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D-Day 75: How Pembrokeshire’s beaches were used as practice for the world’s biggest invasion

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By Jon Coles, Andy Chandler and Thomas Sinclair

THURSDAY (June 6) marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France as part of Operation Overlord; a concerted and successful attempt to liberate Europe from the grip of German occupation under Hitler.

The invasion of Normandy (codenamed Operation Neptune) was a massive amphibious assault involving 7,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft. A decoy plan, Operation Fortitude, led the Germans to believe the main target was Pas de Calais. It was a major milestone in securing victory for the allied forces.

Tenby, Saundersfoot, Amroth and Laugharne had already experienced their own version of the Normandy landings – in practice form.

Our local beaches were the location for an extensive two-week-long practice, Operation Jantzen. The exercise commenced on July 22, 1943, and was, thankfully, the only land invasion of Wales during World War II.

Under the watchful eyes of Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten (rumour has it that Eisenhower also attended), 100,000 American, Australian, British and Canadian forces had a rare opportunity to practice every element needed for a successful attack on “Fortress Europe”, this involved the initial landings, the setting up of Headquarters and even the moving and stockpiling of vital supplies that would be needed by troops on the front line.

Newsreel footage clearly shows trucks somehow being driven onto flat-bottomed transports in preparation for the training excercise on Tenby Beach, a beach more commonly associated with bathing, swimming and making sandcastles.

THE TROOPS

The Regimental War Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Vol3 1942-1944 records that the First Bucks Battalion had been training in Ayrshire before moving to West Wales.

The road convoy of over 200 vehicles left Ayr on the July 8, 1943, and the main body departed by train three days later. Troops disembarked at Haverfordwest station, where three-ton lorries lifted them to Picton Park.

Picton Park, consisting of Nissen huts and tents, provided an excellent concentration area and preparations for Exercise “Jantzen,” due to start on the July 17, were pressed forward.

All was ready, but the exercise was postponed owing to bad weather, and the move to the assembly area at Cresselly did not begin until July 20.

The area allotted to No. 6 Beach Group consisted of the village of Saundersfoot and its immediate hinterland. There were two small beaches and a tiny port, and the country behind the beaches was hilly and heavily wooded, with narrow country lanes.

No. 5 Beach Group had an equally difficult area some miles to the east with a steep, shingle bank at the head of the beach which made exits and entrances serious problems.

The first key plan prepared before the exercise needed little adjustment and the deployment of thousands of men and hundreds of vehicles and guns proceeded most smoothly.

Coasters and barges were loaded at Tenby and beached at Saundersfoot on a falling tide.

Stores were unloaded first to barge and then to lorry, and, when the coasters had dried out, direct to lorry. Folding boats were not used and the DUKW had still not made its appearance.

On August 5 (D+14) the exercise was closed.

A great many lessons had been learned from “Jantzen.” The organisation and training of the group were sound. The complicated deployment drill had worked smoothly although it had been shown how vulnerable any beach organisation is to deterioration in the weather.

The effort was not only limited to troop movements.

The first major supply exercise involving barges (36 in 3 flotillas), 36 coasters and other forces, took place at Tenby, South Wales in July/August 1943 in Exercise “Jantzen”.

As part of the preparation for sailing across the English Channel for the Normandy landings, “dumb” Thames River barges sailed from the south coast of England around Land’s End and across the Bristol Channel under their own power.

The barges acted as kitchen vessels and troop transports during the exercise.

They subsequently made even longer coastal voyages over to Normandy as supply vessels.

All of which begs the question: Why West Wales?

The beaches of west Wales were chosen because they mimicked the conditions of Normandy being a mixture of salt flats, shingle and wide sandy areas overlooked by dunes. In addition, earlier in the war some of them had been extensively fortified and defensive measures put in place as part of the preparations for invasion.

The importance of experiencing the ‘draft’ of landing beaches was vitally important as were the changing tidal conditions around the West Wales coast.

The area’s roads were also used to give troops experience of moving along thin, rural roads with heavy armour like Tanks and Armoured Troop Carriers.

Speaking to the BBC in 2007, Bentley Howell, whose family lived at Wiseman’s Bridge Inn at the time, remembered some of the events surrounding Operation: Jantzen.

“My half-brother, who was about 40 years old, was at the time the licensee of the Wiseman’s Bridge Inn, Permbrokeshire. In his old age, he used to tell me of his wartime memories and particularly about the day that Winston Churchill called in for a pot of tea.

“A full scale invasion landing practice took place, involving up to 100,000 men, DUKW’s, other landing craft, and troopships disgorging their loads onto the sands of the Saundersfoot bay.

