The Dawn of the Longest Day

#1
I'll leave someone else to mention the sterling work of the X-Craft and the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP) during the lead-up to the Normandy landings but I thought it appropriate today, exactly 69 years after 'D' Day, to publish the following excerpt from pages 114-120 of The Frogmen - The Story of the Wartime Underwater Operators by T J Waldron and James Gleeson (Evans Brothers Ltd, L0nd0n November 1950):

The first men ashore on "D" day were frogmen; this time they were called Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Units [Lockus]. There were a hundred and twenty of them and their object was to clear away the underwater obstructions and mines so that the assault craft could get on to the beach.

The frogmen who blasted a hole in the Nazis' Atlantic Wall, and enabled invasion craft to reach the Normandy beaches on "D" day were nearly all "hostilities only" men. The men who led the units were Lt. R. E. Billington, D.S.C. and Bar, R.N.V.R., aged 28, of Purley; Lt. H. Hargreaves, D.S.C., aged 21, a cotton salesman from Burnley; Lt. J. B. Taylor, D.S.C., R.N.V.R., aged 22, a Middlesex bank clerk; Lt. W. Brewster, D.S.C., R.N.V.R., aged 28, an Edinburgh bank clerk; Capt. A. B. Jackson, Royal Marines, a Dumfries bank cashier; C.S.M., D. J. R. Morss, R.M., a carpenter's mate from Herne Hill; Lt. D. J. Cogger, M.C., R.M., an engineer*ing apprentice from Canterbury; Sgt. P. H. Jones, D.S.M., R.M., a carpenter from Bournemouth; Lt. D. J. Smith, R.M., an assistant engineer from Purley, and Sgt. K. Briggs, D.S.M., R.M., from Dorking.

Hargreaves, Billington, Taylor, Briggs and Jones received their decorations for the Normandy invasion operation. Four others who were decorated were P.O. S. C. Eagles. D.S.M., a costing clerk from Manchester; P.O. F. Livingstone, D.S.M., a Hull carpenter; Cpl. E. Deans, D.S.M., a motor driver from Barrow-in-Furness, and Cpl. R. Headley, a Newcastle-on-Tyne apprentice engineer. So there you have them - bank clerks, engineers, carpenters, clerks and students. Some of them had previously served in midget submarines and the human torpedoes. All of these bank clerks, engineers, carpenters, clerks and students acquitted themselves nobly on "D" day.

A long time before the invasion of Normandy it had become apparent to us that the much vaunted Western Wall of the enemy extended not only to the shores of Europe but beyond them, and into the sea. This extension of the wall consisted of formidable obstacles laid right down to the low*water line in such a manner that they would soon be covered by a rising tide. The most formidable of these obstacles was known as "Element C. It was a two-and-a-half-ton mass of steel, constructed like a picket fence. It was ten feet high by ten feet broad and on a base which measured ten feet by fourteen feet. This had to be scientifically destroyed, because if it had been merely blown up carelessly it would still have been a formidable obstacle. Thirty-six small charges were placed at different positions on the obstruction and when they were all exploded it fell to pieces, and no part of it was more than eighteen inches above the sea bottom.

Frogmen demolishing Element C med.jpg

There were metal objects standing some five feet high in the form of pyramids. There were other steel obstacles known as "Hedgehogs" which looked like a six-pointed star. Every one of these devices was festooned with mines or shells so that even the lightest touch of an invasion craft would have set them off. In any case, even if the mine or shell had not exploded, the obstacles themselves would have ripped the bottom out of any craft which touched it, and rendered it useless, or even sunk it on the spot. This then was the task of these frogmen, the task for which they had been training since the Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Units had been started in January 1944 at H.M.S. Appledore in the little village of Appledore on the North Devon Coast.

In charge of the training units was Lt.Commander Davis, R.N.R., of Hereford, formerly of the Boom Defence Com*mandos from which the Locku Boys developed. With him was Chief Petty Officer D. P. Reid, an Appledore man and former merchant service bos'n, who put every one of the men through their underwater swimming tests, and was responsible, in all, for about twenty thousand dives.

