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Royal Norfolk's battle in the cornfields of hell Hitting the beach: a landing craft heads in to the Queen Red sector on Sword Beach with a clutter of tanks lining the shore, one of which appears to be on fire.
Geoff Duncan was drenched in sweat. He felt his strength ebbing away, sapped by a kind of nervous exhaustion he had never experienced before. As bullets scythed through the standing corn, the Norwich teenager wished he were anywhere else other than a field in Normandy on the afternoon of D Day. "We were well and truly pinned down," he later wrote. "Anyone showing himself above the top of the corn was promptly cut down I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing here. Why hadn't I joined the Royal Artillery like my elder brother" As a 19 year old private soldier in B Company, 1st Royal Norfolks, he was part of a force tasked with the most ambitious and critically important mission of the greatest amphibious landing in history: the capture of the key city of Caen and the high ground around it. Road to Caen: a tailback of troops from 185 Brigade marks the beginning of the controversial advance towards the primary objective of the Sword Beach landing. The epic saga of D Day, June 6, 1944 has been well chronicled as a triumph of courage and ingenuity, a Herculean accomplishment to rival any operation of war. Less louis vuitton shoes toronto well known, however, are the setbacks associated with the Allies' hard won lodgement on the shores of north western Europe: the failure to effect link ups between all of the invasion beaches, the failure to capture the key harbour of Port en Bessin and, most significant of them all, the failure to seize Caen which is the subject of Dr Andrew Stewart's timely new study. Caen Controversy: The Battle for Sword Beach 1944 focuses on 3 Division's attempt to achieve the first day's "primary operational objective", the capture of the enemy's main communications centre in Normandy, a strategic louis vuitton bags speedy 30 price hub recognised as the "potential pivot around which the Allied campaign could swing". It charts the planning, the execution and the shortcomings of a D Day operation that would have terrible and far reaching consequences for a bogged down British army engaged in one of the hardest fought campaigns of the Second World louis vuitton purses pre owned War. Under fire: troops taking cover behind a British tank on Queen Red beach, where the 1st Royal Norfolks came ashore in readiness for their advance on Caen. Dr Stewart, who is a reader in conflict and diplomacy at King's College, London, pulls no punches. "The result of our inability to capture Caen is that the British army got chewed up fighting in and around the city for another month," he says. "Units would be involved in heavy fighting with First World War level casualties. "Consequently, by July, when the city eventually fell, the army was running out of reserves and it was necessary to 'collapse' existing units to use them as replacements to keep the army going." So what went wrong and how was it that two East Anglian battalions came to be embroiled in one of the most contentious of all D Day operations? Dr Stewart's study highlights a series of command level failings which fatally undermined what was already, in some people's eyes, an overly ambitious plan, reducing it to a veritable 'mission impossible' that would mire hapless infantrymen like Geoff Duncan in a controversy and a failure for which they were in no way responsible. Breakout: a British tank guards an exit from Sword Beach near the road to Hermanville, from where 185 Brigade set off on its delayed advance. The men of the 1st Royal Norfolks and 1st Suffolks had key roles in General Sir Bernard Montgomery's boldly conceived strike on Caen. Following the initial landings, the Suffolks were to push on and capture two German strongpoints, allowing a tank supported infantry brigade, that included the Norfolks, to make a dash for the city. It was a plan that relied heavily on speed and decisive action, but which, in reality, showed little evidence of either. So far as the Suffolks and Norfolks were concerned, the prolonged struggle by one, enforced delay on the other, with unforeseen consequences for the former unit's reputation. According to the timetable laid down for the Sword Beach operation, the Suffolks were required to complete its tasks within two hours of landing. However, on D Day, despite coming ashore more or less on schedule with few casualties, they did not reach their second objective until an hour after they were supposed to have captured it and then spent the next seven hours battling to overcome its defenders' stubborn resistance. By then, the Royal Norfolks' advance, reduced literally to a crawl at times, had come to a halt, miles short of Caen, atop a gentle rise, codenamed Rover, near the village of Biville. In the process of their detour around Hillman, they had suffered a fearful baptism of fire that left many with their abiding memory of D Day. Ten years after: Brigadier Kenneth Pearce Smith, right, revisits the Normandy beaches with two fellow 3 Division brigadiers in 1954. Years ago, during a trip back to the Normandy battlefields, Jack Cutting told me of the terrifying moments when his platoon was trapped in the cornfields, caught in a cross fire between German machine guns at Hillman and British tanks that were supposed to be assisting them. "It was terrible," said the former sergeant from louis vuitton makeup bag amazon Oulton. "Our company commander held up aircraft recognition triangles to try and make them stop firing, but he was shot down and badly wounded. I think we lost more men to our own fire than we did to the Germans." What the battalion's second in command, Major Humphrey Wilson diplomatically referred to as "a lot of loose firing" and company commander Major Eric Cooper Key described as "an uncomfortable time" developed into a fire fight that lasted more than two hours. Those furthest from Hillman were able to bypass the hazard, leaving two companies to worm their way through corn strewn with dead and wounded. "All you could do was lay low," recalled Ernie Seaman, a stretcher bearer from Flitcham. "It was suicide to lift your head Believe me, we were young and we were frightened." D Day eyewitness: Eric Cooper Key MC described the passage through the cornfield as an 'uncomfortable time'. The failure to rapidly subdue the heavily fortified Hillman complex led to delay and indecision, not to mention casualties to those Norfolks caught in its line of fire, and was subsequently seized upon by war correspondent turned historian Chester Wilmot as a prime reason for the Allies' inability to capture Caen on the first day. This then was the crux of the controversy that came to fascinate Dr Stewart and it was while visiting the remains of the Hillman strongpoint at the head of a Staff College tour that the idea of taking a fresh look at the struggle took root some five years ago.
"One of the chaps on the tour was from the Royal Anglians," he recalls, "and he was extremely passionate about his regiment's historical predecessors and what took place at Hillman. We got talking and, having taken my lead from him, I began to look more deeply into it all.".
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