In August 2016, Chuck Aitkenhead, son of a former member of the 7thParachute Battalion, kindly contacted me. He had found an aerial photograph showing Glider CN28, the first glider to arrive over the Merville Battery, just before the attack went in. With Colonel Otway’s men being unable to illuminate the Battery due to the loss of mortars, the glider was unable to see the site and eventually landed somewhere to the east. For many years it has been the subject of conjecture as to just how distant the glider had landed from the Battery, with some books saying up to four miles away !
However, it is now apparent that the actual landing site was half a mile (750m) east of the village of Gonneville, and ‘as the crow flies,’ a mile (1.5Km) from the Merville Battery.
Veteran Gordon Newton, ‘A’ Company, 9th Parachute Battalion, was on board the glider, and armed with a flamethrower. As the Horsa circled above, looking for the Battery, flak began to rise. “It was coming through the floor and out the roof. Under the seats, which are along the full length of the glider. You had all the other equipment, and there were mortar bombs, high explosive, there were replacements for the flamethrowers…. The whole thing was not just a tinderbox, it was very high explosives, and if it had got a tracer in the right place it would have just disintegrated. Had we been sitting crossways, people might have got hurt. I was sitting in the back seat, the pilot put me there and I wasn’t very happy with that. So I went and sat next to Foster, the other flamethrower, whereupon they opened the door. In order that I didn’t get thrown out the door, I went and sat the other side. As soon as I did this, where my head had been, something came through the floor and out the roof.”
The pilot, Staff Sergeant Bone, thought he saw the Battery and so cast off, descending to 500 feet. However, this turned out to be the bombed village of Gonneville and he therefore banked the glider away. Gordon Newton remembered: “Through a window I could see a tree and I thought, ‘Hello !’ As it happened it went skidding across the water and the tail came off, and left it about seventy-five yards behind.”
They had landed safely, but would take no part in the assault on the Merville Battery.
Gordon had been going back to Normandy for nearly 50 years, and always wondered where ‘his’ Horsa had come down, so it was a very special moment for him when he was taken there in June 2017.
Sadly, Gordon passed away in September 2018.