In 1943, during World War II, the Allies started planning what would become the largest amphibious invasion in history. The plan was for a coastline invasion of Normandy in Northern France. That plan would become Operation Overlord, commencing with the Normandy Landings on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
In order to prepare for the invasion, Allied land forces joined British troops along the English coastline according to plan. But when the American land forces arrived, they were woefully untrained for a beach invasion.
Most of the English coastline was already occupied by British training facilities, but these special circumstances required their own specific training ground. Therefore, the Assault Training Center was created on Saunton Sands Beach on the North Devon coast, near Braunton, United Kingdom. The Assault Training Center would play a pivotal role in the D-Day invasion.
The Assault Training Center prepared the Americans, as well as other allied forces, for what they were about to undertake. At the new center, Allied forces learned the tactics and skills they would certainly need for this unique beach invasion.
The dunes and beaches around Braunton Burrows were used to simulate the French beaches. It was a blessing when they discovered that their training area turned out to have been just like Omaha Beach. Thus the Assault Training Center provided the crucial D-Day training necessary for Europe’s liberation.
The groups, First Wave 44 and The Friends of The Assault Training Center, sponsored the 75th anniversary of the founding of the center that took place on the first weekend of June. It was a weekend filled with both fun and reverence.
There were miles of World War II vehicles available and living-history displays from several groups. A few of the groups on hand were First Wave 44, the 2nd Devon’s Battalion, the 29th Infantry Division, and the 304 Panzer Grenadiers. Hundreds of living-history characters walked amongst and interacted with all that attended.
Children were treated to an interactive history trail by Tempus-Fugitive. Flybys included Austers Aircraft and the Dakota (substituting for the Spitfire). The owners of WWII jeeps, tanks, trucks and other wartime vehicles were available to meet and talk on Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday, participants were taken on a tour of all of the training areas of the center. The tour was followed by a memorial at one of the remaining concrete craft landing structures. It was a very solemn event evoking memories of those old enough to have them and challenging the imaginations of the young. After the event, a convoy of wartime vehicles paraded the beach in a dynamic demonstration. Patriotism and gratitude were the words of the day.
On Saturday evening, The Military Wives Choir provided music from the 1940s for a relaxing night in between all the action. This was a good time to see old friends and make new ones.
Sunday’s activities began with a beach obstacle demonstration by First Wave 44—lots of bangs and smoke—very cool! With their adrenalin already going, everybody loved the beach skirmish between US Army troops and German defenders. By then, they all got a real idea of how loud war is.
This is the fourth year in a row that the celebration has been held on Saunton Sands Beach. It has grown more popular every year, this year being the best and biggest of all. The Beer Tent and the Cinema Tent made sure that everybody had something to do come evening time. As always, they were also a big hit.
First Wave 44 is a WWII living history group that portrays the “US 146 Combat Engineers” and the US 29th Infantry Division in the South West of England. The Friends of The Assault Training Center is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the Assault Training Center in practical and historical matters through education. It is a gateway to information about the North Devon wartime story.
More photos from D-Day Devon 2018