Plan of NEPTUNE Assaults
Showing D-Day Objectives
A Wall Is Breached
Si tu veux étre beureux
Vas entre Caen at Bayeux.
The immediate object of Operation NEPTUNE (defined as the assault phase of Operation OVERLORD was "to secure a lodgement on the Continent from which further offensive operations can be developed".* This lodgement area was to include airfield sites and the port of Cherbourg.
The plan was boldly conceived. It was hoped to occupy by the night of D Day five important towns, all some distance inland: Ste. Mère-Eglise, Carentan, Isigny, Bayeux, and Caen. The next task of the Second Army was to develop the bridgehead south and south-east of Caen to secure airfield sites and to protect the flank of the First United States Army while that Army captured Cherbourg. Thereafter, the Americans were to press on to capture the Brittany ports, which would complete the "lodgement area". Until this was done, the British forces on the Allied left would not attempt a major advance, but when the required ports were in our hands, a general offensive would follow with the object of destroying his western armies.
The area first assaulted contained no major port, and the Allies could not expect to possess such a port until after the fall of Cherbourg. Thanks to the new types of
landing ships and craft, it was possible to land men, machines and stores over open beaches to an extent never before dreamed of. Nevertheless, bad weather would immediately put a stop to such landings; and to provide against this far from unlikely contingency an essential part of the plan was the construction of two prefabricated ports (the famous MULBERRIES), one in the British sector at Arromanches and one in the American sector at St. Laurent. In addition, five small-craft shelters were to be formed off the beaches by sunken block-ships, also as a provision against bad weather.
The Scheme of the Assault
The Allies, we have said, were to land on a five-division front, with the Americans on the right. The front of the American attack extended from Varreville, north of Carentan at the foot of the Cherbourg peninsula, to Colleville-sur-Mer, north-west of Bayeux. The Anglo-Canadian front would be between Asnelles, north-east of Bayeux, and Ouistreham, at the mouth of the Orne north-east of Caen. The First United States Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Omar N. Bradley, was to assault with two infantry division, the 4th on the right [UTAH Beach] and the 1st (with part of the 29th attached) on the left [OMAMHA Beach]. The Second British Army assaulted with three infantry divisions: the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, under the 30th Corps, was to attack on the right on a two-brigade front [GOLD Beach]; while the rest of the British front would be the responsibility of the 1st Corps, with the 3rd Canadian Division attacking on its right [JUNO Beach], also on a two-brigade front, and the 3rd British Division on its left [SWORD Beach] with only one brigade forward. The Canadians, that is to say, were to be in the centre of the British sector.
Previous to the seaborne assault, three Allied airborne divisions were to be dropped on the flanks of the proposed bridgehead: the 82nd and 101st U.S. Airborne Divisions in the areas of Ste. Mère-Eglise and Carentan, and the 6th British Airborne Division east of the Orne to cover the left flank of the 1st Corps, attacking coastal installations east of Ouistreham and securing crossings over the Orne.
The Canadians' sector went by the general code name JUNO. They were assault on two beaches known as MIKE and NAN, lying athwart the mouth of the River Seulles. The right assault brigade (the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade) would attack astride the mouth of the river at and about Courseulles-sur-Mer; and left brigade (the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade) would go in between Courseulles and St. Aubin-sur-Mer, its sector including Bernières-sur-Mer. These brigades, after mopping up the shore defences in their areas, were to seize an immediate beachhead objective which amounted to a shallow foothold enclosing the coastal towns. They were then to push inland and occupy intermediate objectives, respectively south-east of Creully and on high ground midway between Courseulles-sur-Mer and Caen. In the meantime, the reserve brigade (the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade) was to land and advance as swiftly as possible to pass through the 8th and secure the lect sector of the division's final objective, an area of high ground immediately to the north-west of Caen including the village of Authie and the airfield of Carpiquet. Simultaneously, the 7th Brigade would push on and seize the right sector of the final objective, astride the road and railway from Bayeux to Caen.
The capture of Caen was the responsibility of the 3rd British Division, the capture of Bayeux that of the 50th
British Division; and it was hoped that the night of D Day would find the Second Army established in those towns, with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division holding the Army's central sector between the two places. By that time "follow-up" divisions would already be landing to reinforce those that had delivered the assault.
