D-Day and the Battle of Normandy - Anniversary Commemoration Page
"Believe me, Lang, the first twenty-four hours of invasion will be decisive...... The fate of Germany depends on the outcome...... For the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day."
Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel to his aide, Captain Hellmuth Lang, on 22nd April 1944
How true this words were to be, for at one minute past midnight on 6th June 1944, the invasion of occupied France commenced. This was four years and one day since the end of the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. Over the next twenty-four hours, thousands of men on both sides were to die or be wounded getting off the beaches and securing the landing grounds of the air assault. Even more were to be wounded or killed in the weeks of bitter fighting through the hedges and fields of the Bocage country side, before the Allies would break out of the Normandy beachhead and head for the River Seine.
What follows is a brief account of the landings and the battle for Normandy. Topics covered are;
|Planning for D-Day||Airborne Landings||British Airborne Assault|
|US Airborne Assault||Utah Beach||Omaha Beach|
|Pointe Du Hoc||Gold Beach||Juno Beach|
|Sword Beach||Status at end of D-Day||Battle for Normandy|
|Villers Bocage||Operation Epsom||Operation Charnwood|
|Hill 112||Battle for Cotentin and Cherbourg||The War of the Hedgerows|
|Operation Cobra||Operation Spring||Operation Bluecoat|
|Operation Luttich||Operation Totalize||Operation Tractable|
|Out of Normandy||Other Normandy Websites||Other Links on this Website|
After Dunkirk 1940
Ever since the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in May and June 1940, the Allies knew that to defeat Nazi Germany they would have to land back somewhere in Northern Europe and not just defeat the Axis forces in North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. The problem was when and where?
Planning for D-Day
Over the intervening years the allies carried out a raid at Dieppe in August 1942, which was disastrous, and full landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) in November 1942, Sicily (Operation Husky) in July 1943 and at Salerno in Italy in September 1943, with varying degrees of success.
At the Casablanca conference between Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt in January 1943, it was agreed that the British, Canadians and the Americas would open what was to become called the 'Second Front' to take the strain off of the hard pressed Red Army on the Eastern Front in Russia. The invasion of Italy was not to be this 'Second Front' and the invasion of Northern Europe, ideally via France was to be planned. The problem was that Adolf Hitler has ordered the building of the 'Atlantic Wall' from Norway to the Spanish border and by 1944 this was well underway, mainly thanks to the use of slave labour from the 'TODT Organisation', with it being heavily fortified over a great deal of its length.
The Germans had always expected the Allies to invade across the 'Straights of Dover' as this was the shortest distance across the English Channel and hence the fortifications were heaviest in this area and the Panzer Divisions were stationed in France to be able to support the defences in the event of an invasion. This meant that either the Allies had to suffer heavy causalities if they invaded in this area or find alternative landing grounds.
A call went out for photographs and post cards of anywhere in France, Belgium, Holland and other locations which would help in choosing a suitable area for an invasion. This were studied intensely and finally the north coast of Normandy was highlighted as a possible site. This area along with many others were then 'visited' at night by frogmen, whose only role was to assess the defences and take samples of the beaches to see if they were suitable for vehicles. The latter was due to problems with the tanks getting stuck on the beaches at Dieppe.
By late 1943 and into early 1944 the decision was being made to invade occupied France on the beaches of Normandy. The next problems were how and when!
Various plans were proposed with different size attacks being considered but eventually the plan that was to become known as 'Operation Overlord' was agreed.
This called for the landing of the 82nd and 101st American Airborne Divisions on the right flank to secure key causeways of the beaches, take important bridges and protect the forces on the beaches from counter attacks while at their most vulnerable. On the left flank the British 6th Airborne Division was to secure bridges over the Orne River, destroy coastal batteries and also also protect that flank from counter attack, where the bulk of the German armour was most likely to come from. The main beach landings from the seaborne element, known as Operation Neptune, were to be carried out by the US 4th Division landing firstly on Utah, then US 29th Division on Omaha, followed by British 50th Division on Gold, Canadian 3rd Division on Juno and British 3rd Division on Sword, as the tide progressed along the coast, with supporting special forces, armoured units, Air and Naval Forces.
To help prevent the Germans predicting an assault in Normandy an elaborate deception plan called Operation Bodyguard was entered into, with one part being for every bomb falling on Normandy, two would fall in the Pas de Calais region. Key rail links were to be systematically destroyed to help delay German reinforcements, but one of the most important plans was Operation Fortitude.
Operation Fortitude was the collective codename for a number of the deception operations used by the Allied forces during World War II prior to and following the Normandy landings. It was part of the overall deception plan for 1944, Operation Bodyguard. Fortitude had two forms: Fortitude North, which was to instill in Hitler and his generals fear of an amphibious landing in Norway, and Fortitude South, which was to trick the German high command into believing that the landings would take place in the Pas de Calais rather than on the Normandy beaches. The deceptions used in Fortitude South were manifold. These ranged from the building of artificial airfields with papier-mâché aircraft in East Anglia to radio traffic deception by a specially briefed outfit which drove around the southern coast of England simulating an army maneuvering, to the broadcasting of misleading messages from secret agents who had effectively been 'turned' by the Double Cross System, such as 'Garbo'. The Germans had about 50 agents in England at the time, but all of them had been caught due to Ultra Project at Bletchley Park and many of the captives became double agents. The British were so desperate to maintain their cover as real agents to feed the Germans false information that they bombed vacant public buildings to demonstrate their "activities". Other activities included creating the illusion that the allies were considering invading Norway which was heightened by the intensification of the mining of the Southern Baltic and the Kiel Canal and by a series of air attacks on U-boats off the Norwegian coast shortly before D-day. The latter was simply a means of preventing them joining the U-boat squadrons in Brest and the Biscay. Also towards the end of May 1944 the Allies actually went to the length of sending a British actor closely resembling General Montgomery off to Gibraltar.
In Operation Quicksilver the Allies created an entire fake army. The First United States Army Group (FUSAG), was completely fake except for its leader, General George Patton. Patton was unpopular with the Allied high command, but he was regarded by leaders on both sides as one of the Allies' best mechanised warfare experts. The Allies were able to easily judge the effectiveness of these strategies. Since the Ultra program had cracked the German Enigma code-system early in the war, the Allies were thus able to decrypt the German high command's responses to their actions. They maintained the pretense of a staged landing at the Pas de Calais for some considerable time after D-Day, possibly even as late as September 1944. This was vital to the success of the Allied plan since it forced the Germans to keep most of their reserves bottled up waiting for an attack on Calais which never came, thereby allowing the Allies to maintain and build upon their marginal foothold in Normandy.
By Spring of 1944 everything was ready and all that was needed was to set a date. After much deliberation, 5th June 1944, was selected on 23rd May, as it offered the best mixture of tides, moonlight an weather and by May 1944 the invasion forces were moved to their embarkation areas and were located in, to prevent security leaks. At this time another worrying event occurred to cause the Allies great concern, which was the answers to three clues in a US Newspaper. The answers were UTAH, OMAHA and OVERLORD. After a careful investigation this event was finally put down to pure chance and the plans for the invasion were allowed to continue. In late April during Operation Tiger, rehearsals for D-Day, a near disasterous incident occurred of the Devon coast, of off Slapton Sands. In the early hours of the morning of 29th April 1944, a number of German E-Boats located and attacked a small fleet of four American landing craft, escorted by a Royal Navy Destroyer, sinking two and damaging one other with 749 men being killed or posted missing. The shortage of landing craft was so acute that calling off the landings was seriously considered, aggravated by another cause of a more worrying kind. The latter was the fact at least one 'Bigot' (the Codename for someone who knew the details and date for the invasion) was missing. Only after the missing 'Bigot' was found were the plans modified and the decision to allow the invasion to go ahead made.
On 4th June 1944 with some of the invasion fleet having sailed worries about the weather caused the Allied High Command or SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) to re-assess the invasion and late that evening the decision to delay the invasion for 24 hours was made. Although the ships on the surface were able to turn back, the crews of several X-Craft (British miniature submarines) were already off the Normandy coast ready to mark the invasion lanes. They would have to endure a long uncomfortable day submerged of the enemy coast. Ironically, if the invasion had gone ahead as planned the British would have returned to French soil exactly four years since the end of the Dunkirk evacuation!
D-Day, 6th June 1944
At 00:16 hours the gliders carrying Major John Howard and the men of the reinforced 'D' Company, 2nd Bn. Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry landed within 50 yards of the Orne River bridge at Bénouville. Within 10 minutes both bridges over the River Orne and the Caen-Ouistreham Canal were in British hands never to be retaken by the Germans and this was in fact the first objective to be seized by the Allies on D-Day. The bridge became known as 'Pegasus Bridge' in honour of the British Airborne forces. This was the prelude to the rest of the allied air assaults, which came in three main operations.
Operation Tonga was part of the British airborne landings on the night of 5 June, 1944 in support of the invasion of northern France (Operation Overlord). As part of Operation Overlord the British 6th Airborne Division was to be airlanded on the eastern flank of the landing area, around the River Orne and to the east of the town of Caen. The purpose these landings was to hold the left flank of the landing area, especially key bridges, preventing German armour from 'rolling up' the beaches from one end. The operation was to be divided into three parts. In Operation Coup-de-Main advance elements of the division would be landed by glider and parachute during the night of the 5th/6th June. The task of these units was so seize or destroy key bridges and hold until relieved by the main forces. The main assault, codenamed Operation Tonga comprised the major part of the division, also landed by glider. These units would relieve and reinforce the initial attack. Later in the day Operation Mallard would reinforce the assault units once again, this time flying in Tetrarch light tanks and heavy weapons. This reinforcement mission came just as the German 21st Panzer division was launching a counter-attack on a vulnerable point on the invasion beaches. The appearance of troop-carrying gliders over their heads was instrumental in persuading the Panzers that they might be cut off, and they withdrew. The operations were highly successful, and the units succeeded in taking and holding the key bridges. The fight for 'Pegasus Bridge' over the Orne River was to become one of the best known incidents of the invasion. The other famous action from the British Airborne landings was the assault and capture of the Merville Battery by 9th Parachute Battalion which overlooked Sword Beach. This was accomplished with a force of about 150 men instead of the original 450 assigned to the task. These operations denied the 21st Panzer Division access to the bridged over the River Orne, thus preventing an early counter-attack on the Allies left flank, as they would have to go via Caen to do so.
The first relief was from 6 Commando, led by Lord Lovat, who arrived to the sound of the Scottish bagpipes, played by his personal Piper Bill Millin. Later in the day units of the British 3rd Division arrived, and the bridges were secure.
To learn more about the British Airborne Landings please click here.
Operation Detroit was the parachute landing of the Allied 82nd Airborne Division into Normandy on the night of 5 June, 1944 as part of Operation Overlord. See also Operation Chicago. On 6 June, 1944 the heavier elements of the division landed by glider in Operation Elmira
Tactically the most significant operation of the 82d Airborne Division on D Day was, therefore, the action in and around the town of St. Mere Eglise, which started when many of then landed in the centre of the town only to be shot as they floated down, with Pte Steele hanging from the Church Steeple helpless to take part in the battle below while his comrades were slaughtered before they landed. After a hard battle the town was secured by elements of the 505th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 506th PIR of the 101st Airborne Division, under the command of Col. Ben Vandervoort, and denied to the enemy thereafter.
Operation Chicago was carried out by the Allies in 1944. It was an airborne landing of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division into Vierville (near Normandy) on the night of 5 June, 1944, and was part of the invasion of northern France (Operation Overlord). The 101st Airborne didn't have great luck of 82nd Airborne in Operation Chicago. Inexperienced piloting and difficult terrain caused them to be badly scattered about the countryside. The widespread dispersion of the 101st Division meant that some fell in the sea or deliberately flooded areas. However, this did lead to the Germans believing that the American plan was “tie off the Cotentin Peninsula at its narrowest point.”