In their thin rubber diving suits fitted with helmets and breathing apparatus and with huge rubber fins attached to their feet, these men worked and trained steadily until they became experts in the art of swimming under water for long periods of time, in handling dangerous explosives, and preparing to meet any emergency - and deal with it. Their moment came at H hour on "D" day when ten units (four Royal Navy and six Royal Marines) went into action and remained in action until the underwater defences had been cleared and the Allied armies established ashore. They worked in the face of enemy shell and mortar fire. They were sniped at and subjected to underwater blast from exploding shells and mines. This is what Lt. H. Hargreaves, D.S.C., the cotton salesman from Manchester, said about it:

"The invasion of Normandy to the average person was the greatest combined operation that had ever taken place, and that in fact was the truth. However, few people know of the work carried out by small, special units, both before the operation, and during the initial assaults. We were one of the small units which had this particular role to play. A role which was not easy, and from which many of us did not expect to return, but one which we were determined to carry out until our work was completed. For the invasion of Normandy the Force Commanders used approximately a hundred and twenty officers and men of the Locku units divided into ten parties, or units. Each unit had an officer and eleven men, and each was allotted to its own beach and had its own particular job to do. In my case, and that of a brother officer, we found ourselves detailed to deal with the obstacles on a beach near the village of La Riviere.

"We were supposed to go in at H hour, which was the very beginning of the assault. We were dropped into our craft from an L.S.I. at seven o'clock in the morning and went hell*for-leather for the beach, and arrived hoping to find the front row of obstacles on the water's edge, and not in the water, but discovered some two or three feet of water over them. We left our craft and got to work at once on posts with mines secured to the tops of them, specially constructed wooden ramps which were mined, and steel hedgehogs with mines and anti-aircraft shells on top of them, and we were subjected the whole time to quite a hot fire from rockets, shells and bombs.

"We must have been about four hundred yards from the beach when the firing first started, and they didn't forget to inform us that they knew we were coming. When we finally got on the beach we discovered that we were being systematically sniped, not only with rifles but also by odd bursts of machine-gun fire - a most unpleasant experience - but one that we soon got used to. As time went on we almost forgot about it until we realised that opposition was dying down because in the meantime the Army had landed and was dealing with machine-gun posts, mortar posts, and all the other unpleasant places Jerry had prepared for us.

"The weather was very much worse than anyone would have expected in June, and we had the greatest difficulty working in a very heavy surf. It was hard going and we soon got pretty tired, but in the meantime the obstacles were being slowly but systematically destroyed. As we made an initial gap for the landing craft to come through, so we increased the size of the gap as time went on. We succeeded in clearing the whole of the beach some thousand yards in length, with obstacles going out to over four hundred yards by the end of "D" day.

"That didn't end our work, of course, although the worst was over. Landing craft of all shapes and sizes were simply pouring on to the beach, and in the meantime, having cleared that beach, we had to proceed to another beach and get rid of the obstacles there. In all, we successfully disposed of over two thousand five hundred obstacles, practically every one mined, in addition to this, as a sort of savoury, we cleared the explosives out of half a dozen beetle tanks.

"Not long before 'D' day a special jacket had been invented to protect us against that terrible blast which can be experienced when a mine or shell explodes underwater. This jacket was known as a 'Kapok Jacket' and was worn underneath our swim suits. It proved to be a most wonderful thing, and saved the lives of no less than three of my men. One of my petty officers, who was working in about six feet of water, had a shell or mortar bomb explode in the water quite close to him, and although he was completely knocked out, and in fact paralysed for several hours, he had no injuries whatever, and no after effects. A Royal Engineer who was swimming towards the beach from one of the landing craft, and was some distance farther away from the explosion than the petty officer, was killed outright, and I have no doubt that many men suffered the same fate on that day.

"I would like to make it quite clear that we don't in any way look upon ourselves as supermen, or heroes, or anything like that at all, and we did not by any means clear all the obstacles off the beaches in time for the landing craft to get in. There were nowhere near enough of us to have hoped to do it. What we could, and did do, was to clear an initial gap for the landing craft to beach safely, and to increase that gap as quickly as possible until the beach was entirely free from obstacles.

