Graye sur Mer AVRE


Graye-sur Mer was in Mike sector of Juno beach. Defences on this sector were formidable with an extensive amount of barbed wire and mines. The proposed exit from the beach ran through marshy ground which had been flooded by damming the stream which flowed through it. The exit road crossed the stream at a small culvert which had been heavily cratered forming a 63ft gap. A large tank trap, 16 ft wide and 9 ft deep, had been dug in the centre of the exit. When the 26th Assault Squadron touched down, DD tanks (swimming tanks) were first on the beach together with the assaulting infantry. Their flail tanks started mine clearance operations up to the two exits, the main one and another 900 yards west of Courseulles. The latter soon accounted for one tank, having its track blown off in the mine field. Two others were damaged, blocking the entrance. The remaining tanks therefore concentrated on the main exit. An 8 ft fascine (bundle of logs) was dropped into the tank trap. Tanks then crossed the gap and worked their way up the main track avoiding waterlogged craters on the way. On the back of the dunes the tanks came under fire from mortars and machine guns from the cross-roads ahead on the main coast road. Not realising the size of the culvert crater Captain Hewitt ordered up a fascine tank to fill it. The driver, George Dunn, eased the tank forward on to what he thought was a patch of weeds as wind blown sand covered the water in the crater. The front of the tank dipped and then he saw water through the weeds and started to slide. He stopped the tracks but the tank fell, the daylight through the visor was cut off and the vehicle stopped. Water poured on top of him but somebody pulled him out and laid him on the turret which was only just above the water. The crew of six managed to get out but three were severely wounded by mortar fire before they could reach the cover of the dunes. The surviving three were evacuated to the UK that Afternoon. The SBG bridges carried by the AVRE tanks were only thirty feet long.  A bridge was laid to rest on the tank and more fascines dumped into the water ahead. Troops brought up logs from the beach and at 9.15, an hour and a quarter after the troops landed, the first tanks and infantry crossed the bridge and rushed the houses at the cross-roads from which machine guns and mortars had been firing all the time. Six tanks had crossed the bridge when it started to slide off the sunken AVRE. Traffic was then stopped whilst the bridge was secured. Four more tanks got across until a Sherman became bogged. This was towed out and more logs brought up. The driver of the first self-propelled gun to cross the bridge misjudged the distance and bellied himself in such a way that the tracks turned on thin air. Three bulldozers tried to get him off but failed and two AVRE tanks had to be called up. During this time a horse and cart was obtained from a farmer and rubble brought up from ruined houses. Later on the crater and submerged tank were concreted over. Later still the tank was recovered and cosmetically restored and placed alongside the place it had been hidden for so many years.

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