1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles: Operation Overlord

1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles landed near Ranville on D-Day, 6th June 1944. There began a hard fought campaign throughout Normandy until September 1944.

On the evening of 6th June 1944, 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles landed in Normandy. Gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade came down at LZ-N close to the village of Ranville. From there, the Battalion deployed south of the bridgehead and so began a long campaign throughout Normandy.

The Battalion had been in secretive training at transit camps from 25th May 1944. A Company, F Company, and S Company were at RAF Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire. Battalion Headquarters and the other Companies occupied RAF Broadwell, Oxfordshire. Battalion reinforcements remained at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire. Cut off from the outside world, they prepared for the Invasion of Normandy.

Training of Airborne Troops in the UK

Imperial War Museum Photo: (CH 12964) (Part of the Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection). Airborne troops of the British Army's 6th Airlanding Brigade training in the United Kingdom during 1944 in preparation for the Invasion of Normandy. Copyright Royal Air Force Official Photographer.

Pre-Invasion Training

On 1st June 1944, a tragic training accident with a grenade caused the death of Lieutenant Seale and Sergeant Dwyer. Major Warner and several others sustained injuries. Major Rickcord took command of B Company from Warner. Lieutenant Hindon replaced the deceased Seale. There were no further hold-ups in 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles’ plans until 5th June when stormy weather postponed events by 24 hours.

Airborne Troops prepare for Normandy

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 39180) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Airborne troops of the British Army's 6th Airlanding Brigade make final preparations and enjoy some food and drink before taking off for Normandy in June 1944. Copyright Captain EG Malindine - War Office Photographer.

The Rifles on D-Day

6th June 1944 was D-Day. Riflemen of 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles departed from their respective airfields. There were no issues with gliders or with the Royal Air Force planes used to tug them across the English Channel. The ride in the gliders was bumpy but uneventful and fighter cover from the Royal Air Force ensured a safe journey towards France. At around 2045hrs, glider-borne troops could make out the coast of France, the River Orne, and the Caen Canal. Light flak burst in the air but made little impact on the gliders. At 2100hrs, the first glider touched down 6 minutes ahead of schedule.

The enemy fired flak and created obstacles in the shape of wooden poles driven into the ground across the Landing Zones. Despite these efforts, 1st Battalion landed smoothly and set about unloading and readying for battle. Unloading of gliders took longer than expected due to difficulties in removing the tail units. Using saws, axes, and other cutting tools, Riflemen removed the wooden tails and, as planned, gathered to the south of Ranville at 2230hrs. Remarkably, the Battalion sustained only a single casualty on D-Day. Rifleman John Woodburn died as a result of mortar fire in the Landing Zone aged 19 years old.

Airborne Troops board a Horsa Glider

Imperial War Museum Photo: (H 39178) (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Airborne troops of the British Army's 6th Airlanding Brigade admire their graffiti on the side of their Horsa Glider before taking off for Normandy in June 1944. Copyright Captain EG Malindine - War Office Photographer.

The initial plan for D-Day was to have an advance party including 1st Battalion Second in Command Major J. Drummond arrive on 5th June 1944. He would have received orders before the Battalion landed 24 hours later. His glider unfortunately made a forced landing at Worthing, West Sussex at 0300hrs. He eventually made it to Normandy along with the Battalion on D-Day and has the distinction of being one of the only men to take off for D-Day twice. With plans changed, it was Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel R.J.H. Carson who set forth for Brigade Headquarters to receive instruction.

The main of objective of 1st Battalion was to take the village of Sainte-Honorine. Along with high ground at Ring Contour 30 north of Sainte-Honorine, the village was also in enemy hands. Other Companies had secondary objectives. The role of D Company was to take the village of Longueval. Orders came through to The Rifles by 2345hrs and by 0200hrs, C Company under Major F.R.A. Hynds occupied Ring Contour 30. The enemy withdrew to Sainte-Honorine.

Gliders at LZ-N near Ranville, Normandy

Imperial War Museum Photo: (HU 92976) (Part of the Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection). Aerial photo from 800 feet showing some of the Horsa and Hamilcar Gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade at Landing Zone N near Ranville, Normandy after the D-Day Landings. Copyright Flight Lieutenant Kelly - 106 PR Group.

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRegimentInformation
WoodburnJohnRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles14663448

7th June 1944

Following C Company’s taking of the high ground on 7th June 1944, 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles proceeded as planned. The aim, to take and hold Sainte-Honorine and Longueval. Battalion support came from 1 Field Battery, 1 Light Battery, and from the sea the cruiser HMS Arethusa provided fire support.

