George Smith

Major George Smith


Unit : Headquarters Company, 9th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 70499

Awards : Military Cross


Major Smith commanded Headquarters Company of the 9th Battalion, but on D-Day he was dropped ahead of them with the Troubridge Party. "Together with two Company Sergeant Major Physical Training Instructors {"Dusty" Miller and Bill Harrold}, I was to make a reconnaissance of the Battery, instruct a Taping Party, meet the Battalion, advise the Commanding Officer {Lieutenant-Colonel Otway} of the prospects of his plan, and lead the unit along to the assault by the best route."


"We were boisterous {in the hours before take-off}. I do not think anyone felt unduly nervous, although none of us had previously done an operational jump. The meteorological forecast of the wind on the Continent caused considerable comment. It was quite strong here in England, and even the largest branches of the trees were dancing up and down. Surely the forecast was just a myth invented to spur us forward, and we should find a wind of at least twenty-five miles an hour gusting to thirty. Anyway, it was a relief to be out of the confinement of the Transit Camp."


"The pilot told us we would be dropped about half a mile from the intended Dropping Zone as aerial reconnaissance showed enemy-dug positions in its vicinity. We were already aware of these positions but had had no confirmation that they were manned. It seemed to me that this was more of a military decision than one to be made by the Royal Air Force, but as we had studied the ground thoroughly and thought we knew it from all angles we did not argue."


"I placed my haversack and respirator under my jumping jacket, and this over my equipment, containing pistol, entrenching tool, grenades, rubber gloves, torch, binoculars, compass, overloaded map case, and numerous other contrivances I considered necessary, must have made me appear grotesquely comic, for everyone burst out laughing. Soon, some of the others looked very much the same as myself, but several of the RV Party had special kitbags containing necessary stores, and included in them their personal kit. These kitbags were strapped to their legs when they jumped. On the parachutes opening, they pulled quick releases and let the kit bags down on ropes called static lines, to dangle twenty feet below them, thus hitting the ground first and relieving the parachutes of the extra weight before the men landed. The pilot told us that, as there was a following wind, he would not take off until nine minutes after eleven, nine minutes later than the time scheduled. We were not to worry as he guaranteed he would drop us accurately at twenty minutes past midnight."


"Once inside we closed the doors and crowded forward as far as we were able in the approved take-off positions. It was half-light when the aircraft taxied clumsily to take up its position at the beginning of the runway. Suddenly the engine revolutions increased and the plane rapidly gathered speed and took to the air. We did not as usual circle the airfield, but went straight off as though determined to finish this thing as soon as we could."


"I had brought with me some jam sandwiches without butter. They were supposed to be a safeguard against air sickness. This I did not fear, but considered it was better to fight with a full stomach than otherwise. They were offered around, but nobody fancied any. I managed to eat one, but it was most distasteful, and I had to eat slowly and force down each mouthful."


"Soon the navigator informed us that we were approaching the French coast and advised us to open the trap doors. This was more easily said than done, encumbered as we were with parachutes, equipment and the kitbags. There was little enough room, and it was only with facetious and rude remarks that I eventually persuaded the others to move up sufficiently to allow me to get off the doors and open them, pinning the flaps against the inside of the fuselage. I sat on the forward end of the hole and swung my legs through it. The slipstream blew them back, so I rested them on the narrow ledge each side."


"Suddenly the coast came into view, and away to the right I could see sudden bursts of flame which arose and died away almost immediately. The bombers were softening up the beach defences. Five minutes to go. We began to prepare our positions for the jump. CSM Miller took up position to the rear of the hole. I stood over the centre of it with my legs astride, each foot balanced precariously on the narrow ledge at the base of each door, whilst CSM Harrold stood similarly over the rear of the hole. This was not the orthodox manner of jumping, but one we had worked out as the best method for a quick jump, most likely to land us on the ground close together. The usual method in this type of aircraft is to bunny-hop down the fuselage from the forward end and through the hole in turn. We had not been able to practice our new method, but the theory seemed good."


