This is my blog. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment. If you have any personal interest in the battle for Normandy and would like to have an answer to a query you may have contact me.
This is my blog. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment. If you have any personal interest in the battle for Normandy and would like to have an answer to a query you may have contact me.
General Dwight D Eisenhower the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces on D-Day
It has often been said that the ultimate place where leadership is needed is on the battlefield and in a war. What is there that we can learn from 1944 and is it still relevant today?
General Eisenhower and his Generals knew that once their sailors, airmen and soldiers went into battle, junior officers would command them; there wouldn’t be the “top brass” alongside them in the initial landings. The officers and men of the Allied Forces were allowed and empowered to work on their own initiative. At times they may have found themselves fighting without an officer or NCO in place or even on their own. They didn’t wait for someone to tell them what to do – they were proactive because they were allowed to be.
On the other hand, the Germans were crippled with the way that Hitler had effectively taken over command of the military forces and soldiers were too scared and not allowed to act unless they had direct orders from above. Elite German troops and tanks were not committed until it was too late because Hitler was asleep. Nobody woke him and therefore in the critical first few hours they lost the opportunity to repel the Allied invaders.
The Germans had a top down structure, whereas by now the Allies were bottom up.
General Eisenhower commanded one of the largest and almost certainly the most complicated military forces ever. He had, however, in his career very rarely even been in earshot of battle, let alone command and fought in a front line unit. He wasn’t your traditional “up and at them” leader he was more of a “chairman of the board”. He built a team of experts below him that were more capable than him at dealing with front line issues and planning. Eisenhower used his statesman’s skills (that would enable him to have two terms as the President of the USA) to build a team that was not only across the three services, but also from different nationalities. He was an American in charge overall, but he cleverly made the next level of command all from the British Services. He was protective over his team and famously “sacked” one of his best American officers that was heard to moan about the “limeys”. He managed to placate the famously prickly General Montgomery and even the aloof General de Gaulle.
Before the likes of Belbin and Myers Briggs, Eisenhower instinctively knew how to build a balanced team, understand people and wasn’t afraid to surround himself with those more expert then himself.
The Allies had invested a huge amount of time and money in intelligence and deception by the time the landings took place. Alan Turing and his famous team at Bletchley Park had cracked the German codes and could listen in on their enemy’s communications. Fake armies were created using dummies of tanks, planes and trucks to deceive the enemy. Even the radio traffic of “phantom” armies was created knowing and allowing the Germans to listen in.
Hobart’s “funnies”, a whole division of mechanized tanks and vehicles, were created and deployed with the exact intention of overcoming the German defences. Specialized landing craft, and in particular the Higgins boat, were also developed to land troops on the beaches, and of course the incredible Mulberry Harbours were produced.
When the Allies landed, the Germans were amazed at the amount of vehicles that they had. The Germans were still using horses as their primary mode of transportation.
All of the above and much more was cutting edge technology of its time. An environment had been created that allowed people to come up with solutions to overcome problems by the use of the latest ideas and materials.
Eisenhower was an expert in planning and logistics. The Allies spent years planning the invasion. When the Americans entered the war in December 1941 after the attack by the Japanese on Hawaii you would think that the Pacific War would be their priority. They, however, realised that the true threat to world peace came from the Germans, and even though the Americans did fight prior to D Day in the pacific and North Africa they always knew that their No 1 strategic goal was the invasion of Europe and the defeat of Germany. They used specialized expert committees to come up with plans that were then brought into the main overall plan for the day.
The planning was cascaded down to commanding officers of regiments, battalions and companies. The best plans were those that weren’t too complicated – such as the taking of Pointe du Hoc or Pegasus Bridge – as opposed to the incredibly intricate detailed plan for the taking of the Merville Battery.
The British & Commonwealth forces and the Americans were aligned with one common main objective: the defeat of Nazi Germany. They knew what they had to do first. Overall, it was a simple plan and they committed to it.
It is said: “you cannot go into battle without a plan, but as soon as you go into battle, out goes the plan”. The world doesn’t behave in the way that we always want or plan. On 6th June a lot of things went wrong: gliders and paratroopers landed in the wrong places, poor weather, bombers missed their targets or were ineffective, wrong intelligence, equipment not arriving, timings going wrong and friendly fire (there’s nothing friendly about being killed by your own side). The Allies ultimately overcame these problems and even had an acronym for it: SNAFU – Situation Normal All F*@$!d Up. They knew things would go wrong, but they just got on with it. They didn’t stop and wait – this was life or death.
They were versatile and proactive.
Eisenhower was a student of the American military academy at West Point. He graduated in 1915 middle of the class. He did, however, stick out as someone that was open minded and self motivated. He spent all of his life learning. He put himself forward, willing and able for a variety of postings and positions. He realised that the future and key for an officer in the modern army would be clear orders and the moving of supplies and men. He learnt from the people around him and allowed them to help him. He looked for and used mentors such as General Fox Conner, an army intellectual who would persuade Eisenhower that the future of land warfare was the tank.
This attitude of constant learning resulted in Eisenhower being open minded and willing to listen to new ideas and opinions, whether it was from a General or a Private.
