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15 October 2014
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A Journey Through War: Royal Marine Commandos

by RAYORMAC

Contributed by 
RAYORMAC
People in story: 
Raymond McMahon Winter
Location of story: 
Mainly focused in Normandy on D-Day, with scenes either side for perspective.
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2052055
Contributed on: 
16 November 2003

JOINING

In 1941 schools were informed through the Y.Scheme of an opportunity to join the R.N./R.M., to be commissioned officers.

Call-Up papers required me to report to Lympstone Camp in December 1941. In that month I was mortified to contract chicken pox, so joining was postponed. Arriving at the station a solitary Colour-sergeant approached me, wheeling a pram. “So you’ve got THE pox, then", he barked. "Not the small, but the chicken." I replied. "Chicken! ", he exploded, “we’ll see about that! Getin!" He had second thoughts, loaded my kit into it, and ordered me to push. . The truck outside the station held the pram, baggage and me. I had arrived for Initial Training.

Those of us who had been in the O.T.C. at school had an advantage. The drill, map reading, rifle ranges were second- nature; the N.C.O's ranks, the Officers' status, an open book. We knew the Platoon Sergeant, to be the most influential in the hierarchy! The barrack-room was a friendly, supportive haven. I was shocked see that nobody slept in the sheets provided, but kept in lockers, to appear pristine for kit inspections. I wrote home for a pair-for inspection only!

Two occasions brought the war starkly nearer: when we went to Plymouth and Exeter, to clear up after the air raids the nights before.

After six weeks a posting to R.M.O.C.T.U., at Thurlstone. This Course followed the traditional pattern. An hotel had been taken over, with squash courts, and swimming pool. A dozen horses occupied the stables. All of us had to compete in Trials and I was surprised to be at the top of the competition, until it was pointed out that there were two Winters, and that Winter R. appeared near the bottom of the list!

My parents came down for a holiday, nearby. My father, a keen golfer, told me that he had found a partner, who would dine with us. Yes, it was my Section Sergeant! Leaving, he joked, "I won't hold this against you"

PREPARING FOR D-DAY

The Mobile Base Defence Organisation provided gunners for three Batteries of 2.pounder anti-tank guns. As a Troop Commander I became capable of directing four of these toys en ranges of Salisbury Plain.

Early in 1944 we were re-armed with.17 Pounder A/T guns. Almost at once, our battery and two others were converted to Amphibian Centaur tanks mounting 95-mm. howitzers. My Command tank was an American Sherman.

The dress rehearsal for D.Day took place on Slapton Sands, in Start Bay. A variety of vessels converged from the North and South, and upon the signal turned Westward, to approach line abreast. At that moment four American L.C.Ms tangled, and many lives were lost. We made the shingle beach, lined along it, and engaged allotted targets inshore. I found directing fire for four on the rear-of my tank, and spreading the map on the turret top in front of me.

A pause let me glance behind us. A line of "brass-hats" strolled along the foreshore. Two of them began walking towards us. Stopping at the tank's side General Montgomery turned to his Aide, “Ask the man why he's outside his tank. “When I explained that the driver, two gunners, my plotter were crowd enough without me, he grunted, and went back to his cronies!

D-DAY

The three Batteries slipped into the Channel on the night of D.-l. Each Troop in two L.C.Ts., in close order. The Sherman, astern of two Centaurs, two Centaurs on the second L.C.T. on the starboard beam. As dawn broke a strong southerly wind made the going choppy, and uncomfortable. As expected, the guns on 'Arethusa' opened fire, her missiles hissing overhead. Soon 'Warspite' joined the creeping barrage, aiming first, on the beach, next the Coast Road between Arromanche and Coursseulles, then to 16000 yards inland, which, we found later, had aborted any armoured attacks aimed at driving the invaders off. The ships' guns delivered their last broadside at 06.55, at a range of 16000 yards.

We ran in on Juno Beach, firing ahead of a Company of the 3rd.Canadian Division, then turned the fire on to St.Aubin, on our left, which would be the landing place for 48 R.M. Commando. As our ramp went down a Navy Beach Officer directed us to a steep passage, cleared of mines. With the benefit of the slope, and maximum elevation, two guns destroyed the wooden spire of Berniere's church, from which sniper fire continued. Further damage from our guns was stopped by a furious Artillery Major-"That's to be the best O.P. for my guns. The Canadians are going up now, to deal with the bastards-without knocking it down!"

It was time to rendezvous with our other two tanks. We moved, in single file, onto the coast road, towards Courselles, where street-fighting was still going on, but our tanks' machine-guns gave us passage, until, we were confronted by our own tanks on their way to meet us. A U-turn of three tanks damaged the 'entente cordialle' by knocking into more houses than the bombardment had done!

