Maps

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

 

Pictures

A Jeep of the 224th Parachute Field Ambulance bringing in casualties

A Universal Carrier on DZ-N on the 10th June

Commandos at Le Plein

Men of the 12th Parachute Battalion's Machine-Gun Platoon

A view from the high ground around Bréville, looking towards the River Orne

A view from the high ground around Bréville, looking towards the River Orne

 

One worrying factor that was noted on the 9th June was the concentration of German infantry, estimated to be five hundred strong, moving into Bréville. This village was just under three miles to the north-east of Ranville and, as it was situated on the ridge, it afforded a clear view over the whole 6th Airborne Division's area. Bréville was also situated between Le Mesnil and Amfreville, and so the presence of a strong German force here created the possibility of a wedge being driven between the 3rd Parachute and 1st Special Service Brigades.

 

On the 10th June, the Germans made repeated efforts to open the Bréville Gap and push on towards the bridges across the River Orne and the Caen Canal. The main thrust of the enemy attack fell upon the 9th Battalion at the Bois de Mont. At 11:00, the Germans made a poor attempt to push through their lines and were dismissed with ease. Shortly after, approximately fifty Germans were seen to be digging into positions 500 yards in front of two of the Battalion's Vickers machine-guns and, with the assistance of "B" Company's Bren guns, this party was cut to pieces. At about the same time, a platoon of "A" Company allowed a German patrol to approach within just 10 yards of their positions before devastating them with their fire.

 

While all this had been taking place, the Germans had successfully evaded the 9th Battalion's patrols and seized the Chateau St Côme in strength. From here, two self-propelled guns and a company of infantry put in an attack on "A" and "B" Companies during the afternoon. The Battalion's mortar ammunition was running very low at this time and so the paratroopers resorted to using their PIAT's in this capacity. This fire, combined with that of their Brens, beat the German infantry back and, much to the surprise of all concerned, a Vickers managed to destroy one of the self-propelled guns. Fresh mortar ammunition was brought forward just in time to break up another strong attack upon "B" Company.

 

At Le Mesnil, the Canadians were also having a busy day. A large force, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 858th Grenadier Regiment, together with the 2nd Battalion of the 857th and several companies of the 744th Grenadier Regiments, all supported by several tanks and armoured vehicles, attempted to get in between the Canadians and the 9th Battalion. This attack was again fiercely resisted, first by the guns of HMS Arethusa, bravely directed by Captain Greenway, and secondly by the machine-guns of both Battalions. The German attack was stopped before they could reach the positions of the Canadians, however they managed to come very close to the 9th Battalion's "B" Company before they were broken up by their dense fire. The Germans had suffered extremely heavily in these attacks. Amongst the many taken prisoner was the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion the 857th Grenadier Regiment, who admitted to his captors that his unit had been destroyed in the attacks of the last few days.

 

 

At Le Plein, No.6 Commando were heavily mortared shortly after 08:00, however their casualties were not so heavy because they had avoided digging in around the obvious defensive terrain in the area, which they correctly identified would be a magnet for artillery bombardment. Following on behind these mortars came units of the 857th and 858th Grenadier Regiments. Not a shot was fired as they entered the killing zone that the Commandos had laid for them, where fire could be brought to bear from two sides. The Germans appeared to be puzzled that they had yet to be challenged and so came on further still until the Commandos at last opened up at close range and tore the first wave of infantry to pieces. By now the second wave was beginning to appear, and as the lie of the land was such that they could not see what was happening up ahead, they too blundered forward in the same manner and were similarly dealt with. Now that the Commandos had revealed their true positions, the German mortars got the range of them and bombarded afresh. The Grenadiers made another, more sensible attempt to rush No.6 Commando, but again they were beaten off.

 

The attacks then left Le Plein and turned towards No.4 Commando at Hauger, the Brigade's left flank. The shelling began at 10:00 and continued throughout the afternoon. At about 17:00, the Germans were observed to be forming up for an attack and so, with great delight, the Airborne Forward Observation Officer brought a brief but heavy barrage down upon their positions. This drew further mortaring from the Germans, who eventually got their attack underway. The defence was determined, but so was the attack and the Germans succeeded in gaining a foothold in the right flank. A Troop from No.6 Commando was called to help clear this position, and after several hours of hard fighting the position was taken back, the main attack beaten off, and so the Brigade's left flank was held.

 

 

In spite of this fierce resistance, the paratroopers and commandos were unable to prevent a large body of German infantry from breaking out of Bréville and tearing through the open country in the direction of the bridges. The 13th Battalion had been positioned at Ranville with the very idea of defending such a breach, and they spotted this force making preparations to assault the bridges. At 09:00, the Germans made their way across the LZ-N, which afforded plenty of cover due to the high number of empty gliders that were still on it. The 13th Battalion did not open fire until the enemy were extremely close to their positions, whereupon they were brought to an abrupt halt. The 7th Battalion also lent its weight to the defence, until the Germans were finally scattered by a bayonet charge by "C" Company of the 13th Battalion. The surviving Germans fled into the woods at Le Mariquet, on the south-eastern corner of LZ-N. Their losses had been appalling, with an estimated four hundred men killed and one hundred taken prisoner.

 

The battle was by no means at an end, however. The woods at Le Mariquet had to be cleared and the honour fell to the 7th Battalion, supported by "B" Squadron of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, who had recently been attached to the Division. Their tanks were to lead the way and put two minutes worth of fire into the woods, after which they were to lay smoke so that "A" and "B" Companies of the 7th Battalion could begin their attack. The advance of the tanks, however, proved to be highly costly affair and was fraught with difficulty. Several vehicles became snared in the parachutes that lay all over the zone, whilst self-propelled guns opened fire and put five Sherman and Honey tanks out of action at a cost of ten men killed. The 7th Battalion fared much better and cleared the woods with great efficiency, killing twenty Germans and taking prisoner a further three hundred at a cost of just ten wounded.

 

 

The final action on the 9th June came at 23:00, when "C" Company of the 9th Battalion overcame slight resistance to win back the Chateau St Côme. They remained here during the night, despite being frequently harassed by German patrols.