At 1251 hours the bridges were reached and contact was made with the airborne troops, both parties being extremely glad to see each other. We were harassed considerably by snipers and an MG upstream whilst crossing the bridge. It was here that the CO, Lt-Col N.C Ries RM was wounded in the thigh by a sniper and unfortunately had to be evacuated. We heard later that he was shot up by enemy aircraft whilst being taken off in a DUKW and was wounded a second time in the legs.

Major W.N. Gray now assumed command.


It was not clear at this stage whether the coastal defence batteries at Merville - the capture of which was 45 Commando’s first task, if not already carried out by 9 Para Battalion- was still in enemy hands. The Brigade Commander therefore ordered the unit to proceed independently to Merville in order to clarify the situation. Meanwhile 6 Commando, which had been first across the bridges, were starting their attack on the high ground by the enemy at Le Plein.

45 Commando accordingly moved off on its own at a somewhat faster pace, with the cycle troop (C Troop) acting as advance guard.

After passing through the village of Salanelles the Recce group ran into trouble. The two leading troops had turned off to the right immediately outside the village and had failed to leave a guide. Moving along the main coast road the Recce group suddenly saw the enemy running for their strong points to the left of the road some 500 yards away. Fire was opened by both sides at once, but the enemy had the road well covered. As a result the Recce group and the leading section of E Troop were pinned down. The enemy opened fire with MGs and mortars whereupon the Recce group made a painful retreat along a ditch lining the Salanelles road. However, the 3” mortar detachment were compensated for their particularly long carry by being ordered to action. They engaged the strong points, and dropped 30 bombs in and around the enemy positions.

During this mortar shoot, the unit moved through Salanelles towards it’s objective, Franceville-Plage. The route was to the right of the string point and the advance continued, despite a few casualties, from enemy MG and mortar fire.

Approaching the open ground to the north of the Merville battery, which 9 Para Battalion silenced early in the morning, the leading troop was on by the enemy, who had returned in strength to this heavily defended position. During reconnaissance previous to the attack a signal was received ordering the unit to hold MErville for the night and not to advance to Franceville-Plage.

Accordingly, the battery was by-passed, Merville village cleared - including a German HQ - and an all-round defensive position taken up by 1900 hours. The village was damaged considerably, mainly by RAF bombing, but the demolished houses and farms made good cover. Digging started furiously and the unit was safely under ground very quickly. HQ was established in two broken down cottages with a thick walled garden. We looked rather longingly at a big farm with a large courted yard but decided that comfort must be sacrificed for efficiency and safety, and therefore remained in our humble cottages. It was just as well we did, for the farm was set on fire by an SP gun.

So ended the first day. Our casualties were as follows:
Lt. W.E Kennedy, IO (Killed)
Lt.Col. N.C. Ries, CO (Wounded)
Lt. Peter Nelson, Signals Officer (Wounded)

(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: 45 (R.M.) Commando - Extracts from Unit History covering campaign Normandy to the Baltic

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