D day mystery units.

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Trux, Jan 7, 2011.

  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    BAN and ABC.

    Some months of trawling through naval signals sources suggest that these are both RN signals.

    BAN is Beach Area Naval Officer in Charge. This officer played a major role in both the Assault and the Build Up phases of the landings. His headquarters became a hub of naval signals ashore.

    ABC. From the context this seems to be Area Broad Cast. This is similar to the Force broadcast but for RN use. It is logical that a division headquarters signals team would man receivers on the Tac 'R' (RAF) wave and the ABC (RN) wave.

  2. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    5 Independent Royal Marine Armoured Support Battery.

    Royal Marine sources are as much a mystery to me as are Royal Navy sources. 5 Independent Royal Marine Armoured Support Battery had four troops of four Centaur 95mm tanks being used as self propelled artillery. They had the following tasks:
    To fill the gaps in artillery support for 8 Brigade until the SP Field Regiments landed.
    To then support 4 and 41 Commandos, two troops to each.
    Finally to act in a counter mortar role under 33 and 7 Field regiments RA. Again two troops to each.

    Two LCT did not arrive on D day and two more were hit as they beached and their Centaurs drowned as they attempted to land. This left only half the force, equivalent to two troops, which landed late. Does any one know how these were deployed? Does any one know a source for such information?

  3. BAN and ABC.
    BAN is Beach Area Naval Officer in Charge.

    ABC. From the context this seems to be Area Broad Cast.


    Excellent! That lifts the last of my question marks regarding the acronynms on the landing tables :D
  4. 5 Independent Royal Marine Armoured Support Battery.
    Does any one know how these were deployed? Does any one know a source for such information?


    I have next to nothing regarding the RMASG. Apparently the four troops of 5 Bty were numbered S, T, V and W (from tank names).

    Here are a few links most probably know already:

    BBC - WW2 People's War - The Normandy Landings, 6 June 1944: Royal Marines
    D-Day : Etat des Lieux :: Voir le sujet - Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment

    (From the latter link) Translation of the part related to 5 Bty:
    “ On SWORD, four Centaurs support the British and French Commandos, especially one opposite the German battery at Riva Bella, three Centaurs support Y Troop, 41 (RM) Commando during the attack on Wn 21 TROUT but are destroyed soon afterwards. ”

    In Lambton Burn, “Down Ramps!, Saga of the Eighth Armada” (Carroll & Nicholson Ltd., London, 1947), page 215:
    [FONT=&quot]“ What happened on Queen Red beach where casualties mounted after we left ? Six L.C.T.(A)s carrying men of the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group came under heavy fire as they rushed in to support the Lovat Commandos, whom we last saw advancing doggedly over the fire-swept beaches. The Marines were manning Centaur tanks, fitted with 95 mm. gun-howitzers mounted on raised platforms. Their role, to fire on the run-in, then beach, and from their gun-platforms deliver close fire support for the AVRE tanks working on the beach obstacles and the Commandos closing on Ouistreham from the west.[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Two Centaurs of Lieut. John Pogson’s Troop, on the westward flank, tore their waterproofing in the rush ashore and were drowned. Two more, under Lieut. C. K. Brown, and yet another three under Captain J. D. Scott, nosed from their ramps into deep water and met the same fate. Under a hail of fire, Brown and his guns’ crews swam ashore covered by Lieut. A. C. Badenoch’s Centaur, which drew the enemy’s fire. The two L.C.T.s of “ T ” Troop landed their Centaurs safely, and these grazed their way up the beach to the aid of the AVREs, many of which were pinned-down with smashed tracks and holed hulls. [/FONT]

    But the information we're looking for must be somewhere in The National Archives:

    Records of the Royal Marines:
    Subsubseries within ADM 202 Support Craft Regiment
    ADM 202/303 Headquarters 1943 Dec- 1944 Feb
    ADM 202/304 Armoured Support Craft Battery (later 5 Independent Armoured Support Battery) 1943 Dec- 1944 Sept
    ADM 202/305 2 Armoured Support Craft Battery (later 1 Armoured Support Regiment) 1943 Dec- 1944 Sept
    ADM 202/306 3 Support Craft Battery (later 2 Armoured Support Regiment, then formed 29 Battalion) 1944 Dec- 1944 Sept

    Records of the Historical Section:
    CAB 106/1040 Notes on operations of the Royal Marines armoured support group in operation "Overlord". 1944
    CAB 106/1147 Royal Marines Armoured Support Group in the invasion of Europe. [1949]
    CAB 106/1148 Characteristics and employment of Royal Marine Armoured Support Group in the invasion of Europe. 1944

    Who's going to Kew :huh:?

