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41 Cdo - Sword Beach - D Day

Updated: Mar 27

Unit/ Formation: 41 Cdo RM

Location: France

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1944

Date/s: 6 June 1944

The most experienced unit in the Brigade, 41 RM Commando, departed Southampton Water at 2130, 5 June, aboard five LCI(S)s to go ashore at Hermanville-sur-Mer and move west to Lion-Sur-Mer then link up with their fellow commandos at Luc-sur-Mer.

As the commandos came ashore they faced moderate fire, loosing several men including their RSM, Naval Forward Observation Officer, and second in command, Major Barclay, but once they cleared the immediate beach defences the commandos found themselves in a relatively quite sector.

From their assembly area they marched down the coastal road toward Lion-sur-Mer joined by three AVREs.

As P and Y troops approached the town a well-concealed German PaK 38 gun ambushed the tanks destroying all three and stalling the assault.

The commandos scurried for cover taking up positions on both sides of the road. Their location revealed, the Germans fired a dizzying mortar, rocket, and artillery bombardment, but the commandos were unable to respond as they had expended all their mortar bombs in the initial push on Lion.

Meanwhile A and B troops had been moving ahead on their second objective at the Chateau, but were pre-emptively attacked as they made their approach and were forced back towards their comrades. Facing overwhelming defences and artillery, the commandos dug in and awaited reinforcements.

At 1330 battalions of the Lincolnshire and Royal Ulster Rifles regiments came ashore then moved up to the Commando’s position bringing with them a replacement Naval Observation Officer. As soon as he arrived, the destroyers off shore began a one hour-long naval bombardment battering the strong point and chateau.

Yet it was too late in the day for the commandos to launch an effective assault so as the sunset they dug in for the night. Through the darkness they observed German aircraft raking the beaches with fire and wondered how their comrades were fairing on the other beaches.

When dawn broke the German artillery fire began once again pinning the commandos and supporting infantry for another two hours. From over head came the awful drone of three approaching Heinkel bombers.

As a flight of Spitfires raced to intercept, the commandos looked up in horror as the Luftwaffe planes opened their bays and rained anti-personnel bombs directly on their position killing several men including their royal artillery observer and severely wounding their commanding officer, Lt Col Gray. Having already lost Major Barclay, command fell to the 23 year old Adjutant John Taplin.

Under his command the Commando joined the Lincolns in the final assault on the strongpoint and chateau. Once the two units had defeated the position that had long frustrated their plans, 41 Commando moved out alone to Luc-sur-mer.

Fortunately, they found the town undefended and dug in to wait for their comrades to join them from the Canadian beach. [1]

41 RM Commando landing on Sword Beach 6th June 1944

41 Cdo (Lt Col T M Gray) landed at H+90 near Luc-sur-Mare under heavy fire:

25th May to 4th June 1944

Place: C.19 Camp Southampton


(2 Hunt class Destroyers, 1 Fleet Destroyer).  Briefing continued until 4th June.


5th June 1944

Place: Warsash


1515 - Unit embarks in 5 L.C.I.(S) at Warsash.


2130 - Craft sail in convoy.


6th June 1944

Place: At Sea


0745 - Until 0745 hrs. when coast became dimly visible and our naval craft could be seen firing on the land targets the sea passage had been uneventful.


0750 - Message received by H.Q.L.C.I.(S) that the beaches were not under fire.


0825 - Coastline now perfectly visible and Troop Commanders were able to identify their beach from previous study of low obliques during the briefing.  The beach appeared a bit of a shambles.  It was littered with dead and wounded and burnt out tanks and with Flails flailing through wire and mines, Bulldozers clearing gaps etc.  The beach was quite obviously still under fire as mortar bombs and shells were crashing down fairly plentifully.  It appeared however that Red Beach was getting a better share of this fire than White.


0830 - Shells started falling around the craft and several near hits were reaching ships damaging ramps etc. on some craft but caused no casualties to personnel.

0845 - Touch down about 200 yards out to sea on Red Beach with our proper Beach, White, 300 yds. away on our left. Whilst still coming in, Lieut. Colonel Gray had foreseen this and did his best to get the craft to slew right on to the proper beach which was in fact drawing less fire than Red.

In the general confusion, however, his efforts were unsuccessful.

'P' Troop commanded by Captain B.J.B Sloley with a nucleus Advance H.Q. moved swiftly across to White Beach and within about 5 minutes were off the beach almost complete.

Within another 5 minutes a section of A. Troop with Captain C.N.P. Powell, DSO, Troop Commander had followed. Lieut. Colonel Gray then decided to move this body up to the first lateral and to find a more suitable spot for assembly.

0920 - P. and A. Troops halted at road junction 080809 and waited there for the remainder of the Commando.


