Australians and D-Day

In the early hours of Tuesday 6 June 1944 British and American paratroops landed in the fields of Normandy. At dawn thousands of British, Canadian and American troops landed on the beaches. 6 June 1944 became “D-Day”, the target date on which a vast Allied military, air and naval force began the long-awaited Allied invasion and liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Flight Sergeant Cliff Halsall

Flight Sergeant Cliff Halsall

Flight Sergeant Clifford William Halsall was born in Euroa, Victoria, on 16 November 1914. He enlisted for the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1942 and after training in Australia embarked for Britain in August 1943. Posted to 27 Operational Training Unit, Lichfield, he was impressed by the instructors who were all ex-operational men and well decorated.

On 26 October 1943 Flight Sergeant Halsall, as tail gunner, was assigned to a nearly all Australian crew that included Jim “Doc” Davey, pilot, John Reynolds, navigator, Len Larter, bomb aimer, Les Phillips, wireless operator/air gunner and Brian O’Leary, mid upper gunner. They were later joined by Stan Knight as flight engineer and the only British crew member.

Cliff and his crew participated in bombing raids on 5–6 June 1944 in association with the D-Day landings. On both occasions they flew in a new aircraft with the call sign “G for George” . Their target on the 5th was gun emplacements at Crisbecq on France’s Cherbourg peninsula. Their instructions were to bring back their bombs if they had not made their target by midnight, as the Allied paratroops were scheduled to jump seven minutes after the bombing. This mission was successful, with the German gun batteries at Crisbecq rendered relatively ineffective against the invading Allied troops.

A bridge behind the German lines at Vire was their target for D-Day and Cliff’s crew completed this mission successfully as well. Vire was an important railway junction and the principal highway along which German reinforcements from Brittany travelled ran through the town. On this night 24 Lancasters from 460 Squadron were part of a 107-Lancaster attack on Vire, bombarding the town with 414 tons of bombs. Only one aircraft failed to return and two other crews reported inconclusive combats.

Ultimately, Cliff was one of the lucky ones who went on to complete his tour of 30 operations, including raids over France and Germany. The relief he felt at finishing is evident; as he says in his diary on 3 October 1944, “We did our last “op” at last … I feel happy – just completed a tour and have my commission.” He was sad, however, that his crew was to be disbanded. Cliff went on to take up a position as a flight instructor at various units before returning to Australia in May 1945.

Throughout his service Cliff recorded his experiences in detail in three diaries which are now a part of the Memorial’s Private Records collection, along with his logbook and memoir (PR00791). The above image is from Cliff’s first diary.

Flight Lieutenant John Morschel

Flight Lieutenant John Morschel

Flight Lieutenant John Robert Gordon Morschel was also involved in the D-Day operations but had a very different experience to that of Cliff Halsall.

John was flying in "Q for Queenie" with 630 Squadron on 6 June 1944 for the D-Day assault. Before take off he remarked to another crew member, “Looks a bit grim this 2,000 feet business”. All was going to plan, the flares were sighted and they were on course, when there was quite a loud “umph” and the aircraft lurched. They had been hit, and in the rear of the plane a fire was rapidly spreading. Just before the lights went out John records that he was thinking, “This is it old chap”. He managed to locate his parachute and bail out of the aircraft. He was also fortunate to land in a wheatfield, missing the nearby railway line and telephone lines.

After spending three days wandering the French countryside John was captured by some German soldiers. He spent the rest of the war in the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III. These images are from the wartime log he maintained during his imprisonment; it is part of the Private Records collection (PR00506).

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