Operation Overlord: An Account of the Part Taken by No.1 Special Service Brigade
D Day, 6th June
The first troops of the Special Service Brigade to touch down were No.4 Commando who together with an advance Brigade Headquarters landed at H + 30. 4 Cdos task was to storm the Coastal Battery at OUISTREHAM which was firing on the great assembly of shipping lying off the beaches.
They landed 500 strong at LE BRECHE on Queen Red Beach, about a mile to the WEST of OUISTREHAM in LCA from HMS PRINCES ASTRID and the MAID OF ORLEANS.
The original intention was for the first flight of assault troops consisting of the 8th Infantry Brigade to silence such beach defences as remained after the softening up air and naval bombardment to form a beachhead through which 4 Commando was to pass.
But when 4 Commando came in at 0820 hours they found the assault troops pinned down by intense machine gun and mortar fire from a strong point at the back of the beach. Some had not got beyond the waters edge and were still in 2 feet of water.
Mortar bombs were falling in and around the LCAs as they touched down and the Commando suffered 40 casualties including the Commanding Officer, Lt Col R.W.P. Dawson, who was wounded in the leg.
It was immediately apparent that the Commando could not count on the hoped for support from the 8th Infantry Brigade troops, and pushing past the troops lying at the waters edge, C Troop No 4 Commando engaged the slit trenches and pill boxes at the back of the beach and broke their way out on to the main road running parallel to the sea, closely followed by the remainder of the Commando.
Lt Col R.W.P. Dawson moved forward to contact the 2nd Bn East Yorks and was again wounded, this time in the head. He was however able to order the unit to move off towards the battery position as planned and tell the Second in Command, Major R.P. Menday to take over command, saying that he intended to follow on behind as soon as he was able. Although badly wounded, he did in fact catch up with the unit just after the battery had been captured, but was sent back to the Beach Dressing Station by the Medical Officer. On the evening of D Day, however, he re-appeared at the Commando's positions and stayed with his unit until ordered to be evacuated by the A.D.M.S.
The Commando moved off along the OUISTREHAM road led by 1 & 8 Troops (Fighting French) of 10 IA Commando, coming up against heavy harassing fire from Snipers and machine guns in houses. Invaluable assistance was given by a gendarme, a member of the Resistance Movement, who helped the leading troops to by-pass enemy strong points. The French Troops over-ran the casino area WEST of the Battery position and the assault went in according to plan. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, who put up a stiff resistance from strong fortifications and cunningly camouflaged blockhouses. The concrete gun emplacements had withstood the terrific air and naval bombardment extremely well and severe fighting took place before the enemy position finally became untenable and several surrendered. The Battery was taken, but casualties on both sides were heavy and after the engagement medical orderlies from opposing sides worked side by side succouring the wounded.
In the meantime the Advance Bde HQ had made contact with the Commanding Officer of 2 Bn East Yorks, who had secured a narrow beach-head on to the first lateral road, and were mopping up the remaining beach defences. Several of the Bde HQ party were wounded by intense mortar and machine gun fire during the landing. Lt E Kaier and Lt Kennedy, Intelligence Offrs of 3 and 45 (RM) Cdos and two signallers were killed and Lt KG Wright, I.O. No.4 Cdo wounded. R/T contact was made with 6 Airborne Div and news received that the vital bridges at BENOUVILLE and RANVILLE over which the whole Bde planned to cross had been captured intact and were securely held by the airborne troops.
At 0840 hours, exactly as planned, the first flight of 10 LCI(S) in line abreast carrying Bde HQ and 6 Cdo touched down on Queen Red Beach. The shipping and beaches were under heavy gun and mortar fire, and the second Bde HQ craft received a direct hit as it was coming in, causing it to crash into the stern of the leading craft. Two of 6 Cdo's craft were also hit and sustained casualties. Contact was made with the Advance Bde HQ and the beaches cleared at good speed. The beaches seemed curiously deserted as the troops waded ashore and streamed up the sand. The gaunt and gutted buildings among a maze of tangled wire and shell craters made up a kind of martian landscape.
Once on to the first lateral 6 Cdo took the lead and the advance towards the bridges began. The country beyond the road was marshy and intersected by deep ditches up to six ft deep with a thick mud bottom which made progress extremely slow for such heavily laden men who sank into the mud and found great difficulty in climbing out of the ditches. Scaling ladders were used effectively as hand rails across the ditches, but the area was also being mortared and it was about 25 minutes before the leading troops reached the pre-arranged forming up point.
By this time 3 and 45 (RM) Cdos, who had landed at 0910, half an hour after the first flight, had caught up with Bde HQ and 6 Cdo. The beaches and shipping were still being shelled and 3 Cdo lost 20 missing when one of their LCI(S) received a direct hit, but apart from this very little opposition was met with on the beaches.