Ring Up the Curtain
At 11:31 p.m. on the night of 5-6 June, R.A.F. Bomber Command began a stupendous attack upon the German defences on the coast of Normandy. It continued until 5:15 in the morning, and during this period of less than six hours, more than 5,300 tons of bombs crashed down in
Off the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade's Beach
A mined carrier and derelict craft and vehicles testify to the perils of the D Day landing.
and about the target areas. In this colossal assault, No. 6 (R.C.A.F.) Bomber Group played a great part, dropping 932 tons. Its targets were Houlgate, Merville-Franceville and Longues,--none of them, as it happened, in the Canadian Division's assault area. After daylight, the British heavy bombers handed over the task to those of the U.S. Air Forces, which proceeded to drop nearly 5,900 tons that day.
As the last British bombers turned homewards, the various naval bombarding forces were moving into their positions off the French coast. A tremendous aggregation of Allied naval power had been collected for the bombardment task: six battleships, two monitors, 22 cruisers, 91 destroyers and two gunboats. The heaviest bombarding ships were not found on the Canadian sector, for within this sector itself there was only one coast-defence battery of importance, although it was covered by the arc of fire of batteries on either flank. The Force "J" bombardment element proper consisted of two British cruisers, H.M. Ships Belfast and Diadem. Seven Fleet destroyers (including Algonquin and Sioux) and four Hunt Class destroyers also fired on the beach defences.
The dust raised by the missiles of Bomber Command had barely settled when the great shells form the sea began to crash down. In calibre they ranged form the 4-inch of the Hunts up to the 15-inch of the Warspite. Algonquin and Sioux dealt faithfully with 75-millimetre batteries on the 3rd Canadian Division's front until the imminence of the assault obliged them to cease fire about 7:45.
At dawn the ships and craft carrying the assaulting tanks, guns, sappers and infantry were approaching the French shore. It had been a rough passage, and many
soldiers---and even some sailors--were miserably sick. Visibility was only fair. The rough water tended to slow the craft down and make station-keeping difficult. Some groups of Force "J" got into the wrong swept channels, and, as it was clear that this would mean delay, both Assault Group captains decided to defer H Hour (which had finally been fixed at 7:35 for the 7th Brigade and 7:45 for the 8th) for a further ten minutes in each case. But there was one very solid reason for satisfaction: hard as it had been to believe, the conviction was growing that the enemy had been taken by surprise. Throughout the crossing, Force "J" had met no enemy action by air or sea.
The infantry landing ships carrying the assault units arrived punctually at their "lowering positions" several miles offshore. The assault landing craft were quickly lowered and formed up, and set off on time on the perilous journey towards their rendezvous with fate. Bouncing shorewards across the far from placid sea, the little craft looked to one observer "like schools of water-bugs."
As the varied armada neared the coast, the 3rd Canadian Division's four regiments of field artillery on their tank landing craft prepared to open fire. Along with the Navy's gun landing craft and rocket craft, they were to provide the close-support bombardment, first with smoke shell, later with high explosive. For half an hour they continued firing, inexorably closing the beach at a steady speed, each gun loosing three shots in every two hundred yards. Directing their shells at the four main strongpoint areas "just where the grass starts to grow on the beach", the
"The Reserve Brigade of the Division Had Begun to Land Near Bernieres Before Noon"
Men of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing with their bicycles
from Infantry Landing Craft of the Royal Canadian Navy on D Day. (R.C.N. Photo).
massed Priests brought down a fearsome volume of fire; each fifed 105 rounds during the run-in, and there were 96 Priests in the Division. The was "neutralizing" fire; 105-millimetre high-explosive shells could have little effect on concrete defences, but the steel storm was calculated to have, and undoubtedly did have, a most stunning effect upon the troops manning any positions on or near the beach. It continued to sweep the beaches until the gunners' craft were only two thousand yards offshore; then the hot guns fell silent as the craft turned aside to await their turn to land.
The Battle of the Beaches
The 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier (now Major-General) H.W.Foster, was, as we have said, attacking in the western half of the Canadian sector. It went in with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles on the right and the Reginas Rifle Regiment on the left; and the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) provided armoured support.
