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Normandy Tour - Day 3 - British 6th Airborne

Gunner

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I thought I would revive these for the 75th anniversary of D-Day
These are from 2014 when my brothers and nephews took a grand six day tour of Normandy.
I see some of the pictures have issues.
I'll fix those at a later date...
I hope you enjoy the tour





Hi and welcome to Day 3 of our tour.
This first post will be dedicated to Pegasus Bridge.

The itenerary for today:

Day 3 - British 6th Airborne Sector

Pegasus Bridge - Major John Howard - 2nd Ox & Bucks Light Infantry in gliders - First action of D-Day
Merville Battery - 9 Para Bn - Lt Col Terrence Otway

Lunch - Café Gondrée - 1st House liberated - Mme Arlette Gondrée

Amfreville - Commando and 6th Airborne positions - 1st memorials in Normandy
Le Plein - Madame Saulniers Farm used as aid station for British Commando units.
Breville - Church ruins
Breville Ridge - Drop Zone N (DZ-N)
Chateau St Come - 9 Para/1 Canadian Para/Black Watch/Ox & Bucks action
51st Highland Division Piper Memorial
Le Mesnil Crossroads
Varaville Bridge - Sgt Baillie
Varaville - Canadian 1st Para Battalion Memorial and Drop Zone V (DZ-V)
Robehomme Bridge - Lt Inman
Bures - Juckes Bridge - Capt Juckes
Bures - Railway Bridge - Lt Forster
Troarn Bridge - Major Roseveare




Of course when starting the British Airborne tour you have to start at Pegasus Bridge which most of you may know was the first action that took place on the night before the landings.

We parked in a museum parking lot down the street and started walking toward the bridge.
Man, it was pouring rain so I didn't have a chance to pull out the camera and take a lot of pictures.

Since there are few pictures I'm going to add some excerpts from David Howarth's excellent book "D-Day, the 6th of June" and a final paragraph from Wikipedia "Operation Dead Stick".

Major John Howard is in command.

On the other side of Howard, at the controls of the glider, was his pilot, Staff Sergeant Wallwork of the Glider Pilot Regiment, It was Wallwork who had done most to calm Howard's worries in the kst few weeks. For Howard, the whole three months of planning aud training had been a wonying time, and his worry had reached a climax on May 30th. On that day, he had been shown new aerial photographs of his bridges, and in all the fields round them, white spots could be seen which had not been there before. These, he was told, were holes for posts which were intended to make it impossible for gliders to land. The interpreters of photographs could not tell him whether posts had been put in the holes yet or not. Gloomily, he had shown the photographs to his pilots. They seemed delighted. "That's just what we needed/' Wallwork had said. "Well land between the posts. The posts will break the wings off and slow us down, and we shan't hit the bridge so hard."

It was impossible not to trust a pilot who could say a thing like that. Yet Howard, on his way across the Channel, was still wondering whether he had asked Wallwork and the others for something impossible. He had told them he wanted the first glider to stop with its nose inside the wire defenses of the bridge, and the others to stop ten yards behind and five yards to the right. He had no idea how such precision could be achieved, but they had made light of it, and his troops had caught their mood of confidence.

……

"Hold tight/' Wallwork said; and all the platoon linked arms and lifted their feet off the floor and sat there locked together, waiting.

The concussion was shattering. The glider tore into the earth at ninety miles an hour, and careened across the tiny field with a noise like thunder as timber cracked and split and it smashed itself to pieces. The stunning noise and shocks went on and on for a count of seconds; and then suddenly for a split second everything was perfectly still and silent. But even in the stunned silence, training worked. Howard found he had undone his belt and was on his feet. The doorway had crumpled into wreckage. But in front of him was a jagged hole in the glider's side and he went through it head first and fell on the earth of France, picked himself up and felt his limbs for broken bones and looked up; and there against the night sky, exactly and precisely where it should have been, twenty paces away, was the steel lattice tower of the bridge. Brotheridge came running round the tail: he had got out of a hole on the other side. "All right?" he said "Yes/' Howard said. "Carry on/' Brotheridge shouted his pktoon letter, "Able, Able," to rally the men who were tumbling out of the wreckage, and the action began which they had rehearsed on bridges all over England A phosphorus smoke bomb was thrown at the pillbox by the bridge. A machine gun opened fire from it, but one man ran forward under cover of the smoke and dropped a Mills bomb through the gun port, and the platoon scrambled across the wire which the glider had demolished, up an embankment onto the road, and with yells of "Able, Able" they dashed across the bridge against the fire of a second machine gun on the far side. Howard made for the spot he had named as his command post, followed by his radio operator, Corporal Tappenden, and as he ran he heard a crash behind him, and then another; the other two gliders coming in. Soon above the noise of small-arms fire he heard his second and third platoons come miming through the darkness, shouting "Baker" and "Charlie," not only to identify themselves, but also because men shout by instinct when they charge into a battle.

…..


The sentry on the bridge was a young German called Helmut Romer, and when he saw the first glider crash he naturally thought it was a bomber, because there were heavy air-raids going on in Caen and along the coast, and he had been watching the antiaircraft fire. Nobody had told him anything more than an air-raid was expected. So when men with black faces charged across the bridge at him, he was totally taken by surprise. He dived for the trenches: it was the only thing he could do. There was no time for the guard to turn out, much less for the whole platoon to be called from their billets. But the NCO of the guard fired the machine gun and shot down the first of the men who were coming across the bridge. Then the wave of them broke into the trenches, and the garrison scattered and ran.


Within three minutes of the crash, the attack had succeeded. Engineers searched for the demolition wiring and disconnected it. The charge itself had not been put in place. They found it afterwards in a cache by the bridgehead. With the bridge in their hands, the infantry went on to clear out the houses beyond it.

....