Still covered by 6 Cdo, who fought their way across country as the spearhead, sweeping the high ground to the North East through the scrub, the Bde advanced through COLLEVILLE S/ORNE and ST AUBIN D'ARQUENAY. A squadron of tanks from 13/18 Hussars came up between COLLEVILLE and ST AUBIN and gave invaluable assistance in silencing pillboxes. Snipers lurking in the cornfields beyond ST AUBIN slowed up the advance slightly, but by 1230 contact had been made with the Airborne troops holding the bridgehead at BENOUVILLE, and the two forces joined hands. Skirmishing was still going on in BENOUVILLE village as the troops streamed through and snipers infested the area of the bridges causing some casualties, including Lt.Col N.C. Reis, Comd 45 (RM) Cdo. 6 Cdo crossed over and sending their cycle troop forward to secure the village of LE PLEIN, advanced to occupy that area according to plan. Their cycle troop then went forward to VARAVILLE to relieve the Airborne Troops who had landed prior to H Hour to seize the village and demolish the bridge there.
Bde HQ halted just EAST of the RANVILLE bridge at about 1330 to make contact with 6 Airborne Div who had established their HQ at RANVILLE. 3 Cdo held up by heavy shelling at COLLEVILLE and continuous sniping, sent forward their 3 Troop on cycles which crossed the bridges at 1400 and was ordered to go to the assistance of 12 Para Bn who were holding positions outside the village of LE PLEIN where the enemy were putting up stiff resistance. A combined attack was put in which was at first unsuccessful but a subsequent flank attack by 3 Tp cleared the village during the afternoon.
No 45 (RM) Commando came up at 1430 and crossing the bridges, continued their advance towards their objectives, to relieve the Airborne Troops at the MERVILLE Battery and to capture the town of FRANCEVILLE PLAGE.
The main body of 3 Commando arrived at the bridges at about 1530, but on instructions from Airborne Div they were diverted to take up a defensive position near LE BAS de RANVILLE into protection of Div HQ. This meant abandoning all hope of carrying out the original plan and the Brigade Commander decided to hold the line of the high ground running from MERVILLE in the NORTH to BREVILLE in the SOUTH. No 45 (RM) Commando were accordingly ordered not to proceed further than MERVILLE and to dig themselves in there for the night.
Brigade Headquarters moved up to the area of ECARDE and set up in a farm, while 6 Commando mopped up the southern end of LE PLEIN and consolidated.
At about 2000 hours 4 Commando rejoined the Brigade. They were ordered to take up defensive positions in and around the village of HAUGER, just NORTH of LE PLEIN.
After the successful destruction of the OUISTREHAM Battery, No 4 Commando had made a forced march of over 9 miles under constant sniping and mortar fire to cross the bridges and join up with the main body of the Brigade. In spite of heavy casualties and hot fighting over a long period, the Commando was dug in before dawn on D + 1.
So with 3 Commando still detached, 4 Commando still digging in, 45 (RM) Commando isolated in MERVILLE and a substantial gap between the Brigade and the Airborne Troops on the bridges, the position could hardly be described as secure. It was a heartening sight at about 2100 hours to see the arrival of the 6 Airlanding Brigade in the area NORTH EAST of the bridges.
D + 1, 7th June
At 0300 hours, after a quiet night, 3 Commando came up from BAS de RANVILLE and took up positions along the RANVILLE - SALLENELLES road South West of AMFREVILLE.
As soon as it became obvious that the original plan could not be carried out and that the Brigade would have to be content with holding the high LE PLEIN feature, 6 Commando cycle troop was drawn in from VARAVILLE and sent to take up position on the SALLENELLES - RANVILLE road covering the left flank of the Brigade line where it was thought that the enemy might attempt infiltration round the low ground near SALLENELLES.
During the morning, Major General Gale, Commander 6 Airborne Division visited Brigade HQ and ordered the Brigade Commander to proceed with mopping the up of the coast defence belt at FRANCEVILLE PLAGE, saying that our role of protecting the left flank of the Allied Armies demanded the silencing of FRANCEVILLE at any rate as far EAST as the road running North East from GONNEVILLE.
45 (RM) Commando who had been drawn in from MERVILLE in the early hours and had taken up positions SOUTH of SALLENELLES were ordered to proceed with their original task and take FRANCEVILLE PLAGE. Two Troops of 3 Commando under command of Major J.B.V. Pooley MC, were placed under command of OC No 45 (RM) Commando with the task of attacking the MERVILLE Battery while 45 (RM) Commando slipped round it to gain access to FRANCEVILLE.
Very stiff opposition was encountered both at the Battery and in the village. Two Troops of 45 (RM) Commando managed at length to smash their way through to the NORTH end of the village, but about 2100 hours the enemy put in a strong counter attack.
The Commando had suffered heavily in the assault and having lost its heavy weapons was unable to break up the enemy attacks or give support to the troops in FRANCEVILLE. Bitter fighting took place before 45 (RM) Commando withdrew to the area of MERVILLE and took up an all round defensive position. Here they were joined by the Two Troops of No 3 Commando.
These troops had suffered some casualties whilst crossing a minefield protecting the Battery, but managed to overrun the position after severe fighting drove the enemy from it. Very heavy mortar and machine gun fire however made the holding of the position too costly for such a small body of men without heavy support and it was forced to relinquish its hold, but not before it had suffered several casualties, including Major J.B.V. Pooley MC killed. More casualties occurred recrossing the minefield during the withdrawal, and all wounded except walking cases had to be left behind.
The Brigade wireless link was knocked out of action during the early part of the assault on FRANCEVILLE and Major N. Gray commanding No 45 (RM) Commando was unable to ask for support or even report his position to Brigade.
