5 East Yorks on D-Day
From a history of the East Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of York’s Own) in the War of 1939 – 1945
Source: P.R. Nightingale, A History of the East Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of York’s Own) in the War of 1939-1945. East Riding: Mr. Pye (Books), The Howden Bookshop, 1998. Originally published in 1952.
5th Battn. June, 1944
The 5th Battalion’s ‘Run-in’ to its (‘Red King’) beach was met by the enemy with some shelling, but none of the unit’s craft was hit. As guns from the ships pounded away, and the rocket-firing ships delivered their salvoes, the amphibious tanks advanced to the shore, followed closely by the infantry assault craft.
The arrangement was that ‘A’ Company was to land on the right–with ‘B’ Company in support, while ‘D’ Company—with ‘C’ in support—was to land on the left. The first two Companies were to clear the immediate vicinity of the beaches, the supporting Companies passing through them to further objectives. On the right, the further objective was the village of Ver sur Mer, a mile back from the beach: on the left the further objective was a crossroads East of the seaside village of La Riviere. The East Yorkshires having attained these objectives, the Green Howards were to pass through them to objectives still further inland.
The 5th Battn. was put down on the beach at exactly the right time and in exactly the right place–with 200 to 300 yards to go up the beach to the sea-wall at the top. The landing was ‘Very wet—up to 4′ of water’.
Cap badge of the Yorkshires
On the right, ‘A’ Company met little opposition, for the enemy facing them came out of their defences with hands up. On the left however, it was a different story.
In the village of La Riviere, there was known to be a German anti-tank gun—aerial photography had revealed that. It had been hoped that bombing or naval shellfire would have put it out of action before the infantry came ashore, but it had been arranged that if not, the gun was to be blown up by a Royal Engineer tank by means of a petard–a very large high explosive. Unfortunately, not only had the gun come scathless out of the bombardments, but in addition, the enemy had machine gun posts in the houses and firing from the sea-wall.
East Yorks under fire
Above: From The Real Counties of Britain by Russell Grant. Oxford: Lennard Publishing, 1989
Right: Training exercise, 1942: men of the 2nd Battalion cross a two-rope bridge under fire
As ‘D’ Company came ashore, then, it was met by shell fire from this gun and fairly heavy small-arms fire besides. The amphibious tanks, three of them, one after another, were knocked out by the gun. The R.E. tank with a petard aboard, that was to have dealt with the gun, was itself hit by a shell from the gun, whereupon it ‘blew up and disintegrated’ amongst the infantry causing more casualties from the flying metal. Two of the Company’s platoon commanders were killed while advancing up the beach. However, the Company eventually arrived at the top of the beach, dealt with the gun, and began clearing the houses.
Captain Sugarman was wounded (for the third time in the war) and Captain Consitt took over command.
The clearing of the houses from the back presented difficulty because 10 foot high brick walls separated each house from the next, and when the men scaled the walls they were shot at as they surmounted them.
Captain Consitt was able to arrange with a British tank commander for him to put his tank through the walls, fire at anything turning up in the next garden, while the infantry would follow along and mop up.
Just before ‘D’ Company, by this means, arrived at its objective, 30 or 40 of the enemy appeared and surrendered to it.
Meanwhile ‘C’ Company following ‘D’ up the beach had also suffered casualties from the gun and from small arms fire. On arrival at the top of the beach it had been unable to get forward to its further objective as ‘D’ Company not yet cleared the houses. The C.O. finding how ‘D’ Company had been held up, took a platoon of ‘C’ Company along the sea-wall, and arrived at ‘D’ Company’s objective just at the same time as ‘D’—crashing through the last brick wall— itself arrived there.
Meanwhile ‘B’ Company had reached its village of Ver sur Mer. It was now ordered to clear ‘C’ Company’s objective from the rear, which was done without great difficulty.
Before ‘D’ Company had quite cleared its objective, the Green Howards passed through going inland.
‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies of the 5th Battn. were now ordered to advance from Ver sur Mer southwards to the village of Crepon, while ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, badly mauled, were formed into one composite Company, after which that Company also moved on Crepon.
In the advance on Crepon, the Battalion passed through the Green Howards, afterwards meeting scattered opposition. Accompanied by tanks, with one or two Companies in extended order on either side, the advance was made across open cornfields ‘for all the world like a partridge drive across a field of roots.’ Flushing and shooting up Germans as they went, the troops steadily went forward. Most Germans ran and were shot as they went: a few stayed to fight: one was literally kicked from his spandau (machine gun) by the 2nd in Command of ‘B’ Company.
While up with the forward troops, the C.O. Lt.-Col. White was wounded so that the command devolved upon Major J. H. F. Dixon.
About a Company of German infantry with two guns opposed the Battalion at the village of St. Gabriel, but the place was occupied. In a wood further South, there was again strong opposition from the enemy. Here, a Brigade attack, supported by tanks drove out the enemy, and at 11 p.m. the village of Brecy—some 2000 yards short of the day’s final objective—was reached and occupied.
At other places on this Divisional front, notably at Le Hamel, the 50th had been held up rather seriously, but by the end of the day, the Division had attained its objectives in the main.
The 5th Battn. had suffered heavily. Ten Officers were casualties. Some 85 O.R. were killed on the beaches alone. Like its sister Battalion, the 2nd, a few miles to the East, the veteran 5th had played a glorious part in this momentous operation.