D-Day, 6th June 1944 – Part Nine The British 3rd Infantry Division at SWORD Beach

This post is dedicated to the memory of those who died on Tuesday 6 June 1944 in pursuit of freedom. It is through their sacrifice that we enjoy the freedoms we have today.

In this the ninth part of the story of D-Day, 6 June 1944 we concentrate on the actions of the British 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Special Brigade (RM Commandos) and the British and French of No 4 (M) Commando at SWORD Beach. This is their story…

SWORD Beach was the codename for the most eastern of the Allied landing beaches on D-Day, 6 June 1944. It was about five miles long stretching from Lion-sur-Mer in the west to the mouth of the River Orne at Ouistreham in the east. It was the left of the British beaches and was the responsibility of the British I Corps commanded by Lieutenant General John T Crocker which would assault one Division up, with the British 3rd Infantry Division leading.

The German defences in the SWORD area were relatively light consisting in the main of beach obstacles and fortified defences in the sand dunes. These defences were anchored by the artillery support provided by the German Coastal Artillery Battery located at Merville five miles to the east on the far side of the River Orne estuary and the larger 155 mm guns located twenty miles further to the east at La Havre. The area was defended by elements of the German 716th Static Division, particularly the 736th and 125th Regiments. To the east on the far side of the River Orne was the German 711th Static Division that was part of the German Fifteenth Army.

The British 3rd Infantry Division was commanded by Major General T G Rennie and was made up of regular infantry. The beach was divided into four sectors: Oboe, Peter, Queen and Roger. The South Lancashire Regiment would land at Peter on the right, the Suffolk Regiment would land at Queen in the centre and the East Yorkshire Regiment would land at Roger on the left. The objective of the British 3rd Infantry Division was to push inland from SWORD Beach in order to capture Caen and the important airfield of Carpiquet.

The 1st Special Service Brigade commanded by Brigadier Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, was also to land at SWORD Beach. They had been given the mission of pushing inland to link up with the British 6th Airborne Division as well as some initial tasks in the SWORD Beach area in Ouistreham. No 4 (RM) Commando and two Free French Commando Troops from No 10 (Inter Allied) Commando were assigned to carryout the tasks in Ouistreham, whilst the remainder pushed inland towards the bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal at Bénouville.

The lead elements of the British 3rd Infantry Division landed at SWORD Beach as planned at 07.25 hours. They were greeted by moderate fire, which they were able to suppress and by 08.00 hours the fighting was moving inland. During the day they managed to advance about five miles inland but were unable to close on Caen or Carpiquet airfield.

On the right flank the British 3rd Infantry Division was unable to link up with the Canadians who came ashore at JUNO Beach and at 16.00 hrs elements from the German 21st Panzer Division launched the only serious counterattack against the D-Day landings when they pushed forward in the gap between JUNO and SWORD Beaches. The 192nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment actually managed to penetrate as far as the coast by 20.00 hrs before Allied air strikes, tanks and anti-tank fire halted the German 21st Panzer Division’s push.

No 4 (RM) Commando came ashore in the second wave led by the two Free French Troops, as agreed amongst themselves. The British and French of No 4 (M) Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham, the French a blockhouse and the Casino and the British two batteries that overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commando's PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) guns, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, No 4 (RM) Commando withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other members of the 1st Special Service Brigade that was moving inland to join-up with the British 6th Airborne Division.

By the end of D-Day the British had landed 29,000 men at a cost of 630 casualties. The German casualties were much greater and a large number of German troops were taken prisoner. However, they had failed to achieve the ambitious targets set for them by General Montgomery and Caen and Carpiquet were still more than 3 miles away.

Ian R Gumm
at Willowmead

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