"We passed over the coast at about 700 feet. One minute to go. There was no flak to mention, but stream of tracer began to pass us. Most of it was below or in the rear. My job was to watch the lights near the roof of the fuselage, so I was unable to watch the tracer for long. The red light would come on for four seconds as a warning and then change to green; the order to jump. It was a very long minute and I remember my hands were sticky with sweat. The red light shone. With a sudden flick the red light disappeared and the green took its place. I closed my legs, clutched the harness about my chest, and felt myself sliding down the slipstream. I clearly remember saying to myself, "Well, you can't climb back now!" Directly Miller had seen me close my legs he had jumped at me, and Harrold had thrown himself at Miller's disappearing head. There was a gentle tug at my shoulders, the clack of the silk canopy opening, and I was floating majestically to earth."


"It was a perfect descent. We were not being fired on, although tracer could be seen firing in an arc further and farther away, apparently still at the aircraft. There was no moon, but we had been sitting in the dark for an hour and our eyes were adjusted for night vision. I could see a large building about half a mile away half-left and another about three-quarters of a mile half-right. I decided the former was a place known as Varaville Headquarters, a German Military Headquarters. Next, I found it swept from sight by the tops of trees, and I hit the ground with a thud, rolling over onto my back in a manner which would have made the instructors of the Parachute Training School weep with shame."


"I sat up, twisted and punched my harness quick release until it dropped free, pulled out my leg straps, and ripped open the zip-fastener on my jumping jacket. I was ready for action. I could not understand why somebody was not shooting at me, or some burly figure had not hurled himself upon me. I looked around. Four yards away a figure was struggling with his harness. "Who is that?" I whispered. "Dusty Miller", came the answer. Another figure emerged from the shadow of some trees fifteen yards away. It was Harrold. Our method of jumping had proved better than we expected. I had not seen them in the air as I had been too busy trying to locate my position to look up. If we had jumped in the usual way we should have been from twenty to forty yards apart, and possibly more. There would also have been thick hedges between us. As it was, we were all in the corner of a field surrounded by a thick hedge, closely treed. There was no sign or sound of any members of the other party. We went close to the hedge to get our bearings and discuss our plans. It was twenty minutes past midnight by my watch, so the pilot had kept his promise. Further, there was little wind and our doubts of the meteorological department had proved misplaced."


Major Smith's mind turned to the possibility of his party being caught up in the bombing raid that was soon to be directed against the Merville Battery. "We had intended to lie up in a ditch and wait for it, stuffing our ears with cotton wool and lying in an anti-blast position. The Battery was 2,400 yards away and we should have been fairly safe. The temptation to get going was too great, so we decided to get going and take cover when we head the Lancasters approaching. We kept in the shadows of the hedges and went at a good pace until we heard them. A shallow ditch was handy and we took up our positions in it. Suddenly there was a harsh tearing sound as the bombs began to fall, and then terrific explosions. I could not resist putting my head up to have a look. The bombs were falling halfway between it {The Merville Battery} and us. There was a large field in front of us, which we had either to cross or make a detour around. I shouted to the sergeant majors, "Let's run across the field whilst the Huns are taking cover from the bombs," and we darted our of the ditch in a bunch and began to run. We were not halfway across the field when there was a terrible screaming sound, like twenty expresses tearing past one another on adjacent tracks. We threw ourselves to the ground, clasped our hands round the backs of our necks, with the forearms pressed over our ears, and our elbows lifting our bodies slightly from the ground. Bombs crashed before us, to the right, left and behind. The earth shook as though in the hands of an angry giant. Great trees fell and huge clods of earth showered about us as craters opened up, each large enough to bury a suburban villa. Even above the din and chaos I imagined I could hear my heart pounding against my chest."