“The publican, John Henry Mathias, or ‘Jack the Bridge’ as he was affectionately known, was appointed a Coastguard because of his local knowledge, and although the whole area had been sealed off for security reasons and a 10pm curfew imposed, Jack was exempt from this and wandered at will.

“Officially, the troops were not allowed to drink, but for 1s 6d they had all they could eat – home killed ham, eggs, fried bread and apple tart. Jack entertained them with tales of a ghostly monk who roamed the tunnels between Saundersfoot and Wiseman’s Bridge.

“One day, several large staff cars swept down the narrow lane to the pub. It was about 3pm, but in those days the pub was open all hours. A blonde woman in an ATS uniform carried out ‘a plain Welsh tea’ to the party of about 15 high ranking officers – later it was learned that she was Sarah Churchill; Winston Churchill surveyed the troops on the beaches together with Admiral Viscount Mountbatten. It was rumoured that Eisenhower was also present”.

For several years after the War, the letter signed by Churchill, thanking the licensee for his hospitality hung on the wall in the pub premises.

In fact, the rumours about Eisenhower’s presence in Pembrokeshire were true, but not quite in the way supposed.

The late and much-missed Vernon Scott wrote in his book An Experience Shared: “Had residents been told on the first day of the fourth month of 1944 that the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D Eisenhower, was in Pembroke Dock, they would have surely dismissed it as an April Fool leg pull. But America’s top soldier in the European Theatre of Operations, really was in the area.”

Eisenhower came to west Wales to inspect the men of the 110th Infantry Regiment, at that time based at Llanion Barracks in Pembroke Dock.

By April 1944, the Regiment was going through last-minute training for the Normandy landings and push for victory.

The Supreme Commander Allied Forces’ visit came as a surprise to the GIs stationed in the County. ‘Ike’ arrived in secrecy at Tenby and was whisked to Pembroke Dock in a staff car kitted out with miniature stars and stripes for the occasion.

The GIs called Pembroke Dock ‘Blitz Ville’, surprised at the extent of the bomb damage in such a small town on the far fringes of Wales.

Pembrokeshire wears its battle-scars proudly, from the huge castles built hundreds of years ago to suppress the native Welsh, to the fuel depots, RAF airfields and anti-aircraft gun bases that were literally thrown up around the county to help protect Great Britain from the power of the Nazi war machine.

The south of the county bore the brunt of Hitler’s wrath. On August 19, 1940, a fuel depot at Llanreath, Pembroke Dock, was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The resulting fire spewed thick, black, oily smoke into the blue skies of Pembrokeshire for 18 days.

The dense plume of smoke could be seen from as far away as the North Devon coast and the fire claimed the lives of 5 Cardiff-based firemen who had been sent down to help deal with the raging inferno as an estimated 100,000 gallons of oil burned.

600 German prisoners of war were also imprisoned in Pembrokeshire during the conflict, with many being placed at local farms to plough, plant and help the Allied war effort ‘dig for victory’.

Looking around today, it’s hard to imagine the full military might of the Allies being put through their paces on our beaches, but our county’s role as a staging area for the biggest naval landing in human history cannot be underestimated

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Tenby left ‘strewn with rubbish and smelling of urine’ after hundreds party

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TENBY was left with empty cans, broken bottles and fast food wrappers strewn everywhere, after over two hundred young people gathered to enjoy the weekend – perhaps expected whilst pubs remained closed.
Licensed establishment have not yet been able to open in Wales, but they are open in England for outdoor refreshments.

There were reports of young people walking through the town with boxes full of alcohol on Saturday night (Apr 17), with other people buying takeaway drinks from licensed premises before making their way to the harbour.
The sheer number of people meant people were urinating in the streets, some residents told The Pembrokeshire Herald.

Unlawful gathering: Party in full swing in Tenby as pubs remain closed (Image: Pure West Radio)

Facebook comments from people concerned included Larry Lambert who said: “Most of these are probably around my age, have some respect for the place, you all wouldn’t like it if this happened outside your house and left all the rubbish for you to wake up to, disrespectful!”

Kyle Scourfield said : “Aw guys. We’re literally on the track where we can see light at the end of the tunnel, don’t ruin it now. More importantly, pick up your rubbish and look after our coast. I’m bloody dying for the nightclubs so seriously, take it down a notch!”

Danny Wilson who took the below photo said on social media: “This [photo was taken] after nearly two hours of cleaning up. Completely blame the government for this if pubs were open there would be next to no take outs and 20 odd doormen keeping an eye on things every weekend, but that’s no excuse to act like absolute savages with zero respect for anything.

