Prelude to D-Day

This page tells of the 24hrs before a 19 year old Sherman Firefly gunner left for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

“We had taken part in a number of invasion exercises during the spring of 1944, so it was rather bewildering and difficult to believe when, on June 5th, as we lay in the brilliant sunshine outside of Gosport, that we were on the eve of ‘Operation Overlord’.

This was to be the real thing.

We had motored down to the south coast in our Sherman tanks from Petworth in West Sussex.

We felt very important and excited as we drove in convoy through the towns and villages, all the people of which came out of their houses and opened their windows to wave and smile at us.

They must have guessed what was coming off this time, and their feelings of excitement and appreciation were very apparent, as were ours. We eventually reached our port of embarkation on June 4th and drove onto the Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) at 1000hrs.

After half an hour we were loaded and we moved out into the bay, taking our positions in line with hundreds of other craft of every type and size. June 4th was a glorious day, and I shall never forget the astounding sight of that invasion fleet of assault craft lying spread out as far as the eye could see. They lay westwards to the Isle of Wight and eastwards towards Portsmouth and Hayling Island. Surely the German Luftwaffe would attempt to do something to such a target, and yet there appeared to be no sight of them.

Few of us had any previous battle experience, which added to this historic occasion. I think that everyone was apprehensive and looking forward to getting over the initial shocks and surprise that we felt sure we would encounter upon landing.

And then suddenly during the afternoon the operation was postponed for 24hrs. Apparently there was considerable swell outside in the English Channel, about which the High Command were nervous. This period of waiting and suspension was very tiresome. However, on June 5th we received our maps and learnt for the first time the sector on which we were going to land. We learnt only 18hrs before landing that Normandy was to be the scene of our fateful operation, and that my regiment was to land (we hoped) on the extreme left of the assault, just west of Ouistreham, on the mouth of the Orne, ten miles north of Caen.

H-hour was to be 0725hrs the following day. The invasion fleet set sail at 1400hrs on the 5th June, by which time the sky was overcast and there was considerable wind. We sailed eastwards close to the coast for about 80 miles, and then turned south, when for the last time we were able to see England disappearing in the fading light. At about 2200hrs we ate our self-heating soup, and as we made our beds on the deck of the LCT, in the few feet available between the tanks, we were thankful that so far things had gone according to plan.

It was not long with the monotonous vibrating of the LCT engines and the fresh night air before most of us were asleep, although a few of us were finding that the increasingly rough sea was resulting in the fish receiving a strange mixture of food.

We awoke around 0530hrs. There was still a heavy swell and a strong wind blowing up in the Channel. Looking around, many men had been and still were sea-sick. At 0730hrs there was great excitement as the Normandy coast was sighted. Eventually we landed on Queen White Sector, Sword Beach, La Breche. It was approximately H-hour plus 30 minutes ( 0755hrs).

I was nineteen years old, and wondered if I would ever see England again or even if I would still be alive by the evening………”