Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC

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.

South African D-Day Hero: Lyle McKay

18839888_1970607699834885_1633886504255988424_oCapt. Lyle Louwrens Archibald McKay, was part of South African forces attached to the Royal Marines on D Day, 6 June 1944.  He showed remarkable courage on this most significant day in history – as this insert attests.

“Captain McKay showed qualities of initiative, energy and courage in a high degree by spotting and engaging enemy strong points, machine gun positions and anti-tank guns from the beach throughout D-Day.

In the course of the day he was wounded by a direct hit from a 75 millimetre shell which put the main armament of his Sherman tank out of action, but he nevertheless continued to engage the enemy with his .300 Browning machine gun until he finally moved inland from the beach with only one of four Centaur tanks, the remaining three still being out of action through damage to tracks on landing.”

This image shows his unit in action during the landings, here a Canadian M10 Wolverine 3-inch self-propelled gun supports an attack by 48 Royal Marines Commando on the German strongpoint WN 26 at Langrune-sur-Mer, circa 11:30 hrs, the next day on 7 June 1944. A Centaur tank of No. 4 Battery, 2nd Armoured Support Regiment, Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, disabled by a mine, can be seen in the background. The officer in the foreground is Lieutenant-Colonel R Moulton, commanding 48 Royal Marines Commando.

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The below image shows a Sherman tank of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, to which Capt. Mckay would have been attached, seen here during D Day operations – 13 June 1944, near Tilly-sur-Seulles.

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Of interest is this Captain’s rank epaulet this is the insignia of a South African Union Defence Force Captain’s rank insignia for one attached to the Royal Marines, note the ‘red band’ or ‘rooi lussie’ which signified a South African who had volunteered to fight in World War 2 and go overseas (i.e. outside the country), to do so they had to repeat a ‘red oath’ which enabled them to leave the union of South Africa under law.

Alan Crayon Coleman referenceAll South Africans in World War Two fighting overseas were volunteers, those in the Union Armed Forces who disagreed with Smuts’ decision to go to war on the side of Britain had the option of staying behind and not wearing the red band (not many did).  Note the letters ‘RM’ this signifies ‘Royal Marines’ – a very unique and different World War 2 artefact.  As a Captain, Lyle McKays’ insignia would have been similar.

Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Tommy Thomas South African D Day Hero: Lt. D.C. “Tommy” Thomas MC

Cecil Bircher South African D Day Hero: Lt. Cecil Bircher MC

Royston Turnball Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC

Anthony Large South African D Day hero: Anthony Large BEM


Posted by Peter Dickens.  Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town. Image Imperial War Museum.  Image of epaulet artefact with much thanks to Alan Crayon Coleman.

South African D-Day Hero: Tommy Thomas MC

Today we profile another one of those South African heroes who served with the Royal Navy Commandos on D Day and who went on to win a Military Cross for Bravery – Lieutenant D.C. “Tommy” Thomas MC from Maclear in the Transkei.

12074843_501711933331877_2278790879846881223_nHis most painful recollection of D-Day was the stormy passage he and his contingent had to undergo in crossing the Channel in their landing craft.The seas were running high, and hardly a man escaped sea sickness. They landed in the second wave at first light, their boat receiving a direct hit as they approached the shore, half-a-dozen men being killed, and Thomas found himself up to his neck in water after having jumped form the landing craft as it struck the beach.

The Commandos, having “dumped” their steel helmets, promptly donned their green berets as they went ashore, it being “more comfortable”.  They had a specific job to do which was to connect up as soon as possible with the paratroops who had dropped further inland, and encountered fire, but “did not wait to deal with the resistance at the coast, pushing inland instead with all speed”.

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Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Division move inland from Sword Beach on the Normandy coast, 6 June 1944.

It was “tough going through the minefields but they got there”. “And were the paratroops glad to see us!” remarked Lt. Thomas, who further remarked that for the next few days none of them knew much of what was happening, and could not be sure whether the invasion was a success or not.

All they knew was “that in their own sector on the left flank of the beach-head they were kept hard at it”, and the toughening they had had in advance was to prove more than useful.