"Suddenly {after ten minutes} this man-made eruption ceased. Aeroplanes could be heard going into the distance, and a haze of smoke and dust obliterated everything. We sat up. A feeling of stupidity overcame me and then cleared as a realized how lucky we were to be alive. The others were getting to their feet as though surprised to find their limbs still worked. Miller uttered a single word of blasphemy. Again we started for the opposite hedge at a steady double. On the other side of it was a rough track. I had expected to find a good road. We stopped to check our position. Both of the other fellows were convinced this was not the road. The types of thicknesses of the hedges about agreed with the picture in my mind, and I decided that the maps and aerial photographs we had studied over-emphasized this track and made it appear like a road. We set off on the field side of the hedge and fortunately my surmise proved correct."


"We had not gone far when a voice from a ditch ahead halted us. I recognized it as the voice of the batman {Private George Adsett} of the officer commanding the RV Party {Major Allen Parry}. He seemed a little bewildered and very excited. He had met none of the other six in his party and was lost. I pointed out to him some trees which bordered the RV, instructed him to make his way there and get a message to the Battalion when it arrived that the Recce Party had landed safely and started off on its job."


"The next hedge junction we met was too thick to get through. This meant going away from the road, and we walked a good hundred and fifty yards before I decided to break through it and chance the noise alarming the enemy. To do so we had to cross a deep ditch and break through a hedge comparable with those in Kent, when we found ourselves in a three-yard wide belt of shrub, with yet another hedge to cross. I threw myself at it only to find nothing beneath my feet, and I was falling and falling. I landed in an incongruous heap at the bottom of another ditch. It was of exceptional depth and only by stretching my arms at full length above my head could my colleagues grasp my hands and pull me out through a tearing mass of brambles and rose thorn. Another similar double-ditched, double hedge a little later made us decide to try the track at any future hedge junction. We could not afford the delay caused by breaking through hedges and in any case the noise breaking through them was, if anything, more dangerous than moving on the verge at the side of the track occasionally."


"Soon we did come to another hedge junction and we found a gap onto the track. I decided it would be better going on the other side of the track, ran across it and threw myself into a ditch about five feet deep. There, not five yards from me were two German soldiers. They were not in a prepared defensive position and I grasped that they were still frightened and sheltering from the holocaust of bombs which had been let loose. I had been using both hands to gap the hedges and wire fences, and my pistol was still in its holster. Anyway, my immediate job was reconnaissance and to avoid conflict with the enemy. I leaped back out of the ditch, a large stone came against my hand as I did so, and I threw it at the Germans. They must have thought it was a grenade for they threw themselves flat. All this took about half a second. I joined the other two across the track and we made a small detour."


"Next we had to cross about six hundred yards of open country. We found our starting point and set off on a compass bearing which, if correct, would bring us out at a hedge gap. Thirty yards into the field we found two posts about fifteen yards apart. They were solid affairs, whole trees with the bases sunk well into the ground, and the other ends about fifteen feet high. Between them a piece of wire was stretched, starting at a height of six feet on one and ending three feet up the other. The wire was of exceptional thickness and it would have been impossible to cut it with ordinary issue wire cutters. We ducked under it and continued on our course, only to find the field full of these posts, and all were joined by the thick wire at varying heights, from the ground level to ten feet up. They were German defences against glider landings. We were nearly across the open space when flak guns along the coast began to open up. Almost immediately the dark silhouettes of Dakota aircraft appeared and continued to appear for the next fifteen minutes. They were at heights from five hundred to fifteen hundred feet, rather more hidden than we expected. I could have jumped for joy. This was the Battalion."


"From near and far German machine gunners came into action spitting streams of tracer at the dark shapes above. We saw very few parachutes descend. Just two sticks to our left. They were difficult to see in the darkness and were bad targets, descending quickly, and being visible for only a few seconds. The firing was heaven-sent to my party for we were able to pick out all the machine-gun nests in the vicinity and particularly ahead. Some were surprisingly near and we were able to adjust our route to avoid them."


