Maps

The Pursuit - 17th to the 27th August

 

With the crossings secured, the 5th Parachute Brigade began to move. Their task was to cross the canal and turn south towards the village of Putot-en-Auge. Here, the 7th Battalion was to secure some high ground to the east of the village so that the 12th could enter and clear it. The 13th Battalion was then to move through the 12th Battalion and capture the main high ground to the east of Putot-en-Auge.

 

The advance got off to an awkward start because, having received only the incorrect reports that all three of the southerly bridges had been demolished, Brigadier Poett ordered his men to cross by making a wide detour via the railway bridge. The 13th Battalion were in the lead and when they arrived at the bridge they discovered that the water level had risen to such a degree that the bridge was no longer useable. Luckily it had been learned by this time that the southern-most bridge was intact and so the 13th Battalion turned towards it. The 7th and 12th Battalions were already on their way to this bridge as the news had reached them earlier.

 

The 7th Battalion had great difficulty in picking their way forward in the darkness, mostly because their path was barred by a series of dense and impenetrable hedges, requiring them to weave their route around these obstacles. Once they had crossed the canal, they found that the 3rd Parachute Brigade had not been able to completely clear the path of enemy and so numerous engagements were fought. The 7th Battalion accounted for a considerable number of the enemy in the process, however these actions served to delay their arrival at Putot-en-Auge.

 

One particularly unsatisfactory skirmish occurred at dawn when the Battalion spotted a number of troops on their left, moving parallel to them. It was first assumed that these were men of the 13th Battalion, however closer inspection identified them as German and so an ambush was prepared. Lt-Colonel Pine-Coffin preferred to take these men prisoner, and so when they had entered his trap and were surrounded, a German-speaking paratrooper called upon them to surrender. Surprise had been complete, but unfortunately one German very foolishly dropped to the ground and opened fire, which had the inevitable result of the paratroopers opening fire and leaving few men alive.

 

The 7th Battalion were supposed to arrive on the spur to the east of Putot-en-Auge in advance of the 12th Battalion, however the latter had met none of the resistance that had dogged the 7th Battalion, and so the two ended up proceeding more or less side by side. In the event this caused little trouble as the 7th Battalion took their objective without hindrance, whilst the 12th Battalion made excellent work of cutting through the resistance that they encountered in the village. By 08:30, Putot-en-Auge was firmly in the hands of the 5th Parachute Brigade.

 

 

The 13th Battalion, who had been in reserve until this time, moved into Putot-en-Auge and proceeded to establish themselves in the eastern sector of the village. By this time it was broad daylight, and the enemy observers on the heights around Dozulé were directing artillery fire at anything that moved. Despite this fact, the 13th Battalion were able to reach their position at little cost, thanks to a pre-arranged plan where the Division's guns concentrated their fire upon the heights.

 

The next task for the 13th Battalion was to leave the village and attack the high ground, referred to as Hill-13, to the east of Putot-en-Auge. It was a most unwelcome prospect as three-quarters of a mile of open ground lay between the village and the hill, during which the Battalion would be heavily exposed. Their commander, Lt-Colonel Luard, cheerfully reasoned that they had "a fool's chance", and that "the Germans would not expect us to do anything so mad".

 

At 11:45, "B" Company led the Battalion forward, followed at a dash by the rest of the Battalion. Shots were fired at them and some casualties suffered, but on the whole the 13th Battalion reached the foot of the hill without meeting much resistance. With "A" Company lending support, "B" Company stormed up the hill and overcame numerous positions with their bayonets before they gained the summit. Beyond this point though, a well-sited machine-gun position and a determined German counterattack made "B" Company suffer many casualties.

 

It became apparent that a fresh German battalion had only recently arrived on the hill, and had the 13th Battalion been able to advance sooner then Hill-13 may have been taken without so much of a struggle. Under the weight of further counterattacks, "B" Company fell back and the Germans attempted to drive the paratroopers off the hill, however their own attempts were brought to an abrupt halt by "A" Company's fire. "C" Company was ordered to make a right flanking attack, but they too found only a stubborn enemy and had to withdraw. Although they could not gain the hill, the 13th Battalion were nevertheless in a commanding position and so they were ordered to hold their ground.

 

Despite Hill-13 being denied to them, the 5th Parachute Brigade had achieved an important victory. The enemy position around Dozulé had been considerably reduced and the 6th Airborne Division was now off the vulnerable Island. In all, the Brigade had lost twenty-nine dead and eighty-five wounded during the day. The Germans, not including those who had been killed on Hill-13, suffered approximately forty dead with one hundred and sixty men taken prisoner. In addition to these a considerable amount of equipment had been captured, totalling two 75mm guns, four 20mm anti-aircraft guns, six mortars and a large number of machine-guns.