Royal Marines prepare for Normandy landings in honour of their forebears

Topic: PeopleRemembrance Storyline: Royal Marines

Royal Marines trained on the beaches of Cornwall as they prepare to step on to the sands of Normandy on June 6 – as they did on D-Day, 80 years ago.

Commandos will provide one of the more dramatic commemorations of the Normandy landings, landing craft on the shores, before following in the footsteps of the men of 1944 as they yomp (march) together to Port-en-Bessin, one of their main objectives on D-Day.

Plymouth-based 47 Commando (Raiding Group) Royal Marines is the modern-day successor to the small boat operators of World War 2 – today using landing craft, fast raiding craft and smaller boats to either put large numbers of troops and supporting vehicles ashore or conducting amphibious raids.

For the Royal Marines – who remain the UK’s specialist in amphibious operations – June 6 1944 and the subsequent campaign in Normandy remain one of the proudest chapters in the Corps’ 360-year history.

Marines from 47 Commando Raiding Group will be at the centre of events and have been limbering up in Cornwall with drills on Tregantle Beach using their small Inshore Raiding Craft, which are used for covert coastline landings.

Conducting ‘surf drills’, the crews were taught how to skillfully manoeuvre their raiding craft in arduous conditions. 

“It’s a great honour and a privilege to take our modern-day Landing Craft across the English Channel and land on the D-Day beaches,” said Major Andy Atkinson of 47 Commando.

“We will be coming to Normandy where we’re involved with the commemoration events. 47 Commando is one of the Commandos that landed on D-Day and we’re yomping the same route taken by our WW2 predecessors when they fought their way to Port-en Bessin, 80 years ago. 

“Along with veterans and members of the Royal Marines Association as well as locals from Normandy, we will pay tribute to the achievements of our Commando forebears.”

More than 17,600 Royal Marines were assigned to Operation Neptune (the seaborne operation). One in 40 marines – more than 430 men – made the ultimate sacrifice during the ten-week-long campaign.

No day was harder than D-Day itself. Some 133 Royal Marines were killed that fateful Tuesday, but the high price bought success: most commandos were ashore by 9am on June 6… and by the small hours of June 7 they had reached their initial objectives.

Five Royal Marine Commando units (41, 45, 46, 47 and 48) assaulted the beaches alongside three Army Commando units – formed into two Special Service Brigades.

In addition, most minor landing craft were crewed by Royal Marines, as also the guns of the support craft, and all capital ships providing gunfire support for the invasion, such as battleship HMS Warspite, carried a Royal Marines detachment.

In addition, the Corps provided a number of specialist units including an armoured support group, beach clearance and control parties and engineers.

Eight decades later – weather permitting – a small flotilla of Royal Marines landing craft and raiding will leave Portsmouth on June 4 to re-enact/commemorate the actions of 47 Commando in 1944.

Their destination, as 80 years ago, Gold Beach and especially the picture-postcard port/harbour of Port-en-Bessin.

Having successfully landed, 47 Commando pushed west towards the small town to expand the Allied beachhead, potentially link up with American forces at Omaha Beach, but above all eliminate the German garrison at Port-en-Bessin and secure it as the Normandy end of PLUTO – the PipeLine Under The Ocean – which would provide the fuel needed to power the Allies’ liberation of Western Europe.

Fast forward to 2024 and the 80th anniversary Channel crossing will serve as a training/navigation/logistical exercise for 40 present-day commandos undertaking landing and raiding craft training.

47 Commando’s crews must be able to assess a beach, deploy troops and recover safely back to sea once their mission is complete. 

Having to quickly analyse and take into consideration several variables such as enemy threat, all types of weather, surf conditions and the individual compositions of the landing areas is vital in delivering successful missions. 

The ability to understand these, steer their craft confidently and safely is a core skill for Royal Marines Landing Craft Operators and one of the key aspects they must master. 

Events in Normandy are the opportunity to honour the Devonport-based commando unit’s illustrious forebears.

As well as a series of wreath laying’s in Port-en-Bessin, including at the 47 Commando Memorial in Place Seurat, the green berets – joined by veterans of the Royal Marines Associations – will also help French authorities inaugurate a new monument to 220 men killed or mortally wounded at JIG Sector of Gold Beach on D-Day, including 29 men from 47 Commando.

And the Mayor of Tracy-sur-Mer – a village between Gold Beach and Port-en-Bessin liberated by 47 Commando in 1944 – will honour the unit by naming a road in their honour.

It’s a great honour and a privilege to take our modern-day Landing Craft across the English Channel and land on the D-Day beaches,” said Major Andy Atkinson of 47 Commando.

Major Andy Atkinson