Archive for Normandy


The Only Victoria Cross of 6th June 1944

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6th June 1944 saw the biggest invasion force of all time land on the beaches at Normandy just a couple of hours after a large number of paratroopers had dropped in German occupied France. D-Day was eventually underway.

1000s of Allied soldiers landed at the five beaches of Normandy; Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah. There were countless acts of bravery but yet there was simply one single Victoria Cross granted on D-Day. It was granted to CSM Stan Hollis who landed on Gold Beach.

Hollis was an experienced veteran who had already been in combat at Dunkirk, El Alamein and Sciliy. He’d previously been captured by the Afrika Korps but managed to get away to rejoin the war.

Self-discipline wise, Hollis was not really a model soldier yet on D-Day, there was no doubting his expertise as a soldier. He had already been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal while in action in Italy and it was as part of the assault on the Mont Fleury Battery that Hollis earned his Victoria Cross fighting with the Green Howards regiment.

While his company, advanced away from the coast, he observed 2 pillboxes had been missed. As Hollis went over to look at, the Nazis within began shooting. Hollis assaulted the Germans and cleared both pillboxes acquiring a lot of prisoners in the process. This made it possible for the main exit from the beachfront to remain open.

Later in the same day outside of the village of Crepon, Hollis engaged the enemy with his Bren gun to free two British soldiers who were cornered in a building. He successfully saved both soldiers. The courage shown by Hollis in Normandy on D-Day saved many British lives and he was given the Victoria Cross. He was wounded in Sept of that year and the following month was awarded his medal by King George VI. Now, his medal is on display at the Green Howards Museum in Yorkshire along with a handful of other Victoria Cross accorded in combat to other soldiers of the same regiment.

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The Disaster of Exercise Tiger

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Throughout the build up to the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944, a terrific deal of groundwork and organizing was required. Information was consistently being gathered by a community of agents while products and machines were being ferried to England. These would be essential during and after what was and still is the largest invasion force of all time.

Preparation and proper training was a necessary part of the plans. Rangers who were to attack Point du Hoc trained by climbing cliffs and troops made practice beach landings. A big component of the operation of secrecy and the people of Britain were counted upon to play their part. In Devon, an area called Slapton Sands was picked as an ideal practice area on account of the similarities with the Utah landing beach in Normandy.

Exercises for the landings began in late 1943 with the main invasion plotted for June 1944. Over 3,000 residents were relocated from the region around Slapton Sands. A number of exercises were organised and undoubtedly one of the most significant was Operation Tiger involving close to 30,000 men (approximately a 3rd of the existing strength of the British Army) were to be involved.

Exercise Tiger took place in late April 1944. The initial practice landings were executed without any troubles but throughout the exercise scheduled for the early hours of 28th April 1944, disaster hit. German E-Boats operating from Cherbourg came across a convoy of 8 LST (Landing ships). They aimed torpedoes at the LSTs and desperate men jumped into the frozen waters to get away the sinking ships. A number of hadn’t been told how to put on their life preservers and drowned.

Additionally to the E-Boat attacks, more men died on the shores themselves. Using live ammunition had been authorised and together with the fatalities in the sea, there were further casualties by friendly fire after they strayed into the wrong sections of the beaches.

In total well over nine hundred men died all through Exercise Tiger and it was nearly 40 years before the facts were made public. Ironically, only about 200 men died on Utah Beach throughout the real landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944. These days, a Sherman Tank is on show at Slapton Sands as a memorial to the men who perished all through Exercise Tiger.

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