D +16 Thursday 22.6.44
Now about mid-Channel: weighed anchor midnight. Dull morning: low clouds but fairly good visibility. Convoy appears to be in extended formation – more or less in line, not in group. No sign of escort, but presume they are somewhere on flanks. All ships A.A. guns fully manned. Believe there are nine of them. Ship rolling badly, altho sea not really rough – merely a slight swell. Not much activity among troops: most of them in bed: has been some sea sickness: cabin atmosphere now awful. Feel OK myself. Had a shower after breakfast. Been up on deck for fresh air, but Diesel fumes seem to be everywhere, especially with main engines running. Spent half hour down in engine room. Awful noise. Two main engines 900 b.h.p. each – three auxiliary 150 b.h.p.ea. for power etc. including de-gaussing. All winches etc electrically driven: water electrically heated. But fuel fired cooking ovens!
Slept in Mae Wests last night. All hatches & W/T doors closed: guard withdrawn from hold. Tanks shackled & now left…with all hatches etc closed and fastened. Believe there are subs. about in “wolf-packs” – but there were no alarms during the night. So far, everything OK this morning. Later 9.30am. Just sighted land. Escorts on port…& minesweepers: dozens of them!
10.30am. Land clearly visible. We seem to be preparing to anchor…presumably in Seine Bay. Amazing collection of ships here: must be hundreds – several warships, including at least one battleship. Not a sign of the enemy either at sea or in the air.
2.30pm. Dropped anchor 12.0pm after cruising around for some time: about 2 or 3 miles off shore. Courseulles Sur Mer clearly visible: we appear to be on original landing beach near Caen. Dozens of ships here: many of them already beached, probably waiting for high tide, to withdraw. Believe we will go ashore at high tide (3.30pm?) & disembark a couple of hours later. Heavy gunfire clearly audible on board here. Perhaps from Caen itself? Or has “C” fallen? Haven’t seen any news since Sunday. Anyhow, the war is now damnably close, judging by that gunfire… & I don’t feel a bit thrilled! As I write, there are 2 or 3 dozen ships between this boat & the shore… with Courseulles in the background. The latter seems undamaged through the glasses: appears to be a small town with gently rolling country to the right. Five church spires visible. Probably about 15 miles of coastline visible from here. It all seems very peaceful:… gently sloping country, green & sunlit: not a lot of woodland from here.
3.0pm. We have just started moving again…this time towards the shore…those beaches!! Few minutes ago, a lifebelted corpse floated past the ship: first tangible evidence of death….
Later. Landed about 5.30pm. And what a sight! The beach looked like a ships graveyard, altho most of the beached vessels were not really wrecks: they were merely high & dry awaiting next tide. But there certainly was some evidence of the last fortnights fighting. One landing craft completely overturned…one steam tug holed & lying on her side…etc etc. Looking back on the bay, there was an amazing mass of shipping: & the sky seemed literally full of balloons…local ones, & on more distant beaches. Cannot possibly describe the scene here.
Halted by the beach (we landed “dry”) & removed most of sealing: then drove inland to assembly area: Much evidence of the war en route: Fields still marked with Jerry “skull & crossbones” & “Minen.” (meaning ‘minefield’.) Our “lanes” clearly marked & taped. Country lanes already being widened & improved. Mass of wrecked vehicles by beach. Simple graves by roadside… bearing wooden crosses & steel helmets etc. Terribly depressing sight. Army vehicles everywhere: & all troops look terribly dirty, but brown & cheerful. This entire region is just a huge army camp. God knows what all the vehicles are for: some weird looking monsters. Saw a four engine bomber lose a wing & dive to earth: 8 of crew had bailed out 10 minutes previously. Later drove on to con. area: first of C to arrive. “A” ech. been here since Monday!
We are about 7 miles from front fine. Terrific A.A. barrage over front as two groups of our bombers were returning. One bomber shot down. Seems a miracle they all weren’t shot down. Worked on tank until dark, then dug long & wide shallow trench to sleep in. Ran tank over afterwards for “roof’ against shrapnel & Jerry anti-personnel bombs. Believe he comes over every night. A few Jerries been over already; – met by heavy AA fire from our side. Took cover! Opened 24 hour packs for “supper” meal.
Saw a few of natives on todays journey thro’ villages & fields. Seem almost a peasant type. Not much evidence of enthusiasm amongst them: just a few polite hand waves. Perhaps they resent our intrusion: can well understand this. Their former well tilled fields & lovely countryside is now a battleground. Not all crops & cattle destroyed, but there must have been much damage. Much material damage too in certain villages.
These people haven’t seen war for generations, & now it has descended upon them because of the Allies. The Germans only occupied the country…& seem to have behaved themselves at that. Local attitude probably inclined to “a plague on both your houses.” Have seen a few tricolours hanging from bedroom windows nevertheless. A child of about four gave me an immaculate Nazi salute as we passed today. Probably thought it was correct greeting for all soldiers. Much evidence of local religious fervour. Even tiny hamlets seem to have imposing churches with tall spires. Also wayside shrines & “Calvarys” are quite frequent…some very elaborately built. To bed…about 1.0am.