By the time of the D Day landings, the Allies had a lot of experience to call on. Eisenhower was appointed not just because of his character, but he also had experience from being involved in and commanding amphibious invasions in North Africa and Italy. He was the best man for the job.
The allies had also learnt from the debacle of Dieppe that they couldn’t attack a port and needed specialised equipment to succeed in a tri-service operation.
They had learnt the better ways to structure and command units. The old “Officer Class” was being replaced with a new system of reward and promoting people on a meritocracy, not based on their old school tie or time spent. It was now a system of character development and training with some of the best officers and men involved in that training.
It is very easy to look back today and believe that the D Day landings were always going to be a success. At the time, however, it was an incredibly difficult and uncertain endeavour. Eisenhower had even written a letter that would be released in the event of the invasion floundering “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone”.
It was a massive risk to take; there had been nothing like it before. The allies could have waited longer until they had more men, more tanks, more equipment and better weather. Eisenhower took a huge risk landing on 6th June knowing the weather was poor and that his aircraft wouldn’t have good visibility. However, if he had delayed the invasion for perfect weather, the next opportunity with the correct tides and moonlight would have been the 19th June. As it happened, on that day there was a huge storm and the invasion would have been impossible. This would have meant that the invasion would have been delayed yet again. At this point the Germans would have been even better prepared and in a better position to repel the invaders.
Eisenhower and his staff knew that to wait for perfect meant not starting at all – and if they had the world would be a very different place today.
It’s ok to have all of your plans in place and orders written, but the leaders on D Day were judged by their actions. Of course Eisenhower couldn’t be with the frontline troops, but the day before he spent time visiting his airborne troops at Greenham Common; chatting with them, reassuring them and generally helping improve morale.
When the troops were in a hopeless situation on Omaha beach it was some of the senior and junior officers on the beach that assessed the situation, took the initiative and started to lead men off the beach. These were ordinary men that the world has now largely forgotten. When the troops on Utah landed in the wrong place, the son of Theodore Roosevelt took control and said, “The war starts here”. It wasn’t just officers – Sgt Hollis VC led British troops off of Gold beach.
They were present though, by being visible and by setting an example to their men. They weren’t being judged by their words alone, they were being judged and followed because of their actions – what they were doing.
It was said that the Allies were lucky and there does appear to be some truth in it – that Hitler was asleep, that the Panzers were in the wrong place and not mobilised, it was Rommel’s wife’s birthday, that explosives weren’t placed on Pegasus Bridge, the list goes on. Equally however, the allies had their fair share of bad luck – the weather was poor, the German crack 352nd unit was at Omaha, bombers missed their targets and troops landed in the wrong places.
The truth is that luck does play an element, but because the allies had learnt from the past, invested in technology and training, had built great teams, had taken risks, delegated, been flexible and had a plan in place they were able to overcome their bad luck, exploit their good luck and create their own luck.
Many of today’s leaders would do well by looking at the Lessons of Leadership from June 6th 1944.
Paul Adlam October 2017
For more information on D Day and expert guided tours go to
The Forgotten Hero of D-Day
If you have an interest in the D Day landings you will be familiar with the names of the beaches: Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha. You are also probably familiar with some of the famous names – Eisenhower, Rommel and Montgomery – but outside the famous names and away from those beaches most people’s knowledge is limited.
One person that didn’t land on one of the designated beaches and isn’t well known is Jimmie Monteith. His actions and bravery however, were key to the success on the day.
This is his story.
Jimmie was born on July 1, 1917 in Low Moor, Virginia a very small farming town about 170 miles from the old Confederate Capital of Richmond to which his family moved to when he was nine years old. He went to local Elementary and High Schools where he gained the nickname “Punk”. He went on to study mechanical engineering at Virginia Polytechnic in Blacksburg. Upon leaving he joined the Cabell Coal Company in Richmond where his father was Vice President.
He was drafted into the US army in October 1941, some two months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the United States subsequent entry into WWII. He completed his training in the USA and in April 1943 he was shipped to Algeria as a 2nd Lieutenant. He joined the prestigious 1st Division, that is colloquially know as the Big Red One owing to the large red number one that is displayed on the uniforms of the men.
In July 1943 Jimmie was part of Operation Husky – the invasion of Sicily. The 1st Division saw some of the heaviest fighting and Jimmie was promoted in the field to 1st Lieutenant. Once that campaign was completed the 1st Division moved to southwest England in November 1943 to prepare and train for the invasion of mainland Europe.
In the early hours of 6th June 1944 Jimmie found himself and his unit, Company L of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, anchored about 11 miles off the coast of Normandy in a large troop ship. Jimmie’s Company would be part of the ‘first wave” of troops to land on Omaha beach at 06.30. Their designated landing place would be the most eastern sector titled Fox Green. The assault would be via shallow bottomed small amphibious craft called LCVP’s (landing craft vehicle personnel), otherwise known as Higgins’ Boats after their inventor. Each boat could take a maximum of 36 fully armed troops.
