When the 1st Hampshire left its sealed camp in the New Forest on 31st May 1944 bound for the port of Southampton, it was with the purpose of assaulting the enemy’s defences at Arromanches for ‘Operation Overlord’. The men embarked and waited on board until the convoy sailed 5 days later.
D Day had been fixed for 5th June. Bad weather however, meant plans were delayed, and it wasn’t until 6.30pm on 5th June that he assault convoy sailed. Their task, as part of 231 Brigade (1st Hampshires, 1st Dorsets & 2nd Devons), was the vital one of piercing the elaborate defences on the Normandy coast between le Hamel and Arromanches, to enable the British 2nd Army to get a foothold in Normandy. The overall objective of Operation Overlord was ‘to secure a lodgement on the Continent of Europe from which further operations could be developed’.
The 50th Northumbrian (Tyne Tees) Division was to go in on the right of the 3 assault divisions of the 2nd Army, with 69 and 231 as the 2 assault Brigades. 231 Brigade was to land 2 assaulting battalions on ‘Jig Green Beach’, the 1st Dorsets on the left and 1st Hampshires on the right.
The Battalion’s tasks were for A Company to capture le Hamel East, B Company to capture Asnelles sur Mer, and C Company to capture le Hamel West. The final phase being for one company to clear the enemy positions from Arromanches.
The assault convoy anchored at 5.30am on 6th June 7 miles off shore. H Hour was 7.25am. The landing craft were lowered, the run in was uneventful, but most men were seasick and drenched with spray. They beached some 30 yards from the edge of the sea and the men leapt into the water; some were up to their armpits in the water, others up to their thighs, and at once they came under small arms fire. In spite of all the obstacles on the beach the Hampshire made their way up the beach to the sand dunes.
A Company, first ashore, landing in very heavy fire, could not get up the beach to deal with the enemy in le Hamel East. One platoon got inland and dealt with 2 pill boxes at the edge of les Roquettes while the other two ran into such violent machine gun fire that they were pinned down.
C Company were caught on the beach and tried in vain to get into le Hamel. B Company made good progress up the beach and dealt with the Dorset’s objective at les Roquettes, they then fought their way into Asnelles. D Company also forced their way inland in order to attack the gun position at Cabane.
At this stage the Commanding Officer was wounded, and Major Warren, commanding C Company took over. He saw that it was not possible to take le Hamel by frontal attack and so reorganised the companies in order to advance across country and establish itself on the road south of le Hamel and then B Company would assault the position.
B advanced on le Hamel but were held up by torrents of fire from the Hospital. This was dealt with by an AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers), which fired its Pertard bombs until the enemy were silenced. While C were mopping up, B attacked le Hamel West, assisted by the AVRE.
With the enemy gun position at Cabane out of action, the next objective was a Radar Station along the coast which was quickly captured with 40 prisoners. The greater part of the day’s objectives completed; there still remained the task of clearing Arromanches itself. This was achieved with no casualties and resistance was slight. The town was clear of the enemy by 9pm that evening.
The vast achievements of D Day had been done in spite of many difficulties, including little of the promised support from assaulting arms. That the great assault succeeded is a fine testament to the fighting qualities of the men; to their leaders and their aggressive spirit. Every Hampshire man knew the importance of the task that had been given to the Battalion and they never hesitated; they understood the honour of being in the spearhead of the attack (1st Hampshire being the first British troops ashore) and rose to the challenge.