The first wave of the assault, as already explained, was to be composed of amphibious tanks. The rough water made the employment of these a very difficult matter. It had been resolved, in fact, not to attempt to swim them in, but to beach the tank landing craft carrying them at H Hour. Subsequently, however, the naval officer commanding the 7th Brigade group of craft decided that it would be practicable to launch the tanks half-a-mile or so from shore; and the Hussars' two amphibious squadrons swam off the craft accordingly and headed for the beach. Their appearance must have surprised the Germans, who nevertheless did them some damage as they came in. Eight of the regiment's tanks never reached the shore; the
rest duly came up the beach, the first of them well ahead of the leading infantry, and proceeded to engage those enemy positions that were still in action. Their presence ashore was invaluable to the assaulting infantry, and certainly saved them many casualties.
The first infantry craft touched down somewhat late, but within a few minutes of eight o'clock. In spite of the terrific bombardment from the air and from the sea, the majority of the Germans' concrete positions were still intact (though it can scarcely be doubted that their garrisons would have been disposed to fight both longer and harder had it not been for the moral effect of the eight hours of fire to which the whole area had been subjected). At some points on the Brigade front there was fierce opposition. This was particularly true on the Winnipegs' side; one of their assault companies came under fire 700 yards offshore and disembarked still under fire, losing heavily. The Reginas' assault companies had better luck, but one of their reserve companies, coming in later, when the rising tide had begun to cover the mined beach obstacles, had several of its craft blown up and brought only 49 men ashore. This was part of the price paid for the delay imposed by the rough weather; it was the higher because the assault engineers, whose business it was to clear the obstacles, had themselves been delayed. The craft carrying these men and the formidable A.Vs.R.E.1 had been among those that had gone astray; and the absence of these vehicles in the beginning made it harder to deal with enemy strongpoints. The late arrival of the engineers also delayed the preparation of vehicle exits from the beaches, and considerable congestion developed. The guns of the
A "Rhino Ferrty" approaching the beach.
((From an oil painting by Capt. O.N. Fisher).
12th Field Regiment, R.C.A., came ashore about nine o'clock; it was impossible to get them off the beach, so they went into action on the spot.
The Reginas had some trouble in the town of Courselles-sur-Mer. Here, however, the intelligence so painfully gathered for months before the operation stood them in good stead. The place had been partitioned in advance into numbered blocks, to be dealt with by specific companies; and so excellent were the aerial photographs and the maps, that, as the Commanding Officer said afterwards, "nearly every foot of the town was known long before it was ever entered". At the north-east corner a particularly formidable strongpoint was intact (in spite of the fact that a Sherman "concrete-buster" had scored several hits on the principal emplacement with its 17-pounder); and the infantry had fierce fighting before it was cleared.
All told, things were slow and "sticky" in the beginning on the 7th Brigade beach. Nevertheless, by nine-thirty, the Brigade's reserve battalion (the Canadian Scottish Regiment) was coming ashore, and the reserve companies of the forward battalions, leaving their assault companies to mop up the still-resisting beach defences, were pushing steadily inland, assisted by tanks, and extending the bridgehead. In the course of the morning, Brigadier Foster landed and set up his headquarters in a farmyard.
In the eastern half of the Canadian sector, the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier K.G. Blackader, succeeded in getting on rather more rapidly in the earliest phase. Here the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada landed on the right and the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment on the left; attached were
On the Beach, D Day
Under the muzzles of captured German guns, wounded men await evacuation,
while slit-trenches are dug against the threat of air attack.
the tanks of the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse).
The Fort Garry's amphibious tanks made no attempt to swim in, but were landed "dryshod" from their craft behind the leading infantry. The assault infantry themselves encountered little enemy fire as they came in, though the Queen's Own lost some craft from mines. The bombardment had evidently sent the enemy to ground. ˙his is indicated, indeed, by the fact that when the 48th Royal Marine Commando came in to land a little later in the same general area, they suffered heavy losses from fire from enemy positions not yet cleared, whose defenders had
apparently been neutralized by the shelling and had now begun to recover from its effects.
