Seaman Edward Francis Wightman

 

Unit : HMS Ramillies.

 

Friday, 2 June 1944, 8pm
Just put to sea and being rather bored at 'just another exercise' when the commander comes on the broadcaster. 'Here is the captain to speak to you,' said he. Then we realised - this was something important. Was it about to begin at last? Our minds were soon set at rest, for the old man recounted our various working up periods then gave us the 'guff'.

 

'We are about to meet the enemy,' said he in short. Followed by the statement that no further information could be given yet because the possibility of inclement weather might cause a postponement of the operation. As the full meaning of his words broke upon us, there was much speculation as to time, place and importance of the great event. From Norway to the South of France was the limit, generally no panic, no bragging, no anything out of the ordinary. Ah well, I've got the middle watch so it's head down.

 

Saturday, 3 June 1944, 8am
Came on watch this forenoon and found the horizon thick with merchantmen and naval craft, but these were seen passed during the course of the day. Our squadron once more on its own, pursuing its zigzag way, steadily, remorselessly. 'Wonder if the Germans have wind of our coming. Do you think it will be postponed after all?' Everybody will be thoroughly 'chocker' if it is.

 

Time 7.30pm: Just had orders re action securing of messes etc. Action stations tomorrow night 8.30pm till - well - we'd all like to know! Maybe we never will. By now the northern coast of France is favourite for the speculators. Looks that way. I judge zero hour to be about 4.45am Monday 5 June. Place - Dieppe. Submarine stand-to short while ago. Nothing doing though. Everything is quiet and in perfect working order. Nothing to do except watch and wait.

 

Time 9.10pm: Getting cold up top now and windy. Foam crested waves showing everywhere. We all pray it will be suitable weather. Cheerio till tomorrow. There's nothing really worth while to write about.

 

Sunday, 4 June 1944, 6am
Dawn, action stations some time ago. Weather quite good not too cold. Our own squadron stretched out ahead. Another one in the rear. Just been browned off as Rocket Projector operator in case of need. What a fine time they do choose (to find new jobs).

 

Time 8.45am: The captain has broadcast what we all feared would happen. Postponed! For 24 hours owing to the weather. Everybody disappointed but bearing up. About turn, back again.

 

Monday, 5 June 1944, 5am
Horribly tired at dawn action stations. Steaming south again. Hope to pull it off tomorrow.

 

Time 8.30am: Captain just been on the broadcaster again. This is it! We are attacking from the mouth of Seine to Cherbourg. Americans to the right flank, British to the left, so my Dieppe forecast wasn't far out! Our job is to engage shore batteries and anything that will oppose the soldiers' landing, which should be about 7.30am. Our bombardment commencing at dawn. We have been promised the largest air attack tonight that has ever been seen. Eisenhower is C-in-C [Commander-in-chief] Allied Forces. Sir Bertram Ramsay C-in-C Naval Forces. Nothing much to do now. We are steaming along as far as the Isle of Wight and then - then turn south! No more for now. Action stations tonight 9.30pm till - when!

 

Time 9pm: Made our rendezvous just off the Isle of Wight with lots of squadrons of landing craft. All around as far as the eye can see we are able to discern craft of all description. From battleships to tugs! Received a bit of 'guff' from the commander re the operation. Biggest air attack ever on coast off Northern France. Our first paratroops and airborne divisions will be let loose tonight. Our own bombardment commences 5.30am on 6 June. Our targets will be 6" coastal batteries. We may come under fire of these and bigger guns! Warspite is looking after one big 16" gun known to be there. She'd just better thump it good and hard or else!

 

Altogether we hear there are five large naval task forces. And HMS Ramillies has the honour (doubtful?) to be with the main landing support squadron. The army should land at 7.30am. Let's hope the boys have it all their own way with all the opposition blasted to hell and back. E-boats and submarines and minefields are expected. Should be quite a party. We are going to drop the hook (anchor) there and drop bricks over any old where, where the Army Forward Observation Officer wants them. And we are to enter harbour with full ceremony, dress of the day No. 3s and band playing. All this is alleged to buck up the morale of the pongoes (soldiers) on shore. Seems good psychology to me, let's hope it works out that way! Not seen any German bombers yet. Would have thought they'd have tried before now. Still - they're on tons of time! Action stations in ten minutes time. All that we have trained for etc is going into this effort. Pray God it shall not fail.

 

Wednesday, 7 June 1944, 10.15pm
Had neither the energy nor the time to write yesterday so I'll try and give a record of the events in chronological order.

