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The Meaning of D-Day

Gold Beach
By Brian Williams

Gold Beach was the code name for the center of the landings on the Normandy coast.  The British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division of the 2nd Army under Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey was to land at H-Hour + 1 (0730), seize Arromanches and drive inland to capture the road junction at Bayeux.  Its additional objectives were to make contact with the US forces to the west at Omaha Beach and the Canadians to their east at Juno Beach.  In addition to the 50th, the 47th Royal Marine Commandos were to land on sector Item and to attack south of Arromanches and Longues and take Port-en-Bessin from the rear.

Gold Beach spanned nearly 10 miles long although the areas where landings were to occur were about 5 miles wide.  Gold was characterized mainly by the 3 sea villages of La Rivière, Le Hamel, and the small port of Arromanches to the west.  The Allied sectors were designated from west to east: How, Item, Jig, and King.  Of these four sectors, only the easternmost 3 were to actually become assault sectors.

Units of the German 716th Division and elements of the veteran 1st Battalion of the 352nd Division defended the coast in the beach houses along the coast with concentrations at Le Hamel and Le Riviere.  Fortunately for the Allies, these houses proved to be vulnerable to naval and air bombardment.  In addition, an observation post and battery of four 155mm cannon was located at Longues-sur-Mer.

Despite fierce opposition initially, the British forces broke through the German defenses with relatively light casualties.  Of note, the 79th Armoured Division made use of specially equipped vehicles termed "Hobart's Funnies", named after their inventor, Major General Percy Hobart.  These vehicles were various vehicles that performed special functions such as the Sherman Flail tank for clearing minefields, thirty-foot bridge-carrying tanks, bulldozer tanks, Churchill crocodile tanks which acted as flamethrowers, tanks which carried fascines (large bundles of wood meant for crossing anti-tank ditches), tanks equipped with matting to be laid down on the sand, and finally Shermans with twenty-five-pounder cannons.

Considerable opposition from inland enemy batteries and mortars hampered landings somewhat, but by 1000, La Rivière was captured and a couple hours later, Le Hamel fell.  The Royal Commandos were able to reach within a kilometer of Port-en-Bessin after finding that the Loungue battery had been destroyed in a duel with the HMS Ajax.

German defenses had consisted of several OST battalions comprised mainly of Russian conscripts.  Kampfgruppe Meyer, the 352nd's division reserve, had been in an ideal position to counterattack the landings at Gold Beach at the beginning of June 6th.  But, General Kraiss, the Commander of the 352nd, interpreted misdropped US 101st landings near the Vire estuary and sent the force at 0400 to deal with this perceived threat.  By the time Kraiss realized his error, several hours had been spent retracing the 30 or so kilometers back towards the real threat at Gold Beach.  Now instead of being able to counterattack, it found itself in a mainly defensive position.

By the evening of June 6, the 50th Division had landed 25,000 men with only 400 casualties.  They had penetrated six miles inland and met up with the Canadians at Juno Beach, but were unable to take Bayeux.  But, overall, the landings at Gold could be considered a great success.

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