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MEMOIRS - Leonard Mosley [1913-1992]:- The D-day invasion.
PARATROOPS HELD ON FOR 16 HOURS
OVERWHELMING ODDS DEFIED
By Leonard Mosley [1913-1992], a civillian eye witness news reporter's account:
published on 8 June 1944 in the Hull Daily Mail Paper
(with additional notes in italics)
This is one of those stories that will have to write itself because I am too exhausted, excited, and exhilarated to have any control over what goes down on this typewriter.
I parachuted into Europe at two minutes past one a.m. on 'D-day', six and a half hours before our seaborne forces began the full blown invasion of Festung Europa. [Fortress Europa]
I was near the shore, hiding from Nazi patrols, as I watched our first forces go ashore from the sea at 07.15, I have seen a few thousand paratroops and glider-borne troops, whom I nominate now as the bravest most tenacious men I have ever known, hold the bridge-head against Hitler's armies for over 16 hours, despite overwhelming odds.
I believe that the things they have done are almost solely and completely responsible for the great success our invasion has had so far in this sector.
I parachuted into France with my typewriter strapped to my chest under my equipment.
Our job as an airborne force was to silence a vital coastal battery [Merville] which, if still in operation, might have blown our ships to bits as they came to the shore. We silenced it and our other just as vital job was secure two important bridges over the canal and river north of Caen to prevent them from being blown up and to hold them against all comers until the main armies arrived.
We are still holding them, they are still intact.
I emplaned in 'C' for Charlie, a great black bomber at 11.20pm and we took our place in the taxi-ing line of planes that stretched from one end to the other of one of the biggest airfields in Britain.
There were Lancashire men, Yorkshire men, and Northumbrians mostly in 'sticks' of paratroopers, the beefiest bunch of armed men I have ever seen. They knew their job, and they knew how difficult it was going to be.
Preceding them by half an hour were the gliders and planes of paratroopers who were going to make a do or die attempt to take vital bridges before they could be blown up.
Those gliders were going to crash themselves on the buttresses of the bridges themselves, and then aided by paratroopers, were to capture the bridges and all surrounding land.
It was our job to bring them aid within 30 minutes of their surprise attack and to infest the whole area for 100 square miles around to prevent the Nazis from counter attacking.
The red light swiftly changed to green and we were all madly shuffling down the hole and jumping into space. I looked as I twisted down, for the church I had been told to spy for, a landmark, and for the wood where we were later going to rendezvous as a fighting force. But the wind had caught me and was whisking me east. Faster and faster I twisted and I had to get straight. And as I stood up with my harness off and wiped the sweat off my brown-painted face I knew I was hopelessly lost.
Two figures were coming towards me, and I could see that they were carrying guns. There was a crash of Sten gun fire and both men crumpled up not 15 yards from me. Into the field stealthily came five men to challenge me- and I was with our own paratroops again.
Once when we were lying in a ditch on the outskirts of a village a youth appeared with a German flask full of Normandy wine and after he had drunk it, he led us by a round about route away from the enemy. And just after 3am we made our rendezvous.
The situation was a grim one. There was no doubt of that when I got back to head quarters. We had taken the Nazis by surprise; but they knew what was happening now and we could expect their tanks at any moment.
And then at 03.20 every Allied paratrooper behind the Atlantic Wall breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the roar of bombers- bombers coming in slow, bombers towing gliders towards the dropping ground.
We watched them in the pale moonlight and glare of flak, unhooking and then diving steeply for earth. We saw one, caught by ack-ack catch fire and fly around for three to four minutes, a ball of flame. We heard the crunch of breaking matchwood as gliders bounced on rocks and careered into still undestroyed poles.
But it was hard to restrain the impulse to cheer, for out of every glider men were pouring and jeeps and anti-tank and field guns-and we knew that even if Nazi tanks did come now we could hold them.
As dawn came I moved across country through Nazi patrols to get nearer to the coast. Wherever we moved there were traces of our airbourne invasion. Emptied containers still burning their signal lights, were scattered in fields and orchards, wrecked gliders littered the ground, some of them splintered to matchwood. There were parachutes lying everywhere.
There was an earthshaking holocaust of noise. Approaching the coast under cover of naval ships the invasion barges were coming in and coming in firing. It was a terrific barrage that must have paralysed the defenses.
Then ships began nudging towards the beaches and we shook each others hands in the knowledge that the invasion at long last, had begun.
Prisoners were coming in now- and it was surprising how many of them were Poles, Russians, Czechs. They had fought hard against us and showed no enthusiasm at our arrival.
Inside headquarters you could hardly hear men talking for the sound of shells, bombs, and bullets dropping all around us. But the General was calm. "Everything is fine," he said. "It's going exactly to plan. Don't worry we'll hold them."
It was at his suggestion I made my way back to the bidges to contact one of our units holding the bridgehead on the other side until the sea-borne forces arrived.
Every yard of the way smelt with death, for Germans and British lay in the mud side by side where they had fought in the darkness for possession of bridges.
A shower of mortar and shell fire was concentrated terror. These Lancashire lads were holding on and though their numbers were growing hourly smaller they would continue to hold on. But until well after noon we were still isolated.
The unit fought on until gradually all opposition from the north-west gradually ceased and to their delight and relief a long line of green bereted men came in to view. They were men of a famous Commando unit.
Just on 9pm the sky was suddenly filled with twisting and turning fighter planes. And under them a great fleet of bombers and gliders sailed slowly over our heads. As the gliders unhooked they wheeled through clots of ack-ack fire from Nazi guns all around us and dived steeply for earth. They were bigger gliders this time. [Hamilcar gliders rather than the Horsa gliders of the earlier invasion]
We could see splinters flying off them, as Nazi machine gun bullets flayed them as they dived. But smoothly with only a low whine of wind down they came. It was a glorious sight.
It lasted half an hour and became a maelstrom of noise as the Nazis tried vainly to hold them back, but I saw only one glider and one tug plane hit. And then they were all down on the dropping ground and more men and more guns were pouring out.
A general said to me "Well it's very satisfactory. It is still all going according to plan."
It still is, as I finish this dispatch. We are confident it will continue to go according to plan.
Brigadier Gale on the left briefing Leonard Mosely (far right) at Ranville in 1944
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