C Company and Lieutenant H.R. Morgan’s Medium Machine Gun Platoon would remain on Hill 50. A detachment of C Company with mortars took position on Hill 30. The remaining Battalion mortars established position to the south of Ranville. At 0900hrs, the Battalion’s flanking attack on Longueval would begin with B Company on the right, and A Company and D Company on the left.

Back on Hill 30, C Company was in full view of the enemy based around 1,200 yards away at Sainte-Honorine. Positions occupied under darkness offered little shelter from heavy fire from mortars and self-propelled guns. The Commanding Officer could not reach HMS Arethusa by radio, and the Company sustained many casualties. Meanwhile, A Company, B Company, and D Company took the unoccupied Longueval with ease.

Leaving C Company to provide fire from Hill 30, the Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles decided to attack Sainte-Honorine. A Company under Major C.E. Vickery and B Company under Major G.P. Rickcord would launch the attack at 1100hrs. From 15 minutes before the attack, the Battalion would hit the forward edges of the area with mortar fire, before launching an artillery attack. The first stage went according to plan but the infantry assault never followed. There had been insufficient time to mobilise and prepare infantry companies and a new Zero Hour of 1215hrs was set.

There were communication difficulties between Battalion Headquarters and Hill 50. As a result, they only received news of the postponement at 1110hrs and the mortar fire had begun. By 1215hrs, as the infantry advance began, mortars and ammunition were running low. All the while, C Company continued to sustain casualties under heavy enemy fire. From Hill 30, the Company noted 7 enemy 75mm self-propelled guns moving east toward Sainte-Honorine. Believing them to be tanks, a message went to Battalion Headquarters but failed to reach them.

As A Company and B Company advanced on Sainte-Honorine, they came under heavy fire from these guns and other artillery. Despite a valiant attempt, Commanding Officers of the 2 Companies realised the attack could not succeed and fell back to Longueval. C Company also withdrew from the heavily attacked Hill 30, eventually joining the rest of the Battalion at Longueval.

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRegimentInformation
BarryPatrick EdmundLance Corporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7020645
BousteadJohn Derek AthelingLieutenant1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles155053
CoyleJohnSergeant1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7010278. From Ballyscullion, Co. Londonderry.
GlassSamuelRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7020032. From Belfast.
GodsavePercy AlexanderRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7045689
HalveyJoseph PatrickRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles14409065
HankeyThomasRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6409930
JeffersonNormanCorporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7013019. From Lisburn, Co. Antrim.
JohnsWilliam HenryRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7022700
LoweLeonardRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles14640325
MaguirePatrickRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7047994
McCaynaGeorgeCorporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7015140
McFarlandNormanRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6983599
McQuillanRobert HarperRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6985348
MerrellWalter RichardRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6104465
MooreWilliam JamesLance Corporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles14219689
MorganReginald NormanRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles176458. From Belfast.
NelsonJohn HenryRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6985185
O'BrienCharlesLance Corporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles5125850
O'ConnorPatrick JosephLance Corporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6409738
O'ReillyMichaelRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7047510
OliverJohn ChapmanRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7012565
ReillyJames Joseph VictorRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7012816
ShakespeareAlbertRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles14591203
StevensonRobert JamesRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7019933. From Carnmoney, Co. Antrim.
TestroLeslie GeorgeRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles14672347
TurnerWilfredRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7044822
WinfieldWilliamLance Corporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles4927999
WrayThomasRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles4462353
Samuel Glass

Samuel Glass

Rifleman | 7020032

Rifleman Samuel Glass of Belfast died on 7th June 1944, shot by a sniper after landing in Normandy with 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles the previous day.

Reginald Norman Morgan

Reginald Norman Morgan

Lieutenant | 176548

Lieutenant Reginald Norman Morgan served with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles and was last seen on 7th June 1944 during the Battle of Normandy.

8th June 1944

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRegimentInformation
AllenCharlesLance Sergeant1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7019670
GreerHenryLance Corporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles6985178. From Cookstown, Co. Tyrone.
MullinsPatrick JamesRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7019652. From Lisburn, Co. Antrim.
PayneEdward DanielRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7016562
RaynhamStewart RexCorporal1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7045517
StarrArthur LionelRifleman1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles7021234

Henry Greer

Lance Corporal | 6985178

Lance Corporal Henry Greer of Cookstown, Co. Tyrone died near Sainte-Honorine on 8th June 1944. He landed on D-Day with 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles.

Patrick James Mullins

Rifleman | 7019652

Rifleman Patrick James Mullins of Lisburn, Co. Antrim died on 8th June 1944, only 2 days after landing in Normandy with 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles.

1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles fought through from D-Day on 6th June 1944 until September 1944 as part of the Normandy Campaign.