“I’ve never seen as much broken glass like there was today! Definitely give the harbour and castle hill a swerve for a couple of days if you’ve got kids or dogs.”

Tenby on Sunday morning (Apr 18) (Image: Facebook/Danny Wilson)

Pembrokeshire County Council operatives have been working since earlier this morning to remove rubbish in various locations in the town, including piles of bottles and other litter under picnic tables at the harbour.
The Tenby Observer has reported that in correspondence sent to Pembrokeshire County Council’s licensing department, county councillor for Tenby’s North ward Clr. Michael Williams said: “From as early as late afternoon, the situation at the harbour has become threatening with residents feeling unsafe due to the considerable numbers of individuals in the area consuming large quantities of alcohol.

“Police Officers appear to be overwhelmed by the numbers and are unable to take the necessary firm action to disperse a crowd that I estimated to be about 200. These kind of events are becoming a regular occurrence and action must be taken to address it.

“We appear to have taken several steps backwards to where we were a number of years ago when Tenby was becoming regarded as party central for groups of stag and hen events.

“Certain parts of the harbour estate are being used as a public urinal causing distress to families attempting to lawfully use the area.”

One local, who did not wish to me named said: “The police operation last week, which was widely publicised, seems to have failed miserably.

“Instead of going out last week when police were out in force, the youth of south Pembrokeshire seem to have waited until this weekend and have partied twice as hard.

“I understand that resouces are stratched but where were the police this weekend?

“Something needs to be done, we don’t want a third wave.”

Over the Easter bank holiday officers seized alcohol from young people, moved them on and prevented clashes between groups from escalating.

Speaking just ten days ago Sgt Stuart Wheeler said that there was concern from the Tenby community and that police were ‘keen to avoid a repeat of this behaviour’.

“This type of behaviour is distressing for people living and working in Tenby,” he said.

“We understand that the past few months have been difficult, and that children want to see their friends, but remember that only six people from two households can meet outdoors still.

“Please do your best to ensure your children are adhering to regulations that are in place for all our safety.”
The police have been contacted for an updated comment.

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Protest against ‘draconian’ Police and Crime Bill takes place in Haverfordwest

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A SECOND Kill the Bill protest took place in Haverfordwest on Saturday (Apr 17).

One of the organisers told  The Herald: “The new law will be an enormous piece of draconian legislation that includes significant expansion in police powers to curtail the right to protest. The right to peacefully assemble and protest are a fundamental part of any democracy; empowering people to have their voices heard, in addition to holding the Government to account. These rights are universal –they protect peaceful and legitimate protest whatever the cause.“The events at the Clapham vigil and at demonstrations over the last few weeks are a dangerous indication of what the future of protest will look like if the police powers bill gets through parliament.”

A local campaigner, a mother and grandmother said “We are in the process of losing a fundamental part of our democracy, It is important we protect it for future generations. We have messed up so much of their future already-we need to hold the Government to account”.

Aspects of the Bill include:

  • The power for Police forces to shut down protests that they deem too disruptive at their own discretion.
  • Up to a 10-year sentence for demonstrators considered to be causing a “public nuisance”.
  • The power for police forces to impose start and end times on static protests of any size.
  • The power to expand stop and search powers, which already discriminate against marginalised communities. If you live in the Dyfed Powys police area, you are 5 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than white.
  • Up to 10-year sentences for damage to public monuments’ Police powers will be expanded and custodial sentences increased to “protect” women.
  • These measures are not sufficient to prevent violence and are troubling, considering some police officers’ involvement in cases of violence against women. Significant restrictions on where protests around Parliament may take place.
  • The elevation of trespass from a civil offence to a criminal offence, meaning police and courts can give harsh sentences to Travellers.
  • Increased power of police to seize vehicles and homes from Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and demanding proof of permission to travel.
  • The bill will criminalise a way of life for these communities.

Some of the proposals in the new bill which is the subject of the protest include putting start and finish times on protests, as well as noise limits. The bill also says damage to memorials could lead to up to 10 years in prison. The bill could also expand stop-and-search powers and includes an offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance,” which is designed to stop people occupying public spaces and doing things like hanging off bridges or gluing themselves to windows.

The bill will be reintroduced to Parliament after the Queen’s Speech, according to the Home Office, with Commons Committee Stage expected to be completed by 24 June.

“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill delivers on the government’s commitment to crack down on crime and build safer communities,” a Home Office spokesperson says. “We are equipping the police with the tools they need to stop violent criminals in their tracks.” They add that the bill “enshrines our commitment to those brave officers who put themselves in danger to keep rest of us safe into law”.

