Maps

The Normandy Landings

Operation Tonga, the objectives of the 6th Airborne Division on the 6th June

 

Pictures

The rebuilt bridge over the River Dives at Robehomme, as it appears today

The bridge over the River Dives at Bures

The bridge over the River Dives at Bures

The bridge at Troarn

Troarn Bridge

The demolished railway bridge at Bures

The demolished railway bridge at Bures

 

The 1st Canadian Battalion had a number of tasks to perform upon landing. "A" Company had been detached to protect the left flank of the 9th Battalion as they attacked the Merville Battery, and what little of them had assembled after the landing made for Gonneville-sur-Merville. Here, they were first forced to take cover when the RAF bombed the village, and later they attacked a chateau, from where a small group of Germans were firing on the 9th Battalion. When the assault on the Merville Battery was over, "A" Company covered the withdrawal of the 9th Battalion before heading for Le Mesnil where their fellow Canadians were gathering.

 

"B" Company was to escort sappers of the 3rd Parachute Squadron to destroy the bridge at Robehomme, however two of their three platoons had landed in the flooded areas, two miles from the drop zone, and so at this time their chief concern was to avoid drowning and reach dry land. Lieutenant Toseland and his No.5 Platoon were dropped over solid ground and, guided a French girl whom they had happened upon, they headed for the bridge. On the way they gathered up lost men from all units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade, including men from the 8th Battalion who should have been seven miles away. When they arrived at the bridge they were met by the commander of "B" Company, Major Fuller, however the explosives that were needed to destroy the bridge had not arrived. Turning to improvisation, Sergeant Poole of the 3rd Parachute Squadron gathered together 30 lbs of high explosive, taken from the Gammon bombs that each paratrooper carried, and he attempted to blow the bridge with it, which caused considerable damage to the structure but did not destroy it. At 06:00, Lieutenant Inman and his party of sappers finally arrived with 200 lbs of explosive that they had been lucky enough to find. The bridge was subsequently demolished.

 

"C" Company were the first Canadians to set foot in France, jumping over, or more accurately around DZ-V with the pathfinders, half an hour in advance of the main force. The reason for their early arrival was to attack and overcome a German Headquarters building and accompanying strongpoint, both of which were actually on the drop zone. With this achieved they were then to proceed to Varaville, not only to destroy the bridge over the River Divette, but also to enter the village itself and defeat the garrison.

 

The scattered drop had, in the case of Lieutenant Madden and half of his platoon, proved to be more prolific than was typically experienced as his Dakota pilot had mistaken the River Orne for the River Dives, and so his stick found themselves on the wrong side of the wrong river, less than a mile from Sword Beach. Others were more sensibly deployed, but by 00:30, having been on the ground for ten minutes, Major McLeod had gathered no more than fifteen of "C" Company at the Rendezvous Point. He was preparing to move off towards Varaville with his small group when the heavy drone of RAF bombers was heard passing overhead. These aircraft had just attempted to bomb the Merville Battery, and several of them very recklessly jettisoned their unused payload over DZ-V, the terrifying effect of which left many men in a temporary state of shock.

 

Moving towards Varaville, McLeod added to the strength of his group by roping in a number of stragglers from his own and other companies. They succeeded in entering the village without raising the alarm, but as they were in the process of forming up for an attack upon the main enemy positions, they were themselves spotted and fired on by an overlooked 75mm gun. One of its shots fell amongst some PIAT ammunition and the resulting explosion killed Lieutenant Walker and left Major McLeod with fatal injuries. The ensuing fighting went on until 10:00, whereupon the Germans garrison, reduced to forty-three men, surrendered. About an hour earlier, Lieutenant Baille and his sappers of the 3rd Parachute Squadron had succeeded in demolishing the bridge.

 

 

The 8th Battalion, seven miles to the south-west, had experienced great difficulties in forming up due to the scattered drop. In addition to the usual problems, the pathfinders who were heading for DZ-K were mistakenly dropped at Ranville, four miles north of where they should have been, and as a consequence fourteen of the thirty-seven Dakotas flying the 8th Battalion to DZ-K released their sticks over DZ-N.

 

By 03:30, only one hundred and forty-one men had presented themselves at the Rendezvous Point, and with this force Lt-Colonel Pearson began his advance upon Troarn. To cover his rear, Pearson established an ambush of two PIAT guns along the road to intercept any units moving towards the Battalion from the west, and a few hours later this group engaged and destroyed six vehicles of the 21st Panzer Division. The 8th Battalion was not yet strong enough to attack Troarn, and so it came to a halt at a crossroads, a mile to the north of the village, in the midst of the Bois de Bavent woodland. Captain Juckes and his No.2 Troop of the 3rd Parachute Squadron were, however, directed to Bures to destroy the two bridges over the River Dives there, a task which was accomplished by 09:15.

 

Unknown to the 8th Battalion, Major Roseveare, the commander of the 3rd Parachute Squadron, was already on his way to Troarn in a Jeep with some of his men. They drove straight through the village and in so doing attracted a great deal of fire from the German garrison, who by now had become aware that something was happening. The men in the Jeep returned fire with their machine-guns and raced through the village unscathed, the only casualty being Sergeant Peachey, the Bren gunner sitting in the trailer, who was taken prisoner after being thrown from the Jeep as they turned a corner at speed. Roseveare and his party arrived at the bridge, beyond the village, and set up their explosives, which were detonated at 05:00, creating a 20 foot gap in the centre of the bridge.

 

The 8th Battalion knew nothing of this and were still preparing to make their own way to Troarn. As time wore on, significant numbers of reinforcements began to drift in, including half of "A" Company and most of the Mortar and Medium Machine Gun Platoons. When No.2 Troop returned from Bures, Pearson ordered them and his No.9 Platoon on to Troarn, leaving the main force of the 8th Battalion to establish a defensive position in the woods, which formed the southern sector of the ridge that the 3rd Parachute Brigade had been ordered to hold. As these men moved forward they were twice fired on by German outposts, both of which were summarily dealt with and a number of prisoners were taken. When the group reached the bridge they found that Roseveare, who had since departed, had beaten them to it, but nevertheless they laid their charges and succeeded in doubling the damage.