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Sword Beach: The assault by the 8th Brigade

Discussion in 'Sword Beach' started by Jim, Feb 26, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The assault by the 8th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, on Sword Beach was somewhat similar to the US 4th Infantry Division at Utah, landing along a fairly narrow corridor only two battalions wide but thereby concentrating the entire force against a single strongpoint. The 1st South Lancs landed west of WN20 in La Breche, codenamed "Cod." This strongpoint included an 88mm gun in an H677 enfilade bunker as well as three 50mm pedestal guns. At the same time, the neigh boring 2nd East Yorks landed on its eastern side. The gun bunkers knocked out many Sherman flail tanks as they attempted to clear paths off the beach. The British infantry moved over the beach as quickly as possible to avoid the heavy fire against the shoreline. After the wire entanglements were breached, Cod was assaulted by elements of both battalions supported by DD tanks from 13th/18th Hussars and was overcome shortly after 1000hrs following nearly three hours of fighting. The defences in the center portion of Sword Beach had largely been eliminated once Cod was overwhelmed, but the beach remained under fire from scattered snipers, mortars and artillery located away from the beach. The German defensive positions on either side of the 8th Brigade were assigned to Commando units.
    In another parallel to the landings on the American beaches and the assault by the Rangers on Pointe-du-Hoc, the task of silencing the artillery batteries at the extreme eastern side of Sword Beach was assigned to 4 Commando. The battalion landed away from the defences, and advanced eastward to attack the strongpoint from the landward side. Two French troops were attached to 4 Commando, and led the attack on WN10. The lightly armed French Commandos had a hard time dealing with the numerous defences, which included a 75mm field gun in an H626 bunker, and the attack stalled. By this time, Sherman tanks from the neighbouring 8th Brigade had arrived near Ouistreham, and a DD tank was dispatched to assist in the Commando assault. Once the WN 10 defences were overcome with the help of tank fire, 4 Commando proceeded to assault the artillery battery in the StP 08 strongpoint in Riva Bella. A multi-storey observation tower at the far end dominated the strongpoint. As the Commandos fought past an outer ring of tobruks and other defences into the heart of the battery positions, they realised that the Germans had withdrawn the guns due to the pre-invasion bombardment, much as had occurred at Pointe-du-Hoc. German troops continued to hurl grenades from the observation tower, but rather than waste time and lives to capture the structure, 4 Commando left it for clean-up by follow-on troops.

    One of the primary objectives of British airborne troops in the area east of Sword Beach was strongpoint WN01, the Merville battery. The site is now preserved as a museum. It had been armed with 100mm field guns at the time of their capture. Also one of the original kettle gun pits built prior to the construction of the case mates.

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    To the west, 41 RM Commando assaulted strongpoint WN21 (Trout) in St Lion-sur-Mer, which included a single 75mm field gun and two pedestal-mounted 50mm guns in open pits. Strongpoint W 21 was deserted but the neighbouring chateau proved more difficult and 41 RM Commando was unable to proceed to its secondary objective, the Luftwaffe radar station at Douvres, even with the help of tanks.
    With the defences on Sword Beach thoroughly penetrated, albeit not entirely subdued, the follow-on waves moved off the beaches to carry out their further objectives. The 185th Brigade proceeded through Colleville-Plage on their way to Caen, encountering two major fortified areas in the process: an artillery battery in strongpoint WNI6, codenamed Morris, and the heavily fortified headquarters complex of Grenadier Regiment 736 in strongpoint WNI7, codenamed Hillman. The 1st Suffolks overwhelmed the artillery battery at WN16 and then proceeded on to the Hillman complex. Minefields and barbed wire encircled W 17, and the British infantry fought their way into the strongpoint after breaching the wire. The personnel bunkers inside it were the heavy bomb-proof type as used on the Westwall, and not the more vulnerable tobruk type common elsewhere on the D-Day beaches. As a result, the 1st Suffolks brought up some 17 -pdr anti-tank guns, attempting to crack open the bunkers by blasting their armoured cupolas. There were so many bunkers and firing ports that it took the 1st Suffolks the entire day to overwhelm the headquarters, not finally eliminating the resistance until 20:15hrs. Although casualties in the 1st Suffolks were not particularly heavy from the attack on Hillman, during the afternoon the 1st Royal Norfolks unwarily marched through a field within range of the strongpoint, and suffered about 150 casualties due to machine-gun fire. The prolonged resistance by strongpoint WNI7, as well as the later counterattack by elements of 21.Panzer-Division, were some of the reasons that the 185th Brigade was unable to press on to its intended objective that day, the city of Caen.


