Maps

The positions of the 6th Airborne Division, on the 6th June

 

Pictures

The Chateau d'Amfreville

Dead animals and abandoned carts near the Chateau d'Amfreville

The 9th Parachute Battalion escorting German prisoners

A man of the 9th Battalion with a German prisoner

Freed Italian POW's under escort

Field graves of the men killed by an Allied bombing raid

Men of the 1st Special Service Brigade cross over Ranville Bridge

No.3 Commando near Ranville on the 6th June

Two men of No.45 (Royal Marine) Commando preparing a trench

Commandos and 9th Battalion men in Amfreville

 

Following the completion of their tasks to destroy the Merville Battery and the River Dives bridges, the 3rd Parachute Brigade fell back upon the high ground that stretched from the Bois de Bavent woodland, to the east of Ranville, and northwards to the villages of Le Mesnil and Le Plein. The 8th Battalion established themselves in the dense woodland of the Bois de Bavent, from where they harassed the enemy in their broad sector with a series of far-reaching patrols. Meanwhile the 9th Battalion headed for Le Plein, whilst the Canadians and Brigade HQ occupied the centre of the ridge at Le Mesnil.

 

The 9th Battalion, following its assault upon the Merville Battery, was severely understrength with only eighty men present for action. Although this number was increased a little by the arrival of several stragglers, the offensive capability of the Battalion was now questionable to say the least. By 06:00, Lt-Colonel Otway had concluded that he must abandon the secondary objectives of his Battalion, which were the destruction of a German Headquarters and the capture of the Naval Radar Station at Sallenelles, and instead proceed towards the more important target of the high ground around the villages of Le Plein and Amfreville.

 

If any unit had reason to feel anger towards the Royal Air Force then it was the 9th Battalion. The aircraft that had brought them to Normandy had scattered their strength, the bombs that were intended to knock out the Merville Battery fell nowhere near their target, and so it added insult to injury, therefore, that on their way to the high ground, a passing formation of British aircraft mistook the Battalion for a German column and bombed them. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

 

Pressing on southward, Lt-Colonel Otway had learned from a French civilian that there were some two hundred Russians well entrenched to their front in Hauger, and so the Battalion deviated from its course to approach Le Plein from the east. As they drew near to the village they were fired on by infantry and a machine-gun, however "B" Company attacked and forced them to withdraw with many casualties. As the paratroopers pushed further into Le Plein, German infantry launched an immediate counterattack, only to be devastated at close range by the Battalion's only Vickers machine-gun. "B" Company believed the main part of the resistance in village to be centred around a single building, and so Lieutenant Halliburton and his platoon attempted to attack it, but he was killed in the process and his men were compelled to fall back. Faced with continued defiance and mounting casualties, Lt-Colonel Otway concluded that the 9th Battalion was too weak to persist and so he ordered his men to withdraw to the nearby Chateau d'Amfreville until relief could arrive in the form of the 1st Special Service Brigade.

 

 

The 1st Canadian Battalion were not so very hard pressed. After landing, their commander, Lt-Colonel Bradbrooke, arrived at the rendezvous point to find a very mixed bag awaiting him. Present were most of Battalion HQ, some of HQ Company, stragglers from the 8th and 9th Battalions, several medics from the 224th Parachute Field Ambulance, and most bizarrely of all an anti-tank section of the 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. He led these men on to Le Mesnil and, following a brief encounter with the enemy, had taken the village by 11:00 and began to establish Battalion HQ in the brickworks.

 

"A" Company, having completed their tasks of protecting the left flank of the Merville Battery and then covering the withdrawal of the 9th Battalion, arrived at Le Mesnil during the afternoon. "C" Company were still fighting in Varaville by daybreak, but after their work was done they too fell back on Le Mesnil, arriving after a series of skirmishes. "B" Company, however, were ordered to hold their position at Robehomme, where a Vickers gun had been set up to overlook the ruins of the Bridge in the hope that a German patrol would come along to investigate. Both "B" Company and the Germans sent out patrols during the day in an attempt to discover the others position, and this resulted in several brief engagements.

 

 

As the day wore on, the Commandos began to arrive in the northern sector of the ridge. No.6 Commando were the first to arrive and, aided by information give to them a French farmer, a former serviceman, they proceeded to capture most of Le Plein and the surrounding area. Contact was established with the 9th Battalion at the Chateau d'Amfreville, but they were unable to relieve them. This task was assigned to No.4 Commando, who had returned to the Brigade from their fight in Ouistreham, and at about 18:00, they proceeded to attack and drive out the Germans that had besieged the 9th Battalion. The fighting in and around the village was fierce and the Commandos suffered many casualties, however they succeeded in clearing the area of resistance, and so, for the time being, the northern end of the ridge was secure.

 

No.45 Commando had suffered few losses by this time, although their commander had been lost at the bridges when he was wounded by a sniper. Now in the capable hands of Major Gray, they were ordered on to a rather exposed position at Sallenelles, and from there proceed to Franceville Plage if it proved possible, so that they could disrupt enemy movement southwards and any attempts to fire upon the beaches from the eastern side of the Orne. Gray sent ahead some of his men on bicycles to hold Sallenelles until the rest of No.45 arrived on foot.

 

A notable absence amongst the Brigade was No.3 Commando, who had been detached on Major-General Gale's orders, much to the annoyance of Lord Lovat, to become the Division's reserve in Ranville. Gale was very concerned for the 12th Battalion at Le Bas de Ranville, whom he felt would struggle to hold off another determined attack on their ridge. As Gale had already committed all of his reserve to the defence, a replacement was essential.