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At about 0730 hours on the 6th of June, 1944, the Hampshires and the Dorsets touched down on the beaches, claiming, by virtue of considerations of the tide, to be the first British troops to land in Normandy. Another proud claim those two battalions could make was that this was their third assault landing on a hostile coast, which is believed to be a unique record.

Comparatively little damage was suffered from the beach obstacles, although some landing craft came to grief. But the enemy reaction was immediate, and the beach area came under a considerable amount of shell and mortar fire, as well as machine- gun fire from some of the strong points. It was found, unfortunately, that the bombardments, naval and air, had done less damage than had been hoped for.

On the right, the Hampshires found resistance in Le Hamel very bitter. They quickly lost their commanding officer (wounded) and their second-in-command (killed),and Major D.W. Warren, one of the company commanders, assumed command. (For his conduct this day he was subsequently awarded the D.S.O.) After battling all day, the battalion was able to clear no further than Arromanches to the west, having suffered heavy casualties.

On the left, the Dorsets were landed slightly further east than had been intended, The resistance on the beaches was nearly all confined to shell and mortar fire, and mines. Les Roquettes was soon captured, end the advance on Pt. 54 began - worried to no little extent by enfilade fire from enemy 88 mm guns and machine guns on the Meuvaines ridge, which had not yet been cleared by the 69th Brigade. (It was during this brigade's assault that C.S.M. Hollis of the Green Howards won his v.C.). The leading company at this stage, under Major R.M. Nicoll (who was later awarded the M.C. for his gallantry),assisted a company of the Hampshires to dispose of the enemy in Asnelles, and then continued its advance on Buhot and Pt.54. It was soon found that the German Coastal Division had been reinforced by another division, and that fresh defences had been constructed on the Pt.54 feature. There was, therefore, stiff fighting before the Dorsets gained possession of this important high ground and captured the battery (155 mm). A squadron of the Sherwood Rangers assisted in the final phase, and two of the companies, one under Major Nicoll and the other under Major W.N. Hayes (who was also awarded the M.C.) particularly distinguished themselves. By this time, although heavy casualties had been inflicted and many prisoners taken, the battalion had lost no less than 14 officers and well over 100 men. Many months later, an officer of the Essex Yeomanry told the writer that the magnificent dash of the assault battalions had never, in his opinion, since been equalled, and the Essex Yeomanry had, since D-day, co-operatcd with most formations in the Second Army.

The Devons, who landed approximately three-quarters of an hour after the assault battalions, unfortunately suffered a number of casualties when still on the beaches and during their move forward. They pressed on, however, and captured Ryes. But this was not done without some fighting, and it was decided that Longues could not be reached that day. One company advanced as far as La Rosiere, where they were held up. One sad loss suffered by the Devons on this day was that of Major H.V. Duke, a particularly gallant company commander, who had won the M.C. and bar in Sicily.

(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: The Malta Brigade Strikes Back, 1944 June

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