(Not So) Legal History: Lawyers Storming the Beaches of Normandy
As the calendar approaches June, yet another anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy is upon us. June 6, 2020, marks 76 years since "D-Day," which saw the largest seaborne invasion in history as more than 150,000 Allied troops landed across five beaches on the French coast. The operation’s success has been recognized for laying the foundation for Allied victory on the Western Front.
Of course, it is an appropriate time to respectfully honor those who bravely served and reflect on the enduring lesson: a reminder of the moral strength and awesome power that can flow when a free people are at once united and bonded together in a common and just cause. (Learn more about D-Day operations generally here)
However, that is not the purpose of this blog entry. Here, I’d like to share an interesting bit of little-known history about a group of British lawyers who took part in the D-Day landings.
Known formally as the Inns of Court Regiment, these full-time lawyers volunteered as reservists in the British Army and were called to active duty following the outbreak of war. The origin of these solicitor-soldiers dates back to the 16th century, earning their nickname “The Devil’s Own” from King George III in 1803.
The story goes that His Majesty, upon learning of the composition of the corps exclaimed, "All lawyers? All lawyers? Call them the Devil's Own, call them the Devil's Own!" King George apparently had a dislike for lawyers—particularly ones carrying arms. So, “The Devil’s Own” nickname stuck and was even embraced by the regiment that served through World War II.
In the early stages of the war, the lawyer-regiment was assigned to carry out reconnaissance duties while assembled as armored car squads. The lawyers’ missions typically required them to advance ahead of the main attacking force to locate the enemy and opposing obstacles; then, it reported all information promptly, securely, and accurately. This recon role was highly hazardous, often requiring detachments to act independently and far away from support.
As D-Day drew close, the regiment’s C-Squadron was selected to take part in the initial D-Day assault, scheduled to land with the 3rd Canadian Division as it led the attack on Juno Beach. Finally, on June 6, 1944, the lawyers of C-Squadron landed on the beach—within two hours of the landings, they were operating the first wheeled vehicles of the invasion, racing to get ahead of the established Allied beachhead.
Their mission required them to penetrate deep into enemy territory without support, destroying a number of bridges with the overall goal to prevent German forces, including its fearsome Panzer (tank) Divisions, from arriving. Unfortunately, German opposition was far stronger than had been anticipated, and by the fourth day, the survivors of C-Squadron had to be withdrawn. Despite that failure and the significant losses suffered—in both men and equipment—the lawyers of C-Squadron had covered more ground than any other Allied recon unit in those initial stages of the invasion, even capturing a German Colonel along the way.
Throughout the rest of the war, C-Squadron and other groups of the lawyer-regiment continued to assist the main attacking forces as they liberated cities throughout France and Western Europe. By the conclusion of World War II, "The Devils Own" had advanced some 1,200 miles from the beaches of Normandy, and several members were awarded for their bravery.
Much of the information in this article was derived from a short YouTube video about the story of “The Devil’s Own.” The video can be found by clicking here.