"We reached a crosstracks, one of which led straight to the outer perimeter of the Battery about six hundred yards away. The country was very open except for the small hedge and ditch alongside the track. We slipped off quietly along the hedge. It had been our intention to cross the open country on a compass bearing to bring us out at a certain wood, known to us as Wood Two, but there was a wire fence with a wooden board hanging on it. This board merely had the sign of a skull and crossbones roughly painted on it, a sign we knew denoted a minefield. We were already aware of the existence of mines, for aerial photographs had shown some small craters equal distances apart and in rows. They had been set off by a stick of bombs which had fallen near. We did not know, however, that the minefield was so extensive. Across the track was another wire fence with a notice saying "MINEN", another minefield. We decided prudence was better than valour and crept along the ditch."


"The six hundred yards seemed very long, and we certainly did not cover it quickly. At last we came to a track running across the top of the one we had crawled along. On the other side was the cattle fence marking the outer perimeter of the Battery. Wood One, inside the perimeter, started in front of us and went away to our left. Wood Two could be seen about a hundred and fifty yards to our right. We knew we should now have to cross a minefield, and, to confirm this, more of the skull and crossbone notices hung upon the fence. Running by Wood Two we expected to find a track leading into the heart of the Battery. There would most certainly be a heavy guard on this, and no guard at the moment would be anything but very alert. I decided to leave Harrold in the corner of Wood One to watch and report if we got into trouble. He had a lonely job. We dumped our haversacks with him to lighten our load and keep him company."


"The area was strewn with bomb craters. We had expected to find them but were amazed at their size. We reached the track through the Battery; it was wired up and another mine sign hung upon the wire. The main and inner perimeter defence was two hundred yards away. Wood Two stretched for half this distance. We decided to cut the wire just inside the corner of Wood Two and keep near its edge. We had been warned that this was a likely place for anti-personnel mines. It is, however, more comfortable with trees around one. If seen, one is more likely to get quick cover from view, and even at night it is darker beneath trees than elsewhere, and observation more difficult. We cut the wire and crept into the wood. We were not frightened of anti-tank mines as it is unlikely that the weight of the body will set them off, although there was some danger that the bombs dropped near may have made them super-sensitive. This was a chance that had to be taken. Our main fear was of the anti-personnel mine, of which the Germans had numerous types, some difficult to detect without an electrical mine-detector, a piece of equipment we had considered bringing but decided was too burdensome."


"Our present plan was to keep as far apart as possible and work forward level with each other so that we would not both be injured should a mine go up. The moon was beginning to rise and we found we could just see each other at thirty yards. If anything was to happen to either of us, the other was to go on and complete the job, heedless of the other's need for assistance. We went forward on hands and knees, feeling with our hands and making paths for our knees. We reckoned that if a mine went up or one of us was seen it would attract considerable fire, but the enemy would not venture onto their own minefield and come to close quarters. We soon discovered why the track leading into the Battery had been wired off. Three heavy bombs had fallen on it, making it quite impassable and beyond repair without a considerable amount of labour. A bulldozer might have done the job but then the mines on either side of the track would soon have settled the account of the bulldozer."


"Before we had gone far there was a noise of people on the track we had left, but there was no undue disturbance and we pressed on. We met a number of wires of the loose variety. They were probably attached to anti-personnel mines worked on the pull principle, and we either cut them or passed over the top. They were close to the ground so this was not difficult. At length we reached the inner edge of Wood Two. Here was another cattle fence in which we cut our separate gaps and went into the open on the last hundred yards of our journey. It was not long before we passed into long coarse grass about a foot high. Going through this stealthily seemed to make a great deal of noise, but we were probably more than sensitive to noise at this moment. I could see the black dome of Miller's back moving slowly above the top of the grass. Eventually we reached the wire and, as arranged, kept flat and still for five minutes, listening. Nothing could be heard, but the dim outline of the huge casemates could be distinguished."


"We crept towards each other and listened for another five minutes. A wide anti-tank ditch ten feet deep had been started with the intention of encircling the Battery, but it had only got halfway round before the excavating machine had been taken away. We watched its progress on aerial photographs. It had not reached where we are now. Most of the Battery also had two thick belts of wire entanglement about thirty yards apart forming the inner perimeter. This was the only place where there was one. Bombs had broken it and made large craters where it had been, but the Germans had joined the wire together around the inner sides of these craters, leaving peculiar indentations."


