UNDER the cover of darkness, all that could be heard was the sound of hundreds of ship engines droning on the water.

Royal Marine John Stansfield was just a teenager when Landing Craft Flak 24 set sail for Normandy from Southampton.

After sailing through the night, the ship anchored amid some 800 other warships poised for what would be documented as the largest naval, air and land operation in history.

The operation involving 156,000 Allied troops on June 6, 1944, will forever be remembered as D-Day.

John, 94, still holds a clear vision of the treacherous day from start to finish 75 years on - with moments he remembers with pride and others he wishes he could forget.

The war veteran, of Main Road, Dovercourt, had barely reached adulthood when his ship with a crew of 100 men reached Normandy.

He said: “I was just 17 at the time and did not know what was going on, and just did what I was told.

“As it got to June 4, we were anchored out from Southampton, and on the night of June 5 we set sail, but did not know where we were going.

“As we went out further and further into the night there were ships everywhere as far as the eye could see, and there was just the sound of engines in the air.

“The skies then filled with thousands of paratroopers above our heads, and I would not have missed that sight for the world.

“Being so young at the time, I found it all really exciting at first.”

But excitement turned to terror in the early hours of June 6 when John and his squadron had to bombard a beach with their guns to clear a passage for the landing troops.

When a passage was cleared, the Royal Marines climbed out of the boat with air support above to protect exposed troops getting to shore.

The memories of bloodshed and violence which came next, are still too difficult for John to talk about to this day.

He experienced sights which he wished never happened or could be erased from his mind.

But John remembers he was one of 13 Royal Marines who survived two mine explosions onboard his ship.

He said: “Two mines were planted on our ship by the opposition.

“Most of the crew were asleep and there were only 13 survivors of the explosion out of 100 Royal Marines.”

John was on an upper-deck of the vessel and remembers being flung into the sea fighting to reach the surface for breath.

“I was in the water and getting myself to the surface and saw the ship break in half,” he said.

The 94-year-old said during D-Day he lost many comrades who he had trained with over the years.

But he wanted to follow a military career after seeing St Paul’s Cathedral illuminate the skies in flames from his parents’ London home as a child.

“It was then I thought I need to do something about this and knew I wanted to join the Royal Marines,” he added.

In 1939, John joined the Royal Engineers cadets and learned about rifles and drills, before joining the Royal Marines.

He was based at the Chatham Barracks, in Kent in 1941, in the 147 squadron.

Three years later he was in Normandy fighting for his country during the Second World War.

Looking back at the war, John said: “There are memories I would like to forget, but I would not have missed fighting for my country for the world and being part of something so historical.”

Last year John received the Legion of Honour for his role in the liberation of France.

John has kept his medals, photographs and documents of his time in the Royal Marines, which he can pass on to his son, daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

l Manningtree and District Royal British Legion will be holding a service at the war memorial to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on Sunday at 11am.