    Finally, here are 2 Centaurs (plus a couple of M10s) supporting Commandos, probably behind SWORD (from BBC "D-Day to Berlin", 6'52" from start):

    Attached Files:

  5. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    Thanks again. You have answered both my questions. It does not seem that the Centaurs did much more than you describe. I had wondered if they did not appear in official reports etc because their records were not readily available to the army authorities. More likely there was not much to report.

    I will look up the references when time allows. I still have an ample supply of documents, websites and discs to study. My work is now taking shape and I am filling in gaps. As always the list of questions grows ever longer. I was nearly diverted into studying RAF signals but resisted the temptation for the time being.

  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    I have read through the references that you kindly posted. It seems that there is room for some research into the Royal Marines Armoured Support units. At the moment I am still finding out what there is left to research about D Day. I find that for all the hundreds of books and all the research of six decades there are still areas that have received little attention. I have a little list.

    dbf likes this.
  7. It seems that at least one Centaur played a real and even decisive role in the SWORD area.

    The after-action report by the OC of the three French Troops (No.1, No.8 and K-guns) in 4 Commando provides some details:

    Rapport du lieutenant de vaisseau Kieffer, 14 juin 1944 - Service historique de la défense

    Here's my translation of the part which mentions the Centaur (last 4 paragraphs of page 2 to middle of page 3):
    We are able to progress, mopping up the houses right and left and finally arrive opposite the Casino, which fortunately is protected by an enormous anti-tank obstacle barring the street. I have Maître Principal Faure regroup the Troop and at that moment 2 cannons from the casino start shooting at us, as well as many snipers hiding in the environs.

    I have the small hand-carried PIAT gun set up. Twice its servants are wounded before they can open fire and the position is starting to become untenable at the very moment when we are just in front of our goal.

    I learn by Radio-Telephony that 6 Centaur tanks, armed with 95 mm guns, have just landed. Leaving Maître Principal Faure in command, I get back to the town to try and bring one back. After many difficulties I am conceded one of them even though it had been bestowed another mission, and, accompanied by my faithful Matelot Devager, I jump onto the tank and show the direction to be followed. We both remain on the tank unprotected and join No.1 troop in front of the anti-tank wall (it is 9:25).

    I decide to retain the wall as protection and to have the tank advance via an adjacent courtyard, through walls, trees, etc... and we settle facing the Casino where the shooting, under my direction, opens up. The first two shells hit the Casino squarely, whose guns are immediately silenced. At this time, I am again slightly wounded in my right arm by a rifle bullet and I climb down from the tank and position myself five meters ahead behind a wall to direct the shooting with gestures.

    I have, then, the whole position sprayed with gunfire and the Boche machine-gun fire stops.

    I am stunned (“blasted”) by the blast of our own shots which pass straight over my head.

    I ask Maître Principal Faure to send Montlaur’s section to the left for mopping up while Lardennois’ section goes to the right with the same mission.

    It is at this time (9:55) that I learn that on our left Medical Officer Captain Lion has just been wounded while attempting to help a wounded (Sailor Paul Rollin); both died almost immediately. Resistance seems to become intense on our right, where Lardennois’ section is heading: it is the town’s Belvedere which starts firing on our right flank. After a quick bandage to my arm, I climb on the tank again and we move directly opposite the Belvedere, up to 100 meters of it. With 4 shells it is silenced.

    My right section is progressing, does its mopping up and Quartier-Maître Lanternier brings the first 11 prisoners back to me, of which 3 or 4 are Russian Poles. While these prisoners are being brought back, one of them throws a grenade which slightly injures two men, at once we shoot 3 of them down.

    During these operations of No.1 Troop, No.8 had partly neutralized the enemy position, without being able to mop up completely, not having had the support of the tanks, but making prisoners. The remainder of No.4 Commando, further East in the town, had mopped up its objectives and prisoners continued to flow in.

    One wonders why it must have been so difficult for Kieffer to obtain the help of a Centaur. As I understand it, the primary role of RMASG tanks was to support the Commandos. Or maybe it was to support only RM Commandos? :confused:
  8. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    Very interesting. The Centaurs were first to give general artillery support to the assault brigade and then half were to support each of the Commandos on the flanks. Only half the Centaurs actually arrived so you raise several questions

    Were 10 Commando assigned Centaurs in the original plan?
    If so did theirs arrive?
    Who decided on the distribution or re distribution ashore? Should be the Commander RA.

