Axis occupied territory, June 1944

The Normandy Landings

A map of the 6th Airborne Division's area



British casualties on the Queen White sector of Sword Beach

British tanks and infantry coming ashore under fire on Sword Beach

No.4 Commando fight through Ouistreham alongside a DD Tank

No.6 Commando shortly before arriving at Sword Beach

No.6 Commando landing on Sword Beach

Brigade HQ comes ashore

Men of the 1st Special Service Brigade making their way ashore

Royal Marine Commandos make their way ashore

Heavily laden Commandos make their way off Sword Beach

Part of the 1st Special Service Brigade heading inland towards Bénouville

A Bren gun of No.45 (Royal Marine) Commando in action on the way to Bénouville

No.45 (RM) Commando passing through Colleville-sur-Orne


Following close behind the 8th Brigade on Sword was Brigadier The Lord Lovat's 1st Special Service Brigade. No.4 Commando, with two French Troops of No.10 Inter-Allied Commando in hand, were the first to arrive on the beach, landing an hour after the assault troops. The Commandos had produced their plan on the assumption that the beach would be cleared of opposition by the time that they arrived, leaving them free to push inland with great speed. They were not pleased, therefore, to find that control of the beach was still in dispute. No.4 Commando and their French comrades entered the fight immediately and, as their excellent offensive training had instructed them, went about clearing the beach defences with tremendous speed and aggression.


This vanguard of the Brigade was to be detached from Lovat's command for the initial period of the invasion. While the remainder of the Brigade raced to the aid of the 6th Airborne Division, No.4 Commando went about clearing opposition from the town of Ouistreham, bordering the eastern end of Sword Beach. Here, the French Commandos became engaged in protracted and vicious street fighting, which intensified as they arrived in the Casino area, their objective. No.4 Commando proceeded through the town in a similarly hard-fought fashion, but when they reached the site of their own objective, a coastal battery, they found nothing. The battery had been withdrawn, some days previously, to a point a few miles away, and from there its guns fired upon the Commandos at the original site, causing some losses amongst them. In all, Nos. 4 and 10 Commandos suffered some one hundred casualties in Ouistreham.


Following on half an hour behind No.4 Commando came the remainder of the Brigade, with No.6 Commando at their head, followed by the Royal Marines of No.45, and then by Brigade HQ with No.3 Commando. As the fighting in Ouistreham was going on, the Brigade formed up on Sword Beach to the tune of "Blue Bonnets", played by Piper Bill Millin. By this time, most resistance on the beaches had been cleared and enemy action consisted of a distant bombardment of the shoreline, however, this barrage and the unexpected earlier fighting to get off the Beach had cost the Commandos sixty casualties, though this was a lesser toll than had been anticipated.


With No.6 Commando "blazing a trail" in the lead, the Brigade were quickly off the mark and pushing inland. Lovat had planned on a very cut and thrust procession to the bridges, proceeding mostly across-country and avoiding all the major routes where German resistance would be dug in and waiting. The planning stages of the invasion had produced a plethora of aerial photographs for the Commandos to study, and these had revealed the positions of many pillboxes, the standard fortification that was to be found all over Normandy. Some of these positions No.6 Commando avoided, so as not to become delayed in unnecessary fighting, others they overcame with ruthless efficiency, using anything from small-arms and grenades to flame-throwers and, when they caught up, amphibious DD tanks, which had landed with the first wave of infantry.


Following on behind, the Royal Marines of No.45 were delayed around the village of Colleville-sur-Orne, two miles from Sword Beach, when they were counter-attacked by a local German unit. No.3 Commando, in the rear, had sensibly steered away from this action, but they were also slowed down when they encountered a minefield and had to pick their way through it.


No.6 Commando, meanwhile, had passed through the village of St Aubin d'Arquenay, one and a half miles to the north-west of Bénouville, when a nearby battery suddenly opened fire in the direction of the Beaches. One Troop peeled away from the main force and attacked this battery, manned by Italians, in the rear, taking all the crews prisoner and spiking their guns. Shortly after, an enemy platoon was observed to be approaching the village and it was subsequently ambushed, accounting for several men killed and the remainder taken prisoner, the ordinary soldiers amongst whom turned out to be Russians.


Beyond St Aubin d'Arquenay, the natural cover that the Commandos had up until now been cleverly exploiting, disappeared, and so they covered the last leg of their journey to Bénouville with haste, trusting that no enemy would catch them in an exposed position. It was at this point when No.6 Commando came under attack from Nebelwerfers, "Moaning Minnies" as they were known, rocket-propelled artillery which showered burning petrol upon impact, though in the event these did little damage. As the Commandos drew nearer to Bénouville they were fired on several times and halted, however their overall pace did not slacken. Relief for the 6th Airborne was at hand.