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  • #115950
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    47 (Royal Marine) Commando was tasked to seize Port-en-Bessin on D-Day, an objective crucial to invasion plans as the first port at which bulk petrol was to be landed (Operation TOMBOLA, pending completion of PLUTO).

    The Commando landed from HMS Princess Jospehine Charlotte (8 LCAs of 502 Assault Flotilla) and SS Victoria (6 LCAs of 508 Assault Flotilla), starting their run-in on schedule at 08:00. The plan called for an unopposed dry landing at H+2 behind the assault battalions of 50 (Tyne-Tees) Division, undertaking their third amphibious landing of the war in landing area GOLD. From there the Commando was to head west towards the American beaches, and attack Port-en-Bessin from landward.

    Instead of landing as planned, the Commando was forced to land away from its intended beach, under fire from 75mm and 150mm coastal guns, amongst mined obstacles. Five of the 14 LCAs were sunk, and only two returned to the landing ships. 28 men were killed, including Q Troop OC Major Feacey, 21 wounded, and many forced to abandon their 40Kgs of kit to swim ashore. As they waded ashore under machine-gun fire, one Marine was heard to say to his mate: “Perhaps we’re intruding. This seems to be a private beach”. One of the few to make it ashore was Revd Haw, the unit padre.He pointed out that, as this was his baptism of fire, other baptismal duties were not to be expected.

    Once ashore, the Commando set about making good its deficiencies in clothing and equipment by scrounging from friendly and enemy casaulties, and from other units on the beach. Only one of the heavy weapon troop’s three Vickers MMGs had made it ashore, and only one of the three 3-inch mortars, and that missing its sight. The radio sets had been drowned, and the CO (Lt-Col Cecil Farndale Phillips) was missing, along with four other officers and 73 men. At about 11:00 the Commando set off for its RV at La Rosière under the 2-i-c, Major Donnell.

    On the way to La Rosiere, the CO re-joined the Commando, having hitched a lift on an ammunition sled towed by an SP gun through a village yet to be cleared of the enemy. En route the Commando experienced mortar and sniper fire, knocked out a 3-man observation post, killed a lone horse-mounted officer (sparing the horse), and also killed a lone German in a jeep who chose to fight it out with a machine gun. At La Rosière they encountered enemy in strength, and mounted a two-troop attack that secured 20 or so prisoners for the loss of 11 wounded.

    Missing marines had been re-joining throughout the day, and by 17:30 at La Rosière the Commando numbered 21 officers of the 24 who had embarked that morning, and 341 out of 424 other ranks. A Forward Observation Officer had joined to replace the one lost on landing. With birds singing as the sun went down, the Commando resumed its march cross-country to its objective. Odd shots were exchanged in the vicinity of La Buhannerie, and a lone Stabsfeldwebel, cycling off to visit his girlfriend in the whorehouse at Ouistreham, was put in the bag. He declared that he had planned to give himself up as soon as possble, as he saw no future in the war.

    At last light, after an approach march of some ten miles, and well behind schedule, the Commando reached Point 72 (Mont Cavalier), a small eminence to the south of Port-en-Bessin from which the final assault would be launched. The marines started digging defences, and discovered and captured two dugouts occupied by a couple of German medical oficers and their charges. There would be time for about two hours sleep during the night. The next day, they would attack Port-en-Bessin.

    [to be continued]

    #115951

    Steve Johnson
    Participant

    Fascinating reading John. Let us also not forget those fighting in Italy (the so-called D-Day Dodgers), in Burma as well as the Pacific at the same time.

    #115967
    hammurabi70
    hammurabi70
    Participant

    Fascinating reading John. Let us also not forget those fighting in Italy (the so-called D-Day Dodgers), in Burma as well as the Pacific at the same time.

    These anniversaries are always a bit tricky.  My father was a D-Day Dodger; no noting of any achievements or anniversaries there.  At least in Burma they were forgotten!

