- Contributed by
- Stockton Libraries
- People in story:
- Ron Griffiths "Cherub"
- Location of story:
- D Day
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 August 2005
Sixty years after experiencing the most exciting and dramatic day in my whole life, I can still recall most vividly that day. It commenced when I was awakened around 3 am with a cup of tea by a steward, after surprisingly some four to five hours sleep in one of the ship’s officers’s cabins. The vessel was a merchant ship of approx. five thousand tons manned by a naval crew. This was followed by a traditional English breakfast served in the dining room by the ship’s stewards, who were dressed in their white jackets in view of the day ahead ~ it seemed so surreal.
On that day, June 6th 1944, I was twenty years old and a second lieutenant in the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment, which was part of the 50th TT Northumbrian Division. Our task was to storm the coastal defences between Le Hamel and La Riveire, an area code named ‘Gold Beach’ and penetrate as far as Bayeux. My personal task was to land with a jeep and radio operator (named a Contact Patrol) with the assaulting Infantry, with the sole purpose of moving about (similar to a roving reporter) reporting directly by radio to
Div HQ where ever the advance was being held up by enemy action (and so by-passing the usual five different lines channels at a very critical period of time, speeding up the line of communication).
My immediate responsibility was to cover the areas of 231 Brigade HQ and the reserve battalion 2nd Devon of the Brigade and under my command I had two other Contact Patrols consisting of a NCO and radio operator who were to land on foot and were attached to the two assaulting battalions of the Brigade, which were the 1st Dorsets and 1st Hampshires. Returning to the preparation for the landing, together with my radio operator (Trooper Worthington) we assembled around on the deck of the ship alongside the LCM (landing craft mechanised) which had one board the jeep. The LCM was hanging from davits (which normally held the lifeboats) and when this was lowered into the sea the drill was to clamber down scrambling nets to make the transfer but with the rough seas that were running, this was rather hair-raising, to such an extent that if such conditions had been experienced on exercises they would have been cancelled. The weather was not good ~ a cold, very dull morning and low cloud.
There was a further jeep on the LCM and as soon as that crew were aboard it we cast off from the mother ship and for the next 90 minutes we went around in circles about five miles out from the shore whilst the flotilla of landing craft assembled into the correct order for approaching the shore. Cruising around was very unpleasant because the sea was so rough ~ I learnt later the wind was gale force 4/5.
Around 6.30 the assault craft very slowly, shepherded by RN motor launches, moved into line and then headed for the shore at about 4/5 knots. At this stage it had become exceedingly noisy because not only was every RN warship firing their heavy guns (HMS Warspite was very near) at the enemy positions ashore, but there were also LCT’s (landing craft tanks) armed with batteries of rockets and RA (Royal Artillery) firing 25 lb assault guns. The barrage was non-stop together with RAF anti-tank firing at targets on shore. As far as the eye could see there were ships of every description together with old Merchant Ships in the process of being sunk to act as breakwater’s for the ‘Mulberry Harbour’ opposite Arramanches. The scene was not surprising, when I learnt, there were over 6000 ships involved that day.
For the next 50 minutes we cruised slowly towards the shore with the few troops that were aboard having nothing to do but to sit there, not feeling particularly comfortable, as if we were tourists, except we were surrounded by all these ships with most of them with guns making a hell of a racket, firing over our heads and the shells sounding like express trains going in the direction of the German defences ashore. The shore scene began to look very ominous, a most unlikely tourist picture, not only was it a dark overcast sky but the land was also dark with even blacker clouds that were being created by exploding shells. About half a mile from the beach our craft increased speed and details ashore became much clearer ~ a handful of vehicles on fire, a limited number of bods moving about and much closer at hand the anti-tank obstacles which had explosives attached which members of Royal Engineers were in the process of dismantling ~ very brave chaps (particularly with this armada of ships bearing down upon them).
The only person aboard who had something to do to occupy his mind, was the RM coxswain and unfortunately he was becoming somewhat excitable ~ I could say he was becoming panicky and I got the feeling as we got nearer to the beach he was not going to hang about when he got there!
About 400 yards from the shoreline the craft grounded, the ramp went down ~ I started the jeep’s engine and moved off into the water and had only motored 30 to 50 yards when the jeep suddenly took a nosedive into much deeper water and disappeared completely (EITHER THE CRAFT HIT A SANDBANK OR THE JEEP RAN INTO A SHELLHOLE). On recovering from the immediate shock of finding oneself in the water I realised I was out of my depth and looked around for Worthington (who was taller than me at about
6 ft) to find he was swimming out to sea to retrieve his hat, which did not please me and I said as much in no uncertain terms. He got the message and assisting each other we strugglesd towards the beach with the whizzing sound of bullets and the exploding in the water of the enemies shelling.
The beach at that time, 7.35 am, surprisingly did not seem particularly busy ~ only a handful of bods moving ~ a larger number of prone bodies ~ a limited number of vehicles moving, but more either knocked out or on fire, emitting oily black smoke. On our feet touching the beach we immediately went aground to avoid the flying bullets, but after crawling a very short distance decided to move by running as quickly as we could to get off the beach and further in land. This we did for about five hundred yards when we caught up with the assaulting infantry where again we went aground and to take stock of our situation, which was not good ~ wet through with only the kit we were wearing ~ importantly no fags or food ~ no vehicles ~ no radio ~ nothing and I had lost an unopened bottle of whisky.
Without a radio my task for the day could have ended abruptly, except we went searching for the other Contact Patrols which were under my command which we eventually found. In the meantime the Squadron Post Corporal had found me and having being on detachment from my Regiment for some weeks, he had a pile of mail, mainly from Mother and Audrey. At the top of the pile there was a picture postcard of Scarborough, posted by my parents on May 29th who had been staying at The Mount for the Whit weekend and on reading it I nearly deserted, as the message contained a sentence which read ‘Wish you were here’. (Although somewhat tattered I still have the message).
On meeting up with the other two patrols I found, between the three patrols, we only had one radio instead of three. With the limited equipment available to us, contact was maintained with the assaulting infantry and as much information as we could gather on the enemies activities was passed onto Divisional Headquarters for the next two days, until our role became superfluous. We survived those days by an old army practise of scrounging from other troops whenever we could. I cannot say I contributed much to the success of ‘Operation Overload’ except it can be said I made up the numbers. The following paragraph is an extract from a brief history of the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment written by our CO in NW Europe, Lt-Colonel P H A Brownrigg, DSO ~
"Nearly half the contact patrols with the assaulting infantry were killed or wounded on D Day, either on the beaches or before reaching them. Nevertheless, they justified themselves by getting much information back to Divisional Headquarters before it arrived by the normal channels and some of the patrols, whose sets had been shot up, did great work with their weapons".
My concluding recollection of D Day was watching in the sky that night the most spectacular fireworks display of my whole life. When dusk fell the Luftwaffe began sending over the odd plane to bomb the ships off shore and there were hundreds of ack-ack guns of every description firing and displaying tracers of different colours all over the sky. Naturally everything that goes up into the sky must come down and it did, in the form of shrapnel just as if it was raining.
On reflection I would possibly say the most fortunate happening on my day, was losing the jeep. If Worthington and I had got it on the beach at the time of our landing (a lull between the assaulting saves of infantry) we would have made such a good target for the enemy’s machine guns and artillery that were still firing onto the beach.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.