Neil Barber


British Airborne Author

Morning at Ranville

An excerpt from The Pegasus and Orne Bridges by Neil Barber

Posted by Neil Barber on Thursday 10th of March 2016

We were sat there, sort of forgot that these Germans who had either got away or been killed, we weren’t sure.  Then all of a sudden there was an explosion around us and of course when we looked around we saw the SP on the brow of the hill, and firing at us.

Two high explosive shells landed very close to the Paras:
I remember Charlie King saying…, “Taff, I’ve been hit in the shoulder.”  “Don’t bugger me about Charlie.”  “No,” he said, “honest.”  At that time I thought I’d scratched my leg on a bramble or something. 

Sergeant Osborne therefore hid the gun in the hedge and they headed for the RAP. 

The SPs re-appeared from behind the trees of the Lieu Haras farm, broke through a hedge on the track and entered the corn.  They preferred the high ground.  Advancing slowly, these vehicles moved into formation and began to pass in front of the small field in which Lieutenant O’Brien-Hitching’s men had been busy digging in.  They kept low in their half-completed slit trenches as the armour and supporting infantry passed by. 

Lance Sergeant George Brownlee of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery had been collecting ammunition and stores from the gliders on the LZ, before returning to Ranville:
I was going up this wall and I knew there was a gun just over the wall, but I was wondering ‘Where is it ?’  A man appeared, it was in fact a glider pilot, sneaked through by the farm [on the forward edge of the Airborne perimeter] , they’d made a hole in the wall, and he came through it.  “Down, down, down” he said.  “Don’t utter a bloody sound or attempt to look over the wall.  There are four tanks approaching and German infantry.  If you can, you can find a hole, a chink in this stone wall and perhaps be able to look through and see,” which is what I did.

This Para officer, he was in charge, he had men up the trees, they were snipers but they were also watching, and their orders were “Watch Herouvillette.”  They signalled down below and the Para officer had seen them and he came along to Sergeant Clements and said, “German tanks approaching.”  “Yes, I’ve seen them too.  If they come this way, nobody moves, nobody fires.  I will be the first to fire, and I will do that either when I’m spotted or that gun is very, very, very close.”  As the supporting infantry were crossing a path through the corn, the officer leading them called out and pointed left towards the ridge.  The armour was now 175 yards away. 

Just before 1000 hours Lieutenant Dean arrived back at the position where he had left Sergeant Kelly’s section, only to find it abandoned.  However, the nearby 12th Battalion Platoon Commander informed him of Brigadier Poett’s action and that the gun crew was now in position on the crest of the Ring Contour.

Staff Sergeant White was on the 6-Pounder near the farm:
We came under small arms fire and Sergeant Eason opened up on the Bren gun.  By this time the first SP tanks in range of the gun, but [the] gun-layer did not think he could hit the tank.

Lieutenant Dean:
We moved along to the road and I sent George Kelly’s men off to join him, then we heard engines, tank engines, and they were heading in our direction through the cornfield.  I don’t know what I thought I could do about the situation, but I was across the road and scrambling up the far bank.  Then I heard the bark of a gun being fired, followed almost immediately by the regular rat-a-ta-tat of a Vickers away to our right. 

The fourth vehicle was one of the second detachment that had moved into view on the slope.  Ken Lang:
One came first, slowly, about ten mile an hour, feeling its way across, the front one.  Suddenly ‘WHOMFF’, away went the first round, quickly followed by two more.  The shot just hit and you saw a flash as it hit the shield at the front of the gun…, and after a few seconds the whole thing burst into flame.  They had either got the fuel tank or the ammunition… .  The first one got so close, they couldn’t miss it at that range.  Sergeant Kelly was behind the Vickers, firing short bursts of ten rounds or so, not the usual twenty-five rounds we were trained to fire.  He only had one belt of 250 rounds. 

George Brownlee watched closely as the SPs approached from Herouvillette:
At the high ground point, suddenly they were opposite Sergeant Clements and he shouted, “Fire !”  The nearest German infantry was about a hundred yards away, the nearest German tank was about 150, 160 yards away.  Absolutely broadside on, hit it straight in the middle of the tracks.  Beautiful shot.  Clements and Portman both fired virtually at the same time.  They hit separate targets.  

Staff Sergeant White:
In the meantime, I had loaded a round and had a look along the sights myself.  By this time the tank was almost dead ahead in front at 200 yards and needed stopping.  So I decided to have a go myself.
Sergeant Eason kept the Nazis heads down with Bren fire, and I laid the gun ready to fire.  The first round missed, so I immediately reloaded and this time I applied 200 yards on the sights.  The tank had stopped and I was expecting them to open fire on us any minute, so I quickly sighted the gun and fired.  This time it was a hit, and the tank went up in flames.  During this short time, another tank had been hit by the gun on our left flank, and also one which was almost unobserved from our position, was put out of action by a gun on our right flank.  From our position three tanks were seen to be blazing, and ammo was exploding in each at various intervals.  The infantry, who were escorting the tanks, were then engaged by small arms fire… .

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