In the days following D-Day, June 6 1944, thousands more men and hundreds of tanks and vehicles poured ashore from landing craft and ships to join in the Allied invasion of Europe.
Among them were the men of the 15th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery – the Manx Regiment, who landed on Gold beach in Normandy 70 years ago. Here, Ivor Ramsden of the Manx Aviation Preservation Society gives an account of this special group of Manxmen.
The Regiment was not involved in the D-Day landings but 70 years ago today, on June 10 1944, the first men of the Manx Regiment landed on Gold beach in Normandy.
Led by Major Brian Mylchreest, who commanded 1st Battery, the Regiment drove its self-propelled Bofors guns ashore, no doubt with feelings of excitement at being part of the invasion but also with some trepidation at the thought of going into action again.
Trepidation because most of these men knew what action meant; some men had already been wounded and some had lost comrades in action.
By June 1944 the Manx Regiment had been on active service for four and a half years and was one of the most highly-experienced units of the British Army having seen action in the Battle of Britain, the hills of Eritrea, the baking deserts of North Africa and in Italy. In their role as a specialist light anti-aircraft unit they had already shot down or damaged an impressive number of enemy aircraft and were well on their way to becoming the highest-scoring anti-aircraft unit of any of the Allied armies in the Second World War.
In January 1944 they had arrived back in England and many men had come home to the island for all- too-brief periods of leave, some to see children whom they had never met.
During the first six months of 1944 they were busy re-equipping with new guns and vehicles and they spent long hours training in preparation for the forthcoming invasion. By June they were ready.
The Regiment was stationed in Norfolk along with dozens of other Army units. In fact much of the South of England was virtually an Army camp, with soldiers of all the Allied nations gathering together.
Fields were crowded with war equipment, camouflaged against marauding enemy aircraft.
Suburban streets were lined with tanks, trucks and armoured vehicles, all waterproofed and ready to go to France.
For the first time the Regiment was issued with a number of self-propelled Bofors guns which were to replace the towed guns which had served them well so far.
During the first days of June the Regiment moved towards its embarkation points. A diary entry, made on 6th June itself, reports the news: ‘D. Day is here at last! During the hours of darkness the whole camp was awake with the noise of aircraft, outward bound. Never heard anything like it. First reports from German Radio saying Paratroops dropped in the Seine Estuary, and landing craft being engaged off the French coast.
‘Invasion confirmed by Allied Headquarters! 1 o’clock news gave details – 4,000 ships and several thousand other vessels took part. 11,000 aircraft ready for front line use. Everything going to plan.
‘After so much restriction here the men are beginning to liven up. Everyone been feeling depressed. Had Monty’s message read to us. A new spirit prevails.’
The Regiment was part of the 7th Armoured Division, known as the Desert Rats after their long experience in North Africa, and its vehicles and guns crossed the channel and disembarked onto the beaches of Normandy uneventfully.
Its duties were to defend strategic points like bridges against attack from enemy aircraft and also to defend other army units and headquarters from attack.
In the ensuing months they were kept on the move as the liberating forces drove steadily onward through France towards Belgium, through Holland and into Germany where they finished up near Hamburg at the time of the German surrender in May 1945.
Ten of the Regiment’s men were killed during the campaign in Europe.
The full story of the Regiment can be seen at the Manx Aviation and Military Museum at the airport.
It has examples of the uniforms and equipment used by the Regiment including a very rare Self-propelled Bofors gun which is marked as the Regiment’s vehicles were when they landed in Normandy.
The museum is open daily from 10am to 4.30pm throughout the summer and admission is free.