Mapping out a vital part of D-Day history in Tetbury

1:09pm Sunday 1st June 2014

By Brendan McFadden

ON June 6, 1944, Operation Neptune marked the beginning of the invasion of German occupied Europe by the Allied Forces under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Second World War invasion on the Normandy coast of France became commonly known as D-Day, and was the largest amphibious assault ever executed, involving five army divisions supported by over 7,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft.

It is a little known fact that American regiment, the 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, which was based in Tetbury, had a key role in the success of the invasion, which was a major turning point of the war.

As part of a top secret project, the Tetbury-based troops devised a 3D map of Omaha Beach which became a vitally important tool used to capture the beach and move inland.

Tetbury historian, Merlin Fraser has researched the work of the 300-man regiment, uncovering how they produced eight million ordinance maps, which helped American troops plot their route to Germany following D-Day.

Merlin is documenting his findings in a book called the Americans in Tetbury and together with Tetbury Town Council he has worked to install a plaque in the town to commemorate both the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the GI’s work in the town.

“In the grand scheme of all things historical what happened in the small Cotswold market town of Tetbury during the six months prior to those landings paled into obscurity overshadowed by the true horrors of war and what happened on those beaches that day,” Merlin said.

“The American soldiers stationed here were not front line troops and they were not part of that first day, however the work they did was of vital importance to the preparation, planning and execution of both Operation Neptune and Overlord.

“In a nutshell I guess you could say that these troops were part of the ‘Back Room Boys’ of Military Intelligence.”

The plaque, in the north-east corner of the Chipping car park, will look towards the old Malt House, where the 3D model of Omaha was created. It is being unveiled on Friday, June 6 at 11am by Tetbury mayor Sandra Ball.

The battalion was split into three sections. Company A, was based in and around the town, including the Old Malt House and was responsible for turning aerial reconnaissance into maps.

Company B was based at nearby Chavenage House. and printed the maps. Headquarters and the battalion’s officers were also based there.

In total, 75,215 British and Canadian troops and 57,500 US troops stormed the beaches on D-Day. with 23,400 landing from air by parachute or glider.

After the Normandy Beaches success, the 654th Battalion followed the army across Europe, taking their survey, mapping and printing skills with them. Merlin explained: “Omaha was the kick-off point but the maps were basically used for any theatre as they advanced." They resurveyed the area as they were advancing.”

For details of the ceremony or of the Americans in Tetbury, contact Merlin via email at merlinfraser123@aol.com

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