At about 04.00 in complete darkness the men disembarked from their troop ships into these small craft. The first wave of 1,450 men would comprise Company L along with seven other infantry companies and a detachment from the 2nd Ranger’s Battalion. The weather was poor with waves of 5’ to 6’ and a strong chilly wind from the north, despite it being June. The men were already suffering with seasickness and nerves prior to getting into the small Higgins boats, but now with the shallow draft of the boats and the force five gales, the six boats of L Company were tossed and bobbed about like corks.
Once they were all fully occupied, the armada of small boats set out for their designated landing points. Jimmie and his company were due to land at 06.30 on Fox Green beach and to secure the Cabourg exit off of the beach codenamed F1 – little more than a path winding its way up and off the beach. At this time the tide was rising, but was still low enough to expose all the various beach obstacles that had been erected by the Germans. Sunrise was at 05.58 that morning, but the visibility was still poor owing to the dull unseasonable conditions, the drifting clouds of smoke caused by the Allied Navy’s preceding barrage and the fire from the German defenders.
Only five of the boats made it to the shore. One was lost miles out to sea having been swamped in the stormy waters. However owing to a strong current, the poor weather and the confusion of war Company L was brought ashore far to the east of its designated landing point. But unlike the others, it was deposited on a shoreline so unsuited for military operations that the unit could have easily become paralysed and ineffective, had its officers not shown extraordinary leadership and motivation to get their men moving. One of those officers was Jimmie Monteith.
Company L had landed beyond Omaha’s eastern limit on a place called George beach where the high water line wasn’t shingle, but a low rocky cliff line. They landed under murderous fire and took numerous casualties whilst covering the 300 yards to the relative safety in the lee of the cliff. The only way off the beach would be to move west toward an area where the cliffs changed to a six feet high earth embankment. If the company could scale this embankment it could then start to move inland through the Cabourg exit. Jimmie made it to the safety of the cliff, but many other men and officers and men did not.
Tom Bernard, on board USS Destroyer Doyle
Navy Correspondent for YANK – The Army Weekly
‘On the beach nearest us, about a mile to the right towards the Cherbourg peninsula, we could see through the glass the assault troops being punished by machine guns enfilading the beach from the cliffs. Heavier guns were trained on tanks, which burst into flame. The Doyle was ordered to that beach……..’
Their major impediment was not the terrain but the large German strongpoint Weiderstandnest (WN) 60. This WN comprised of two French 75mm field guns in concrete bunkers, an anti aircraft gun, mortars, an old tank turret sitting on a concrete base (panzerstellung) and numerous machine guns. This strongpoint had a position located high on the cliff bluff behind the beach and with a commanding view of the Cabourg exit and the entire crescent of Omaha beach to the west. This was one of the most dominant positions along the entire Normandy coast. From here, anything that moved could be spotted and fire could be laid down onto the target.
Company L was now a depleted force and had the choice of drowning as the tide came in or being cut down if they exposed themselves to the Germans. Even if the men could get over the embankment they would find their way blocked by barbed wire and minefields. The strongpoint sat in such a commanding position and at such a height that even if the Americans could get past the wire and mines they would have to move inland along the exit and attack from the rear. All the time they would be under enemy observation and fire.
Tom Bernard, on board USS Destroyer Doyle
Navy Correspondent for YANK – The Army Weekly
‘When we reached the beach there were burning tanks and fallen dead littering the sands. Several hundred men and some vehicles had moved along to the left under the shelter of cliffs’
Jimmie’s company commander Captain John Armellino had also managed to survive the scramble to the safety of the cliff. He had almost immediately sized up the situation and started the planned assault inland. He knew that it wouldn’t be long before the German’s would start to lob mortar shells into their position of relative safety. However, he had been seriously wounded whilst exposing himself trying to direct the fire of a couple of surviving Sherman DD tanks from the 741st Tank Battalion that had also landed on the beach. Jimmie took over.
Sgt. Hugh Martin
Company L, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
‘When the troops were pinned down I saw Lt. Monteith go to the same place where [Captain Amerellino] was struck down. He went right through the thick fire to the tanks and got them into action’
Jimmie managed to communicate with the tank commanders and relay his plan. He led the tanks through a minefield to give them a better field of fire. He needed them to give the assault covering fire. Jimmie and his men vaulted the embankment, inserted Bangalore torpedoes under the wire and blew a gap through which he and his section could get through and then weave a path through the minefield and up the steep slope of the beach exit that passed adjacent to the German stronghold.
Sgt. Hugh Martin
Company L, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
‘He paid no attention to the shells and machine gun fire when he went to the wire and afterwards led us through the minefields’.
The two tanks and the newly arrived USS Doyle fired at the stronghold and at least gave intermittent relief from enemy fire. From the USS Doyle you could see the shells strike with the naked eye. First there would be a flash and then a puff of smoke, which billowed into the sky. Both the USS Doyle and one of the tanks, under the command of Sgt. Geddes, claimed the credit for knocking out the two French guns.
