Irish D-Day veteran remembers fateful day 70 years on

Michael d’Alton (93) said he signed up to Royal Navy to stop ‘awful German monster’

Michael d’Alton (93) recalls landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Video: Ronan McGreevy

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 01:00

Ireland was neutral in the second World War, but neutrality did not extend to the tens of thousands of Irish people who joined the Allied cause.

One of them was Sub-Lieutenant Michael d’Alton who joined the Royal Navy in 1942. Now 93, he is an Irish veteran of the D-Day landings - a participant and eyewitness to that momentous day, June 6th, 1944, when the fate of Europe hung in the balance.

D’Alton was second-in-command of a landing craft tank (LCT), the workhorse of the Royal Navy. It was bound for Omaha Beach on D-Day with a cargo of six Sherman tanks.

He still lives near where he was brought up in Dalkey. He was born in April 1921, making him older than the State.

His family had a history of service in the British armed forces. His father was shot in the leg during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in the first World War, a campaign which provided an object lesson in how not to run an amphibious operation. His brother was also in the Royal Navy and his sister was in the Women’s Auxillary Air Force (WAF).

His reasons for joining the Royal Navy shortly after he graduated as a quantity surveyor, were clear.

“I thought it was absolutely intolerable that Hitler was going to conquer Europe. I wanted to try and stop that awful German monster.”

He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the navy. Two years after he began his training, d’Alton found himself part of the greatest armada in history. His LCT was half way across the English Channel when it was called back following the postponement of D-Day for 24 hours.

They then set sail again for the Normandy coast. The number of craft, he remembered, was “absolutely unbelievable”. The slightest lapse in concentration could lead to a collision.

The landings at Omaha Beach inspired the opening sequence of the film Saving Private Ryan. It was based on the experience of the first companies of American soldiers who tried to take the heavily-fortified Dog Green sector of the beach.

They were subjected to murderous machine gun fire. Hundreds died before they even reached the beach at 6.30am during the first invasion wave.

Mr d’Alton remembers they landed around “11ish”. Five hours in the context of a bloody battle is an eternity. His LCT had been waiting, impatiently in the case of its commanding officer, offshore for hours to land.

“After some hours there, he suddenly declared,‘we’re going in’,” Mr d’Alton said. “The commander of the tank said ‘I can’t go ashore if no one else is going’. He (the commanding officer) showed a flash of his true form. ‘You’ll bloody well go ashore or I’ll shoot you’ and the tank commander looked disconcerted and went back to the tanks.”

Mr d’Alton eventually got off the landing craft to find a gap to come ashore. After he did, they dropped anchor and he attempted to open the bow door of the landing craft. His D-Day was nearly over before it began. He struggled to open the door until he realised it was sitting on top of a highly-explosive Teller mine. They backed off and found a safer place to anchor. He confessed to being “too preoccupied” to be scared.