Alexander McLeod – from “Canadians on Radar: RCAF 1940-1945”
Canadians on Radar: Royal Canadian Air Force 1940-1945
By George Grande, Sheila Linden and Horace Macauley.
Omaha Beach – D-Day +2 – 8th June 1944
Flight Lieutenant Alexander Gordon McLeod (RCAF) Officer Commanding and Unit Technical Radar Officer of No 15073 GCI Convoy has prepared the following summary of activities:
In May 1943 I was posted to RAF Station Renscombe Downs, near Swanage in Dorset. Assembled there were many Canadian technical radar officers, a large group of RAF administrative officers and a very large number of “other ranks” of RAF personnel, mainly radar operators (all male) and mechanics, among them some Canadians.
Renscombe Downs was an assembly and training area for mobile radar units. Here we spent several months in training of all kinds. We were introduced to mobile radar equipment, learning how to set up the unit. In May / June 1944, we were moved down to Portsmouth in the South of England. Two RAF F/Os (ex-aircrew) were assigned to my unity as controllers for the operation in France. We waterproofed the vehicles for “wet landing”. I divided my unit into two parts and reduced the number of vehicles. The first group of personnel and vehicles were to be technical only i.e. radar operators and mechanics. The remaining personnel and equipment would join me later in France. Early in June, we were given a general briefing about Operation Overlord. We were told that the exact date for D-Day was still unknown. No 15073 mobile unit would be attached to the US Army and would be landing on Omaha Beach. We would embark from Portsmouth Harbour on an LCT.
Our job would be to provide radar air coverage and the protection of the harbour in Cherbourg. We would set up about 3 miles south of Cherbourg, selecting our site and becoming operational as soon as possible. As a non-combat unit, my mobile unit was to be given protection by a paratroop “stick” of the 82nd Airborne Division.
On 8th June 1944, we received orders to load 15073 mobile unit onto an LCT. All vehicles had to be backed onto the LCT because of the confined deck space. This was not easy to do because the ramp was steep. We left Portsmouth harbour at 0300 hours. On June 9th, at 1000 hours, Omaha Beach was in sight. All our vehicles landed safely and we moved to a de-waterproof area. We stayed overnight in a park, no fires, no lights, and (still) experienced sniper fire. On June 10th, I reported sniper fire to the CO of the de-embarkation area, and he recommended that our unit should remove our RAF blue (gray) battledress and change to US GI khaki. He was convinced that we were being sniped at by US soldiers mistaking us for Germans. Without further discussion I had my RAF unit report to US Quartermaster stores and we all changed to US Khaki. We looked like a regular US army unit – so long as we kept our mouths shut.
At 1000 hours we moved out heading north, passed through Carenton, St Mere Eglise and headed towards a small village ten miles outside of St Mere Eglise. We passed a US infantry unit walking single file on both sides of the road headed north. I halted our convoy 1.5 miles out from the village. We observed lots of activity, noted German soldiers loading trucks for Cherbourg. The US infantry that we had passed on the road had the assignment to clean out and secure the French village ahead of us.
On June 11th we returned to the St Mere Eglise area and remained overnight to re-group. We headed north again at 0800 hours which provided ample time for the French village to be cleared. All was well at this time and we received a heroes’ welcome. The small square was crowded with happy villagers. We could not pass through until we stopped the convoy, and received hugs and kisses and flowers from males and females alike, along with large glasses of wine. We were the first Allied unit of any size in their village since the Germans took over in 1939 – 40.
We finally got through the village and proceeded north to Cherbourg. About 4 miles south of the town we began looking for a suitable radar site. There was a lot of open farmland, but many areas had been marked off as mined areas. The unmarked areas were also suspect. We “mine proofed” an area of farmland by taking one of our non-tech trucks and driving it backwards (rear end first) up and down and crossways over several acres of the land. It was a good thing that it worked out, for I would have been slightly embarrassed to attempt to explain to headquarters why a 3-ton truck had its rear end blown away. By the end of the day the technical vehicles were all in place, the diesels were operating smoothly, and reported “on the air”.