Jimmie and his section moved up the hill under bullet, rifle grenade and mortar fire. The men moved along in column taking advantage of the shrubbery and the natural contours to minimise their exposure. They could see the Germans moving around at the top of the hill to their left. Their men with Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR’s) fired on them and saw some of the enemy fall. Once Jimmie and his men were in position to assault the strongpoint he communicated by field phone down to the acting commander of Company L, Lt. Robert Cutler, that he required the fire from USS Doyle to be lifted. Jimmie’s section attacked along with another section under the command of Lt. Klenk. They moved into the outlying trenches at the rear and worked their way through the strongpoint using small arms fire, grenades and satchel charges. About four or five of the enemy were killed before the remainder surrendered. Unbelievably only one American was wounded during the assault. It was now 09.00 and the first of many German strongholds stretching across Omaha beach had been neutralised. The outstanding leadership of Jimmie and his bravery, and that of the others, had meant that Company L, by securing the eastern flank, had vastly reduced the fire directed from the east along the length of Omaha beach, thus undoubtedly reducing the amount of US casualties.
Jimmie’s day was not over. Lt. Cutler and more troops of Company L moved up the bluff. He set up a defensive perimeter around WN60 and just beyond, to where the path that ascended the bluff split into two. One path headed west towards the small village of Cabourg and the other east towards the equally small village of Le Grand Hameau. Lt. Cutler sent out patrols along both paths. Jimmie and his platoon remained in and around the defensive zone. In 1944 the countryside in this area was known as the bocage. This was ancient woodland and fields with winding country lanes that were sunk between narrow low ridges and banks with tall thick hedgerows on top. This landscape restricted visibility greatly. You could be one side of a hedge and the enemy the other and neither would know. In this claustrophobic terrain hardly anyone knew what was going on. Jimmie however didn’t let the terrain and confusion impede his actions.
S/Sgt Aaron Jones
Company L, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
‘In that sector the enemy was not fighting from fixed positions., but was moving around in the hedgerows and setting up automatic weapons. A large group of enemy started an attack on the position and set up machine guns on the flanks and rear. The Germans yelled to us to surrender because we were surrounded. Lt. Monteith did not answer, but moved towards the sound of voices and launched a rifle grenade at them from 20 yards, knocking out the machine gun position. Even with a large force the Germans couldn’t break through our positions, so they set up two machine guns and started spraying the hedgerow. Lt. Monteith got a squad of riflemen to open up on the machine gun on our right flank. Under cover of the fire he sneaked up on the gun and threw hand grenades, which knocked out the position. He then came back and crossed a 200 yard stretch of open field under fire to launch rifle grenades at the other machine gun position. He either killed the crew or forced them to abandon the weapon. Back on the other flank, enemy riflemen opened up on us again and Lt. Monteith started across the open field to help us fight them off, but was killed by the fire of a machine gun that had been brought to our rear’
Sgt. Hugh Martin
Company L, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
‘When Lt. Monteith knocked out the machine gun with the rifle grenade, he stood in full view at 40 yards and the first shot fell short. The full fire of the gun was turned on him, but he held his position and fired the second grenade to knock out the position.
T/Sgt. John Worozybt
Company L, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
Shortly before my platoon leader Lt Monteith was killed, he expressed great concern for my safety and the safety of my men. When I made a report on the number of men wounded, I still had blood on my hands from administering first aid to one of the casualties. It was then that Lt. Monteith, thinking it was my wound, cautioned me to be careful, and to see that the men were safe. He was a man I had the utmost admiration and respect for.’
It was now mid afternoon. Jimmie lay dead. He had waged a one-man war showing immense bravery and exemplary leadership. His action and clear thought had succeeded in getting men off the beach, capturing a German strongpoint, defending and consolidating the newly won French soil. He had paid for it with his life. He was only 26 years old. He didn’t live to marry nor have children. His life was cut short fighting in a country in which he had only been for a few brutal hours.
His actions were recognised by his superiors. He was recommended to receive the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) by Lt. General Walter Bedell Smith. However, General Dwight D Eisenhower the Supreme Allied Commander said that he was mistaken – ‘looks like a Medal of Honor to me. This man was good’. Jimmie was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration that can be awarded to members of the armed forces of the United States.
Jimmie’s body was buried in a temporary grave after the action, close to where he fell on the bluffs. The norm for American military personnel killed abroad is for their bodies to be brought home, but Jimmie’s next of kin, along with thousands of other Americans, decided that they would like to leave his body in the country where he fell. Jimmie is now buried in the beautiful American Cemetery at Coleville sur-Mer alongside thousands of his comrades in arms, just a few hundred metres from where he fell. His tombstone faces the USA, his homeland that he would never return to.
Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart to give his full title was born in India in 1885. He may well have a fantastically typical eccentric British name, but without him D Day may not have been the success that it was. I have been taking tours out to the Normandy battlefields for a number of years, but it is only recently that I have discovered that he lived and died just down the road from where I live in Farnham, Surrey.
General Sir Percy Cleghorn Hobart of the 79th Armoured Division, not only had a fabulous name he also had a fabulous mind. His “unconventional’ ideas about tank warfare had unfortunately fallen foul of his superiors and by 1940 he had been dismissed and was languishing as a Lance Corporal in the Local Defence Volunteers. With the debacle of the British Forces in France and the retreat from Dunkirk and the need to re-arm, Winston Churchill heard of his position and reinstated him in 1941as Major General. Hobart eventually finding himself in charge of the 79th with the remit to assemble a unit of specialist and modified armour. The requirement for specialist armour was further highlighted after the disaster at Dieppe in August 1942, where a primarily Canadian force was annihilated by strong beach defences.
