At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
Attack On Heavy Gun Battery I C - St Martin De Varreville
J. R. “Benny” Goodman DFC* AFC.
28 MAY 1944 the target for 5 Group was the long-range heavy gun battery
at St. Martin de Varreville, behind what was to be Utah Beach on the
Cherbourg Peninsula. It was vitally important to neutralise this
coastal battery which commanded the sea approaches to Utah Beach and
would be ideally situated to interfere with the Allied invasion fleet
on D Day. The Supreme Commander and his staff decided that this battery
was to be bombed; however, if the attack was unsuccessful the 10lst US
Airborne Division, which was to be dropped west of Utah Beach before
dawn on D Day in order to seize the western exits of the causeways
leading from the beach, was also to silence the heavy battery. |
Sixty four Lancasters of 5 Group were detailed for this operation and
were to be led by four visual marker Mosquitoes of 627 Squadron. The
Plan was that the target area would be identified by nine H2S-carrying
Lancasters of 83 and 97 Squadrons, which would lay a carpet of hooded
flares over the target. The flare force and the Mosquitoes were to
arrive over the target area at the same time - Zero Hour minus five
minutes, this having been found by experience to be a reasonable time
in which to find and mark a target before the arrival of the Main
Force. Overall command of the operation was vested in a senior officer
of 83 or 97 Squadron; he was designated “The Controller”.
The Mosquito aircraft were to carry red spot fires, two green target
indicators and two yellow target indicators. Their task was first to
identify the Marking Point and then to lay a single red spot fire as
close to it as possible. Marker Leader was to assess the position of
the spot fire in relation to the Marking Point and, if accurately
positioned, the spot was to be backed up by two more RSFs and then by a
green TI. Any wide markers were to be cancelled by the yellow TIs. When
the marking had been completed to the satisfaction of Marker Leader he
was to inform the Controller (later called the Master Bomber) on VHF
and the Controller was to pass the necessary bombing instructions to
the Main Force.
The visual marker crews took off from Woodhall Spa at 2300hrs and
arrived over St. Martin de Varreville with the Flare Force at 0010hrs.
The weather was good, with no cloud and a slight ground haze. 83/97
Squadrons laid their flares, which were slightly scattered at first,
and rapid identification was made more difficult as there was flooding
in the target area. The situation was further complicated by the fact
that although the heavy battery was protected against air attack by
light flak this did not open up on the marker aircraft. After a short
time the target was found by F/L Bartley who made a shallow dive and
dropped a single red spot fire; this was assessed as being 50/60yds 245
degrees from the Marking Point. F/L Goodman was then called in and laid
two further reds which fell 200yds 360 degrees and could not easily be
seen as they landed on the edge of a wood near the gun battery. F/L
Peck then backed up the original marker with two red spots which were
assessed as being 100yds 240 degrees.Finally, F/O Thomson laid a green
target indicator on the reds and this was assessed as being 300yds 240
degrees from the Marking Point. Marker Leader reported the situation to
the Controller who called in the Main Force and bombing commenced at
0015hrs. All Mosquitoes returned safely to Woodhall Spa at
approximately 0145hrs, the crews reporting that the gun battery
appeared to have been bombed accurately.
On D Day the 101st Airborne Division landed behind Utah Beach as
planned, but amid a certain amount of confusion. However, by 0600hrs
Major General Maxwell Taylor had mustered one sixth of his force and
with this be captured the exits from Utah Beach. He also took
possession of the heavy gun position at St. Martin de Varreville,
discovering that it had been abandoned following the 5 Group attack on
This attack is interesting because a document was captured afterwards
which gave the German view of the raid. This was originated by the
Officer Commanding Heer Kust Artillerie Regiment 1261, who reported
that the attack had begun at 0015hrs, parachute flares having been
dropped first in great numbers. He said that the battery had been hit
“with uncanny accuracy by the Enemy Air Force, approximately 100 bombs
of the heaviest calibre having been dropped in addition to several
hundred smaller ones.” Several direct hits had been made on the gun
casemate by very large bombs and it had burst open and collapsed. As a
result of the destruction caused by the attack he had cleared the
remainder of the battery out of the position into three farms in the
8 a/c detailed to carry out an attack on a gun battery at St Martin de
Varreville. All took off and dropped 5 red Spot fires and 1 green TI.
The proximity marker was very accurate. The flares were slightly
scattered at first and the identification was made more difficult as
there had been some flooding in the target area. The target was located
and a single red spot was put down. This was assessed as 50/60yds
240deg from the marking point. The next marking aircraft which dropped
2 red spots put his markers into a wood to the north and as they were
not visible the pilot concluded they had hung up. No. 4 was then called
upon to back up and he dropped 2 red spots assessed as 100yds 240deg
the red spots were finally backed up by a Green TI assessed as 300yds
240deg. Bombing started on the red spots but was later diverted to the
Green TI. The bombing is reported as good with a slight tendency to
spread to the S.W.
C – DZ421
Target: Defence Installations Cherbourg
(St Martin de Vareville) Identified visually by light of flares and pout down
a red spot from 2000/3000ft which was assessed as 50/60 yards 235° from
marking point; this was backed up by 4 red spots and a green TI. Bombing
appeared to be good. B/L 2 red Spots 1 green TI and 1 flare not needed.
