Remembering D-Day

Remembering D-Day

'By June 1944 I’d been in the RAF for almost three years,' writes Stuart King in his book Hope has Wings. 'Now the D-Day landings had come. The invasion of France was beginning.

'As the engineer officer for 247 Fighter Squadron I had sailed from Portsmouth with my aircraft servicing unit, part of a convoy of staff and equipment of the Second Tactical Air Force. After landing we were to prepare as quickly as possible for the arrival of our aircraft.'

Firsthand account by Stuart King taken from his book Hope has Wings  

The early morning light was murky with smoke. Through the haze the flat beach at Courseilles-sur-Mer lay ahead of us, drab and hostile, rising into grass-tufted sand dunes beyond. The enemy was there.

Along the smoke-filled coastline lay our own battleships, destroyers and frigates. Above them floated hundreds of squat grey barrage balloons, their defensive securing cables tied to the warships below.

German aircraft were diving on the ships. Noise was continuous: the roar of aircraft, the bursting of bombs, the crackle of machine guns and the barking ‘woof’ of anti-aircraft fire.

Our small landing craft edged to the shore. Its bows dropped down to form a ramp. We drove our Jeep out over it, followed by our Bedford trucks loaded with men and equipment, and clawed our way up the beach towards the flat fields of Normandy. The fighting raged on around us.

Normandy, June 1944, 124 Wing technical staff. Photo taken on Airstrip B6 between Coulombs and St Croix de Grande Tonne.  

Within an hour we were in a cornfield, near the small village of Coulombs, where a heavy wire-matting aircraft landing strip had already been laid. As we set up our tents and unloaded our supplies, a German Messerschmitt 109, chased by a British Spitfire, roared low above us.

Anti-aircraft fire from our surrounding army units blotched the sky with angry black puffs of smoke. Shells from a naval battleship screamed overhead towards the enemy positions a few hundred yards beyond us. One fell short, near our tents. Mercifully it didn’t explode.

'Noise was continuous: the roar of aircraft, the bursting of bombs, the crackle of machine guns and the barking ‘woof’ of anti-aircraft fire.'

Our squadron aircraft flew in: formidable, heavy single-seater Hawker Typhoons, their task to knock out enemy transport and tanks. Many of our pilots were lost in dangerous low-level operations, some shot down almost over our heads as they attacked the close front-line targets.

For almost two months we remained pinned down in our narrow beachhead, shelled, strafed and occasionally sniped at. Then, supported by aerial bombardment, the Allied troops began to break out.