The attack on the Orne bridge had been a walk-over. The landing had not been so precise as the landing at the canal. One glider was close to the bridge, but the next was a quarter of a mile away. The third was cast off from its tug in the wrong place, and landed beyond the marshes of the Dives. Even the first of the three was a minute or two behind the first at the canal, and the leading platoon, commanded by Lieutenant Fox, got to the bridge just in time to see the German defenders running for their lives. One of Fox's NCOs jumped into an empty machine-gun post and turned the German gun against the retreating Germans; and his commander of the second platoon, running breathlessly onto the bridge some minutes late, found Fox in the middle of it, staring down at the dark water of the Orne. "How's it gone?" he asked anxiously. "It's gone all right," Fox said. "But where the hell are the umpires?"

The code words which Howard had been allotted to signal the success of his attack had none of the air of modest triumph which might have suited the very first success of the invasion. The capture of the canal bridge intact was to be reported by radio to brigade headquarters by the word "ham." For the Orne bridge the word was "jam." Corporal

Tappenden could not get an acknowledgment from brigade, and for half an hour, squatting by the roadside, he broadcast those pregnant words: "Ham and jam. Ham and jam. Ham and jam." Meanwhile, the six platoons, weakened now by the losses of the crash and the fighting, attended their dead and wounded and prepared to defend what they had won; for a counterattack was expected as soon as the Germans had recovered from their surprise, and until Howard's men could be reinforced by the main body of the parachutists, they were in a perilous position.

.........

Just before dawn Howard summoned his platoon commanders to a meeting. With their senior officers dead or wounded, numbers One, Two and Three Platoons were now commanded by corporals. Howard's second in command, Captain Priday and number Four Platoon were missing. Only Lieutenants Fox and Sweeney in Five and Six Platoons had a full complement of officers and NCOs. The landings at Sword Beach began at 07:00, preceded by a heavy naval bombardment. At the bridges, daylight allowed German snipers to identify targets and anyone moving in the open was in danger of being shot. The men of number One Platoon who had taken over the 75 mm anti-tank gun on the east bank of the canal used it to engage possible sniper positions in Bénouville, the Château de Bénouville and the surrounding area. At 09:00, two German gunboats approached the canal bridge from Ouistreham. The lead boat fired its 20 mm gun and number Two Platoon returned fire with a PIAT, hitting the wheelhouse of the leading boat, which crashed into the canal bank. The second boat retreated to Ouistreham. A lone German aircraft bombed the canal bridge at 10:00, dropping one bomb. The bomb struck the bridge but failed to detonate.

Aftermath
Bénouville was the farthest forward point of the British advance on 6 June 1944.[88] Of the 181 men (139 infantry, 30 engineers and 12 pilots) of 'D' Company involved in the capture of the bridges, two had been killed and fourteen wounded. On 9 June, the German Air Force attacked the bridges with 13 aircraft. The British had positioned light and medium sized anti-aircraft guns around the bridges and in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire the attack failed, although they did claim one of the bridges was destroyed by a direct hit.


The 6th Airborne retained control of the area between the Rivers Orne and Dives until 14 June, when the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division took over the southern part of the Orne bridgehead. In the days that followed the division was reinforced by the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade and the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade. A period of static warfare ended on 22 August when the division crossed the River Dives. Within nine days it had advanced 45 miles (72 km) to the mouth of the River Seine. Between the 6 June and 26 August when they were pulled out of the front line the division's casualties were; 821 killed, 2,709 wounded, and 927 missing. After Operation Deadstick the engineers, glider pilots and 'B' Company men were returned to their parent formations. 'D' Company played their part in the division's defence of the Orne bridgehead and advance to the River Seine. On 5 September when the division was withdrawn to England, all that remained of the company were 40 men under the only remaining officer, Howard, the other officers, sergeants and most of the junior NCOs having been among the casualties.


The glider pilots were the first group to leave 'D' Company, their expertise being required for other planned operations. In particular Operation Comet, which included another coup-de-main operation where eighteen gliders would be used to capture three bridges in the Netherlands. The mission would be carried out by the 1st Airborne Division with a brigade allocated to defend each bridge. Comet was scheduled for the 8 September 1944, but was delayed and then cancelled. The plans were adapted and became Operation Market Garden, involving three airborne divisions, however the coup-de-main assault plans were not carried out.


Prior to being withdrawn on 16 July, Howard was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, presented in the field by General Bernard Montgomery. Other awards were the Military Cross to Smith and Sweeney,[93][94] the Military Medal to Sergeant Thornton and Lance-Corporal Stacey, Lieutenant Brotheridge was posthumously mentioned in dispatches. Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory of the Royal Air Force praised the pilots involved, saying the operation included the "most outstanding flying achievements of the war". The feat was recognised by the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal to eight of the glider pilots involved.


Walking toward the bridge from the parking lot.



A view from next to the 75mm gun Howard's men used point towards Benouville.



What it looked like then:



(Notice the small building on the right,. That's the Cafe Gondree where we had lunch. We met the proprietor, the daughter of the original owner, is a very nice elderly lady was just a little girl at the time of the invasion)

Cafe Gondree:
(The place is filled with memorabilia but no pictures are allowed to be taken inside.)


A shot of the original bridge preserved at the museum where we parked:


A view from the opposite bank:


An aerial shot taken shortly after D-Day.
The bridge is in the lower left. You can see the circular gun emplacement.


The plaque commemorating the landing:


A final note.
If you watch "The Longest Day" the attack on the bridge is filmed here on location.
 
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Gunner

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So, on we go then.
(Is anybody enjoying this?)

After Pegasus bridge we went on to the Merville Battery.