The actual plan for the 101st Airborne Division called for the seizure of the four inland exits—the western ends of causeways-from the inundated area west of Utah Beach between St. Martin-de-Varreville and Pouppeville. In the southern part of the division's sector two bridges across the Douve River, on the main highway northwest of Carentan and the railroad bridge to the west, were to be destroyed. In addition, the division was to seize and hold the la Barquette lock and establish two bridgeheads over the Douve at le Port northeast of Carentan. The sum of these missions thus provided for the clearing of the enemy's secondary beach defenses and the organization of the Corps' southern flank for defense and further exploitation. After being relieved in the beachhead area by the 4th Division, the 101st was to seize Carentan and establish contact with the US V Corps, fusing the Utah and Omaha beachheads. Despite being scattered the exit routes from the beaches were secure, but even after 24 hours, only 3,000 of the 101st had rallied. Many continued to roam and fight behind enemy lines for days afterwards.
To learn more about the US Airborne Landings please click here.
Ruperts. The Allies had another force of special Paratroops to deploy against the German defenders and as part of the need to disrupt and confuse the German defenders the allies employed the use of a British invention - 'Rupert'. Rupert was a rubber dummy paratrooper about 2 foot high, which was dropped in large numbers in Normandy. As they floated down they resembled real paratroops and once they 'landed' simple mechanisms caused them to either explode or to fire a string of 'firecrackers' which emulated machine gun fire. This lead the Germans to report more parachute landings that actually occurred and either divert troops to investigate, or to delay movements until the facts were know.
The Beach Landings
At H minus 40 minutes (0550) warships of the bombardment group of Task Force 125 began firing on enemy shore batteries and a few minutes later 276 Marauders of the Ninth Air Force dropped 4,404 250-pound bombs on seven objectives on the beach, extending from les Dunes de Varreville to Beau Guillot. The plan was for the US 4th Infantry Division to land across the four exits being secured by 101st Airborne Division, with the first troops reaching shore being 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry. Regiment, with the 1st Battalion landed a few minutes later. Both came ashore considerably south of the designated beaches. The 2nd Battalion should have hit Uncle Red Beach opposite Exit 3. The 1st Battalion was supposed to land directly opposite the strong point at les Dunes de Varreville. The landings, however, were made astride Exit 2 about 2,000 yards south.
The cause for this error is difficult to identify, but both Red Beach control vessels had been lost, and one of the Green Beach control vessels had gone back to bring in the LCT's carrying DD amphibious tanks. This along with the fact that the guidance of the initial assault waves to the proper beaches was therefore the sole responsibility of one control vessel. The possibility of error was increased by the strong tidal current as well as by the beach drenching administered by naval fire support craft, which threw up a tremendous cloud of smoke, dust, and fine sand, obscuring the beach for many minutes just prior to and after the jump-off from the line of departure. Fortunately Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the assistant commander of the 4th Division, had volunteered to coordinate the initial attack on the beach strong points until the arrival of the regimental commander. When it was realized that the landings had been made at the wrong place, he personally made a reconnaissance of the area immediately to the rear of the beach to locate the causeways which were to be used for the advance inland. This impromptu plans worked with complete success and little confusion. The errors in landing actually proved fortunate, as not only was the beach farther south less thickly obstructed, but the enemy shore defenses were also less formidable than those opposite the intended landing beaches.
While combat engineers prepared the beaches for the follow-up of additional men and materiel, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 8th Infantry Regiment proceeded on their altered mission. When General Roosevelt and the battalion commanders became aware of the error in the landings, it was decided to reduce the enemy strong points immediately confronting them and proceed inland to their original objective. Two or three hours were consumed in eliminating opposition in the beach area and in re-organising for the advance inland. After much more fighting 4th Infantry Division started to link up with the various isolated groups from 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, thus securing the Utah beachhead.
To learn more about the landings on Utah beach please click here.
Omaha Beach and Pointe Du Hoc
Pointe Du Hoc
A battery of six German 155 mm Howitzers encased in massive concrete fortifications were the strongest defensive position on the Normandy front was reported to be located 4 miles west of Omaha Beach. In order to prevent this battery firing on the landings at Omaha and Utah, it was imperative that the complete destruction of this fortification be achieved to prevent it firing Bombing alone could not provide this guarantee, only an attack by ground forces could ensure the full disablement of the German firepower. Due to the location of the battery, which was on a plateau with a sheer drop of at least 100 ft. It became obvious to the Allied Commanders that only a special force trained to the up- most readiness could achieve success.
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder, three companies of the 2nd Rangers would land at the same time as the forces on Omaha Beach. The fourth company would land at the western most point of Omaha to attack another German defence at Pointe de la Percee. On the run-in to the beach at Pointe du Hoc, Lt Col. Rudder's men were carried away by strong currents from the intended landing point and it took them some 40 minutes to get to the correct position.
The bravery of the American Rangers was astounding! While under fierce fire power from the German defenders on top of the cliff face, using sectional ladders and rocket propelled grappling irons with ropes attached the Rangers started to climb the cliff to the German positions. The Germans withdrew slightly when some of Rangers reached the top, but the battle was by no means over. A fierce fire fight took place before the position was secured, but to the astonishment of the men who had battled their way up the cliff face and into the battery the concrete case-mates were empty!!
There were no guns in place and instead of the telegraph poles were protruding from the case-mates disguised to look like gun barrels. Later on as the Americans moved in land guns believed to be destined for the Pointe Du Hoc battery were found still in their transport cases.
Out of 225 men who landed on the beach below only 180 got to the top of the cliffs. This meant that 45 men were killed or injured taking a position only containing telegraph poles.
Easy Red Beach, was over a mile long and fronting E-1 draw, was assigned to the 2nd Bn. 116th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) with E and F Companies landing in the first wave. The bulk of both companies landed far to the east with the only infantry to actually land on Easy Red in the first wave were two lost boat sections of 'E' Company, 16th RCT. The men from two of these craft were put out in waist-deep water, but hit a deep runnel as they waded in and had to swim through surf and a strong tidal current pulling them eastward. This resulted in heavy weapons such as Flamethrowers, mortars, bazookas, and many personal weapons were dropped in the struggle. However, these two sections lost only two men from enemy fire up to the shingle, but to their left, men from 'F' Company came into the belt of heavy enemy fire and out of the 31 men unloading in neck-deep water, only 14 reached the shingle.
The landings on Fox Beach were a very different matter, for whereas four scattered sections of infantry came into Easy Red without many casualties, the bulk of four companies (three of them scheduled for more westerly beaches) landed on Fox against every possible handicap of mis-landings, delays, and enemy opposition. Less the one section already accounted for (on Easy Red), 'E' Company of the 16th RCT touched down on the western part of Fox Green, the craft badly scattered over a front of nearly 800 yards. The final run-in was not costly, but crossing bands of automatic fire caught most of the craft as the landing ramps were lowered, and from there on losses were heavy. Most of the causalities were suffered in the water, and mainly among the men who stopped to drag the wounded ashore. So exhausted and shaken were the assault troops that finally reached the sand, just 300 yards from the shingle bank, that most of them stopped there and crawled in just ahead of the tide, finding shelter amongst the beach obstacles from the machine gun fire. The greater number of the company's 105 casualties for D Day were suffered on the beach, in the first stage of assault. The men who actually made it ashore on Fox Green were scattered all over the beach covering over a thousand yards of it, with mortar fire as well as machinegun fire from the defenders accounted for about one-third of the assault wave before they made the shingle. To compound matters only two officers survived among 'F' Company's widely separated force, making command on the beach even more difficult
Above all, stiff enemy resistance and the disorganisation caused by mis-landings and heavy casualties had combined to prevent infantry units in this wave from carrying out their mission of immediate assault, but the men pinned down on the beach needed to break through the defences and get off the beach and make their way inland as soon as they could or effectively stay where they were and die one by one
In order to get of the beach the men from all three companies shared in the assault on the bluffs above them. The bluff was about 200 yards away up a moderate slope, patched with heavy bush and to the western end of the landing area, there was a small draw forming a possible corridor for advance to the bluff crest. Below the draw on the flat was a ruined house.
Men from 16th RCT, led by 2nd Lt. John M. Spalding, blew a gap in the wire above the shingle, made its way past the house, and then was held up by minefields in the marshy ground at the foot of the slopes, under intense small-arms fire came from an emplacement to the left. Spalding's men found a way past the mines and were beginning to work up the slope, using the defilade afforded by the small draw. Further to the west, and out of contact, men from 116th RCT had also cut the wire and dashed across the flat, but mines stopped them near the start of the hillside and they took shelter in a ditch. A soldier who went ahead to clear a path by use of a Bangalore torpedo but was killed by an antipersonnel mine.
While this was all happening 'G' Company of the 16th RCT had landed at 07:00 and had reached the embankment in good order. The company's machine guns, were set up behind the shingle bank, but they could found no targets until enemy fire from 8 or 10 small emplacements along the half mile of bluff attracted their attention. While the heavy weapons engaged these targets, a few men from each section blew gaps in the extensive double-apron and concertina wire beyond the shingle. Their work was made more difficult by anti-personnel mines set to detonate by trip wires. With it tanking four Bangalore torpedoes cut one lane, this took time, but the engineers of 'A' Company, 1st Engineer Combat Battalion and 'C' Company, 37th Engineer Combat Battalion helped in gapping and marking the lanes.
As 'G' Company’s movement forward, enemy fire died away as the troops emerged on the fields of the upland, reorganised, and started south in column of sections. Their principal concern was with the frequent indications of mined areas just beyond the bluff top. Naval fire hitting in the parts of the strong-point below the bluff top, helped to demoralise the resistance. Twenty-one prisoners were taken, and several enemy killed, without loss to the attackers. Although the fortified area was too extensive to be thoroughly cleaned out by Spalding's small force, the strongpoint east of beach had been effectively neutralized by midmorning, just when important reinforcements for the assault were beginning to land in front of the draw. It was now that the area opened up by 'G' Company and Lt. Spalding's men became a funnel for movement off the beach during the rest of the morning.
Once 'G' Company had got past the bluff and started inland, they only encountered light sniping and occasional signs of minefields and made rapid progress for a thousand yards to the south. They were advancing in their designated one and according to plan, with they could take their first objective (a German bivouac area a quarter mile west of Colleville) and then move onto Colleville itself. A little after noon, a section of 'G' Company started into the western edge of the village, but was unable to progress against strong resistance after seizing the first few buildings. Then a small counter attack was launched by the Germans and 'G' Company found themselves on the defensive for some time, but about 15;00, the situation was relieved by the arrival of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment. However 'G' Company was unable to get farther into Colleville, and suffered more casualties when supporting naval fire hit the houses in the village. Enemy resistance was unshaken by the bombardment.
The advance from Omaha got not much further inland than Colleville and did not link up as planned with Utah beach and the British at Gold beach and the beachhead was only a few 100 yards from the beach in places. If it has not been for the actions of Lt. Spalding and 'G' Company the situation may have got much worse on Omaha beach, but their work and the support of Naval Destroyers coming close inshore to provide much needed supporting far prevented a major disaster.
To learn more about the landings on Omaha beach please click here.
