 June 1944. What time remained before crossing the Channel our regiment completed in the southern counties of England and, on 23 June, we were told to proceed to Middleton, near Bognor, to carry out the waterproofing of our guns.
This took us six days and we then moved our guns to the London docks at the beginning of July. At 0830 hours on Monday 3 July, we finally began to board our ship at the Royal Albert Docks at Tilbury. During the day, we embarked the men and packed them into the hold, in preparation for our voyage across the English Channel. We spent that night lying off Southend and a flotilla of other landing craft assembled around us during Tuesday 4 July, a gloriously sunny day which the men spent sunbathing, reading or playing cards. The senior officers were briefed that afternoon on what lay ahead, and we sailed off by night down the Thames, in complete darkness. On Wednesday 5 July we passed through the Straits of Dover, sailed along the south coast past the Isle of Wight, and then crossed the Channel. The record shows that we came opposite the Normandy beaches, at last, at about 1700 hours that day. What an amazing and inspiring sight it made, as hundreds of other ships came into view while we were going ashore at Arromanches.
We disembarked without hindrance, brought our artillery on to French soil on 6 July and, on the following day, left the assembly area and moved on to the small village of Thaon. After a short stay there we established our headquarters and base on the hill just outside Ouistreham, while the batteries carved niches for themselves in the trees further downhill. They were deployed in support of the 6th Airborne Division, who had made the first landing and in a brilliant operation had captured the Pegasus bridge across the River Orme. My own first command post, dug into the ground with tree trunks over the top, was in an orchard on a slope overlooking the battle area to the east. Our guns had a range of over sixteen miles, sufficient for reaching the Germans, who were deployed a considerable distance on the other side. The Germans quickly retaliated to the pounding we were giving them, and we soon suffered our first casualties.
Getting into action in France rapidly dispelled the frustration I had so often felt at home. We were no longer just defending ourselves against the German planes, we were now part of the counter-attacking allied forces, bent on driving the German army out of France and the other occupied territories. The people of Normandy, and so much of the rest of France that I loved, were suffering terrible hardships through these battles, and we were all determined to bring the whole business to a close as quickly as possible. The debris of war that we had seen as we landed on the Normandy shore, littered with wrecked equipment, damaged boats and discarded clothing, hardened our resolve. We were now taking positive action to kick the Nazi war machine out of Western Europe.