OPERATIONS RECORD BOOK 1944

Context

An email from Peter Best to colleagues of the RAF at Ohama Beach website project, sent on 21st October 2013:

Hello Chaps,

I am very pleased to let you know that there has been something of a breakthrough on the research into what happened to 21 BDS on 6th June 1944.

Due to some diligent and brilliant research, Mike Dean has discovered the ORB (Operations Record Book) for both 21 and 24 BDS whilst at Kew.

Both had been mis-filed and Mike’s dogged research has unearthed them.

They are filed in AIR 26-40 No 21 BD Wing and AIR 26-41 No.24 Base Defence Wing.

Mike has photographed both in their entirety and this makes for a very large file.

However, I have taken the liberty of having the most interesting part that covers the actual D-Day landings transcribed and covers the period from 5th to 8th June, and I am pleased to attach this.  (See below)

The full book starts on 1/1/44 at Church Fenton and ends on 6/12/44.

I have not yet read all of it nor the one for 24 BDS.  (24 BDS landed on the British Beaches. The men would have trained together, so it should yield useful information.)

Interesting stuff!

Peter

 (To view photographs of the Operations Record Book for 21 BDS, click here)

(To view photographs of the Operations Record Books for 22 BDS, Sousse and 24 BDS, click the appropriate name.  Although the focus of this website is the activity of 21 BDS and their D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, the ORBs for the other teams have been included for two reasons – firstly, because the documents were in the same box as the 21 BDS documents at Kew(!) and secondly – and more importantly – because there may be cross-over of personnel between one team and another.  If you come across any such link, please email the website owners at omahabeach@outlook.com, so that we can record the connection!)

 

Peter’s transcription

(To see photographs of the original report, click here)

The first Echelon of 21 (B.D.) Sector embarked in five LCTs on June, 2nd. 1944 at Portland where they remained in harbour till Sunday June, 4th. 1944.

At approximately 0400 hours the Armada left port and set sail for the English Coast but before Poole the whole fleet turned round and was back in port again by 0700 hours, where it remained till 0430 hours on the following morning. This time the Armada set sail for the invasion of the Continent, and the rendezvous off the coast of Normandy was reached soon after daybreak on June 6th. 1944.  These voyage was completely without enemy interference.  Enemy aircraft were conspicuous by their absence, none being seen at all during the voyage.  The sea was rough with a South West wind blowing.

The first attempt at landing was made at 11.30 hours on June, 6th. 1944; the convoy moved towards the beach, the vehicles all with their engines running, ready to disembark when the ramps were lowered, but as the convoy approached the beach it was observed that this beach was still under machine gun fire as well as heavy shell fire and it was obviously impracticable to land the convoy then, so without warning, it withdrew until 1700 hours.  During this time considerable shelling of the cliffs was being done by the Navy to try and silence the shore batteries that were established in the cliffs, continually shelling the beach.  This went on right up to the time of landing.  At 1700 hours the convoy again headed for the beach, an order having been given to land.

As the convoy drew close to the shore, it was observed that this beach, which was St. Laurent about 1 mile to the West of Colleville Beach where it was supposed to land, was under heavy shell fire from 88 mm guns, these guns had got the range of the beach and were consistently shelling the American vehicles which were lined up at the head of the beach and unable to get away as both exits were blocked, but nevertheless, in spite of this, it was apparently decided suitable to land 21 (B.D.) Sector.  Most of the craft were landed in about 4’3” of water so that immediately they struck a hole they were drowned.  In all 27 vehicles were landed but out of this lot only 8 were driven off the beach, although a number were salvaged later in varying stages of disrepair.

LCT 649 was landed considerably further out to sea than the other craft on a mudbank with about 4’3” of water but the vehicles very soon dropped into water about 6’ deep and were drowned.  The men having to scramble on to the top of the vehicles to avoid also being drowned.  All the vehicles from this craft were lost except one which never got off the craft as there was difficulty in starting the engine and the skipper refused to wait.  It was noticeable that the skipper of this craft had only one interest, and that was to get the vehicles off and to be away as soon as possible, having no consideration whatever for the fate of the vehicles and the troops he was disembarking.  It is considered that this skipper did not look after his craft in the best interests of the men he had on board, as on no less than 3 occasions he got so far behind the convoy, that one of the accompanying launches had to order him to close up on account of the risk he was taking.  There was great difficulty in getting the men from this craft ashore as there was a considerable distance to swim, but they were all got safely ashore in the end and nobody was drowned.

Very soon after the vehicles were landed, they came under further shellfire from an 88 and a number were destroyed in this manner as it was impossible to move them off the beach both exits being completely blocked.  This beach was more or less deserted except for the fact that American wounded who had been lying about since the first assault and the crews of American vehicles that could have been pulled out of the water with little ill effect to them or their equipment were left stranded in the water and the tide quickly came up and went over the top of them and they were lost to sight til the tide went down again.  It was reported that in view of the fact that the emergency Medical Services were almost wiped out and the fact that the beach was still under heavy shellfire it was decided not to land the elaborate beach organization that was to be set up to deal with the disembarkation of the follow-up Units.  In spite of this fact, however, it was apparently decided that it was a fit time to disembark 21 (B.D.) Sector.

The whole Unit came under heavy shell fire while they were on the beach and the troops were got to the top of the beach as soon as possible and dug foxholes in the shingle and they remained until the situation could be reviewed and a place found for the Unit to be moved to, it being obvious that the front line was about a mile off the beach.

