THE SIXTH OF JUNE, 1944
Twenty years ago the greatest armada in history crossed the Channel towards the Normandy coast. The Combined Chiefs of Staff of the United States and the United Kingdom had issued this directive : 'You will enter the Continent of Europe and . . . undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.' For this purpose the Allies had assembled 11,000 planes, 5,000 ships, 1,500 tanks and a million men. Sixty German divisions opposed them. Field-Marshal Rommel, C-in-C of the Wehrmacht's Army Group B, said, 'The war will be won or lost on the beaches. The first twenty-four hours will be decisive. . . . That will be the longest day' The first paratroops dropped into Testung Europa' just after midnight. At dawn Anglo-Canadian forces landed at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches : the Americans landed in the west at Utah and Omaha. At 09.30 Double British Summer Time a communiqué from Supreme Headquarters said: 'Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.' By midnight the longest day was over and Rommel had lost. The Allies had landed more than 150,000 men along a thirty-mile front.
For this anniversary we publish today two recollections of the Sixth of June, 1944: one tells how the day went for a young British stuff officer, the other how it seemed to a German General inside what he calls 'Hitler's madhouse.'
One Man's D-Day
By IAIN MACLEOD'
IHAD graduated from the Stall College early in February, 1944, and had had exactly one day out of my leave when the telegram arrived. I was to report with the rank of Major to an address in Ashley Gardens, near Victoria Station. There were no other details. When I arrived, I found myself an extra DAQMG (Deputy Assis- tant Quarter Master General) on the planning staff of the famous 50th (Northumbrian) Divi- sion. 50 Div., as everyone knew them, had been brought back from the Sicilian campaign to take part in the assault on France. The attack was now planned on a- five-division front with 50 Div. in the centre. On-our right two Ameri- can Divisions of the American 1st Army: on our left the 3rd British and 3rd Canadian Divi- sions. 50 Div. was almost the size of a. small Corps when it landed. A fourth infantry Brigade and an Armoured Brigade came under command. So did a crowd of artillery units, and a propor- tion of the `comics'—special units often with Heath Robinson type equipment designed for a special task. In all, ,there were about 40,000 men. 1 did not in this planning stage expect to land with the Division. Probably when the planning was over I would either be given another ap- pointment or, more likely, be held temporarily in Montgomery's pool of staff officers to wait for the inevitable vacancies that the assault would bring. But under the strain of the planning the AA and QMG fell ill. Tom Black, the divisional DAQMG, was promoted in his place and I took over Tom's job. I studied the landing sheets again. H plus forty, I saw, was 'my' time. In other words, I was due to land forty minutes after the first wave of assault troops went in. I did not know when D-Day was, but by an odd chance learned where the invasion was to take place. Thumbing through a file in the Headquarters of 2nd Army I saw a receipt for a map marked 'TOP SECRET OVERLORD' (the invasion code name). To most people the receipt could have meant nothing, but 1 had just come from the Staff College at Camberley and recognised the map sheet number as the one, based on St. Lo, which we had used in a staff exercise. I took the receipt away and burned it. So we were not to land in the Pas de Calais, but in Normandy. Slowly order began to emerge from chaos. We met our Naval Force G at Weymouth, and the staffs wove the plans together. We rehearsed endlessly at Studland Bay in Dorset. And in due course in the last two days of May a tide of men and machines began to roll towards South- ampton. By June 1 we were afloat. No more telephones, and very little to do. if w(e hadn't thought of everything already, it was too late. We knew, now when D-Day was to be—June 5. We knew exactly where we were to land, exactly where the different headquarters were to be estab- lished and, above all, what the objectives were for the Division on D-Day. I spent most of the time (and nearly all D7Day itself) with Lieut.- Colonel `Bertie' Gibb, then ADOS in charge of Ordnance Supplies, and of many other things. Even by 50 Div. standards, Bertie was an ex- ceptional staff officer. He is my only check on the accuracy of my memory, for I kepi no written record of the landing. I have also con- firmed the outline of the attack from Major Ewart Clay's book.* But my account does not pretend to historical accuracy. It is, as I re- member it, one man's D-Day. The day of course belonged, above all, to the fighting infantry. No praise can be too high for them. I was only a staff officer. But I was there.
D-Day itself was postponed for twenty-four hours until June 6. Even so, the weather was cold and the sea was rough. General Eisenhower took the greatest gamble in all military history when he launched his armada on such uncertain seas. He was proved right.
The position at night fall an D-Day.