    One of the most imposing fortifications on Sword Beach was this observation position built into an existing water tower in the Trout strongpoint in Ouistreham. It has been preserved as Grand Bunker of the Atlantic Wall museum.

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  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The German Defensive Plan

    The German plan of defence against the Allied invasion was built around two key principles. First, the assaulting forces must be stopped or disorganised along the waterline itself by impregnable fixed defences and, second, they must be destroyed by an armoured counter-attack, either on the exposed beaches, or on suitable ground inland. This latter point provoked prolonged and bitter debate, dividing the Germans into two schools of thought. Rommel proposed that the armoured attack against an invasion must be made whilst the invaders were actually in the process of landing, just at the time they were most vulnerable. He reasoned that Panzer divisions must, therefore, be located close to the coast ready for action on the same day that the landings occurred. Geyr von Schweppenburg, commander Panzer Army West, and von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief (West) did not agree, claiming that the best option was to attack the Allied invaders with an overwhelming armoured force, on ground suitable for such tactics to be employed. Rommel was certain that Allied air superiority would foil any such attempt to mass Panzer divisions and that such a policy would be doomed to failure. He went so far as to suggest that if the Allies managed to establish a beachhead then the war would have been lost. Hitler, to whom all such arguments were referred for a decision, fudged the issue. He compromised, allowing one Panzer division to be located close to the coast under Army Group B's control for immediate use, whilst keeping others under his express control further back. In Normandy this compromise resulted in 21st Panzer Division being located south of Caen, and 12th SS Panzer Division 'Hitler Jugend' and Panzer Lehr Division being held further away, more than 100 miles from the Channel.
    The main defence against invasion rested in the strength of the Atlantic Wall, a line of interlocking concrete defensive strongpoint’s and minefields stretching along the Channel coastline.

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    Construction of these defences began in 1941 but progressed at a very slow pace whilst Hitler's forces achieved a succession of victories elsewhere. When things started to go seriously wrong for Germany and the great empire of the Third Reich began to contract, building work on the fortification of the Channel coast quickened in pace. In late 1943, Rommel was appointed to investigate and improve the strength and location of the fortifications. He ordered the upgrading of all existing building work and an increase in the numbers and location of a range of new fortifications. His determined approach and strategic eye for detail enabled a remarkable strengthening of the Atlantic Wall in a very short time, but when the Allied invasion came ashore in June 1944 its effectiveness was still well short of what had originally been planned.
    Along the length of Sword Beach, however, the Atlantic Wall offered a significant obstacle to the Allied forces. General Richter, commander of the German division garrisoning this stretch of coastline, had added his improvements to Rommel's defensive plan and created a number of interlocking strongpoint’s to supplement the wall of fortifications.
    The first thing that the invasion craft would meet on their run-in to Sword Beach was the fire of long-range artillery. The landing beaches were within range of the heavy guns of batteries away to the east as far afield as Le Havre, with calibres of 5.9-15.0in. Closer to Sword Beach were the smaller artillery positions at Merville, Ouistreham, Riva Bella and Colleville, housing guns with calibres of 4.1-6.1in. Next on their approach to the beaches the landing-craft would hit underwater defences, which were placed between high- and low-water marks and consisted of stakes topped by mines, steel obstacles called 'hedgehogs' made from sections of railway line, mined rafts floating just under the water, steel ramps and minefields. Once they had managed to manoeuvre themselves past these obstacles, the landing-craft would finally hit the beach. Here they would come under fire from the interlocking machine-gun posts; mortar weapons pits and anti-tank pill boxes, whose fire would be sweeping the area. Behind this line of fortifications were anti-tank sea walls, barbed wire entanglements and more minefields.
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Operation Overlord provided for ten divisions to be put ashore in Normandy on 6 June. Eight of these divisions would land as assault waves, whilst the other two would come ashore as part of the build-up of forces later that day. On the American front, two airborne divisions would land during the hours of darkness in the early morning and seize the land behind their beaches, whilst just after daylight three divisions would land on Utah and Omaha beaches either side of the estuary of the River Vire. British and Canadian forces would land one airborne division just after midnight to secure the eastern flank, and three divisions would then come ashore on beaches Gold, Juno and Sword during the early morning.

