Two brothers, Charles and Elliot Dalton, fought side-by-side on the morning of June 6, 1944, leading the Juno Beach landings.
Taking charge of a precarious situation, he led a small band of men along the rubble-strewn seafront towards a fin-de-siècle villa being used as a strongpoint. Three years of training now proved their worth.
"We kicked in the door, tossed in a grenade, charged in quickly, guns blazing, while the defenders were stunned." There was no time for taking prisoners: the men shot everything that moved.
One by one the shoreline pillboxes were silenced, enabling the bruised survivors to push forward into the streets of Bernières. They now embarked on the most dangerous form of warfare, fighting at close quarters and with danger lurking in every building.
"Crouching low," said one of the men, "with our Sten automatics at the immediate alert, we ventured a little further away from the protection of a burned out tank."
They hugged the low walls that surrounded the houses and pushed on into town. There was no sign of life: it was as if every civilian had fled. Only when the men of A Company attacked what they believed to be a German communications centre did they learn, to their astonishment, that Bernières was full of people.
"We opened fire and, with that, a big gold ball on the end of a flagpole started to come out of the basement window." The men kept on firing, assuming it to be a ruse, but next "an enormous French flag came out of the window." Elliot Dalton ordered his men to stop shooting. As he did so, "around 70 French people came out of the cellars with their hands up." Every one of them was a pensioner. Elliot found himself smiling, for the scene was darkly comic. "My chance for a VC went down the drain with attacking 70 elderly French people hiding in the basement."
His flight of good humor was to be abruptly shattered. A runner came to him with the dreadful news that his brother Charles had been killed. He had put up a stiff fight on the beach and displayed great bravery, but the German resistance had proved too strong. Charles had died of his wounds.
Elliot was devastated—it was a gut-wrenching loss—but this was no time to dwell on the tragedy. Men’s lives were at stake. He needed to lead. "While I grieved," he said, "I had a job to do and had to carry on." It was nonetheless a devastating blow. After a lifetime of competing with his brother, he had just won the most bitter of prizes.
To the lads fighting their way through Bernières, it felt as if they were engaged in a desperate guerrilla war in which there was no sense of order.
"Do not stop till you reach the objective. Otherwise, once you’re stopped, you are 90% defeated."
Each of the ten boatloads had become an independent fighting unit and none had connection with the other. Yet the two Daltons had done a magnificent job in training their men and Elliot’s order rang clear in the ears of all in A Company. "Do not stop till you reach the objective. Otherwise, once you’re stopped, you are 90% defeated."
And so forward they went, pushing ever deeper into the rubble-strewn streets of Bernières, amid burning houses and exploding shells. Huge numbers of men and machines were soon pouring into Bernières. The Queen’s Own Rifles were followed by one of the French- speaking regiments.
So many tanks were ploughing through the town that they were having problems maneuvering around the tight corners. Joe Wagar watched one tank "trying to negotiate a narrow turn in a street, tearing off the corner of a building and not stopping."
Elliot Dalton spent much of the morning fighting against stiff German resistance. "House fighting was harder than anticipated. They hung in there and were difficult to get out of the houses." But he and his men flushed through every building until the whole town had been liberated. Soon, they could begin the push inland.
Elliot would continue his fight for several more days, aware that he was doing it not only for himself but also in memory of his beloved brother. He would eventually be wounded and sent back to England to be hospitalized. When the nurse wheeled him to the bed marked “Major Dalton,” she noticed a patient already lying there with a sheet pulled over his head. She asked what he was doing there, prompting him to sit bolt upright and reply, "I’m Major Dalton." It was Elliot’s brother Charles: miraculously still alive, having survived the head wound he received on the beach.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Unknown History. In the next episode, we’ll be hearing the incredible story of William Petty’s Bastards—the toughest of Rangers whose task was to capture the big German guns at Pointe du Hoc.