    #115975
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    No German counter-attack developed during the night. It became obvious that the Commando’s presence had not been detected when a small party of German soldiers under an NCO reported to one of the medical bunkers for morning sick parade, and were promptly put in the bag.

    Commando patrols had been sent out, and while the planned contact with the Americans landed on Omaha could not be established, a couple of local boys were encountered, who gave information about German positions.

    The morning was spent re-establishing inadequate communications — only one radio set was available, and contact with 231 Brigade was not established until 11:00 — and producing a revised plan. A replacement Forward Officer Bombardment (naval gunfre support controller) was found to replace the one lost on the run-in.

    Colonel Phillips convened an “O” group at 13:50. The German fortifications surrounding the town consisted of the Weapon Pits to the south, and a strongpoint on each of the cliffs between which the little port nestled, respectively the Eastern Feature and Western Feature. All were provided with concrete entrenchments and pillboxes and protected by mines and wire. Colonel Phillips plan called for a naval bombardment, smoke from the 25-pdrs of 431 Battery RA (from 147 Field Regiment RA, the Essex Yeomanry), and a wing-strength air attack by rocket-firing Typhoons. X Troop would attack the Weapon Pits while A and B Troops bypassed them and infiltrated into the town. From here A Troop would attack the Western Feature and B Troop the Eastern Feature. The badly depleted Q and Y Troops would remain in reserve in the region of Point 72, with HQ, and HW Troop would provide what support it could with its single remaining 3-in mortar and Vickers gun.

    Resupply of ammunition was obtained from a group of four carriers under Lt Bennet, together with two sections from the Devons’ carrier platoon, and two 3-tonners of 522 Coy RASC under Captain Brian Lindon, who was awarded an MC for the daring trip through enemy-occupied territory during which his lorries were several times struck by small-arms fire.

    The naval bombardment began a little before 14:00, with two LCG(L)s bombarding the waterfront. At 15:00 HMS Emerald began a FOB-controlled shoot on the Eastern Feature. An offer of fire from some American LCT(R)s in a neighbouring sector was turned down for fear of endangering friendly troops. Bang on schedule at 15:50, the first squadron of Typhoons from 2TAF rolled in, to be followed in rapid succession by two more squadrons, all making accurate attacks with rockets and 20mm cannon.

    Leaving their packs at Point 72, the assault troops went forward. X troop had immediate success at the Weapon pits, the occupants surrendering at once when called upon to do so to the marines going in with fixed bayonets.

    Some casualties were caused to A troop from mortar fire and sniper from the direction of La Fosse Soucy to the South, where the 352 Division sniper school was located, not far from the HQ of I Bn 726 Infanterie Regiment (one of whose companies held Port-en-Bessin). This included RSM Dollery, wounded by mortar splinters. Nonetheless they pressed on into the town, guided by Gendarme Henri Gouget, who was to earn the Croix de Guerre avec Palme for this and other exploits. Turning left at the church, A Troop arrived at the foot of the Western Feature, and used their last bangalore torpedo clearing a wire obstacle there.

    B Troop, meanwhile, covered by 2-in mortar smoke, made good progress into the centre of town where the inner and outer basins of the port lay. Here a party of ten Germans were spotted the other side of the outer basin. An attached sergeant from 10(Inter-Allied) Commando, Sgt Fuller (born Kagerer-Stein in Austria) called upon them to surrender, which they did.

    X Troop, having cleared the weapon pits, moved up behind A Troop on the Western outskirts of the town, coming under fire from the Western feature and elsewhere. Q Troop, having intended to assist X with the Weapon pits but finding this unnecessary, followed up B Troop on the other side of town.

    So far, so good. The Weapon Pits and numerous prisoners had been taken, and the town successfully infiltrated prior to assaulting the Eastern and Western features.

    It was at this point that things began to go wrong.

