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70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings

This month sees the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, an event which helped turn the tide of the Second World War. To mark the occasion, readers of the EDP and Evening News have raised money to send a group of Norfolk veterans on a pilgrimage back to the Normandy beaches. All through the anniversary period, we will be running a series of articles about the contribution – and sacrifices – made by Norfolk's men and women. 

D-Day timeline: one man’s memories of the events that unfolded

serapis D day

HMS Serapis, late morning on D-Day with transport planes above, towing gliders carrying assault troops. HMS Warspite and HMS Ramilles are in the background. Photo: Supplied

 Wednesday 4 June 2014

With lines of aircraft and gliders as far as the eye can see, streaming towards the French coast and warships steaming around below, it is an image which captures the drama of D-Day.

The main photograph, above, was taken late on the morning of the landings, just off Sword Beach - where, hours earlier, the aerial and naval assault had begun.

In the background, the battleships HMS Ramillies and HMS Warspite provide fire support for the attack, while, in the foreground, the destroyer HMS Serapis darts around protecting other vessels in the area.

The image was passed to the EDP and Norwich Evening News by Ronald Everest, from Beetley near Dereham, from his own collection. He had kept the photograph because, on that morning, he was a 22-year-old Ordnance Artificer onboard HMS Serapis.

15 things you might not know about D-Day

Allied troops landing

Allied troops wade ashore to a Normandy beach on D-Day June 6 1944.

The 'D' in 'D-Day' stands for Day, to mark the date a secret operation is to begin. Prior to June 1944, there would have been lots of D-Days. Now it is generally just used to refer to the allied attack in Normandy. 

'H-Hour' is the term used for the time during the day for a military operation to begin. For D-Day, the key H-Hour was at 0630 - 6.30am - when the attacks on the beaches began.

Codewords such as Overlord and those for the beaches are well remembered. Others linked to the invasion are now less well-known: Bolero (the build up to D-Day in Britain), Fortitude (a long-term operation to conceal the true location of the D-Day landings), Ham and Jam (the signal indicating the bridges at Benouville (Pegasus Bridge) and Ranville were secured by Allied Forces).

Several codewords linked to the D-Day invasion (beaches Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno, operations terms Overlord and Neptune, and Mulberry - the name of the floating harbours) appeared in the Daily Telegraph’s crossword puzzles in the weeks before the invasion. MI5 agents called on the compilers, fearing a security breach, but none was ever established.

Operation Bolero - the build-up of forces in southern England - saw civilian travel as well as diplomatic travel restricted in some areas. Journalists were also monitored.

Much of the planning for D-Day took place at Norfolk House, a large building on St James’ Square in central London.

Beaches at Thornham, north Norfolk, were bombed intensively by the Allies in the build-up to D-Day to test what impact such a battering would have on the sands of Normandy.

General Dwight D Eisenhower, the overall Allied leader, wrote to servicemen before the operation telling them to wash, shower and wear clean underwear - in case they were wounded.

The beach at Brancaster was analysed by geologists assisting the military planners for D-Day, because it was considered the closest match to the Normandy coast.

The 'Bungay Buckaroos' - the USAAF 446th Bombardment Group, based at Flixton - lead the 8th Air Force on the first mission of D-Day, taking off at 0200 to hit the beach defences just before H-hour.

Planners projected that 5,000 tonnes of fuel would be needed each day for the first 20 days after the attack. The first British soldiers killed are said to have been Den Brotheridge and Fred Greenhalgh after they landed by glider shortly after midnight. Brotheridge died during the assault on Pegasus Bridge, while Greenhalgh drowned in a pond. Captured Germans were sent to American prisoner of war camps at the rate of 30,000 a month from D-Day until Christmas 1944.

Anne Frank wrote about D-Day in her diary on 6 June 1944 after hearing the news on a secret radio. She was arrested two months later.

There are now 27 war cemeteries in the area of the Normandy Landings, containing the remains of more than 110,000 dead from both sides: 77,866 German, 9,386 American, 17,769 British, 5,002 Canadian and 650 Poles.

group shot royal legion

Sunday EDP Pics ©2004 Tel: (01603) 772434

We were the frightened kids who didn’t know if we would see tomorrow…

Phil Johnson

Normandy Veteran Phil Johnson reflects on the events of June 6th 1944. Picture: Nick Butcher. Copy: Steve Snelling. For: EDP.  

Lenn Mann, 12th Battalion Devonshire Regiment:

"I should have gone over in a glider for D-Day, but there weren’t enough and so I had to go by boat. I was in the Channel for six days and it was absolutely terrible; the sea was really rough, there were waves coming over the boat, it was awful. On the fourth day, we were told it was all off. On the fifth day, we were definitely going again. On the sixth day, we went. “I landed on the beach at Arromanches at around 7am on June 6. Luckily for us, the Navy and RAF had knocked out the big gun placements and we were able to just walk up the beach with no opposition. We made our way to Ranville, with planes strafing us all the time. I went in with the idea that if I got killed, I wouldn’t know anything about it.”