"To discover whether or not there was anything strange or helpful we each went one hundred and fifty yards along the wire in opposite directions. The type of ground was the same everywhere. I passed what had been the entrance of the track, but the gap there had now been firmly wired. Soon after it the second fence started, running out at a gradual angle from the first fence, until it was thirty yards away when it ran parallel. I returned and found Miller already waiting for me. He had also found the second fence soon started. Why this gap had been left was beyond my comprehension. The defences here was stiff, but nothing in comparison with those on the side facing the sea. The Battalion was to make three gaps through the wire and I decided the best locations would be on the track, about seventy yards to the right by a telegraph pole, and about seventy yards to the right again. This was more or less as we had rehearsed the operation."


"There was still not the slightest sound and I began to wonder whether the place was deserted. I decided to make sure by going inside through the wire. It would have been unwise to have thrown away the knowledge of the layout we already had, so I decided to send Miller back to join Harrold and meet the Battalion should anything happen to me. I waited until Miller had disappeared before I began my journey. The wire was about five feet high and fifteen feet wide. It seemed to be made to no particular pattern, but was thick with many supporting stakes. Cautiously I began to push various strands of wire aside and hook them back. Crawling half on my side and half on my back, I crept carefully into the hole I was making. My body was not more than half under the wire when I thought I heard a click, a familiar noise often made by a fidgety sentry knocking his rifle. I listened and heard it again probably within thirty yards. At crawling level there was a small rise hiding the ground in the direction of the noise from my view. I could not be certain of its origin and decided to carry on. I felt it imperative for me to be certain whether or not the Battery was held, and if so more about its ground defences. I continued my crawl."


"It was slow and tedious work. Even on a dark night, if the head is held low, the wire can be seen against the sky. Twisting loops back and fastening them down was a simple but slow job. The main trouble was the numerous pieces which seemed to pop up from nowhere and catch on the rest of the body after the head and shoulders had passed. I was a good halfway through the wire when I suddenly heard excited voices half-right about two hundred yards away, inside and towards the main entrance of the Battery. A tug aircraft and glider came into view from the right, flying at about eight hundred feet. This started a frightful hullabaloo in the Battery, which wakened to life as a sleeper with a bucket of cold water thrown over him. There were shouts and cries from everywhere, deep guttural noises booming out orders, these being relayed and acknowledged. I imagined all the available firepower being organized to meet this solitary invader, who was already being chased by a stream of tracer from more distant weapons."


"Almost simultaneously, four machine guns inside the Battery opened fire with tracer. Neither the glider nor the aircraft faltered, but flew straight on, right over the centre of the Battery. Not more than thirty yards from me a 20mm flak gun opened up. The bang, bang, echoed in my ears and I saw the tracer-lit shells following each other upwards. This, with the machine guns, lit the place up until to me it seemed like daylight. It seemed as though someone must see in my insecure position. I suppose they were all too busy with their target, for I was not bothered, and keeping perfectly still I noted the positions of the ack-ack weapons which were bound to have a ground role as well. The aircraft passed and the firing stopped. It must have been hit, but not sufficiently to bring it down and I saw it disappear, still on the same course, at the same height, and on an even keel. A good pilot."


"I now decided I had sufficient knowledge. The Battery was most certainly occupied and I knew the state of its defences. Directly the firing stopped I began to get from under the wire, whilst the Germans were still excited, and their attention more in the air than on the ground. To get clear of the wire took a good five minutes, after which I dropped into a crater, and then began my journey to rejoin my two partners on this mission."


"The Taping Party, whose job was to clear a lane through the mines and mark it with white tape, should have now arrived. I decided to return to the point where I was to meet the Commanding Officer. This time I took Harrold with me, leaving Miller to meet the Taping Party and give it the layout. I had barely started, however, when I saw shadowy figures sliding down the lane towards me. I waited for them and challenged the leading figure softly. "Paul, {Captain Greenway} is that you?" "Yes, old boy." "Is everything OK?" "Yes, but there are very few of our lads at the RV." "Is your party complete?" "No, we're about half strength and we haven't got any tape or mine detectors. Hell of a drop, all over the place." "Well, you'll have to devise something. It's pretty easy here.""