    [To be continued]

    #115976
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Captain Terence Cousins’ A Troop, advancing uphill towards the strongpoint on the Western Feature, was met by heavy fire. Some of this came from rifles and MGs in the strongpoint itself, but the right-hand sections also took fire from vessels in the port itself. Unknown to the Commando, and to its informants among the local population, two Artilleriefahrprahamen — usually known as “flak ships” — had put in at Port-en-Bessin to avoid heavy weather a couple of days previously. These flat-bottomed vessels were formidably armed with 88mm guns and heavy (37mm and 20mm) automatic weapons. His return fire ineffective, and being unable to make progress against further obstacles with no bangalores remaining, Captain Cousins ordered his men to withdraw, having suffered 12 killed and 17 wounded.

    A Troop’s Corporal Amos, stunned by a grenade explosion while applying a field dressing to his mortally-wounded section leader, was taken prisoner, and taken to a bunker where he was subjected to an ineffectual interrogation, in German, next to a large poster displaying Hitler’s infamous “Commando Order”. As he was covered in his sergeant’s blood his captors seem to have mistaken him for a medical orderly, a mistake he was happy to go along with.

    On the other side of town, B troop, busy searching and interrogating the prisoners Sergeant Fuller had taken, was hit by surprise fire from an MG in the Preventorium on the other side of the outer basin. One marine was killed and 11 wounded, and the Troop scattered into the buildings along the western sde of the inner basin.

    Back at Point 72, machine gunning and mortaring from the direction of Le Pont Fatu had occurred from about 16:30. At about 20:00, an attack appeared to develop on the rear HQ; it was not clear to the defenders if the troops in question were German or American. At about this time Colonel Phillips called forward Y Troop, his last reserve, so it was not available for the defence of point 72. Worse, Y Troop formed the mistaken impression that the rest of the Commando was cut off in the town, and, lacking any communications, tried to establish contact with 231 Brigade HQ. It managed this by the next morning, but would effectively take no further part in the battle.

    The rear HQ party numbered 20 men, of whom only 8 were armed, with no automatic weapons. Nonetheless the first German probes were repulsed when individuals were shot dead. A second attack in section strength with covering fire from two MG-34s was also driven back with losses. Finally an attack by 30 or 40 men, using illuminants, succeeded in overrunning the HQ. The marines de-tuned their radios, destroyed their maps, and a number succeeded in evading capture under cover of a couple of No. 77 (White Phosphorus) grenades thrown by Captain O’Connell. Others went into the bag, including the wounded RSM Dollery, but most were freed in the coming days. The MO, “Doc” Forfar, succeeded in relocating the RAP from point 72 to the town, casualties having to be carried piggyback because of lack of stretchers.

    In the town, a recce party from B Troop probed the lower slopes of the Eastern Feature and was badly mortared, incurring 9 casualties.

    Captain Walton’s X Troop exchanged fire with the Flak Ship lying alongside the quay, using four Brens, a 2-in mortar and a captured MG-34. Having been wrongly informed that the Flak Ships were occupied by friends, he then returned into town.

    Captain Cousins, making his own recce of the Eastern Feature with a few A Troop survivors, now encountered and joined up with the remnant of the earlier recce from B Troop. This small party, of three officers and ten men, discovered a zig-zag path on the southern side of the Eastern Feature leading to the clifftop, clear of mine, and not under observation for most of its length. The party got to within 20 metres of the top before coming under fire, and withdrew under cover of smoke. At about 21:00, Capt Cousins reported to Lt-Col Phillips, ending with the words “if you can give me 24 or 25 men, I’m quite certain I can get to the top”.

