Overlord 80 Years Ago: New Year’s Eve, 1943-44

 Powerful engines throttled down to a low mutter in the dark on New Year’s Eve 1943, two Royal Navy motor gunboats, towing hydrographic survey craft, edged toward the German minefield well offshore and west of the Norman beach town of Luc-sur-Mer. To the astonishment of those aboard, a beam of light swept over the MGBs. Contrary to expectation, the lighthouse above and behind the town was operating. No lingering in the beam’s sweep or chancing a German radar operator guessing that the now-stationary MGBs’ electronic blips revealed an other-than-normal patrol. Those aboard moved quickly.  The gunboats’ passengers, a British army-navy team accompanied for the experience by two U.S. Navy ensigns, transferred into the two shallow draft hydrographic survey boats.

Taking position about 400 yards offshore from Pointe de Ver, the navy team, led by Lieutenant Frank Berncastle, commenced running a pattern of hydrographic survey lines. The data collected would support positioning of the British artificial harbor off Arromanches.

The other important task for this mission was to collect intelligence on the nature and durability of the beach designated for the British I Corps, particularly the exits from SWORD Beach. In pursuit of that, two other members of the team, Royal Engineers Major Logan Scott-Bowden and Sergeant Bruce Ogden-Smith slipped from the survey craft into the frigid water to swim ashore. Their mission was to poke around and gather samples from the beach before swimming back.

*An extract from the draft book Assembling Overlord: Making the D-Day Strategy Actionable by Philip Padgett. Copyright 2024

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