"With that I told him the layout, left Miller to give him any further advise and set off. I was supposed to meet the Battalion at the first crosstracks where I had encountered the first minefield. As I approached it there was a sho-o-oing noise like an amplified lavatory cistern and a shattering bang. A cloud of smoke and dust arose in front of us. This was followed by more. The Huns were shelling the crosstracks. If this place was being shelled by the enemy, it was most likely he had none of his own men there. We got to our feet and moved at a good pace past the crosstracks. The Battalion was not there. Time was getting short and I was more than worried. I had not long to wait, however, for soon the head of the column approached. We remained still, in cover, until they were nearly on us, then I whispered the password and showed ourselves. The Commanding Officer {Lt-Colonel Otway} was not far behind, and I met him and told him that things were going well and it should be easy. Perhaps I was elated by having completed my task, but I was cheerful and certain we could manage the job as we stood. I was sent forward to lead the Battalion. The crosstracks was still being shelled spasmodically, but now most of the shells were falling a little plus, and we got by safely."


"The Taping Party were awaiting us where Harrold had laid up, and this place was immediately made into a strongpoint. The Commanding Officer was calm and unperturbed. He gave his orders concisely and clearly, as though he were standing giving orders on a training demonstration. Looking back, it seems incredible that everything was arranged and organized on the spot, amidst what seemed the most awful chaos. It took only a few minutes. The CO's calm set a fine example which was followed by all ranks. His thoroughness in training paid a fine dividend, the troops were on their toes and ready for the job."


"The Breeching Company, now thirty strong, should blow two gaps in the wire instead of three, and for this purpose it was split into two groups of fifteen... The Breeching Parties followed in single file after the guides from the Taping Party. They disappeared into the darkness carrying their few Bangalore torpedoes, and were closely followed by the Assault Parties. The second in command {Major Charlton} stayed at the strongpoint with a mere handful of men and the medical officer {Captain Watts} who was in a large crater rendering first aid to a few wounded."


After the assault was over, "I was sent to contact the Brigadier {James Hill} and a company of Canadian Parachutists who should have been guarding our left flank, about 500 yards away. With my batman I made my way to the position and was eventually challenged by a Canadian voice. I gave the password and introduced myself. There were five in all... These Canadians had had several scraps and not seen the rest of their Company." Smith took these men under command and led them towards the Battalion Rendezvous, at the Calvary Cross. When he arrived he witnessed the wounded Major Parry being helped in on a wheelbarrow. "We were no sooner settled than a figure appeared coming down the road from the Battery pushing a wheelbarrow containing one of the Company Commanders who had been shot through the leg. He took a brandy flask from his pocket, gulped a mouthful and beamed, "A jolly good battle, what?" The grim faces of the men burst into smiles, and the sullen group of prisoners looked on in bewildered amazement. He insisted on being allowed to stay with the Battalion, but the Commanding Officer ordered him to go to the Regimental Aid Post and he did so reluctantly."


With its first task completed, the 9th Battalion now turned its attention towards capturing Le Plein. "I was supposed to take a strong fighting patrol to this place {Le Plein}, but owing to the reduced numbers the patrol was cancelled and a surprise assault planned. Instead I was sent with Miller and Sergeant Knight to see what was happening in the direction of the coast. We had not gone half a mile when shots began to whistle by us. They were being fired from some distance and were not accurate but uncomfortable, and we went forward in short sharp bounds from cover to cover. At the end of one of the bounds we tumbled into a bomb crater on top of seven men. Fortunately they were ours, but from different units. They had been dropped astray and were lost. They had made their way in what they thought was the probable direction when the snipers had taken pot shots at them. When we arrived they had taken shelter in the crater and were working out a plan of action. I put them in the picture and directed them to join our unit. We put down a small smoke screen for them with phosphorus grenades and they darted away like a herd of young deer. We had covered a line of advance nearby and went in the opposite direction. We covered another 500 yards and being now on high ground we started to observe through binoculars. We took a short move to improve our position when again bullets came whistling between us. This time the fire was uncomfortably close and we dived into a ditch. At the slightest movement a bullet came "zissing" over. There was only one thing to do, snipe the snipers. The first thing was to locate them, and this we could not do without them firing. Accordingly we took it in turns to expose ourselves for a fraction of a second, whilst the others peered through tangled weeds as the resulting bullets came over."