During the afternoon the enemy launched a strong attack from the South East against the Airborne bridgehead at RANVILLE. Some penetration was effected but a sharp counter attack successfully drove off the enemy and the position was restored.
6 and 4 Commandos continued to strengthen their positions during the day. 4 Commando carried out a patrol in the direction of SALLENELLES but made no contact with the enemy. 6 Commando were continuously mortared and shelled during the morning and it was decided to advance into BREVILLE to clean up the village and BREVILLE wood from where it was suspected the enemy were firing. The attack went in at 1130 and in spite of determined opposition the place was in our hands within half an hour, with a considerable body of prisoners. 4 field guns, 2 20mm guns and five machine guns were taken. The weapons were brought back to strengthen the defences of LE PLEIN.
3 Commando moved up to the area of LE PLEIN at 1900 hours and took up positions NORTH and North East of the village with their HQ in the Chateau d'Amfreville, forming a link between 6 Commando's positions in the SOUTH end of the village and 4 Commando who were established in HAUGER.
Towards evening about 2130 hours 4 Commando reported that enemy were trying to infiltrate through the open fields into the woods in the rear of their positions. The enemy were engaged until darkness and penetration prevented.
D + 2, 8th June
During the early hours three men arrived from 45 RM Commando having worked their way through the enemy to reach Brigade lines. They brought news of the withdrawal from FRANCEVILLE and of 45 Commando's defensive positions at MERVILLE. A reserve wireless set and signallers were sent back with a message saying that a relief force would be despatched to 45 (RM) Commando as quickly as possible.
But before any force could be detached to go to the aid of 45 (RM) Commando, an enemy attack in some strength was launched against the LE PLEIN positions and no force could be spared from the already thinly held line to go to the relief of MERVILLE.
From 0630 onwards continuous attempts were made by the enemy to infiltrate round 4 Commando's perimeter defences. One Troop whose position was isolated and in danger of being overrun should a large attack develop, was ordered to withdraw within the Commando perimeter, but before this could be carried out heavy mortar fire was brought to bear on the Troop positions and an enemy attack of approximately platoon strength was launched. The position became untenable and the Troop eventually withdrew in good order. The enemy then began a continuous attack on the Commando positions, using probably up to two companies.
Those attacks were determined and continued all day. Casualties were heavy on both sides, the Germans suffering particularly heavily. Eventually a counter attack launched by 3 Commando drove the enemy back, but they attacked again and continued probing for weak spots in our defences until evening. An attack at the Southern end of the line was broken up successfully by prompt offensive action by 6 Commando, who despatched a strong patrol towards BREVILLE where the enemy were forming up. The patrol engaged the enemy at close range and drove them off, and though they made repeated attempts to reform and penetrate 6 Commando's positions, all attacks were beaten off and some infiltration which had occurred to the SOUTH of their positions were successfully sealed off. As a precaution against the possibility of the enemy reforming, BREVILLE village and wood were subjected to heavy mortar fire.
Meanwhile No 45 (RM) Commando, who were cut off in MERVILLE awaiting relief, had been ordered to hold on to their positions, but throughout the day they were subjected to repeated and heavy attacks. The enemy brought up mortars and anti tank guns to support their assaults and when these were all driven off with considerable losses, they settled down to a continuous mortaring and shelling of the Commando positions.
The situation worsened as the day went on. Casualties were heavy and by the afternoon, ammunition, food and water were running low.
It was now apparent that the capture and retention of the FRANCEVILLE - MERVILLE area with the depleted resources available and against an enemy in such numbers was out of the question and it was agreed by Commander 6 Airborne Division that the role of holding the line River ORNE and the CAEN Canal protecting the left flank of the main landings could now best be carried out by denying to the enemy the ridge of high ground running from HAUGER in the NORTH to BREVILLE in the SOUTH overlooking river and canal. Without this high ground no observed fire could be brought to bear on the beaches near OUISTREHAM or the country between CAEN and the sea and the Brigade was ordered to hold the ridge at all costs.
Moreover it was likely that the day's attacks were preliminary probings for an attack on a larger scale which could not be long delayed.
At 1700 hours it was decided to withdraw No 45 (RM) Commando within the main Brigade positions. By 2000 hours they had broken out of MERVILLE and soon after dark had gained 4 Commandos lines near HAUGER. They had been without rest or food for over 36 hours and were billeted in the church for the night.
During the evening Brigade HQ moved up into the village of LE PLEIN.
D + 3, 9th June
The situation remained much the same. Continuous attempts at infiltration were made throughout the day, the enemy trying to locate our forward positions. No 45 (RM) Commando moved into defensive positions SOUTH and South West of AMFREVILLE, completing the all round defensive ring around the high ground, though still isolated from the Airborne Troops holding the bridgehead at RANVILLE.
The Brigade's position was pretty strong, and the Commander confident that it could be held against all comers.
The areas of GONNEVILLE and BAS de BREVILLE which seemed the most likely forming up places for enemy attack were heavily shelled during the day, apparently with some success as civilians later reported that the area was being evacuated by the enemy as a result of the shelling, with two lorry loads of wounded. FRANCEVILLE was also bombarded by rocket ships.