On this front too, however, the principal German strongpoints had not succumbed to the bombardment, and the assault troops had to subdue them at a considerable cost in casualties. The strongpoint at St. Aubin, for instance, possessed an anti-tank gun which knocked out several tanks before it was silenced by a "dustbin" fired by one of the A.Vs.R.E. which on this beach arrived in better time; and the position's last defenders did not give in until the evening. In general, however, the beachhead objective was achieved here more rapidly and with less trouble than in the 7th Brigade's sector; there was relatively little difficulty with beach exits; and the 8th Brigade's reserve battalion, Le Régiment de la Chaudière, was ashore by nine o'clock, while by nine-thirty the 19th Field Regiment, R.C.A., had a battery of its self-propelled guns not only ashore but off the beaches and in action.
It was, indeed, a highly satisfactory morning's work. The assault had gone, in the main, exactly according to plan, except in the matter of timing; and the best feature of all was the fact that there had been fewer casualties than almost anyone had dared to hope. This was almost certainly due to the effect of the tremendous preliminary bombardment. If it had not smashed a great deal of the enemy's concrete, it had nevertheless very largely kept his troops' heads down during the period when our assault units were coming ashore; and this was all-important.
Before midday, the situation was sufficiently in hand to allow Divisional Headquarters to go ashore. At 11:45, General Keller left H.M.S. Hilary with part of his staff; the remainder followed two hours later. The first
This mass of metal cleared from one of the Canadian beaches in Normandy
affords some idea of the scope of the enemy's anti-invasion preparations.
Canadian divisional headquarters to be established on French soil in this war was set up in an orchard in Bernières.
The Brigades Push Inland
Although the 7th Brigade had had considerable difficulty on the beach, it met comparatively little trouble in the early stages of its advance inland. The 8th, on the other hand, was to encounter many delays and difficulties in the second phase.
On the 7th Brigade front, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were in the inland villages of Ste. Croix-sur-Mer and Banville by 10:30, with the Canadian Scottish close behind them. The Winnipegs were consolidated south of Creully by five in the afternoon, and by six-thirty the Scottish were south-east of Creully and well in advance of it. The Regina Rifles, leaving elements of the unit to mop up in
Courseulles, advanced southwards along the Seulles Valley and in the course of the afternoon penetrated roughly four miles from the coast. Throughout these operations, the tanks of the 1st Hussars had been invaluable; but mines and 88-millimetre guns had taken a heavy toll of them, and by evening "A" and "B" Squadrons had only thirteen left between them.
By the evening of D Day, the, the 7th Brigade was firmly "positioned" on its intermediate objective, southeast of Creully. The 8th Brigade was also on its intermediate objective, but somewhat less securely in control of it. As soon as Le Régiment de la Chaudière began to break out from Bernières, it came under machine-gun and artillery fire, and our own machine guns and artillery had to silence the opposition before much progress could be made. The North Shore Regiment got into Tailleville, two miles inland, in good time, but fighting went on in that village for many hours. The defenders were well dug in and an extensive system of tunnels gave excellent opportunities to snipers. It was after eight in the evening when the place was finally reported clear.
In the meantime, the reserve brigade of the Division, Brigadier D.G. Cunningham's 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade (the "Highland Brigade"), had begun to land near Bernières before noon. There was some delay due to congested beaches, but early in the afternoon the entire brigade was in position south of Bernières ready to advance when the situation warranted it. General Keller now held an "orders group" at his headquartrers in the village, and Brigadier Cunningham was ordered to carry out the plan originally laid down; that is, to pass through and advance on Carpiquet as soon as the 8th Brigade should capture Beny-sur-Mer, a village on the main road to Caen
German Beach Defences, St. Aubin-sur-Mer
(From a watercolour by Capt. O.N. Fisher)
some four miles inland, which had been designated as the 9th's assembly area.
There was trouble in and around Beny, and it is not quite clear at what hour the place finally fell into our hands; but the Chaudière seem to have cleared it by mid-afternoon, and by five o'clock they were a mile or so beyond it. In the meantime, the Queen's Own, further to the east, had fought their way through Anguerny and established themselves on high ground south of it.