The assault on Gold beach fell to the British 50th (Northumberland) Division, the lead division of Britsh XXX Corps, which was part of Assault Force G. The plan was to attack in the Gold area with two brigade groups. The 231st Brigade was to capture ‘Jig’ beach, the 69th Brigade was to take the beach named ‘King.’ The coast in both beaches was low-lying and sandy, offering no such natural obstacles as the bluffs of the rock-bound shore which stretches from Arromanches to Port en Bessin in the western half of Gold. Only low sand dunes fringed the shore of both beaches, but there were soft patches of clay in the tide-washed foreshore in which heavy vehicles would be liable to sink. Further inland much of the ground was soggy grassland, criss-crossed with dykes which must hinder movement. Jig beach could be covered by fire from strongly defended positions at le Hamel and Asnelles sur Mer and from a smaller strong-point near les Roquettes; King beach was protected by defences at la Rivière and by strong- points at Hable de Heurtot on the coast, and on higher ground near Mont Fleury and Ver sur Mer. The whole front between le Hamel and la Rivière was defended by beach obstacles and by a continuous belt of mines and barbed wire.
The 231st Brigade, was to attack on a two-battalion front with the 1st Bn. Hampshire Regiment on the right and the 1st Bn. Dorsetshire Regiment on the left, it was obviously important to quickly capture the position at le Hamel as this was known to include on the west a number of fortified houses and entrenchments, well protected by barbed wire and mines and by an anti-tank ditch. On the east, commanding Jig beach, the defences consisted not only of more fortified buildings, including a large and conspicuous sanatorium, but also a number of concrete and steel pill-boxes and infantry positions, again protected by barbed wire and minefields. The position was held by about a company of infantry well supplied with mortars and machine guns and with two anti-tank guns and at least one field gun.
The landing craft bearing the leading companies of the 1st Hampshire were carried by wind and tide some distance eastward of their intended landing place and touched down nearly opposite les Roquettes. D.D. tanks which were to have preceded them were still at sea, for on this front it was considered to be too rough to swim them ashore and they were being brought in by their landing craft which did not arrive till later. Misfortunes had overtaken the 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment from which ten tanks which were to have landed on Jig beach at H-hour, in order to join with the D.D. tanks in giving support to the attacking troops until the field artillery could be brought in, but only five were landed and about a quarter of an hour late, and all but one of these were hit by shell-fire from le Hamel soon after landing. Thus the first troops to land on Jig beach had no tanks to support them and had little answer to the gun, mortar and machine-gun fire which swept the shore. It was obvious that the defence of le Hamel, although it had been attacked shortly before by twelve Typhoons using 1,000-lb bombs, was unsubdued. Owing to the loss of two control vessels during the passage, le Hamel had to be omitted from the field artillery's shoot during the run-in; most of the Eighth Air Force bombs had fallen well inland and the destroyers were unable to silence guns and other weapons sited to take the shore in enfilade and protected from seaward by massive earth-banked concrete walls. Interpretation of photographic reconnaissance here and elsewhere along the front had failed to reveal the fact that many of the guns near the shore were thus sited solely for enfilade fire on the beaches; they could not fire to seaward but neither could they be effectively attacked from the sea, except by cross-fire. Had this been known the naval fire plan might have been differently framed. On the flat sands craft grounded some distance from dry land.
Despite all of this the leading men of the 1st Bn. Hampshire Regt, had comparatively light casualties in getting ashore and they quickly rushed the post at the customs house near les Roquettes and turned to attack le Hamel. When the remaining companies of the Hampshires came in, twenty minutes after the first landings, an out-flanking attack through Asnelles was organised, but without artillery support direct attack by way of the beaches was proving costly and making little progress.
While the Hampshires battled to take over Le Hamel, the naval and military obstacle clearance teams, working under fire and suffering heavy casualties, partially cleared one narrow gap on Jig before the rising tide put a stop to this work. The breaching teams of sappers with the assault vehicles were at the same time busy clearing exits from the beaches to the coast road behind and the build-up of the brigade continued steadily, though the beach was still under fire from le Hamel.
On the other flank the brigade's second battalion, the 1st Bn. Dorsetshire Regt, had landed east of les Roquettes, and were faring much better. The Flail tanks of the Westminster Dragoons and armoured vehicles of the engineers had landed punctually and were quickly at work clearing mines and beach obstructions. This allow the infantry to cross the beach and and to leave a company to form a firm base at les Roquettes as they pushed inland. After capturing a machine-gun post at Meuvaines they by-passed le Hamel and advanced westwards towards Buhot and an enemy position, at Puits d'Herode, which covered Arromanches and the nearby shores from the south. Though troops on the beach east of les Roquettes were less exposed to fire from le Hamel the breaching teams were still having casualties in clearing two exits to the coast road.
At about a quarter past eight the brigade's third battalion, the 2nd Bn. Devonshire Regt., began landing as planned close to le Hamel. Beach obstacles were still intact and le Hamel still unconquered, so they had a hazardous time in landing and getting clear of the beach. One company joined the Hampshire in the fight for le Hamel and the rest of the battalion moved round Asnelles on the south and pressed westwards towards Ryes, about two miles south of Arromanches.
Close on the heels of the Devonshires, the 47th (Royal Marine) Commando landed. Since H-hour the tide had risen considerably, submerging obstacles before it was possible to clear them. This resulted in three of the five landing craft bringing in the Commandos were damaged and sunk by attached explosives. Many of the Marines swam ashore, but forty-three men and much precious wireless equipment were lost, but in spite of the fire still coming from le Hamel about three hundred concentrated at the back of the beach. After acquiring another wireless set from 231st Brigade Headquarters (which by then had landed) the Commando started off across country. They were to move inland and, avoiding contact with the enemy, to make westwards for Port en Bessin on the inter-Allied boundary.
About a thousand yards further east, the 50th Division's, 69th Brigade had begun landing punctually on King beach. with the leading companies of the 6th Green Howards on the right and on their left the 5th East Yorkshire. The Green Howards, landing to the west of la Rivière, quickly cleared the strong-point at Hable de Heurtot where they were closely supported by engineer tanks. When four pill-boxes had been reduced with the help of petards, two of the tanks charged over the sea wall and routed the rest of the garrison who had been firing and throwing grenades from behind it. It was during this action that Sergeant-Major S. E. Hollis of the Green Howards was awarded the Victoria Cross for his 'utmost gallantry' in this action, in preventing the enemy from occupying positions that could endanger the rear of his company. This was the only Victoria Cross awarded for action on D-Day. The advance was quickly resumed and the Green Howards next took the battery position near Mont Fleury. It had been struck by the bombers and H.M.S. Orion had registered twelve hits. There was no sign that its four guns had ever fired a shot and the gun crews, cowed by the bombardment, offered no resistance.
Having landed near the outskirts of la Rivière 5th East Yorkshires were pinned down for a short time by fire under the sea wall. They called for naval support, and destroyers and support craft closed the shore and shelled the position heavily. A flail of the Westminster Dragoons silenced an 88-mm gun in a concrete emplacement and the 5th East Yorkshires captured the position, taking forty-five prisoners. Even so it needed several hours' fighting to clear the whole village and its capture cost, in killed and wounded, six officers and eighty- four other ranks. The rest of the battalion had gone on to capture the strong-point at the lighthouse near Mont Fleury. From there they took two guns and thirty prisoners and then moved on towards Ver sur Mer.
The 69th Brigade's third battalion, the 7th Bn. Green Howards, landed at about twenty past eight, and immediately headed for Ver sur Mer. However, there were no enemy in the village and the battalion continued to the battery beyond it, but the bombing and a two-hour bombardment by H.M.S. Belfast had left the garrison with little further will to fight and fifty were taken prisoner.
With the two assault brigade groups of the 50th Division were now ashore and fighting their way inland, the engineers cleared two paths through beach obstacles and two exits for vehicles. This allowed the two brigades to be steadily reinforces with DD tanks of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry being brought in by landing craft before soon after joining up with the leading infantry. Other armour and artillery were brought ashore to provide more support as the day continued.
With the build up on beaches progressing well 231st Brigade, on the right, was to push westwards in the coastal area, taking Arromanches and the battery at Longues, while the 47th (Royal Marine) Commando went ahead to capture Port en Bessin and join up with Americans from Omaha. On the left, the 69th Brigade was to strike southwards and crossing the Seulles in the St. Gabriel-Creully area to secure the Bayeux-Caen road near Ste. Croix Grand Tonne. The reserve brigades were to advance between the two lead brigades with 56th Brigade on the right to Bayeux and beyond it to the river Drome and the 151st Brigade on the left to seize the Caen road and railway between Bayeux and the Seulles.
As they moved inland the 69th Brigade met considerable opposition from a battle group of the German 352nd Division. A the battle group from this division reached the country between Villiers le Sec and Bazenville at about 4 p.m. In the ensuing fight with the 50th Division, the German commander was killed and his infantry forced to withdraw across the Seulles, where some were taken prisoner near St. Gabriel by troops of the 69th Brigade who were already south of the river.
By about half past eight that evening, the advance troops of the 151st Brigade had reached the Bayeux-Caen road and were ordered to halt for the night in the Sommervieu-Esquay sur Seulles area. Tanks of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards were by then reporting that there was little resistance for three thousand yards to the south in the direction of St. Leger, but earlier in the evening the situation had looked very different. Advanced troops of the 69th Brigade, brushing opposition aside, had crossed the Seulles at Creully after fighting in which the Dragoon Guards lost four tanks. Here the assault stopped for the day as despite good start it had subsequently developed too slowly for the main objective, the capture of Bayeux and the road to Caen, to be realised. However, behind them were the land craft and ships carrying the leading elements of the 7th Armored Division whose first tanks were to land on Gold beach just before midnight on 6th June.
To learn more about the landings on Gold Beach please click here.
The assault on Juno beach was to be lead by the Canadian 3rd Division, with the original H Hour on the Canadian front being 7:35 a.m. for the 7th Brigade and 7:45 a.m. for the 8th Brigade . However, the lateness of certain craft groups resulting from the weather caused the two Assault Group Commanders to defer H Hour ten minutes more in each case. Thus the final H Hour was 7:45 a.m. for the 7th Brigade and 7:55 a.m. for the 8th Brigade . This was unfortunate, in that the higher tide made it more difficult to deal with the beach obstacles and resulted in a greater number of land craft hitting the beach obstacles
The 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade landed on the right or western sector of the Canadian front. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, with one company of the reserve battalion (the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment) attached, landed on "Mike Red" and "Mike Green" Beaches, west of the river-mouth at Courseulles, while The Regina Rifle Regiment landed on "Nan Green" immediately east of the river. The DD tanks of "A" Squadron of the 6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) were to support the Winnipegs, while "B" Squadron performed the same service for the Reginas.
The Royal Winnipeg Rifles landed at 7:49 a.m. with all three assault companies landing within seven minutes of one another. On the far right, 'C' Company of the Canadian Scottish, which was prolonging the Rifles' front here, reported that it landed with slight opposition and the platoon which had the job of knocking out the 75-mm. casemate north of Vaux approached it only to find that thanks to the Royal Navy the pill-box was no more.
In dealing with the other half of the Courseulles strongpoint, east of the river, The Regina Rifle Regiment, as we have seen, had the advantage of the fact that their DD tanks reached the beach ahead of the infantry and in larger numbers than on the Winnipegs' front. Here as at most points, however the results of the preliminary bombardment had been disappointing. The two assault companies ("A" and "B") reported touching down at 8:09 and 8:15 a.m. respectively. "A" Company, which was directly opposite the strongpoint, immediately met heavy resistance. The strongpoint gave it a hard struggle, with the aim of close support fire from DD tanks, but when at last "A" Company had cleared the strongpoint its troubles were not over. It moved on to its next task without leaving any force in occupation, and the Germans promptly filtered back into the positions using various by tunnels and trenches. The work of clearance began again, with the assistance after a time of an additional troop of tanks. In the meantime, "B" Company, landing on the left of the battalion front east of the strongpoint, had met only slight resistance and had cleared a succession of the assigned blocks in the village. The fortunes of the reserve companies were similarly mixed. "C" Company landed at 8:35 and moved inland without difficulty, while several of the landing craft carrying "D" Company were blown up on mined obstacles and only 49 survivors reached the beach. As the resistance was overcame they pushed inland towards the village of Reviers, where the battalion gradually concentrated in the course of the afternoon and at about 5:00 p.m. the Reginas began to advance southward from Reviers and just before 8:00 p.m. both Fontaine-Henry and Le Fresne-Camilly were in their hands.