The armour that was created by June 1944 was a real mix of ingenuity and British eccentricity. There was; the Sherman DD tank that could “swim” in the water, the Crocodile a modified Churchill tank that was a flamethrower, the Crab that had a flail fitted to detonate and clear mines, the AVRE’s which were modified Churchill tanks that could do a variety of operations including the
Petard , which could fire a huge charge known as “the flying dustbin” that could destroy concrete bunkers. The list goes on with various armoured vehicles capable of carrying bridges, filling ditches, laying a road, ploughing minefields, bulldozing obstacles, etc,etc. These “Funnies” contributed massively on the day overcoming problem after problem on the British and Commonwealth beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold. The Americans however , with a mix of scepticism and a shortage of available “funnies” only used the DD tanks (with poorly trained crews) on D-Day. This lack of modern technology on Omaha beach almost certainly cost hundreds of lives.
General Hobart retired out of the Army in 1946 to Farnham Surrey, not far from his more famous brother in law Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery who lived in Alton with Hobart’s sister Elizabeth. Hobart was knighted and became a KBE. He lived only a further 11 years leaving his wife Dorothea a widow at 10 Trebor Avenue, Farnham.Literally just down the road from where I live today.
I was recently taking a tour and amongst them was a 16 year old lad that was greatly moved by the CWGC cemetery at Bayeux. He was drawn to the grave of Corporal Sidney Bates of the Royal Norfolk Regiment that had a great deal of messages, crosses and flags around it. Corporal Bates sacrificed himself for his platoon. Bates showed the ultimate form of leadership and bravery by doing something that was so dangerous that he didn’t make the soldiers under his command carry out the required action. I am sure he didn’t want to die, but he also didn’t want all his pals to die.
Bates came from a humble background, brought up in Camberwell South London and died at the age of only 23.
This is the announcement and accompanying citation for the decoration and was published in a supplement to the London Gazette on 2 November 1945, reading:
‘War Office, 2nd November, 1944.
Headstone in the Bayeux Commonwealth Grave Cemetery
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous awards of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—
No. 5779898 Corporal Sidney Bates, The-Royal Norfolk Regiment (London, S.E.5).
In North-West West Europe on 6th August, 1944, the position held by a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment near Sourdeval was attacked in strength by 10th S.S. Panzer Division. The attack started with a heavy and accurate artillery and mortar programme on .the position which the enemy had, by this time, pin-pointed. Half an hour later the main attack developed and heavy machine-gun and mortar fire was concentrated oh the point of junction of the two forward companies. Corporal Bates was commanding the right forward section of the left forward company which suffered some, casualties, so he decided to move the remnants of his section to an alternative position whence he appreciated he could better counter the enemy thrust. However, the enemy wedge grew still deeper, until there were about; 50 to 60 Germans, supported by machine guns and mortars, in the area occupied by the section. Seeing that the situation was becoming, desperate, Corporal Bates then seized a light machine-gun and charged the enemy, moving forward through a hail of bullets and spnnters and firing the gun from his hip. He was almost immediately wounded by machine-gun fire and fell to the ground, but recovered himself quickly, got up and continued advancing towards the enemy, spraying bullets from his gun as he went. His action by now was having an effect on the enemy riflemen and machine gunners but mortar bombs continued to fall all around him.
He was then hit for the second time and much more seriously and painfully wounded. However, undaunted, he staggered once more to his feet and continued towards the enemy who were now seemingly nonplussed by their inability to check him. His constant firing continued until the enemy started to withdraw before him. At this moment, he was hit for the third time by mortar bomb splinters, a wound that was to prove mortal. He again fell to the ground but continued to fire his weapon until his strength failed him. This was not, however, until the enemy Had withdrawn and the situation in this locality had been restored.
Corporal Bates died two days later from his wounds.
Next year will be a major milestone in the remembrance of the D-Day Landings. June 6th 2014 will be the 70th anniversary when young men risked and gave their lives to invade and and defeat the Nazis in Western Europe. Those young men if they are still alive are now in their 80’s or older and 2014 will be the last major anniversary where a significant amount of veterans will be in attendance. There is a full diary already planned this year.
Next year promises to be very busy with some of the accommodation already full and ferries getting booked. If you are thinking of going next year now is the time to book. A battlefield tour of the Normandy beaches and beyond would make an ideal Christmas present. A private tour can cost as little as £400.00 and will leave you with memories that you will never forget. Fill out the form below for more information.
Recently the outlines of 9,000 fallen soldiers were stencilled onto the Normandy Invasion beaches. It was in recognition of International Peace Day and was in tribute to the amount of losses incurred on D-Day in 1944. British artists Jamie Wardley and Andy Moss along with 60 volunteers went to the beaches to create the stunning scape, but they were soon joined by hundreds of locals that also helped. The final result was moving and poignant. The results of course were quickly washed away, but the men that fell on that day have never been forgotten and so they should remain that way.
When I take tours to the D-Day beaches one of the questions that I am always asked is “how many people died?” This is always a difficult question and one that cannot be exactly answered. Men’s remains that have never been found, wounded soldiers dying later, miscalculation and propaganda have all played their part in obscuring the facts. One thing that can be sure is that more men died than the official figures that were released by the Allied top brass and politicians. There are also the German losses that people seem to forget about along with civilian losses.