The 9th Brigade began to move south from Bernières shortly after four o'clock, and shortly after six the North Nova Scotia Highlanders moved out from Beny in the van of the Brigade's advance across the rolling Plain of Caen. The Brigade was specially equipped for rapid movement; three companies of the North Nova Scotias rode on tanks of the 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment), while three companies of each of the
other battalions were provided with light bicycles. The North Nova Scotias made good progress until the reached the village of Villons-les-Buissons, roughly seven miles from Bernières and less than four from Caen. Here, however, the vanguard ran into troublesome machine-gun positions with which it was still engaged at nightfall, and, moreover, the main advanced guard in rear was fighting in another village which had been by-passed by the forward elements. In these circumstances, it was decided to attempt no further advance that day, and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders were ordered to consolidate for the night astride the main road to Caen near Villons-les-Buissons. The other battalions of the brigade (the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders and the Highland Light Infantry of Canada) had not yet moved from Beny and were told to remain there overnight.
By nightfall of D Day, therefore, the 3rd Canadian Division had not yet attained its final objectives; it was on the intermediate ones, but further advance had to be deferred until D plus one. In the British divisional sectors on either flank, the position was similar. On the Canadians' right, the 50th Division had got within a mile of the main road from Bayeux to Caen, but had not taken Bayeux itself; while on the left, the 3rd British Division had not succeeded in getting into Caen, though they were only three miles or so to the north-east of it.
Casualties, though not few, had been gratifyingly light in proportion to the extraordinarily perilous nature of the operation that had been carried out so triumphantly. Absolutely precise figures for one day's fighting are always difficult to arrive at,2 but the total of Canadian
MIKE Beach on D plus Six
(From a watercolour by Capt. O.N. Fisher)
The Broken West Wall (Graye-sur-Mer, 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade Sector)
(From a watercolour by Capt. O.N. Fisher)
casualties on D Day was in the close vicinity of 950 killed, wounded and missing--a much lower price than had been paid by a much smaller assault force in the raid on Dieppe, which had contributed so much to the fortunate result of this greater operation.
Entry of the Gladiators
The German system of defence in France had made the coast itself the main line of resistance. The enemy, we have seen, had for years been pouring concrete along the Channel shore. He had, perhaps, been confirmed in his determination to fight his battle on the beaches by a mistaken analysis of the lessons of Dieppe. At any rate, he had apparently convinced himself that there was good hope of stopping an invasion on the sands and in the shallows.
The coastal defences were entrusted to the care of static divisions largely composed of low-category personnel. Such divisions could be formidable when manning strong prepared positions (Dieppe, indeed, had proved this beyond all doubt). The whole of the Second Army front of assault in Normandy was held by one static formation, the 716th Infantry Division; and it fought hard at a good many points, but entirely failed to prevent the invaders from breaking through the crust of beach defences.
The German defence, however, contained elements far more formidable than these. Stationed inland were the high-category divisions of the mobile reserve, ready to rush to the assistance of the coastal garrisons. Most dangerous were the armoured formations; and two of these, the 21st Panzer Division and the 12th S.S. Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend), were know to be within easy striking distance of the British assault area. These divisions, and
The Commander-in-Chief, 21st Army Group
Field-Marshal Sir Bernard (now Viscount) Montgomery, G.C.B., D.S.O.
others like them which would make their appearance in due course, were the flower of Hitler's Army: a poisonous flower. For many months past they had been waiting and training for this crisis, and they were now at the highest peak of efficiency, ruthless and redoubtable. Never again would the German Army be quite so formidable as in these early days of the invasion battle.
The night of 6-7 June did not, it is true, bring the expected enemy counter-attack which the tired Canadians were (in the words of one War Diary) "ready, not eager" to meet. But there were patrol actions all along the front; the North Nova Scotias captured prisoners found to be Panzer Grenadiers; at two in the morning, the Chaudière were attacked by infantry in half-tracked vehicles such as no static division possessed; and a few hours later the Queen's Own identified a prisoner as belonging to the 21st Panzer Division. No enemy tanks had yet been met, but the Panzer divisions were clearly coming into action.
At six in the morning of D plus one, the 7th Brigade resumed its advance. It encountered only scattered and ineffective resistance, mainly from snipers. When it became clear that the enemy was not present in force, all three battalions were ordered to go "flat out" for the final objectives; and by noon they were on them, with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles in Putot-en-Bessin, between the road and railway which marked them, while the Regina Rifles had got one company as far south as Norrey-en-Bessin, half a mile beyond the railway. The Canadian Scottish also moved forward and took up a position in rear of the leading battalions.