United, we went back to Berniere and found an ideal site, in a field of flattened corn. Even the farmer-agreed that our need was more important than his, and handed me three baskets of eggs!

Even on D+2 a German artillery unit at our backs continued to operate. From the opposite direction guns of the Radar at Douvres found our range. On D+3 we engaged them at dawn, in support, as it turned out, of an infantry attack, which by the end of the morning, succeeded. On D+4 the enemy guns at our back were silenced. There 45 Commando found the exhausted crews, and took them prisoners.

We moved with the initial attack upon Caen, but were ordered back to Ouistram where our tanks were driven into the River Orne, to sink to become part of the foundations of a Bailey bridge. On D+15 a Troopship took us to Portsmouth - and leave.

Foot Note. 'As late as February 1944 the-plan to simply supply artillery support before the normal field regiments of the Royal Artillery could come ashore, was changed. This meant that the Marines should drive ashore and operate as self-propelled Artillery, so modifications were made, would remain mobile and the tank would be the platform. We were the first Royal Marines to fight in tanks, our job, to break the crust of the enemy defences. Intended solely for preliminary support we were instructed to limit our action to a week ashore and not to advance more than a mile from the beach. In the actual fighting the pressure of events took charge. So useful, and indeed essential was the support given by the, tank guns that the Armoured Support Group remained ashore for 15 days, and operated up to ten miles inland.’
Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart
By the summer of 1944 the Russian Front required German troops of quality. Rommel's Afrika Corps had been destroyed, so the occupying forces of Europe were called upon to reinforce the Eastern Front. They were drawn from France, except between Boulogne and Le Havre, where the Germans expected the invasion. Normandy was occupied by units resting from their Russian offensives, and the call-up of 17 year-old nationals.

The British High Command chose Normandy as the entry into Europe. This coastline had provided the perfect landing, and the withdrawal, of countless Agents. Escaping P.O.W's were directed further south to the Spanish border. In particular, the Cherbourg peninsular had been a favourite holiday venue for the British.

Fraternization had been minimal, so the Germans were determined to hold their lines. They fought hard to prevent an enemy foothold. Had they known of the detailed planning of this invasion, that, for instance the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, was, between D.Day and the capture of Le Havre on September 12th, the entry to the Normandy Campaigns for, some 2,200,000 men, 4,000,000 tons of stores, and more than 450,000 vehicles. Had the Germans known of this capability, their Generals would have been wise to retire to defensive positions on their own borders. They had already lost the Battle for Europe.

ONWARD JOURNEYS

Leave came to an end with a signal requiring the Battery to proceed to St. Andrews, Fife. We occupied a tented campsite, and were required to gather in the flax harvest!

When peace was declared in Europe the unit was sent, by train, to Kiel. Here, as the Army of Occupation to a relieved but sullen population. We took the chance to visit Denmark, and founded the British Kiel Yacht Club! A variety of boats were being mustered for return to their rightful owners in France and Holland. They provided superb sailing at the western end of the Baltic.

All good things come to an end-the war against Japan was calling for reinforcements. We embarked on a Troop-ship. This took us to Bombay, via Cape Town. We moved to Madh Island, some 60 miles north of the city. New American amphibious tanks became our modus vivendi, and we were ready to support 42,44, and 48 Marine Commandos, and an Indian Division, to invade the Arakan on the West coast of Burma. In the event the attack proceeded success- fully without us. The approach, and much of the hinterland, was regarded unsuitable for tanks. Island shoals, swamp, and then thick jungle would have led to disaster for any tank deployment. Following the dropping of the Atom bombs Japan sued for peace.

Our Battery embarked upon H.M.S. Theseus, an aircraft carrier, for Java. It was good to know that another ship of that name had escorted Napoleon to St. Helena/the Marines of that ship becoming his jailers.

Docking at Surabaya we found the P.O.W camps held a high proportion of Dutch and other Europeans who had worked on the island, a Dutch Colony. Their guards were Japanese. It was fortunate and imperative that they remained so, for the Nationalists of both Java and Sumatra would, given the chance, rid themselves of their European masters. After the evacuation of all Europeans had been completed, the Japanese were disarmed, and incarcerated, until ships and flights returned them to Japan.

We flew back to Calcutta, then by train across India, to Madh Island. Another troop-ship, to England, this time through the Suez Canal, to Southampton, and demobilization from Eastney Barracks, Portsmouth.

Three of us were recommended for permanent Commissions and a date was given for us to re-join. Upon reflection we all rejected the idea! Jack and I communicated this to the proper authority, Tec did not. In due course he was arrested by the M.Ps. He was escorted to Portsmouth to explain his A.W.O.L.!

In due time Jack went back to Oxford to complete his Degree, Tec. to York to read Medicine, and I, a freshman at Cambridge!

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