An account of the 'run-in shoot' that suppressed the German response as the landing craft approached the Normandy beaches
The artillery firepower of the Allies during the Normandy landings in June 1944 was critical to the success of the whole campaign. Yet the ubiquitous gunners of the Royal Artillery are often overlooked in accounts of Operation Overlord - obvious but invisible.
D-Day Gunners: Firepower on the British Beaches and Landing Grounds is therefore very welcome, covering in considerable detail how the artillery battle was fought, as a component of the overall firepower that included bombing and naval gunfire. It introduces the lay reader to many different aspects of gunnery on the battlefield, covering much technical ground with very clear explanations. Highly recommended for those wanting a fuller understanding of the D-Day battlefield.
This book also serves as a guidebook for those visiting Normandy - with several different guided tours pointing out significant landmarks. Within these tour instructions are many contemporaneous accounts of the action on the day, and numerous supporting photographs.
A second volume, covering the American beaches, Omaha and Utah is forthcoming.
The following account by Colonel Nigel Tapp, commanding 7th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, gives a very clear description of how the self propelled 105mm guns were controlled while firing from their Landing Craft as they approached Sword Beach - the “run in shoot” that was unique to D-Day. In this case they were supporting an assault on strongpoint WN20, codenamed ‘Cod’.
We were up at 0400 hrs on 6 June getting ready to open up the wireless. H Hour was 0725 hrs DBST [Double British Summer Time]. We were to start shooting at 0655 hrs and wireless was to open at 0625 hrs. In the (ship) Dacres I had one ships set on the Regimental command net and in reserve two 68 portable crystal sets. The wireless worked perfectly and by 0600hrs all Regimental nets were working and through.
As the sky and sea lightened, I saw a sight that I shall never forget. The sea was a dark glossy blue flecked with white horses; it was covered with craft as far as one could see. Far away to the south I could see the smoke of the RAF bombing of the French coast. At 0644 hrs ranging of the regimental guns began and by 0655 hrs the guns opened up at 10,000 yards.
It was a great relief to me that after all the years of training, all the communications were perfect, and the guns opened up at the correct range. This was much better than any of our exercises. Generally, we found on exercises that either communications were bad or that the gun LCTs were at the wrong range.
[As they approached the beach, the launches carrying the observers of 33 and 76 Field Regiments were hit and sunk; Captain Daniel of 76 Field was killed, but Major Wise, the observer for 33 Field, was picked up by Captain Hendrie Bruce, the observer for 7 Field Regiment, and the whole shoot was controlled from his launch]:
The big LSIs [Landing Ships, Infantry] had hove-to at the lowering position and had launched the thirty odd LCAs [Landing Craft, Assault] carrying the assault companies of the East Yorkshires and the South Lancashires. These small craft were making their way, pitching and rolling, towards the distant shore which was now clearly visible in the light of a grey stormy day and appeared absolutely deserted. We could see the long row of villas and boarding houses on the sea front and identified the mouth of the River Orne by the lighthouse at Ouistreham but had not positively identified strongpoint Cod as yet.
Meanwhile the LCTs [Landing Craft, Tank] carrying the DD [Duplex Drive] tanks of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars and the AVREs [Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers] of 5th Assault Regiment Royal Engineers kept steaming steadily on. It was planned that the former should heave to at 7,000 yards and launch the DDs but owing to the heavy sea running they closed to 5,000 yards.
We were quite close when sometime after 0600 hours we saw them swing round with their bows downwind and lower their ramps, allowing their extraordinary amphibious tanks with high, inflated bulwarks to crawl down into the water and set off for the shore looking like a lot of rubber dinghies. We were content to cruise along in their wake, scanning the coastline constantly with our special issue naval binoculars until we were satisfied we had identified Cod.
We had now closed the shore to about 3,000 yards. Further out to sea came the group of 18 LCTs [Landing Craft, Tank] carrying the Divisional Artillery and at about 0630 hours, when they were about 15,000 yards from the shore, they began to change formation ready for the ‘run-in-shoot’, as it was called. Led by LCT 331 (A Troop, 7 Field Regiment aboard) the craft adopted an arrowhead formation of three groups of six each with 7th Field Regiment in the centre, and 33rd and 76th (Highland) Field Regiments slightly to left and right rear respectively.
In close attendance was a motor launch equipped with a radar to calculate the opening range. The radio links were working perfectly, and all was now ready for ranging to begin at H-42. At 0644 hours (one minute late) the first ranging rounds were fired by A Troop, 7th Field Regiment, a section salvo of smoke.
‘At Rate 3 over 200 rounds per minute were arriving on the target which was soon seen to be well covered with burst both on the foreshore and among the buildings behind and by the end of the bombardment over 6,500 rounds, all HE, had been fired.’
To my great satisfaction I saw the third salvo hit the foreshore about 400 yards to the right of the target. I gave a correction and the range, confirmed by the radar Motor Launch, was passed to the three adjutants at the control sets of the leading craft of their regiments. Monitors, cruisers and destroyers had already begun[firing]. Promptly at H-35 (0650 hours) the seventy-two 105mm self-propelled guns of the 3rd Divisional Artillery opened fire at just over 10,000 yards range, firing HE, Rate 3.
The guns had been embarked side by side in sections with two guns forward, two aft and the other vehicles in between. Over 100 rounds per gun had been stacked on the tank decks to be expended solely on the run-in, mostly HE but some smoke also if required.
At Rate 3 over 200 rounds per minute were arriving on the target which was soon seen to be well covered with burst both on the foreshore and among the buildings behind and by the end of the bombardment over 6,500 rounds, all HE, had been fired.
The steady rate of decrease in the range was calculated by an instrument called the Coventry Clock with which each Gun Position Officer, standing on the bridge of his craft, was equipped. A stream of range corrections, dropping 100 yards at a time, was given out over the Tannoy loudspeakers.
The din down in the tank decks was deafening and not only the gunners but all personnel, drivers, signallers, cooks and the like were kept busy passing the ammunition and throwing the empty cartridge cases overboard. The 105mm ammunition came packed in large cardboard cylinders, and these, floating in their thousands in the wake of the LCTs laid a clear trail to the beach for those who followed.
The enemy had now woken up with a vengeance and the sea around the leading craft was peppered with splashes. Several LCTs took evasive action, causing confusion in general and some casualties ... and although many of the splashes could be attributed to enemy fire, some of our rounds appeared to be falling short.
We were particularly concerned at the fact that the pitching of the Divisional Artillery LCTs in the unusually rough sea might be lengthening the zone of the guns, so, as the first assault wave was nearing the beach, I gave the correction of ‘add 600’. The trouble persisted on the right of the target so I stopped the 76th to try and sort things out, but it was immediately apparent that the culprit was an LCT(R) [Landing Craft, Tank (Rocket)] whose salvoes of rockets were falling short, so I immediately gave ‘go on’ and the 76th resumed at an increased rate to catch up. It was now H-5 when all the guns lifted 400 yards. The assault then went in at 0725 hours, on time. The run-in shoot terminated, and my first task of the day was over.
This excerpt from D-Day Gunners: Firepower on the British Beaches and Landing Grounds appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd. Copyright remains with the author.