    [To be continued]

    #115977
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    At high tide, also about 21:00, the Flak Ship alongside the outer mole fired rifles and MGs from its bridge at a pair of destroyers that had been in the offing some four cables away since 16:50, but unable to provide fire support because of uncertainty about the commandos’ positions. The destroyers, HMS Ursa (Commander Derek B Wyburd, DSC, RN) and ORP Krakowiak (Komandor Podporucznik (Lt-Cdr) Wszechwlad Maracewicz), returned fire. They also conceived a stroke reminiscent of naval “cutting-out” parties of the past. By 22:30, two armed motor boats, one from each destroyer, entered the darkling harbour. Undismayed to discover two vessels where they had thought there was only one, and paying no regard to poorly-directed small-arms and mortar fire from the Western Feature, the little boats each attacked a Flak Ship, firing Lewis guns, rifles, and Lanchester machine carbines. No return fire came from the Flak Ships, and both were boarded. The quayside Flak ship was half-sunk, and contained three dead Germans, and a live dog. The black mongrel was rescued by the crew of the Ursa, and given the name Sappho.

    Attempts by the sailors to contact the marines by loud-hailer did not prove successful. For their part, the Marines had deduced that the Royal Navy was in action from the sounds of shooting and swearing (in English) drifting over the water.

    A little after 22:00, Captain Cousins began his assault on the Eastern Feature. He was to lead the combined remnants of A and Q Troops, under covering fire from HW Troop’s Vickers gun, and eight Bren guns and 2-inch mortar smoke from X Troop and Lt Bennet’s carriers. The CO heard “a mighty cheer” as the marines surmounted the crest, and, at a signal from Capt Cousins, A Troop split left and Q Troop split right.

    Captain Vincent’s Q Troop, going right, advanced 100 yards, firing from the hip, until they encountered a wire fence, possibly marking a minefield. At this point seven Germans, including an officer, surrendered to them. Shortly thereafter they made a most useful capture — a white-haired, English-speaking Oberleutnant with a goatee beard, who was willing to encourage his countrymen to give in.

    Captain Cousins’ A Troop advanced in small parties until it encountered heavy fire from a bunker. Ordering most of his Troop under Lt Wilson to stay under cover until he called them forward, Cousins went forward with a small party consisting of a Bren gunner (Marine Delap) and three other marines (Marines Howe, Madden, and Tomlinson). After a brief interval of shooting and explosions, Lt Wilson and his party ran forward to find Marine Madden badly wounded, and Captain Cousins killed. A captured German was told to call for surrender, and the occupants of the bunker put up the white flag.

    Meanwhile Captain Vincent and his white-haired Oberleutnant were taking more surrenders. His group re-united with Lt Wilson’s party, and found themselves confronting a substantial group of enemy on a position it seemed impossible to shoot into without being skylined. The Oberleutnant now came to the fore, and, after and argument lasting five or ten minutes, the last of the defenders — four officers and 34 men — gave themselves up.

    With the collapse of the Eastern Feature, the defenders of the Western feature also lost heart. At about 04:00 on the morning of the 8th, Corporal Amos was woken by his captors with the offer of a cigar and the words “Kamerad, prisoner”. He led the party of 23 Germans with white flags down from the clifftop into the harbour, and thence into town, where B Troop took charge of them about 05:00.

    [To be continued]

    #115979
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    The next morning the Commando roused at 06:00. Resupply, finding the lost Y Troop, and making a plan to re-take Point 72 all occupied Lt-Col Phillips. Medical evacuation also had to be dealt with, and this included the evacuation of French civilian wounded, hit in the D-Day bombardment of the town that had killed six of them. Some of the more severely wounded were flown to England for treatment.

    In the event it was not necessary to re-take Point 72, as the enemy had abandoned it, having first ransacked the packs left there, and stolen the 2-i-c’s false teeth.

    On the evening of the 8th, the chateau at La Fosse Soucy that had caused trouble to the Commandos was subjected to a formal attack by A and D companies of 2nd Devons, supported by Vickers guns from 2nd Cheshires, a squadron of tanks from the Sherwood Rangers (the Nottinghamshre Yeomanry), and a battery of 147 Field Regiment RA (the Essex Yeomanry). The chateau was captured and 40 prisoners taken.