The Divisional HQ was split between two ships, and I found myself with men of the 1st Hampshires of 231 Brigade. For the Division this was the second seaborne assault. For 231 Brigade, the third. Moreover, the 50th Division, which had been the last. Division to leave the beaches of Dunkirk, was now one of those chosen to be the first to land in. Normandy. I had not * THE PATH OF TUE 50TH. By E. W. Clay. (Gale and Polden, 1950.) been with them in 1940, but I had, in fact, been away from France for a few days less. It was about June 10, long after Dunkirk, that 1 had left St. Nazaire in a hospital ship. Four years later, and in the company of the finest fighting Division in the Army, I was going back. Perhaps I was helped by my early voyages on the Minch, but I slept soundly enough through the rough night, and came on deck somewhere around first light. The waves were still choppy and the landing was going to be a hazardous and in part a haphazard affair. But the day was becoming warm. The coast of Nor- mandy began to take shape through the haze. And then as full light began to come one saw ' the ships and the planes. It was a sight so para- lysing that tears came to my eyes. It was as if every ship that had ever been launched was there, and even as if the sea had yielded up her wrecks. It was as if every plane that had ever been built was there, and, so it seemed in fan- tasy, as if the dead crews were there too. There had never been since time began such a ren- dezvous for fighting men : there never will be again. And I remember reciting, not in scorn, but out of sheer delight at being part of that great company in such a place, 'And gentlemen in England now abed . , As the fire from the naval guns began to blot out the shore defences, and the endless drone of the planes and the whine of their bombs' rose to a crescendo, so came H-hour. 50 Div. were to assault on a front of two brigades, the 69th on the left and the 231st on the right. The Hamp- shires were to land just east of Le Hamel and to take the village and then the other coastal villages, especially Arromanches which was earmarked as the . site of the artificial port called Mulberry. It meant for them a day of heavy fighting and severe casualties. The commanding officer was wounded, and the second-in-command killed. But it was also a day of-glory for the regiment that must rank high, perhaps first, among all the Hampshires' battle honours. Watching the LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) carrying the Hampshires pull away and switchback to the shore, and while waiting for our own sea taxi, I thought that as a martial gesture I would load my revolver. When I unbuttoned my ammuni- tion pouch, I found that my batman, who knew more about war than I did, had filled it not with bullets but with boiled sweets. He was quite right. They proved much more useful. Few things went exactly as planned, and the biggest disappointment was the failure of the secret waterproofed tanks to negotiate the heavy seas. They were supposed to paddle through the last few miles to the beach and provide covering fire for the assaulting companies. In view of the weather, it was then decided to take 'he craft to the beach, and disembark the tanks. 1 tic same
dilemma came to the Americans assaulting the strongly-held Omaha beach to our right, but here a different and a tragic decision was taken. In spite of the seas, sixty-four tanks were launched and all were swamped. Nearly all the crews were drowned and, of course, the cover fire was lost.
Presently Bertie and I climbed with elderly dignity down the scrambling nets that were slung over the ship's sides and dropped down into our LCA. We began to cruise in to the beach. Some- thing now went wrong. Perhaps the naval officer in charge decided that too many craft were trying to get ashore at once, perhaps the underwater mines obstructed us. In any event, we began to circle a few hundred yards away from the beach. Quite a long time passed. The sun grew hotter, and I began to doze. Suddenly and equally for no reason that I could see, we stopped turning and ran straight for the beach.The landing ramp smacked down and one• stepped or jumped according to taste into the thigh-deep water. Bertie and I stepped, and waded carefully ashore.
The beach was alive with the shambles and the order of war. There were dead men and wounded men and men brewing tea. There were men reorganising for a battle advance, and men doing absolutely nothing. There were even some German prisoners waiting patiently for heaven knows what. There was a whole graveyard of wrecked ships and craft and tanks of every size. It was like an absurdly magnificent film by Cecil B. de Mille. It was like war.
We wandered over the beaches and climbed the dunes behind them. Everything seemed oddly quiet. The minefields were most carefully marked (`Achtung Minen') and wired. The villages to left and right of us were still German-held, although We did not realise it at the time. We must have taken a sand track between them.
We met very few people on the way to the orchard at Meuvaines which was to be our tl-Day headquarters. Only a motley collection of vehicles had arrived, but one of them was the intelligence truck and in it a staff officer was busy marking up the reports of the pro- gress of the leading battalions. We were about a mile and a half inland.
The rest of the day is a patchwork of memories. There was a flurry of shots into the orchard from a small nest of Germans we had overlooked. There was a journey back to the beaches to see the build-up. There was a journey On the back of a policeman's motor-cycle to find the forward brigades, and establish contact with their staff captains. I can't remember when I ate, but I remember what I ate. We had been issued with twenty-four-hour packs of concen- trated dried food. I expect they had a taste as evil as their appearance. But I don't think many people in 50 Div. tasted them. 50 Div. were used to looking after themselves. From somewhere mY batman produced both the great delicacies of 1944—tinned steak pudding and tinned Christ- mas pudding. These and whisky were my food.
Night began to fall. Nearly all our objectives had been taken. Patrols were moving into Bayeux, which was to fall next morning. The St. Leger feature was in our grasp. The 47th Royal Marine Commando (under our command for the landing) had started its successful battle for Port-en-Bessin. Hideous close fighting in the Bocage lay ahead, but at least on the 50 Div. front the day had gone well.
MY batman had secured a corner of the farmer's barn for me, and I was thinking of snatching some sleep when the door opened and Tom Black looked in: Is lain here?' I followed him outside.
`Nothing. I thought we'd have a drink.'
We stood under the trees, drinking from his flask and looking back towards the sea. A few fast German fighter planes were making a tip- and-run raid on the beach, and the red tracer bullets climbed lazily into the sky after them. I looked at my watch. It was exactly midnight. I had lived through D-Day. We had expected anything up to 40 per cent casualties in the land- ing, and somehow I had been convinced that I would be killed. Now, equally unreasonably, became convinced that I would live through the war. 1 would See our second child, who was to be born in October. There would be a life after the war. D-Day was over.