On Utah beach the most westerly landing point, the main body of troops that landed were the US 4th Infantry Division. This unit did receive the highest casualties, but there were also casualties amongst Engineers, Tankers, Artillery, Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force. In relative terms Utah was the beach that had the fewest amount of casualties, but this was still in the region of 500 men. On top of this you have to consider the American Airborne landings that were an integral part of the invasion and particularly with Utah Beach. There were about 2,500 casualties amongst the 82nd and 101st Airborne. If you take into consideration training you also need to include the 2000 from Operation Tiger, which was a training mission that went horribly wrong off of the coast of Slapton Sands in Devon.
Casualties of course are not just those that died, but also include the injured and the missing. I think one can today; now classify those listed missing as dead. Those taken prisoner would also be included.
Heading east the next landing beach was the famous Omaha or bloody Omaha as it became known, but there was another landing point between Utah and Omaha, Pointe de Hoc. Of the 225 Rangers that landed here 135 were either killed, wounded or injured. At Omaha the losses were massive, but until very recently the official figure of killed in action was in the region of 862, with total casualties in the region of 2000. However, with recent research by the US National D-day Memorial Foundation and well publicised TV programmes the figure is more likely to be in the region of 1500 to 3000 deaths.
Carrying on East you come to Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches. British casualties on Gold and Sword beach were about 1000 on each, but there were also the British Airborne casualties that landed to secure the eastern flank of the landings. Amongst them the total was in the region of 1300 including 100 glider pilots.
Juno beach was where the 3rd Canadian Division landed and saw the heaviest fighting second only to Omaha. On this beach there was probably over 1000 casualties.
So taking all of the above into consideration you are probably looking at about 11,000 Allied casualties on the day with another 2000 in training exercises. This would equate to roughly 6000 deaths. There were of course the Germans and their allies as well. These figures are very hard to verify, but they are probably somewhere in the region of 5,000 to 10,000 killed in action. Civilians killed on the day would have been significant, certainly in their hundreds, particularly when much of the Allied bombing was in discriminant and off target. It’s no wonder that there were reports of French men and woman spitting, cursing and even shooting at their liberators.
The whole Normandy campaign though puts these figures in the shade: over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or missing and 15,000 to 20,000 civilians were killed, many of these in the bombing of Caen.
We will probably never know the exact amount of men that died that day and it is foolish for any historian to say that any figures they quote are correct. What we do know is that a lot of men and woman died on all sides in a war that has been called the “last just war”. I doubt if their family or friends thought it was justified at the time.
I was recently taking a business group around the beaches of the Normandy Invasion and I was explaining the different code names for each of the beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. There is no particular reason for the code names. Codes were generally chosen at random – after all, if there was any pattern to them their codes could be broken. The beaches were then sub-divided into smaller sectors with their own code names: Jig and King at Gold and Charlie, Dog, Easy and Fox at Omaha for example. All the beaches followed the same principles. Each of the designated units had their own place and time to land on these sectors and again there was no rhyme or reason behind the code names. However each one of these sectors were divided into coloured sectors: green, white or red. I had never been able to find out what these colours meant and why the same colours were used on every beach.
On this particular trip there was a sailor and she offered an explanation for me: the beaches are named from the left green, white or red when facing north. Looking out to sea is the typical image we see of the beaches on maps; the viewpoint that the Germans would have had of the approaching armada of 6000 vessels. However, if you were one of the allies approaching the Normandy coast you would look at the beaches the other way round. You would be seeing the green sector to the right, white in the centre and red to the left. In nautical terms left is port and right is starboard. At night port is signified with a red light and starboard with a green light. A white light is used to indicate centre of a ship.
As it was the navy that would be ferrying and landing the troops it makes perfect sense that these colours would be used so that they knew where to land. So now when I look at a map of the invasion beaches I have a far better understanding.
It goes to show that you may be an expert in a particular field, but there are always people out there that can add to your knowledge.
For more information about trips to the Normandy Beaches please look at my home page.
When 156,000 men were landed on the beaches and countryside during the Normandy Invasion of June 6th 1944 with over another 200,000 in support roles, it has to be remembered that many of these men were not career soldiers. They were butchers, bakers and candlestick makers and some of them went on to establish themselves during peacetime as household names.
The world famous American author of ‘The Catcher in the Rye” was born in 1919 to a Catholic mother and a successful Jewish father. He didn’t excel as a student and was described as an awkward, skinny underachieving kid. He did, however, start to show his writing ability when he attended Columbia University under the tutelage of an inspiring teacher called Whit Burnett.
By the age of 27 and on the morning of D-Day he found himself taken away from his privileged life and was in an assault craft that was part of the first wave to land on Utah beach. He landed and carried with him throughout the Normandy campaign the first six chapters of his now world famous book. After Normandy he fought in the carnage of the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, where he shared champagne with Ernest Hemingway, who was reporting the war. He was also amongst the first troops to enter the Dachau Concentration camp. Salinger survived the war physically, but was left scarred mentally by what he saw and suffered from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He never released any works that referenced his war experience, but starting in 2015 some of his never before seen work will be published. It will be interesting to see if there are any references to his wartime experiences.
