Sixty-five years ago tomorrow, more than 5,000 Allied ships were involved in the invasion of Normandy during the Second World War.
Almost 200,000 navy personnel contributed to Operation Overlord on the French beaches – and Baildon navy man Ron Bairstow lived to tell the tale.
As a 20-year-old petty officer in the Royal Navy, Ron was stationed in Dartmouth. He and his crew were summoned to Devonport, further along the south coast, to prepare for an undisclosed special assignment.
It was not until his boat was halfway across the English Channel that Mr Bairstow, who was in charge of the engine room, was summoned to the deck by the commanding officer and briefed about the mission.
He said: “The skipper called me to the bridge and explained to me it was important to hold our position.”
At midnight, about three miles from Utah beach, the boat waited beneath a canopy of stars as British, US and Canadian troops parachuted ashore ahead of the amphibious invasion a few hours later.
“We had to silence the engine without any lights and be ready for orders to adjust our position at any moment,” said Ron, now 85. “We were within gun range of the Germans’ battery positions and were in constant radio contact with the planes. We were there all night.”
He said the mood on the boat, which was also carrying about 20 American officers, was tense. With 6,000 gallons of high-octane fuel on board, any unwanted attention from the Germans could have proved catastrophic. “It felt like we were sitting ducks. At any moment the enemy could have picked us up on their radar and we could have been shelled.”
The crew was tasked with positioning itself close and unnoticed near the Normandy coastline to act as a last communications outpost for the advancing planes ahead of their drops.
Just five or six hours later, with the crew’s assignment complete, thousands of Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy. Historians estimate that more than 4,400 Allied servicemen died during the operation, and as many as 9,000 Germans.
The Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor John Godward, is leading a Veterans’ Weekend celebration in Centenary Square later this month, in tribute to servicemen who have served their country.
The family event will welcome war veterans of all ages and from all areas of the British armed forces.
It gets under way at 10am on Saturday, June 27, until 6pm and the following day, from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free.
For more information, visit bradford.gov.uk/veterans.