    It is also interesting that Kieffer refers to the Centaurs as tanks. They were certainly supposed to be used as artillery. However other reports suggest that they were asked to act as tanks, a role for which they were not trained or equipped. The same seems true of AVREs which were certainly asked to act as tanks.

    I imagine that a troop lieutenant of a serjeant tank commander was not in a position to argue the matter as to whether he was a a gun or a tank.

    More to think about.


    PS. The CAB report says that four Centaurs were actually assigned to support 4 Commando and the two troops of 10 Commando. There is a note that 4 Commando makes no mention of outside assistance. The fog of war? Selective memory?
  9. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    You cannot always rely on after action reports. It seems pretty certain that Kieffer actually 'borrowed' a Sherman DD tank.

  10. You cannot always rely on after action reports. It seems pretty certain that Kieffer actually 'borrowed, a Sherman DD tank.


    Yes, that's what I thought I remembered having read too. So it may be that either:

    a. Kieffer did borrow a Centaur. After all, he seems to know quite precisely what they are, and I don't think he could have mistaken a Centaur for a Sherman DD. Also, the after action report is dated 14 June, not so long after the events, so I would think he would still remember quite well.
    This would mean that the other reports are wrong about his using a Sherman DD.

    b. Kieffer heard about the Centaurs landing and went to borrow one, but actually obtained another kind of "tank", i.e. a DD from 13/18 H, without mentioning it clearly in his report. Note that the name 'Centaur' is used only once in his report. That would explain why the tank he did get was originally assigned another task.

    I was the one who inferred that the tank was a Centaur, but I now see that this is debatable :unsure:...

    I guess we'll have to ask some 13/18 H expert for help!

  11. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    See todays post No2 on thread '6 June 1944 - the men of 48 Commando. This refers to Juno but describes Centaurs being used as tanks.

  12. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    I have looked in such references as I have and several sites that I found by Googling. There are two versions of the story of Kieffer and 10 Commando.

    1. He heard that Centaurs had landed and went and asked for one.
    2. He heard there were Sherman DD tanks in the streets of Ouistreham and went and persuaded one to help him.

    The source of the first is clearly Kieffers own report. It would be interesting to find the original source of the second.

    I have also found in passing that Kieffer himself had an interesting background. Born in Haiti to Alsation parents. Educated in France. Worked as a bank official in New York. Volunteered for the French Navy at the age of 40. He would be 44/45 on D Day, not the young dashing hero I imagined.

  13. Yes, you're right Mike, my references also mention either a Centaur or a Sherman DD, but as usual they seem to stem from the same sources (or lack of them), without explicitly stating them, or at least not precisely enough in my view.
    The source for the "DD version" is maybe the various photographs and films showing 13/18 Hussars DD tanks supporting commandos. However, none of these photos is located near the casino but in the streets and on the roads behind QUEEN RED beach, sometimes as far as Colleville-sur-Orne.

    Veterans of 10 Commando who were at the casino variously refer to the tank as:

    - simply "a tank" (René Rossey of the K-guns Troop in the DVD "Nous étions 177" dated 2008) or sometimes as:
    - "a D.D. tank" (Otto Zivohlava of No.1 Troop in ‘Caen, une ville trop loin’ by Joël Tanter (Ed. Charles Corlet 1990), page 100). But the date of this account is not stated, and it may very well have been “contaminated” by what Zivohlava had heard or read since the events, as all veterans’ memories are unfortunately liable to be.

    However, “D-Day Then and Now” (Winston G. Ramsey, 1995) pages 546-7 quotes another account by Kieffer as follows:

    “ Commandant Kieffer: ‘Two 20mm guns fired at us non stop from the concreted roof of the casino, while snipers harassed us from the belvedere [flak tower]. Two attempts to put our Piats in position against the guns of the casino failed, leaving the crews wounded. It would have been suicide to assault the casino with the company reduced to half and without artillery support. While the commandos, sheltering as much as possible, continued to keep the casino under fire, I worked my way back along the street.’
    ‘It was 0925 when the Centaur arrived. Climbing and breaking through an adjacent wall, the tank positioned itself facing the casino and opened fire over open sights. The first two shells hit the cupola of the casino square on and the enemy guns fell immediately silent, but their automatic weapons continued to fire. It was at that moment that, standing on the tank to direct its fire, I was wounded for the second time in the lower arm. Halted at 150 metres from the casino, the Centaur sent off another dozen shells. Without giving the adversary time to react, we launched the attack, [Maître-Principal Hubert] Faure’s section on the left and [Second-Maître Louis] Lanternier’s on the right. The belvedere stopped the right-hand section so the tank moved in that direction and silenced it with four shots. The assault moved across anti-tank ditches and barbed wire obstacles, and clearing the resistance nests of the casino’s defensive system with bayonets and grenades slowly broke the enemy opposition.’ ”

    This time the Centaur is explicitely mentioned.

