D-Day at 75: The Guns of the Allies at Normandy (PHOTOS)

British troops D Day Enfields

About half of the Allies that hit the beaches and landing zones in Normandy on D-Day were American, while the British and Canadians made up the other half. (Photo: British National Army Museum)

Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944, along the French coast of Normandy during World War II was very much an Allied operation, and the guns they carried were varied and interesting.

While the Americans were detailed to hit two of the five invasion beachheads– Omaha and Utah— their British and Canadian allies were tasked with taking out three beaches of their own– Gold, Juno, and Sword. For both Commonwealth allies, the primary infantry rifle was the Lee-Enfield .303.

Canadians boarding a troopship for Normandy June 1944 CWM Enfields

Canadians boarding a troopship for Normandy, June 5, 1944. Note their No. 4 Enfields, complete with breech covers to aid in keeping sand and mud out. Of note to sci-fi nerds, among the Canadians on Juno that day was James Doohan, who later went on to portray “Scotty” in Star Trek. On D-Day he caught a six bullets from a machine gun and lived to tell the tale. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

First introduced in 1907, the original version of this bolt-action classic was the Short Magazine Lee–Enfield Mk III, or just plain old SMLE MK III. When mounting a giant 22-inch Pattern 1907 sword bayonet, this was the rifle that the British Army first took to France in the Great War to fight the Kaiser. Using a 10-round detachable box magazine that typically was never detached, British military doctrine of “Ten Rounds Rapid” delivered by a trained body of infantry could lay down an often deceptively large and effective volume of fire when arrayed against Mauser 98-armed opponents.

No 1 MK111 SMLE

This beautiful BSA-produced SMLE MKIII (in the 1920s reclassified as Rifle No. 1 Mk III) up for grabs in our Vault dates to 1911. This rifle design, in slightly modified format, was still carried by the British and Canadians in WWII. These rifles originally cost around £3 or about $15 to make in 1907.

While many British Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, continued using the SMLE Mk III pattern rifles through the 1950s when they were replaced by the inch-pattern semi-auto FN FAL, Canada, and Great Britain in 1943 moved to an updated version of the Lee Enfield, the Number 4 Mk I. This rifle ditched the “hog nose” front cap of the older rifle, switched out the sights and used a stronger action that had the side benefit of being faster to make.

No.4 Mk I Long Branch Rifles Canadian c

This Canadian-made Long Branch arsenal No. 4 Mk. I in our Vault has had its rear sight replaced in later years by an aftermarket Weaver scope mount, however, the rest of the rifle is largely correct for WWII– including rack marks on the stock. The Canadians still use this series Enfield in their Army’s Ranger program in the country’s remote polar regions, although it is finally being phased out by new Sako C-19s in .308.

Besides the Enfields of various makes, both the British and Canadians were seriously augmented with submachine guns in assorted flavors. The M1928 Auto-Ordnance Thompson SMG in .45ACP had been provided as Lend-Lease from the States early in the war.

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Division move inland from Sword Beach on the Normandy coast, 6 June 1944 Thompson SMG Enfield 303

British Royal Marine Commandos move inland from Sword Beach on D-Day. Note the Enfields as well as the M1928 Thompson in the hands of the fourth man in the column. Along with the British on Sword were also 177 Free French Marine Commandos, equipped as these special operations troops with a mix of British and Lend-Lease gear. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

In addition, the much simpler STEN sub gun, which fired at 500-600 rounds per minute from an open bolt, was more commonly issued to sergeants, paratroopers, and specialists.

British 6th Airborne Division guarding a road junction near Ranville, 7 June 1944. Each is armed with a Mk V Sten submachine gun. Horsa gliders can be seen in the background. IWM 262357

Easy to mass produce, over 4 million STENs were cranked out during WWII. The 9mm burp gun was a simple blow-back design that used a 32-round box magazine that inserted horizontally. the STEN Mk V, seen in the above image of British 6th Airborne Division paratroopers in Normandy on June 7, 1944, was the more refined version of the gun that included wooden furniture. British and Canadian paras jumped with a STEN and seven magazines. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

Another sub gun used by both the British and Canadians at Juno, Gold and Sword was the Lanchester Mk. I, an unlicensed copy of the German MP28/II. These were issued to naval personnel working the beaches themselves. Chambered in 9mm, these 10-pound SMGs were made by Sterling and accepted the Enfield sword bayonet. (Photo: Canadian War Memorial)

Another sub gun used by both the British and Canadians at Juno, Gold and Sword was the Lanchester Mk. I, an unlicensed copy of the German MP28/II. These were issued to naval personnel working the beaches themselves. Chambered in 9mm, these 10-pound SMGs were made by Sterling and accepted the Enfield sword bayonet. (Photo: Canadian War Memorial)

In the rare color footage from the Imperial War Museum, below, you can see British troops coming ashore in a second wave at Normandy equipped with No. 4 Enfields, early pattern STEN guns and BREN light machine guns.

When it came to handguns, the British and Canadians had a difference of opinion. The Brits went for a pair of break-top 6-shot revolvers, chambered in .38/200, which is comparable to .38 S&W.

Enfield clasp knife Bren accessories Eger

The Enfield No. 2 was easy shooting due to its heavy weight and anemic round. This example, an Mk2 “Tanker” variant shown with a Pattern 37 holster, 1943 British Army clasp knife and BREN gun accessory tin, was DAO while the standard Mk1 was DA/SA and included a hammer spur. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

The other British revolver used at D-Day and throughout WWII was the Webley Mk IV .38/200. With more than 500,000 of these produced by Birmingham-based Webley & Scott, they were the most common British wheel gun of the conflict.

Webley Mk VI 38

This Webley Mk IV from the Guns.com Vault is ready to add to the collector’s armory.

As for the Canadians, while they went along with the Brits on rifle and SMG choices, they broke with London and looked to America for their revolvers. Having purchased Colt 1911 .45ACPs and Smith & Wesson 2nd Model Hand Ejector wheel guns in .455 during WWI, in 1939 Ottawa selected the Smith & Wesson Military & Police series in .38S&W as their primary handgun, eventually buying nearly 120,000 of them.

S&W M&P Model 10

The Canadians bought Victory series Smiths, which were later known as M&Ps, chambered in .38S&W, which allowed them to use the British .38/200 cartridges as well. Smith later updated the M&P after the war as their Model 10, like this iconic six-shooter we have in the Vault.

One thing the Brits and Canucks could agree on when it came to handguns was the Browning Hi-Power. Made during the war by the John Inglis Company of Toronto with a little help from Belgian exiles, the so-called Browning-Inglis was produced in quantity, with over 150,000 made. The Canadians and British each took about a third while others went to Allies such as China. As a D-Day legacy, Canada still issues these WWII-era guns to their military today.

In all, across the British and Canadian sector, some 83,000 troops landed on Gold, Juno, and Sword while another 8,000 went in with the airborne troops, making up about half the Allies in Normandy on June 6. Allied casualties on the first day of Operation Overlord numbered over 10,000.

For more information on the British and Canadian efforts on D-Day, visit Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian War Museum, Imperial War Museum, and National Army Museum.

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