By Jason D. Mills
As a United States Marine, I know what it means to see honor, courage, and commitment in action. However, I will never know the sacrifice of those men who went before me on June 6, 1944 when they stormed the beach at Normandy. As we remember the 71st anniversary of D-Day, 3Rivers Archery would like to say, “thank you” to all service members past and present.
The following is an account of D-Day from Tom Fenwick, who was off the coast in the HMS Talybont, first published by The Guardian.
D-Day and the run up to it still remains clearly in my memory, even fifty years after the event.
At this time I was an Able seaman on HMS Talybont, a Destroyer with a compliment of approximately 200 men. She was then a member of H striking Force in the English Channel.
Weymouth was sealed off for an entire fortnight. Nothing was allowed in or out of the town so we were aware that something big was going to occur even though there did not appear to be particularly many armed ships in the harbour. However, we were ordered to set sail at mid-day, for Lands End where we were to form part of the destroyer escort for U.S. battleships. It was an impressive sight, the 16″ gun battleships steaming in line ahead and the harbour was soon full of armament.
All the ship’s companies were assembled in a large hall in Weymouth for a full briefing by senior members of the armed force, detailing strategy and targets, and , since the town had been sealed off, the men were able to discuss it freely in the pubs and cafes of the town.
When the eve of the day came, the RAF dropped an estimated 10,000 tons of bombs to clear the beach carrying on bombing until midnight. We sailed at about 1am., one of three British ships with the American Forces heading for Utah beach near Cherbourg and we arrived in position at 6.am. By ten minutes past six every ship was at its designated co-ordinates. The Talybont was stationed about one mile off the coast and lying behind was the US battleship Texas. This huge ship was told to fire over the top of us and as the day progressed I could feel the draught as her shells whistled over head.
The Talybont’s job was to give covering fire for the Marine commandos who were clearing the beaches of mines and her more specifically designated targets were to take out a 15 gun machine-gun nest, a radar station and a heavy battery.
“In fact it seemed as if it were possible to walk to the shore on dead bodies of men without getting your feet wet.”
In the first 10 minutes 10.000 tons of explosives must have been bombarded at the coastline. and this went on for two hours. I was a member of the ammunition party supplying shells for the 4” guns and an enormous amount passed through my hands At the height of the bombardment there was gunfire and smoke as far as the eye could see, both up and down the coast.
US soldiers, the Texas Rangers and the Marines landed in flat bottom boats and powered catamarans. They stood with arms locked together so that each craft was filled to its utmost capacity. The Texas Rangers were heaving grappling irons up the cliffs and climbing ropes under heavy fire to wipe out the guns which were raining bullets down on them. Landing craft deposited hundreds of tanks on the beaches preceded by crawler tractors laying wire mesh tank track to form a path of solid ground. All the time guns were blazing and the air was filled with acrid smoke. Even in those days the accuracy of the shooting was remarkable. US Texas received a message that enemy artillery in a wood 20 miles inland were hampering the landings. The US Texas delivered one broadside to the co-ordinates and got a message immediately that the job had been done.
Whilst the bombardment continued it seemed to us on the ship that we were invincible and that not one shot was being fired by the enemy, but when the smoke cleared after 3 hours, we could see an enormous amount of casualties. In fact it seemed as if it were possible to walk to the shore on dead bodies of men without getting your feet wet. However, looking through the range finder some little time later I saw that, in the middle of countryside torn to chalk and trees reduced to kindling, the hospital tents were up and the medics getting on with their jobs.
We remained in the area for some time after D Day. I saw the Mulberry harbours floated in, linked up and in use as jetties within 2 days.
We were patrolling around the bigger ships off the coast for the following fortnight, still occasionally coming under enemy fire.
We were 14 miles out in the channel when the Talybont received a direct hit. Several members of the crew were killed but the ship remained afloat. To his horror the Captain found steering forrid made the ship take in so much water we were liable to sink and so I became one of the few who sailed back to Portsmouth after the D Day landings, on the HMS Talybont, travelling engines full astern.