Norman Best – Excerpt from the June 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 ‘Radar Bulletins’ Go?”
- 3 – “The Radar Mech. At Agincourt.” by E.E.
- 4 – “We went on D-Day” by N.B. of 75 Wing.
- 7 – News From the Filter Rooms. The North
- 8 – …And the South
- 10 – Naval Plot
- 11 – What Goes on Here – No. 4. Ranscombe Down. by D.P.F.
- 13 – Group Cricket. by B.B.
- “How Gee Works” by L.J.D.
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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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We Went on D-Day
(This month sees the first anniversary of D-Day – – the day upon which Britain and America carried the War on Land into German-owned Europe. Here is Wing Commander Norman Best’s story of how Radar went ashore with the first of the invasion troops, and what was happening to him and his colleagues about this time last year. Reading between the lines, it is a pretty grim story in parts. He came through it unscathed and with a well-earned Military Cross. He is still with us, as Senior Technical Officer of 75 Wing).
On D minus 11 or thereabouts, if my memory is not at fault, Air Commodore Reeve called me and Flight Lieutenant Hitchcock away from our comparatively peaceful contemplation of the back end of a G.C.I. panel at Headquarters 60 Group, to tell us that on D-day we should be needed to go over the landing beaches. T.R.E. had built extensive new Centimetre Mobile gear to operate with the Invasion Forces, and a Type 25 (AMES 15082) was already waiting with the nucleus of a Sector (No. 21 Base Defence Sector of 85 Group) to go over with the first wave. I was to be Technical Adviser of G.C.I. equipment, and Hitchcock on Electrical Engineering matters.
The convoy was forming at Camp D.2. in the American Marshalling Area near Poole, and on D minus 10, slightly out of breath, we reported there to Wing Commander Anderson the Senior Controller and C.O. of the party. There were about 150 of us all told, among some 2,000 American invasion troops, and we had been brought in from various formations such as Fighter Command, 60 Group, the old 83 Group of T.A.F. and so on. Our principal task, it appeared, would be to give night cover to the American beach-heads, with Mosquitoes coming out from England by way of the F.D.T. pool in mid-channel as described in the April “Radar Bulletin”.
Down at Portsmouth there was another formation similar to ours, No.24 B.D.S. with 15083 waiting to go over and do the same for the British beach-heads about 25 miles from ours. They too were under an 85 Group Controller C.O., and included quite a few T.R.E. enthusiasts who had donned uniforms with Honorary Commissions, to see their job through.
It was now D minus 9, although we did not know it then, of course, and we spent our long working days checking waterproofing, building up spares, getting to know our new colleagues and learning the American language. The Yanks were very decent to us, and a pretty good waiting time was had by all. Once we managed to get a trip to 60 Group where we swanked around the Mess in our then still rather glamorous blue battle dress, and got the WAAF officers to make us detachable rank badges for our epaulettes. Officers did not wear rings for the actual landing — it would have been inviting the too-detailed attention of snipers, so something had to be carried which could easily be slipped on and off.
We got a thorough briefing in this waiting period, too. Maps were issued, and every detail of the job explained, including the precise spot on which we were to land, and the operational site we were to make for — provided the Hun had been driven out.
On D minus 4, a Thursday afternoon, the whole camp received movement orders. We were not told where we were going or why, but we guessed. Excitement was intense, and there was an unmistakable feeling that this was “it”.
Friday at dawn the trek started, and from three o’clock in the morning troops and lorries, transports and tanks, rumbled away from Camp D.2. The Radar contingent, small by comparison with the rest, went away in three convoys, the first with Hitchcock at about 1000 hours and the last with Wing Commander Anderson and myself bringing up the rear with our Jeep at 1500. At the gate, American police gave us local maps and route forms, and told us to make for Portland, about thirty miles away.
We had to travel very slowly on account of the waterproofing of our vehicles, and even so, after fifteen miles a halt of one full hour was called to allow the engine to cool off.
