Maps

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

 

Pictures

A German anti-tank position overlooking the north of Breville after the 12th Battalion had attacked

A Sherman of "C" Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars, in the vicinity of Bréville

A Sherman tank on the edge of Breville

Wrecked German vehicles in Breville

A wrecked self-propelled gun in Breville

The remains of Breville Church, used as an ammunition dump by the Germans

The remains of Breville Church, used as an ammunition dump by the Germans

The remains of Breville Church, used as an ammunition dump by the Germans

The remains of Breville Church, used as an ammunition dump by the Germans

 

The German presence in Bréville was certainly the gravest threat facing the 6th Airborne Division at this time, because every attack that was launched from the village risked the security of the bridgehead. On the afternoon of the 12th June, whilst the 3rd Parachute Brigade was still fighting along the ridge, Major-General Gale concluded that the Bréville situation had to come to an end. He knew that the attacks which the 3rd Parachute and 1st Special Service Brigades had fought off over the past few days had inflicted terrible casualties upon the Germans, and so he suspected that after the hard fighting that had taken place throughout the 12th June, the defences in Bréville would now be at their weakest. Gale was also of the belief that the Germans would surely think the British to be too weak to mount another attack on Bréville. It was certainly true that the 6th Airborne Division could ill-afford what would undoubtedly be a costly attack, but it was absolutely vital that Bréville be taken before reinforcements could reach the village.

 

The attack was a highly improvised affair, taking place at such short notice that the units involved had just a few hours to make their plan and they arrived at the start line for the advance with only moments to spare. With all his infantry strength otherwise committed, Gale turned to his reserve to carry out the attack, and so the task fell to the 12th Parachute Battalion. Despite being in reserve since the evening of the 7th June, the Battalion was still badly understrength with only three hundred men present for action. To further increase their numbers, the sixty pathfinders of the 22nd Independent Parachute Company were placed under their command, as were "D" Company of the 12th Devonshires. In addition to these, the attack was to be supported by a squadron of tanks from the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, and no fewer than five artillery regiments.

 

 

At 21:45 on the 12th June, the attack began with an artillery barrage that pounded Bréville extremely hard. At 22:00, "C" Company of the 12th Battalion left the start line at Amfreville and moved on to Bréville, however the Germans reacted quickly and poured very heavy small arms and artillery fire upon the troops moving forward. Almost at once, "C" Company lost all of its remaining officers, but nevertheless they continued to push on under the command of Sergeant Warcup.

 

As the attack was going in a disaster struck the 6th Airborne Division's leadership. A group of senior officers from the units involved had gathered to watch developments unfolding when a single Allied artillery shell fell short of Bréville and exploded amongst them. The commander of the 12th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson, was killed, and Brigadiers The Lord Lovat of the 1st Special Service Brigade and Hugh Kindersley of the 6th Airlanding Brigade were badly wounded, and neither played a further part in the Normandy Campaign. Kindersley's deputy, Colonel Parker, had also been hurt, however he was able to carry on and immediately resumed command of his old and now leaderless unit, the 12th Battalion.

 

By this time Bréville was ablaze from the artillery bombardment. "C" Company continued to lose men as they crossed the open ground between the start line and the village, and by the time they got into Bréville and under cover only fifteen men were still on their feet. The other companies following on behind suffered similarly heavily, "A" Company lost its commander, CSM and the whole of No.2 Platoon as it entered Bréville, whilst the 12th Devonshires fared little better. By the time the 12th Parachute Battalion's "B" Company got moving, however, the Shermans of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars had successfully got around the flanks of the village and poured fire upon any enemy positions still offering a fight, and so "B" Company made it to Bréville without serious difficulty.

 

Once inside the village the paratroopers and Devons overcame any Germans that had survived the intense bombardment, and by 10:45 matters were drawing to a close, with all of the assault units reaching their planned objectives and digging in. Unfortunately the heavy losses that they had suffered in the attempt were to rise still further. A communications failure led the 51st Highland Division to believe that Bréville was still in enemy hands and so their guns opened up on it once more, causing many casualties amongst the Airborne men.

 

 

The Battle of Bréville had been won, but at a terrible cost. German fatalities have been put at seventy-seven, however the British tally stood at one hundred and sixty-two. Despite this severe loss, the capture of Bréville was nothing short of a great victory because it was a turning point in the battle for the Allied left flank. The 6th Airborne Division had been vulnerable to attack ever since they had arrived in Normandy, however the capture of Bréville had at last secured the ridge and with it the entire divisional perimeter. In addition, the offensive spine of the German 346th Division had finally been snapped, and from that night forth there were no further set piece engagements thrown against the 6th Airborne Division from any direction.