Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Run in Shooting.

During the D-day landing planning the Allies quickly realised there was a problem. They had overwhelming air and naval superiority, and they could bring overwhelming firepower to bear. But during the final run in of the landing craft this deluge of explosive had to lift so as not to hit any troops landing. The last few vital moments they needed to keep the HE raining down to suppress the enemy. For this reason armed landing craft were constructed. But once the troops were ashore, what then? Air and naval firepower could not be brought down on the enemy. The answer became known as the Run-in Shoot. 

HMS Belfast giving the good news to Juno Beach on the early hours of D-day.

Amongst the follow-on waves of the landings on the British beaches were several Field Artillery Regiments. The solution was to land the observers in the very first wave. These observers were to be landed immediately behind the DD tanks, and before the sappers landed. All these elements were landing ahead of the assault infantry. Once established these observers could direct the self-propelled guns still afloat in their landing craft. The observers were to spot fall of shot by looking for impacts in the sea front houses. The LCT's would run in with the follow-on waves, but break off before becoming committed to the landing, then extend outwards, and re-join their designated landing wave. Now obviously this fire would be less accurate than the usual standard of gunnery, with the craft moving, at the same time pitching up and down. But in general, it adds to the weight of fire landing on the German held coast. In the end it seemed reasonably effective. After battle analysis showed that the beaten area was 400-700 yards wide, and 400-600 yards in depth. However, that was the area for all shots. The maximum crater density was centred around about 200 yards from the targets. 

Essex Yeomanry Sexton on Gold Beach.

Now comes something I did not know. I thought that all SP artillery had their Sextons replaced by Priests for D-Day. This turns out to be untrue. Indeed, only the units landing on Sword Beach were altered to Priests. On Gold and Juno all the regiments kept their Sexton's. One of these was the Essex Yeomanry, or the 147th Field Regiment. They were due to support operations on Gold Beach. In total the Run-in Shoot was to be of three regiments, each with their own target. However, during the run-in the targeting data for the Essex Yeomanry target was unavailable, so the regiment switched its fire to the neighbouring target. This resulted in the next sector down being well bombarded, however, the area in front of the Essex Yeomanry was undamaged. This would prove very bad for the landing forces. There were two unsubdued bunkers there, one called the Sanatorium required the ministrations of a Churchill AVRE. The other was a PAK bunker, code named WN37, which had been the Essex Yeomanry's primary target. 

WN37's firing slit today. The sea is to the right of the picture, and you can see the thickness of the wall to protect it from naval gunfire.

WN37 was a dense concrete block house, with a solid wall that extended outwards, and sheltered the gun aperture from bombardment from the sea. The aperture was sited to fire along the beach giving flanking shots against any British tanks that landed there. Inside the blockhouse was an 88mm gun. When the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry landed in their DD tanks the bunker WN37 began to knock them out, several trying to advance along a path from behind a line of trees. In total it knocked out five tanks in very short order, with two on fire and left the others pinned in place. This was the situation when on D+60 minutes the Essex yeomanry were landed, having re-armed after the Run-in shoot. As the 147th Regiment spread out, one of the command Sherman’s advanced from behind a tree line and was quickly knocked out. A bit further down the improvised path was a Sexton commanded by Sergeant Robert Palmer. Dismounting, Sgt Palmer conducted a foot reconnaissance along the tree line. Here he consulted with some of the infantry. He asked them to clear the path so he might get his Sexton up. They arranged this by attaching chains to the tanks and using another tank to drag them out of the path. Then it was time for Palmer's attack.

Sgt Palmer figured that if he exposed his tank slowly, as the Sherman's had done, his Sexton would be destroyed instantly by the 88mm. So, he decided to use the speed of the Sexton to his advantage. He arranged everything he could in advance. The Sexton would take a flying charge at the end of the tree line. Thus, they would be doing about 35mph as they came into the 88mm's field of fire. The gun would be pre-loaded, with the safety off. On signal, which was Sgt Palmer hitting his driver on the top of the head, the driver would swing the Sexton through 45 degrees which would bring the gun to bear on the bunker. At which point the gunner would lay onto the aperture, and fire. The round was a standard HE round, with a cap over the fuse to delay detonation. 

Running through the firing drills on a Sexton.

The plan was enacted perfectly, when the Sexton skidded to a halt it was sitting in the open, about 300 yards from the bunker. The gunner laid on and fired. The HE shell impacted on the bunker above and to the left of the aperture. Blurting out revised fire orders to drop range by 25 yards, and traverse slightly right, the crew hastily re-loaded. Then the German gun roared out a sheet of flame.

It appears the German gunner was shaken by the sudden appearance of the Sexton, and by the HE impact as his shell whistled over the top of Sgt Palmer's vehicle. The second round from the 25-pounder smacked into the gun shield, penetrated inside and detonated the bunkers ammo, and Gold Beach was open.
For his actions Sgt Palmer was awarded the Military Medal, and would go on to survive the war.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.