Maps

The positions of the 6th Airborne Division, from the 8th to 12th June

 

Pictures

A Horsa with a smashed screen on one of the landing zones

An abandoned Sherman on one of the landing zones

An Airborne soldier in a village to the east of the River Orne

Provosts dug in at a crossroads

The barn in the Bois de Mont which served as "A" Company HQ, 9th Battalion

 

The 8th June saw the first truly determined attempts to attack the 6th Airborne Division and, in particular, to dislodge the 3rd Parachute Brigade from the ridge that overlooked the invasion area. A new element now entered the battle, for the northern and eastern sectors of the Divisional area, in the form of the 346th Infantry Division, a first class formation of the Fifteenth Army. At dawn, elements of their 856th and 857th Grenadier Regiments, supported by several tanks and self-propelled guns, moved towards the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. They advanced with their infantry tightly packed around their tanks, in order to protect them from snipers, and the Canadians exploited this by bringing down their mortars amongst them and inflicting a large number of casualties. Despite this poor start to their attack, a lone Mark IV tank succeeded in getting in between "B" and "C" Companies and caused them a great deal of trouble. The situation was restored when a PIAT round forced the tank to pull back, following which its accompanying infantry were put to flight when "B" Company charged them with fixed bayonets.

 

At the same time, Brigade HQ had become so heavily engaged that Brigadier Hill asked for help from the 9th Battalion as the situation was becoming critical. Lt-Colonel Otway sent Lieutenant Christie to help with an improvised assault group consisting of twenty-two men, in addition to which was Major Smith's covering party of five men, armed with several machine-guns. The group managed to work their way around the rear of the force that was attacking Brigade HQ, and between them they were able to break up the attack at high cost to the enemy.

 

The surviving infantry of the Le Mesnil attack withdrew to a farmhouse, 200 yards from the Canadian positions, and at 09:00, "B" Company were given the order to attack it and drive them further back. Captain Griffin led two platoons of seventy-five men forward and caught the enemy completely unawares, quickly overwhelming the outlying positions before moving into the farm itself. "B" Company surged forward with their bayonets, but they were soon halted by withering fire and several men were killed. They nevertheless succeeded in gaining the farmhouse, but it was here that Griffin called off the attack when he saw that an unexpectedly high number of enemy infantry and armour were in the farmyard. The counterattack was swift, with the farmhouse being mortared and a tank with accompanying infantry moving up to assault it. Griffin ordered his men to withdraw to the Battalion's lines. This they did, closely pursued by the enemy, however this German counterattacking force ventured much too far and suffered heavy losses when they were caught in a lethal crossfire by the men whom Griffin had positioned to protect his flank. The attack had cost "B" Company eight men killed and thirteen wounded, however they had accounted for fifty German dead and, moreover, had forced them to abandon the farmhouse.

 

The 9th Battalion, neighbouring the Canadians in the Bois de Mont, were not untouched by this attack. At midday a bicycle patrol ran into "A" Company's positions and were easily routed. Later though, men of the 857th Grenadier Regiment put in several attacks on "A" and "B" Companies, all of which were comfortably dealt with. RSM Cunningham and his counterattack group, consisting of a Vickers machine-gun, several Brens and a PIAT, were conspicuous during these attacks, moving to wherever there was trouble and bringing their effective fire to bear.

 

 

With the exception of No.45 Commando, it had been relatively quiet day for the 1st Special Service Brigade. On D-Day, No.45 Commando had moved north of the Brigade's lines to attempt to occupy Sallenelles and, if possible, push on to Franceville Plage. It was a somewhat exposed position yet they succeeded in taking both areas, however the Germans counterattacked on the 8th June and forced them out of Franceville Plage. Further attacks also prized them from Sallenelles, thereafter No.45 Commando fell back to the Brigade area and moved into reserve.

 

Pressure was also brought to bear on the 6th Airlanding Brigade. For over seven hours, starting at 11:00, the 12th Devonshires at Le Bas de Ranville were hit with artillery and mortar rounds, however no infantry attack developed. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles at Longueval had an interesting evening which began with the ambushing of a German platoon which was preparing to attack Battalion HQ. Undeterred by this setback, several Mark IV tanks were later sent to shell the HQ from the safety of a hill to the north-east of Longueval. There was little that the Ulstermen could do to resist, however a call for assistance was made to Brigade HQ, and this prompted Brigadier Hugh Kindersley to personally intervene with two self-propelled guns and two Bren gun groups. Several rounds were fired at the tanks by the Brigadier himself, and although he did not find his mark, the tanks were persuaded to back away.