The Normandy Landings

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



An aerial photograph of DZ-K


As the fighting was going on at Bénouville bridge, a total of twenty-seven Albemarles released the pathfinders over the three drop zones. With these came small advance parties of the 3rd and 5th Para Brigades, which were to help secure the zones before the main lift arrived. On DZ-N, the first man of the 5th Parachute Brigade to land was its commander, Brigadier Nigel Poett, who had wanted to be on the ground at the earliest opportunity in case the coup de main effort failed.


The pathfinders assigned to DZ-N had been dropped off target and as a result they marked the drop zone slightly to the east of where it should have been. In the event, however, this caused little confusion and at 00:50 the drone of one hundred and thirty seven Stirlings, Dakotas and Albermarles could be heard flying low overhead. It was a good drop, however due to moderate winds and light anti-aircraft fire, which forced the planes to undertake evasive manoeuvres and so hampered the deployment of sticks, the Brigade was scattered over a wider area than had been anticipated. This created difficulties in forming up on the ground and all of the battalions suffered. The 7th Battalion, who were to relieve Major Howard at Bénouville, had only accounted for less than half of their men by 02:30, and much of their equipment, mortars and machine-guns were missing. By the same time the 12th Battalion, who had largely come down in the woodland to the east of DZ-N, had gathered less than two-thirds of their number before they set out for Le Bas de Ranville, whilst the 13th Battalion, who were to take Ranville itself, fared little better. In total, sixteen men had been killed as a result of this drop, eighty-two were injured and four hundred and thirty-two were declared missing, though some of this latter were able to rejoin their units in the coming hours.


The 3rd Parachute Brigade's drop on both of its two zones was less than satisfactory. The pathfinders destined for DZ-K were mistakenly deployed on DZ-N, three miles north of where they should have been. Not realising the error, they proceeded to set up their lights and beacons, which led to fourteen of the 8th Battalion's thirty-seven Dakotas dropping their sticks at Ranville. Lt-Colonel Alastair Pearson arrived on the correct drop zone but he experienced dire problems in rallying his men. By 03:30, he decided that he had to move towards the bridges at Bures and Troarn, but only one hundred and forty-one of his men had so far presented themselves at the RV.


On DZ-V the pathfinders had been scattered and were unable to recover the majority of their equipment by the time that the lift arrived, and so it was that the 1st Canadian and the 9th Battalions were spread miles over the general area. Far worse was that a high number of their sticks had jumped over the flooded areas to the east and west of the River Dives. Here, weighed down by their heavy packs, many men had to abandon all of their equipment in order to avoid being dragged under, while others drowned before they could do so. For many who were able to stay afloat, it took hours of hard physical exertion to reach dry land. The Brigade commander, Brigadier James Hill, together with members of his staff, found themselves in several feet of water near Cabourg, approximately two miles to the north-east of the zone. By dawn his group had reached the drop zone, but they had suffered numerous dead and wounded when they were misidentified and attacked by RAF Typhoons. Meanwhile, only threadbare elements of the 1st Canadian Battalion had been able to form up and move against the bridges at Robehomme and Varaville, but matters were worst of all for the one unit that needed its men and equipment the most, the 9th Battalion, who were to assault the Merville Battery.