The 7th Brigade's reserve battalion, the 1st Battalion of The Canadian Scottish Regiment, found opposition still active as its three companies approached "Mike" Beach about 8:30. The leading companies came under mortar fire on the beach, and one of them was held up there for some time while waiting for an exit to be cleared of mines. Soon after 9:30 the battalion was able to start its advance across the grain fields towards Ste. Croix-sur-Mer. There were a considerable number of casualties from machine-gun fire during the advance, which was pushed with all possible speed. After dealing with snipers in Ste. Croix the battalion continued its movement through Colombiers-sur-Seulles, passing through The Royal Winnipeg Rifles. Little or no opposition was now being encountered, and the Scottish could have gone farther, but under orders from brigade headquarters they dug in for the night around Pierrepont, with patrols out well in front of Cainet and Le Fresne-Camilly. The latter village had been taken over from The Regina Rifle Regiment.
The 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group was to lead the assault on the eastern sector of the Canadian Division's front, with The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada landing on "Nan White" Beach, on the right, and capturing the resistance nest at Bernières, while The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, landed on "Nan Red" on the left and cleared the similar strongpoint at St. Aubin. The brigade's reserve battalion was Le Régiment de la Chaudière Armoured support in the assault phase would be provided by the DD tanks of the 10th Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse), with "B" Squadron supporting the Queen's Own and "C" Squadron the North Shore.
After landing on the right sector of the Brigade front, "B" Company of the Queen's Own ran into difficulty with one of assault companies landing directly in front of the "resistance nest" at Bernières. Within the first few minutes there were 65 casualties. Here Lieut. W. G. Herbert, Lance-Corporal Rene Tessier and Rifleman William Chicoski dashed at the pillbox which was causing the losses, and put it out of action with grenades and Sten gun fire. This opened the way for clearing the rest of the strongpoint. For this action Lieut. Herbert received the Military Cross, and LCpl Tessier and Rifleman Chicoski the Military Medal. By the time the other companies arrived the Bernières strongpoint was being mopped up, and they were able to get through to the southern edge of the village. During the afternoon they led the battalion’s advance southward towards Anguerny, which was captured after some resistance had been overcome.
Le Régiment de la Chaudière, the 8th Brigade's reserve unit, began to land at Bernières about 8:30 a.m. Its craft had a difficult time with the beach obstacles. It the spend a number of hours in the assembly area, reportedly still being there at 1:56 p.m., before pushing southward towards Beny-sur-Mer, supported by "A" Squadron of the 10th Armoured Regiment. Traffic congestion slowed the advance, but by mid-afternoon, this force was in Beny-sur-Mer.
While the 7th and 8th Brigades were fighting their way forward, the craft carrying the reserve brigade, the 9th Brigade, were circling offshore waiting their turn to go in. At 10:50 a.m. Divisional Headquarters ordered the brigade to land. As was natural in the state of the beaches, it was sent in through the 8th Brigade sector in accordance with the primary plan. However, it was considered necessary to land the entire brigade on Nan White beach, which meant that the whole brigade had to land through Bernières and make its way southward over one road only, that leading to Beny-sur-Mer. The battalions actually began to land about 11:40, but due to the 8th Brigade’s slow progress and the severe congestion around Bernières retarded the movement. The battalions halted on the outskirts of the village. At 6:20 p.m. the North Nova Scotias and the 27th Armoured Regiment, acting as the brigade's advanced guard, moved off and eventually run into other resistance at Villons-les-Buissons. It was now evident that the advanced guard units could not reach their objective in the Carpiquet area before dark. They were therefore ordered to dig in for the night in the area where they found themselves.
At the end of the day 3rd Canadian Division on its left had linked up 50th Division at Creully during the afternoon, but there had been no contact with the 3rd British Division on its left. When night fell on D Day the Germans were still resisting in a portion of the beach defences immediately east of the Canadian sector. For the locals there was a perplexing mystery, which was the fact as they put it..... "The Tommies spoke French". This was due to the fact that the Canadian Army wore British Battledress and used the same weapons as the other the British and Commonwealth forces, but of course it contained a large number of French-Canadians
To learn more about the landings on Juno Beach please click here.
At last the day broke beneath low clouds, the Naval bombardment forces started to pound the German defences along Sword Beach with guns of various calibres ranging from the 15-inch guns of battleships and monitors to the 4-inch guns of the destroyers. However, this was no indiscriminate blasting, but rather a concerted attack on known enemy batteries and strong-points. In their landing craft the men of the British 3rd Infantry Division (Monty's Ironsides) started their run into the beach. They were to assault the German defences between the Courseulles and the Orne River, at Ouistreham
Queen White beach was on the right, the first objective of the 1st Bn South Lancashire Regt. and Queen Red beach on the left to be attached by 2nd Bn. East Yorkshire Regiment, from the 8th Brigade, both with supporting Armour, including DD tanks.
The idea was that the D-D Shermans should land just ahead of the Assault Infantry Companies and Royal Engineer. gapping teams and keep the enemy's heads down, while the Infantry went in at H-hour to finish off the enemy, enabling the gapping teams to work undisturbed to destroy the beach obstacles. But the D-Ds had been slowed down by the heavy sea, and they all landed roughly together at 7.30. Already the front line of obstacles was awash. The tide was rising fast, flowing up over the sand at a visible pace.
Within a few minutes the German defenders were was applying the fire of rifle, machine-gun, mortar and field gun to Queen Beach, particularly to the Red Sector, opposite the 'Cod' strong-point. The South Lancs on the right had severe casualties in particularly in 'A' Company, but they sent 'G 'Company left to assist the East Yorks in the reduction of Cod, while 'A' Company headed towards Lion-sur-Mer.
On Red Beach the mine clearance teams suffered crippling enemy fire, lost most of their flail tanks and were nearly all reduced to clearance by hand. Their first two exits became blocked by damaged tanks. They managed to open one gap with lateral communications after an hour and a half, and two more within the next quarter of an hour. No mines were found on the beach itself, though the exits and strips behind the dunes and beside the streets were thickly inlaid with them. The obstacle-clearing teams even fared worse and the scope of their work was more formidable even than they had expected. The first surprise was that obstacle was armed with a Tellermine or Anti-Aircraft shell with push-igniter to operate against the first craft that fouled them. The situation was aggravated by the high tide and swell. By the time the unarmoured element of the obstacle-clearing teams got ashore the seaward obstacles stood in six to eight feet of water and were about to be submerged. Enemy small arms were still active and mortar-fire was coming down. Men endeavoring to clear the obstacles on Red Beach were swimming in an effort to remove the mines and shells, and a number were dislodged and dropped to the bottom.
Once the beach defences were subdued, The East Yorks, supported by the surviving tanks of B Squadron of 13th/18th Hussars, and the South Lancs supported by the survivors of A Squadron, had begun the advance inland. Behind the Beaches and lay scatter houses scattered and a strip of marshland impassable to vehicles. This extended back some 500 yards and then gave way to an area covered with orchards, where the green cornfields were hedged and the hedges were buttressed by poplars and elms. Behind this lay the village of Hermanville, about a mile from the sea. The one road connecting it with the coast ran back from the extreme right of White Beach. This effectively meant that every vehicle coming ashore had to pass through Hermanville road to get past the marsh-strip. Behind Hermanville was Periers-sur-le-Dan where the Morris and Hillman positions (10.5 cm. battery and Battalion H.Q. strong-points respectively) dominated the beaches. These were the furthest objectives of 8th Brigade for D-Day.
The Reserve Battalion of 8th Brigade, 1st Bn. Suffolk Regt. landed and by 9.30 the Suffolk's had assembled near Hermanville, and were advancing left into Colleville. Meanwhile the Commandos of 1 SS (Special Service) Brigade had landed on the behind the Suffolk's, with No.4 Commando moving east along the sea-front to destroy an enemy coastal defence battery in Ouistreham and rid the town of the enemy, during which a force of French Commandos under the command Captaine Keiffer famously captured the Cassino in Ouistreham. Meanwhile the rest of the SS Brigade, under Brigadier Lord Lovat, made off for the bridges at Bénouville to join the 6th Airborne Division.
Behind 8th Brigade came the men of 185th Brigade whose objective for D-Day was the town of Caen which was about 9 miles in land. Although the Suffolks had cleared Colleville without much trouble, as the Commandos had just done some of the work on their way through to the bridges, the Suffolks had still to attack Morris and Hillman, which stood right in the way of the 85th Brigade advance. By 13:00 the 10.5 cm. battery Morris had fallen to the Suffolks, but the battle for Hillman continued for the rest of the day into the night and it was not until early the next morning that position surrendered when the commander, a full colonel, emerged with three of his officers and seventy other ranks from a concealed shelter that had been overlooked the previous night.
In the afternoon 185th Brigade had begun their thrust for Caen, advancing over the Periers ridge with the support of 'C' Squadron of the Stafford Yeomanry, with 2nd Bn. The King's Shropshire Light Infantry (K.S.L.I) in the lead. They were greeted by the Germans with heavy enemy shelling, mortaring and sniping from Germans concealed in the corn.
As they advanced progress became much easier, but later the Reconnaissance Troop of the Stafford Yeomanry reported that a squadron of about twenty-four German tanks was advancing north from Caen, moving very fast. By the time the Germans arrived 185th Brigade and the Stafford Yeomanry had taken up battle positions to the west of Bieville, while back on the Periers ridge were the 6-pounder anti-tank guns of the K.S.L.I. and the Troop of self propelled Anti-Tank guns, plus a Squadron of tanks. The German tanks, from 21st Panzer Division, came straight on and were engaged, with there being about forty of them. Some were knocked out with the remainder moving west over towards the thickly hedged fields round Le Landel. Some of the enemy tanks swung still more to the west and made for the high ground above Periers, where more German tanks were destroyed and the rest quickly withdrew. No more left the cover of the trees and hedges. During this engagement the Germans lost thirteen Mark IV (Special) tanks.
Meanwhile the 1st Bn. The Royal Norfolk Regiment, having assembled near Colleville, seeing now formidable Hillman was planned to slip past it to the left. However, they could not go too far over in case they encountered the village of St. Aubin d'Arquenay, which was believed to heavily defended. The order came that the Norfolks would reach Rover position (between Beuville and the Orne bridge) before last light and they were in position by 19:00. The evening was warm and there was sunshine to cheer things up at about 21:00, while the Norfolks were preparing to withstand the impact of a probable enemy tank attack, the most heartening, splendid spectacle of that great day slowly came across the sky for all to see. As they dug in the gliders of the 6th Airlanding Brigade started their descent, to reinforce the men of 6th Airborne Division.
The follow up 9th Brigade plan was now diverted to consolidate the left of the bridgehead, covering the bridges, but some of Battalions remained in their original positions while others move to St. Aubin d'Arquenay, on the main road down to the bridges. Over on the right flank it was early apparent that the enemy was far stronger and more active than he was expected to be. No. 41 (RM) Commando had fought their way along to the right through Lion and Luc-sur-Mer, but they were unable to overcome all resistance. A strong-point in Lion was held by eighty Germans for two days. This and other action prevented 3rd Division joining up with the Canadians on Juno. The objectives of Sword were not met as Caen was not taken, but the possibly dangerous counter attack by elements of 21st Panzer had been beaten off and prevented from getting to the beachhead.
To learn more about the landings on Sword Beach please click here.