At Portland we scattered on to the beach and got a warm meal with an issue of “candies”, gum, and periodicals. It was a fine sunny evening, the bay was full of craft, among which we picked out several small American L.C.Ts carrying Part I and Part II of our unit, already seaborne, and further out, in deep water, another of our old friends the Fighter Direction Tender.
The organisation was magnificent, and had been all along. Every move went to timetable and fitted in with every other move. Meals were issued just where and when they were needed; M-T and Waterproofing experts were now moving systematically along, vetting every vehicle, and mobile tankers followed them filling up with P.O.L.
We, the third and final convoy of No. 21 B.D.S. had been allotted to a British L.C.T., and at nine o’clock we started running aboard. We finished at eleven. It was still light, there had been no hitches apart from a spot of obstinacy from the T.21 Ops vehicle – soon overcome with persuasion and a mobile crane, and we were very soon out in deep water, one more indistinguishable microcosm in the vastness of the invasion fleet. Five L.C.Ts were used altogether to take the 15082 convoy plus the first echelon of 21 B.D.S. Types 11, 15 and 21 were in different craft. Our L.C.T. had a crew of six, two officers and four ratings, British and Australian. The skipper was Australian. They were all good types.
It seemed as though it must be the last few hours of D minus 1 now, but luck was not wholly with us, and before dawn the weather turned. Sailing was postponed, and for two days we stood out in the harbour rolling about, gossiping, dozing, reading, and denying – with the help of nembutal – the existance (sic) of such weaknesses as mal-de-mer.
There were no sleeping quarters on the L.C.T., but there was a tiny mess and a galley. We fed all right, but slept in, on, or under our vehicles, or among the gubbinses.
At 0300 hours on Monday, 5th June, the real start was made — D minus 1., and twenty-four hours later we sighted the French coast. It was June 6th 1944. D-Day. The trip had been as uneventful as a cross-channel run on any night of peace time.
No attack had been made upon us from the sea or from the air. We had arrived. It was a tense and exciting moment. All around, as far as the eye could reach, were ships. The sea was alive with the tiny crawling things, like an army of soldier ants following their pre-determined and inviolable path. Quiet behind, a quiet night — But ahead of us was the battle.
Our beach was Omaha Red, and it was already being fiercely contested. German troops were in the low hills surrounding it, and German mortar shells were dropping in well-directed patterns along the fringe of the sea. British and American Paratroops and Gliders had gone in some hours earlier and were already fighting for the roads and strategic points behind the German lines – – at St. Mère Eglise for instance, where they seized the road junction and stopped enemy supplies and reinforcements getting down to the beaches, Our air bombardment had been going on for twenty-four hours non-stop. Several warships and monitors were pitching shells over us into the enemy lines, and the whole coastline seemed ablaze.
But the Hun was hitting back. The beach was already littered with dead and wounded and the wrecked vehicles of our advanced Beach Engineering Party, and it was going to be no walk-over.
There were two American patrol boats strolling up and down inshore watching all this. Traffic cops afloat, with the unmistakable air of traffic cops, and they were controlling the shipping. We had had “landing tickets” issued to us on the other side; necessary documents no doubt — no modern war can be fought without documents — but the prospect of lining up somewhere and solemnly handing over tickets permitting us to invade in that holocaust was grimly funny, and give rise to some ribaldry.
Nine o’clock, the first low tide was our zero hour, but as we drew in we were met with concentrated machine gun fire, and the patrol boats signalled us back. The beach was still in enemy hands, and we were to stand off about a mile until matters improved.
At five o’clock in the evening we tried again, and this time, with three other crafts carrying small tanks and armoured cars, we made it. No one else did. Mortar and shell fire became more intense than ever, and not for another thirty-six hours, when the neighbouring beaches had linked up with us and cleared the Hun right out, did anything else come ashore on Omaha Red.
(to be continued)
N. B. – 75 Wing
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This document is a “word for word” (mistakes included) copy of the original article written by Norman Best for The RADAR Group Bulletin.