Axis occupied territory, June 1944

The Normandy Landings

A map of the 6th Airborne Division's area


In the middle of July, the British and Canadians began to ready themselves for Operation Goodwood, an attempt to break through the enemy lines to the east of Caen, or at the very least draw all of the German armoured reserves to the British sector and away from the Americans, who were planning a break-out of their own. The 6th Airborne Division was not to be involved in this offensive, however their lines were used as a base for the 7th, 11th and the Guards Armoured Divisions, who were the main protagonists in what was to be the largest tank battle in British history.


Merely transferring three divisions of armour east of the Orne was a considerable challenge in itself, not to mention keeping them hidden from the enemy. Soon after D-Day, two pairs of Bailey Bridges had been constructed over the Caen Canal and River Orne to ensure that the flow of supplies to the 6th Airborne Division would continue should either the Bénouville or Ranville bridges be destroyed. This number was insufficient for the needs of Operation Goodwood and so a further two bridges were built, but even so it remained a heavily congested route and the effectiveness of Goodwood suffered as a result. Once they were across the river, many of the tanks were concealed from aerial observation by being parked beneath the wings of the 6th Airborne Division's gliders, which were still sitting on the Landing Zones.


Sitting upon the ridge, the Division had a grandstand view of the offensive, which began at 07:45 on the 18th July. Successive waves of bombers pounded the German positions and then, following behind a creeping artillery barrage, the tanks of the 2nd British Army advanced. All of this activity resulted in a little enemy retaliation being directed against the 6th Airborne Division in the form shelling, however damage was slight.


Operation Goodwood did not produce a break-out. The tanks were hampered by a well-sited enemy as well as the awkward terrain which Montgomery believed to be good tank country. With heavy rain turning the battlefield into a swamp, the offensive was called off on the 20th July. Both sides had suffered high casualties, much more so the British, however the operation had succeeded in its object of drawing the German armoured reserves away from the American sector.


A further consequence of Goodwood was a considerable expansion of the bridgehead to the east of the Orne. To hold this gain, the 51st Highland Division crept ever southward whilst the 49th Infantry Division entered the line between the Highlanders and the 6th Airborne. In spite of this reinforcement, the front for which the 6th Airborne Division were responsible was extended southwards, and by the beginning of August they were holding a line that stretched from the sea down to Troarn, a distance of approximately eight miles. The strength of the Division remained comparatively low at this point, certainly to hold such a wide line, and so, on the 8th August, further units were assigned to Major-General Gale's command in the form of the newly arrived 1st Belgian and the Royal Netherlands "Princess Irene" Brigades.


At this same time, "A" Squadron of the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment was withdrawn from the front line to be given a crash course in the handling of Churchill tanks, which were much heavier than the Tetrarch's that they had been previously using. The feeling, not only in the 6th Airborne Division but also the entire 21st Army Group, now turned to advance.