The Suffolk Regiment and planning for D-Day
- Credit: PA
D-Day in Suffolk: putting the Germans off the scent. And D-Day for the Suffolk Regiment: what happened to the Suffolks on June 6 1944.
It was one of the most extraordinary in world history.
Planned by the allied powers D-Day was probably the biggest secret kept by the most people ever.
Of course, few people had the whole picture but, in order to make the invasion of Normandy a success, it was vital that the Nazi command was taken by surprise.
If it were to work, a welter of convincing misinformation had to be released and East Anglia played a major part in this with fake wireless broadcasts and hoax tank tracks in the grass - just two of the ploys used to persuade German intelligence that the allied invasion, when it came would take the shortest route across the Channel to the Pas de Calais.
Operation Fortitude, as this subterfuge was code-named, allowed the Nazi commanders to think 250,000 troops were billeted in Suffolk, Essex and Kent, under the command of Lt General George Patton from his HQ in Chelmsford or Bury St Edmunds.
Wireless trucks drove around East Anglia and Kent, making fake broadcasts that German eavesdroppers could hear and grassland was sprayed with chemicals to look like tank-tracks.
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It used film-set techniques on a vast scale to mislead the enemy. To "dress" the set, inflatable "aircraft" and "tanks" were placed in fields and dummy landing craft floated in harbours. It was calculated that German spy planes would photograph all this phony "evidence".
Waldringfield, near Woodbridge, and Woolverstone Hall (now Ipswich High School), on the River Orwell became a manufacturing centres for dummy landing craft. The highly realistic looking dummies were moored on the rivers Stour, Orwell and Deben - where they would be photographed by Nazi reconnaissance aircraft.
As D-Day approached, the British authorities repatriated a captured German general on medical grounds, taking him through the New Forest in Hampshire - which was teeming with soldiers, tanks and supplies ready for the Normandy invasion. However, fake road-signs made him believe he was travelling to Harwich from Bury St Edmunds, via Stowmarket and Ipswich. When he was later debriefed by the Nazi authorities, his story tallied with that of double-agents working for the allies.
The Nazi forces gathered on the coast of France but of the 59 military divisions only six were in the Normandy area.
Just before the troop-carriers set off, Trinity House vessels sailed from Harwich to follow the Royal Navy's minesweeping flotilla, marking out safe passage for the invasion fleet.
On June 3, 1944, lships arrived at Felixstowe to pick up troops from Britain and Canada, along with the Royal Army Medical Corps and the crack armoured division the Desert Rats. The previous month, the Desert Rats had moved from Brandon, in west Suffolk, to Orwell Park School at Nacton, near Ipswich, where the men lived in their tanks and under canvas on the 2,000 acres of parkland.
In the lead up to D-Day, the road between Ipswich and Felixstowe was closed to civilians. And, when D-Day was delayed by the weather for 24 hours, ships carrying soldiers and tanks took shelter in the River Stour and tank landing craft stood by in the River Orwell.
A report in a national newspaper, earlier this week, reported that 19-year-old tank commander Richard Heather, was one of the men who set off from Felixstowe a week before D-Day. He waited in the Orwell until being ordered into the Channel. He is among the 255 D-Day veterans aboard the Fred Olsen ship MV Boudicca for a week-long "heroes cruise".
While allied servicemen from around the world congregated in Suffolk, the county's own regiment (now part of the Royal Anglian Regiment) was central to D-Day operations.
The Suffolk Regiment landed at Sword Beach at 8.30am on June 6 and its specific target was to capture two Nazi strongholds just inland. One was a gun emplacement codenamed Morris. The second, believed to be a battalion HQ defended by machine-gun posts and anti-tank guns, was codenamed Hillman.
What military intelligence didn't know was that Hillman was, in fact, a more fortified regimental HQ with machine-gun nests behind concrete and steel. Also, it was largely below ground and protected by barbed wire and minefields. The surface of the bunkers was concrete and steel 3.5 metres thick.
The Suffolks made short work of the Morris battery, whose guns had suffered heavy bombing. The German gun crews threw in the towel as the Suffolks readied their attack and 67 prisoners were marched off to a nearby village.
Hillman was not going to be easy. The German troops inside could see down to the sea and saw the Suffolks moving up.
A five-minute bombardment by the Royal Artillery didn't even scratch the bunkers but did give a platoon the chance to crawl through corn and blow a hole in the perimeter fence. The Royal Engineers managed to damage a 22ft section, with a mine clearance team then creating a safe path to the fortress.
Then they tackled a second barbed wire fence, rolled out just 50 yards from a steel machine-gun turret.
When the Royal Engineers explosive Bangalore torpedo, aimed to take out a second barbed wire fence 50 yards from a steel machine gun turret, failed to detonate Lt Mike Russell, shielded only by the effect of smoke grenades, got through the minefield to get and set off another torpedo. His bravery won him the Croix de Guerre.
Later, Private Tich Hunter, received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery, having advanced on the main machine-gun turret, firing his Bren gun from the hip.
The onslaught continued until the Nazis manning Hillman were either killed or fled.
On the morning of June 7, the immaculately-dressed commander of Hillman, Oberst Krug, emerged from his underground lair and surrendered. With him were two officers and 70 men of other ranks.
For the Suffolks, it was just the beginning of the battle through the continent that would end with the liberation of Europe.
Sources: https://www.eadt.co.uk/ea-life/d-day-the-suffolks-longest-day-1-3632217 and https://www.eadt.co.uk/ea-life/d-day-how-east-anglia-helped-fool-hitler-1-3632242 (both first published in June 2014)