Operation BLUECOAT, Sainte-Mère-Église and UTAH Beach
Following Operation BLUECOAT
In the past, whenever we’ve visited Normandy and followed the tour of Opertion BLUECOAT laid out in the back of Ian Daglish’s book on the subject, we’ve always started at Caumont & made it as far as Le Beny Bocage, or perhaps th e cemetery at St Charles de Percy; this year would be different, however, as we started out from Tony & Jill’s place at Estry and headed towards our first stop at Presles where we took a couple of photos looking towards the Perrier Ridge.
We then followed the tour in Ian’s book up the hill towards Chêndollé, pausing by the 11th Armoured Division Memorial just outside of the village. Turning right, we headed out through some “real bocage” until we came to the point where Ian points out that Lt Steel Brownlie spearheaded the attack down a narrow track heading directly south to the Vire to Vassyroad. At this point, Ian suggests: “If you are feeling adventurous, pull on waterproofs and wellington boots and retrace Steel Brownlie’s steps south along the path to the RUGBY objective: the Vire-Vassy road“. Well, with it being hot & the airconditioning in the car working well, we decided to dispense with the waterproofs and wellingtons & drive down to see how far we could get… … then I remembered a photograph in Ian’s book with the caption… “The second tank became stuck fast…” and realising that I was in a Landrover and NOT a Sherman tank, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, stopped the car & walked most of the rest of the way until I could see the road (to be honest, if I’d been in my old Landrover Defender, I’d have probably pushed on further!). Anyway, honour thus satisfied, I made my way back to where I’d left the car & the dawning of a thought that a 3 point turn was going to be less than easy! Fortunately, we found a slightly wider section and following some shunting (and more like a 50 point turn) were soon facing the other way. That then took us back north heading through Pavée to la Fauvellière and past the twin monuments to the “Nor-Mons” and Corporal Sidney Bates VC. The “Nor-Mons” were a conbined unit made up of the remnants of 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment and 3rd Battalion Monmouth Regiment. It was against these that the 10th SS Panzer Division’s (Frundsberg) Panzer Grenadiers launched an attack intenting to drive them from their positions. Bates spotted what was happening & launched a one man attack with a Bren gun which turned the tide… as the citation for his Victoria Cross states…
‘War Office, 2nd November, 1944.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous awards of the VICTORIA CROSS to:— No. 5779898 Corporal Sidney Bates, The-Royal Norfolk Regiment (London, S.E.5). In North-West West Europe on 6th August, 1944, the position held by a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment near Sourdeval was attacked in strength by 10th S.S. Panzer Division. The attack started with a heavy and accurate artillery and mortar programme on the position which the enemy had, by this time, pin-pointed. Half an hour later the main attack developed and heavy machine-gun and mortar fire was concentrated oh the point of junction of the two forward companies. Corporal Bates was commanding the right forward section of the left forward company which suffered some, casualties, so he decided to move the remnants of his section to an alternative position whence he appreciated he could better counter the enemy thrust. However, the enemy wedge grew still deeper, until there were about; 50 to 60 Germans, supported by machine guns and mortars, in the area occupied by the section. Seeing that the situation was becoming, desperate, Corporal Bates then seized a light machine-gun and charged the enemy, moving forward through a hail of bullets and spnnters and firing the gun from his hip. He was almost immediately wounded by machine-gun fire and fell to the ground, but recovered himself quickly, got up and continued advancing towards the enemy, spraying bullets from his gun as he went. His action by now was having an effect on the enemy riflemen and machine gunners but mortar bombs continued to fall all around him. He was then hit for the second time and much more seriously and painfully wounded. However, undaunted, he staggered once more to his feet and continued towards the enemy who were now seemingly nonplussed by their inability to check him. His constant firing continued until the enemy started to withdraw before him. At this moment, he was hit for the third time by mortar bomb splinters, a wound that was to prove mortal. He again fell to the ground but continued to fire his weapon until his strength failed him. This was not, however, until the enemy Had withdrawn and the situation in this locality had been restored. Corporal Bates died shortly afterwards of the wounds he had received, but, by his supreme gallantry and self sacrifice he had personally restored what had been a critical situation.
So, having taken our photos (including a duplicate of one in Ian’s book, and a quick look back at “RUGBY” in the middle distance, we made our way via Burcy towards the motorway and Sainte-Mère-Église.
As usual for this time of year, the town was incredibly busy not only with re-enactors of various “believability”… but also a great number of Veterans – the latter happy to stop & talk to anyone. It was also busy as there was an “Arms Fair” on… though whilst very tempting, I decided
not to buy myself any weaponry… ‘though it would have been fun… Anyway, having had a good look round, we had to head off to meet up with Peter & Eain Findlay again as they had kindly invited us to stay for a few days with them at the house they rented on UTAH Beach. As the traffic was a little heavy, we decided to pick a road that didn’t look too busy & head out north… …so, having arrived at the dead end, we turned round, went back into town & then took the next road out…
Onto “what should have been” UTAH Beach
On our way, we went through the village of Beuzeville-au-Plain where there is a memorial to First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan III and his fellow paratroopers who perished when their transport plane was shot down by flak on the morning of 6th June 1944 We then moved on & soon came to one of the straight roads that leads across what appears to be marshland or reclaimed land out towards the coast. Many of these are named after American servicemen who lost their lives in the Normandy landings in June 1944; the one that we initially travelled along being Carter Road (in honour of Pvt T H Carter, 531st Engineer Shore Regiment KIA on 6th June). We then came to the French Memorial where the famous LeClerc 2nd Armoured Division came ashore to help reclaim France from the German invaders. Interestingly, this is what should have been UTAH beach, but the wind & tides on the morning of D Day meant that the landing actually took place two miles down the coast; a fact featured in a scene in the film “The Longest Day” Along this stretch of beach there are some old German defensive emplacements that you can get into and begin to appreciate how secure the German army must have felt before the invasion started
As I’ve mentioned, a couple of miles down the road we find what became UTAH beach with the main memorial and museum. Here there is also a memorial to the men of the US Coastguard who manned many of the ships transporting the men and vehicles onto the invasion beaches – earlier this year, one of John Harder’s brothers – Phil – passed away who served with the US Coastguard & who visited John Harder just prior to the invasion, so I’m glad that I was able to take a photo of the memorial & send it off to them. Having had a brief look around, but not early enough to look round the museum, we were met by Eain and Peter Findlay with whom we were staying for the next few days so we then followed them back to the house they were renting… literaly on the beachfront and only yards from the museum! Apparently, one of the American frogmen – Angelo Chatas – who came ashore before the landings to mark the edges of the beaches & demolish the beach obstacles appeared just at the end of their road which is now named after him. We then had a quiet evening chatting (or as Eain would have it “Blethering”) away about this and that over a quiet beer; a wonderful end to the day