    Other people were now beginning to arrive in Port-en-Bessin. Elements of the US 3rd Battalion, 16th RCT, 1st Infantry Division (“The Big Red One”) under Lt-Col Horner had arrived by 07:00, having fought their way ashore at Fox Green beach in landing area Omaha. The Royal Navy landed a Naval Officer In Charge (NOIC) for the port. 30 Assault Unit (Ian Fleming’s crowd) would investigate Port-en-Bessin, discovering various papers, a midget submarine, some novel designs of torpedo, and, in one of the Flak Ships, a booby-trapped safe. On the 9th and 10th, Montgomery and Bradley would visit the port, and by the 15th pumping operations for the TOMBOLA petrol supply system were ready to begin.

    The Commando moved off to Escures, thence to Commes. On the 9th of June, it mustered 17 of the 24 officers who had embarked in the landing craft, and 276 of the 424 other ranks — an overall loss rate of 38%. The Commando was not sent back to the UK at once but involved in defensive and patrolling actions around Salanelles until the end of July, incurring further casualties, and did not go back to the UK until the end of August.

    47(Royal Marine) Commando ceased to exist as a unit at Haywards Heath on 31st January 1946. It has no official unit history, and its war diary entry for June of 1944 has been lost. Because their action was not completed until after the end of D-Day itself, it practically escapes mention in all the standard accounts of D-Day. The battle was almost forgotten, and there are are still relatively few people who are familiar with this extraordinary affair, of which General Sir Brian Horrocks said “It is doubtful whether in their long distinguished history the Marines have ever achieved anything finer”. Luckily, the unit’s MO, John “Doc” Forfar, wrote two excellent books on the subject, and was very active in the 47(RM) Commando old comrades’ association. A couple more books on the battle now exist, and it has been used as an example embodying the Royal Marines’ ethos in instruction at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone.

    The French have never forgotten. Returning veterans of 47 have always been made welcome, and in 2009, on the 65th anniversary, a permanent memorial was opened dedicated to Captain Cousins’ self-sacrificing action on the Eastern Feature that turned the battle. Captain Cousins was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but received instead a mention in dispatches. His mortal remains now lie in plot XI.A.16 in the Bayeux War Cemetery, under a headstone that bears the inscription “In the faith of little children we went on our ways”. He was 22 years old.

    #115983

    Etranger
    Participant

    Thanks for posting this John.

    #115994
    deephorse
    deephorse
    Participant

    Yes, thank you.

    Wargamers - successfully driving the fun out of wargaming since 1780

    #116015
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    That’s great John, thanks very much.  I tried to find the medal citation for Capt Cousins on the National Archives’ site but couldn’t find it, although I found quite a few others –  is it contained in any of the books?

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

    #116016
    Thorsten Frank
    Thorsten Frank
    Participant

    Amazing account. Thank you!

    "In strange grammar this one writes" - Master Yoda

    #116021
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    That’s great John, thanks very much. I tried to find the medal citation for Capt Cousins on the National Archives’ site but couldn’t find it, although I found quite a few others – is it contained in any of the books?

    Not in any of the books I’ve got, and I don’t recall seeing it anywhere.

    Amazing account. Thank you!

    De rien. The account is quite straightforward — it is the action itself that is amazing, and another fine example of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. And if it weren’t for “Doc” Forfar, probably almost no-one would have heard about it.

    All the best,

    John.

    #116126
    Darkest Star Games
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    Great read, thanks for posting.  Had never heard of this at all.  Very interesting about the cutting out party, not something you hear about in WW2!

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #116561
    grizzlymc
    grizzlymc
    Participant

    Thankyou Mr Salt. I had heard of this op, but had no inkling of the details nor the casualties. It really would make a great subject for a wargame.

    It seems to be one of those cases where elite forces are called for. A brigade could never have funneled down that road and taking the objective with less than a brigade was always going to take a fight of epic proportions.

    #116593
    Jemima Fawr
    Jemima Fawr
    Participant

    Fantastic account, John!  I wish I’d had an account of that quality when I did my cadet tours. 🙁

    My wargames blog: http://www.jemimafawr.co.uk/

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