Status of the Allied Landings at the end of D-Day
On the evening of D Day the Utah beachhead was well established with the seaborne troops linking up with the airborne troops, but on Omaha the beachhead was still narrow and precarious, 2000 yards deep at best. It was not until 8th June did the advance on this sector really get under way.
On Gold beach the 50th Division was firmly established ashore, had penetrated to within striking distance of Bayeux and the Bayeux to Caen road, and was in touch with the 3rd Canadian Division on its left. However, as on the Canadian front, although the landing had been carried out successfully, certain strongpoints on the coast offered prolonged resistance, and the final inland objectives were not reached. The 50th Division beachhead and the Canadians' were thus firmly linked up, but the 50th Division had made contact with the Americans on "Omaha".
As with Gold beach the Canadians has landed well, but stubborn resistance had prevented them advancing as far inland as expected and there was no contact with the 3rd British Division on their left. When night fell on D Day the Germans were still resisting in a portion of the beach defences immediately east of the Canadian sector.
The 3rd British Division itself had met serious resistance north of Caen and had failed to seize the city. By the evening of D Day, however, it held a solid wedge of territory with its base on the coast between Lion and Ouistreham, and its point on the Lion-Caen road near Lebisey. This division had had to deal with the first German armoured counter-attack, which developed late in the afternoon. They has linked up with 6th Airborne Division on the allied left flank and the bridges over the Orne River were securely in Allied hands.
Now came the hard, bloody, fight for the hedges and villages of Normandy that was to almost become a war of attrition for both the Allies and the Germans.
It should also be noted that 6th June 1944 was a key date for the Allies elsewhere in the war for on the same date as the invasion of Normandy commenced, Rome was liberated and the hard fought siege of Kohima in India was lifted.
The Battle For Normandy
As dawn broke on the morning of 7th June, the Allies found themselves reasonably well established in Normandy, but the landings on D-Day was only start of the Normandy campaign, as now many weeks of hand to hand, field by field, village by village fighting were to follow. This would be the real battle for Normandy!
The battle was not just going to be a matter of tactics and numbers on the battlefield the Allies need to land more troops and the keep their forces supplied. Having learnt from the disasterous raid a Dieppe. where the losses were so high, meant that no port was to be captured for some time they has decided to bring two with them! These were call Mulberry Harbours, each the side or the Port of Dover, with one to supply the British and Canadians from Arromanches (Gold Beach) and the other the Americans off of Omaha Beach. The Mulberry's considered of large concrete casements that could be towed across the channel and sunk into place. There were various types with some having cranes, some Anti-Aircraft emplacements, others with bridging sections. One in place they would be protected the weather by concrete filled block ships, called 'Gooseberry's', sunk to give them some protection from heavy swells.
The First components of the Mulberry harbours started to arrive in Normandy on the 7th June and by 18th June, the outer casements of the Mulberry harbours were in place and work was well underway to install the floating pier heads. However, in the early hours of the 19th June, a savage storm sank several sections of the floating roadway that was being towed across the channel and the storm which lasted for three days, demolished the American harbour at Omaha Beach and severely damaged the British harbour at Arromanches. Hundreds of landing craft were beached or sunk and unloading was halted, the American harbour was abandoned but the British Mulberry was repaired, again the build-up of Allied supplies was delayed. Through the Mulberry Harbours the Allied were able to bring in much needed supplied faster than just landing them on the beach. Some parts of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches are still there to this day.
One key factor to success was fuel for the tanks and other vehicles the Allies needed to break out from the Beach heads and another ingenious piece of technology was to be used in the form of Pipeline under the Ocean, or PLUTO. The whole idea had come from Lord Louis Mountbatten and development had started back in 1942. The plan was to lay undersea pipelines from southern England, where the pumping stations were, to the beach heads where distribution stations would be assembled. There would be four pipelines from the Isle of Wight to the beaches and even as the first troops were landing on the beaches and the shipping lanes were being cleared of mines, the massive 'cotton reels' carrying 70 miles of pipe each, called CONUNDRUMS, and individually weighing 1,600 tons, that carried PLUTO were being towed across the channel laying the pipe as they went. There were two types of pipeline, the main one laid at sea was flexible was called HAMEL after its inventers Mr. Hammick and Mr. Ellis with the whole operation being controlled form the main base at Southampton. The undersea pipeline went into service in Cherbourg at the start of August 1944. However, as early as June, another system had been used to supply the Allied armies. In front of Port-en-Bessin and Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, a system of oil terminals had been set up, supplied by tankers anchored out to sea. From there, a network of pipes was laid, keeping pace with the Allied armies’ advance inland.
Although the Mulberry Harbour and PLUTO would help with their supply problems, the Allies would have to fight for every inch of ground which was a defenders paradise and an attackers worse nightmare. There are many tales that could be told of these weeks but what follows here are brief accounts of what happened in many of the main engagements, although everyday there was always another hedgerow or village to be fought over. While the Americans battled to strengthen their toe hold on Omaha and then link up with Utah and Gold beaches, before fighting their way towards Cherbourg and St. Lo, most of the key battles for the Normandy bridgehead were to take place in or around the ancient town of Caen. Both the Germans and Montgomery saw Caen as the key factor to the battles ahead. Where ever you see the sign please click on it to see what the 7th Armoured Division's involvement was and the sign for that of 4th Armoured Brigade.
By the evening of 6th June, the tanks of the 21st Panzer Division, reinforced later that night by those of the 12th SS Hitlerjugend, had formed a barrier of fire and steel in front of Caen, which stopped the Allies in their tracks and banished all hopes of early deliverance for the thousands of civilians who had not fled the city after the initial bombings. The German commander brought his best divisions into play, notably most of his armoured units. The British and Canadians were pinned down in the cornfields around the city. Caen was to become the linchpin of the Battle of Normandy.
Temporarily abandoning the idea of a frontal attack, which was judged to be too costly, Montgomery launched a series of offensives to try and envelop the city from the west and capture it from the rear. However, his troops were brought to a standstill outside Tilly-sur-Seulles on 9th June by Bayerlein’s Panzer Lehr. The town, reduced to rubble during the fighting, eventually fell ten days later, but the Germans immediately formed a new line of resistance a few kilometres further south
Montgomery then started a series of maneuvers aimed at weakening the German defences around Caen and the to allow him to take the town. These were primarily Villers-Bocage, Operation Epsom, Operation Charnwood and Operation Goodwood. Caen was not to be fully liberated until 19th July 1944.
There are occasions when the old 8th Army, then in Italy, is referred to as D-Day dodgers, but Montgomery had brought the old 30th Corps (in the form of the veterans of 7th Armoured, 50th (Northumbrian) and 51st (Highland) Divisions, plus 4th and 8th Armoured Brigades) to fight in Normandy as they were some of the most experienced troops in the British Army at that time. The men in these units had all long since realised that war held no glamour, but was a nasty bloody, business instead and now those in the other Divisions in Normandy then who were fresh from training and "eager to the fray", would learn the same hard realities of war, in the weeks that lay ahead.
Villers-Bocage (12th - 14th June 1944)
Villers-Bocage was a battle that took place during the attempt by the British 7th Armoured Division to swing round out of Gold beachhead and attack Caen from the west. After being ambushed by German Tiger tanks at Villers-Bocage the British had to withdrawn and fight the subsequent action called the Battle of the Brigade Box
Operation Epsom (26th June - 1st July 1944)
Operation Epsom was a British attack to seize Caen, France. Three assaults by Canadian and Scottish units of British VIII Corps from 26th June to 1st July 1944 achieved local objective but failed to take the city despite heavy casualties, particularly amongst the 15th (Scottish) Division, in what became know as the 'Scottish Corridor'. The attack was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment that allowed the attackers to break the German defenses west of the city and begin an envelopment to the south. German counterattacks, aided by the arrival of two SS armoured divisions in the sector of Hill 112 hit the British on their right, forcing the attackers to give up their attempt just south of Baron.
Operation Charnwood (7th - 9th July 1944)
The Battle of Caen was in danger of becoming bogged down – or so it appeared. The fighting turned into a war of position, with soldiers on both sides holed up in trenches. Attack followed counter-attack without any tangible results. The Great War was beginning to cast its grim shadow across the Normandy front
Operation Charnwood was the next British attempt to take Caen, France. The plan was for simultaneous attacks by 3rd Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and the British 3rd and 59th Divisions, totaling over 115,000 men. Other British and Canadian units would pin down the Germans on the flanks. A massive air raid was to prelude the assault followed by a bombardment by the 16 inch shells of HMS Rodney. The 59th Division lead the assault with the other two divisions following on. Heavy house to house fighting took place, but gradually, the Allies started to fight there way into Caen, with the Canadians losing more men than they did on D-Day. In the evening, the Germans started to retreat, and in the morning of 9th July the Canadians took Carpiquet, Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe, Venoix and La Maladrerie, and at long last entered Caen. Further east, the British slowly advanced through streets that had been rendered totally unrecognizable by the piles of ruins that had been accumulating ever since 6th June. Even then only the northern area of Caen was taken, the Germans maintained their grip on the southern and eastern parts of the city. The Germans had taken up position on the right bank, where they were to hold their ground for a further ten days before a fresh offensive (Operation Atlantic) dislodged them. On 19th July, guided by members of the Resistance (FFI), the Canadians took over the districts on the right bank. Caen was now totally liberated, though the enemy was still at its gates.
Hill 112 (10th July - 23rd July 1944)
Hill 112 was an unimpressive stretch of country covered with wheat two or three feet high, and with a few wooded copses and several villages on its slopes. From this elevation the entire valleys of the Odon and Orne could be seen, and the Germans said, "He who controls Hill 112 controls Normandy." Certainly they clung to it desperately, and when they were driven off counter-attacked at once to regain possession. Following the failure of Operation Epsom, the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions regained the hill on 29th June, and between then and 23rd July, when they were driven from Maltot, the area around Hill 112 changed hands many times and thousands of Allied and German troops were killed or wounded on its bloody slopes. The 43rd (Wessex) Division alone lost more than 2,000 men in the first 36 hours of the operation to regain Hill 112. It was reported that the Odon River was dammed with corpses. The attack began before dawn on 10th July with an impressive artillery barrage. By 06:30 hours 129th Brigade (comprising 4th Bn. and 5th Bn. Wiltshire Regt. and 4 Bn. Somerset Light Infantry), had advanced through the waist-high wheat sprinkled with poppies. They reached their objectives at the crest of the hill, although for several hours fierce close-quarter battles continued in the wheat where SS troops manned concealed machine-gun nests and refused to surrender even when wounded. The task of 130th Brigade was to capture the villages of Eterville and Maltot, after which 214th Brigade was to exploit with an armoured brigade to the Orne. From a firm base provided by 5th Dorsets, the 4th Dorsets launched a successful attack on Eterville, and at 08:15 hours 7th Bn. Royal Hampshire Regt. attacked Maltot, initiating what has been called "a battle of shattering intensity even by the standard of Normandy." SS panzer troops supported by dug-in and concealed Tiger tanks held an almost impregnable position, and even when the Royal Hampshires were reinforced by 4th Dorsets no progress could be made. Among the many casualties were five company commanders. From Eterville 5th Bn. Dorsetshire Regt and 7th Bn. Somerset Light Infantry held off savage counter-attacks, as did 5th Bn. Wiltshire Regt. and 4th Bn. Somerset Light Infantry during the day. By 15:00 hours it was clear that a fresh attack on Hill 112 was needed, but of the 214th, the reserve brigade, two battalions had already been committed, leaving only 5th Bn Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI). So with 4th Somerset LI as a firm base 5th DCLI launched an attack at 22:30 hours with two companies up front. The crest of the hill was reached and the battalion consolidated in a wood, which was later called Cornwall Wood, just in time to meet savage counter-attacks from the 9th SS Panzer Division. In fighting that continued all night, 10 counter-attacks were beaten off, but when battalion commander was killed and most of the officers and NCO's killed or wounded, the remnants of the DCLI withdrew. The CO of 4th Somerset LI formed the survivors into two companies and sent them back to the wood for what has been called "the death struggle of 5th DCLI," The final overwhelming attack left about 75 survivors, approximately 10 percent of the original strength of the battalion. After the battle, all battalions of the 43rd Division required reinforcements, which, in effect, produced new battalions. Within two weeks 5th DCLI was back at full strength and in action on Hill 112, and 4th Somerset LI required reinforcements of 19 officers and 479 other ranks. The enemy suffered equally with the 9th SS Panzer Division, also suffering very heavy causalities that during the battle for Hill 112, with its infantry companies being reduced to five or six men each. On 29th July when Maltot was captured at last by 4th and 5th Wiltshires, and it was found that the dead of the Dorsets and Royal. Hampshires, who had fallen on 10th July, were still laying in heaps around partly dug slit trenches and in streets and fields.