One protestor told Herald.Wales: “People are getting more angry and more frustrated and they feel like their issues are not being dealt with – but are rather just simply being cracked down on.

“And that is the wrong approach. People are still going to take to the streets and be even more passionate.”

Haverfordwest Kill the Bill protest 2021

Protests – a senior police officer’s view

A police boss who describes himself as an “experienced protester” says a report on how protests are policed is one sided, illiberal and undermines civil and political rights.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones is so concerned that he has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel to complain about it.

The UK Government used the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS),“Getting the balance right?, when they were drafting the controversial Police, Crime,  Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Arfon Jones, the new North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner at Police HQ in Colwyn Bay.

According to the inspectors, the balance had tipped too heavily in favour of protesters.

The legislation will give the police powers to set start and end times for static protests and stop protests if they are judged to be too noisy or too “disruptive”.

Protesters face fines of up to £2,500 and up to 10 years in jail if they are convicted.

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “Although equilibrium should be struck between individual rights to protest and the general interests of the community, I simply do not agree the balance tips too readily in favour of protestors.

“The recommendations in the report are one sided, illiberal and undermine civil and political rights and are not in the public interest.

“The new powers in the proposed act are not necessary and will prevent protest as we know today. The whole purpose of protest is to disrupt and to seek change.

“The police have enough powers to police protests and do not need more. I do not believe that HMICFRS have the balance right in this report and as an *experienced* protestor for the last 50 years the perception that police are favourable towards protestors rights is a fallacy.

“Policing protests has always been, and always will be, a tool of the state to control its citizens and I will have no truck with it.

“Automatic Facial Recognition in non-violent protests is a privacy intrusion and should not be used.

“Non-violent protests should be policed as events not as a public order exercise.

“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will afford new powers to officers to tackle protests, including measures aimed at static protests and a new offence of ‘intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance’, which is in part defined as causing ‘serious annoyance’ or ‘serious inconvenience’.

“In a democracy the right to protest sometimes means people are inconvenienced, such is the price of living in a society where voicing support for a cause of your choosing is permitted. “These proposals seek to whittle that right down to such a degree that any demonstration, large or small, may be heavily restricted or even curtailed altogether. The effect on free expression will be substantial.

“The report is short-term and politically driven. Policing should be very careful not to be drawn into the situation of being arbiters of which protests can go ahead and become stuck in the middle.

“The policing of industrial action in the 1970s reminds us that policing protests may cause long-term damage on the relationships between community and police.

“The United Kingdom and its people have been through a very difficult year, with exceptional Covid-19 restrictions coming to an end as the pandemic recedes. 

“This is a time for reflection and consideration, not a time to be rushing through poorly thought out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression.

“Such laws may shield ministers and corporations from public dissent, but who would wish to live in a society where such matters are guiding principles of legislation?”

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Approval recommended for dockyard plans

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A CONTROVERSIAL plan to develop part of Pembroke Dock’s Royal Dockyard comes before the County Council’s Planning Committee next week.

Despite many objections from heritage organisations, Council planning officers recommend the development’s approval.

However, the Planning Committee will only indicate whether it is ‘minded to approve’ the proposal instead of giving it the go-ahead.

The Welsh Government has called in the application for decision by the next Welsh Government minister responsible for planning and infrastructure developments.

That means the Welsh Government will consider the Report presented to the Committee and weigh it against the objections received.

HERITAGE ASSETS VERSUSECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The application is to develop a brownfield site within the former Royal Dockyard.

It seeks outline planning permission for the demolition or part demolition and infill of various buildings and structures, modification of existing slipways, erection of buildings and ancillary development. 

The development is intended for port-related activities, including the manufacture of marine energy devices, boat manufacture, repair and erection of plant.

The application is for outline planning permission. All matters relating to access, appearance, landscaping, layout, and scale are reserved for consideration as part of reserved matters applications. In practice, as many councils – including Pembrokeshire – have discovered, once outline planning is granted, reserved applications tend to proceed despite potential negative impacts.

A similar situation arose with Milford Haven Port Authority’s hotel development at Milford Marina, where councillors’ concerns were largely overruled by the existence of outline planning permission for the development.

Part of the proposal would see the former graving dock and timber pond infilled, the part demolition of existing slipways, and some buildings on site.

Both the graving dock and timber pond are Grade II listed. Buildings near the development are also listed, including the iconic Sunderland flying boat hangars.

The existing caisson gate currently in situ at the dock’s southern end would be removed and conserved. It is unique in Wales and a rare example. The planning report states that the caisson gate would remain within the marine environment without development and deteriorate. 

