Remember the shattering opening of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks commanding US Rangers as they storm ‘Omaha Beach’ and take out the German positions pinning everyone down on the beach during D Day?
Well, there was also one South African D Day hero and DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) recipient for gallantry in the centre of that specific firefight. Lieutenant Royston Davis Turnbull who had served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Cape Town before the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry, on Omaha Beach itself.
His citation reads:
“This officer showed a magnificent example to his Flotilla when very heavily opposed whilst landing the 2nd Battalion United States Rangers near Vierville. Seeing three of his craft stranded on the beach and being subjected to intense mortar and machine-gun fire, he returned to their help. His hard work before the operation and his courage and leadership in the assault was an inspiration to all”.
Able, Baker and Charlie Companies of 2nd US Rangers were landed along with the 5th Rangers, the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division at Omaha Beach. Their action was fought near and at Vierville-sue-mer.
Rangers, Lead The Way!
During D Day the 2nd and 5th US Rangers on Omaha beach found themselves coming to the aid of elements of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division who were pinned down by murderous machinegun fire and mortars from the heights above. It was there that the situation was so critical that General Omar Bradley was seriously considering abandoning the beachhead, instead of sending more men to die. And it was then and there that General Norman Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, gave the now famous order that has become the motto of the 75th Ranger Regiment: “Rangers, Lead The Way!”
The 5th US Rangers broke across the sea wall and barbed wire entanglements, and moved up to the pillbox-rimmed heights under intense enemy machine-gun and mortar fire and with A and B Companies of the 2nd US Rangers Battalion and some elements of the 116th Infantry Regiment. They advanced four miles (6 km) to the key town of Vierville-sur-Mer, thus opening the breach for supporting troops to follow-up and expand the beachhead.
The magnificent eleven
The feature photograph is one of the “magnificent eleven” photos taken by Robert Capa and shows this exact firefight as landing US troops are pinned down on Omaha beach, seen here taking cover behind the beach obstacles from the highly effective machine gun fire coming from a nearby German pillbox. The landing craft that would have concerned our hero – Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull are similar to those seen in the background.
This opening sequence of the beach landing in “Saving Private Ryan” was so accurately played by Tom Hanks and his men acting as the 2nd US Ranger Battalion, landing on Omaha beach and taking out these pillboxes, that the actual surviving veterans of the beach landing could not sit through it. Such was the intensity and accuracy of the harrowing memory it brought back to them.
To think that we had our own South African in the middle of this epic moment in history earning a decoration of gallantry is quite something, and we should stand very proud of Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull DSC.
Image copyright Robert Capa, and has been colourised. Story by Peter Dickens with assistance from Sandy Evan Haynes. Film sequence copyright Paramount International. Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town.