Retro: D-Day 70 years on

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Ceremonies take place in France and across the world this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on Normandy beaches in the world’s largest-ever seaborne invasion.

Photo from D Day

Photo from D Day

The landings were pivotal in helping the Allies triumph over Hitler’s Germany, but they also cost the lives of thousands of troops from all sides.

We have delved into the archives of the Northants Telegraph, whose report from June 6, 1944, described the scene: “It seemed that hell itself had been let loose.

“From left, right and centre our guns opened up, and from our vantage point at sea we could see that targets ashore were being pounded out of existence as the assaulting infantry sailed slowly and surely ahead, to let bayonets do whatever work remained.

“From sea and sky the bombardment continued until our infantry went ashore. It was a magnificent sight.

“Wave upon wave of khaki-clad figures surged up the beaches, overcoming any opposition in their way and surging on.”

One local man who took part in the invasion later put pen to paper himself to give a first-hand report of the scene which lay ahead of him and which will be commemorated by veterans and world leaders alike this weekend.

John Ellson, of Finedon, was 20 when he took part in D-Day. He died in 2010, but his account of what became a major turning point in the war means his experiences live on.

Mr Ellson, who served on HMS Vimy, wrote: “We, I later learned, were sailing in support of the First US Division – destination Omaha Beachhead – to storm ashore at 0630 hours.

“It was almost disaster – as they hit the beach the sea was rough and there was strong opposition. We could see the short beach covered with the fallen. Cliffs had to be scaled.

“The courageous young Americans were pinned down. Heavy guns of the supporting warships belched fire at the enemy positions. Hour after hour during this long day the pounding went on, as the men on the beaches fought for every inch of vital ground.

“But as the day lengthened, the young American heroes, in spite of heavy losses, gained their ground.”

Mr Ellson recalled that he was then asked to help tackle a fire on a ship carrying ammunition. But he could not hide his relief as he was told, just as he was preparing to board the ship in question, that the fire had been extinguished.

His account continues: “As dusk came we, owing to damage to one of our engines sustained earlier, set a slow course for the UK out of action, but with the satisfaction of knowing that all along the beachheads the Allies were ashore and advancing.

“Our hearts were heavy as we saw the hospital ships heading also towards the UK with a cargo of shattered, brave men – many who had been just boys when the day started.”

In 1999 Mr Ellson was given the freedom of the city of London. Five years later he was also awarded a Papal Knighthood for his work with ex-service personnel.

Our reporter watched the invasion force

The Evening Telegraph had reporters shadowing the troops during the Normandy landings.

On June 6, D-Day, the Telegraph’s Leslie Randall reported comments made by commander-in-chief General Montgomery.

Randall reported Montgomery’s confidence: “He spoke with quiet assurance of a commander who had weighed all the chances, allowed for unlucky breaks and still had not a shadow of doubt. Victory was a mathematical certainty.

“Here was a general of generals, setting out to lead the greatest combined operation in all history, and yet he was untroubled by any doubt or fear.”

Randall continued: “There is no room for argument.

“He has said it, and it is so. He never predicts a victory until he is satisfied with no possibility of defeat.

“Today he spoke with the 
assurance of a commander who has put his theories into practice.”

A day later, Randall’s despatch read: “To see the armed might of the United Nations on their way to exterminate Nazism is an unforgettable experience. Tanks, guns, lorries, bulldozers and armoured cars pass by in a never-ending stream.

“The seas are alive with ships and the skies are black with aeroplanes.

“Yes, we have got the stuff for this invasion – there is no doubt about that.”