According to plan, they kept on the move all the time -”frigging about” as it was called in Commando terminology, snatching some much-needed sleep in slit-trenches during the day, while at night they were patrols or raids to be carried out. It was while returning from one of these ”nocturnal excursions” that Lieutenant Thomas shared with his sergeant and another man “the benefit of a German hand-grenade”, and was to later return to England with several “little shrapnel souvenirs still in his leg”, but otherwise was “none the worse for wear”.

Commenting on how the Normandy landings compared to his time in North Africa, Lt. Thomas was to say that “it was worse”, elaborating that “for one thing, in the Desert, you could see whom you were fighting, but in Normandy most of the time you couldn’t.”

Lt. Thomas was also to add that he was wondering how he would “be able to settle down on the family farm in the Maclear district of the Transkei after all this excitement”.

Military_CrossLt Thomas won the Military Cross (MC) for his actions in World War 2.  A significant decoration, it is awarded for gallantry in combat. The MC is granted in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land to all members, of any rank in Our Armed Forces”.

The unfortunate truth is that it was highly likely that his participation in D Day ultimately killed him years later. After the war but he developed an alcohol dependency problem whilst suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), very sick he eventually shot himself when he was also diagnosed with cancer. A real tragedy and the end of a fine South African hero, close family and fiends described him as an AMAZING man, brave, humble and very caring.

People who knew him well said he was never the same after the war, and today we honour his extreme sacrifice and we will remember him.

Related Links and Work of South Africans during D Day:

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Lyle Mckay South African bravery on D Day, Capt. Lyle McKay.

Cecil Bircher South African D Day Hero: Lt. Cecil Bircher MC

Anthony Large South African D Day hero: Anthony Large BEM

Royston Turnball Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC


Posted by Peter Dickens. Reference – Two South African “Royal Marine” Commandos and the D-Day Landings, June 1944 By Ross Dix-Peek.

Photo of Tommy courtesy and copyright of his old girlfriend – Mrs A Mason (from Mrs Mason’s personal album), with grateful thanks.

South African D-Day hero: Anthony Large BEM

6th June 1944. D Day, a very significant day in the history of mankind, and albeit on a smaller scale quite a number of South Africans did actually participate in it. The South African Naval Force (assisting the Royal Navy) is one such entity that did and this is one of these South African heroes to come from the D-day landings.

A Large

Here Sub Lieutenant Anthony Large BEM, South African Naval Force (Volunteers), of Durban, South Africa, is seen taking a bearing on the ship’s compass on board HMS HOLMES whilst she was helping to guard the Allied supply lines to and from the Normandy beachhead. He won his British Empire Medal BEM whilst he was a rating.

The HMS Holmes (K581) was a Captain Class frigate, originally intended for the United States Navy she was transferred to the Royal Navy before she was finished.  The HMS Holmes found itself in the thick of battle during D-Day on the 6th June 1944 as an escort.  She was alongside escorting large battleships like the HMS Rodney as they fired at shore targets in Normandy. Operating off the Caen beachhead and Le Havre, this Royal Navy flotilla known as Bombarding Force D, including the HMS Holmes, opened the channel for invading forces.

In this dramatic photograph the crew on the bridge of the frigate HMS Homes keep watch as gliders carrying 6th Airborne Division reinforcements to Normandy pass overhead on the evening of 6 June 1944.

Holmes 2

Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett  as a “never surpassed masterpiece of planning”. In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay who had served as the Flag Officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years earlier.

Operation Neptune, as the ‘D-Day’ operation was codenamed was quite something.  Consider these staggering statistics. The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels. The majority of the fleet was supplied by the UK, which provided 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft. There were 195,700 naval personnel involved.

HMS Holmes

HMS Holmes (K581) during Operation Overlord

Available to the British and Canadian sectors were five battleships, 20 cruisers, 65 destroyers, and two monitors. German ships in the area on D-Day included three torpedo boats, 29 fast attack craft, 36 ‘R’ Boats and  36 minesweepers and patrol boats. The Germans also had several U-Boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined.

At 05:10, four German torpedo boats reached the Bombarding Force D Task Force and launched fifteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies.  Not far from this action was our South African hero and the HMS Holmes.