Towards dusk, about 2130 hours, infiltration occurred from the EAST of approximate strength of 30-40 men. This was successfully sealed off except for the extreme left flank where confused fighting on a small scale continued into the darkness. Enemy mortars in the area of SALLENELLES were active, probably ranging.
D + 4, 10th June
Recce patrols sent out during the night reported that LE BAS de BREVILLE had been re-occupied by the enemy.
At about 0800 hours 6 Commando were subjected to heavy mortar fire which spread gradually from right to left along the whole Brigade front. 4 Commando HQ and RAP were ranged within a matter of minutes and received a heavy concentration, causing many casualties. The HQ received a direct hit and had to move to Chateau d'HAUGER.
At 0815 the enemy launched an attack in some strength from the direction of BREVILLE against 6 Commando's positions. At the same time the enemy probed strongly along the front, attacking 3 and 4 Commando's positions with probably a company each, and a little later, a third appeared from the direction of SALLENELLES.
The main attack however was delivered from BREVILLE against 6 Commando, who were heavily engaged until about 1030 hours when after much hard fighting the enemy were driven back into BREVILLE with heavy losses. Meanwhile minor thrusts continued against 3 and 4 Commandos, supported by heavy mortar fire and shelling. 3 Commando held all attacks against their positions from the South East, though the enemy had the support of an AFV, believed to be an SP in this area.
The attack then developed in strength against 4 Commando. By this time, about 1030 hours, it became clear that the attack on the Brigade front was in at least two Bn strength and in the form of a three pronged thrust; the Northern prong from SALLENELLES along the road to RANVILLE running behind the Brigade positions, the centre roughly against the middle of the positions from the direction of LE BAS de BREVILLE and the Southern from the South West at BREVILLE.
When the Southernmost thrust against 6 Commando failed, the enemy exerted full pressure against the Northern end of the line, while maintaining pressure against the centre. By 1115 hours infiltration in some strength had taken place round 4 Commando's left flank. 6 Commando cycle troop made a gallant attempt to stem the tide by vigorous counter attacks and managed to break up several local attacks, capturing several prisoners. But they were not strong enough to prevent penetration of their lines and small parties continued to get through.
By 1145 hours the forward troops along the SALLENELLES road had been largely overrun. 4 Commando HQ, still under sustained and accurate mortar and shell fire, was in danger of direct assault. The situation was tense and remained somewhat obscure as bitter fighting to continued in the close country around HAUGER. Casualties were heavy on both sides; One Troop of 4 Commando was commanded by a senior sergeant when the only remaining officer, wounded three times, eventually had to be evacuated. This Troop was so depleted that as soon as it could be extricated it was withdrawn to new defensive positions in HAUGER under command of the Unit M.T. Officer, its place being taken by a fresh Troop detached from 3 Commando.
The situation was fluid for some time until organised counter attacks beat off the enemy and the position restored by about 1400 hours. The enemy drew off, severely mauled. His attack had failed and the best part of his fighting force had been destroyed. Of one company only 15 men remained according to P.W. taken during the fighting.
But later in the afternoon yet another attack was launched, again against 4 Commando's positions, particularly at the Northern end, flanking the SALLENELLES road, where the enemy had apparently brought up reinforcements. By about 1515 hours they had again managed to infiltrate in small numbers along the low ground between the SALLENELLES road and the River ORNE.
Once again 4 Commando, their numbers seriously depleted and very tired, were hard pressed to hold their positions, and only gallant and determined resistance prevented the positions from being overrun.
Two NCOs managed to crawl up to within ten yards of the deep ditch from which a party of about 25 Germans were firing on the Commando's positions. They hurled grenades into the ditch and when they ran out of grenades, pinned the Germans down by TSMG fire and hurling back stick grenades thrown by the Germans. A PIAT was eventually brought up to their assistance and those of the Germans that survived, 11 of them, were taken prisoners, the remainder being left dead.
Another party of Germans, surrounded and suffering heavy casualties, called out that they wished to surrender to a detachment under command of Captain D.C.W. Style MC. Sensing a trick Capt Style went back for reinforcements but on returning to meet the surrendering Germans a machine gun opened fire at point blank range from the other side of a hedge severely wounding him and killing three others. The reinforcements coming up liquidated the remaining Germans.
At 1615 hours mortar activity at the Southern end of the Brigade front flared up again and the enemy were observed working round 45 Commando's positions which were soon attacked but without success.
Though the situation remained in hand, the Brigade was seriously weakened by these sustained attacks and it was apparent that heavy support in the form of tanks or SP guns would help to break up the attack more quickly, and a request was made to 6 Airborne Division to this effect.
By 1900 hours however it became evident that the back of the attack was broken by the stubborn resistance of the Brigade. Although mortaring and shelling continued, the infantry attacks began to wane and by 1930 hours had been reduced to desultory sniping.
By 2000 hours the mortaring had also died down although in a final effort to save the enemy's face an aircraft dropped a bomb in the vicinity of Brigade Headquarters which blew out the windows of the Command Post.
The battle for the LE PLEIN feature had been won. The Special Service Brigade still held the high ground.
The victory was more apparent when prisoners taken during the days fighting were interrogated. The majority were only too willing to talk, particularly the foreign elements, of whom there were many, mostly Poles and Russians.