0940 - By this time a dozen men of 'X' Troop had joined up and reported that their Troop Commander Captain H.E. Stratford, M.C. had been wounded on landing and that they had also lost about 25 men killed and wounded, on the beach.  'Y' Troop reported that the 2 i/c Major D.L. Barclay had been killed and that the Signal Officer Lieut. A.G. Aldis M.M. was a casualty.  Lieut. Colonel Gray then decided to push on with the troops he had collected and P. Troop followed by Y. Troop and A. started to move into LION.  Civilians contacted and gave information that the Germans had left at about 0700 hrs. that morning and the French seemed quite pleased to see us.  P. Troop were then ordered to push on and occupy the strongpoint, Y. following them in.


1020 - B. Troop were contacted and reported that Captain H. F. Morris Troop Commander was a casualty on the beach.  Lieut. Colonel Gray then decided that since Force II had lost its commander, Major D.L. Barclay and both troop commanders he would take both forces under his own command and employ them as far as possible in their original role.  P. Troop then reported held up by L.M.G. fire and snipers from houses on each side of strong point.  At the same time the S. Lancs contacted us and reported that they were held up by opposition from the strongpoint at Cross Roads 068816.  B. Troop under Lieut. Sturgis were ordered to move up road to Chateau as far as 065814 there to contact laterally the S. Lancs, A. Troop were to follow.  This was with a view to ultimately outflanking the strongpoint.  Wireless contact by this time had been established with 8 Br. Inf. Bde.  The codeword "TROUT" (contact S. Lancs) was passed.  The F.O.B's signalmen were all wounded on the beach and their sets destroyed, the F.O.B's own set was damaged hence no contact with naval support.  F.O.O. Lieut. Miller R.A. and party wounded on beach but R.A. Rep. Capt. J.C. Clough was up with HQ unable however to assist since the Centaurs attached had apparently been knocked out.


1040 - P. Troop still held down.  S. Lancs at this time were drawing mortar and M.G. fire and were having casualties.


1050 - Lieut. Colonel Gray ordered Y. Troop to prepare to back up the S. Lancs and if possible to assault through them.  Just at this time 3 Avre tanks contacted us and informed us that Br. Inf. Bde. had put them under command to assist where required.  They were immediately put in support of Y.


1100 - Accordingly, firing their Besas the tanks moved up the road Y. Troop following.  Within 100 yards of the strongpoint, unidentified gun, which later proved to be a 50mm PAK, opened fire at very short range and knocked out the first tank.  Within 5 minutes all 3 tanks were put out of action and enemy mortars had ranged on Y. Troop.  Y. Troop suffered casualties including Captain P.T.H. Dufton killed.  The remainder of the Troop occupied the houses on each side of the road.


1140 - B. Troop reported that they had pushed ahead as far as Cross Roads 062814 and that they had suffered casualties from mortar fire and from some unidentified mobile gun operating in area 059813 and that (temporarily) without some support on the Chateau area they could not push on.  The S. Lancs had not been contacted.  Since no support was available our own 3" Mortars having expended all their ammunition on the strongpoint, B. Troop were told to remain where they were.


1300 - Up to 1300 hrs. the position remained virtually unchanged with both sides sitting where they were engaging any targets that presented themselves.  No Arty or other support was available.  The L.O. (Lieut. Kay) was sent to 8 Br. Inf. Bde. to report this fact.


1310 - A. Troop report that they had got as far as houses in area 065814 where they had been mortared and fired upon from the left flank.  Capt. C.N.P. Powell D.S.O. was a casualty.  B. Troop at almost the same time reported that the enemy were counter attacking about 60 strong on the left flank with mortars and an infantry gun in support.  Lieut. Colonel Gray then appreciated that a counter attack on the commando might become general and decided to withdraw all Troops to the line of the lateral road running from the sea to the beach 070813 thence to road junction 067812 which was an easier line to defend.


1330 - By this time B. Troop and a section of A. Troop had withdrawn to the line, 1 Section of A. Troop was missing.  P. and Y. Troops conformed.  X. Troop, the smallest in numbers was attached to Y. Troop.  The general appreciation was that there was about 80 enemy in the strongpoint and 100 in the Chateau.  By this time the majority of casualties had been evacuated to the Beach by the 6 Jeeps which had landed at about 1000 hrs.  The FOB's Jeep with the Bombardier and wireless set also arrived and contact was made with the destroyers.  H.Q. moved from the Church to Orchard about 074813.


1500 - Contact 9 Inf. Bde. who had landed at H + 6 hrs. and had detached two Battalions to assist in coastal sector.  41 Cdo. came under command the 9 Inf. Bde. and the Brigadier ordered the 5 Lincolns and a battalion of the R.U.R. to complete the perimeter partly formed by 41's present positions to the sea; with the Lincs directly on 41's left.