The capture of the Merville battery was important, because it commanded the beaches on which the left flank of the British 3rd Division was to land, and the anchorage where by dawn the fleet would be assembled. If it were still in action at the break of day, it would certainly cause havoc, and might even prevent the landing of the 3rd Division. The job of silencing it was given to the 9th Parachute Battalion, whose commander was Lt. Col. T. B. H. Otway; and when the brigadier had first given Otway his orders, he had described the job, quite rightly, as a stinker.

The Merville Battery was composed of four 6-foot-thick (1.8 m) steel-reinforced concrete gun casemates, built by the Todt Organisation. Each was designed to protect First World War-vintage 10cm leFH 14/19(t) howitzers. Other buildings on the site included a command bunker, a building to accommodate the men, and ammunition magazines. During a visit on 6 March 1944, to inspect the defenses, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel ordered the builders to work faster, and by May 1944, the last two casemates were completed.

The battery was defended by a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun and several machine guns in 15 gun positions, all enclosed in an area 700 by 500 yards (640 by 460 m) surrounded by two barbed wire obstacles 15 feet (4.6 m) thick by 5 feet (1.5 m) high, which also acted as the exterior border for a 100-yard-deep (91 m) minefield. Another obstacle was an anti-tank ditch covering any approach from the nearby coast.



Reconnaissance had shown that the guns of the battery, in their bombproof emplacements, were surrounded first by machine-gun positions and a belt of barbed wire. Outside this was a minefield thirty yards wide, and outside that a second barbed wire entanglement. Beyond this again was a further hundred yards of mines surrounded by a wire fence. Intelligence estimated that it was held by two hundred men with ten machine guns and two dual-purpose cannons. Otway's battalion had to drop at ten minutes to one, assemble, march a mile and a half to this stronghold, and capture it by 5:15; for at that moment, if they had not fired a signal of success, the navy were to begin to shell it. The only support which Otway was offered was a bombing attack, in the early hours of the morning, by one hundred Lancasters of the RAF. But neither shelling nor bombing was expected to destroy the battery, which of course had been built to withstand that kind of attack. The only way to destroy it was to get inside it.

(An aerial view today)


For the twenty-four hours before the attack, Otway had put a ban on drink, in case anyone, under the strain of waiting, drank too much and went into battle with a hangover. But he had broken his own rule to the extent of taking a bottle of whiskey with him, and somewhere over the Channel he woke up and passed it round the twenty men in his aircraft. They did not drink much, or perhaps they had quietly thought of providing themselves with something. The bottle came back to him before it was empty.

Soon after this interlude, the antiaircraft fire began as they crossed the coast of France; and not many seconds later, Otway had his first warning that the drop was going to go wrong. The pilot began to throw the aircraft about in violent evasive action. The effect on the drill of the parachutists was chaotic. When they tried to move down to the door to jump in the quick compact succession for which they were trained, the sudden lurches threw them off their balance. Some fell on the floor, encumbered by their heavy equipment. Others tripped over them in struggling, cursing heaps. Out of the m£l£e, Otway shouted to the pilot, "Hold your course, you bloody fool."

"We've been hit in the tail," one of the air crew shouted back.

"You can still fly straight, can't you?" Otway asked angrily. But before he was given an answer, the signal came to jump. Otway's turn was early. He clambered along to the door, and found he was still clutching the half-empty bottle of whiskey. He thrust it at the RAF dispatcher. "You're going to need this," he said; and with that parting shot, he jumped.

The battle was short and terrible and bloody. Otway had no romantic idea of leading his men in the charge* The logical place for the command post was at the rear, where anyone could find it, and logic was always his guide. His first post was beside the gap in the outer wire, and there he waited, in a bomb crater with Wilson and his adjutant and signal officer, while the first men crept forward to blow gaps in the inner wire. He saw the explosions, and at once, a fury of fire burst out from the battery defenses. Silhouetted against the streams of tracers, his men were moving across the minefield, running and dropping down to shoot, or else to lie where death had found them. In the flashes of mortar bombs he saw the first of them fight through the gaps and into the trenches beyond.

That was his own moment to advance. Like many men with imagination, Otway had no great fear of being lolled, but a horror of being mutilated. That horror attacked him when he had to get out of the crater and run forward into the flood of fire. Irrelevantly, the thought flashed through his head of what Wilson would think of him if he hesitated. He shouted, "Come on/' and ran for it. Running, he forgot about the minefield which had become a minor danger. In the gap, the officer beside him, his adjutant, fell, shot through by a machine gun. He flung himself down inside the wire. The remnants of a company he had kept in reserve came through behind him, and dropped down, waiting for his orders.

He had planned that the leading companies were to go straight in for the guns, without wasting time on any troops outside the casemates. This they did. In a few minutes, he could see them right up against the casemates, pouring their fire through the openings. He ordered the reserve company up to clear the trenches. Soon shouts in German were heard —"Paratroops!"—and Germans began to surrender. In twenty minutes from his first order, it was over. His men were in the casemates and had done their best to blow up the guns by stuffing German bombs into the breeches, since they had no more explosives of their own. The Very light to signal success was fired. A spotting aircraft, circling over the battery, saw it and passed on the signal to the navy, fifteen minutes before the shelling was due to begin. Otway s signal officer extracted a battered pigeon from the blouse of his battledress and set it free. Back across the Channel, below the host of aircraft, this solitary bird flew through to its loft in England with the news that the Merville battery had fallen.

Otway's gallant remnant of a force had won by nothing but the unhesitating fury of their hand-to-hand fighting. But victory gave them no feeling of elation. On the contrary, when the men assembled they were pale and silent; for of the hundred and fifty who had charged twenty minutes before, seventy-five, exactly half, were now lying dead or wounded, and of the two hundred Germans in defense, only twenty-two could still rise to their feet to surrender.


Just before 05:00, the battalion's survivors, just 75 men of the 150 who had set out, left the battery and headed for their secondary objective, the village of La Plein. The battalion, being too weak, only managed to liberate around half of the village, and had to await the arrival of the 1st Special Service Brigade later in the day to complete its capture.