"The snipers were in an orchard, and try as we could we were unable to spot them. We were endeavouring to work out a flanking move when we heard the sound of masses of bombers flying at great height. I looked up and could see hundreds of American Flying Fortresses flying in massed formation. The unhappy thought occurred to me that we were the wrong side of the Bomb Line. It was too late to do anything about it, the bombs began to fall. All the bombs seemed to come down within a few seconds. The solid earth became like a jelly, violently shaking. There seemed no interval between the crashes of the bombs they fell so fast, and the earth was not given a chance to settle down for a fraction of a second. This was the famous American Pattern Bombing."


"As suddenly as it started, it ceased. We clung to the bottom of our ditch in case a few late bombs should arrive, but they did not. All was quiet except for the noise of the engines high above. Cautiously we poked our heads over the top of the ditch. It was impossible to see for more than a few yards because of the dust and smoke. The snipers were no longer active. I decided to rejoin the Battalion and we made a quick journey to our starting point. All the earth seemed dead. There was not a sign of friend or enemy, even the bird and animal worlds had taken to their hiding places."


As the Battalion drew near to Le Plein they came under fire. "The enemy immediately in front then withdrew to other positions near a crossroads, and the leading Company attacked, dislodging them, capturing two machine guns and killing fifteen of the enemy. The buildings on the crossroads were seized. I went forward to see what was happening. The CO called to me to cross the road. I did so as a hail of bullets chased me. The position was a strong one, being a large building with strong high stone walls. The enemy held a similar building opposite and a sniping battle commenced. A counter-attack suddenly developed on our left flank, but we saw it coming, held our fire until the enemy were twenty yards away, and then opened up with the Vickers. The attack was broken up and twelve bodies littered the ground. Twice more I had to cross the road to issue instructions for the Commanding Officer. It was rather like being a moving Aunt Sally. One side of the road was a deep ditch which gave cover, and the other side a high stone wall. One had to dash across the road, then along about nine feet of wall with bullets splashing against it, and finally crab-wise through an open door. Miller tried the dash and was unlucky to receive a bullet." His wound, however, was not so severe as it struck the fleshy portion of his shoulder.


"After a while the Commanding Officer instructed me to make a reconnaissance of the rear of our position, find a safe route and tell the second in command to bring the remainder of the Battalion into the position by it. I went alone and had to detour further than I expected. Nearing the end, I jumped through a hole in a wall onto a road. A burst of Bren fire passed me. I walked down the road to the main crossroads, where a sentry apologized for shooting at me, met the second in command and led the remaining companies into their new positions {The Chateau d'Amfreville}. The main building in our position was a German Army billet. All the personal belongings of the men were strewn about, even arms and ammunition. The larder was stocked with a magnificent supply of food, sides of beef, a barrel of butter, sacks of sugar, large stone jars of jam, a huge tub of pure cream."


"A number of shots came into our enclosure over a high wall, and it was obvious that they must come from a church overlooking us. One of the men spotted a loose slat in it which looked rather like a sniper's slit. Every time a shot came from it we sent back one in return and after nine shots from us it became quiet."