It was established that the attacking force had been made up of elements of 346 Division consisting of 857 and 858 Infantry Regiments, the former in the NORTH and the latter in the SOUTH. Subsequent interrogation showed that elements of 744 Inf Regt and 21 Pz Recce Regt had also taken part. 857 attacking in the NORTH had suffered so severely that the reserve force of 858 had been committed in their support towards the latter part of the day on account of the casualties suffered. Their losses had been crippling and as a fighting force they were finished.
Our own casualties were not light. 4 Commando who had borne the brunt of the days fighting had been without rest for nearly 3 days and were withdrawn from the line to rest and reform, and 12 Para Bn came up into their HAUGER positions.
Two SP guns arrived in the Brigade area in response to the request for support and though by that time their help was no longer required, they were despatched immediately to 3 Commando to take part in offensive patrols to harass the retreating enemy. One patrol proceeded NORTH through HAUGER towards SALLENELLES whence the strongest attacks had come during the day. On the way 2 enemy gave themselves up and before the NORTH end of SALLENELLES was reached, an officer and 16 other ranks surrendered without fight. At the NORTH end of the village the SP gun fired two rounds at a strong point at the side of the road which had been reported by 45 Commando during their advance to FRANCEVILLE; the gunner claiming a direct hit with his first shot. Civilians in the village stated that it had been abandoned by the Germans since 1600 hours leaving many seriously wounded behind them.
A second SP patrol went SOUTH to the area of BREVILLE.
D + 5, 11th June
No enemy activity occurred during the night, but at first light shelling of the Bde area commenced and went on spasmodically until 1100 hrs. Units and Bde HQ suffering casualties and some damage being done to the buildings in the area.
At 0730 hrs a fighting patrol from 45 RM Cdo went out through 12 Para Bn's posns with instrs to make a house to house search of SALLENELLES, sweep the village clear of the enemy and bring in prisoners and any enemy wounded left behind after the previous days fighting. An officer from 3 Cdo who had been with the patrol the previous evening went with 45 Cdo as a guide. The village was found to be clear of the enemy, except for a few wounded who were brought back for treatment and interrogation, the majority having been moved by the enemy during the night. One prisoner belonging to a bn of 744 Inf Regt stated that his coy had been sent from VILLERS sur MER to support 857 Regt's attack on 4 Cdo's posns the previous day.
At 0800 hrs a strong offensive sweep by 3 Cdo supported by the SP guns proceeded EAST from LE PLEIN towards LE BAS de BREVILLE as far as the LONGUEMARE cross rds to create a diversion to assist 5 BLACK WATCH whose attack on BREVILLE from the SOUTH was held up.
A patrol from 45 RM Cdo entered AMFREVILLE at first light and found the village empty, but collected identifications which showed that elements of 21 Pz Recce Regt were in the area and had presumably taken part in the previous day's battle in addition to the two Regts of 346 Division already identified.
A second patrol into AMFREVILLE at 1100 hrs was carried out and discovered a quantity of enemy eqpt abandoned, some in good condition. A party from 6 Cdo was immediately sent out to collect as much as possible. Two 80 mm mortars in good working order and a 20 mm gun mounted on a half track vehicle were brought in, the latter slightly damaged.
The whole Brigade front remained quiet during the afternoon, due, no doubt, to the enemy's attention being diverted by 5 BLACK WATCH attack on BREVILLE, though this attack did not make much headway and was halted about a mile SOUTH of the village.
Brigadier J. Durnford Slater, Deputy Commander SS Group, visited Bde HQ with the news that 4 SS Bde were to take over the area held by 12 Para Bn. The change over was effected before dark, 48 Cdo occupying HAUGER sector with 47 Cdo in reserve at ECARDE.
At approx 2200 hrs shelling commenced again, believed to be from the area of VARAVILLE. Arty fire was brought to bear on the area, and after about 30 mins shelling ceased, but not before casualties had resulted, particularly in 3 and 6 Cdos.
On orders from 6 Airborne Div a recce patrol of 10 Cdo personnel under Capt B. Hilton Jones was sent to BREVILLE after dark to discover the strength and dispositions of the enemy prior to an attack on the village from the WEST by 12 Para Bn on the following day, 5 BLACK WATCH's attack from the SOUTH having been held up.
Patrols were also despatched into SALLENELLES but no contact was made with the enemy.
The Bde Major who had been wounded during the heavy fighting of June 10 was evacuated.
A party of first line reinforcements arrived during the day, and in the evening carried out a successful smash and grab raid on an enemy outpost between BREVILLE and AMFREVILLE, inflicting several casualties on the enemy, capturing prisoners and returning to our lines without loss.
D + 6, 12th June
The recce patrol returned at 0300 hrs with the information that the village was held by the enemy at least a coy strong, who appeared to be digging in. A second patrol into BREVILLE was carried out with a party from 45 RM Cdo about 100 strong. This party bumped an outpost on the WEST side of the village, estimated of about platoon strength and successfully attacked it, inflicting several casualties on the enemy and returning to their lines with a captured MG.
Just before dawn 6 Cdo were subjected to heavy shelling and reported the sound of armour moving about in the BREVILLE area. It was thought possible that the enemy were preparing for a dawn attack, and arty fire was brought down on BREVILLE and its approaches as soon as the patrols were clear of the area.