After the British had withdrawn, the Germans reoccupied the battery position. Steiner was unable to see Sword Beach from his command bunker, so even though he was able to get two of his guns back in action, he was unable to direct accurate fire onto the landings. However, observers with the 736th Infantry Regiment, holding out at La Brèche, were able to direct his guns until that position was neutralized.


On 7 June, the battery was assaulted again by two troops of commandos from No. 3 Commando, part of the 1st Special Service Brigade. The attack in daylight was repulsed with heavy losses to the commandos. As they withdrew, they were engaged by the battery's guns firing over open sights. The British never succeeded in completely destroying the battery, and it remained under German control until 17 August, when the German Army started to withdraw from France.


Our guide pointed out that although the guns kept harassing Sword beach for the next month, on the morning of D-Day the battery was quiet long enough to allow British forces to take the beach and move inland.

The attack:


At the entrance is a memorial and a C47


The command bunker. They put on a neat little show in here.


There were visuals and other aides around the battery that helped describe what you were seeing.


There were trenches leading to all the bunkers and crisscrossing the ground.


Inside the bunkers were dioramas, movies, equipment displays and such. You could spend much of the day here (unfortunately we had to move on)


One of the gun turnstiles



Man, was it raining but it didn't put a damper on myself or my brother.


The gun port to one of the bunkers:


A memorial to Lt. Col Otway.
A true hero.

 
R

Richtig

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Fabulous posts again - getting me thinking it really is time I made an effort to see some of this...
 

Gunner

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Amfreville/Breville/Chateau Saint Come

After lunch we headed over to Amfreville.
The line of Amfreville/Breville/ was extremely important line holding the left flank of the Canadian and British lines.


British Commandos, who landed on Sword Beach, headed to Amfreville which was being held by the 9th Para's. The 9th were the ones who took the Merville Battery then left it to take Amfreville.

A good story of a commando fighting in to Amfreville is by a veteran who was there.
(Part1)
(Part2)

At Amfreville the first memorials were erected to an Allied unit in Normandy.
The 1st Commado Monument


Notice all the flowers, poppies and other articles left on all the memorials I've shown.
Not all of it is left by family or tourists. The local French population help keep these memorials in pristine shape and lay their own wreaths on many.


Here is the 6th Commando Memorial not to far from the church.


Behind the memorial is an area surrounding the church known as 'Le Plain'.

A Private Liston made his way to Le Plain from Sword Beach via Pegasus Bridge at Buenouville and with the rest of No 6 Commando set up defensive positions here to repel on-going German counter attacks.
Private Liston of 6th Commando was killed here on June 11th whilst holding the position to enable an onward attack on the town of Breville by a Parachute Battalion who had subsequently moved to Amfreville.

Extracts from a 6 Commando war diary report the following:
10th June 1944
Place: In the field, Le Plein
a.m. - 2 Troop kill 2 snipers with 'K' gun. We are heavily mortared. We answer with our own mortars.
0800 - Enemy attacks all troops engage. By 1700 hrs all attacks definitely repelled. Suspect enemy got it in the neck. Our own casualties total 16. App 'E'.

11th June 1944
Place: In the field, Le Plein
We shell BREVILLE. We are shelled heavily. We capture a ½ track 20mm gun.
p.m. - Continued to be shelled. Casualties 3.

12th June 1944
Place: In the field, Le Plein
a.m. - We shell enemy all day. They shell us.
p.m. - 2200 hrs Brigade order 2 & 6 Troop to withdraw from trenches to permit 12th Para Btn to pass through and attack BREVILLE. This attack is preceded by a very heavy barrage which is answered by enemy counter barrage. 12th Para Btn suffer heavy casualties forming up. We suffer 1 Offr & 15 O.R's casualties. 12 Para Bn take BREVILLE. Brigadier Lord Lovat wounded. C.O. takes over Brigade. Major Lewis takes over Commando.

In the back ground you can see Madame Saulniers Farm which was used as an aid station for the Commandos.
Our guide, Gary, grandfather spent time here during the battle.





The plaque reads as per google translation
"enagage volunteer troops in the Franco-Brittanniques Lord Lovat who made this farm its general area"
(If someone has a better translation please say so)

BREVILLE
From here we went to Breville just a short drive away.



The Battle of Bréville was fought by the British 6th Airborne Division and the German 346th Infantry Division, between the 8 and 13 June 1944, during the invasion of Normandy in the Second World War.

In June 1944, units of the 346th Infantry Division occupied Bréville-les-Monts, a village on a watershed between the rivers Orne and Dives. From this vantage point, they could observe the positions of the 6th Airborne Division, defending the River Orne and Caen Canal bridges and beyond them the British Sword Beach at Ouistreham. Following several German attacks on British positions from Bréville-les-Monts, the capture of the village became essential to secure the 6th Airborne Division positions and protect the Allied beachhead.

You can read about the Battle of Breville (which was one hell of a fight):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bréville

(You can see by the above map that Breville was an important cross roads and is located on a ridge overlooking Drop Zone N.)

There were tremendous artillery barrages coming from both sides.
The church in the center of town was completely destroyed.
Most churches in Normandy, although greatly damaged, were rebuilt but the Breville Church was so damaged the towns people had to build a new church right next to it.




This is part of an article that first appeared in Fighter Log the news letter for Friends of The Fighter Collection (www.fighter-collection.com)
I use it here with deep respect for the author.

"On D+6 my battalion (what was left of it) were chosen to take the village of Breville, which was heavily defended. We were down to around 8 officers and 350 men by this time and we proceeded to a place called Amfreville where we trooped in to the local church for briefing and the order was "Breville must be taken". The Black Watch had tried to take it and suffered heavily in the attempt. The Commandos were holding position on the outskirts of Amfreville facing towards Breville and we took up position for the attack on the road alongside the Commando position.

