Maps

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

The glider assault on the Bénouville and Ranville bridges

 

Pictures

An aerial view of the Bénouville and Ranville Bridges

A German self-propelled gun nears Benouville

A German anti-tank gun positioned near Benouville Chateau

The Church at Le Port, from where German snipers operated

One of the German snipers killed by the PIAT bomb which struck Le Port Church

12th Battalion Prisoners of War

Men of No.4 Commando in Ranville on the 6th June

Commandos fighting their way inland

Commandos moving inland on the 6th June

The 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment arrive at Bénouville

 

The three battalions of the 5th Parachute Brigade had reached their holding positions in the early hours of the 6th June, during which time they had seen little action, but at dawn the enemy counterattacks began to arrive. Besides several brushes with enemy infantry and armour, which were summarily dealt with, the 13th Battalion had little difficulty in holding on to Ranville. For the 7th Battalion, in Bénouville and Le Port to the west of the Caen Canal, and the 12th Battalion along the ridge at Le Bas de Ranville, matters were very different.

 

With only two hundred of their men accounted for and all of their mortars and machine-guns missing, the 7th Battalion were set for an uncertain day. At dawn, "B" Company in Le Port were harassed by no fewer than twelve snipers operating from a nearby church, but these were silenced by Corporal Killean and a well-aimed PIAT bomb. As the shells of the Royal Navy could be heard crashing into the Normandy coastline at 07:00, "C" Company, at the Chateau de Bénouville, were surprised to see several German light tanks park in full view of their position, their crews then climbed out of the vehicles, converged into a tempting target and were duly cut down by the paratroopers.

 

By far the greatest engagement with the enemy, however, was suffered by "A" Company in Bénouville itself. The Germans had already undertaken several probing movements to locate the positions of the British around the village, and throughout the day heavy attacks were thrown against them. Early in the morning, one of "A" Company's platoons, positioned in buildings overlooking the main road into Bénouville, was harassed by self-propelled guns, and with little anti-tank ammunition with which to defend themselves they were forced to withdraw. Later, a Mark IV tank succeeded in getting through the outer defences and came to a halt in the centre of Bénouville, only to be destroyed by paratroopers using Gammon bombs. German infantry, meanwhile, made repeated attempts to force their way around the British flank, but "A" Company prevented this by sending out numerous fighting patrols.

 

At approximately 09:00, two German gunboats approached Bénouville Bridge from the north. Quite what they were hoping to achieve is not certain, however, without effect, the leading boat used its 20mm gun against Major Howard's positions until it was in turn hit by a PIAT bomb, which sent the craft out of control and caused it to collide with the bank. The other gunboat immediately turned and fled.

 

 

As this was taking place, the 12th Battalion at Le Bas de Ranville, ideally positioned along a ridge which presented them with a relatively featureless killing ground to the south, were first heavily shelled and then attacked by the 125th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, who were attempting to break through to Ranville. This attempt was decisively thwarted by the Battalion's strong firing positions and well-sited anti-tank guns. Nevertheless a further challenge was made for possession of the ridge, but by 13:00 this too had been beaten off, persuading the Germans that there was little point in persisting.

 

 

Back at Bénouville, the Germans had begun to realise the importance of the Bridges and took steps to destroy them. During the day a fighter bomber scored a direct hit on Bénouville Bridge, but miraculously the bomb failed to explode and bounced off and into the canal, leaving only a considerable dent in the structure. Other methods were employed, including two frogmen attempted to place detonation charges on the bridge, but both were spotted and shot by British snipers. At approximately 15:00, a barge, armed with a 20mm gun, cautiously approached the bridge from the direction of Caen. Private Parr, of No.1 Platoon, fired on it with the captured German anti-tank gun, situated on the corner of LZ-X, prompting the craft to reverse with haste to Caen. It was not until years later that Parr learned that his first and only shot had been a direct hit.

 

The 7th Battalion, meanwhile, were beginning to struggle. Infantry attacks, sometimes supported by armour, continuously probed the British positions in search of a gap which could wrench the village from their grasp. The first signs of relief came at 11:30, when sappers of the 1629 Assault Platoon, part of the 106 Bridging Company, RASC, arrived in the Bénouville area, having been ordered to race to the scene immediately after landing so that they might begin the construction of two Class 40 Bailey Bridges in case the coup de main had failed. At about 13:00, the sound of bagpipes could be heard approaching, and soon after No.6 Commando appeared, with Brigadier The Lord Lovat and Piper Bill Millin at their head. The arrival of this force did nothing to help the 7th Battalion, however, as the 1st Special Service Brigade had not come to their aid, rather they were to cross over the bridges and proceed northwards. This they did, but not without sustaining casualties due to the incessant German sniping around the bridges. Nevertheless their arrival was the first clear indication to the men of the 7th Battalion that the invasion was going according to plan and relief was on the way.

 

Of all the units of the 7th Battalion, "A" Company continued to suffer the most and their very heavy casualties resulted in the fight creeping ever closer to their positions. All of their officers had become casualties; the commander, Major Taylor, had struggled on in spite of a leg wound, but in the afternoon he was compelled to hand over the reins to his Second, Captain Webber, who was himself wounded but not so badly. As time wore on, the Germans succeeded in cutting off "A" Company from the remainder of the Battalion, but the twenty paratroopers who were still able to fight continued to hold their ground until, at last, relief came.

 

At 21:15, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment arrived on the scene to take over responsibility for Bénouville. They put in an attack and succeeded in digging "A" Company out of the German lines, allowing their many wounded to be evacuated, though in spite of this it wasn't until shortly after midnight that the rest of the Company was able to withdraw. So ended a trying day for the 7th Battalion, but one in which they had fought magnificently. Their thin lines had been heavily engaged for twenty-one hours, but they had held their ground admirably. With all ground to the west of the bridges now being the responsibility of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 7th Battalion was withdrawn to Ranville.