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Heroism in Port-en-Bessin

f_wwii_port_en_bessin.jpg
Port-en-Bessin lay between Omaha, the beach assaulted by Americans on D-Day, and Gold Beach, stormed by the Brits.
Image: JrPol / Wiki

Today, writes James Delingpole of the Telegraph, Port-en-Bessin is a pretty fishing village in Normany with two towering cliffs. During World War II the port was part of Rommel's Atlantic Wall defence plan, fortified by a network of trenches, mortar pits, dugouts and bunkers, minefields and barbed wire, and guarded by German units.

It had to be taken if the Allies' D-Day liberation of Europe was to succeed because Port-en-Bessin was also the destination of PLUTO, the Pipeline Under The Ocean, which was to deliver millions of gallons of fuel to the Allies.

Four hundred and twenty green berets of 47 Royal Marine Commando, most of them between 18 and 22 years of age, were given the task of scaling the cliffs and capturing the vital port from Nazi Germany's 352nd Infantry Division. They had volunteered for the job.

But by the time they landed at Gold Beach, many of them had lost their machine guns and communications equipment due to heavy fire from the Germans and high seas which overturned their boats and forced them to swim. Some of the young men arrived "without boots or even trousers. . .Worse still, the unit had already lost a fifth of its strength, killed, wounded or lost."

However, their mission was to infiltrate behind enemy lines and take Bessin by land, and this they intended to do.

Through two exhausting days they fought their way toward the port, supplementing their weapons with German Schmeissers and Spandaus they had captured.

"On the morning of June 7, they had got safely through the outer defences and headed into the port when disaster struck. While clambering up the steep slopes of the Western feature, one of their troops was caught out by withering fire from two German Flak ships, which were unexpectedly moored in the harbour. Eleven men were killed, 17 wounded and one – George Amos – captured. Meanwhile, back on Mont Cavalier, the unit's rear HQ was overrun.

"By the evening of June 7, the Commando was in a desperate position: isolated and under constant threat of counterattack from numerically superior enemy forces; low on ammunition, depleted by heavy casualties." And still those impregnable cliffs loomed.

"It was gallant, no-nonsense Captain Cousins who found the solution. On recce patrol he discovered that leading up the side of the Eastern feature was an apparently undefended zigzag path. Under cover of darkness, he led a party of 25 men as far as he could go up the hill unobserved. Then, in true commando style, yelling, screaming and firing from the hip, they charged the enemy bunkers."

They succeeded in capturing Port-en-Bessin.

"Captain Cousins lay dead, after a selfless act of heroism."

He and many other Brits and Americans gave their lives to defeat Nazi tyranny. Remember them.


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