The attack would be proceeded by a barrage around 9.45 and the attack to be launched around 10p.m. supported by a few tanks. Unfortunately the first salvo fell short and landed on the road we were in and our C.O. and several of H.Q. personnel were killed and others wounded. The Germans then laid down a counter barrage just as the attack company moved off and they were cut to pieces in the open ground approaching Breville. I went in with the second company and had to pass through the dead end wounded of the attack company . The Company Commander, although lying wounded, waved us on to keep going. I reached the edge of the village with a number of others and got pinned down in a ditch. After taking our bearings we moved out to reach the Breville crossroads exchanging fire as we went. I still had the wireless set on my back but had lost the aerial and things were a bit uncertain to say least, the village was virtually on fire from end to end. At the crossroads we came under a very heavy bombardment and again had to shelter in a ditch for what seemed like hours till eventually except for some spasmodic small arms fire, we had secured our positions. We lay all night expecting the usual counter-attack but at dawn patrols sent out reported that no enemy was contacted, Breville had been taken at last and our bridgehead was complete.

The cost was very heavy indeed, all our officers killed or wounded and 168 dead from all companies, only around 100 of the original battalion left and the following day was spent burying the dead, British and German. I assisted in burying one guy who had been killed alongside the burning church and he was buried where he had fallen.

When I returned to Normandy at the 40th anniversary, I went to Breville and the grave is still there alongside the ruins of the Church. Apparently the people of Breville asked that it remain there instead of being removed to the Military Cemetery at Ranville. I could write a few pages on the battle for Breville but I've given you brief highlights of my own experience. Breville later became a Battle Honour for the Division, such was its importance for the Normandy campaign."



CHATEAU SAINT COME.
A short drive from Breville is Chateau Saint Come.

In the early hours of the 11th June, the 5th Black Watch arrived in the vicinity of the 9th Battalion. Their "D" Company relieved "C" Company at the Chateau St Côme, whilst the remainder, at 04:30, proceeded to mount an attack upon Bréville from the south-west. All of the mortars of the 9th Battalion and the 5th Black Watch, joined by the guns of the 51st Highland Division, pounded Bréville as the Highlanders made their way forward. When this barrage ceased, both the advancing and supporting companies came under withering machine-gun and mortar fire, which quickly stopped the attack in its tracks. With an estimated three hundred casualties, the 5th Black Watch retired to the Chateau St Côme where they dug defensive positions in anticipation of a counterattack.

There were no other major incidents on the 11th June, but at noon on the following day the positions of the 3rd Parachute Brigade were subjected to an intense mortar and artillery bombardment. At 15:00, a strong force of infantry attacked the Canadians at Le Mesnil, whilst another, supported by six tanks and self-propelled guns, fell upon the 9th Battalion and 5th Black Watch. The initial blow landed amongst the Highlanders at the Chateau St Côme. Very quickly, all of their anti-tank guns were put out of action, and the Battalion struggled desperately to hold the Chateau once the enemy tanks began to fire directly into it. Ground was gradually surrendered as elements of the 5th Black Watch fell back towards the 9th Battalion in the Bois de Mont.

The 9th Battalion were themselves under similar pressure from infantry and armour at this time. "A" and "B" Companies were having difficulty in combating the tanks, but eventually several PIAT rounds inflicted damage and forced them to pull back, along with their accompanying infantry who disappeared into nearby woodland. Although this attack had been fought off, the situation was not in the least promising as the defence had been severely tested and the 9th Battalion was running low on ammunition. Lieutenant-Colonel Otway sent a message to Brigadier Hill to ask for aid. Hill knew that Otway would not make such a request unless he was in serious difficulty and so he immediately consulted Lieutenant-Colonel Bradbrooke about the possibility of assistance. Despite the fact that the Canadians were having great problems of their own at the time, with tanks infiltrating into awkward positions and searching for a way through their defence, Bradbrooke felt that he could spare his reserve force of "C" Company, which Hill personally led in the direction of the 9th Battalion.

When they arrived, "C" Company were faced with an untidy situation. The woodland was being fiercely disputed between the 5th Black Watch and the Germans, whilst the Chateau St Côme was in enemy hands, although a single group of Highlanders were still offering determined resistance from one of the outbuildings. Major Hanson led his Canadians forward and won back the Chateau, and after hard fighting the Germans abandoned the attack with the positions of the Brigade restored to their original state. The 3rd Parachute Brigade had survived the 12th June, but their ability to withstand another attack of this magnitude was questionable.

Memorial to the Blackwatch


This is a private residence so pictures from the road did not show much.

An aerial photograph of the Chateau St Come, which the 9th Battalion and the 5th Black Watch fought so desperately to hold. The Chateau itself is the building on the centre-right.


From the road:



Across the road there is a gate in the fence.


Standing at this gate you can now see the inportance of holding the Anfreville/Breville/Chateau Saint Come line
From here you overlook Drop Zone N, you can see Ranville and Benouville (Pegasus Bridge). You can even see Caen in the distance on the far left.


A picture of Drop Zone N.
Amfreville is in the left, Breville upper center/left and the Chateau.



Finally, in this picture you can see once again the importance of the ridge:



This was a critical line fought for in many bloody battles.
The Allied forces progressed no further east from this line until the breakout in August.
 

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Apr 16, 2013
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Blue Point NY
@Richtig
By all means you should being so close and all.
Be sure to get a private guide. (if it's within your means)
The tour buses, I believe, are a waist. (not having taken one I may be wrong)
As an example, while we were standing on Omaha and our guide was drawing sand maps on what took place several tour buses drove up, stopped for a minute, and then drove off.
I could here the tour guide saying "And here's Omaha, next stop Utah." and off they go.
 