Operation Goodwood (18th - 20th July 1944)
With the key town of Caen still in German hands and with the bocage landscape of Normandy proving a serious impediment to attacking operations but the clearer land to the east, between Caen and Vimont, looked more promising. The largest armoured assault yet seen in western Europe was planned as Operation Goodwood for 18th July 1944. Allied armour from the 2nd Army was chosen to lead the attack, and though it was expected to be costly, certain commanders had high hopes of a breakthrough. The main force would be the armoured divisions of the VIII Corps, in the form of the 11th, the 7th and the Guards Armoured Divisions. The 11th Armoured targets were Bras, Hubert-Folie, Verrieres, and Fontenay; the 7th Armoured Garcelles-Secqueville; and while the Guards Armoured would push through around Cagny and Vimont. The target was to push the Germans from the higher ground of the Bourguebus Ridge. A Canadian force would cover the east flank and British infantry the west flank. The plan was developed by Miles Dempsey and was approved by the commander-in-chief Bernard Montgomery on 10th July. The Allied attack had certain problems from the onset: the armour had to cross the Orne River and the Caen Canal to reach the battle ground but to move too early would alert the Germans to the attack. In hindsight we can see that the armour moved too late: the thousands of tanks were horribly slowed by the bottle-neck of the three Orne bridges and when they reached the battle area they ran into another problem. The entire area had been heavily mined, not just by the Germans but by the Allies too especially in the weeks after the June landings great areas had been mined and not marked, leading to the leading Allied force, the 11th Division, running into Allied anti-tank mines. A more serious problem was that the terrain was not as advantageous as hoped and the area was filled with small villages, each of which had a small German garrison of infantry, armour and artillery. The area was thus divided into a series of strongpoints overlooking the intended Allied line of advance. The pre-attack bombardment was undertaken by almost 1,000 heavy and medium bombers dropping over 15,000 bombs. The German positions to the east of Caen were carpet-bombed and many of the villages were reduced to rubble, severely disrupting the German defenses and initially reducing the German soldiers to stunned, unresisting groups. Early advances by the Allied armour were taken under a creeping barrage but were slow, despite encountering little resistance. By the time the Caen-Vimont railway was reached the Germans had regrouped. The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry lost twelve tanks at Cagny when 88mm AA guns were turned on them: a single hit on a Sherman was usually sufficient to reduce it to a burning wreck. The Allies slowly pushed through and crossed the railway line to approach the German-held ridge at Bourguebus, where they encountered the 21st Panzer Division and the 1st SS Panzer Division. Over seventy Shermans were destroyed before the Allies withdrew. The German armour counter-attacked around evening and fighting continued along the high ground and around Hubert-Folie until the 19th, by which time any chance of a breakthrough was lost. In all the Allies had extended their control over an extra seven miles to the east of Caen and destroyed over 100 German tanks, for the loss of 413 tanks and over 5,500 men. The action did however give the US operation codenamed Cobra a greater chance of success. Bourguebus was finally captured by the men of the Calgary Highlanders, from 2nd Canadian Division, who launched two attacks on the Bourguebus Ridge. The first on 25th July failed to secure the heights, but a later successful action from 7th to 9th August, succeeded. However, the cost of these actions was very high.
Operation Spring (24th - 28th July 1944)
This was an attack by the 2nd Canadian Corps, as a combined infantry and tank assault down the main Caen-Falaise road, being effectively an extension of Operation Goodwood. The attacked started on 24th July with 2nd Canadian Division on the right flank, with 7th Armoured Division supporting 3rd Canadian Division, which were heading for Verrieres.
As usual an air bombardment and artillery preceded the attack, but the Germans had 1st SS Panzer Division on the ridge with a 100 tanks, plus a battle group from 2nd Panzer Division. The Canadians suffered heavy casualties, particularly The Canadian Black Watch, the Fusiliers Mont Royal and the Calgary Highlanders. On the night of 26th/27th July the Germans counter attacked in the Verrieres area, but these were driven off with the help of artillery fire. Eventually, Verrieres and Tilly-la-Campagne were taken at great cost to the Canadians, but 4th Canadian Brigade at Verrieres, was across the Caen-Falaise road.
The battle of the Cotentin and the fall of Cherbourg
Cherbourg was a strategic objective for the Allies. The success of the Overlord plan depended on its capture, as the port was to be used by ships coming straight from the United States, laden with the soldiers and equipment needed to re-conquer Europe.
The first offensive, was launched from Utah Beach along the N13 trunk road, but it was halted by fierce resistance from the Germans in Montebourg. Undaunted, the Allies launched another attack, this time towards the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, where the enemy was least expecting them. On 18th June, the Americans reached the coast at Barneville, neatly cutting the peninsula off from the rest of Normandy. 40,000 Germans were trapped, their days of freedom numbered.
The US VII Corps swung northwards, once more, advancing rapidly, with three divisions abreast, This force liberated first Briquebec, then Valognes which had been reduced to a desolate and dreary desert of rubble by aerial bombardments. As they advanced, the Americans discovered a large number of bases for launching V1 rockets, and even one V2 base in Brix.
On 21st June, the Americans had reached Cherbourg’s outer defences. The city’s commander, Lieutenant-General von Schlieben, ignored a formal demand for surrender and gave orders for the port installations to be destroyed. On 23rd June, the first defensive wall was broken and just two days later, the US troops swarmed through the city’s streets, while out to sea battleships and cruisers joined in a battle of the titans with the German heavy batteries. On the 26th, the Fort du Roule was taken. Von Schlieben and Admiral Hennecke, the naval commander, emerged from their underground headquarters and surrendered. The Germans entrenched in the naval shipyard held on for a few more hours, before joining the thousands of their comrades who were already prisoners. When Hitler learned that Cherbourg had fallen to the Americans, he flew into a terrible rage.
The bells pealed madly all over the city. Cherbourg had suffered comparatively little during the fighting, and its jubilant population gave their liberators an especially enthusiastic welcome. Until then, the GIs had only crossed towns and cities that had been reduced to ruins and were more or less deserted. Here, the atmosphere was very different and there was much fraternization and popping of champagne corks . On 27th June, thousands of Cherbourgeois acclaimed the victorious generals, grouped on the steps of the town hall.
The only problem was the state of the port, which was littered with mines and the wrecks of scuttled ships. On the booby-trapped quaysides, the rails had been torn up, the cranes toppled and the swing bridge sabotaged. The harbour station was in ruins. Teams of specialists worked non-stop. Even though it was to take several more months before the port of Cherbourg became totally operational, it was able to handle the first Liberty ships from the United States by the end of July. A few days after that, the PLUTO undersea pipeline was laid, carrying oil from the Isle of Wight to supply the terminal at Querqueville.
The war of the Hedgerows
After the fall of Cherbourg, General Bradley led his troops back to a line between Carentan and Portbail, in order to thrust southwards. This new offensive, however, launched at the beginning of July in torrential rain, soon became bogged down. The Germans had received considerable reinforcements and had had plenty of time to establish entrenched positions of formidable efficiency like the units defending them. These included General Meindl’s Parachutists and elements of the Das Reich and Götz von Berlichingen SS Divisions
When the strategists drew up the plans for Overlord, they failed to pay enough attention to the particular nature of Normandy’s bocage landscape. The cumbersome Allied war machine was ill-suited to this maze of tiny enclosed fields and sunken lanes, which were far more favourable to guerrilla warfare. Lying in wait in the undergrowth, snipers armed with Panzerschrecks (the equivalent of the American bazooka) or Panzerfausts picked off the tanks as they lumbered over the hedges, exposing their vulnerable undersides
The support from tactical artillery and aviation which was normally so decisive was less useful here, because of the impossibility of pinpointing enemy positions with any degree of accuracy. The “war of the hedgerows” was above all an infantry battle in which the defender had the advantage. Plunged into a living hell, tens, if not hundreds, of GIs lost their lives in battles to capture a hedge that looked exactly the same as the last one they had taken and desperately similar to those they had yet to conquer
Seven thousand GIs were killed or wounded during fighting to liberate the modest town of Sainteny, between Carentan and Périers. Ten thousand more were put out of action while fighting to capture first La Haye-du-Puits (8th July), then Lessay (take a whole week later, despite being just eight kilometres away). One man lost for each metre won! Some companies were reduced to just a few dozen men. The losses were even more terrible in the slogging battle to take Saint-Lô, as the town was fiercely defended by a regiment of paratroops who held the hills to the north. When he entered the “capital of ruins” on 18th July, in the wake of the men of the US 29th Division, one war correspondent described it as “the valley of the shadow of death”.
July 1944 was undoubtedly the blackest and the most difficult month for the Allies. According to their forecasts, they should have liberated Brittany and reached the Loire by D+60, but in the event they were still held in check along the Saint-Lô-Caen line. In more than three weeks the front had only advanced by a few kilometres, and losses had been heavy. At this rate, it would be another month before the Americans reached Coutances.
Operation Cobra - The US break-out (24th - 28th July 1944)
Operation Cobra was the codename for the World War II operation planned by United States Army general Omar Bradley to break out from the Normandy area after the previous month's D-Day landings. On 10th July, 1944, Bradley revealed these plans to British generals Bernard Montgomery and Miles Dempsey. Montgomery and Dempsey agreed to supply the supporting attacks for the American advance in this operation up to Caen. As they proceeded, however, Montgomery and Dempsey planned an alternate breakout of their own forces before the Americans, Operation Goodwood. Goodwood's failure on 18th July nonetheless diverted the majority of German armour east of the Americans' position. On 24th July, B-17s from the Eighth Air Force attempted to soften up German defenses. Bradley called the attack off at the last minute, but 300 B-17s did not receive the message and, hindered by poor visibility, dropped 700 tons of bombs on the first day and 3,300 tons of high explosive on the next morning, some on American as well as German positions.
For nearly a month, the Americans had been bogged down in the hellish war of the hedgerows. Operation Cobra, launched at the end of July, would at long last open a decisive gap in the German lines. General Bradley, commanding the First Army, had worked out his strategy extremely carefully. Aerial saturation bombing over a limited area would briefly destroy all the defences there and create a breach through which his forces could pour. The area he chose lay between the villages of La Chapelle-Enjuger and Hébécrevon, a few kilometres north of the main road between Saint-Lô and Coutances
An initial attempt, on 24th July, proved disastrous, as the bombers dropped some of their bombs on the American front lines, killing or wounding 150 men. Despite this, a second attempt was made the very next day. For three hours, 1,500 B-17 and B-24 bombers pummeled the target, supported by medium bombers and fighter bombers attacking with napalm. This time, the Germans did not escape so lightly. General Bayerlein’s Panzer Lehr, which had only recently arrived in the sector, was literally blown to pieces. 45-tonne Panther tanks were lifted off the ground by the force of the explosions and torn apart like children’s toys. Infantrymen were buried alive in their shelters. The few, shell-shocked survivors either surrendered without a fight or fled.
