D-Day June 6, 5.30am, the Naval Bombardment

As the paras and glider troops held their hard-won positions inland, thousands of British and American naval guns opened fire on the beaches.

D-Day June 6, 5.30am, the Naval Bombardment

No-one who witnessed that earth-shattering bombardment will ever forget it. Some of the battleships were firing 16-inch shells almost as long as a car and so big that they could clearly been seen, and felt, as they went past.

Inland, as one massive shell roared over, Major John Howard's signaller turned to his officer and said: "Blimey, sir, they're firing Jeeps."

Bill Sharples, of Pattingham, was a 19-year-old signaller on the minesweeper HMS Llandudno. The ship was 'almost blown out of the water' when the nearby HMS Ramilies and Ajax opened fire. Later he and his shipmates had the grim task of recovering identity tags from the floating bodies of soldiers killed in the attack.

Harry Anderson, of Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton, was a lance-corporal and fitter, aged 24, with the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards. He recalled the incredible concussion of the bombardment.

"We were by HMS Warspite and every salvo she fired lifted our landing craft up, almost out of the water."

Jack Hill, of Quarry Bank, was a stoker-mechanic on a minesweeper off Gold Beach.

Dawn broke as they approached the French coast: "A landing craft, just astern and starboard, hit a mine," he said. "Black smoke poured from it but, as orders forbade us to stop, we carried on.

"The Royal Navy ships began the bombardment of installations ashore. Battleships, destroyers, cruisers and even monitors from the First World War with their huge guns all took part. The noise of the guns firing and the shells whizzing overhead was terrifying."

A Royal Marine flotilla in the English Channel

Able Seaman John Fletcher, of Sedgley, was just 18 and a 'tankie' in charge of rations on the destroyer HMS Talybont.

The warship supported the epic US Rangers' attack on German gun batteries at Point du Hoc.

"I was a loader on on the stern 4-inch gun. It was not a closed turret but an open position with an armour shield.

"The shells weighed 56lbs each and in those days I could carry one in each arm. Our targets on D-Day were machine guns nests and radar station on the coast. A couple of big cruisers were behind us. When they opened up, you could feel the heat of their shells going overhead."

Later, Talybont had a deadlier job.

"We were bait," Mr Fletcher said. "Our job was to draw the fire of big German guns near Le Havre."They were only firing at night to avoid giving away their position. We sailed up and down but they didn't fire. So the captain gave the order to 'splice the mainbrace' and line the men up on the upper deck for the daily rum ration. They lined up and I served it out. The idea was to show the Germans we weren't in the least concerned about them. Well, that got them firing but their shells were falling short of us. We reported their positions and that night the RAF blew them off their site."

Three miles off the Normandy coast, David Phillips, of Merry Hill, Wolverhampton, was a young Royal Marines NCO on HMS Scylla. He had a grandstand view of the invasion as dawn broke on D-Day: "Our ship was in the van of a vast armada of ships which stretched from horizon to horizon. It was a thrilling and awesome spectacle and I felt a glow of pride and patriotism in the knowledge that I was taking part in this historic enterprise which would be remembered long after I was dead. On the morning of D-Day we were firing broadsides and the whole ship rocked. It seemed the sea was full of vessels.

"You couldn't see anything for ships. I remember feeling a bit querulous but we had the feeling that everything was going to plan because we had air superiority."

Scylla closed on the shore and her mighty broadsides silenced the German guns one by one.

The Royal Navy arrives in Normandy as troops make their way to shore

Later, transferred into a landing craft, Mr Phillips and his comrades headed for Juno beach: "The first wave of British and Canadians had already breached the first line of enemy defences, leaving behind scores of dead bodies, some of which floated in the surf while others covered the shoreline. I shall never forget the peculiarly sweet smell of death which pervaded the area."

He had joined the Royal Navy at his father Bill's request, in the hope of being spared such carnage.

Bill had been wounded at the bloody battle of Passchendaele in the First World War. Mr Phillips recalls the 'sudden 300-mile dash' into Belgium and Holland after the Normandy Campaign, and his own appointment with destiny.

"It was towards the end of 1944 in Antwerp," Mr Phillips said. "German flying bombs were landing at the rate of one every two minutes. You could almost set your watch by them. One of them hit a cinema full of civilians and there were about 500 casualties. We got the injured out and rescued some others."

He spoke quietly, modestly about this act of courage and humanity.

But it won him the Belgian gallantry decoration, the Croix de Guerre.

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