    In the current absence of any credible evidence to the contrary, I would thus temporarily presume that it was indeed a Centaur and not a Sherman DD. But as you say, it would be nice to have the original source for the DD version.

    Kieffer was indeed a somewhat atypical character, as were most of the commandos under his command (and probably most commandos in general). Many had had a very long and arduous journey across occupied Europe and often the Spanish camps until they could join, but some got to the UK as early as June 1940.
  14. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    Again idly Googling I find that three troops of Centaurs continued in action in support of 6 Airborne Division until the end of August. The Marines handed them over to 'X' Armoured Battery RA who handed them onto 1 Canadian Centaur Battery RCA.

    I suppose everyone but me knew that.

  15. Further on "Centaur vs DD", the source for the "DD" version could very well be the venerable movie "The Longest Day", where Kieffer brings a chimeric M4A1 76mm Duplex Drive back from the future to destroy a still erect Casino in Port-en Bessin, even though the assault on the Casino was not described in Cornelius Ryan's book!
    YouTube - The Longest Day (1962) - Ouistreham

    Anyway, and historical inaccuracy aside, I still think this sequence is one of the best of this great movie, itself probably the origin of my passion for D-Day.

    The turret number '43' is a clear indication that the well known film still (IWM MH 2011) and other photos showing 13/18 Hussar Sherman DD No.43 with Commandos were used as a reference, maybe because Zanuck didn't have a Centaur handy?

    By the way, the quote from "D-Day Then and Now" in my previous message is clearly a translation (with a few words omitted) from Kieffer's book "Béret Vert", first published in 1948:
    Béret vert

    Kieffer visibly used his own report to write the part on the attack of the Casino, adding a few facts here and there, so it's not really an additional source, but still a sort of confirmation of his initial report.
  16. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    Danny Lovell, a forum member, sent me a beautifully clear photo of a M29 Weasel on a LCT bound for Sword Beach. It has very clear markings which I take to show that the vehicle is the Brigadier, 185 Brigades 'Rover'. (Number 74 on a coloured square plus blue and white signals square with the words 'cmdrs rover').

    It also has embarkation markings for LCT Serial 300. This is actually a LCT landing vehicles for 8 Brigade on Queen White at H+120 minutes. However it is shown on the landing tables as carrying signals vehicles as well.

    Has anyone heard of Weasels landing on Sword on D Day?
    Has anyone heard of Weasels landing on any British Beach?
    Has anyone heard of Weasels being used as signal vehicles in Normandy?

  17. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    M29 Weasels on Sword?

    Some snippets of information have come to light. Every little helps.

    Weasels were used in some numbers by the US Army on D Day. Some of these were used as wireless vehicles by various arms and some were used as cable layers.

    There is mention of some US cable layers being landed on British beaches on the second tide. Four such teams landed on Gold. It is not known if these were Weasels.

    There is one suggestion that Weasels (or a Weasel) landed on Gold.

    It seems that their amphibious qualities were very limited and of no value in the surf. However they did have good cross country performance especially on marshy ground.

    Any more contributions?

  18. Noel Burgess

    Noel Burgess Senior Member

    Here is a picture of US weasels loading into LSTs - afraid I cant remember where I found it but it was captioned as preparations for Overlord.
    These, and the one Mike refers to, are not the amphibious version which has extra bobywork front & back for flotation. This standard weasel would float but only with a few inches of freeboard, cretainly not enough to go swiming in the sea but they had very low ground pressure.


    Attached Files:

  19. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Noels picture must be from a newsreel or other movie film. I have a photo from a Military Modelling magazine which must have been some seconds later. All the vehicles are in the same place but some of the men have moved. They are captioned as being from 115th Infantry, 29 Division.

    I was given a link to a forum thread (not WW2Talk) which had a discussion about US Weasels on D Day. Seems there were a fair number, including one claiming to be the first vehicle ashore.

    No one reports any more British Weasels on D Day. There is on the Gold landing table, second tide, a mysterious unit listed as Base Signal Section with 4 jeeps and 2 15cwt. Could this be the equally mysterious 4 US special cable layers mentioned elsewhere. What was special about them?


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