Tue, 06/06/1944

NORMANDYLANDINGThe Battle Honour NORMANDY LANDING is emblazoned on the King's Colour of The Royal Irish Regiment.

Both the 1st (Airborne) Battalion, on Operation MALLARD, and the 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, on Operation NEPTUNE, took part in Operation OVERLORD, the battle for Normandy, beginning on 6 June 1944.

Operation NEPTUNE was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Lieutenant Colonel I C Harris commanding 2 RUR, part of 9 Brigade, the reserve brigade for the 3rd Division, landed on the Queen sector of Sword Beach (right). The Division’s post-landing objective included the city of Caen, some 15 km inland from Sword.

waittomoveThe Battalion’s LCIs began landing at 1200 hrs at Lion sur Mer, to the west of the village of Ouistreham and by late afternoon had sustained few casualties. Owing to the considerable sea swell, many Riflemen were soaked through, even before they landed. Some waded ashore in deep water because their landing craft beached short, leaving them to carry their heavy kit, including a bicycle, through neck-high water. Later, the Battalion moved to its assembly area at Lion-sur-mer, where it suffered some casualties from enemy artillery and mortar fire.

(Left, 2 RUR at La Brèche d'Hermanville during their move inland. © IWM B(5104))

During the move out of the assembly area to that night’s hasty defensive position near Périers-sur-le-Dan, the sight of the gliders flying overhead caused one Rifleman to declare with some envy, ‘Look at them - that's what they call a ... route march’.

The 1st (Airborne) Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R J H Carson, moved to the airfields at 1700 hours with the first glider departing at 1832 hours from Broadwell. Operation MALLARD was 6 Airlanding Brigade’s reinforcement of the 6th Airborne Division on the left flank of the invasion beaches. At 2100 hours, six minutes earlier than planned, Major G P Rickcord and his B Company headquarters were the first Riflemen to land on LZ ‘N’ near Ranville. Captain Sheridan, the Adjutant no doubt had an arrival experience shared by many and remembers hearing:

'"Casting off" called the pilot, and I heard the 'clonk' as he pulled the tow rope release lever, and I felt the nose go down as we began our glide into the Landing Zone. Leaning forward, I suddenly saw streaks of light flashing past the nose of the glider and I realised that this was ack-ack fire from the ground. We took up our landing positions, with arms around one another's necks to help cushion any impact, and waited - with a prayer for a safe landing. Suddenly the familiar crunch and rumble as the landing gear touched the ground. On and on we seemed to go as the pilot fought to steer the glider away from the line required for following gliders and then we were still. 'Under fire' shouted the pilot, and we all released our seatbelts and dived for the door, jumping four or five feet to the ground and then taking up the defensive positions previously rehearsed so often.'

Despite some earlier anti-aircraft fire, anti-glider obstacles across the LZ, and enemy mortar and machine-gun fire, the 145 gliders all landed safely on the correct LZs to unload men, vehicles and equipment without loss - bar one glider hit by mortar fire after landing that had burned out with one of its occupants reported missing. Rifleman John Woodburn, aged 19, had in fact been shot dead by an enemy sniper. By 2230 hours, Battalion Headquarters was established in farm buildings at Le Bas de Ranville. Enemy snipers were active in the town of Ranville and there were enemy positions between the town and Ste Honorine, on a ring contour known as the Hill 30, and beyond at Ste Honorine. The CO prepared the Battalion to seize Ste Honorine. At 2349 hours, C Company was ordered to seize and occupy Hill 30 and by 0200 hours on 7 June had done so, reporting no opposition.

(Below, part of Landing Zone 'N', north of Ranville, Normandy (© IWM HU 92976))

IWM (HU 92976)Another Airborne RUR officer, Lieutenant Colonel T B H Otway, commanded the 9th Battalion The Parachute Regiment and his Battalion’s D-Day mission was to capture the German coastal battery at Merville. The heavily fortified battery was expected to include 155mm guns that had to be destroyed to prevent them firing onto Sword Beach, the landing area for 3rd Infantry Division (that included 2 RUR). They discovered it was in fact equipped with antiquated 100mm howitzers and although Otway’s men could not destroy the battery casements they did render the howitzers unusable.

(To read a Royal Navy sailor’s personal account from aboard Landing Craft Infantry 375 carrying 2 RUR, please click on the attachment below.)