Chapter 2. Preparation for D day and the
assault on the Merville battery

Once the battalionā€˜s task on D day was known, detailed training for it could begin, although of course no actual orders giving the time or place of the operation could be issued. All ranks were reminded of the need for "security" about the type of training they were to begin. Continuous checks were carried out in the training area by field security police without however, any leakages being reported. Late in April a piece of ground at West woodhay near Newbury was chosen and the requisition for the land involved was obtained in 48 hours, although seven different Ministries had to be consulted. On it a full scale model of the battery was built and kept up to date with the latest available air photographs. Casemates and shelters were made of tubular scaffolding and canvas, the wire defences, minefields, ditches and buildings were exactly copied and the ground round the battery was cleared and levelled. Entry to the area was barred to all except the battalion and the staffs of brigade and divisional headquarters,

During the night 8th/9th May the battalion marched from Bulford to Woodhay, where they bivouacked near the battery model, remaining there until their return on foot to Bulford on May 24th. In these 16 days continuous training on the model went on, ending up with five daylight and four night rehearsals of the whole assault, each with ball ammunition. One of the men wrote home to his people from Normandy describing this period, saying:-

"Nearly three weeks of really hard work by day and night, doing the same thing over and over again meant we could do the whole thing without thinking ...... Can one wonder that we knew and were confident, that if everything went according to plan, we could not fail ..."

There is no doubt that this care in preparation for the battle paid a big dividend in the increased confidence of all ranks and in their knowledge of the ground and of what was required of them. Also it established a tradition of detailed briefing of all ranks whenever humanly possible, which is still, at the time of writing, of great value to the battalion.

On May 25th the battalion moved to the airfield transit camp at Broadwell, which they were to share with 1st Bn, The Royal Ulster Rifles until the time came for take-off. It was a tented camp close to the RAF station, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by young soldier reinforcements from both battalions, who were to be left behind, A rigid system of passes was introduced and only officers and men on special duty could get in or out of the camp. All leave was stopped and censorship began. The camp was cut off from the countryside beyond the wire and this isolation gave most men a sense of dedication, as if the operation had already begun. There was no way out of this camp except by parachute into Normandy.

The Ulster Rifles were old friends of the 9th Bn and both shared in the high spirits of those waiting days. Soldiers can seldom have been more confident before an assault, and the tension in men's minds made them respond vigorously to every camp activity. Orders were absorbed more quickly and intelligently than before, sing-songs were louder and more exuberant than usual, and the atmosphere in the camp

(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: 9th Bn The Parachute Regiment North West Europe 1944 - 45

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