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Special reconnaissance operations

Discussion in 'Normandy Landing Beaches' started by Jim, Nov 11, 2006.

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  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Between Asnelles to the West and the estuary of the Orne at Ouistreham to the East, the Normandy coastline is low-lying, particularly suitable for a landing one of the best sectors to the East of the Contenin Peninsula.
    A low-lying coastline, however, is not entirely free of traps. There, in common with the future Utah Beach sector a chain of dunes fronts a low and often marshy zone. In addition, a sandy beach can present difficulties to tanks and other heavy vehicles coming ashore. Towards the end of 1943, the Allied high command responsible for planning Operation Overlord became worried by a section of what appeared to be peat indicated in front of Ver-sur-Mer. The beach in front of that village was one of the landing sites chosen for what was to become Gold Beach. Nothing could be left to chance and a reconnaissance had to be mounted to determine the geographic characteristics of that beach.


    The mission was entrusted to COPP, Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, which had been commanded by Lt. Cdr. Nigel Clogstoun Wilmott since the late summer of 1942 (1). Before that, in March 1941, the same naval officer had carried out a clandestine reconnaissance mission on the coastline of Rhodes, demonstrating his understanding of the technique as well as the value of the information gained. At that time the flexible rubberised diving suit did not exist, so Clogstoun-Wilmott and his swimming "spies" wore pullovers and long johns impregnated with grease. This small section of commandos was brought near the coast from where they could approach the shore by canoe at night paddling as silently as possible. One of the "spies" stayed with the frail vessel while the other swam ashore to gather information. Assisted by Lieut "Jumbo" Courtney, Clogstoun-Wilmott subjected his men to a particularly rigorous training regime under all possible weather conditions. The commando was subdivided into ten two-man teams - one a Royal Navy navigator and the other a specialist from the Royal Engineers.
    The remarkable espionage carried out by Clogstoun Wilmott and his men culminated in the establishment of COPP during the summer of 1942, eight weeks before the Torch landings in North Africa. The new unit was successfully employed during the various landings in the Mediterranean and on raids along the western coasts of France. It also became involved in the preparations for Overlord.
    Thus on 31 December 1943, two specially equipped landing craft (LCN's) were towed across the Channel by motor gun boats (MGB's). Two hundred metres out to sea off the beach at Ver-sur-Mer, two swimming spies, Major Scott-Bowden and Sergeant Ogden Smith prepared to set off for their two hour swim to the shore. Since 1941 the swimmers' equipment has been considerably improved. They wore voluminous one-piece suits, plastic coated and lined with kapok to ease flotation. Elasticated cuffs sealed their necks, wrists and ankles. On their feet they wore a type of espadrilles. They swam without breathing apparatus but were equipped with watches, waterproof torches, pencils, a compass, and a tablet on which to write underwater, as well as emergency rations, an alarm signal and a small bottle of brandy.

    The special Clothing of the men from COPP

    [​IMG]

    As the two swimmers approached the shoreline they saw the lights in the houses but did not attract any attention. At midnight the sergeant wished the major a happy new year, and the two men swam back to their boats with their precious samples of the beach.

    Area of clay on the Ver-sur-Mer beach, the presence of which greatly worried the Allied high command and which justified the sending of a COPP team in the last night of 1943 to collect samples.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    Very interested in this type of espionage, i know there was quite a few top brass involved in this at the time. They once sent a team of 4 or 6 dont quite recall the exact figure over in a small submarine to do some extensive tests on both beach and tide, 2 men was sent in land at night time to dig and probe along the beaches where hey were seen in search lights, aswell as rifle fire, mortars was sent down on them. Having escaped to the water they swam back to the small sub waiting on the seabed for them, but the sub was also doing its testing of the tide flow so could not leave the danger zone while this was ongoing. By the early morning all the men in the sub was quite sick as the air inside was resticted and purid, it wasnt while the following night that the sub came to the top to replenish its air.
     
  3. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Aye they make great reading these types of mission. :thumb:

    Nothing to add except to point out that on the 31st of December the English Channel is extremely cold.
    'Didn't seem to bother them though !
    :smirk:
     
  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Not forgetting that in the Summer the English Channel's temperature rises to Cold... :wtf:
     
  5. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    I dont think the weather bothered the allies in anything they did, who would have thought that anylising some sand would say if the area was good enough to land the allies, i mean in the forties not ith todays gadgits where we all know anything is possible. :oops:
     
  6. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    Also these divers were used on the morning of the invasion to help clear the mines from the obsticles on the beach. Small submarines was used also to carry these divers who was waiting at normandy for the invasion to start before they left the subs to help in the removal of these mines.
     
  7. Buford

    Buford New Member

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    Again another clear example of the brave few getting forgotten. Whilst the landing at Normandy was historical, surely there should be much greater coverage for these divers? They set the path as it were.
     
  8. dfisher

    dfisher New Member

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    Near where I live is a Pub called "The Marine". During the war members of the SOE & Marines stayed there, and used to go over to France during the night on operations.
    They meet up there once a year for a reunion, and all have fascinating stories to tell. Even though they are quite old now they still have the look of real soldiers :madman:
     

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