    6th Airborne’s Targets

    Major-General Richard Gales 6th Airborne Division had been set a series of tasks aimed at protecting the eastern flank of the seaborne landings and providing of a firm lodgement from which a rapid expansion of the beachhead could be launched when the time was right. Gale had been ordered to seize the bridges over the River Orne and the Caen Canal at Benouville to allow a link-up between the beaches and the airborne forces. He had also been tasked with destroying the bridges over the River Dives between Caen and the sea to prevent German counter-attacks from the east, and to hold the ground in between the Orne and Dives rivers in order to deny it to the enemy.

    A Horsa glider, which displays the three broad white recognition stripes of the Allies, is towed skywards by an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle tug aircraft.​


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    In addition, the gun battery at Merville had to be eliminated before it could interfere with the seaborne landings. Several drop zones (DZs) for paratroops and landing zones (LZs) for gliders had been allocated to receive units of the 6th Airborne. The 5th Parachute Brigade was to land on DZ N north of Ranville; 3rd Parachute Brigade was given DZ V to the north-east near Varaville; 8th Parachute Battalion (from 3rd Parachute Brigade) was to land separately on DZ K to the south-east near Touffreville, whilst the coup de main parties assaulting Benouville were to land on LZ X and Y close to the bridges. A further landing zone, LZ W, was identified on the western side of the Caen Canal near St Aubin to receive the divisions follow-up brigade, 6th Air landing Brigade, who would land in gliders on the evening of D-Day. The brigade could not be brought over to Normandy sooner because, owing to a lack of aircraft, it had to wait until the towing aircraft used during the assault phase had returned to England and been made ready for a second mission.

    Commandos from 1st Special Service Brigade embark onto LCI (5) - Landing Craft Infantry Small - at Warsash in Southampton Water. These small craft would take the commandos across the Channel and set them down right onto the landing beaches. The vessels could carry 96 fully equipped troops below deck. Disembarkation was via four ramps manhandled over bow sponsons.​


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    Sword Beach and the area to the east of the River Orne marked the left-hand section of the British seaborne assault. Just offshore of Sword Beach, most notably opposite Lion sur Mer, were large shoals that made the approach to the beaches difficult. These shallows influenced the actual landfall of the assault waves and a decision was made that the initial landings would take place in the locality of the seaside hamlet of La Breche. The targeted area had a clear approach from the sea and good access inland, but it was, unfortunately, only wide enough to land one brigade at a time.

    Sword Beach was itself composed of four sectors, which were code-named Oboe, Peter, Queen and Roger. These sectors were in turn divided up into three areas (Green, White and Red), which represented right-hand, central and left-hand parts of each beach respectively. The proposed landing site on Sword Beach at La Breche was in the designated Queen Red and Queen White sectors. With the landing site identified and confirmed, Allied planners could now concentrate on how they might best gain a secure foothold on the beaches. For the German planners, their problem was much more difficult: they did not know when or where the blow might fall on the hundreds of miles of occupied coastline that they were defending. They had to prepare for all eventualities.


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