Discuss Sword Beach - D Day - Westminster Dragoons in Military History and Militaria on The Army Rumour Service; Whilst looking into the history of 22nd Dragoons I came across several references to A Squadron, Westminster Dragoons, which landed on Sword Beach behind 22nd Dragoons with the Staffordhire Yeomanry. Looking at the Westminster Dragoons ...
Whilst looking into the history of 22nd Dragoons I came across several references to A Squadron, Westminster Dragoons, which landed on Sword Beach behind 22nd Dragoons with the Staffordhire Yeomanry. Looking at the Westminster Dragoons war diary you would think only B and C Squadrons, which landed on Gold Beach, were the sole participants from the regiment.
Surprisingly there is little published information about the Westminster Dragoons although there are drafts of planned books and other small publications hidden away which pad out the regiment's activities.
This thread is to make public personal experiences collated by the Westminster Dragoons Association, edited by Richard Bullock who was the Vice President of the OCA in the 1990s. He got the idea fro teh books "Voices from Normandy" in 1994. I am very grateful to his making this happen.
If any authors out there wish to use this information then please approach the Westminster Dragoons Association before doing so.
Our concentration area was at Bolney on the A23 near Haywards Heath. We tested the waterproofing of our vehicles in a water tank at Pease Pottage, a few miles up the road and embarked at Newhaven on, I suppose, 3 June with the intention of setting out on the 4th; but because of the postponement of the invasion, we must have remained on the LCT for two nights. We finally sailed on 5 June, and our convoy made its way West along the South coast until, in the area off Southsea which became known as Piccadilly Circus, we joined up with other forces which had come from Southampton water and further points West; there we turned left to cross the Channel with the rest of the huge invasion fleet – which made an unforgettable sight as the sun went down.
A Squadron was not due to take part in the initial assault on D-Day, but parts of my troops and 4 troop under Lt. “Sam” Hall landed some three hours later after H-hour in support of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, an armoured regiment which was part of a 3rd Division force supposed to follow up the initial assault and capture of Caen by the evening of D-day; in the end it was held up 3 or 4 miles short of this objective, and Caen was not finally captured until 9 July.
A Squadron had only been chosen for this role at a late stage; consequently whereas B and C Squadrons’ tanks had practised driving on and off landing craft, our crews never saw one until they embarked for D-day. As the flail equipment on the front of the Sherman tank was only 7” narrower than the bow door opening of the LCT, it was a considerable test of the unpractised drivers skills to back the cumbersome vehicles on board and drive them off again safely; the consequences of a flail getting jammed in the opening and blocking the exit for succeeding vehicles did not bear thinking about; but as far as I know, this never happened.
The weather was very rough as we chugged South at the speed of the slowest ships in the convoy – the LCTs; many of the troops were seasick, not helped by the cramped and smelly conditions. Though I was not a good sailor, the adrenalin flow stimulated by the occasion saved me from seasickness – and also, so far as I remember, from undue apprehension about what might lie ahead.
On each side we could dimly see other landing craft and escorting vessels – destroyers, minesweepers and occasional MTBs; one of the latter was festooned with loudspeakers and on its way to create a diversion off a different part of the French coast by playing recordings of chains rattling, orders being shouted and other naval noises.
Long before we could see the coast, explosions gunfire and smoke were visible in the distance and we heard the fearsome noise of 15” naval shells screaming overhead to bombard the German positions.
By the time I landed on Sword Beach, near Lion-sur-Mer, the main battle had moved inland and the beach was relatively quiet, though littered with wrecked vehicles, I saw an area of foreshore which seemed to be unscathed, and decided to flail across it to make another safe passage to the road beyond; however, we encountered no mines. We drove through the village of Hermanville, a little way inland, without event. Most of the local people were so shaken by the bombardment that only a few ventured out to wave a welcome. We rendezvoused with the rest of the half-squadron and the squadron commander, Major Brian Wallace, a short way beyond the village, on a broad plain sloping gently up to a crest beyond which the battle had passed. We had got out of our tanks to stretch our legs and have a brew-up, when I noticed a tank a couple of hundred yards away burst into flames. I naively thought this must have been due to carelessness with its cooker. Another vehicle (believed to be the Staffordshire yeomanry MO’s half-track) came up to help and it too burst into flames; when a third tank went up, I belatedly realised that someone was shooting at the great array of vehicles spread over the plain; there must have been at least a hundred sitting targets.
I ordered my crews to mount and my gunner to traverse the turret while I vainly searched for any sign of where the shooting was coming from. Suddenly there was an enormous clang; I asked over the intercom whether the crew were OK; the co-driver said he was, but that the spare chains for the flail (some of which were kept in a container on the front of the tank and could be seen through his periscope) had gone; the driver (on the left) added that he had seen tehm fly past him. I realised then that we had been hit by a projectile fried from our right, but it had missed the tank hull. (Subsequent inspection showed than an 88mm AP shot had passed through both arms of the flailing gear just in front of the hull).
I hastily told the driver to advance and dodge about so as not to be a sitting duck, while I tried to spot our attacker. A few seconds later I saw a nearby tank of my troop hit; it was not so lucky as we had been, and was hit fair and square; fortunately all the crew got out and survived, though the driver and co-driver were both wounded, the former seriously.
There was no further firing and I later heard that two men in German uniform had surrendered to the crew of the knocked-out tank; apparently an anti-tank gun had got left behind in the German retreat, and its crew had decided to fire off their remaining ammunition before surrendering. Some said that they were not Germans, but from some East European country (perhaps USSR) but I do not know if this was confirmed.
