Norman Best – Excerpt from the July 1945 RADAR Group Bulletin
The following is an excerpt from the June 1945 RADAR Group Bulletin.
A monthly review of operational activities on the Radar Chain.
Produced and printed at Headquarters No. 60 Group.
The contents page in this issue read as follows:
- Page 2 – Editorial – “Where do we go from here?”
- 3 – “Song of the Future” by D.T. of Sango.
- “An Omission”
- 4 – “We went on D-Day” (Conclusion) by N.B. of 75 Wing.
- 7 – Group Hockey – A Burst of Egotism from 73 Wing by T.U.C.S.
- 8 – News from the Filter Rooms – The North
- 9 – …And the South
- 10 – A “Boob” by Us.
- 11 – Naval Plot.
- 12 – What Goes on Here – no. 5. Continuity section
- Chigwell by H.R.C.
- 14 – A Protest from 70 Wing.
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This bulletin is a CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENT, and must not be seen by or discussed with unauthorised persons either in or out of the service
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This month’s cover was designed by Cpl. K.A. Fox of Bard Hill.
We Went on D-Day (Conclusion)
The offloading went smoothly and according to plan. Down the ramp with engine racing, in low gear, a slight thump on the sea bottom and the steady, seemingly interminable grind through three feet of water for some forty or fifty yards to dry land. The crane went off first, with a Corporal, an L.A.C. and the Wing Commander. I went next with the Lieutenant AFS in the Jeep and the rest of the convoy followed. We drove standing up remembering, as we had been taught, not to touch any controls except for the steering wheel. The beach obstacles, mostly concrete posts with mines fastened on top, were all exposed by the low tide and were easily avoided, the sea bottom was fairly level, we just prayed hard about the mortar shells and snipers, and eventually by the grace of those supernatural powers that watch over mobile Radar Gear, the entire Type 15 G.C.I. set up arrived safely on the beach, aerial transmitter, two diesels, crane, R-T, Jeep and four Crossleys.
The Types 11 and 21 had not fared so well. One of their vessels had dropped its ramp on a concealed sandbank and after running out a few yards the vehicles had dropped, one after the other into eight or nine feet of water. The men clambered out and swam ashore, but it was hopeless at that time to try and get the vehicles out. We pulled out two the next day with the bulldozer, but lost the rest. The Type 11 aerial vehicle had to be blown up, as it became a danger to navigation. The Type 13 aerial vehicle went into a very deep hole and was never seen again.
But the Type 15 was ashore, and so were we. Whether we were any better off or were going to be of the slightest use to anybody was a very moot point. Further landings had already been abandoned and the beach was being carefully and systematically plastered square by square by the Hun. He fired accurately and he fired with intelligence. As soon as he had hit a vehicle and set it ablaze he left it. He was not going to waste his time doing the job twice over. The beach was not a healthy place – not by any means, and our immediate concern was to get off it and into the shelter of the little ravine that led away through the cliffs inland.
This was more easily agreed upon than done. The ravine was the only way out of the beach, and I freely admit to a sensation worse than the orthodox “sinking in the pit of the stomach” when we went up to investigate and found it blocked by a solid barrier of earth some five or six feet high.
The very first landing party of battle troops, the Beach Engineering Party, had been supposed to clear this obstacle with a bulldozer, but on account of the unexpectedly heavy opposition they had been wiped out almost to a man with their task unfinished.
What few other landings had been made beside ours now filled the beach. We were in line and good order right in front of the ravine blocked by the earth barrier, and American vehicles, many of them blazing, blocked us on both sides. No one could get away until we did, and the tide was coming in. When it was fully up, only a few yards of shingle would remain dry, and the Germans were still shelling.
We were trapped on Omaha Red in as helpless and desperate a position as any writer of imitation war thrillers could have imagined. Also we were suffering casualties. Our Wing Commander had been hit in the arm and leg, and others had been killed or wounded.
Some of us copied the Americans and dug foxholes. Some of us (myself included) thought that moving about upright was as safe as lying down static, and with our M.O. and one M.N.O. who did the most gallant work that day (ours were the only medicos on the beach – the others had been wiped out and reserves had not been able to land) we began to organise what comfort we could for the wounded and to get some co-operation from our American neighbours on a way out.