James Doohan (Scotty)
Any Trekkie can tell you that James Doohan plays the dour Scot in the original Star Trek series and movies and that he was actually from Vancouver in Canada. What many people don’t know is that on D-Day he landed on Juno Beach as a lieutenant with the 13th Canadian Field Artillery Regiment that was part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. When he and his men came under fire, Doohan personally shot two snipers and led his men to safer higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren gun by a nervous Canadian sentry. He took four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger that was later amputated. During close up acting scenes a stand in’s hand was used, but if you look carefully you can see his four fingered hand on Star Trek. The potentially fatal bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case.
After the war Doohan moved to London to further his education and started to do the voiceovers that eventually led to him being the worldwide star that we know today as Scotty.
The quintessential British Hollywood star was born in Dublin to affluent parents. His father was a physician in the British Army. Todd initially entered Sandhurst to follow his father in the military, but by the time that war broke out he already had a blossoming career as an actor. He soon enlisted and by June 6th 1944 he was a Captain in the 7th Parachute Battalion. He and 600 other men from his battalion landed very early on D-Day with the objective to support Major Howard and his men, who had landed earlier, in holding Pegasus Bridge and to secure the eastern wing of the overall invasion. At 00.40 Todd was flying over the channel in the Stirling Bomber that was to drop them. He was encumbered with kit including a rubber dinghy, entrenching tools, a Sten gun, ammunition and grenades. By 00.52 he was on the ground and landed disorientated, in the pitch black with bullets flying around him. He heard a whistle being blown by Major Howard at Pegasus Bridge and made his way towards the sound.
Todd arrived at the bridge, was given his orders, went over the bridge and turned right into Le Port to set up position just below the church. The 7th Battalion came under heavy fire and by noon they were only just holding on against sustained German attacks. There was also the problem of a sniper in the church tower that was eventually dislodged by one of Todd’s men firing a PIAT. It wasn’t until the afternoon that Todd and his men were relieved and the situation was stable.
Todd carried on fighting with the British Army until the end of the war, when he returned to his acting career and became one of the leading men of his time. He returned to Pegasus Bridge in 1962 when he played Major Howard in Daryl Zanuck’s “The Longest Day”. He was delighted to play the part, but he wasn’t happy at the historical inaccuracies portrayed in the name of entertainment.
Todd continued his acting career almost up to his death from cancer in 2009. His life was however clouded with sadness and tragedy: he divorced twice and two of his sons committed suicide. He likened these tragedies to his experiences he had to deal with during the war.
Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr
At the time of the D-day landings Theo Roosevelt Jr was a well-known personality. He was the son of the former American President with the same name and he was the distant cousin of the current President, Franklin D Roosevelt. He was an unlikely general, he had a flair for politics and literature and the rigours of army life hardly seemed compatible for such a bon vivant. He had even had his own books published with titles such as “Trailing the Giant Panda” and “The Three Kingdoms of Indo-China” and he had been the Governor-General of the Philippines.
He was by now 56 years old with leathery brown skin and walked with a cane, due to arthritis and a knee injury sustained during the First World War. He had used all of his political guile and obstinacy to ensure that he would be with the first wave of troops landing on Utah Beach. He landed at 06.30 as the Assistant Divisional Commander of the US 4th Division. He was among the first to realise that he and 600 troops had landed at the wrong part of the beach – they were about 2000 metres south of their designated landing point. Poor weather conditions and the “fog” of war were to blame. Roosevelt quickly took control of the situation – realizing that their pre-determined plans were now redundant he made the famous directive to his officers and men; “We’re going to start the war here”. His quick decisive thinking ensured that the landing was a success. If he had marched his men up to their original objectives they would have at the very least suffered more casualties, as the area was more heavily defended than where they had landed.
Roosevelt worked all day with his cane in hand ensuring that his men safely got off the beach. He personally welcomed subsequent waves of troops landing on the beach and gave them new objectives whilst remaining cheerful and telling stories and anecdotes to calm the nerves of the troops. He walked around apparently oblivious to the dangers and at no point did he draw his pistol.
For this unfaltering bravery Roosevelt was awarded America’s highest award for valour, the Medal of Honor, one of only three on D-Day. It was unfortunately awarded posthumously as Roosevelt was to die of a heart attack just a few weeks later on July 12th. He now lies in a grave at the American Cemetery above Omaha beach next to his brother Quentin, a pilot killed in World War I aged only 20.
The great British actor who won an academy award for playing Colonel Nicholson in Bridge over the River Kwai also played a real part in the war. He was part of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, serving first as an ordinary seaman and then commissioned in 1942. He was to take command of a Royal Navy landing craft and see action during the invasions of Sicily and Elba. Come D-Day, he was again in charge of a landing craft, ferrying men and materials to and from the British designated beaches.
He was better known later in his acting career as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, although he thought that it was “fairytale rubbish”. He did however say, “I gave my best performances during the war – trying to be an officer and a gentleman.”