"Consequently many of the landing craft who didn't use the gap, because of the simple fact that there just wasn't room for them, struck obstacles, or had holes blown in them or their bottoms torn out, with the result that many men had to swim ashore with full equipment.

"When our original job had been completed we had to keep our reputation as 'Jack the Handyman' by doing many jobs to assist on the beaches, such as winching drowned vehicles out of the water. We did this by taking a wire with a hook on the end, right out to sea in our swim suits and breathing sets, hook up the vehicle, come to the surface and signal to the operator ashore to start up his winch, which he did, and pulled the drowned vehicle up high and dry. We helped to unload stores, we cleared mines, we assisted the Royal Engineers, in fact we did everything except mind the babies, and if there had been any there we would have done that too.

"Throughout the landings, in all ten units, the total casualties were two frogmen killed and ten wounded - some seriously. Lt. Hargreaves was wounded in the shoulder, but carried on. One of the coolest pieces of work was done by Sgt. K. Briggs, D.S.M., R.M., who, although he was being sniped at all the time, rendered a hundred charges safe, single-handed.

On another beach at West Capelle was Sub-Lt. I. A. P. Rumsey, D.S.C., R.N.V.R., whose home is in Lisbon. He said:

"We were spotted from a tower ashore and were subjected to pretty heavy mortar fire during which a petty officer was killed and two men were wounded. Later the R.A.F. blotted out the tower and things were more comfortable although shells still kept coming over. One shell destroyed our breathing apparatus, which we had not been using as the tide was low. When the water came up later, Leading-Seaman A. Robertson and myself tried staying underwater by holding our breath. We blew about fifteen obstacles in this way, but we couldn't keep it up. We carried on next morning, after sleeping in a R.A.F. crater, where incidentally we were subjected to fire from an 88mm gun.

"This party became short of food and an expedition went into the shattered town to forage. "We found a chicken," said Lt. Rumsey, "which was very difficult to catch, and even more difficult to kill. We also found some black bread and some German spam. I don't know if it was because I was so hungry, but that spam tasted better than any we ever had at home."
I was proud to be a friend of the Petty Officer who, thanks to his Kapok Jacket, survived the explosion in the water "quite close to him". He eventually became Lt Cdr Robbie Robinson MBE RN who suffered pain from his injuries right up to his death in March 2004.
 

janner

MIA
Book Reviewer
#2
A good time to remember Gordon Newman, Gordon was an X Boat swimmer who did some of the exploration work on beach densities prior to the landings. Gordon crossed the bar about 3 years ago. A good friend and gentleman. RIP mate
 

wet_blobby

War Hero
Moderator
#3
If we are raising a toast, then I'll have a sip and raise my glass to my grandfather who landed on Sword beach on D Day. Brave buggers the lot of them.
 

pg55555

Lantern Swinger
#6
.

Channel 4 has a "live" webpage recording hour-by-hour of seven survivors ;

D-Day Home

IF you click on "George" (an X-Boat X-23 commander) you will find his story stretching back to 12th March 1944.
 
#8
My Gampy Scott flew in by glider at Normandy, my other Grampy was in Italy.

Today I count myself lucky still and thank my Grampy's and those like them for what I have today.

RIP I know I will always remember
 
#9
Watched the CH5 documentary last night, didn't realise the massive loss of life at OMAHA was largely contributable to the US leaders cowardice in dropping off tanks too far from the beach, where they promptly sank, and the stubborn refusal of US commanders to use Flail tanks.
 
#10
Very interesting program on TV last night on channel 5 covering the various inventions created for the invasion. Culminated with the meeting up of three veterans, a german,american, and a RN capt of one of the landing craft. Like many of you no doubt, I have been all around the various sites and the museums in Normandy and felt the enormous effort that was made. God rest their souls who perished on those beaches.
 
#12
The guy that got my interest was the Yank that took part in Operations Torch, invasion of North Africa, Husky, the invasion of Sicily, Tiger, the fiasco at Slapton Sands and finally Neptune, the invasion of Normandy. Did he land at Omaha beach? Did he survive the slaughter there? Did he survive the war?
 
