Maps

The positions of the 6th Airborne Division, on the 6th June

 

Pictures

Horsa and Hamilcar gliders lined up with Halifax tugs at RAF Brize Norton

RAF Personnel and glider-borne troops wait for take-off

Airborne troops waiting beside their gliders on an RAF airfield

Soldiers decorating the fuselage of their Horsa before departing with the Second Lift

Soldiers about to depart with the Second Lift admire the decorated fuselage of their Horsa

Men of the 6th Airlanding Brigade shortly before take-off on the 6th June

Medical personnel boarding a Horsa glider

A Halifax towing a Horsa takes off from Tarrant Rushton

A Horsa takes off

A Halifax towing a Hamilcar glider on the 6th June

A Halifax passes over the English Channel with the Second Lift

A Horsa en-route to Normandy, as seen by the rear gunner of a Halifax

Troops of the 3rd Infantry Division watch the arrival of the Second Lift

Three Hamilcar gliders about to land on LZ-N

A Tetrarch tank, wrecked by a Hamilcar glider

 

As the light began to fade on D-Day, the men of the 6th Airborne were safe in the knowledge that they had successfully accomplished all of their tasks and that the units of the Division were now well positioned to defend the bridgehead. However, due to the casualties that had been suffered, and above all the loss of many paratroopers who were still missing from the drop, the Division was greatly understrength and spread thinly across a wide area. As a result of enemy counterattacks during the day, the 7th, 9th and 12th Parachute Battalions in particular were struggling, but fortunately relief was at hand.

 

After delivering the First Lift, the aircraft of 38 and 46 Groups began to land at their bases in England at around dawn. Their crews grabbed a little rest whilst their aircraft were repaired and refuelled in time for the Second Lift; Operation Mallard. Each of the fifteen squadrons of these two Groups provided between fifteen and twenty-two aircraft for this glider lift, which carried most of the 6th Airlanding Brigade as well as the balance of the Division's heavy equipment and supporting units. In all, two hundred and fifty aircraft were involved, each towing a Horsa or a Hamilcar glider. With these came a massive escort of seventeen fighter squadrons, whose presence ensured that enemy fighters could not even see never mind fire upon the formation.

 

At 21:00, the distant rumbling of the slow, low-flying transport aircraft could be heard approaching the landing zones in Normandy. It was still daylight at this time, and so navigation was a much more simple affair than it had been on the previous night, and as such there was no scattering of this lift. As the aircraft neared their zones they were met with sporadic yet accurate flak and machine-gun fire. Although several aircraft were downed, most of the damage proved to be superficial and the total losses that Transport Command had suffered during the invasion had been negligible compared to what had been feared.

 

Due to various problems, mostly tow-rope malfunctions, fifteen of the two hundred and fifty gliders did not reach the landing zones. On LZ-W, one and a half miles to the north of Bénouville, on the western side of the Caen Canal, the 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry and "A" Company of the 12th Devonshires descended. To LZ-N, at Ranville, came the Horsa gliders carrying Brigade HQ and the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles. The large Hamilcar gliders, carrying the Tetrarch light tanks of the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment, also touched down on this zone, and in so doing made history as the first tanks ever to be flown into battle by air. Their deployment, however, was fraught with difficulty as a high number of the tanks became entangled in abandoned parachutes, and so they were immobilised for a few hours until blowlamps were found to burn the parachutes away.

 

Up until this time, the 6th Airborne Division had been operating without the assistance of supporting field artillery, but in amongst the hundreds of Horsas were also eight 75mm Pack Howitzers of the 53rd Light Regiment's 211th Battery. Within half an hour of their arrival, these much-needed guns were dug in and firing on German positions.

 

The spectacle of the Second Lift arriving was a great tonic to the men of the 6th Airborne Division already on the ground. Major-General Gale later wrote, "It is impossible to say with what relief we watched this reinforcement arrive."

 

The Germans in the area wasted no time in reacting to the appearance of this force by directing mortar and, where this was still possible, small arms fire across the landing zones. Casualties were slight, however, because the fire was neither concentrated nor accurate. A similar bombardment was brought down upon Divisional HQ at Ranville, but in this instance a few lucky rounds caused the Division some administrative problems by leaving several senior officers badly wounded.

 

Due to a lack of aircraft, only a single company of the 12th Devonshires could be brought in with this lift, the remainder were due to arrive in France by sea on the 7th June. Nevertheless, the other two battalions of the 6th Airlanding Brigade were intact and proceeded to go about their business. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles were to expand the bridgehead southwards by capturing the villages of Longueval and Sainte Honorine. Meanwhile the 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry, who were cheerfully reunited with the Major Howard's coup de main force as they crossed the bridges, proceeded towards Herouvillette and Escoville. Both of these moves would greatly strengthen the southern flank as well as relieve pressure on the beleaguered 12th Parachute Battalion at Le Bas de Ranville.