Even so, it was certainly no picnic for the American infantry. Fierce fighting continued throughout the 25th, as efforts were made to open up a passage for the armoured vehicles. Now that they had been fitted with the famous hedge-cutting devices invented by Sergeant Cullins, the American tanks were able to rip their way through the thickets with the greatest of ease.
On 26th July, the US VII Corps advanced ten kilometres, taking first Saint-Gilles, then Canisy, after crossing the Coutances-Saint-Lô road. Cracks started to appear in the German front, reduced to a thin crust. It collapsed the next day. The American armoured divisions swept southwards and westwards. Marigny, Lessay and Périers were taken the same day. Coutances was liberated on the 28th by General Wood’s US 4th Armoured Division
Entire German units were encircled in the Roncey Pocket, for instance while others simply fell apart. The suffering they had endured during the previous two months of hard fighting suddenly came home to these shaken and demoralized troops. Thousands of men were captured, disarmed and, more often than not, left where they were, as there was no time to take them to a camp. Von Choltitz, the commander of the German 84th Corps, vainly attempted to rebuild new lines of defence, but these became obsolete before they had even been established. Nothing could stop the Americans now. It was time for General Patton's US Third Army to advance through into northwestern France.
On 1st August, the Americans reorganised their operations. At the head of his newly-formed Third Army, General Patton gave a phenomenal new impetus to the battle. In fewer than three days, seven divisions, the equivalent of 100,000 men and 10,000 vehicles, were moved through a narrow bottleneck that had been opened up south of Avranches, before fanning out in different directions. One of these army corps swept southwards through Brittany, a second headed for the Loire while the third veered round towards Le Mans.
During this time, the First US Army had run into problems as it headed east, up the Sée and Sélune valleys. Their attack was coordinated with one launched southwards from Caumont-L’Eventé by the XXX British Corps, as part of Operation Bluecoat. The rugged relief of this area of the bocage, with its narrow, twisting lanes and impenetrable hedges, slowed the Allied advance to a crawl, the Germans reluctant to relinquish even one square inch without a struggle
On 2nd August, after five days of fighting, the Americans entered Percy and liberated Villedieu and Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët, before entering Mortain the next day. For their part, the British captured Villers-Bocage and what was left of Aunay-sur-Odon, which had been devastated by aerial bombardments in June. After conquering Mount Pinçon with considerable difficulty, they started advancing on Vire from the east, but soon ran into fierce resistance from the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions.
Then came a bolt from the blue. In the morning of 7th August, the Germans launched a major armoured counter-attack on Mortain from both sides. Operation Lüttich had been planned from start to finish by the General Headquarters of the Wehrmacht, against the advice of the military leaders on the ground. Its objective, imposed by Hitler in person, was to smash through American lines and reach the bay of Mont St Michel, some thirty kilometers distant, slicing through the Avranches bottleneck along the way. Cut off from their supplies, Patton’s troops would be isolated and become sitting ducks.
In order to achieve this, four panzer divisions were moved with the utmost secrecy, reinforced by infantry. Thanks to the element of surprise – as well as the thick morning mist, the panzers broke out and advanced as much as ten or twelve kilometers in some sectors. Heavily bombed overnight by the Luftwaffe, Mortain was briefly recaptured. The 30th US Division bore the brunt of this frontal attack and had to fall back. Some of its units found themselves surrounded, like the famous “lost battalion”, which remained under siege on Hill 314, east of the town, for six days, heroically resisting repeated attacks from the SS.
However the US forces were out of the Cotentin Peninsula and into France itself. This allowed them to start swinging around the southern flank of the German forces and move eastwards towards Argentan and close the Falaise Gap.
Operation Bluecoat (1st - 9th August 1944)
On the morning of 1st August, in thick mist, the Division saw action again as it advanced towards Aunay-sur-Audon, but became entangled with the traffic of 50th Division, who were also using the same roads. As they were fighting through Rommel's fortified villages, two days later the Division were still 5 miles short of their original object of Aunay-sur-Audon, although 11th Armoured Division were making good progress towards Vire. During the afternoon of 3rd August the German 326th Division counter attacked and fierce fighting took place around Aunay-sur-Audon, where heavy casualties, were suffered by the British.
On 4th August, 7th Armoured Division finally met up with 69th Brigade of 50th Division south of Villers-Bocage. The main armoured thrust was then redirected to La Poste, a few miles west of Villers-Bocage. The plan was to move south and then outflank Aunay, which was now in ruins, which fell to 50th Division the next day. By 6th August the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards were below Mont Picon and they waited in support as during the night of 6th/7th August 1/7th Queens attacked, gaining a foothold on the plateau on top. Meanwhile the 43rd (Wessex) Division, with tanks from 13th/18th Hussars, also worked their way up the hill, via an old farm track. During the attack SS troops stripped to the waist came shouting and screaming at them, only to be stopped by the Vickers Machine Guns of the Northumberland Fusiliers. The battle for Mont Picon was hard as the Germans had over forty 88mm and 75mm guns on the top to defend it, of which three 88mm and a 75mm were captured, along with 142 prisoners. The Germans counter attacked at 07:00 on the morning of 7th August, but this was driven of with the assistance of the artillery fire.
By 7th August Mont Picon had been captured and General Horrocks, the commander of 30 Corps established his command post on the top. The slops of Mont Picon offered excellent views of the surrounding countryside and he wanted to launch an attack by two columns of infantry and tanks towards Conde, ten miles away. Neither column got very far as they met stiff opposition, with the countryside being too thick for the tanks to work well. So the advance halted. By the evening of 9th August the ridge from Aunay, via Mont Picon, to La Vallee was in British hands During Operation Bluecoat, Montgomery had ordered to push on regardless of casualties and this had certainly been heeded, with heavy losses being suffered by many units.
Operation Luttich and Operations Totalize (6th - 10th August 1944)
Operation Totalize was a ground attack on 7th August, 1944 by Canadian and Polish forces to breakout from the Normandy beachhead along the Caen-Falaise road. Although the attack failed in its objective, it did serve as a spoiling attack, disrupting German forces massing for the Luttich attack. Operation Totalize preceded Operation Tractable
As part of Operation Luttich, the German General Kluge positioned the 116th, 2nd, 2nd SS and 1st SS Panzer divisions east of Mortain, ready for a counter-attack on Patton's Third U.S. Army to isolate it from the bridgehead. He was then told to delay and wait for reinforcements. Kluge replied that no Panzers should be withdrawn from the heavy fighting around Caen, and that the Americans were moving in from Le Mans. He insisted that the attack go ahead. The Germans moved against Avranches, and achieved some success at Mortain; but, the divisional operations officer reported their advance as an uncoordinated attempt at escape while the infantry moved to higher ground on Hill 317, to bring artillery to bare.
In the face of heavy fire from RAF Typhoons and the 9th USAF Operation Luttich turned into a German catastrophe over the course of the next 6 days. The US battalion defending Hill 317 received a presidential unit citation for its determination. Shortly after noon on 7th August, the mists finally lifted and there was a dramatic change in fortunes. Waves of Allied fighter-bombers attacked the German armoured columns, firing guns and rockets. The German divisions were pinned down and lost more than 150 tanks in the space of just a few hours. By the evening, it was clear that their attack had failed. At Mortain, Hitler had had his final throw of the dice in Normandy. And he had lost!
The Allies now commanded extensive French lands; their only real problem being one of provisioning the armies advancing along the roads to Paris. They needed to widen the Avranches corridor to permit the flow of 2000 tons of supplies per day. Given the current situation of the German army, the neatest solution would be for the Canadians to go through the German defences that were still intact south and east of Caen and join hands with the Americans directly. This would have the additional and priceless side-effect of encircling the bulk of Army Group B between 21st and 12th Army Groups and crushing it out of existence. Operation Totalize commenced as an unusual operation as it was night attack using "artificial moonlight" and tracer shells to indicate enemy positions and lines of advance Heavy bombers would be used in support of ground troops, with the first bombers doing so at night. For one of the first times for the British and Canadians the leading troops would be transported in armoured personnel carriers called Kangaroos. Their only opposition was Kurt Meyer's reorganised 12th SS, Panzer Division in reserve behind the 89th German Infantry Division. Unfortunately, General Simonds was ill-informed by army intelligence of the enemy's strength. Their constant movement had created an impression of greater capacity than existed. This meant that he was led to believe that the German second defence line would be tough to crack, for the Germans habitually kept their better troops in the second line from which they emerged to counterattack and so for that phase of his attack General Simond's retained heavy bombers of the U.S. Air Force to plaster the German line.
On 6th August 1944 two days before Totalize, General Simonds learned that the enemy had withdrawn the 1st SS and 12th SS Panzer Divisions from his front line and replaced them with untried 89th and 272nd Infantry Divisions which, having been astride the Falaise road, were sidestepped to the east. Expecting the SS divisions had both moved into the second line from about Bretteville-sur-Laize to Saint-Sylvain, he decided to exploit the numbing effect of the strategic bombing of the German second line by combining the second and third phases of the attack, namely, the break into and the subsequent breakout and advance through and beyond the second line. The weakness of the German first line led General Simonds to try to maintain the momentum of the attack by ordering the infantry divisions in the first phase to be more aggressive, since the resistance of the 89th German Infantry would be slight, and by launching the second phase on a broader front than at first intended. .Therefore, it was decided to launch the attack by the 1st Polish Armoured Division and 4th Canadian Armoured simultaneously and to direct these two divisions straight to their final objectives at phase three
The attacked started at 07:20, on 8th August 1944, when Canadian and British guns opened fire. The general idea was to concentrate the motorised infantry in the Kangaroos and armour in the centre and use darkness to confuse the enemy armour and guns. Behind these troops came marching infantry to mop up the villages bypassed by the armour and accompanying motorised infantry. The Canadian 2nd and 3rd Divisions, with heavy tank support, rolled over the obstacles that stopped them in July. But once going, the armoured divisions then made little progress. Kurt Meyer, upon hearing of the operation, ordered north the Kampfgruppe Krause (a force of 20 tanks from 12th SS Panzer Division) to block the Falaise road near Cintheaux. He then drove up himself to consult the 89th Division, which was taking the brunt of the attack. Near Cintheaux he encountered the first German soldiers he had ever seen in flight, but at 11:30, the German tanks attacked the high ground south of Saint-Aignan de Cramesnil, even before phase two bombing could begin. The allied HQ staff had no idea where they had come from, and the coming bombing prevented anyone from gathering intelligence on the enemy for hours. The German attack added to the congestion in the start line, and constricted the 1st Polish division's advance for the rest of the day. It also brought the Germans within the bomb safety line, leaving them untouched when the bombing started.
Two inexperienced armoured divisions, the 4th Canadian and the 1st Polish, were sent in against the German's second line of defence and there their performance was disappointing. Too often , they stopped to deal with strong points, rather than by-passing them. The Poles suffered heavy losses to the German tanks, through being too impetuous, while the Canadians were too deliberate. General Simonds ordered them to press on, but the tanks withdrew into 'safe harbours'. The Halpenny force on the right of the 4th Armoured Division lacked urgency. By nightfall, they were scarcely beyond Cintheaux, while the 10th Infantry Group was only in Hautemesnil. On 9th August General Patton turned his two foremost armoured divisions, the 5th US Armoured and the Free French 2nd, north from Le Mans. In front of them lay Panzer Group Eberbach, formed just to oppose them, but overstretched across two large woods and country. The 2nd Canadian and 51st Highland divisions with the 2nd Armoured Brigade captured the high ground, but this was the limit of the advance by the end of the day. Quesnay and its wood remained in German hands.