The 3rd Canadian Division was now firmly in possession of its final objective in its western sector. The eastern sector was a different matter.
On the morning of the 7th, the 9th Brigade moved on towards Carpiquet. The vanguard group consisted of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders supported by the whole of the 27th Armoured Regiment. They pushed southward from Villons-les-Buissons through the village of Buron, making good progress in spite of artillery fire which forced the infantry to dismount form the tanks; and soon
Gliders in a Wheatfield
Some of those which landed the 6th Airborne Division east of the Norne on D Day.
(From a watercolour by Major W.A. Ogilvie)
A Convoy Bound for Normandy Passes Dover Castle, 23 June 1944
(From an oil painting by Capot. G.D. Pepper)
after noon the leading troops of the North Nova Scotias, after a sharp skirmish, took Authie, on the northern edge of the final objective. This village stands on high ground looking down to the stately spires of the city of Caen, the outskirts of which are only a couple of miles away. It was here that the Canadians met the first real German counter-attack, and a very formidable one it was.
Before the assault, the 12th S.S. Panzer Division had been stationed south of Rouen. After a few hours of fortunate hesitation on the part of the High Command, they had been ordered forward and had marched all night. The counter-attack which a battle-group of the Division now threw in was in the best tradition of the German Army: a violent and impetuous blow by a tank battalion and a battalion of Panzer Grenadiers.
The attack, coming in with the swiftness of a thunderclap, caught the Canadian vanguard off balance and cut it up in detail. There was a sudden volcanic burst of shellfire upon Authie; and then Panther tanks were in the streets of the village. The leading Canadian tanks were knocked out; the two leading platoons of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, which had entered the place, were overrun; they fought gallantly, but few men escaped. Wireless communication having failed, the support of naval gunfire could not be called for, while our field artillery was temporarily out of range. Shortly afterwards, a second fierce tank attack coming in from the west overran another company of the battalion which was in position near the road between Buron and Authie; a third company advancing to support the others was driven back by heavy and accurate mortar fire. The remnants of the unit fell back to Les Buissons and dug in; it was joined there by the other battalions of the brigade. One company,
"One Panther Tank Got As Far As Battalion Headqwuarters in Bretteville,
and There Fell a Victim to PIAT Bombs In the Village Street"
Here it stand derelict, a monument to the Regina Rifle Regiment's fierce night battle.
A Canadian Patrol In Bretteville-l'Orgueilleeuse
(From a watercolour by Capt. W.A. Ogilvie)
which had been mistakenly reported as having withdrawn, was left behind isolated in Buron; it was violently attacked late in the afternoon and lost heavily, but the survivors were brought off successfully by a counter-thrust of a dozen of our tanks supported by artillery.
The 9th Brigade had been flung back from its objective just as it began to attain it. This was a serious local reverse (the North Nova Scotias had had over 200 casualties) and it is possible that a threat to the whole bridgehead might have developed had it not been for the fortunate fact that this unit was so heavily supported by armour. A savage tank engagement had taken place. The 27th Armoured Regiment lost fifteen tanks that day; but they destroyed at least twice as many of the enemy's, including some Panthers. Such a toll greatly reduced the possibility of further immediate large-scale offensive action by the enemy in this area.3
The powerful and effective counter-attack at Authie, delivered by some of the enemy's best troops on the day following the landings, is a highly significant incident. Not only did it contribute to keeping us out of Caen for a long time to come (over a month was to pass before Canadian troops again entered Authie), but it prefigured, on a local scale, the shape of the whole next phase of the Normandy campaign. The Germans had instantly recognized the Caen area as the vital pivot of their defence. A serious reverse in this region would imperil the whole of their forces to the westward, and they were determined to resist any penetration of its with every means at their command. Succeeding weeks were to witness desperate
"Most of the young savages of this formation are no longer amenable to the jurisdiction of any earthly tribunal".
The S.S. Cemetery at Louvigny, south of Caen.
(From a watercolour by Capt. G.D. Pepper)
encounters here, with the British and Canadian forces resisting violent counter-attacks by the enemy's best formations, and slowly and painfully fighting their way inland to enlarge the bridgehead.