 

We were at our bombardment position about 5am after passing through the minefields in the Channel, swept and Dan-buoyed by the sweepers. As we approached the French coast numerous air raids were seen and we watched pretty fireworks displays for quite a while. About 5.10am, just five minutes before schedule, we opened fire with 15" on a 6" battery on a high ridge. This battery had six guns and they were in armoured casemates, so it was no walkover. After about one to two hours firing, enemy shells landed uncomfortably close without doing damage. This went on intermittently all day. About 6.30am two enemy destroyers attacked with torpedoes. Five were fired and three came perilously close. No more than 50 yards away the nearest. A pack of E-boats was observed and the 4" and 6" armament were blazing away and were very effective, causing the enemy to retire. They attacked again later on and were again driven off. By this time we had ranged the enemy battery and put four of the six guns out of action. The remaining two were quite a nuisance and some of their shells landed no more than 20 yards away.

 

In the meantime one of the tinfish fired at us, and hit the destroyer Svenna, a Norwegian escort of ours. She sank almost immediately and I don't think any survivors were picked up. Bodies and wreckage, rafts, timber etc floated past and we observed the bow and stern of the wreck showing above water. Must be pretty shallow here. Apparently she broke her back. Poor chaps - leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

 

Aircraft were now thumping the hell out of German positions ashore and at 6.30am the first wave of troops landed. Later in the day we heard they had succeeded at all points and our Royal Marine Commando battalion had taken a coastal defence battery intact! The day wore on with numerous alarms for aircraft but we saw none. One dropped a stick of bombs between a destroyer and cruiser. JU88 I believe. We carried out several bombardments in the afternoon and evening and eventually completed the obliteration of the last 6" gun of the battery. We then had orders to proceed to Portsmouth to re-ammunition. Fired 220 15" shells and goodness knows how many 6" and 4". Not one AA gun opened fire! What a difference to 1940 (note 15" shell weighs nearly one ton).

 

Just as we were preparing to leave, hundreds and hundreds of gliders came in, in great masses. Each one had a towing plane and they came over for an hour, solid. We estimated over a thousand, so they probably landed at least one complete division. What a sight! Just like a Wellsian dream of the future. I forgot to mention before, that as we went into battle, the captain donned the Maori skirt so how could we come to any harm? Battle ensign was flying from the gaff. Lots of fireworks displays as we left. RAF again giving Germans a bad night.

 

Time 6.30am: arrived Portsmouth and re-ammunitioned all day. Were we worn out! Sailed again 8.30pm and we still had our deck full of cordite to be stowed. Wonder where we are bound now.

 

Time 11pm: Too dark now. Write again tomorrow.

 

Thursday, 8 June 1944, 2.15am
Action stations, large number of E-boats about but none too near us. Just heard an ammunition ship was blown up ahead of us. Altered course to avoid E-boat pack. Arrive Le Havre early this morning. Anchored near Rodney who engaged shore targets with 6". Frobisher was pounding concentrations of enemy tanks with 5" gun broadsides!

 

Time 8.30am: Up anchor, transfer to bombardment position. Engage enemy 6" battery. This battery reported by aircraft to be completely destroyed by 11pm. Engaged further shore targets with good effect. No air raids.

 

Time 10.45pm: Alarm to arms sounded. FW190s and ME109s. One bomb dropped near destroyer.

 

Friday, 9 June 1944, 2am
Browned off to patrol forecastle with Lanchester to open fire on mines, torpedoes, E-boats etc. Engaged motor boat (one of ours) which came straight for us port side. She soon sheered off. Fired at several suspicious objects. No apparent results.

 

Time 4.20am approx: Stick of bombs dropped between Rodney and ourselves. No apparent results.

 

Time 8.30am: Opened fire on several targets ashore. Concentrations of enemy tanks, guns, infantry, motor vehicles etc grouped in woods, villages or on the roads. Very good effect reported by Forward Observation Post. Rodney, Mauritius and ourselves all firing broadsides at the same time. Forgot to mention, about 3am Rodney opened fire with 16" on shore targets, made an awe-inspiring sight at night.

 

Time 6.30pm: Sat down to supper - air raid. Flight of FW190 and Melok 9. Narrowly missed the Roberts with bombs. None near us.

 

Time 10.45pm: Air raids ashore. Very pretty flak display, quite as good as Belle Vue!

 

Time 11.30pm: Just been having a look round ashore through the telescope. Lots of damage along beach to houses etc. Can see tanks, motor vehicles, armoured cars, lorries etc moving up to the front (which is not fixed at all but is quite fluid). No air raids, pretty tired though. A week since I had a night's sleep.

 

Saturday, 10 June 1944, morning
Nothing of importance.

 

Afternoon: Bombardment of railway marshalling yards near Caen. Also troop and transport concentrations. Apparently our salvos are doing a great deal of damage. Very, very few projectiles being outside the target area. Rear Admiral reports he has had many congratulatory signals from ashore on the precision and terrific help given to the army. It's really good to know we are vital, as on board you can't see any visible effect of course. By all reports up to date, we have been tearing up railways, blasting tanks and troops vigorously and generally making a thorough mess of things for the Germans.