N - DZ462
Target as above: Single red spot fire put
down from 1000ft we were then told to back this up which we did and our
markers were assessed as 100 yards 240° from marking point. These markers
were backed up by a green TI assessed as 200 yards 245°; bombs were seen
burting around these. B/L 2 red spots 1 yellow TI 1 flare
E - DZ547
Target as above: Dropped 2 markers which
fell 20 yards 360° from marking point but as these were not immediately
visible it was thought that they had hung up, so 2 further red spots were
dropped by No. 4 marker. These fell 100 yards west; main force bombing was
concentrated and very accurate. B/L as above.
A - DZ601
Target as above: 2 red spot fires dropped
at 0021hrs and assessed as 50 yards 8 o’clock which were backed up by further
red spots. We then put down our green TI to confirm the marking as correct
and ready for the attack to open. B/L 2 red spots 1 green TI 1 flare green
with red stars.
Raid Interpretation Report
Heavy Gun Batteries - St Martin de Vareville - Cherbourg
Narative of Events.
a] Flares were scattered and identification was difficult as there had been some flooding in the area.
b] The Marking point was located and a single Red Spot Fire was dropped and was assessed as 50/60 yards WSW of
Marking Point. Backing up was carried out and two
Red Spot Fires fell in a wod to the North and could not be seen
other Red Spot Fires fell 100 yards WSW of the Marking Point.
c] The Red Spot Fires were finally backed up with a green TI.
d] Bombing started on the first Red Spot Fire and was later diverted to the Green TI and appeared to be good.
Plan of Attack.
a] Target to be illuminated by flares from 9 Lancaster of RAF Coningsby.
b] First Marker to identify Marking Point to drop one Red Spot Fire which is to be assessed by Marker Leader. If this
RSF is accurate it is to be backed up by two more RSFs and a single Green TI.
c] Wide markers cancelled by Yellow TI and remarking carried out.
4 Mosquitoes carried 8 RSFs, 2 Green TIs, 2 Yellow TIs and 4 Wanganuis
For the first time an authentic document had been captured dealing with
the effects and damage of an RAF Bomber Command raid on a German
Coastal Battery - on the night of 28/29-5-44.
The Bomber Command narrative dealing with operation on that night reads:
St Martin de Varreville.
64/64 Lancasters and 4/4 Mosquitoes of 5 Group and 3/8 Mosquitoes of
8(PFF) Group attacked the coastal battery in conditions of good
visibility, nil cloud and slight ground haze. Marking was well placed
and the bombing well concentrated with a slight tendancy to creep to
the South. A large explosion followed by black smoke was observed at
Defence negligible - no fighters
It is interesting to note the Officer's comment that the position has
been hit with uncanny accuracy by the Enemy Air Force. At the same time
the writer observes that the "alternate
gun site was not hit, the nearer bombs falling 50 metres away. It may
be assumed therefore that the well camoflaged alternate gun site had
not been spotted by enemy reconnaissances", It is understood from British sources that the latter omission has been remedied and dealt with.
Heer Kust Art. Regt 1261
In the field 29th May 1944
On Whit Monday 28th May 1944 a bombing attack was carried out against
the battery's coastal position. The attack began at 0115hrs. The noise
of the aircraft over the battery was intense and parachute flares in
great nukbers were dropped.
The aiurcraft spotters immediately sounded the air raid warning, The
crews (37 men) with the exception of the guards were in their shelters
but that very moment the first bombs fell and struck the entrance. It
is presumed that theguard Uffz. Klaucke as well as Ogfr. Wenal were hit
by the bombs and buried. The third man on guard, Obkan. Majrowski was
likewise buried but was dug out after the attack. Approximately 100
bombs of the heaviest calibre were dropped in addition to several
hundred smaller bombs and numerous rocket bombs.
The position is covered with craters. Several direct hits with very large bombs were made on No. 3 shelter which apparently burst open and then collapsed. In this shelter were Uffz.
Herreman and Ogfr. Huesmann who, as far as can be ascertained were
killed. It was not possible to rescue these two members of the crew as:
1] The neighbouring ammunition store was on fire and
2] The entrance to the shelter was barred by a heap of rubble.
Six men were wounded
The alternative gun site was not hit, the nearest bombs falling 50 metres away. It
may be assumed therefore that the well camoflaged alternate gun site
had not been spotted by enemy reconnaissances. The four Flak mounting
was damaged by bomb splinters but is ready to fire with 3 barrels.
Of the six horse
belonging to the battery which broke loose during the attack only three
have been captured again. The remainder of which, one appears to have
been wounded, are being searched for.
The position has
been hit with uncanny accuracy by the Enemy Air Force. As a result of
this destruction the remainder of the battery has been cleared out of
the position and has transferred the cookhouse, orderly room and
remaining personnel to the three farms in the Mesier area.
Approximately 900 rounds of ammunition exploded.
Iron equipment hut,
signals equipment, armoury, gas chamber, artillery instruments,
received direct hits and only a few twisted girders remained.
A brace of AZs above the clouds over Cambridge, early 1944
Photograph Brian Harris Collection
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as