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Russell, Leslie

Town : Newport
Regiment : lst East Riding Yeomanry
Landed in Normandy : Sword Beach, June 6
Les Russell, of Newport, was a 21-year-old gunner/mechanic in a DD amphibious Sherman tank when he landed on Sword Beach with the lst East Riding Yeomanry. They were part of 27th Armoured Brigade, the first armoured unit to land on Sword Beach on D-Day. "As we approached the beach we came under heavy fire from coastal batteries at Le Havre. As soon as the ramp was lowered it was my job to operate the pedal to inflate the collapsible canvas screen to enable the tank to float ashore. "Some of the DD tanks sank as soon as they entered the water because their floats were punctured by enemy fire." Les learned later that among the tank crews who drowned were some of his best pals. As the tanks climbed up the beach tank crews and infantry suffered heavy losses in the face of strong German resistance. "But the rigorous training we had undergone before the operation proved its worth and we acted almost mechanically." Once clear of the beach Lesís unit stopped on the edge of a cornfield, They had established a bridgehead but the unit had lost six tanks and 26 lives during those first few hours of D-Day. Within 24 hours the enemy mounted a counter attack with 21st Panzer Division. Lesís tank was hit and knocked off the road, landing on its side in a ditch. "The driver and myself crawled out through the escape hatch in the floor and made our way along the ditch through bushes. We lay there for six or seven hours. By nightfall our troops had pushed the Germans back. We were rescued by our infantry and taken back to a field hospital on the beachhead. Apart from a few cuts and bruises we were OK and back with our regiment after 24 hours.Ē Fighting all the way in support of the Seaforths and Camerons of the 51st Highland Division they eventually took part in the assault on Le Havre which fell to the Allies on September 12th. The end of the war in Europe found Les with his unit at Kiel. On leaving the army he returned home to the Isle of Wight to resume his trade as a plumber. He went on to hold a number of offices in public life before his death in 2007.
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