Two things should perhaps be said at this point concerning the enemy's employment of his mobile reserves. He brought them into action with rapidity and good local effect. At the same time, it must be added that he threw them in piecemeal. So far was this the case that for a long period he seems never to have achieved a genuinely coordinated attack on even a divisional scale. He had, in fact, been so eager to bring his armoured formations into immediate action in support of his beach battle that he had placed them, in some cases at least, too far forward for coordination to be effective; the infantry of the 21st
Panzer Division seem to have been in position north of Caen before the invasion began. The armour was thrown in helter-skelter to meet the first local emergency, and the enemy continued to use it in much the same manner throughout the bridgehead campaign. The Allies never lost the initiative, and their aggressiveness forced him to use his reserves to "plug holes" instead of building them up for a concerted blow. The result was a series of counter-attacks which, while extremely formidable in terms of a battalion or even a brigade locality, held out comparatively little hope of serious effect upon the Allied position as a whole.
The 9th Brigade had borne the brunt on D plus one; one D plus two, it was the 7th that was most heavily engaged. During the afternoon, enemy tanks and infantry made a very fierce attack upon the Royal Winnipeg Rifles about Putot-en-Bessin. The battalion was in great part overrun and suffered heavily; but a counter-attack by the Canadian Scottish regained the lost ground. The Winnipegs came into reserve, and the Scottish held Putot-en-Bessin through "a week of almost incessant shelling and mortaring". There was also bitter fighting on the Regina Rifles' sector of the brigade front further east. During the night of 8-9 June, Panthers penetrated into the Reginas' positions about Norrey-en-Bessin and Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse; but the riflemen dealt with them decisively. Many enemy tanks were knocked out by the infantry PIATs and 6-pounders and by guns of the 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment, R.C.A. One Panther got as far as Battalion Headquarters in Bretteville, and there fell a victim to PIAT bombs in the village street. Even field batteries found themselves driving back infiltrating infantry with small arms fire and beating off tanks with Priests firing over open sights. There were
After the Gale
Ships and craft high and dry on the beaches, June, 1944.
(From a watercolour by Capt. O.N. Fisher)
numerous tank-versus-tank fights on this sector, with losses on both sides; and snipers were a constant menace. In spite of all that the enemy could do, however, the 7th Brigade remained on the objectives which it had seized on D plus one.
While these battles were progressing in the forward area, the 8th Brigade, in rear, had been engaged in mopping up elements of the enemy who had been by-passed in the first advance and were now causing trouble. On 7 June, part of the Brigade made an unsuccessful thrust against the German radar station near Douvres-la-Delivrande, far behind the line. This was in effect a very strong concrete fortress, while the neighbouring woods were "honey-combed with trenches, shelters and tunnels". The radar station actually remained a thorn in the flesh until 17
June, when it was captured by a carefully-prepared and strongly-supported attack delivered by the 41st Royal Marine Commando.
Broadly speaking, the 3rd Canadian Division's positions at the end of the first violent phase of the campaign remained much as they had been established on the night of D plus one, with the 7th Brigade still astride the main road and railway connecting Bayeux and Caen, and the 9th still in position in front of Villons-les-Buissons, between three and four miles from Caen. The centre of the line was, however, strengthened by moving the 8th Brigade in to occupy a frontal sector.
On 11 June, the Division put in an attack in the 7th Brigade area with a view to seizing high ground about three miles south of Putot-en-Bessin. This operation, undertaken by two armoured regiments and the Queen's Own Rifles, was not successful. When the leading tanks reached Le Mesnil-Patry, enemy tanks and anti-tank guns opened from both flanks; and the Queen's Own were stopped by heavy fire from machine-guns concealed in the wheatfields. The attacking force withdrew after suffering considerable losses. The Canadian tankmen pointed out, however, that in this previously troublesome sector there were no further German attacks thereafter. It appeared that the material losses inflicted in the enemy armour in this operation had had a useful effect. Incidentally, Le Mesnil-Patry was occupied by us without resistance on the night of 16-17 June.