The famous film director, a veteran of World War I, was not an actual combatant in the Normandy Invasion but played his part as head of the Photographic department of the Office of Strategic Services. Based on board U.S.S Plunkett, which was stationed off Omaha Beach along with $1 million worth of photographic gear, he witnessed the ill-fated first waves of troops landing. He would land later on in the day to film the Normandy invasion for posterity. When he landed he ran forward and started placing his men behind obstacles. He was in the thick of the fighting and saw dead and injured men on the beach – later he said that he felt disconnected and can’t remember actually seeing anyone get shot. He was absorbed in his work and his own small world around him and carried on filming all of that day and for several days afterwards. The only shooting he did was with a camera, but he was no less brave than any other soldier.
His films were shipped back to London and processed in both colour and black and white. Some parts were released in US cinemas, but it was felt that many of the films showed too many American casualties. Ford insisted before his death that all of the films still survived, but unfortunately, it seems that today many of them are lost.
Ford carried on filming the war until it was over and then became a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy Reserve during the Korean War. He returned to civilian life and continued to make films to the end of his life, including his famous Westerns starring John Wayne.
Unless you have been locked in a cupboard it has been very hard to not be aware that the 69th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion of German occupied France on 6th June 1944 has recently passed us. Next year will probably be the last significant year of remembering D-Day that veterans will be able to attend. The Normandy Invasion was and still is the biggest seaborne invasion to ever take place. It was a truly remarkable feat to land 156,000 troops in one day and to defeat the enemy without the modern wonders of technology and communication that we have today. There are many military words that are in common business usage today; campaign, tactics, and battle, to name a few. We can also look to the events of nearly 70 years ago for examples of disruptive change that were exploited by one side to the detriment of the other, with the principles easily transferred to examples of business disruption.
TECHNOLOGY. Every business needs to keep abreast of new technology. The American and particularly the British and Commonwealth forces took full advantage of the most up to date technology around.
Hobart’s Funnies. General Sir Percy Cleghorn Hobart of the 79th Armoured Division, not only had a fabulous name he also had a fabulous mind. His “unconventional’ ideas about tank warfare had unfortunately fallen foul of his superiors and by 1940 he had been dismissed and was languishing as a Lance Corporal in the Local Defence Volunteers. Winston Churchill however heard of this and reinstated him with Hobart eventually finding himself in charge of the 79th with the remit to assemble a unit of specialist and modified armour. The armour that was created by June 1944 was a real mix of ingenuity and British eccentricity. There was; the Sherman DD tank that could “swim” in the water, the Crocodile a modified tank that was a flamethrower, the Crab that had a flail fitted to detonate and clear mines, the AVRE which was a tank that could destroy concrete bunkers. The list goes on with various armoured vehicles capable of carrying bridges, filling ditches, laying a road, ploughing minefields, bulldozing obstacles, etc,etc. These “Funnies” contributed massively on the day overcoming problem after problem. The Americans however were not so taken with them and apart from using the DD tanks (with poorly trained crews) they ignored the new technology and paid dearly on Omaha beach with soldier’s lives.
INTELLIGENCE. The British led the field in gaining intelligence on their adversaries. It was by knowing the opposition better than they knew themselves that the Allies could find and take advantage.
X Craft. Small 4/5 man submarines called X Craft were used in the build up to the Normandy Invasion. They sat off shore taking photos of the beaches, observing the Germans and making sound echo measurements. At night, divers would go ashore to survey the prospective beaches and take soil and sand samples to ensure that the designated beaches would be suitable for landing upon.
DECISIVE LEADERSHIP. Probably the most important part of any business and military operation is decisive leadership that will take control, command and delegate.
The Allies however had a far more efficient chain of command. Junior officers could make key decisions using the leadership skills that they had been taught in training. The Supreme Allied Commander; General Eisenhower built a command structure that was well balanced with senior officers in place that could act independently to resolve problems. Medal of Honor winners Brigadier Roosevelt and Lieutenant Jimmy Monteith were great examples of this leadership on the day.
ESPIONAGE. By June 6th 1944 there weren’t any operational German agents in Britain. They had all been killed, captured or turned into double agents. Even though Industrial espionage is illegal it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try and find out as much as you can about the opposition.
SUPREMACY. If you are going to go into conflict or into the market you want to know that you have a supreme product. Before the Normandy Invasion the Allies had spent much time, effort and resources building their supremacy.
Air Superiority. By 1944 the Allies were crippling the German infrastructure with day and night bombing. Their fighters such as the Thunderbolt, Mustang and Spitfire were superior to the German Luftwaffe and had effectively made the Luftwaffe an ineffectual force.
Many historians today argue that the Normandy Invasion was always destined to succeed because of the overwhelming superiority of the Allied forces. They do however in my opinion ignore the fundamental work that was put in place to ensure victory. In many ways what could go wrong, did go wrong on the day: the weather was poor, bombers missed their targets, naval bombardment was ineffectual, troops landed in the wrong places, paratrooper drops were scattered, and communications broke down. If it hadn’t been for the five items listed above; Technology, Intelligence, Decisive Leadership, Espionage, and Supremacy (TIDES) the outcome may have been very different. The success of June 6th 1944 really did signify the changing tide of the war in the Allies favour.