#14
My Gampy Scott flew in by glider at Normandy, my other Grampy was in Italy.

Today I count myself lucky still and thank my Grampy's and those like them for what I have today.

RIP I know I will always remember
Tommo, I'm posting this on the main site rather than PM you in case it may be of interest to others but you mentioned your Granfather who saw service in Italy. Through my day job, I have a long standing link with the Italy Star Association who hold their annual reunion in the Chichester area in May each year. This year, the 'D Day Dodgers' 'First into Europe' as they like to call themselves celebrated the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Sicily and Italy, next year, they are making plans for a tour and pilgrimage of Monte Cassino and the 70th Anniversary of the Battles of Monte Cassino. They are very active in wanting to recruit friends, relatives of holders of the Italy Star to keep the memory alive of that sometimes forgotten campaign 'Who said Italy was going to be warm and dry' as a 90 yr old said to me this year. 27 of the veterans were 'on parade' this year. If anyone would like to join the Italy Star Association here are the contact details or PM me. Thanks for reading this. Italy Star Association 1943-1945
 

FireMonkey

Lantern Swinger
#15
Divers pay was well earned on that day!

I have nothing but the utmost respect for that generation. I would love to stand up with pride and say that my grandparents were there on the beaches of D-day, but unfortunately one granddad was a crab living the life in sierra leone and the other couldn't serve for medical reasons.

Nice little British Pathe video on LCOCU

NAVAL FROGMEN - LCOCU - British Pathé
 
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#17
Tommo, I'm posting this on the main site rather than PM you in case it may be of interest to others but you mentioned your Granfather who saw service in Italy. Through my day job, I have a long standing link with the Italy Star Association who hold their annual reunion in the Chichester area in May each year. This year, the 'D Day Dodgers' 'First into Europe' as they like to call themselves celebrated the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Sicily and Italy, next year, they are making plans for a tour and pilgrimage of Monte Cassino and the 70th Anniversary of the Battles of Monte Cassino. They are very active in wanting to recruit friends, relatives of holders of the Italy Star to keep the memory alive of that sometimes forgotten campaign 'Who said Italy was going to be warm and dry' as a 90 yr old said to me this year. 27 of the veterans were 'on parade' this year. If anyone would like to join the Italy Star Association here are the contact details or PM me. Thanks for reading this. Italy Star Association 1943-1945
Thank you for that. I will pass the info on to my father as it was his dad who fought in Dunkirk, Africa and then Italy. He died when I was 1 year old in '79. My mothers father fought in Dunkirk, D-Day, Arnhem, hidden by a farmer then helped to liberate Belsen. He later lost his right leg to gangrene when the shracknel that remained in his leg after the war effected him in his 70's. He was recruiting SGT at Redruth Army Recruitment office in the 50's
 
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#18
If we are raising a toast, then I'll have a sip and raise my glass to my grandfather who landed on Sword beach on D Day. Brave buggers the lot of them.
And me - Dad landed with the Hampshires (sorry Dad, ROYAL Hampshires). Only time he'd ever talk about it was on New Year's Eve, when he'd had a few. He still cursed the Elmer boat driver, who promised to put them on the beach feet dry, hit a sandbar, and reversed from underneath them, leaving them chest deep a long way from shore, with "every ferkin German gun in France shooting at me personally". So here's to you Dad, and all those who went with you. You might not have won medals for gallantry. but you and all the other lads were heroes to me - and always will be.
 

Guns

War Hero
Moderator
#19
My Grandad was SAS during the war and I once asked him if he was on the landings. He gave some vague answer. It wasn't till I want to join the Navy and then once I had that he full opened up.

For months prior to D-Day he had been behind enemy lines doing recon etc. On D-Day he and his men were allowed to go and spread confusion. In fact he arrived at a small village in Normandy to find the Germans wanted to surrender to him and his three oppos. So he order the 50 Germans to drop their arms in the river and go to the large barn. He then radioed to get troops to come and secure the village. Of course he couldn't raise anyone so got the locals to pass a message and eventually some Yanks turned up.

Here is a photo of him just after D-Day with his jeep.

Edited to add - still a shit beret Grandad
PS - Miss you.
 

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