Counter battery fire was also directed against the battery believed responsible for the shelling. No attack developed at first light and the shelling gradually subsided.
At midday 4 Cdo came in from reserve and moved back into their previous sector in HAUGER. 48 Cdo moving further NORTH and taking up positions between 4 Cdos left flank and SALLENELLES.
In order to protect the right flank of 4 SS Brigade's advance, 3 Cdo sent out a strong patrol to the area of LA GRANDE FERME DU BUISSON, but made no contact with the enemy who attempted no interference on 4 SS Bdes move.
From 1400 to 1800 6 Cdo and 45 (RM) Cdo underwent particularly heavy shelling from the North West, causing several casualties. All efforts to identify the source of the shelling failed.
At 2100 hours tanks passed into the Brigade area followed by 12 Para Bn forming up for their attack in BREVILLE from the direction of AMFREVILLE. At 2145 a very heavy artillery barrage was put down on BREVILLE. A large number of shells fell short in 6 Cdo's lines, where 12 Para Bn were forming up for the assault, causing a large number of casualties, not only among 12 Para Bn, but also in 6 Cdo. Enemy counter fire added to the chaos.
The Brigade Commander, Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO MC was severely wounded by shrapnel and was evacuated. Lt Col D. Mills-Roberts DSO MC though also wounded, was able to assume command of the Brigade. Great gallantry on the part of the medical and M.T. personnel was displayed during the evacuation of casualties while still under heavy shell fire.
Shelling and mortaring continued until about midnight on AMFREVILLE and BREVILLE, which was by then in the hands of 12 Para Bn. The village was a shambles as a result of the barrage.
A strong fighting patrol was sent out to the area of GONNEVILLE, but no opposition was encountered and the patrol reached the GONNEVILLE-BREVILLE road without incident. Probing further onwards towards GONNEVILLE the party came across a German asleep and brought him back prisoner together with his MG 34.
D + 7, 13th June
No counter attack developed against BREVILLE and the usual first light mortaring and shelling did not occur, though some spasmodic shelling of the Brigade area took place between 0900 - 1000 hours. The enemy remained quiet during the day though considerable activity on the part of the RAF was observed over the GONNEVILLE and BAS de BREVILLE area during the afternoon. CRA 6 Airborne Div and CCRA 1 Corps visited Bde HQ during the day to discuss counter battery action, as it was considered necessary that prompt and vigorous action should be taken if a continual whittling away of our forces by shell fire was to be stopped. A message was received from Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO MC - "I have became a casualty. I can rely on you not to take one step back. You are making history".
D + 8, 14th June
No enemy activity took place except for bombs which fell in 4 Cdos posns and WEST of the Bde area in the early hours of the morning, but it was thought that it was just part of an attack on the RANVILLE and BENOUVILLE bridges. Vigorous patrolling continued. At 2245 hours 3 Commando sent out a patrol 20 strong to the area of the GONNEVILLE - LONGUEMARE road. Two small patrols of 3 Troop 10 IA Commando were sent out in an attempt to pass agents through the enemy line to GONNEVILLE and VARAVILLE area. Both succeeded in penetrating the enemy lines, and guiding the agents to pre-selected points returned to our lines, but Capt B. Hilton Jones the patrol leader was wounded and could not be evacuated. At 0400 hours a man found creeping towards 4 Cdo's forward positions and failing to give the password was shot and killed. He was later identified as one of the agents.
D + 9, 15th June
Patrolling and sniping continued on a bold scale. The enemy were given no rest and apart from shelling and mortaring showed no signs of activity and made no attempt to renew his attacks on our positions. The patrolling policy already adopted so successfully was confirmed as Divisional policy at a conference held by G.O.C. at Div HQ, which Brigadier Mills Roberts DSO MC attended. The Div front was divided up into patrol areas in which the Bde's were instructed to harass the enemy continually by raiding patrols up to a depth of 2000 yards. In addition to the patrolling activity, the likely enemy harbouring areas were frequently beaten up by artillery and ships fire, the latter being particularly effective, prisoners of war confirming the enemy's fear of it.
D + 10, 16th June
Just before first light shelling and mortaring of the Bde area broke out again on a considerable scale, giving the impression of the preliminaries of an attack. At first light naval support was called for, as counter battery fire and on GONNEVILLE and BAD de BREVILLE, where enemy might be forming up to attack. No contact was made with the enemy and by 0500 hours information was received that an attack had been launched further SOUTH, the main threat being from the direction of ESCOVILLE, where an attempt was being made to break through to the RANVILLE bridges.
D + 11, 17th June
Patrolling continued. The enemy had taken up a defensive line running along the GONNEVILLE - LONGUEMARE road and were digging in, their aim apparently being to contain us and prevent further advance towards the River DIVES. Patrols reported this line to be fairly thickly held, and it proved difficult to affect any deep penetration, except in small numbers.
D + 12, 18th June
Alternate recce and fighting patrols were sent out. First a thorough recce of the enemy's lines was made, pin pointing his defence, judging his strength and weapons and noting his habits. Then when sufficient infm was available, a carefully planned raid adequately supported by artillery and naval fire was mounted.