After half an hour – a lifetime of nightmare it seemed – we did at last find a working bulldozer with a driver, and got him up to the ravine. Here he bit into our earth barrier as nonchalantly as only a bulldozer can, and in a matter of minutes we were free and on the move. We got our vehicles off and up the valley into the quiet and comparative safety of a deserted village. Here we made an emergency casualty clearing station, and for the rest of the evening and most of the night went backwards and forwards to the beach collecting wounded. We ourselves had lost 12 men dead and 40 seriously injured. The Americans had suffered terribly and the beach, as night drew on, was strewn with dead so thick that it was impossible to move a vehicle without crushing bodies. I think four thousand troops landed altogether on Omaha Red, and that over half became casualties.
After a few hours’ sleep (we were dive bombed in our village about midnight by ten German planes – two of them were shot down by Ack Ack on the boats) we were about again at first light, and went back to the beach. No further landings were being made, although there were plenty of craft standing out at sea getting ready to come in. Some of our shelling and sniping was still going on, but we did a bit of salvaging and with the aid of our friend the bulldozer managed to pull out two submerged diesel vehicles of the Type 11. One of ours had been hit – indeed all our vehicles had been more or less damaged on the beach, and standby diesels seemed very desirable additions to our convoy. We also salvaged the Type 14 aerial vehicle which had stuck in the sands and suffered from sea water damage.
The front line was said to be half a mile ahead of us, but some of the American troops unbottled from the beachhead, had now fought their way round to the West until they had linked up with our neighbouring beachhead. This positively ended our isolation and made us all feel a good deal better.
In the afternoon our convoy lined up and we left our village making East where, by the other beachhead, a transit camp had been formed and the landings were going well to schedule, complete with tickets, permission to invade and all.
We met an American General there, who had the Radar outlook all right. He wanted us to get on the air right away and showed us a flat field on the cliff overlooking the beachhead where we could set up. Our proper site, some six or seven miles inland, was still in German hands.
It was now the evening of D + 1 and that night we slept like logs. Our wounded had been cleared and taken back to England, we had the main part of convoy, safe but battered, a couple of spare diesels (waterlogged) and a site. Fifty yards away, one of the first emergency runways on what had been enemy territory was being constructed.
D + 2 saw us lining up. No one knew whether our field was mined or not, so we found out ourselves by the childishly simple method of getting into a 3-ton GP vehicle and driving it furiously backwards and forwards over the field. The theory was that if we did find a mine it would blow the back of the vehicle off but not hurt us in the driving cab. This theory does not appear quite so tenable now as it did in the excitement of the moment, and 21 STU are not advised to take it into their curriculum. After amusing the onlookers in this way for several minutes, our intrepid driver declared the field safe, and we ran the vehicles in. It was not a good site operationally and I do not think any of us expected real results there. It served very well as a test site, however, and gave us a chance to take stock, line up, check and mend. The gear and the vehicles were full of shrapnel holes, but with bits of wire, bootlaces and the usual impediment of friggery, we got it going. Every now and again, a party would break off and go down to our beach salvaging the more scientific pieces of makeshift from the wrecks there.
At 2200 on D + 3 we were on the air, and about the same time we heard from 9th USAAF that our proper site had been cleared and that we could move in.
S/Ldr. Trollope had taken our command of 21 BDS when Wing Commander Andrews got hit on landing, and with him I went out to Cricqueville where after talking to the 9th USAAF people we made a recce of our new site. The British and American fighting areas had met and merged, shelling and sniping around the beaches had ceased and the invasion was well and truly in hand. We had lost our RT but a replacement arrived on D + 4 and by lunchtime of the same day our convoy was once more being lined up for duty.
By nightfall we were on the air. Before morning we had shot down two Huns – the first GCI controlled interception from the American beach head.
After that, life became routine again – we might almost have been on some remote mobile site in England, except for the embarrassing welcome of the villagers every time we stirred out, and the novelty of American neighbours and American rations.
On D + 7, new centimetre gear arrived from England to replace the Types 11 and 21 which had got drowned, and by D + 9 we were able to report that all was working according to the original plan and timetable.
The Hun broke and melted almost before our eyes. 72 Wing arrived. The long trek began across Normandy – France – Germany, following an already beaten foe. Mons, Laroche, Rips Bonn – –
But that is another story.
This document is a ‘word for word’ (mistakes included) copy of the original article written by Norman Best for The RADAR Group Bulletin.