RAF Halton personnel on a recent Staff Ride (SR) to Normandy, France, were based in the city of Caen. Our SME for the week Dr Howard Tuck briefed us on the location, the training objectives for the week and gave a short overview of the events during the Allied landings in June 1944.
On day one Sgt Nigel Rafferty (ACS) explained the Op OVERLORD plan in the town square of St. Mere Eglise. He explained preparation for D-Day, the RAF role and transportation plan and Op Fortitude (the deception plan). The SR format allows group discussion on each event and projects them onto current or future Operations. The group discussed if such landings would be attempted today, with Dr Tuck posing questions to stimulate debate. All agreed that such large loss of life would be unacceptable today and current Air Power would suppress an enemy before a large scale deployment of ground forces. The group then explored the town’s Airborne Museum for an opportunity to see and read about the operations in the area.
Sgt Roger Jones (ACS) at the La Fiere Causeway explained how the American 82nd Airborne flying out of RAF Cottesmore parachuted onto the causeway to capture a vital bridge. A furious battle with the Germans followed, with individual examples of extreme courage by the American paratroopers as they battled to hold the bridge. Two American soldiers attacked three German tanks, successfully knocking them out with their bazooka. The group discussed the personal bravery of the troops and reflected how acts of extreme bravery are still exhibited by our servicemen today.
We moved on to La Pointe du Hoc. Chf Tech Martin Lightfoot (ACS) explained the daring attack of the US Army Rangers assault group, who scaled the cliffs under heavy fire from the German forces. The area had been severely bombed (as can still be seen today) by the allies in the days leading up to the assault but the Germans still put up stiff resistance. It was discussed how the leadership displayed during the assault was pivotal to the success of the mission. The Rangers eventually drove the German Forces from their gun positions and took La Pointe du Hoc.
Over the coming days we travelled to several significant sites and at Omaha Beach, Sgt James Yetman (ACS) explained how only limited Air Power was available prior to the landings. He explained how the topography of the area and limited intelligence of the German positions meant the landings were particularly difficult. It was only by some individual acts of bravery that the landing ultimately proved successful. The group discussed the events of the day and concluded that modern Air Power would neutralise the enemy before the commitment of ground forces to prevent heavy casualties.
FS Jim Spurling (ACS) told us about the British glider landings at Pegasus Bridge, Benouville. A daring mission by the British 6th Airborne Division to secure vital bridges to enable the Allies to push out from the initial D Day beachhead. FS Spurling explained how six “Horsa” gliders took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton to capture Pegasus Bridge and the nearby Horsa Bridge. The lead glider landed just yards from the bridge completely surprising the German forces. The group discussed how Special Forces would be utilised today to secure vital infrastructure.
FS Dave Stott (ACS) described the enormous logistical difficulty faced by the Allies during the D Day landings. Huge “Mulberry” harbors were developed in great secrecy prior to the invasion before being sailed to France in the immediate days following the invasion. These proved a vital supply line that needed to keep the allied armies supplied for the campaign. FS Stott also described the Pluto fuel lines that ran from the UK under the sea to France ensuring fuel flowed to keep the allied vehicles moving, a truly ingenious engineering feat. The group discussed modern logistical operations, looking at how the RAF is fundamental in Air Supply of equipment even to remote Forward operating Bases.
Sgt Dave Sharratt (ACS) described the British 50th Division landings on Gold Beach and the German defences in the sector. He described the Air Power options available to commanders to cover the landings and the role of No.4 RAF Beach Sqn during the landings. Of particular interest was the story of RSM Stanley Hollis of the D Coy, 6 Green Howard’s. Even though injured on the initial beach landing he spotted a previously unseen German machine gun and single handedly took out the position with grenades and fire from his Sten Machine gun. Later that day he rescued two of his men while under fire from German machine guns. He was the only British soldier on D Day to receive a Victoria Cross.
Stands were delivered by SATT personnel. AC Brailsford and Leedham detailed the work of the 2nd Tactical Air Force during Operation OVERLORD. They explained the significance of establishing airfields in France to give Close Air Support (CAS) for the advancing allied troops and the important role of the RAF Servicing Commando’s and RAF Regiment in establishing and securing the airfields. These personnel really were “War Fighter First” and the group discussed that concept and concluded that the RAF had a similar concept for its personnel during operations.
AC Wood and Woods described the composition of the Allied Tactical Air Forces assembled for the D Day landings, where they were based and who commanded them. The roles of expeditionary Air Wings in the RAF, where they are based and the role they carry out on operations were discussed.
AC Marchant and Robinson delivered a comprehensive overview of the German response to the Allied landings on D day. They explained the key commanders in the German military and their decisions during battle. Questions were asked as to whether these commanders were given enough flexibility to respond to the situation or whether Hitler was the sole decision maker. The current command system and how important it is to remain flexible and adaptable to a changing battle space was discussed.
Exploring operations, examining the lessons and mapping these to current operations is of great value. The next overseas Staff Ride is to Dunkirk, taking place 02 – 06 July 12, stand by for further details!