D + 13, 19th June
The enemy appeared to have brought up more heavy support and increased mortar fire and shelling occurred in the Brigade area, causing casualties. Apart from spasmodic mortaring and shelling, however, he showed no inclination to come out in daylight, and periods of quiet became more frequent. But by night the enemy positions were fully alert and well dug in, it was proved impossible to approach them without drawing fire. It was suspected that the enemy were having difficulties of supply, and an attempt was made to pass a small recce patrol through the enemy's GONNEVILLE - LONGUEMARE line, hoping to penetrate as far as VARAVILLE, which as the junction of the only two roads crossing the ground WEST of the DIVES was considered a probable supply point for enemy supplies coming forward. Lt Littlejohn, 4 Commando and a Sgt of 3 Troop, No 10 IA Commando went out to LA GRANDE FERME DU BUISSON at about 1430 hours on June 19. They crawled up and down in front of the enemy lines observing their positions along the GONNEVILLE - LONGUEMARE road and looking for the best position to try and pass through. As soon as it was sufficiently dark an attempt was made to cross the road, but the enemy line was almost continuous, and no penetration was possible. They lay up in a ditch all day, 20th June, observing the enemy from a distance of less than 50 yards and towards evening decided to make another attempt to work their way between two enemy posts. They crawled forward to the road, but on raising his head to observe, Lt Littlejohn found himself looking straight down the muzzle of an enemy rifle. The enemy was apparently even more surprised than Littlejohn, who threw a grenade and dashed back towards the ditch. On the way, however, he was shot and badly wounded in the leg, though he managed to regain the cover of the ditch. There he lay up, observing and though wounded, intending to make another attempt to carry out his task, but soon realised he was too badly injured to move. About an hour later a search party came out from the enemy lines. One fired a shot at Littlejohn from 2 yards range and missed him. Littlejohn, unable to move, shammed dead. The search party took his pistol and ammunition and checked that he was dead by turning him over with a kick and prodded him in the face with a bayonet. But in spite of great pain he still made no move and eventually the Germans moved off leaving him for dead. Littlejohn still had not the strength to move, and a little later a second looting party came out, dragged him out of the ditch and removed his boots, compass, watch and field glasses. Still he didn't move and again the Germans left him. By darkness, Littlejohn mustered sufficient strength to move, and in spite of his wounded leg, crawled back over 2000 yds to our lines, where he was picked up exhausted in the early hours of 21 June.
D + 15, 21st June
Gradually a great deal of detailed information about the enemy FDLs were collected and a series of carefully planned raids began. On night 21/22 June a patrol from 6 Commando successfully broke its way into a defended locality bordering the GONNEVILLE road and inflicted satisfactory slaughter, though inaccurate artillery support prevented the capture of any prisoners and inflicted some casualties among the patrol.
D + 16, 22nd June
Lt General M.C. Dempsey DSO, Commander 2nd Army, visited Bde HQ and expressed his admiration for the work of the Special Service Brigade during the assault and early days of the Invasion. As a variation from the usual fighting raid a deception patrol was staged by 3 Cdo taking the form of a mock clash between two patrols, one using British weapons, the other captured German ones in the hope that a party of real Germans would be tempted to come to the assistance of their supposed confederates or at any rate send out to investigate, whereupon it was proposed to lay ambush for them. The wary Germans however refused to be tempted.
D + 17, 23rd June
After several hard knocks it became apparent that the enemy were becoming more and more reluctant to leave their lines either by day or by night. For the first time a patrol making a close reconnaissance of enemy FDLs failed to draw the customary fusilade of fire which had greeted the previous raids.
D + 18, 24th June
Not content with vigorous patrolling activity by night, an extensive sniping programme was decided upon, and from then on the enemy were constantly harassed by day and night. By this time it was clear that the enemy no longer held the initiative and control of the country between their positions and our own was indisputably ours. No enemy patrols came out and apart from registered mortar fire on the more obvious routes of approach and withdrawal, our patrols were unmolested until they reached the actual line of the enemy defences. The enemy were on the defensive. Another successful sortie by 3 Commando was made during the night. The patrol, a small one, penetrated into the enemy positions undetected, though it was not long before the enemy reacted. Considerable confusion arose and several Germans started to run about. One came up to a Corporal of the patrol and asked what was happening. The Corporal, a fluent German speaker, told the man that the English had surrounded them and shouted to him to follow him. This he did only too willingly, imagining he was being led to safety, and was duly taken prisoner. The Germans appeared too disorganised to shoot, and the patrol withdrew. Interrogation of the prisoner gave interesting indications of the enemy's strength and morale. Patrols, he said, were very restricted because the enemy had lost so many men in this way. Officers did not patrol at all owing to the shortage of them.
D + 22, 28th June
After a careful reconnaissance patrol the previous night during which enemy positions had been pinpointed in spite of a general reluctance on the part of the enemy to fire for fear of giving away his positions, a large scale raid on the LONGUEMARE area was launched by 45 (RM) Commando. Everything went according to plan. The raiding parties broke into the enemy positions and started throwing grenades into houses. A maze of fox-holes and dug outs was dealt with by TSMG fire and grenades with devastating effect. A suspected strong point was found and a generous supply of grenades fed in through the apertures. The objective area was cleared but the patrol leader had time in hand and decided to go forward, destroying 2 large buildings and a 15 cwt vehicle by fire. Further on they ran into what was probably another defended locality which was fully alert, and, after a short sharp but highly successful brush, the patrol withdrew, fighting its way out and inflicting further damage. General R.N. Gale GOC 6 Airborne Division, wrote to the Brigade Commander that he considered the raid a first class piece of enterprise for which he most highly commended the Brigade and 45 (RM) Commando.
