- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Harry King
- Location of story:
- Portsmouth and Normandy
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 May 2004
[Harry King was born in 1924 and celebrated his 80th birthday on 28 February 2004.
He was brought up in Chingford (then in Essex but now in north east London) and after war service spent most of his adult life there until retiring to Rayne, near Braintree in Essex about 20 years ago. He was among the last printing apprentices indentured at the outbreak of war in 1939 and enlisted in the Royal Marines at age 18 in 1942. D-day minus 3 saw him aboard a landing craft, TANK, in Portsmouth Harbour. This is his story.]
3 June 1944. All leave was stopped and no-one was allowed to go ashore. We knew then that D-Day was near. King George VI paid a visit to the landing force assembled in Portsmouth Harbour. We could see tanks, guns, lorries and many unusual vehicles being continuously loaded into the large landing craft and, as each craft completed loading, it was moored into line, ready to sail.
4 June 1944. That night and all the next day the preparations continued. Meanwhile, the wind was rising so that, by the night of the 4th, quite a gale was blowing and the sea had a heavy swell. The tank and gun crews accompanying their armour must have been very uncomfortable.
Infantry were boarding the troop-carrying ships and they were about to spend an uncomfortable 48 hours below decks. The storm grew worse affecting the hundreds of ships that were at anchor or tied up to buoys off the Isle of Wight.
I was a Royal Marine aboard a landing craft, TANK, which was decked over and had a complement of 90 marines, and carried ammunition and stores, etc. On deck were 24 light anti-aircraft guns. Our role was to escort the soldiers, who were to be in small open landing craft, ashore to give them cover against the ME 109s and Fokke-Wulf fighters that were expected to attack them.
At midnight we began to slip buoys and moorings for the journey across to Normandy, when almost at once the order came to postpone departure for 24 hours. All our thoughts were with the men packed into the troopships being tossed about off the Isle of Wight. They were sleeping where they could but we were enjoying our hammocks.
5 June 1944. The gale was still blowing and it was raining heavily. The whole fleet was riding at anchor in the English Channel: the British forces from Dover to Poole Harbour and the Americans from Poole to Penzance. Thousands of ships waiting to sail and yet not one German reconnaissance plane flew over. The allied air forces had almost completely destroyed the German aircraft and landing fields in France, but we did not know this then.
The day passed very slowly as we waited at action stations expecting attack from every aircraft Jerry had. By late evening we received the signal to go, and we had to — gale or no gale. The night tide off the Normandy coastal region was at its highest for the month on the 5th and 6th of June and this would enable the assault boats and landing craft to sail over the pointed steel bars that the Germans had planted in the sand pointing seawards. Delaying until 7 June would mean that we would land the men the wrong side of the defences with a 100 yards of open beach to cross before they reached the promenade and thus possibly subjecting them to terrible gunfire.
6 June 1944. As dawn was breaking we arrived at our beach, code-name Juno [between St Aubin-sur-Mer and Courseulles-sur-Mer]. The sea had gone down and the wind was abating. The troops were transferring to the assault boats whilst the warships were bombarding the houses, hotels and shops on the promenade. The RAF was bombing the area beyond the seafront.
Many of the soldiers were seasick and, after being cooped up in their troopships for two days and nights, they had to scramble down rope ladders and nets into the wildly pitching assault boats. They must have felt awful.
We had been given an assault boat to tow over to France, plus two Royal Engineers as its crew. Because the assault boats were completely open, the two sappers travelled on our craft. It was well that they did, because the savage sea completely wrecked the boat and all we had left at first light were parts of the bows hanging from the towrope.
Gathering the boatloads of soldiers around us we made our way to the beach, and did this journey many times. Not one German plane was seen and not one round of anti-aircraft shell was fired because the RAF had made such a good job of knocking out the Luftwaffe.
We landed our men in exactly the position ordered, but we had rehearsed this over and over again at Studland Bay in Dorset. There, dummy buidings replicating the buildings at Juno beach had been built for practice and training. Our practice landings damaged the buildings each time because live ammunition was used and the Royal Engineers had the job of repairing them for us to do it all again the following week.
The planning and organisation were unbelievable: that careful planning kept casualties to a minimum on our beaches.
What a day that was. It is hard to realise that it was 60 years ago, I was 20 then and I am 80 now, but I remember it as if it was yesterday.
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