Site of D-Day landings exercise, near Pendine

Site of D-Day landings exercise, Morfa Bychan, near Pendine

A major exercise to prepare the armed forces for the D-Day landings was carried out here. At the western end of the beach you can see two concrete gun posts known as “pillboxes”, built earlier in the Second World War as part of the defences against a German invasion.

Before the Allies attempted to land on the Normandy beaches in June 1944, it was imperative that they practised landing troops and supplies from the sea. One exercise took place on these beaches in July 1943 and was codenamed Exercise Jantzen. It was primarily to rehearse the unloading of coasters after the beachhead had been secured. For the purpose of this exercise, it was assumed that the coast was already secure.

Ships were loaded with thousands of tonnes of supplies and military equipment and set sail from Tenby, Swansea and Port Talbot, destined for the Carmarthenshire coast. As on D-Day itself, the beaches in the Morfa Bychan area were sub-divided into sectors. Over the 13-day period that the exercise took place, 16,230 tonnes of supplies were brought ashore. That may seem a lot, but it was significantly less than the 23,400 tonnes target.

The Allies learnt a great deal from Exercise Jantzen, including many of the shortcomings of unloading equipment from beached ships and barges. The failings may have proved to the military authorities that the most efficient way of unloading troops and equipment at a secured beachhead was to build an artificial harbour. Ultimately, this is what happened at Normandy with the building of Port Winston at Arromanches. Parts for this ‘Mulberry’ harbour were piloted in Conwy and built at sites around Britain.

According to local folklore, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was one of the interested spectators who witnessed Exercise Jantzen and he drank tea at a local hostelry.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes and Jason Lawday