20 July 2013
Parts of this account of 47 Royal Marine Commando's history read like fast-moving fiction.
The tough initial training at Achnacarry, where only the the mentally alert and fittest passed muster, is described with an insider's knowledge. Apart from the demanding assault course, "death slide" and other challenges to their endurance, men and officers were sent out to live off the land, the snow-covered Scottish hills. Thirty mile marches were undertaken and marksmen fired live ammunition close to them when they practised assaults. The course "set out to stress men to the limit, both physically and psychologically".
After Achnacarry, 47 Commando, 420 strong, trained for opposed landings at various places on the British coastline. They knew it was all for "the Second Front", the liberation of Europe, and they were destined for a vital role.
Landing in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord on D-Day, 6th June 1944, things went badly wrong. Landing craft were hit or disabled by beach hazards, large amounts of weapons, equipment and, worse, men, were lost. However, the survivors regrouped, salvaged what they could and, as planned, made their way inland through occupied territory. On the 7th, after stopping overnight on a hill behind and above Port en Bessin, they advanced on the town from the rear. Against all the odds, and with further casualties, the Commando prevailed.
Designated as the town where PLUTO, ("pipeline under the ocean"), would come ashore, the capture of the port was crucial. It would supply the petrol needed to maintain the Allied advance.
The Commando's other important landing took place in November in Holland. At the mouth of the River Scheldt, the heavily defended island of Walcheren blocked access to the port of Antwerp, preventing shipping from delivering essential supplies. As before, there were casualties and setbacks before the occupying Germans surrendered. Continuing through Belgium and into Germany, 47 RM Cdo, along with other units, was finally disbanded in 1946.
As the Commando's Medical Officer, John Forfar saw the effects of both death and serious injury so, despite the heroics of this group of men, there is nothing `gung-ho' about the writing but there are plenty of anecdotes both humorous and tragic.
Out of print for some years, this is a much needed new edition. However, it is more than a simple reprint. The author has added new material and photos. There is a chapter detailing the development and operation of PLUTO as well as accounts of remembrance by both veterans, their families and by those who were liberated. As in the first edition, he considers the aftermath of war, not only for the seriously injured but also for the serving men who survived intact but preferred not to dwell upon their experiences.
From Omaha to the Scheldt remains required reading for any historian of the Normandy landings and the further advance to liberate Europe in World War Two.
It is also a very accessible work for the general reader, providing an absorbing and often exciting read.