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D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

Two brothers, Charles and Elliot Dalton, fought side-by-side on the morning of June 6, 1944, leading the Juno Beach landings.

By
Giles Milton,
Episode #83
Juno Beach Landings, June 6, 1944

"Move! Fast! Don’t stop for anything. Go! Go! Go!"

All five beach landings on D-Day were extremely dangerous, but Juno Beach presented an additional hazard. Unlike Utah and Omaha, the men would be coming ashore in a town, Bernières, and would almost certainly have to fight their way through heavily defended streets—house-to-house combat in which every door might be booby-trapped and every attic conceal a sniper.

One of Charles Dalton’s men, Charlie Martin, was praying that Allied bombers would knock out the German shore defenses, but when he peered over the ramp of his landing craft, he was alarmed to see "a formidable 15-foot wall with three large heavy cement pill-boxes." Worse still, "the entire beach was open to murderous fire," with machine guns positioned in such a way as to cover every inch of foreshore.

As they neared the shore, there was no time to reflect on these dangers. The first landing craft were already entering the coastal shallows and they soon scrunched into the gravel and came to a halt in a few inches of water.

"Down ramp."

"Move! Fast! Don’t stop for anything. Go! Go! Go!" 

Charles Dalton’s B Company faced a tough reception. "Follow me!" yelled Dalton, only to disappear in 12 feet of water. By the time he had made it ashore, most of his men had been hit.

One of his men, young Doug Hester, watched three of his comrades jump off the ramp into knee-deep water. All were gunned down in an instant. Hester found himself jumping into seawater that was frothing and pink, colored by "their rising blood."

He surged forward under fire and caught up with his friend, John ‘Gibby’ Gibson, just as a burst went through Gibby’s backpack.

"That was close, Dougie," he said with a grin.

The next burst killed him. "He fell down spread-eagled in front of me."

When Charles Dalton glanced back towards the sea, he saw that most of his men were lying on the sand. "I thought they’d gone to ground for cover, then realized they’d been hit."

Dalton had by now reached his objective, an enemy pillbox. But when he fired his Sten gun through the aperture, he was met by the bullet of a 9mm German revolver. The bullet went straight through his helmet, tracing the outline of his skull and peeling back his scalp, but mercifully avoiding his brain. It sent a cascade of blood down his face. Weakened by the wound, Dalton urged his surviving men to knock out the seafront pillboxes and press on into Bernières.

"We kicked in the door, tossed in a grenade, charged in quickly, guns blazing, while the defenders were stunned."

Charles Dalton had so far received no news from his brother’s company. He had no idea if young Elliot was still alive. In fact, Elliot Dalton’s men had experienced a somewhat less chaotic landing, although they had nevertheless come under heavy fire from the German machine guns.

One of his lads, Charlie Martin, had pitched himself forwards from the landing craft, only to see his three friends, Hugh ‘Rocky’ Rocks, George Dalzell, and Gil May, cut down by bullets.

One of the landing craft took a particularly cruel hit, with 28 of the 35 men gunned down on the beach. But Elliot Dalton himself survived the run-in and now rallied the survivors at the sea wall, encouraging them to attack the concrete pillboxes.

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