1600 - By 1600 hrs. the Lincs were in position with a dividing line inclusive to 41 road Lion-Luc Sur Mer.  German aircraft dropped 1 bomb which fell on a small track about 50 yards from the H.Q. cratering it and rendering it unusable.


1800 - Between 1600 and 1800 hrs. there was intermittent mortar and shell fire from the enemy.  The navy had carried out a shoot on the strongpoint and the Chateau between 1700 - 1800 hrs.


1930 - Lieut. Stevens reported to H.Q. that he and the missing section of A. Troop had returned having been cut off in area 065814.  He himself on the way back knocked out a german armoured car (presumably the mobile gun referred to) with a grenade.  Except for sniping and L.M.G. fire from the houses where Germans had been left behind, all was quiet during the rest of the light. 

Casualties for the day were approximately 140 killed, wounded and missing.  Officers killed - Major D.L. Barclay, Captain P.T.H. Dufton.  Missing - Lieut. J.C. Pearson and Lieut. A.G. Aldis, M.M.  Wounded - Captain H.F. Morris, Captain H.E. Stratford, M.C. and Capt. C.N.P. Powell, D.S.O.

On the 7th June the CO was wounded and evacuated;

Lieutenant-Colonel Gray was awarded the Military Cross for actions that took place before the 4th Special Service Brigade was attached to the 6th Airborne Division.


At Lion sur Mer on the 6th of June, from the moment of landing under heavy and accurate mortar and shell fire, Lieutenant-Colonel Gray showed a complete and utter disregard for his own safety. His coolness, cheerfulness and personal bravery were an inspiration to all. On the first morning he was slightly wounded on two occasions and insisted on continuing. His example contributed enormously to the success of the Commando task.


Lieutenant-Colonel Gray was further wounded and had to be evacuated on the morning of the 7th June, after he was caught in the explosion of anti-personnel ordnance dropped by three Heinkel bombs. Recovering from his injuries, he later returned to lead No.46 Commando and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the assault crossing over the Rhine and into the town of Wesel on the 23rd/24th March 1945. His citation reads:


Lieutenant Colonel Gray was in command of 46 (Royal Marine) Commando which captured the original bridgehead over the River Rhine. He attacked across the river in Buffaloes and fought his way inland with unparalleled determination and skill. His men captured two large groups of houses killing over thirty enemy and capturing eighty three enemy in the first ten minutes of the operation. This was only made possible by the speed and dash of this fearless advance where a number of key personnel were lost. Lieutenant Colonel Gray never allowed the impetus to slacken despite every enemy opposition, and his dauntless courage and sure progress made the Brigade task possible. He was in every way and inspiration and example to the men under his command.


He was continually under fire from small arms fire from the Rhine to Wesel, and in Wesel was under fire from enemy armed with Panzerfausts which wounded many of the men around him.


His cool judgement and his complete contempt for danger inspired his men and influenced the battle at a most critical stage.

41 Cdo went on to take part in the capture of Douvres Radar Station on 17 June and there after the rest of the Battle of Normandy.

They later took part in the battle of the Scheldt (November 1944). It then served on the Meuse (Maas) for the remainder of the war and then occupation duties in Germany. On 20 January 1946, 41 Commando was disbanded.

Search 41 Commando 'dits' here or check out the map;

Related RM 'Dits'

  1. 41 CDO - Raid on Douvres Radar Station

  2. Embarking 47 Cdo at Southampton

  3. D Day from an LCA

  4. The Last Man Standing, the story of Dennis Donovan, 48 Royal Marine Commando Juno Beach D DAY Royal Marines

  5. Cpl George Tandy - Gold Beach - 'The Human Rudder'

  6. 46 Cdo RM - D Day - Capture of Petit Enfer

  7. 47 Cdo RM Advance to Port-en-Bessin

  8. 47 Cdo RM - Battle of Port-en-Bessin 7-8 June 1944 - "It is doubtful whether, in their long, distinguished history, the marines have ever achieved anything finer

  9. 48 Royal Marine Commando - July 1944 - Sallenelles

  10. Joseph Kelsey - 5th RM (Independent) Armoured Support Battery

  11. Royal Marines Armoured Support Group

  12. 30 AU in Normandy - 'You can't behave like Red Indians any more'

  13. 46 CDO RM - The Attack on Le Hamel and Rots - 12 SS Pz Div

  14. Supporting the Rangers at Pointe Du Hoc

  15. 47 Cdo RM - Sallenelles - Orne


Read More/ Web Link:

National Archives catalogue number ADM 202/103

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