Private W Evans, The Royal Norfolk Regiment:

"After spending many hours on the landing craft crossing the Channel and being seasick, I was glad to get on the beach. It was more like the manoeuvres that we’d done so many times before. I couldn’t believe it was the real thing. We had no trouble on the beach. Once off the beach, we slowly advanced along narrow dusty roads with Jerry snipers banging away at us. So far we had covered two or three miles and we were doing well until we came to a cornfield. Then Jerry machine guns in a small pillbox opened up. The lads were soon being cut to pieces as the machine guns, with their tremendous rate of fire, scythed through three-foot high golden corn. I remember one of the company cooks getting a bullet in his neck."

Lance Corporal E Seaman, 1st Battalion The Royal Norfolk Regiment

"On D-Day, we had a hell of a baptism – I was detailed to go with 8 Platoon across cornfields where the Brigadier put us in front of our own tanks and we got slaughtered. We had so many wounded and killed, I was the only stretcher-bearer left. Of the other ones, Pte Woolf was killed and two, ‘Fanny’ Grimes and ‘Tricky’ Power, were badly wounded. I, with one of the riflemen to help me, bandaged and carried them down to an old track across the fields where RAMC ambulances picked them up. At midnight that night, a padre joined the eight of us left and we buried the dead. Then he took us back to his HQ for a cuppa and we rejoined the Battalion just in time to attack Lebisey Wood for that first time.”

Phil 'Splish, Splash' Johnson, Royal Marines

"The weather was terrible. D-Day should have been June 4 but they couldn’t leave. The troops in the boats were sitting in a sea of sick waiting to go – you can imagine the smell. I shall never forget it. We carried 50 young men and they were trying to wade through the rough sea in full gear – some were so blinded they were walking out to sea. There were bodies on the beaches and in the water. I was one of the lucky ones. I was going back – they were going to hell. It is so important that we never forget what happened all those years ago and get the message across to the young generation. Thousands of men died on those beaches and in the fighting that followed.”

Len remembers the noise and the fears

Len Fox, who will travel to Normandy this week, was working at Robert’s shoe factory in Fisher’s Lane, Norwich when the war broke out. On D-Day, he was serving as a dispatch rider. “It was like hell on earth. Warships, troopships, barges, landing-craft, inshore rocket craft, planes overhead, barrage balloons, the noise nearly bursting my ear drums. The warships at sea were pounding targets further inland with heavy shells and a continuous line of barges and landing crafts were headed for the beaches, some of them catching their hulls on underwater obstacles and blowing up. The beach was still under fire from the Germans and the beachmaster was shouting at us all to "get the hell off the beach!". He didn’t have to tell us twice. I was only 19-years-old and I’d never been away from home before. We were frightened kids who didn’t know if we’d see tomorrow – I had no idea what it would be like, but I’d never imagined that. One thing stuck in my mind: "If I die now, I won’t know who won the war". Mines were exploding and one of our trucks was blown up, killing one of the lads from our platoon. I remember seeing bodies, parts of bodies, floating on the sea and on the beach. It was the first time I’d seen a dead man and I felt quite sick.”

How Norfolk beaches played their part in the preparations

Airpower was the key to the Overlord invasion plan but, as D-Day approached, concern began to mount over whether it might be a double-edged sword. In particular, there were fears that intensive bombing of German coastal defences might so pockmark the beaches with craters that Allied troops could be bogged down as soon as they were ashore. The experts of the Allied Expeditionary Air Forces decided to test various assortments of bombs and fuses on a beach as much like those in Normandy as they could find. The site chosen was at Thornham on the north Norfolk coast. Nearby Brancaster beach had already been used to see if Normandy beaches could support the weight of Allied tanks, now – a month from D-Day – the might of Anglo-American airpower was unleashed on this remote Norfolk seashore to discover whether the intricate bombing plan might be a recipe for disaster. Mitchell and Marauder bombers laden with 100lb, 500lb and 1,000lb bombs and rocket-firing Typhoon fighter-bombers pummelled the beach. Then the AEAF’s chief expert on bomb damage, Solly Zuckerman, who had flown as 'tail-end Charlie' in the last of the bombers, landed nearby to inspect the results. Satisfied that Overlord would not be a replay of the Western Front in the First World War, the experts gave the green light for the operation.

 

Pictures and article from EDP and Evening News

Sunday EDP Pics ©2004 Tel: (01603) 772434

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