Gunner

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The Bridges
The 6th Airborne Divisional Engineers on D Day 1944


3 Parachute Squadron RE and the Bridges over the River Dives



One of the specific tasks given to 6 Airborne Division was to protect the left flank of 1 British Corps (and thereby provide the hingepin for the whole Allied assault) by denying to the enemy the use of the area between the Rivers Orne and Dives north of the road Troarn-Sannerville-Colombelles and delaying the movement of enemy reserves and reinforcements attempting to move towards Caen from the east and south east.



One obvious way of assisting in this task was for the Divisional Engineers to create a demolition or obstacle belt to hamper enemy movement. The four bridges over the upper reaches of the Dives between Troarn and Robehomme made obvious targets but as the river then swung away to the north east the demolition line had to be pulled back to include two smaller bridges over streams at Le Hoin and Varaville. Fuller details of the targets were:

(a) Troarn-5-span masonry arch bridge 110ft long
(b) Bures-Steel lattice girder farm bridge 80ft long
(c) Bures-Steel lattice girder railway bridge 80ft long
(d) Robehomme-Steel lattice girder bridge Soft long
(e) Le Hoin-Small masonry arch bridge
(f) Varaville-Small masonry arch bridge

Detailed intelligence on the targets was meagre for a series of rapid unreconnoitred demolitions and therefore a low level photo reconnaissance mission was commissioned. Similar missions had of course to be flown elsewhere to avoid disclosing the actual target area. This task was undertaken by an RAF Typhoon fitted with a forward facing oblique camera which followed the river at a 'height of 600ft. The enlarged pictures provided such excellent detail that the draughtsman at Headquarters Royal Engineers (HQRE), Sapper Clark, was able to produce scale models from which charges could be precisely calculated and the demolition parties fully briefed.

The outline plan was that 3 Parachute Squadron RE, less 3 Troop, was to drop with 8 Parachute Battalion at 0050hrs with the task of destroying the bridges at Troarn and Bures. 1 Troop was to destroy the Troarn bridge covered by a Company of 8 Parachute Battalion in Sainte Samson and another Company in Troarn. 2 Troop was to destroy the bridges at Bures covered by a Platoon of 8 Parachute Battalion. 3 Troop was to drop with 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion on another dropping zone (DZ) further to the north east at the same time with the task of destroying the bridges at Robehomme and Varaville. One Company of the Canadian Battalion was to cover the demolition at Varaville and a Platoon of the same Battalion that at Robehomme. In addition two gliders were allotted to the main body of 3 Parachute Squadron and one to 3 Troop to land on the appropriate DZs. These gliders each carried a jeep and two 10cwt trailers plus additional explosives and equipment, and were intended to provide a minimum of transport beyond the folding hand trolleys with which the Squadron was to drop.

All the demolitions were to be blown by 0715hrs which was H Hour for the seaborne assault. This meant that the approximate time available at the various sites varied from two hours at the Troarn bridge to three and a half hours at Varaville after an approach march in the dark with the barest minimum of wheeled transport and a considerable weight of explosive and engineer equipment. In the case of the bridges at Troarn and Bures the approach march was four miles or more. As part of the overall plan the RE Troop in Lord Lovat's Special Service Brigade, under command of Captain Bobby Holmes RE, was to extend the main demolition belt north west to the sea by cratering access roads on the arrival of the Brigade in the divisional area later on D Day.

One of the surprises for me was the width of the Dives "River".
To me it looked more like a stream.
The key was the steepness of the banks. There was no way that vehicles could get over the banks.
The Allies did not have any intention of holding the bridges and the Germans quickly rebuilt them but not until after the British were safely ashore and ensconced at Sword Beach.

Varaville Bridge - Sgt Baillie

Lieutenant Jack Inman RE collected twelve Sappers and three containers of explosive and took them with considerable difficulty across a network of ditches to Varaville where he met Lieutenant Ted Baillie RE who was on his own. Five Sappers and 200lb of explosive were left with Lieutenant Baillie who proceeded to destroy successfully the Varaville bridge.








Varaville - Canadian 1st Para Battalion Memorial and Drop Zone V (DZ-V)



1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was allotted the primary task of destroying the bridges at Varaville and Robehomme after which they were to assist in forming the bridgehead in the area of the Bois de Bavent. Most of this battalion was also dropped some distance from the dropping zone but the enemy offered only slight opposition, except in the area of the chateau near Varaville where a sharp action took place, with the result that the primary tasks were successfully carried out without difficulty. The battalion then reverted to brigade control and occupied a position in the Le Mesnil area.


Robehomme Bridge - Lt Inman

Lieutenant Inman then set off for the Robehomme bridge with the remainder. On his way he met Captain Smith, Lieutenant Beverley Holloway and three Sappers. Captain Smith went to the Varaville bridge whilst the rest went on to Robehomme. Bavent was held by the enemy and the party had to take to the flooded fields carrying the explosive on their backs. They eventually reached the bridge at 0900hrs, to meet Sergeant Poole RE there and hear that he had dropped nearby and destroyed the steel span with a clean cut, using 30lb of plastic explosive collected from troops of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion who had dropped in the vicinity.

