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45 Cdo Recce of Merville

The securing the bridges the Brigade's objectives were to hold the high ground in the area of Hauger, Le Plein and Amfreville, providing support and protection for those holding the vital bridges over the River Orne and the canal, whilst safeguarding the invasion force’s left flank and to capture Franceville Plage and "infest" the coastal area eastwards towards Cabourg.

The task of 45 Commando, within the Brigade plan, was to capture the coastal battery of Merville, if this had not already been achieved by the 9th Battalion Parachute Regiment and then to capture Franceville Plage. The Brigade Commander ordered the unit to proceed independently to Merville to determine who controlled it.

Meanwhile No 6 Commando, who had been first across the bridges, pushed their attack on the high ground at Le Plein, while No 3 Commando moved on the coastal area east of Franceville Plage.

45 Commando moved off at a fast pace, with cycle Troop (C Troop), under the command of Major J N Rushforth, acting as advance guard. They were followed by ‘A’ Troop under Capt E E Grewcock, the Reconnaissance Group (C.O. and remaining Troop Commanders) and the rest of the unit. After passing through the village of Sallanelles, the two leading Troops turned off to the right but, owing to a sharp bend in the road, the manoeuvre was not seen by the following Reconnaissance Group.

They continued along the main coast road until they saw some enemy troops running towards a strong point on the left, about 250 yards away. Fire was immediately opened by both sides and Marine G B Irvine (E Troop) hit his target at 200 yards range, firing from the standing position. Mne B Fenton was a member of C Troop.  

The enemy had the road well covered and kept the Reconnaissance Group and the leading section of ‘E’ Troop, pinned to the ground. Enemy mortars and machine guns swept the area, leaving the leading elements to painfully crawl back to the cover of nearby houses.

The 3 inch Mortar Detachments (‘F’ Troop) were now ordered into action. They engaged the strong point and dropped some 30 mortar bombs in and around the enemy position. During this action, the unit withdrew slightly and continued its advance towards its original objective, the Merville battery.

By then, they knew the battery had been silenced by the 9th Battalion Parachute Regiment earlier that morning. However, the leading Troop was fired on by the enemy, who had returned in strength to this heavily defended position.

During the reconnaissance, prior to launching an attack on the battery, the unit was ordered to hold Merville for the night and not to advance on the Franceville Plage. The battery was therefore by-passed, Merville village cleared and an all-round defensive position taken up by 19.00 hours.

The village had been badly damaged by RAF bombing and all the civilians had disappeared. However, the demolished buildings made good cover and the unit quickly dug in for the night. Commando Headquarters was established in two broken-down cottages, which had a thick-walled garden.

Longing eyes saw a large undamaged farm house but it was decided to sacrifice comfort for safety. It was a sound decision since the farm was later demolished and set on fire by an enemy self-propelled gun.

With defences in good order, tea was brewed, providing the Commandos with their first and very welcome hot drink since landing. Just before dusk they were greatly heartened by the sight of the 6th Air-landing Brigade being towed to the bridgehead in their gliders.

So ended the first day. Apart from the short clash outside Sallanelles, there had been little close contact with the enemy but there were some casualties: Lt W Kennedy and three other ranks were killed; Lt-Colonel N Ries, Lt P Nelson and 14 other ranks were wounded and Lt P Winston and 20 other ranks were missing.

D-Day + 1

The Commando had a quiet night, although the beach area to the west, had been heavily bombed. At 03.00 hours, orders were received to move back to the Brigade’s defensive position in the area of Le Plein. By 04.00 hours, the unit was on the move and just as they left the village, enemy patrols were entering it from the other end.

It was a three mile trek back to Le Plein, which was accomplished in the half light, without incident. The silence was punctuated by the muted curses of the unfortunate Cycle Troop who struggled manfully with their steeds, up and down immense bomb craters, so liberally supplied by the RAF.

On passing through the deserted main street of Sallanelles, some witnessed the astonishing sight of Major Rushforth, the leading Troop Commander, looking most warlike and poking his rifle into a window, while yelling: "Come out! I’ve got you covered." An aged Madame, with hair in curling papers and looking equally warlike, peered from the next window exclaiming "Ah, ‘ces Anglais!"

The unit eventually reached a valley sloping away from the coast road and dug in under some apple trees to the left of the Brigade’s position. This was adjacent to No. 4 Commando, who had returned from Ouistreham, having suffered heavy casualties in capturing the battery there.

Later that morning, accurate enemy mortar fire, from a strong point at Sallenelles, homed in. The Commando's 3 inch mortars returned fire, but were quickly spotted by the enemy and duly "stonked". The position sustained direct hits, causing two casualties, so the mortar detachment made a very rapid move to alternative positions.

Fully laden Jeeps, which were last seen at Eastbourne (such a very long time ago, it seemed), now began to arrive. Much needed ammunition, signal stores, medical supplies and weapons were quickly unloaded and the jeeps sent back with the wounded.

About this time, a 'warning order' was received preparing the Commando to attack Franceville Plage.

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