Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Percival Johnson
Unit : Battalion HQ, 12th Parachute Battalion.
Army No. : 52653
Awards : Distinguished Service Order
Lieutenant-Colonel "Johnny" Johnson commanded the 12th Parachute Battalion. When he parachuted into Normandy on the 6th June, he was the first man to arrive at his Battalion's rendezvous, but like all of the parachute battalion commanders of the 6th Airborne Division, after several hours of waiting at the rendezvous a less than satisfactory number of his men had presented themselves, and so he was therefore faced with the dilemma of whether to advance to secure his objective or wait for more men to present themselves on the drop zone. The 12th Battalion had, in fact, been more successful than most in assembling their men as 60% of their strength was accounted for by 02:30, and so Johnson, who was aware that it was vital that his men should secure the ridge south of Le Bas de Ranville before dawn, ordered the advance. In the event the Battalion met no resistance on the way and they began to take up positions along the ridge at 04:00.
On the 12th June, after spending several days in the Divisional Reserve, Johnson received orders personally from Major-General Gale to prepare the Battalion for an attack on Bréville that night. Out of necessity, it was a hastily improvised operation, so much so that Johnson had only two hours to brief his men and lead them to the start line for their advance, at Amfreville. Attached to the greatly understrength 12th Battalion was "D" Company of the 12th Devonshires, however by the time that Johnson had arrived at the start line with his men, with only moments to spare before the Allied artillery barrage began, he had not been able to talk with the Devons' commander about the plan that he proposed as they had yet to arrive. Johnson decided to attack along a single company front, with "C" Company leading the way to secure the crossroads and the southern area of the village, then for "A" Company to pass through them and secure the south-eastern sector, the Devons were then to follow and capture the north-east, and finally the 12th Battalion's "B" Company would advance and deal with the western area.
The attack was a success, but the two leading companies of the 12th Battalion and the Devons suffered particularly terribly as a result of enemy small arms and artillery fire. Amongst the dead was Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson himself, however he was a victim of friendly fire. An artillery shell, believed to have been fired from a gun of the 51st Highland Division, fell short of Bréville, just as the attack began, and killed Johnson. He had been standing with a group of senior officers who had gathered to witness the assault, and the explosion that killed him also seriously wounded Brigadiers The Lord Lovat and Hugh Kindersley.
For his actions in the days leading up to his death, Lt-Colonel Johnson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation reads:
Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson landed with his Battalion by parachute behind the enemy lines on the 6th June 1944. His Battalion held the Eastern approaches to the Benouville bridgehead throughout the 6th June in the face of repeated attacks by enemy self-propelled guns and infantry in superior strength. His courage leadership and skill were an inspiration to the remainder of his Battalion and his task was successfully accomplished.
On the 7th June, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson's Battalion held its ground against more attacks by infantry with self-propelled guns in support. The assaults were pressed at point blank range and in some places penetrated into his position. Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson's brilliant handling of his Battalion, his coolness under fire was directly responsible for the successful defence of the position as a whole and to the final reoccupation of our original line.
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