Later we moved forward beyond the crest, and saw some way ahead a tank battle with a counter-attacking force from 21st Panzer Division. About 5 pm – by which time the sun was shining brightly – we saw the second airborne force of the invasion passing almost overhead to land East of the River Orne; dozens of Lancasters and Halifaxes discharged their loads of paratroopers, and Stirlings released the gliders they were towing. It was a splendid and heart-warming sight, though sadly a few aircraft were hit by ack-ack fire and one grieved for the fate of their crews, particularly the gallant, parachuteless, troops in the gliders. Little did I know at the time that the arrival of this force was what persuaded the German commander that he would not be able to achieve his objective of breaking through to the sea between the British and Canadian armies, and to call off the counter-attack – which if successful could have fundamentally changed the course of events in the British sector of the landing.
Later that evening we were pulled back to harbour for the night, and my last memory of D-day was of a German fighter (the only one we saw all day) flying fast and low from East to West along the beaches; a hail of AA and machine gun fire was let loose at it from every direction – but the only apparent result was the spectacular collapse in flames of several of the numerous barrage balloons protecting the invasion fleet. I vividly recall one of my troopers, “Ginger” Peddie, with his shock of red hair, leaping on to my tank and joining in with a vain burst from the turret .50 AA Browning gun – the first and last shots fired in anger from my tank on 6 June 1944.
Dear Mr Bullock
We read with much interest the above story, and we, meaning the membership secretary and museum curator of the Westminster Dragoons Regimental Association. May we ask, do you have any other D Day info, eg, names, places etc, etc, as this info will be invaluable to the Association. Reply via this thread or firstname.lastname@example.org.
First sight of landing beaches about 0800 hrs – very hazy, sea choppy, dull sky. Young Naval padre did his rounds – no religion mentioned.
Rocket ships moving out as our LCT went nearer, beach looked crowded; presumed this was the right place Sword Queen Red. Trouble-free run in with our ramp going down in 2 or 3 inches of water at mid-morning (can’t remember, but guess approximately 11.00 hrs). Beach not very wide (incoming tide).
Tanks leaving beach in single file, remember weather now bright, blue sky, brisk wind blowing smoke inland.
G Woodhouse, the driver, negotiated some sort of ramp which led on to promenade without problem, we turned left. Noticed one civilian in long raincoat away to our right. To our left was a large wooden building which I took to be a tramshed as the tram lines from promenade went into the building. Tank stopped whilst Cpl Coop, our tank commander, helped our Military Police passenger to get out. I dismounted and P Coop passed the MP’s motorbike down – stayed out until the MP started his bike then climbed aboard tank.
We went only a few yards further then turned right down a main street – tall buildings on each corner all knocked about, no windows. Fairly good speed through this place (Hermanville), passed walking soldiery; recall seeing a sign “Achtung Minen” which had been uprooted. One or two groups of civilians outside farms, but didn’t stop, didn’t speak. My lasting impression was that they were worried/sullen.
Pulled into a field on our left and soon joined by a half-track from which emerged the Commanding Officer (Lt. Col. Blair-Oliphant) in white overalls. Moved off about 14.00 hrs in single file behind tanks of the Staffs Yeomanry. Hadn’t gone far when I realised shots were coming from the right – the first was an ‘over’ the second and third shots each hit tanks ahead of us – at this stage I remember thinking that the next one could hit us – it did. Even after 50 years this is particularly vivid. The front compartment was full of smoke. I opened the hatch and baled out into long grass or corn, then found I was unable to stand or walk. Turret crew appeared and from them learned that they had got G Woodhouse out of the tank.
LCpl Reg Davis and crew (4 Troop) were by now on the scene and I have a recollection of hearing that they had lost a track. G Stedall had baled out in beret and asked for my steel helmet and revolver, both of which I gave him in exchange for his beret which was too big for me.
Next recollection is of some ‘coal-scuttle’ helmets being spotted approaching, but don’t recall the outcome beyond the fact I cannot remember any shots being fired. I was told later that they were intent on surrendering.
Very little coherent thoughts from now on … can remember being given morphia and being taken on a jeep and being in a tented hospital with the continual sound of planes overhead all night.
As an epilogue and after 6 June I recall being on a stretcher with many other casualties … many red berets on high ground overlooking a beach which was being bombed by relays of 5 planes … this would be Wednesday 7 or Thursday 8 June. Loaded onto a DUKW which had to make 5 attempts before getting up the ramp of a LST. Can remember that there were German wounded on the LST and recall having drinks of iced water (must have been a US navy ship). Next remember being on a stone ramp near water’s edge obviously being sorted out as there was mention of Haslar (Naval hospital at Gosport) … this rang a bell as I had a cousin who was a Sick Berth Attendant at Haslar at this time. … recall being on a bunk in a train and then having a drink of tea from an invalid’s cup (like a miniature teapot). This was Botley Park Emergency Hospital, Chertsey on 9 June 1944.
The reference to his CO is worth noting. The Westsminster Dragoons CO had smuggled himself ashore in the B Sqn BARV during the assault on Gold Beach. So it is a remarkable feat to have been able to travel across the three beacheads during the early combat.
For those curious about the source of these accounts they all come from "D-Day Remembered: Personal Recollections of Members of the Westminster Dragoons (2nd County of London Yeomanry) Who LAnded .in Normandy on 6 June 1944". These were all collated by the then Vice President of teh Westminster Dragoons Association, Richard Bullock.
There was a video called 'The real Private Ryan' being archive film and reminescences of the aforementioned namesake, I did have a copy, but it's either lost or lent. It might still be available on Amazon.
The Dragoons did a battlefield tour several years back, Julian Humphrys from the National Army Museum covered some of D-Day and had some of the war diaries of the period in facsimile form. If I can find my copy, I'll get back to the thread.