Defending the Bridgehead
The bridgehead, though far from being as roomy as the planners had hoped, was now established and consolidated; and for three weeks to come, the 3rd Canadian
On the Airfield at Carpiquet
(From a watercolour by Capt. O.N. Fisher)
Division performed a "holding" role while the strength of the Allied forces was built up behind it. It held a line extending across some eight miles of open country, from Putot-en-Bessin to Villons-les-Buissons; it was necessary to keep all three brigades "up", and there were no reserve resources for offensive action, even had the higher command desired it, which at this moment it did not. Not until the first week of July did the Division pass again to the offensive.
While the Canadians had been playing their part between Bayeux and Caen, other divisions elsewhere had done equally well for the common cause. The Americans on the right flank had had a particularly difficult time in the beginning, and had suffered heavy losses on OMAHA sector, the eastern portion of their front. This was due in the main to the fact that on their beaches a good German field formation (the 352nd Infantry Division) which earlier had formed part of the mobile reserve, had
been moved up to the coast. It fought hard, and the invaders, during the first hours of the operation, were holding on to the beaches "by their eyelashes". This however, was a brief phase; the American assault troops fought grimly, the "follow-up" formations poured in, and within two days the bridgehead was developing satisfactorily. On the British front, the 50th Division took Bayeux on 7 June; but the 3rd British Division, confronted by the 21st Panzer Division as well as remnants of the 716th, was held north of Caen. The bridgehead here was, in consequence, much narrower than the plan of attack had called for, and territory earmarked as a concentration area for the First Canadian Army remained for the present in the hands of the enemy.
In the meantime, the men of the 6th Airborne Division had been standing their ground east of the River Orne between Caen and the sea, resolutely defending the eastern flank of the bridgehead. A word must be said here of the fortunes of the Canadian component of this Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
The Battalion, which formed part of the 3rd British Parachute Brigade, was dropped about one o'clock in the morning of 6 June. It was scattered over a wide area, some "sticks" landing long distances from their appointed rendezvous; but this did not deter it from carrying out its tasks. One company protected the flank of the 9th Parachute Battalion while it attacked and destroyed a coastal battery; another destroyed a bridge across the River Dives; another attacked, and after fierce fighting, cleared enemy positions in and around the chateau at Varaville. After performing these tasks, the battalion concentrated to await the enemy counter-attack. In the early hours of 7 June, this duly materialized, put in by
German infantry of two grenadier regiment supported by self-propelled guns and tanks. This was a formidable proposition for the lightly-armed paratroops; but they proved quite equal to it. Their mortars killed large numbers of the enemy infantry, and the tanks, although inflicting a good many casualties on the Canadians, were unwilling to come to close quarters with the PIATs.
As the weeks passed, disquieting reports began to reach the Canadian in the bridgehead concerning atrocities committed against Canadian prisoners by the brutish young thugs of the 12th S.S. Panzer Division. Systematic investigation was undertaken, and in due course evidence was assembled indicating that as many as 35 Canadian soldiers had been killed in cold blood after capture by the Germans of this division. The worst single incident recorded was the murder of at least nineteen men, chiefly of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, at the Château d'Audrieu on 8 June, the day of the fierce fighting around Putot-en-Bessin. Seven others, six of them from the Queen's Own Rifles, were deliberately shot near the village of Mouen on or about 17 June. The "Hitler Jugend" was a particularly formidable division in a military sense, but it certainly represented the Third Reich at its barbarous worst. Canadians hoped to bring as many as possible of the criminals to justice. But the vast majority of the young savages of this formation are no longer amenable to the jurisdiction of any earthly tribunal; the found well-merited graves in the fields of Normandy that summer. From the battles about Caen and Falaise the 12th S.S. Panzer Division emerged scarcely even a remnant of the arrogant formation that had swept into action on the morning of 7 June. The division was 21,000 strong that day. In its final agony at Falaise in August, after a few
hundred men had been withdrawn as a basis on which to reconstitute it, it numbered just sixty soldiers.
Although losses in the actual assault on the beaches had been fewer than had been feared, the 3rd Canadian Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade nevertheless suffered severely in the early battles of the Normandy bridgehead. Casualties during June, so far as they can be isolated, totalled 226 officers and 3,066 other ranks--somewhat more than one-fifth of the Canadian assault strength. Fifth-three officers and 698 other ranks were killed or died. The loss of these gallant men was an instalment--neither the first nor the last--of the price paid by Canada as her contribution to the liberation of mankind from the tyranny that had darkened the lives of our generation.
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