D-Day Landings

The 'Beginning of the End' of the War in Europe

At the Teheran Conference in 1943, in a reference to the projected invasion of Europe , Winston Churchill said these words:-

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

The allied invasion of Normandy was certainly the 'beginning of the end' of the war in Europe.

As John's report of the D-Day Landings shows it even affected the lives of small remote communities such as ours, with so many local men fighting and dying in the enterprise.

This report was written by John Morrison of 7 New Tolsta. Having survived the war, John went on to have a distinguished career in the Metropolitan police, reaching the rank of Commander

In May 1944 when the cruiser HMS 'Diadem' headed south from the Home Fleet base at Scapa Flow it was evident that D Day was imminent. It was a change from the Russian convoy action. The invasion was coded 'Overland' with ' Neptune ' its naval component. By 4 th June we were in the English Channel , shipping all over the place with bad weather delaying operations. Next day saw the armada of over 4000 transport vessels and some 1500 naval ships heading for France . Overhead were wave after wave of bombers similarly bound; an unforgettable scene.

The British landing beaches were named 'Gold', 'Juno' and 'Sword' spreading westwards from the coastal town of Arromanches . The American beaches were ' Omaha ' and ' Utah ' further west. 'Diadem' and the cruiser HMS ' Belfast ', (now a tourist attraction at Tower Bridge on the Thames ), were allocated as support to the 'Juno' landings. 'Diadem', a new vessel, carried eight 5.25 guns in four turrets. ' Belfast 's main armament was eight 6 inch guns. The troops engaged at 'Juno' were mainly Canadians. 'Spotting' Officers on shore relayed details of suitable targets, such as fortifications, tanks, troops and buildings and the Naval forces duly obliged. There were some 3000 casualties on the three beaches on D-Day. The Americans fared far worse as their troops ran into strong defences overlooking the beaches. Our stock of shells was quickly exhausted and it was a case of running back and fore between Normandy and Portsmouth to restock. This went on until July when our guns were outranged as the ground action moved inland and concentrated round the town of Caen , which was not liberated until mid-august. 'Diadem's last 'Overlord' action was in the Bay of Biscay in late august, when a German merchant vessel was intercepted and sank. The action pleased our gunnery officer, an innovative character. Towards the end of our time off the beaches, when our guns were firing at maximum range he would list the ship to get a bit more elevation so that our shells went that few yards extra.

There were surprisingly light losses at sea overall. This was due to air supremacy over the beaches and Channel waters. One of Hitler's secret weapons, the V1 flying bomb carrying some 1000 pounds of explosive was seen over the landing areas, but did no damage.

Two villagers died off Normandy . Young Angus Campbell of No. 7 ( Mac a'Ghlasaich ) was lost when his trawler HMS 'Gairsay' was destroyed by a German explosives boat being driven into it (a forerunner of the current land suicide bombers). Alexander Morrison of No. 8 ( Alex Mhurchaidh ) was a much older casualty, when the tug HMS 'Sesame' on which he was a Chief Petty Officer was lost in June 1944. Alex was in a comfortable post at a Scottish base, recruiting and posting seamen to the tug service, when he decided to post himself to more active service.

A near miss was the case of Murdo Morrison of No. 5 (Sprink), who went down with his ship HMS 'Loyalty', but the sea refused to have him! He surfaced in an air bubble, was picked up and lived to a ripe old age. Alex Morrison's volunteering was typical of a seaman's outlook. In 1943 Merchant Navy personnel were asked if they were willing to serve on vessels likely to be engaged in the invasion. The response in favour was just short of 100%.

Two British inventions were of immense value to the Allied cause. They were the Mulberry Harbours and Pluto. The former consisted of 6000 ton boxlike concrete constructions, which were towed across the channel to France and beached to form quays at which vessels could discharge their cargoes in sheltered waters. Pluto (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) was laid under the Channel to Normandy shortly after the Invasion and thereafter provided fuel for the services all the way across France .

Two locals were engaged in the pipelaying ; Donald Macinnes of 4 Gress ( Mac Iain a' Bhrogadh ex. Tolsta) was on HMS 'Lilac' and Alexander Macdonald of No. 9 (ex. No. 48 Mac Phuilleim ) was on the tug HMS 'Algerian'. 'Pluto' was so secret and important that it warranted a visit to the 'Algerian' by no less than Mr Churchill and General Eisenhower. Full time air cover was provided for the vessels engaged on the operation.

Seeing what the army had to face on the beaches made me thankful that I had opted for the Navy. My next door neighbour, Murdo Mackenzie of 1 New Tolsta, who served with the army in the Caen area often reminded me that Navy life was soft compared with service in the army. I agreed with him!

Murdo Maciver of 67 North Tolsta (Blastan) served on board the minesweeper HMS 'Tadoussac' in June 1944.

When the war was over some members of the crew wrote, from memory, an account of the war efforts of HMS Tadoussac' and Annie Mary (67) has kindly given us a copy for the Comann Eachdraidh.

An extract from their story

'The 4 th day of June 1944 and the days to follow proved momentous for HMS 'Tadoussac' and many other British and Canadian minesweepers. In the Port of Plymouth, surrounded by so many ships of various sizes and shapes, we were preparing to leave for the Normandy Beaches. In sweeping formation we sailed at 4pm. After several hours operations, and experiencing inclement weather, we were recalled to Plymouth.

Twenty-four hours later we recommenced our task ahead of the American forces and it is believed that eleven other minesweeping flotillas were bound for the French Coast that day. By 10.30 pm we could not believe our eyes to witness the coast of France so plainly visible, some seven miles from our vantage point (5 th June).

A signal was received to continue minesweeping as close to the beaches as possible to enable the armada of ships to land in the Transport Area.

At 2am on 6 th June all was let loose by the shore batteries whilst our own bombing aircraft were operative overhead. On 6 th June HMS 'Tadoussac' was hit by an unexploded shell, fired by a German battery. The Engineer Officer with some help removed it and discharged it overboard. A very brave feat!

We escorted various ships, one of which HMS 'Plover' was laying mines. Another ship was laying dan bouys to mark a safe channel to allow Winston Churchill to visit the beaches once it was safe for him to do so.

We remained in the area for two weeks before returning to England for a refit'.

Murdo Maciver (Blastan) was later 'mentioned in despatches' and the certificate he received read:-

By the KING'S Order the name of

Ty. Leading Seaman Murdo Maciver was published in the London Gazette on 28 th November, 1944, as mentioned in a Despatch for distinguished service. I am charged to record His Majesty's high appreciation.

A.V. Alexander
First Lord of the Admiralty