Things might have gone very differently if Montgomery had reinforced the Canadians with units from the 2nd Army. They were making their way through the bocage with relative ease. He could easily have detached 7th Armoured Armoured, shifting it to support the Canadian assault, and it is not known why he did not. Operation Totalize ended on 10th August 1944 with a total gain of 9 miles, and the Canadians nowhere near their objective of Falaise
Operation Tractable - The Battle for the Falaise Gap (16th - 21st August 1944)
Despite the failure of Totalize, Montgomery resolved to try again and reassembled his army for another push on Falaise, seven miles away. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the 1st Polish Armoured Divisions had thrust forward into positions menacing the rear of the whole German Panzer concentration in Normandy. The Panzers, themselves, were in sad state at half-strength: Panzer Lehr was a shadow of itself with almost no tanks left; the 1st, 2nd, 9th and 10th Divisions were heavily damaged; the 17th SS Panzergrenadier, already weak to begin with, was crippled, while the 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer had all suffered heavy losses. Only the 9th Panzer, newly arrived from the south of France was largely intact and even they were not up to full complement. Moreover, the German divisions were bunched in three groups, each facing encirclement.
On the German side, despite these problems, Hitler still demanded Kluge renew his Operation Luttich. On 10th August, he informed Kluge that the original attack had failed because it was launched prematurely and was thus too weak, and under weather conditions favouring the enemy. It is to be repeated elsewhere with powerful forces so that Six Panzers divisions were to engage in a more south-westerly direction under the command of General Hans Eberbach. However, this would lead them straight into Eisenhower's trap.
The situation remained fluid and on 10th August, the Americans reached Le Mans and drove to Argentan ready to move on towards Falaise. On 13th August Bradley, Dempsey and Montgomery met to discuss plans, and no restraints were placed on American movements beyond British Army boundaries. Montgomery believed that the Germans would move their armoured forces east toward supplies and the bocage and that they would hold off the Americans in that region to cover their withdrawal. Therefore, expecting the Germans to concentrate at Alencon rather than Falaise, he ordered the Canadian and Poles to capture Falaise as soon as possible.
By 14th August, General Bradley was sure the American Third Army held a firm front on the arc to the north of Falaise. His plan was to pin the Germans, then detach a minimum force to clean up the Brittany peninsula, and open the Brittany ports. After this, the Allies would move through the Falaise gap to Paris. He ordered Patton to detach two divisions of XV Corps for a long envelopment toward Dreux and Mantes Gassicourt to seize a bridgehead across the Seine. The XX Corps was to move towards Chartres while XII Corps moved towards Orleans. The remaining two divisions of XV Corps would be reinforced by an additional division, and supported by VII Corps moving east from Mortain. Meanwhile Montgomery was not so complacent with the plan. He favoured a long envelopment, and believed the gap should be closed between Trun and Chambois. Though supporting Bradley's decision, and he ordered the capture of Trun as well as Falaise.
On 15th August, the Canadians had reached Potigny, 18 miles from Argentan and the outlines of what would soon be called the 'Falaise Pocket' had now begun to stand out on the maps and on the countryside of southern Normandy. Upto 300,000 German soldiers were trapped in the pocket and the surrounding divisions had virtually disintegrated with the 1st SS, 2nd, 9th, and 116th Panzer divisions were reduced to 30, 25, 15, and 12 tanks respectively. Their commander, Kluge, spent the day under fire, touring the pocket in which his army was confined, while Hitler spent the day musing on treason. That evening, Hitler decided that Kluge was intending to "lead the whole of the Western Army into capitulation" and so he relieved Kluge of command, and replaced him with Walther Model.
Hitler, aware now of possible entrapment, demanded a full attack on XV Corps; but, the Ultra project had provided the Allies with the complete text of General Eberbach's intentions to hit at the allies exposed left flank at Argentan. So under orders to close the Falaise Gap, General Simonds devised Operation Tractable and order part of 2nd Canadian Corps to swing southeast to take Trun as rapidly as possible. The 4th Canadian and 1st Polish Armoured division thrust off to the southeast toward Trun to seal the gap through which the Germans were retreating.
There were two problems with completing the plan which were a) on the night of 14th/15th August, th Germans had captured a copy of the Canadian plans from a Canadian officer who got lost, and b) Bomber Command had been asked to bomb six targets in the Quesnay-Fontaine-le-Pin-Bons-Tassilly area, and sent 144 aircraft with stop-watches to do a timed run from the coast. They were warned not to bomb before the elapsed time. As the bombers passed overhead, Canadian troops on the ground noticed that the bomb bays were open, and fired yellow flares to alert the friendly aircraft to their position. Unfortunately, no one had briefed the crews as to Army signals, nor had the army been told that the Pathfinders were dropping yellow T1s. Some bomber crews assumed the yellow flares marked their targets. They became confused and dropped their bombs: and in total 65 Canadian soldiers were killed outright.
When the attack began at 1200, with smoke and dust followed by chaos. Communications broke down and after the death of their commander there was no controlling hand in the Fourth Armoured Brigade for a few vital hours. Bombing errors caused 400 casualties, particularly in the gun areas, and contributed to delays in getting guns forward. A map-reading error led the Poles into the bottle-neck through which the retreating Germans were struggling to escape, and their own retreat was prevented by the Second Panzer Corps holding the bottleneck open. British and Canadian artillery laid smoke along the flanks, while tanks swept down the Laison valley, followed by infantry carrying wasps (flamethrowers mounted on carriers). The tank crews had been told the river was fordable at almost all points, but the tanks either bogged down or moved frantically along the river looking for a place to cross. This cost them over two hours, and cost the Second Corps a decisive battle. On the German side, Von Kluge handed over command to Field Marshal Model and was recalled to Germany only to learn that he was accused of being co-conspirator in an attempted overthrow of Hitler, and took poison.
By 16th August, the advance elements of the 2nd Canadian Division had got into heavy woods just north of Falaise, and during the night, infantry and tanks battled into the devastated town. From dawn until dusk, the air forces bombed machine-gunned and shot up enemy transport, tanks, and guns. The roads were blocked with wrecked equipment. The dead (horses and men) lay everywhere. Most Germans surrendered, but some took to guerrilla warfare, surviving a day or two in the woods, and coming out with hands raised, only to throw a live grenade in the face of their captors. 12th SS Panzer Grenadiers were to fight to the end. It was obvious to Montgomery that they could never close the gap between Falaise and Argentan in time. Instead, he decided to close the trap farther east along the River Dives, between Trun and Chambois. He asked Bradley to send a force northeast to Chambois to link up with the Canadians and Poles already there. He then ordered once again that it was imperative the Canadians take Trun quickly and hold it.
By 18th August 1944, the town of Falaise, whose normal population was 7,000 people, was clear of Germans. The 1st Polish Armoured Division along with other Canadian units were ordered the to attack and close the gap, with Allied Airforces flying upto 3,000 sorties a day. Their intent was to trap the thousands of Germans trapped in the Falaise pocket.
Polish Armoured Division units reached the outskirts of Chambois by nightfall, but were spread over 10 miles of hilly countryside in numbers too few to close the gap. Their key positions were the twins hill "Maczuga" or mace where the Germans mounted intense combat in support of retreating soldiers. Armoured divisions north of Trun established control of the highways to the northeast, while part of the 4th Armoured Division took Trun and advanced to St Lambert sur Dives. Several secondary roads ran through that village to converge on a small bridge, ending in a pair of rough tracks leading into the hills towards Vimoutiers. This was one of the few clear roads out of the pocket, and the remaining German forces could not afford to give it up.
The Falaise Gap was now six miles wide, and the Germans were fighting ferociously to escape the trap. Even surrounded, the German troops were still well equipped and battle hardened. The Polish tanks were being picked off one at a time by the far superior German tiger tanks and the rest of the Poles were taking heavy casualties from German artillery. Then, Canadian artillery weighed in, but the battle went on so long that the Poles were running out of ammunition. Their situation was becoming desperate!
On 19th August, the 10th Polish Mounted Rifle Regiment of the First Canadian Army, and the U.S. 90th Division linked up at Chambois in a loose encirclement that trapped the Germans at the Trun-Chambois Gap, rather than at Argentan-Falaise. Bradley admitted that he was at fault in stopping Patton's advance, but he blamed Montgomery for failing to close the gap which was reinforced by the Germans. Meanwhile Canadian battle group had been assigned to capture the town St Lambert which lay half-way between Chambois and Trun. After six hours of fighting they were only half way through the town and despite being reinforced that night, but still they could not get through.
On 20th August, the Poles of the First Canadian Army and the Americans hand linked up at Chambois, but the Canadian command found his troops at St Lambert were being overrun by Germans attempting to breakout in a series of counter-attacks starting at 08:00.
In St. Lambert, the Canadian Commander Major John Currie and his men fought on. He used his command tank to knock out a Tiger and then a rifle to deal with snipers who had infiltrated close to his headquarters. His fellow officers were dead or wounded, but Forty more reinforcements made it to his position, and together they held it until the gap finally closed on August 21st. The Canadians had destroyed 7 tanks, 12 88 mm guns, and 40 vehicles, killing 300 Germans, wounding another 500, and taken 2100 prisoners. Major Currie won the Victoria Cross for his actions.
The gap finally closed on 21st August 1994, when the Canadians connected with the Poles. Despite what has often been said, the battle of the Falaise Pocket was not the “Normandy Stalingrad”, as nearly 100,000 Germans succeeded in slipping through the Allied net between 12th and 20th August. They, did, however, have to leave most of their equipment behind them, together with 50,000 prisoners and 6,000-10,000 dead. The Germans are believed to have lost over 300,000 men in Normandy, but up to another 300,000 escaped across the Seine during the nights of 19th to 29th August. To give an idea of the losses, the 12th SS Panzer Division had been a division of 20,000 men with 150 tanks on D-Day, but by 25th August, it had less than 300 men, no tanks or artillery.
When General Eisenhower visited the battlefield piled high with the bodies of men and animals and the debris of burnt-out vehicles, he described it as “one of the greatest bloodbaths of the war”.
Canadian casualties in taking Falaise and the Gap were 18,500 dead, wounded and missing. The 3rd Canadian Division had lost more than any other under Montgomery's command. The 2nd Canadian Division was next. Canadian formations did well, but would certainly have done better had they not been learning as they fought. If the capture of Falaise had not taken so long by having to mount not one, but two set-piece operations at a time, when an early closing of the Falaise gap might have enabled the Allies to end the war some months sooner.
The battles around Caen had indeed been the key to Normandy, as they tied down the Germans from dealing with the threat from the US forces further west, thus enabling them to breakout and head for the Seine, closing the Falaise Gap on the way. Many British and Canadian units were virtually bled to death to allow the Americans to break out far easier than they would have been able to otherwise.
Out of Normandy
The next task was to move up the coast on the Allied flank and liberate the ports vital for Allied re-supply with only a fraction of their proper fighting strength and these were Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. Also the British and Americans were now racing after the retreating Germans across the Seine, into Belgium, Holland and Western France. Seven more months of war were to follow, with thousands more men to die on both sides, but the German army never recovered from the battles in Normandy, but enough men escaped to allow it to regroup and re-equipment behind the Seine, allowing it to carry out an effective fighting withdrawal towards Germany. However, the Allies had also suffered heavy losses, finding it easier to replace tanks, but not men, and in the months that followed the breakout from Normandy several British units were withdrawn from the frontline due to shortage of reinforcements, others were disbanded and the men used to strengthen other weakened units. These included 50th (Northumberland) Division and 59th (Staffordshire) Division. The Canadians where also short of men and it was only the Americans that still had the manpower to replace the casualties.
How right Rommel was!
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'The Shores of Normandy', by Jim Radford.
Supporting The British Normandy Memorial.
|The Theme from 'The Longest Day'.|
On 21st October 1940, Winston S. Churchill broadcast this speech to Occupied France.
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