47 Commando - The Advance to Port-en-Bessin
D Day- Gold Beach
Unit/ Formation: 47 Cdo RM
Period/ Conflict: World War II
Date/s: 6 June 1944
The first operation No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando was involved in was Operation Neptune the Normandy landings.
Their mission was to capture PORT-EN-BESSIN (Operation AUBERY) which lay about 15km west of their landing beach. They were then to link up with US forces from OMAHA beach to create a combined Allied bridgehead.
The capture of PORT-EN-BESSIN was vital as it would become the initial fuel port to supply the invasion forces until CHERBOURG had been liberated.
Julian Thompson wrote of the Operation: "In my opinion the operation by 47 RM Commando at Port-en-Bessin was one of the great feats of arms of any unit, Royal Marines, Army, Navy or Air Force of any nation in the Second World War."
Prior to D day 47 Commando embarked on two of the larger 'mother ships'.
They were to cross on two ships, SS Victoria and transfer to the six LCAs of 508 Assault Flotilla and HMS Princess Josephine Charlotte's eight LCAs of 502 Assault Flotilla.
L/Cpl. F.A. Wright remembers:
'I've never seen a sight like it, before or since. The Solent was jam-packed with ships. Our mother ship, the Princess Josephine Charlotte was moored off Keyhaven and looking north-east towards Portsmouth was ship after ship of every imaginable type - in a magnificent show of strength. Surely the invasion couldn't fail - could it ?'
'We hove too about 10 miles off shore, at about five in the morning.
All troops assembled at their stations on the boat deck. We had blacked our faces with grease paint and as it was pitch dark anyway we shuffled sheepishly around trying to get in the correct order, barely able to see one another.
No one said much, the tension was getting to everybody.'
The crossing and transfer to their LCAs went well and the run-in to the beach began.
'Finally we got it right and began jumping down into the LCA. We were very heavily loaded: two bandoliers of .303, one pouch stuffed with spare bren magazines, three hand grenades in the other, rifle of course, entrenching tool and in addition I was the reluctant bearer of the Troop’s Bangalore Torpedo.
The LCA was lowered, engines revved and we steered away from the PJC under our own power. First thing I did was to unhook the toggles of my assault jacket. In the water with this weight one would go straight to the bottom.'
However, Colonel Phillips, unlike most of 231 Brigade, realized that he was heading for the wrong point on the beach. Lt. Winter RM recalled the final run into JIG Green:
'Our fourteen landing craft came inshore in line astern but the CO did something he shouldn't have and turned parallel to the coast to get to our correct landing beach and made a good target for the Germans.'
47 Commando were in a third wave of infantry following battalions of the HAMPSHIRE, DORSET and DEVONSHIRE regiments. Engineers and tank regiments had landed before them all to prepare the beaches for the assault. The enemy strongpoint caused havoc for them all until eventually captured at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
47 Commando landed at 0950 hours (along with other attached units e.g. FOO, FOB and 5 from No.3 (Jewish) Troop, 10 Inter Allied Cdo), the worst time possible for mines, sea conditions and congestion in the water and on the beach. The fourteen LCAs had to make their way through the uncleared and mined beach obstacles in a heavy sea.
The landing went very badly. Five of its 14 landing craft sunk and only two were fit to return to their mother ships.
We swam ashore, about fifty yards, under machine-gun fire and at one point I heard someone say, "Perhaps we're intruding, this seems to be a private beach" Sergeant Gardener
Charles Armstrong, one of the landing craft crew who brought 47 Commando ashore, later recalled a scene on the beach:
“I shall never forget what I saw next. Our own commandos whom we had brought ashore had formed up....
...Many of them had no equipment, were without rifles and were bare headed... They were to march smartly off to fight the enemy without even, as far as I could see, a hand grenade or rifle, just empty handed...
... My heart filled with admiration for these brave men, showing the sort of spirit and determination that Royal Marine Commandos are made of.”
At the beach still under fire from mortars, machine guns and snipers and from the gun
emplacement and other nearby enemy positions the Commando regrouped.
The beach was a shambles and the Commando had landed over a space of some 1.500 yards between 09.45 and 10.15 hours. As had been planned the Commando in small groups of boat loads moved west along the small road running parallel to the beach to the RV at the church in Le Hamel, when the leading elements reached a point, just short of the road in land to Les Roquettes, it became obvious that Le Hamel was in enemy hands and that 231 Bde were heavily involved in attempting to clear.