The Padre, Squadron Leader Harding, gallantly reconnoitered the little village of Les Moulins, which was situated at the westerly coast of the beach; he came back and reported that this village was not under fire and also gave some cover.  S/Ldr.Trollope then went over the beach and ordered everyone to move to this western end of the beach, the troops at this time being scattered in craft loads.  For the next two hours all personnel who were not wounded were employed at the exit of the beach, helping either to pull out some of the vehicles from the sea with a bulldozer which had now arrived on the scene or with carrying wounded, both our own and the Americans, off the beach.  The doctor, F/Lt. Ryecroft, with the aid of the Padre, a lot of the time under fire, were continuously employed rendering wonderful medical aid to the wounded under the worst possible working conditions from the time of landing until late the following afternoon, when all the wounded were got to the American First Aid Post, overlooking the next beach.  All the serious cases were evacuated to the U.K. that night except Wing Commander Anderson who remained until the following day, to have his arm exrayed and also to see what was going to happen to the Unit.

When this work at the beachhead was completed, the Unit moved up the road to this small hamlet of Les Moulins.  Some of the wounded were taken to a courtyard of a house in this village, the rest being taken to a convenient crater on the beach above high water mark and were made as comfortable as possible under these conditions for the night.  The rest of the Unit spent the night lying on the edge of the road at the entrance to the village, which was situated between two thickly wooded hills and in most places there was a low wall on the side of the road which rendered some shelter from the continuous sniping that went on all through the night.  These cliffs were full of snipers that had underground passages like rabbit warrens, honeycombing the whole area.

Soon after dark, 6 Junkers 88s, the only enemy aircraft so far seen or heard, came over and dropped 2 bombs on the beach, one of these named aircraft was shot down by the Navy.  At intervals, throughout the night, there were odd bursts of fire from the JU88s, bursting just above us.

At 0500 hours, S/Ldr. Trollope went up the road to see if it was possible to move the Unit further inland as it was obviously in a very dangerous position where it was, apart from the fact that it was blocking the road should further transport be disembarked.  Actually nothing was disembarked on the beach after 21 (B.D.) Sector till late the following afternoon.  The result of the reconnaissance showed that it appeared possible to move a mile or so up the road but just before this move took place, F/Lt. Effenberger who was sent up this road to find a position to park the convoy, came back and reported that the road was now under cross machine gun fire and that he had been fired at a number of times, on one occasion having his steel helmet knocked off.  From later experiences this fire is considered to have come from the Americans, who were trigger conscious and repeatedly mistook the R.A.F. Blue for the enemy.

At about 1100 hours the 88mm guns opened up on the beach with greater determination, so the Unit, after a further reconnaissance moved up the road and pulled into a field about three quarters of a mile up as a transit area No. 3 was still not open.  This field was full of American snipers, who were firing over our heads into the wooded hill at random.  There was also a certain amount of return fire from enemy snipers but nobody was seen to be hit.  At approximately 1400 hours, Major Kelakos, Intelligence Officer, 49th.A.A.Brigade, contacted us in the field and told us that General Timberlake suggested that the Unit pulled into the Transit Area 2, at the top of the hill, overlooking the next beach into the East and adjacent to his headquarters.  This was the first official contact of any sort that had been made with the Americans since landing.

The convoy moved out of this field almost immediately, through the village of St. Laurent where terrific rifle fire was taking place and went to Transit Area No. 2 where it settled for the night.  This place was pretty crowded but the troops managed to find room to dig foxholes for themselves to sleep in.  It was an extremely noisy position as there was cross shell fire going on overhead between the Navy and the 88mm guns which were again shelling both beaches.

The Military position during the whole of this period was extremely precarious, the bridgehead reported not to be anywhere more than two to three miles deep.  Wing Commander Anderson, who had been wounded in the wrist, and Squadron Leader Trollope contacted General Timberlake of the 49th.A.A.Brigade in the evening and the position was reviewed.  It was decided to move the convoy next morning, June 8th. to a field nearby so that the equipment could be examined to see if it was possible to get any of it operational.  By that time, S/Ldr. Best and the other technical officers who had worked unceasingly salvaging equipment of all sorts from the beaches, ranging from vehicles down to small items of serviceable equipment from derelict vehicles and it was considered that it would be possible to set up and become operational if a site was selected, the original site still being in the hands of the enemy.  S/Ldr. Trollope again saw General Timberlake and a site was selected overlooking the cliff, just behind No. 2 Transit Area.  The convoy moved there in the afternoon and the equipment was set up ready to become operational on the following night.

By the afternoon of the 9th. the military position in this sector had improved to such an extent, the bridgehead now being seven to eight miles deep, that a signal was received ordering G.C.I.No.15082 to start packing up immediately preparatory to moving the following morning to the original site selected for them to come on the ‘D’Day, this area now being cleared of the enemy.  The work of packing up was started on immediately, hence the Unit did not operate on the night of June 9th but moved to the new site on June 10th. where it set up and operated that night and claimed one enemy aircraft destroyed and one enemy aircraft damaged.

Up to and including 9th. June, there were large numbers of snipers in the area, all around St. Laurent, and sniping was going on almost incessantly day and night, there was also a terrific barrage at intervals, every night, from the heavy guns when enemy aircraft were reported in the area.  On no occasion was there reported to be more than six enemy aircraft over these two beaches during the night.  These snipers were firmly established, some in underground tunnels, others in thick jungle-like woods surrounding the village.  It is reported that some of these had secured themselves in trees by the aid of nets and were firing smokeless ammunition and hence almost impossible to find until they gave themselves up when their ammunition had run out.  The total casualties of the Unit were One Officer, Flight Lieutenant Highfield and 9 other ranks killed, one missing, five officers, (W/Cdr. Anderson, S/Ldr. Harrison, Capt. Rowley.R.A.F/O.Williamson and Lt. Barnes, U.S.) and 31 other ranks, wounded.

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