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!