6th June 1944 Normandy D Day
The largest seaborne invasion in history took place on Tuesday, 6 June 1944. Over 150,000 allied troops landed on the Normandy coast that day. The seaborne invasion was preceded by airborne landings, the first being the British gliders landing at what is now known as Pegasus bridge. At 12.15 am on the morning of the 6th of June the first gilders landed within yards of the bridge, a truly brilliant feat of flying. The glider landings were quickly followed by a precision British paratrooper drop onto the Ranville drop zone near the bridge.
The seaborne landings were on five beaches. The British beaches were code named Gold and Sword. The Canadian beach was code named Juno, and the Americans were Omaha and Utah beaches. The landings were assisted by British designed DD tanks (swimming tanks) which came ashore with the troops giving armoured support, helping to knock out gun emplacements.
On the night of 5 June 1944, six Horsa gliders took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, towed by Halifax Bombers. Their mission was to capture the bridges over the Caen canal and river Orne. This was to prevent German armour from crossing the bridges and attacking the British landings at Sword Beach. Led by Major John Howard the small force consisted of 181 men, 2nd Battalion, Oxford and Bucks, sappers of the Royal Engineers and the Glider Pilot Regiment.
The first glider landed just over 45 yards from the canal bridge at 16 minutes past midnight on June the 6th. Piloted by Sergeant Jim Wallwork. They were the first allied soldiers to land on D Day. Quickly followed by the two other gliders at one minute intervals. The other three gliders were due to land near to the Orne Bridge, two did the other missed the landing zone, landing at the bridge over the River Dives. Within 10 minutes of landing they had taken both bridges, but had also lost two men. Lance corporal Fred Greenhalgh who was knock unconscious in the landing and drowned in a pond where the glider he was in landed. The second was Lieutenant Dan Brotheridge was killed crossing the bridge in the first minutes of the attack. Lance corporal Fred Greenhalgh was the first allied soldier to be killed on D Day and Lieutenant Dan Brotheridge was the first allied soldier to be killed in action.
Soon after the bridges were captured the 7th Parachute Battalion began landing at Ranville, they soon made contact with the Ox and Bucks. After the parachute drops more Horsa gliders began to land near Ranville.
At 0730 hrs 6th of June 1944 the DD tanks landed followed by the 8th Infantry Brigade and the Royal Engineers with the Hobart funnies (specially modified tanks for destroying blockhouses and overcoming various obstacles). The Engineers started clearing the obstacles on the beach, as the troops moved inland.
The German resistance to the landings was strong, but with the successful landing of the DD tanks and using the Hobart funnies the way was soon cleared. With the Tanks and armoured vehicles landed, the British troops quickly secured the beach and surrounding area’s
The 1st Battlion 100th/22nd Panzer Regiment attacked towards the gap between the Sword and Juno beaches; they reached the beach near Loin-sur-Mer in the early evening on the 6th of June. They had suffered heavy losses due to Allied aircraft attacks on route, with very little support and realising they would soon be cut off, they retreated. The Luftwaffe attacked with Junkers 88 bombers, but was soon intercepted by the RAF, most were quickly shot down.
By the end of 6th June over 28,000 troops had landed on Sword beach. With British casualties of 683 men. A small amount considering the amount of German gun positions and strong German defence, a testament to British organisation and the British troops.
The Canadian Infantry Brigade landed on Juno Beach (Mike Sector) at about 07.50 on 6th June 1944. They sustained heavy casualties while landing; the DD tanks had been launched 1,500 yards from the beach and landed some 6 to 7 minutes later. The landings in the Nan Sector followed at about 08.15. The Canadian landings had been delayed by about 10 minutes due to the rough weather.
The DD tanks of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment were supported by the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment. The British 79th Armoured Division supplied the specialised armour known as AVRE’s (Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers) to overcome obstacles on the beach and sea wall. One variation was the Petard tank; it was armed with a short barrelled Spigot mortar that could destroy the German concrete gun emplacements and pillboxes with a single shot. An example of which can be seen 350 yards to the west of the Juno beach museum.
The Canadians made good progress and moved well inland on the first day. The Royal Marines 48 Commando landed on the eastern end of Juno, with the objective of linking up with the British on Sword beach. Unfortunately they landed right under the German WN-27 gun emplacement and suffered casualties of nearly 50%. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division suffered casualties of 340 killed, 574 wounded.
The Hampshires and Dorsetshires landed on the Jig section of Gold beach at 07.25 on the 6th June 1944. The supporting DD tanks were delayed by the rough seas and did not land until 08.00, without the armoured support the infantry suffered casualties. The German gun position WN-37 at Le Hamel was not knocked out before the landings and with its 75mm gun caused a lot damage before it could be put out of action. On the King sector the East Yorkshires and Green Howards, along with the DD tanks and Royal engineers landed simultaneously. Because of the rough seas the DD tanks were not launched at sea, but the LCT’s (landing craft tank) brought the DD tanks right in to the beach risking fire from the German anti tank and machine guns. This brave action saved many lives.
The 47 Royal Marine Commando landed at Jig with the job of capturing Port-en-Bessin and its small harbour some 8 miles to the west. The Luftwaffe attacked the ships off Normandy with Heinkel He 177 bombers equipped with guided missiles (Henschel Hs 293) in the late evening of the 6th. By the end of D-Day, nearly 25,000 men and over 2,000 vehicles had been landed at Gold Beach. Total casualties for the 50th Division was about 700 men.