The Pursuit - 17th to the 27th August



Major de Selliers on the road to Pont L'Eveque

Men of the 6th Airborne Division crossing "the bridge" at Pont L'Eveque on the 24th August


At dawn on the 22nd August, the 5th Parachute Brigade moved through Annebault and carried on the advance towards Pont L'Eveque. As there was little in the way of determined opposition to trouble them the Division pooled together what transport it had available to it, mostly courtesy of the Princess Irene Brigade, in order to get the 5th Parachute Brigade to Pont L'Eveque as soon as possible. As the village provided a crossing over the River Touques, it was hoped that the Brigade would arrive before the Germans had been able to properly organise a defence.


They arrived in the area at about midday and before long the attack was underway. The plan was for the 13th Battalion to capture Pont L'Eveque whilst the 12th Battalion crossed the river upstream to secure the southern approaches to the village.



Under cover of smoke, "A" Company of the 12th Battalion made excellent progress towards the River, but after they had covered 400 yards they were fired on from the opposite bank and became pinned down. Their objective was to locate the ford across the river and establish a bridgehead on the far side, however they could not find the ford and to make matters worse their wireless set had been destroyed, so they were unable to inform Battalion HQ of their progress. Whilst most of "A" Company sheltered from the enemy fire, nine men had managed to make their way across to the other side. Believing this to be a sign that the ford had been found and crossed, "B" Company advanced.


By this time the smoke had considerably thinned out and so "B" Company, caught in the open, were shelled and fired on by machine-gunners on top of the St Julien high ground, which was their objective. More smoke was laid for them, and despite casualties, the Company was able to make its way across the river, only to be pinned down once again. Captain Baker realised that "B" Company was in a dangerous position and so, with great reluctance, he withdrew his men back across the river. Both "A" and "B" Companies remained pinned down, under small arms and artillery fire, until after dusk, when the gloom allowed them to fall back.



In Pont L'Eveque, the 13th Battalion had fared little better. The River Touques flowed through the village in two forks with a bridge over each. Initially, the Battalion made good progress and captured the first crossing, but once over this, enemy resistance stiffened and the paratroopers were unable to gain the main road that led to the second bridge. To further hinder their attempts to push forward, the Germans had set fire to several buildings which, constructed wholly of wood, burned fiercely.


The tanks of No.1 Troop of the Reconnaissance Regiment were to have accompanied the 13th Battalion into Pont L'Eveque, however they could not follow because the bridge was unable to support their vehicles. The stalemate continued into the evening, but by 18:30 a bulldozer had pushed sufficient debris into the river to enable the tanks to cross over. No.1 Troop entered the village and dealt with several of the well-sited machine-guns which were delaying the paratroopers, however the buildings were burning so fiercely that a further advance was not possible, indeed one of the tanks caught fire due to the heat. The 13th Battalion were ordered to hold their positions until the fires had died down.


By morning, many of the fires had gone out but some were still blazing. A patrol was sent forward to examine the second bridge, and they captured it without meeting any opposition. "B" Company were ordered to cross the bridge in the hope of securing it, but as they attempted to establish a bridgehead by pushing deeper into the village they came under heavy fire. "A" Company made their way across to lend a hand, but both units became bogged down in bitter street fighting once again.


The 13th Battalion was now becoming stretched, and it was feared that the probing attacks, which were trying to get in between "A" and "B" Companies, might succeed and trap the Battalion in the village. To prevent this from happening, Brigadier Poett ordered the 7th Battalion to assume control of the western end of Pont L'Eveque so that the 13th Battalion could fall back through their lines and regroup. With the withdrawal skilfully accomplished, the 7th Battalion took over the front line duties and, during the night, sent out numerous patrols, which reported that the enemy appeared to be pulling out.


By dawn this had been confirmed and the 7th Battalion marched across the river without incident, soon followed by the remainder of the Brigade. The pursuit eastwards resumed and was not hindered until the Brigade reached Bourg, where some resistance was encountered but not enough to prevent the paratroopers from gaining the important high ground overlooking the area. Having been in action for several days, and now rather tired, the 5th Parachute Brigade was ordered to halt and restrict its activities to patrols, whilst the now rested 1st Special Service Brigade took over the advance.