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.

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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.