By about 11.00 hrs the majority of the Commando had assembled and were sorting themselves out on either side of the road. Contact was made with Lt. Spencer and the commander of 231 Bde who suggested a move via Les Roquettes and thence to the original route beyond Le Hamel.
The first roll call was about 250 ranks, but this did not include A-Troop who arrived a little later, with the CO among the missing, 2i/c Major Patrick DONNELL took command.
Of the 431 men who set off, 28 were killed or drowned, 21 wounded and 27 missing. One more man was killed soon after leaving the beach.
256 men left the beach at 12:15
Order of on leaving the beach:
• X-TROOP - near full strength (‘Advance Guard’)
• B-TROOP - full strength
• HQ-TROOP - many missing including CO and radios damaged
• Q-TROOP - approx. 50% strength
• A-TROOP – near full strength but most weapons lost
• Y-TROOP - only 6 men
• HW-TROOP - depleted with much equipment lost – only one MMG, one 3” mortar (without a sight) and one bangalore torpedo
• BREN CARRIERS & SUPPLY VEHICLE– all four BREN CARRIERS landed, CHUCK HARRIS’ supply lorry lost.
• Later, on leaving La Rosiere the strength had increased to 363.
After leaving the beach they fought through La Rosiere which was designated as 47’s Forward Assembly Area.
The expectation was that LA ROSIERE and the route to it would be clear before 47 arrived, however, this did not prove to be the case. As a result, there were several encounters with the enemy on the way - with the most serious happening in the approach to and capture of LA ROSIERE itself.
The encounter started around 15:30pm. The commando first came across a number of enemy vehicles at a road junction about 1km to the east of here and then several other enemy positions on higher ground in the fields over-looking the road.
Realising the urgency of the situation, Captain WALTON immediately led ‘X-Troop’ into attack and overcame one of those positions. A-Troop also over-ran an enemy machine gun post and took several prisoners.
In another incident, an enemy machine gun opened fire on Q-Troop wounding 8 men, two seriously, one of those, Marine FUSSELL, was paralysed.
By about 17:30, X-Troop had secured LA ROSIERE. For his leadership and gallantry in this action, and for his exemplary role throughout the mission, Captain WALTON was awarded a Military Cross and promoted to Major.
47 paused here to rest. Local French civilians readily took the wounded into their own homes – not only here but on many other occasions during the mission. They did this at great risk to themselves given the risk of enemy retribution.
At around 19:45 after the DEVONSHIRE Regiment had arrived, 47 Commando moved off in the same order of march; the route was entirely cross country over the MASSE DE CRADALLE, across the road leading South of FONTENAILLES and then on to the lane leading to Point 72 beyond LA BUHANNERIE.
At first the move was without incident. Just after passing LA BUHANNERIE, both X and B-Troops exchanged shots with isolated groups of enemy, but opposition was soon overcome, or by-passed. Occasional prisoners were taken, including one RSM en route to visit his Fiancee. X-Troop detached 3 ORs to cut a cable; these men completed their task and re-joined at Point 72. A-Troop, less one section and the others in rear, lost contact soon after leaving LA ROSIERE, but by following signs made by the I.O. re-joined the Commando at Point 72.
By the time LE MONT was reached it was almost dark, but our move along the lane was without incident and by great good fortune Point 72 was not occupied, although there were signs of considerable defence work in progress.B, Q and X-Troops were deployed on top of the ridge from East to West. A-Troop were in a position where the track left the lane with the road leading South from PORT EN BESSIN - ESCURES.
commenced immediately and proceeded through the night, all ranks having about two hours sleep. Two large underground dug-outs were discovered in A-Troop area, they were occupied by a small German Medical Staff with two wounded German soldiers. These were made prisoners and the dug-outs occupied by the Commando RAP.
47 Royal Marine Commando captured PORT EN BESSIN in a stiff fight beginning about 1600 hours, 7 June 1944. A successful assault, supported by naval gunfire, took PORT EN BESSIN the following afternoon after a fierce fight and linked up with US Forces. In total, 46 men died and 65 were wounded in the operation.
Much text by kind permission of 47 Royal Marine Commando Association and from the excellent battle field tour planned by the association for 6th June 2023.
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