Brancaster Beach and the D-Day Landings

Brancaster Beach

On Tuesday, 6 June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II occurred and saw the largest land, air and naval invasion in history. It began the liberation of German-occupied France and saw the eventual Allied victory on the Western Front. In the run up to the event, the hunt was on for a beach that matched that of the beaches on the Normandy Coast. Brancaster Beach was one such beach and played a vital role in preparing for the landings.

Brancaster Beach has an interesting Second World War history and was fortified from 1940s onwards. Its long expanse of sandy beach meant it was an excellent landing ground and so it was identified as requiring defence against enemy invasion throughout the war.

The area around Brancaster beach was used as a practice bombing range for the Royal Airforce and one of the targets can still be seen from the beach today; the wreck of the SS Vina, a cargo ship that operated on the Baltic trade routes before it was requisitioned for the war. 

In the run up to the D-Day landings, Brancaster Beach suddenly became vitally important to the success of Operation Overlord due to its similarity with the proposed landing beaches on the Normandy Coast.

Brancaster Beach
Brancaster Beach
Brancaster Beach

Brancaster Beach was used for training by Combined Operations Assault Pilotage Parties (COPP) whose task was to conduct a full and thorough survey to gain operational information that could assist with plans for the Normandy Invasion. This was often very dangerous work involving landing teams on the beach at night by canoe and the preparations for D-Day was by far their most challenging work. On D-Day itself the COPP were deployed ahead of the invading fleet to safely guide it in.

Doubts were expressed in the run up to D-Day about whether it was even possible to land the Allied amphibious tanks on the Normandy due to the soft sand. The sand at Brancaster Beach was found to be almost identical to the particular blue-grey sand on the proposed landing beaches so the 79th Armoured brigade immediately came to Brancaster to practice landing. The practise landings were a success showing that the tanks could be landed without difficulty removing any doubt.