 

Sunday, 11 June 1944, morning
No air raids last night or tonight. Just heard over the broadcaster that we have to support the paratroops and 6th Airborne Division. They are on the left or Eastern Flank.

 

Afternoon: Attacked concentration of 200 enemy tanks with good effects. Shifted target to an important railway bridge in the centre of Caen. Evening. Strafing with ten shells every half hour. Cruisers also lobbing 6" bricks over. The most surprising part of this invasion (from our point of view) is the almost complete lack of retaliation against the naval ships. After the first day we have had no real attempt at engagement by either shore batteries (if any) or aircraft or submarines or E-boats.

 

11-12 June 1944, 11pm to 1am
Hundred-and-twenty armour piercing caps fired at marshalling yards at Caen.

 

Monday, 12 June 1944, 2am to 4am
Ninety rounds armour piercing caps at another marshalling yard. Thirty rounds HE. Programme postponed for 24 hours. Nothing of note during day except physical training on the Quarter Deck with the bomb happy physical training instructor.

 

Time 11pm: Bombardment opened - finished 3.45am. Apparently a very good effort. Army trying to capture Caen tonight.

 

Time 2am: Dive bombed by enemy plane - bombs fell between Nelson and us but forward 200 yards of tanker - 400 yards. Forenoon, bombardment continued 227 HE and ADC shells lobbed over during the early hours. About 60 shells this morning.

 

Time 11.30am to 12.30am: Enemy 6" shelling of landing crafts. Where the heck are they from! We suspect the battery we originally engaged. Hear it is a mobile battery.

 

Time 4.30pm: Opened fire again on enemy troops and concentrations on the main road along which 6th Airborne Division is advancing. About 60 salvos. Altogether about 350 shells fired today. Observation points ashore say our shooting very good. Quite a recommend in fact. Approximate layout of front line. It was reported on the 6.30am news bulletin that Ramillies carried out fiercest bombardment ever known by a battleship.

 

Time 11.45pm: Quite a sharp air raid developed ashore. Tons of flak and many sticks of bombs. One really large fire.

 

14 June 1944, 3.34am
Another raid occurred, not very effective though. Forenoon - enemy tried shelling Nelson. Presumably mobile batteries. Nelson replied. No further fire. Carried out bombardment of enemy strongpoint north west of Caen. Forward Observation Officer reported six direct hits out of 14. The other eight all within 100 yards. Range 11 miles. Some shooting! Highly commended by shore observer.

 

Time 5.15pm: Opened fire on shore battery and then in support of 6th Airborne Division again. Fired 29 shells completing X and Y turrets ammunition.

 

Time 9.15pm: Watch five large transport planes go over the 6th Airborne Division and land 100 paratroops.

 

Time 11pm: More raids. None meant for us though several planes passed overhead.

 

15 June 1944
An LST of the USN just passed by with a large hole in her starboard bow just on the water line. She seems quite seaworthy. I hear we have 98 shells left! When these are done we shall have fired 1,000.

 

Afternoon - moved to our original bombardment position and engaged original battery which has brought up new mobile guns. Two direct hits. Two very near misses. Fifteen within 100 yards. As we moved away at approx 5.30pm, another enemy battery engaged us. Their shells fell very close and we were splattered with fragments of 4.7 shells. One signalman received a hit in the leg. He's OK though. We were all cleaning the decks - with our guts! (Me anyway.) Went full speed astern quickly and were thankful to be out of range. Thirty-two shells fell very close to Ramillies. Good gunnery. Good Lord!

 

Time 10.30pm: Air raid on shore installations and beaches. No attempt to attack ships. One plane caught in S/Ls and tons of flack put up. Results not visible.

 

16 June 1944, 3.30am
Air raids again. Not meant for us.

 

Time 1.30pm: HM The King arrived in HMS Scylla. Carried out bombardment intermittently.

 

Time 6.30pm: Still bombarding. Must be near the end of our ammo now.

 

Time 11pm: Great event. Mail arrived and were we thankful.

 

Time 11.45pm: Usual air raid. None looking for us.

 

17 June 1944
Nothing until 1.30pm when we commenced bombardment with 30 HE on the mobile battery and Fire Direction installations which were such a trouble the other day. Aircraft reported very good shooting indeed. Two direct hits on casemates, eight within 50 yards, 15 within 100 yards. This target was the most difficult to engage. It was likened to throwing a ring at a watch which is guarded by a stick. You see these on fairgrounds. Every time you are on the target you hit the stick!

 

18 June 1944
Left for Portsmouth, our job reportedly very well done. Altogether 37 different targets bombarded and 1,002 - 15" 'bricks' fired. Just a small part in a big do!

 

 

My thanks to Lynette Foster for supplying me with a copy of her father's diary.

 

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