Thursday 16 September 2010

The 6th June 1944 D Day THE BRITISH BEACHES

Troops under fire on Sword Beach and the Regimental sergeant major keeping them in check.
Under fire
First landings on Sword
Destruction on Sword at the end of the first day.British troops beginning to move inland.

More troops moving inland. Taking the fight to the Germans.
Gold beach. You can see dead and dieing in this picture.
Gold Beach landings.
Aerial view of Sword Beach on D Day
On D Day, the 6th June 1944 the British and Canadians landed on Sword and Gold beaches whilst the Americans landed on Utah and Omaha beaches.

Here is an account by wireless operator I. G. Holley of the Royal Hampshire Regiment
describing landing on Gold Beach.

The long line of beach lay ahead and immediately behind hung a thick pall of smoke as far as the eye could see, with the flashes of bursting shells and rockets pock-marking it along the whole front. We had the word from the Suby (the Royal Navy Sub Lieutenant commanding their LCA) to get ready and the tension was at its peak when we hit bottom, down goes the ramp, out goes the captain with me close behind. We were in the sea to the tops of our thighs. Floundering ashore, we were in the thick of it. To the right and left the other assault platoons were hitting the beach. Mortar bombs and shells erupting the sand and the ‘breep – brurp’ of Spandau machineguns cutting through the din.

There were no shouts, everyone knew his job and was doing it without saying a word. There was only the occasional cry of despair as men were hit and went down. The beach was filled with half-bent running figures – from experience, we knew that the safest place was as near to Jerry as we could get. A near one blasts sand all over me and my radio set goes dead (during a quiet period later on, I find that shrapnel has riddled my set, and that also a part of my tunic collar has gone). A sweet rancid smell is everywhere, never forgotten by those who smell it – burnt explosives, torn flesh and ruptured earth.

I. G. Holley - wireless operator, 'B' Company 1st Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment.


  1. These personal accounts are riveting. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Thank you for the post.

  2. Tony, don't know if you saw the Obits last month of Bill Millin who piped the commandos ashore on Sword Beach:

    "He was the only piper to lead allied troops into battle that day following a War Office ban which said pipers would attract sniper fire. But his commander, Brigadier Lord Lovat – Simon Fraser, hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser – was a law unto himself. "Ah, but that's the English War Office, Millin," Lovat told him. "You and I are both Scottish so that doesn't apply."

    Millin recalled: "Lord Lovat said this was going to be the greatest invasion in the history of warfare and he wanted the bagpipes leading it." On the landing craft sailing out of the mouth of the River Hamble in southern England, "he said I was to play and he would worry about the consequences later."

    The "Mad Piper" label came from both Millin's own comrades and the German defenders of Sword Beach at Colleville-sur-Mer, who said after capture that the only reason they didn't shoot him is that they thought "he must have gone off his head."

    Although one man was shot dead alongside him on his landing craft, and he saw many of his comrades floating face down in the surf, he said the sound of his pipes drowned some of the gun and mortar fire. "I didn't really notice I was being shot at myself," he said. "The water was freezing. The next thing I remember is my kilt floating in the water, like a ballerina." He launched into one of Lovat's favourites, "Hielan' Laddie", as he waded ashore. Lovat, firing his old non-service issue Winchester rifle and brandishing a walking stick, gave him a thumbs-up.

    On the beach, in the heart of the battle, Lovat asked him, "Would you mind giving us another tune, Millin? How about 'The Road to the Isles'?" Millin half-jokingly replied: "Now, would you also want me to walk up and down, Sir?"

    "Aye, Millin, that would be nice. Aye, walk up and down."

    The piper recalled the tremor of mortars in the sand as he walked up and down Sword Beach three times amid thick smoke and dead and wounded comrades yelling for medics. "When they heard the pipes, some of the lads started cheering but one wasn't very pleased and he called me 'the mad bastard'. Well, we usually referred to Lovat as the mad bastard but this was the first time I had heard it referred to me."

  3. Thanks for this Michael. I knew about Bill Millin.

    I was born and brought up in Southampton. Hamble is two or three miles from where my parents live. I know it well. The monument to Lord Lovett and his commandos is on the Warsash side of the River Hamble opposite Hamble itself. On the Hamble side of the river there was an American landing craft station. Lord Lovetts Commandos probably moved to Warsash in the weeks before D Day and continued their training for landing on beaches along Southampton Water and the Solent. Of course as you probably know the Commnados were elite special forces specially formed to perform first landings and had a sort of roving mandate to take the battle to the enemy using a new form of stealth tactics.
    They would have trained for a year or two leading up to D Day in harsh conditions in the Highlands of Scotland.

    I think the American Ranger Forces were a similar thing.

  4. Tony, Ten years ago I visited the Normandy Beaches with my parents and then husband. We visited each beach, ventured inside the German bunkers, looked at the obstacles the soldiers had to crawl through and over, and went to the American cemetery at Normandy. What an unforgettable visit. My father was too young to fight as a soldier, and hid from the Germans inside a haystack on a Dutch farm, but he followed the Allied troops on a map, pinning their movements. He brought that period alive for me as we walked the beaches and saw the endless rows of graves.

    This post is powerful. Thank you!

  5. Colin Schlachta e-mailed me recently with some corrections and additions to the above post. This is what Colin had to say:


    I saw your blog about the D-Day landings and I wanted to add some details to help improve your blog. :-) Just wanted to mention that there is an error in the reporting of the Canadian and UK beach zones. It is correct to say that the UK was in charge of Sword and Gold beaches, but Canada's beach was called Juno, and it was between Gold and Sword. Canadian troops landed on Juno, but later other formations such as other British units as well as Free Poles and Free French landed there too. De Gaulle returned to France by way of Juno beach.

    I just wanted to try and get the record straight about the significant Canadian contribution on that historic time, because it is usually misrepresented or forgotten.

    Cheers, "

    Thank you Colin. All the best, Tony