The development would include a new ‘super slipway’ built over the land extending into the River Cleddau and the construction of massive new industrial sheds to accommodate new marine technology.

JOBS AND THE CITY DEAL

The planning report claims the facilities erected will support anywhere between 288 and 975 full-time equivalent jobs in Pembrokeshire and make a substantial contribution to the local economy. However, the report also notes that the numbers of jobs claimed cannot be corroborated.

This proposal is linked to the establishment of the Marine Energy Test Areas (META), the Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence (MEECE) and the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone (PDZ). These collectively comprise the Pembroke Dock Marine (PDM) project. 

The project forms part of the Swansea Bay City Deal to facilitate the next generation of marine renewable energy technology.

Companies who could potentially gain from the development have signalled their support from the proposal.Although their enthusiasm is predictable, the economic potential for local businesses cannot be ignored.

DOCKYARD ESSENTIAL TO TOWN’S EXISTENCE

However, a raft of objections also exists.

The Council received representations from, among others: The Victorian Society; The Georgian Group; Hywel Dda University Health Board;  Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre; Pembrokeshire Historic Buildings Trust; Pembroke Civic Trust; Naval Dockyards Society; The Commodore Trust; Ridgway History Group.

Not all of those organisations objected to the principle of development. For example, Hywel Dda expressed concern about the potential effect on access to South Pembs Hospital and patient care. However, most criticised the impact on the historic environment of the Royal Dockyard. Individual objections also expressed the same concerns.

The Naval Dockyard Society points out that the Dockyard construction was the reason for Pembroke Dock’s creation as a town. Without it, the town would not exist.

The Society continues: ‘The proposed scheme would severely damage Pembroke Dock Conservation Area and crucial listed buildings. 

‘The Grade II* Graving Dock would be infilled and partially built over, the Grade II Timber Pond infilled and built over, and the Grade II Building Slips Nos 1 and 2 partially demolished and removed. It would also be detrimental to the adjacent Grade II Carr Jetty setting, which adds to the group value of these threatened structures at Pembroke Dockyard.

‘These structures are the last and most important features of the magnificent and unique assemblage of thirteen slips, graving dock and timber pond constructed and functioning 1809–1926. 

‘Pembroke Dock specialised in building warships during the transition from wood to iron and steel, sail to steam and turbines. 

‘While the eastern slips were sacrificed in 1979 for the Irish ferry terminal and the deep-water berth Quay 1, we now live in a more responsible era, when significant community assets merit planning protection.

‘The Royal Dockyard established at Pembroke Dock from 1809 was unique: the only one in Wales, the only one on the west coast of Britain, and the only one created solely as a shipbuilding facility. 

‘It built over 260 warships for the Royal Navy, including many of the most prestigious warships of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as five royal yachts. Many of these vessels were built on the two large slipways at the western end of the yard threatened by the current development proposal’.

THE COMMUNITY’S VIEW

William Gannon represents Pembroke Dock Town Council on the Milford Haven Port Authority. Mr Gannon recently hosted an online event that reviewed the application and gave local people the chance to express their views.

We asked him what the public had to say about the plans.

Listening to the community: David Gannon (photo credit: David Steel)

William Gannon told us: “The feeling of the Community following our Zoom Meeting was that we welcome the 1800 jobs and the £63 Million of investment that the Pembroke Dock Marine Project has promised. 

“However, the Community is concerned about the Pickling Pond and The Graving Dock’s loss, which will be buried beneath the new slipway. Both The Pickling Pond and The Graving Dock are Grade 2 Star listed heritage assets.

“The Community are also concerned about the size of the two ‘super sheds’ that may be built. It is felt that these sheds are both too large and ugly, and they will damage the appearance of the Dockyard and The Haven and could damage Pembroke Docks plans to develop Tourism in and around the Dockyard.

“Our Community is looking to strike a balance between the need to develop the Dockyard and to preserve our Heritage Assets. 

“We believe that we can do this by working with The Port to develop a solution that allows for both.”

The Port Authority plans to infill the dock and pond in such a way as to preserve the structures and excavate them in the future. Once they are built over, however, the circumstances that would be possible or even likely are unclear. 

The Port Authority also proposes to use digital media to provide an ‘augmented reality’ experience to show visitors what the Royal Dockyard looked like before its development.

The Port says that part of the land, the Carriage Drive, would be enhanced and restored under its plans for the site.
The balance between preserving heritage and creating future jobs in one of its pet project areas is one the Welsh Government will wrestle with on this application and others.

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