EARLY morning, June 6, 1944. 70 years ago today.
The clouds in the sky were lit, not by the rising sun but with the garish reds, yellows and orange of bombs, heavy gunfire, grenades and tankfire - the angry soundtrack of war on the front lines.
Almost 29,000 men, fresh to combat or war-hardened, scrambled onto the beaches at Normandy, firing almost randomly their heads filled with the red mist of battle.
Behind them, legions of rifles were held aloft by as many more up to their waist in hostile waters.
“Your head was filled with the noise, all the different noises from artillery, to men screaming orders in German and in English,” recalled former naval midshipman David Morrison, of West Port Cottages in Linlithgow, who was just an 18-year-old raw recruit. David was piloting a landing craft filled with soldiers of the 76th Regiment Royal Artillery.
“We really didn’t know what to expect. We had carried out training and exercises on the Cromarty Firth before sailing to Portsmouth to await our orders.
“We were maybe second onto Sword beach out of a flotilla of 12. But there was a mass of shipping descending on Normandy; at least two battleships and three cruisers.”
Many men were killed before even setting foot on the shore; trapped between facing enemy fire ahead and so-called ‘‘friendly’’ fire to their rear.
“It’s an odd sensation,” David recalled earlier this week. You have so much noise and activity going on. Two battleships were sunk almost immediately.”
Officers vied to be heard shouting orders above the crack and boom of battle while being bombarded with a sporadic running commentary by signals specialists.
Getting hundreds of men off the ship, lowering the ramp and holding position for them to disembark was only one aspect of the orders for the big push that would herald the end of the war.
“That was only a part of it,” said David.
“The logistics of getting in as close as possible, lowering the ramp and getting the men off as swiftly as possible, were crucial.
‘‘You just know that all this chaos is going on and, in the middle of it all, you’re working on auto-pilot, totally focussed on your orders.
‘‘But there are ships and tanks moving in after you so it’s essential to get in, drop anchor, lower the ramp and then raise it while pulling up anchor at the same time to get out quickly.
“So, I didn’t actually set foot on the beach that day, not until 2009 when I returned to visit the cemetary near Ouistreme where a number of my naval colleagues were buried.
‘‘My abiding thoughts in later years was to wonder what became of the men who disembarked from my vessel on that morning.”