(Note: most of the flat ground on either side of the bridge were flooded)







(See the plaque on the wall. Someone has wedged a cross in it. I believe someone will always remember what happened here)





Bures - Juckes Bridge - Capt Juckes

Captain Juckes commanded No.2 Troop of the 3rd Parachute Squadron, who were charged with the demolition of the farm and railway bridges at Bures. The Troop was supposed to land on DZ-K, alongside the 8th Parachute Battalion, however due to the pathfinders being dropped off-target, they landed near Ranville instead. Juckes and his men eventually met up with the 8th Battalion on their way to the Bois de Bavent, and from here he pushed on to Bures. They met no opposition along the way and reached the first of the bridges at 06:30. Three hours later both of them had been destroyed, though there was a delay of a few minutes owing to the farmer requesting permission to bring his cattle across. The party returned to the 8th Battalion's lines, in the Bois de Bavent, at 12:15.
No word had been received as to the fate of the Troarn bridge, and so the commander of the battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson, ordered Captain Juckes to demolish it. Placed under his command was a platoon of paratroopers under Lieutenant Brown, a Jeep and trailer carrying Lieutenant Tony Wade, six sappers and forty General Wade demolition charges, and two detachments of Royal Engineers; a protective detachment under Sergeant Shrubsole, and a rearguard under Lieutenant John Shave. They first headed towards Bures, through the Bois de Bavent, before proceeding south along the road to Troarn. Four hundred yards from the village, Lieutenant Wade's sappers and the rearguard were ordered to occupy a firm base to provide covering fire whilst Brown's paratroopers advanced into Troarn as Sergeant Shrubsole's group circled the church. These groups were fired on by a machine-gun post based inside a house, but a brief fight resulted in four enemy soldiers and their officer being taken prisoner. Shortly after they were fired upon again by a stronger force, but the paratroopers and engineers charged the buildings in which they had established themselves and accounted for two enemy dead, four wounded and fifteen prisoners.
Facing no further resistance, the demolition party reached the Bridge to find that Major Roseveare had beaten them to it and had demolished a fifteen to twenty feet section of the bridge. Whilst enjoying the hospitality of the French locals, who plied them with food and wine, they nevertheless laid their charges and by 15:00 had increased this damage to between thirty-five and forty feet. An hour and a half later, Captain Juckes's party had rejoined the 8th Battalion. The 3rd Parachute Squadron then left the Bois de Bavent and took up positions around Brigade HQ at Le Mesnil.

For his actions on D-Day, Captain Juckes was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
From the time he was dropped near Ranville on the night 5th/6th June until 1800 hours 8th June when his Troop was relieved in their defensive position, this officer has displayed the very highest powers of leadership, initiative and personal courage. He has been continually engaged in the execution of RE tasks in the face of the enemy and has led his Troop in an infantry role in a most aggressive fashion.
After completing the demolition of two bridges at Bures he led a party including a platoon of 8th Para Battalion and forced a passage through Troarn killing a number of Germans and taking prisoners and carried out further demolitions on the partially demolished Troarn bridge.
On withdrawing to the Brigade area at Le Mesnil his Troop occupied defensive positions for 30 hours inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. During this time he supervised the laying of an anti-tank minefield under fire. Throughout the whole of this time he lost no opportunity in harassing the enemy.
This officer set a magnificent example to his junior officers and men by his tireless energy, enthusiasm and offensive eagerness.


Captain Juckes was tragically killed during a mortar bombardment at Le Mesnil on the 28th June 1944. He had been supervising the placement of sandbags around the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion's area and, at approximately 16:00, was about to report to their commander on his progress when an unheard mortar round descended and exploded two yards from the Jeep. Juckes, in the passenger seat, received a terrible chest injury and immediately lost consciousness. Alongside him, Driver Holt was amazingly unhurt and immediately drove Juckes to the Canadian's Regimental Aid Post. He was later moved to the Main Dressing Station at Ranville, however he never regained consciousness. Captain Juckes was a well known and highly respected officer, not merely in No.2 Troop but throughout the Brigade, and his loss was felt by many. He was buried at the Divisional cemetery at Ranville church; the last rites being performed by his friend, the Reverend John Gwinnet of the 9th Battalion, in the presence of many of his friends throughout the Division. Brigadier James Hill described Juckes as "one of the finest junior leaders in the division."

The memorial at the Bures Bridge:



The Dives seems wider at this point:



Here you can see the town in the distance.
This is where the German garrison was located.
Pretty close. In fact I remarked before how surprised I was by how close everything is to each other.




We spent about a half hour with Gary showing us maps and explaining the actions that took place there. (rain or no rain)
Interesting were the descriptions of the explosives, how they were set and what damage they caused.




Continued in next post......
 

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Gunner

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Bridges continued......

Bures - Railway Bridge - Lt Forster


Captain Juckes and his RE party had a less eventful time. After making their way through the Bois de Bures they reached the two bridges at Bures unopposed about 0630hrs and work was started immediately on the two demolitions. Lieutenant John Shave RE and one Section tackled the farm track bridge while Lieutenant Alan Forster RE and about one and a half Sections dealt with the railway bridge. Local protection was provided by Sappers of 1 Troop. Both bridges were blown by 0930hrs after giving a local farmer a few minutes to move his cattle back across the river to the home side and Captain Juckes' party made their way back to the 8 Parachute Battalion area by 1215hrs.

The railroad bridge is on private property and was never rebuilt.
I was a little nervous when Gary opened the gate in the fence and we all walked through.
I said something like "Are you sure we're allowed in here?"
Gary then told us a story of how he was showing the family of Lt. Forster the bridge when the farmer came out and was a little irate that they wee on his land. Gary then explained that these were the children and grand children of the man who blew this bridge up.
He said the farmer then smiled a big smile and invited them all in to his house where they ate and "quite a bit of wine was drank really".

God bless the French in Normandy, they are good people.







This is the gate we went through.
You can see the town in the background.


You can see the remnants of the bridge on the right side:


Looking across of what is left of the bridge you can see everything is overgrown starting with two beautiful weeping willows.
The farmers house is not to far behind them.