Here the battleship HMS Ramillies shelling German gun batteries in support of the landings on Sword area, 6 June 1944. The photo was taken from the frigate HMS Holmes.

Ram

HMS Ramillies Sword area, 6 June 1944.

The British Empire Medal (BEM) awarded to Anthony Large is a significant British decoration, the medal is issued both for gallantry or meticulous service medal, however during the war it was generally awarded for gallantry to uniformed personnel, usually non-commissioned ranks below Warrant Officer.

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British Empire Medal (BEM)

Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Tommy Thomas South African D Day Hero: Lt. D.C. “Tommy” Thomas MC

Lyle Mckay South African bravery on D Day, Capt. Lyle McKay.

Cecil Bircher South African D Day Hero: Lt. Cecil Bircher MC

Royston Turnball Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens Photograph copyrights and caption references – Imperial War Museum

Smuts’ keen sense of smell detects Germans hiding nearby

An interesting snippet of history happened during this visit by Smuts and Churchill to Monty’s headquarters. While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, “There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!”

And low and behold, just two days later, “two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Monty as well as Smuts), everything would have changed.

There you have it, Smuts’ keen sense of smell and intuition is another attribute you can add to the very very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.

The feature image shows Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts accompanied one another just after the D Day landings to General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944.

Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Here these Allied commanders are seen looking up at aircraft activity overhead.

Reference: Nicholas Rankin “Churchill’s Wizards”. Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum.

South African D-Day Hero: Cecil Bircher MC

Two South Africans seconded to the Royal Marines were awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on D-Day. This is the citation for one of them Lieutenant Cecil Arthur Douglas Bircher, South African Forces (attached to the Royal Marines).

“Lieutenant Bircher was Officer Commanding Troops in a Landing Craft Tank known as a LCT(A) carrying part of his troop. The craft engines broke down and it was towed from a position off the Isle of Wight to the assault area by a LCT and a LCI. On 6th June 1944 when approaching the beach at Bernieres-sur-Mer these craft had to cast off the LCT(A) which was left drifting sideways in a strong tide about 150 yards from the beach.

Although there was a heavy sea running and the beach was still under close range fire, Lieutenant Bircher, without hesitation plunged into the water and swam about 100 yards to the shore with the beach lines. On arrival on the beach he secured the lines to some stakes, enabling his craft to beach, and disembarked his section of Centaur tanks.

He subsequently led his section from the Canadian Sector in which he had landed into the sector of the 50th (N) Division to which he was attached although enemy opposition still persisted between the two sectors . Throughout the operation Lieutenant Bircher showed personal courage of the highest order and unflinching determination in the most adverse conditions to get his guns into action at the right time and place.”

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The chosen image shows Commandos of HQ 4th Special Service Brigade, coming ashore from landing craft on Nan Red beach, Juno area, at St Aubin-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944. An LCT (Landing Craft Tank) of the type that Lt Bircher was commanding troops in can be seen in the background.

The type of tanks Lieutenant Bircher was off-loading from the LCT were Centaur IV tank of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, here is an image of one during Operation Overlord at Tilly-sur-Seulles, 13 June 1944.

RM tanks

Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Tommy Thomas South African D-Day Hero: Tommy Thomas MC

Lyle McKay South African D-Day Hero: Lyle McKay

Royston Turnball Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC

Anthony Large South African D Day hero: Anthony Large BEM

Jan Smuts South Africa’s role in giving D-Day the green light


Posted by Peter Dickens. Image copyright – Imperial War Museum. Caption and citation reference ‘South Africa’s D Day Veterans’ by Cdr W.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum.

Smuts’ sixth sense

Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts accompanied one another just after the D Day landings to General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944.

Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Here these Allied commanders are seen looking up at aircraft activity overhead.

An interesting snippet of history happened during this visit by Smuts and Churchill to Monty’s headquarters. While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, ‘There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!’” and low and behold, just two days later, “two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Smuts), everything would have changed.

There you have it, Smuts’ keen sense of smell and intuition is another attribute you can add to the very very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.

Reference: Nicholas Rankin “Churchill’s Wizards”. Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum.