1st Special Service Brigade - No.4 Commando - War Diaries
6th June 1944
Place: La Beche
A fiercely opposed beach landing during which No.4 Commando took over the role previously allotted to an earlier wave of Infantry which had been pinned down by enemy fire; the storming of heavy fortifications at OUISTREHAM; street fighting through areas infested with snipers; a forced fighting march with men carrying up to one-hundred and forty pounds and finally, after a further eight hours the taking of a defensive position which was to withstand heavy mortaring, repeated enemy attacks, shelling and dive bombing - these were the highlights of the first days of No.4 Commando after their D Day landing in FRANCE.
The Commando, five hundred strong, landed in two waves from HMS Princess Astrid and the SS Maid of Orleans and touched down on RED QUEEN Beach, a mile to the WEST of OUISTREHAM, at LA BECHE. The original intention of the British landings had been for 8 Bde, which consisted of the Suffolks, East Yorks and South Lancs to take the beach and form a beach head through which No.4 Commando was to pass and take the Gun Batteries at OUISTREHAM. The County Regiments, landing at 0750 hrs, found intense opposition from the strongpoint on RED QUEEN Beach and were pinned down by concentrated machine gun and mortar fire at the water's edge, some being in 2 ft of water when No.4 Commando's first wave of LCAs went in at 0820 hrs.
Mortar bombs were falling in and around the LCAs and as the Commando landed there were 40 casualties, including the Commanding Officer, Lt.Col. R.W.P. Dawson, who was wounded in the leg. Rapidly forming up under concentrated fire, No.4 Commando fought their way from the beach to the forming up area, putting out of action several of the enemy strong positions and enabling Units of 8 Bde to pass through.
'C' Tp, under command of Capt. D.C.W. Style MC, (later seriously wounded), pushed past the East Yorks, who were lying at the water's edge, and successfully engaged about a dozen of the enemy in slit trenches and a few more in pillboxes, afterwards moving up in orderly fashion to the Assembly Area.
Lt.Col. R.W.P. Dawson pushed forward to contact 2nd. Bn East Yorks Regt and was wounded in the head. He was, however, sufficiently able to order the Commando to move off from the Assembly Area, relinquishing command of the Commando when the Second in Command passed him, saying that he intended, if it was possible to follow on behind. The Second in Command ordered the medical orderlies to give him some morphine. Col. Dawson was again seen on the road after the Battery had been taken, he was then sent by the Medical Officer to the BDS. On the evening of D plus 1 (7 Jun 44) Col. Dawson arrived in a Jeep at Commando defence positions at HAUGER, and stayed there until D plus 3 when he was ordered to be evacuated by the ADMS.
'C' Tp waited for the remainder of the Commando to position itself, and then moved on behind 1 and 8 (Fighting French) Tps along the OUISTREHAM road to the Check Pt, being harassed by snipers and machine gunners in houses. Tanks greatly helped in clearing this opposition. From the Check Pt, 'C' Tp again took the lead and established a route to the Battery - the Commandos main task. Invaluable assistance was given to the leading Tp by a French Gendarme member of the Underground Movement, who helped the Commando to by pass other enemy strongpoints and reach their objective without unnecessary delay. Great help was also afforded the Unit by 4 Centaurs which gave cover from snipers. On arrival at major tank obstacles covering the inland side of the Battery strongpoint, and still under enemy fire, a search was made and two suitable bridges made. Here, a machine gun post and mortar position were silenced by PIAT fire.
Together with 'A' Tp, under command of Capt A.M. Thorburn, 'C' Tp then gave covering fire to enable 'D' Tp, (commanded by Major P.A. Porteous VC) to pass through 'E' Tp, (commanded by Capt. H. Burt) and 'F' Tp (commanded by Capt. L.N. Coulson), were then covered across. Continued sniping and mortar fire inflicted further casualties.
The heavy ruck-sacks carried by the Commando had been dumped under HQ and the Mortar Section.
Under orders by Unit wireless, mortar fire was brought to bear on the Flak Tower at the EAST of the Gun Battery and covering the whole area. The French Detachment, commanded by Capt. P. Kieffer, who was later evacuated severely wounded, over-ran the Cassino area on the WEST of the strongpoint.
