Maps

The positions of the 6th Airborne Division, on the 16th June

 

Pictures

British soldiers in Bréville on the 13th June

An aerial photograph taken on the 17th June 1944

Airborne troops and a local French girl pose for a photograph around a motorbike in Bénouville on the 15th June

A supply truck passes over Ranville Bridge

Men of the RASC collecting supplies after an air drop over DZ-W on the 23rd June

 

Following the capture of Bréville, the 6th Airborne Division braced itself for an immediate counterattack, however none came. On the 13th June, the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles entered Bréville and took over responsibility for its defence, allowing the weak 12th Battalion to withdraw into reserve.

 

This respite and the reorganisation of the following few days enabled the bridgehead to be made truly secure. The 2nd British Army wished to strengthen the position to the east of the River Orne so that they might use the 6th Airborne Division's area as a platform from which to launch an attack around the eastern flank of Caen. To facilitate this, the bridgehead needed to be extended further southwards in order to consolidate it, however this was completely beyond the capabilities of the 6th Airborne Division, whose numbers, including the 1st Special Service Brigade, now amounted to just six thousand. Since the 11th June, elements of the 51st Highland Division had been crossing the Orne bridges and taking over positions along the southern front, and by the 14th June this handover was completed, with the Highlanders now responsible for all the terrain that stretched from Longueval to Escoville. As a consequence of this, the 6th Airborne's front became much narrower and could therefore be defended in greater strength.

 

The fall of Bréville, which brought about the end of pitched battles, came not a moment too soon because all ranks of the Division were extremely tired, having been fighting for nine days without adequate rest. Now that the threat to his front was sufficiently decreased, Major-General Gale hoped to withdraw one Brigade at a time to allow them a period of rest. This was not at first possible, however, because all of his Brigades were fully committed to holding the line. Gale asked if he could have another brigade placed under his command, and so it was that the 4th Special Service Brigade came in to the Divisional area. This unit, consisting of Nos. 41, 46, 47 and 48 (Royal Marine) Commandos, had landed with the first wave of infantry on D-Day, striking at points across the full breadth of the British invasion area. Since that time, elements had been involved in a great deal of fighting to the west of the River Orne, but for the most part they had been held in reserve.

 

The first unit to be pulled out the line was the 3rd Parachute Brigade, whose numbers were by far the weakest, having suffered the worst of the attacks over the previous days. On the 16th June, their positions, stretching from the Bois de Bavent to Le Mesnil, were taken over by the 5th Parachute Brigade. Next to them, from north of Le Mesnil to Bréville was the 6th Airlanding Brigade. The 1st Special Service Brigade still held the ground to the west of Bréville in the area of Le Plein, Amfreville and Hauger, whilst in the extreme west, from Le Plein to the River Orne, were their brother Commandos of the 4th Special Service Brigade.

 

 

The 6th Airborne Division now became involved in what was termed a static defence, however in spite of the misleading tone of this term and the fact that the no serious attacks were launched against the 6th Airborne Division, the fighting still continued. The defence was technically static because the Division held a firm line and had no intention of advancing, however they took the offensive through means of constant, heavy patrolling across the entire front. The intention behind these tactics was to harass and throw the enemy off-balance, lest they should become settled in their positions and consider attacking again. This was achieved through various means, such as working snipers and machine-gun outposts into awkward positions, and sending fighting patrols behind the enemy lines to carry out fast and hard-hitting raids by day and night. The Commandos in particular, whose outlook on warfare was not in the slightest suited to the defensive role in which they had been placed, excelled in patrolling.

 

From mid-June until the beginning of August, patrolling, sniping and probing was the sole occupation of the Division. Even so the front line was a far from quiet place during this period. The Germans sniped and sent out patrols of their own, whilst their gunners shelled and mortared the British positions in the hope of inflicting some casualties. Almost every night, German bombers paid close attention to the 6th Airborne Division, however their fire proved to be somewhat inaccurate and they did little damage. One exception came in the final days of July, when the Division's rest centre in Ouistreham was partially demolished by a shot-down German bomber which crashed into it, twenty-two men were killed.

 

A trickle of reinforcements helped to swell the Division's ranks, though not in any great number. In July, a mix of six hundred men, from almost every infantry regiment in the 2nd British Army, were distributed throughout the Division. Four hundred and fifty of these became paratroopers, though naturally all of these had to forgo their jump training until a later date.