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At First Sight

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At First Sight
Attack On Heavy Gun Battery I C - St Martin De Varreville
J. R. “Benny” Goodman DFC* AFC

On 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 28/29 May.

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 Mesier area.

Raid Assessment

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.

Battle Order

C – DZ421

F/Lt Bartley

F/Lt Mitchell

2303 0150

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

F/Lt Peck

F/Lt Davies

2305 0148

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

F/O Goodman

F/O Hickox

2302 0153

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

F/O Thompson

F/O Harris

2304 0139

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.

Bomb Load

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 0022hrs.

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 credited