The Allies still only had a slim foothold on the French coast. The Germans were stiffening their response, even though Hitler was retaining very significant forces in the Pas de Calais area, waiting for the ‘second invasion’. Those Panzer divisions that were ordered to the front were making slow progress as they encountered the Allied tactical airforces, just as Rommel had predicted.
Jack Swaab was an artillery officer with the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. He had kept his diary throughout the North African campaign and his unit had then returned to England. They arrived off the coast of Normandy on the 7th June and it was some time before they could get ashore:
8th June 1944
1330, near Bayville: Eventually our L.C.T. cast off at about 2300 just as it was getting dark. We spent the night on her in the harbour. The Skipper, a very decent Sub. Lt. R.N.V.R. gave us stew, pudding and coffee and we spent the night on deck with one blanket. Noisy night with the intermittent air raids. The harbour a mass of coloured flak. One or two bombs too close for comfort. 2 ships set on fire and a huge green fire on the beach.
Up early today and bleary eyed. We had to go about 120 yards in 3 foot 6 of water, but made it O.K. and soon after 9 set foot on the sands of France. (I did remember my promise to C.) The beach was covered (it was low tide) with broken obstacles and ‘drowned’ vehicles. All over the upper beach where they had landed at night tide lay the L.S.T.s, L.C.T.s and multiple other craft looking like the skeletons of prehistoric animals.
Then on inland, where all the houses are smashed, tanks lie broken everywhere and all the usual relics (human and otherwise) of war were on view. The few remaining locals were friendly enough and waved a greeting. Signposting and general organisation first class, and the long line of trucks, halftracks etc. rolled inland on the dusty road almost without pause. Mines were numerous beyond belief.
1740: I had to dash off on Recce as I wrote the above. We are now in action near Revier. Bayeux has fallen to us. Have a bloody headache. Yesterday too. Am taking too many Veganin.
Only now am I able to return to this as we’ve been in action since my last bit. Now, at midnight, I am getting tired. Outside comes desultory shellfire, or a shower of flak as a raider comes over and unloads. I can hear the heavy beat of bombs at the moment. Also one can hear m.g. fire and occasionally a nearby rifle or Sten shot as nervous sentries shoot at shadows — or each other — for snipers are still in evidence.
The Middlesex on our position have already had casualties this way jerry resistance seems to be stiffening according to local reports and he is said to have 2 Armoured Divs. in Caen.
I saw about 200 prisoners being marched back today. Some were very young (16 or so), others fairly old. They did not look cowed, but rather defiant, and were being firmly handled by their Canadian guards.
Among things I noted coming ashore were the lovely fields of wild flowers enclosed by barbed wire and the grim skull and crossbones sign of the word ‘MINEN’ — MINES …a wonderful bunch of huge red poppies growing alongside some white peonies … the dusty roads which made one’s jeep throw up a dust wake like a destroyer.
This is a good position overlooking a bakery and in some trees. My Command Post is in an orchard. Stand to at 0545 tomorrow so I’ll turn in soon for some needed sleep as I had only 3 uneasy hours last night and no shave till 1100.
To hear the radio reports of flowers and joy you’d think this was a carnival. Still it’s good to hear the news bulletins if only through knowing one makes them!
Jack Swaab was travelling in a Jeep, as was Montgomery pictured above.
The Jeep was ubiquitous in Normandy
It fulfilled any number of transport roles for the Allies. For those interested in military vehicles, whether to restore vehicles or to build models, the Landcraft series of publications provides all the information anyone might want and more. Published in 2019 The Jeep: Second World War (LandCraft 1)gives the full history of how the vehicle was developed, much technical detail about its construction and a wealth of original photographs of Jeeps in the field, restored Jeeps, and models.
The Jeep was only 52 inches (1.32m) high. The fold-flat windscreen would become a well-used feature, not least as it reduced reflection from the upright glass, a giveaway to enemy spotters. Some Jeep units even had specially tailored canvas windscreen covers to mount over the windscreen and its frame to eliminate the chance of reection from the glass.
The tilt, or hood was made of fabric dyed as close to olive drab as possible, although some beige hoods have been cited. The canvas hood could easily be folded and its steel hoops collapsed. A hood storage locker was supplied in the cabin. The hood’s material was chemically impregnated with a waterproong compound and with an anti-mildew substance. Fire-resistance came from chemical treatment, but this had a short life when exposed to the elements.
A strong, welded-steel mounting pintle was placed between the seats to provide a mount for guns or even a rocket launcher/ bazooka. Perhaps by accident, it allowed a large degree of elevation for such weapons.
Of note: after D-Day, Jeeps in Normandy and its locale were soon seen with a strange vertically mounted metal ‘post’ standing over five feet high from a mounting and bracing on the front bumper. This was a wire-cutting device that would cut any wires placed at head-height across a road that could decapitate the driver and occupants. This trick was a desperate late-1944 tactic deployed by some German units in France and required a swift, ‘bolt-on’ solution by the Allies after several Jeep crews were killed driving at high speed into such razor-wire traps