Troarn Bridge - Major Roseveare
(This is the best story, saved for last of course)






From David Howarth's, "D-Day the 6th of June":

The most important of the bridges, and the farthest away, was the one where the main road from Caen to Rouen and Le Havre crosses the river, just beyond the small town of Troarn. This bridge was four miles outside the area which the division intended to hold. It was planned that a troop of engineers under Maj. J. C. A. Roseveare, protected by infantry, should dash for this bridge while the Germans were still confused. They were to carry their explosives in jeeps with trailers, which were to land in gliders. But this plan also went astray,


The troop dropped on time, at 1:50; but when Roseveare came to earth he could not see any landmarks which he knew. It seemed to him, as he stood in the dark in a field which he could not recognize, that aircraft were coming in from every direction and dropping parachutists from every unit in the division. Some gliders were landing nearby, but not the gliders which were carrying his jeeps. A mile away to the southwest there were sounds of fighting, and he guessed rightly that the last men out of each of his aircraft were already involved with the Germans.

However, he rallied what men he could, and they collected all the equipment they could find. At length, he had six officers and about forty other ranks; but of the protecting infantry there were only twenty men and no officers at all. Between them, they gathered up plenty of explosive, but there was nothing to carry it in except carts, hauled by hand.

This rather forlorn and yet determined party set off about half past two, under mortar and machine-gun fire, to haul the handcarts up a steep hill in one of the winding Norman lanes. Many of them were already limping from injuries of the drop. Before long, they came to a crossroads with a signpost which confirmed what some had already come to suspect: they had dropped two miles too far north, and the Troarn bridge was seven miles away. There was very little hope of hauling the carts so far before dawn, and no hope at all, of course, of hauling them through the town in daylight.

In this unpromising situation, a motor was heard approaching, and a jeep with a trailer appeared from the darkness. It was not an RE jeep, it belonged to the Royal Army Medical Corps, and it was full of medical stores; but if the RAMC men had wanted to argue, they would probably not have had much chance. They surrendered their jeep, and the engineers turned out the medical stores in a timber yard, and loaded it with explosives. By then, it was four o'clock: just over an hour to dawn, and five miles still to Troarn. There was no time to think about anyone on foot. Roseveare dispatched the greater part of his force across country to another nearer bridge. He himself took the wheel of the jeep, and piled on the jeep and trailer one officer and seven other men. Including them, the load was a ton and a quarter. They drove off alone down the lane, into country where no British troops had landed.

Their first encounter was at a level crossing. The gates were open, but there was a barbed wire barrier across the road, and Roseveare drove into it before he saw it. A German sentry fired a single shot and ran away. The jeep was so tangled in wire that it took twenty minutes work to cut it free: a tense twenty mimites, for it had to be assumed that the sentry had gone to call a guard. Clear of the obstacle, they reached the main road on the edge of the town, and Roseveare sent two scouts ahead. As the scouts reached the crossroad, a German soldier rode past it on a bicycle. They pulled the unlucky man off his bicycle, and because he began to shout they killed him; but they foolishly did it with a Sten gun and so gave the alert to the town.

Stealth was useless after that; Roseveare stepped on the gas and they went into town at full speed; but the overloaded jeep and trailer would only do about thirty-five miles an hour, and it seemed to be crawling. Soon they were under fire from the houses. One man by then had dropped off somewhere and been left behind. The remaining seven passengers all fired back with Sten guns and a Bren. At a bend in the road they saw the long, wide, straight main street of the town stretched out for a mile before them, downhill towards the bridge. There the firing was intense. Every doorway seemed to be hiding a German with some sort of gun; a cone of tracer came up the street towards them. Roseveare drove on, with his foot hard down on the floorboards. The overloaded jeep ground slowly forward. The passengers blazed away in all directions. It was the hill which saved the situation. On the downward grade, the jeep picked up speed, went faster and faster, swerved from side to side of the road as the trailer swayed behind, and tore out of the town and down to the river valley pursued by shots of a heavy machine gun. They came to the bridge, and found it had not been guarded. A man, who had acted as rear gunner with the Bren, had disappeared; none of them knew if he had been shot, or had lost his balance and fallen off the trailer. They unloaded their charges, and five minutes later the job was done and the center span of the bridge had dropped in the river. They drove the jeep up a side track as far as it would go and then ditched it, just as the sun was rising; and by wading through bogs and swimming over creeks, they reached the airborne perimeter again that afternoon.

BY DAWN, in spite of the scattered drop, the division had achieved every one of its immediate objectives. All the five bridges on the Dives were blown up. The canal and Orne River bridges, intact, were in Howard's hands, and parachutists were approaching to relieve him. The Merville battery would never fire again. The territory which the plan demanded was all under control, although there were plenty of Germans still at large inside it; and in the south, facing Caen, a tenuous line of antitank defenses was in position. It was a fine feat of arms.

Not all this news had yet reached Gale's headquarters. Even if it had, it was still too soon for him to congratulate himself or his commanders. The ground which was won still had to be defended until the seaborne forces were ashore. For the moment, the Germans were showing no signs of anything but confusion, but a counterattack was sure to come.

The achievement had not been cheap in terms of suffering; nobody had expected that it would be. Men were still creeping lost through the hedgerows and forests, or lying alone in pain. Many who had started the night in hope and vigor had already watched their own death approaching and surrendered to it. But at dawn the living heard a sound which encouraged them; beyond the sound of aircraft and bombs and small guns close at hand, an even deeper thunder from the north which shook the earth. On the canal bridge, one of Howard's corporals paused and listened. "Hear that, sir?" he said. "That's the navy."

Before long, the enormous naval shells were passing overhead, ranging on targets ten miles inland. One could hear them rumbling across the sky from north to south. The corporal, hearing this extraordinary and distinctive noise for the first time, looked up as if he hoped to see the shells. *Car," he said, "what next? They're firing jeeps."

We weren't able to take many pictures here. The road was a major thoroughfare so there was no wondering around.







And so ended our Day 3.
Tomorrow was our day off, where we did more touristy things such as the Bayeux Tapestry and a visit to Mont Saint Michele.
It will be good to sleep in a bit too :)
 
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