Then the assault went in on the Battery, all Tps moving according to plan. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy who put up a very stiff resistance from their strong fortifications and cunningly camouflaged block houses commanding excellent field's of fire. The concrete emplacements had withstood severe Naval bombardment exceedingly well, and although out numbered, the Germans were in excellent defensive positions and had advantages of emplacements which had successfully withstood a terrific pounding from the sea and air. Several prisoners were taken when the Germans surrendered after their position had become untenable. Casualties on both sides had been high and after the engagement medical orderlies from opposing sides worked side by side succoring the wounded.
One of the outstanding features of the defence of the Battery by the enemy was the careful sighting of their positions, and from the Commando's view point, the difficulty of finding points of enemy fire power during the mopping up stages, so well had the emplacements been prepared. But at least one point of Hitler's Western Wall had proved vulnerable under determined enough attack.
No.4 Commando then withdrew to the area where the ruck-sacks had been left and prepared for a strenuous and back breaking 9 miles march under constant sniping and mortar fire at HAUGER across the CAEN Canal and the River Orne. A stick of bombs dropped by a German plane caused no casualties, but mortar fire and sniping occurred at the bridges after the majority of the Unit had safely crossed them. It was here that Lieut. P.M. Mercer Wilson - the only casualty of the crossing of the bridges - was killed during a minor action against the enemy.
Continuing unmolested the Unit reached the CROSS ROADS (121755) on the RANVILLE - SALLENELLES RD, where Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, Commanding No.1 Special Service Brigade was contacted. The Brigadier ordered the Unit to move forward and take up defensive positions in and around the village of HAUGER on the extreme left of the Allied landings and in direct contact with the enemy. Headquarters was established at a small farm in the village at 2130 hrs and troops were allotted their defensive areas and carried out digging slit trenches and weapon pits, a task which took until the early hours of D + 1 (7 Jun 44), the area having been reconnoitred by Major P.A. Porteous VC. It was to be four days and nights before the Unit had opportunity to rest.
7th June 1944
Proved to be fairly quiet, but the Unit continued digging in and the camouflage of weapon pits. The digging in operations, tiresome and wearying as they were in the hard ground of many Tp areas, were however to prove of inestimable value. Lt.Col. R.W.P. Dawson had remained behind at the assembly area to have his wounds attended to and he rejoined the Commando remaining in command until 9th June 44 when Major R.P. Menday assumed command of the unit.
Two sections of 'D' Tp, under Lieut. J.S. Hunter Gray, moved off to patrol in the SALLENELLES direction and made contact with a cycle patrol of No.6 Commando. The patrol met with intermittent sniping during the afternoon, further patrols went out at night, but no contact was made with the enemy, who, it later appeared, must have been regrouping to launch counter attacks.
At 2130 hrs 'A' Tp reported enemy moving in the fields about 300 yds from their position and trying to infiltrate through the open fields into the Woods in their rear. The enemy were engaged until darkness and after dark, a very thick hedge where the enemy were thought to be digging in for a mortar or infantry gun position, was sprayed with K gun fire. MG and mortar fire were directed at 'A' Tp from behind a strip of woodland in front of their positions for an hour.
8th June 1944
At 0630 hrs all was quiet except for apparently small scale infiltration around the perimeter defences. This was replied to by small arms fire from our troops. 'A' Tp, whose position was isolated and likely to be over-run should a large attack develop, were ordered to withdraw inside the Commando perimeter, and while the Commando runner was going forward with this order, heavy mortar fire was concentrated on the Tp positions and an enemy patrol of platoon strength began an attack on the position, which became untenable. The Tp withdrew in good order and the attack was beaten off.
The position from then onwards resolved itself into continuous enemy attempts at penetration and infiltration of all Commando defence areas. At 1100 hrs 'B' Tps forward MMG positions were attacked with elements of one or two coys. One enemy section was incautious enough to move across in view of the MMGs and sustained heavy casualties. The attack was finally smashed by a counter attack by No.3 Commando who were on the Commando's right.
This attack and counter attack had occupied until the early evening and 'B' Tps mortar section later ranged on likely forming up places in woodlands in enemy territory. The enemy had continued probing during the day and 'E' and 'F' Tps and a section of 'A' Tp were again attacked in the early evening. Several prisoners were rounded up after the engagements - most of them young troops, including a few Poles and White Russians.
It was evident that an attack on some scale was developing, and the Commando stood ready to meet any eventuality during the night. Intermittent small arms and mortar fire from enemy positions continued throughout the night without any major development.