On the 8th June, Brigade HQ at Le Mesnil was hard pressed by an enemy attack and Brigadier Hill sent a call to the 9th Battalion to request assistance. Lieutenant-Colonel Otway ordered Major Smith to proceed to the area with a small party to cover an improvised force from HQ and "C" Companies, led by Lieutenant Christie. "The Commanding Officer decided to attack the rear of the attacking enemy. He sent a party of twenty-two men round to the left flank to make the assault. I took two Sergeants, each with a German machine gun, and three private soldiers to form a covering party. I went down the strip of wood bordering the road on our right flank, but was unable to obtain a field of fire. I climbed a small tree to get a better view, but could see nothing but trees. Suddenly we were fired on. The enemy must have heard us and fired in our direction. We returned fire and bounded forwards twenty yards. This we repeated on two or three occasions making headway safely, for the enemy seemed to duck for cover and stop firing whilst we were doing so. To my distress both the German machine guns jammed, and I left the sergeants tugging at their guts whilst I went forward with the three privates. We fired our Sten guns instead of the Spandaus and dashed forward in the same manner, occasionally throwing a grenade forward as far as we could. We no doubt sounded quite a strong force. Anyway, eighteen Germans fled from us, darted down a hedge, away from the wood right towards our flanking party who had no difficulty in shooting the lot. I did not know this at the time, and thought the firing on the left was nothing to do with me."


"We came to a tough fence. Across the road was a small cottage. The enemy might be in it, so I threw an anti-tank bomb at the wall and charged to the gap it made. There was a howl from inside, and I was just about to throw in another hand grenade when I saw it was a goat. An officer from Brigade {Captain Tony Wilkinson, the Intelligence Officer} joined me and I agreed to let him join the party. I gave the direction of our next bound, up a ditch on the side of the road opposite the strip of wood. Moving off, the officer from Brigade darted in front of me. I was a little annoyed for it rather hindered my seeing ahead, but I admired his keenness."


Captain Wilkinson, who had been trying to take a German prisoner for intelligence purposes, was fatally wounded by a sniper shortly afterwards. "I told him to keep still and I would send the SB's {Stretcher Bearers} directly we had finished. He spoke perfectly calmly saying I need not do that for he was going to die, which he did almost immediately. His body blocked the ditch, so we went back about ten yards and dashed across the road into the same wood again as the enemy. Here we found two Canadians sheltering in a ditch, wondering what it was all about. They had been adrift since the drop and were just finding their way back. I told them to join forces with me and the chase continued in the same manner. Suddenly one of them said the Huns were behind hoping we would pass. I threw a couple of grenades over and told them to surrender. The grenades did the job for there was only one of seven men left standing. He was a Sergeant Major from Dresden. One badly wounded fellow begged to be shot, but someone jabbed him with morphine and told him to wait for the stretcher-bearers. We collected two more Spandaus, for this was a fire group, and then our assault group turned rather red in the face after having lost direction in the woods, but bringing news of the Germans we had driven out onto them."


The assault to help relieve Brigade HQ had been a success. Smith and his group retired to the 9th Battalion's area where, during the night, the Germans in the Bois de Mont lobbed grenades and fired directionless shots. "The Germans came near to our position and called out in English. The objectives, I believe, were twofold; to keep us awake and to make us fire and disclose our automatic weapon positions. Our fire control was excellent and nothing was given away."


The Battalion's Second-in-Command, Major Charlton, was killed on the 10th June whilst leading an attack against an infiltrating German patrol. Major Smith took over his duties. For his actions in Normandy, Major Smith was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:


This officer was dropped half an hour ahead of the Battalion with the task of carrying out a reconnaissance of the route from the dropping zone to the Sallenelles Battery and the battery itself. To carry out his task Major Smith walked through an enemy minefield although he had no detector, up to the perimeter wire and returned with an accurate report of the enemy defence layout on which the plan for the battalion attack was based. During the assault he acted as a guide to the battalion and his utter disregard for his personal safety under heavy Machine Gun and mortar fire while directing parties to their allotted task within the perimeter was an inspiration and example to all.


The vast majority of this biography has been taken from "The Day The Devils Dropped In", and I am indebted to its author, Neil Barber, for granting me permission to repeat it here. This excellent book, about the 9th Battalion during the first week of the D-Day landings, can still be purchased via the Shop section of the site.


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