D + 23, 29th June
Major General R Sturges GOC S.S. Group, visited the Brigade. Two Polish deserters who came into the Brigade lines gave a detailed description of their company positions and some interesting details of conditions in the enemy lines. They gave the impression that the enemy were not in sufficient strength to attack, but were constantly expecting to be attacked by us after each bombardment.
D + 24, 30th June
Sniping and patrolling continued, the Germans showing remarkably little sense regarding the latter. Time after time men would appear to start wandering about in the same spot where a man had been shot only half an hour before. The number of enemy accounted for by snipers grew daily.
D + 26, 2nd July
It was noticed that a slight slackening of Naval bombardment during the previous two days owing to the needs of other priority targets resulted in the enemy becoming a little more adventurous. A patrol by 6 Commando encountered an enemy patrol of 3 men in front of the enemy FDLs for the first time for some days. Increased activity with support weapons was noted.
D + 27, 3rd July
An attempt was made to broadcast propaganda to enemy facing the Brigade front, but the apparatus failed.
D + 28, 4th July
The propaganda broadcast was repeated in conjunction with a raid by 6 Commando. Both operations were successful. 6 Commando inflicted damage and casualties in enemy positions and captured a prisoner, though he was killed in the withdrawal. It was obvious that the enemy were steadily digging in and rapidly strengthening their positions with wire and booby traps.
D + 30, 6th July
The extension and thoroughness of the wiring and booby trapping over the whole of the enemy FDLs was confirmed by a patrol of 4 Commando which raided the Northern end of the Brigade front.
D + 31, 7th July
4 Commando moved to BREVILLE and took over from 52 Ox and Bucks. 4 Special Service Brigade took over the HAUGER area. The change over resulted in some alteration in the patrol areas, and no time was lost in taking advantage of the new ground available. No 45 (RM) Commando carried out a successful reconnaissance preparatory to mounting a raid. The attack on CAEN began with a terrific air bombardment.
D + 32, 8th July
Bad flying weather restricting friendly aircraft from flying over the area resulted in a slight increase of low flying hit and run air attacks on the part of the enemy. Bombs were dropped in the Brigade area but caused no casualties. The attack on CAEN was launched by 1 Corps.
D + 33, 9th July
CAEN fell. Apart from slight air activity on the part of the enemy and continued patrolling by the Brigade there was nothing to report.
D + 34, 10th July
Snipers and patrol reports gave reason to believe that either the enemy in the line opposite had been replaced by fresh troops or at any rate reinforced. Small enemy patrols, though not particularly offensive or far reaching, were becoming more frequent. Contact with small enemy recce parties was made during daylight, and enemy snipers began to operate more boldly.
D + 35, 11th July
A noticeable increase in artillery and mortar activity was observed along the whole of the Brigade front.
D + 36, 12th July
Major General Gale, GOC 6 Airborne Division visited Brigade Headquarters. There were more signs of a slightly more adventurous enemy, or at any rate one that considered himself sufficiently secure behind his increased wiring to come out on reconnaissance both by day and by night.
D + 38, 14th July
Detachments from Bde HQ and all units took part in July 14 celebrations in LE PLEIN, which included the consecration of the Memorial set up on the village green in memory of those members of The Special Service Brigade who lost their lives fighting in Normandy. The ceremony was followed by a march past of the detachments and of a party of les Anciens Combattants of the village. Brigadier J. Durnford Slater took the salute.
D + 39, 15th July
General Sir Miles Dempsey KCB DSO Commander 2 Army visited Bde HQ.
D + 40, 16th July
Brigadier D. Mills-Roberts attended a church service at No 6 Commando and unveiled a memorial stone set up outside their HQ. General Sir Bernard Montgomery C in C Allied Armies held an investiture at HQ 6 Airborne Div which was attended by the Brigade Commander and Commanding Officers. General Montgomery visited BREVILLE during his tour. A group conference was held by Brigadier Durnford Slater. Units of 3 Br Div moved into the Brigade area for Operation GOODWOOD.
D + 41, 17th July
Operation GOODWOOD, the attack to the South East of CAEN was launched. Patrolling was restricted as a result of the attack and the Brigade was ordered to take no offensive action against the enemy, though reconnaissance continued. The enemy remained alert without being venturesome.
D + 42, 18th July
A sharp bombing attack occurred during the hours of darkness, the enemy trying no doubt to prevent supplies and reinforcements reaching the battle area S.E. of CAEN which had to pass over the R. ORNE and through the narrow bottleneck between the river and the front line running SOUTH from FRANCEVILLE to the BOIS de BAVENT, the village of LE PLEIN being one of the main supply routes came in for some of the bombing but casualties and damage were slight though 3 ammunition trucks of 3 Division parked in 3 Commando's area were hit and 25 pounder shells continued to explode for an hour after the end of the air raid.
D + 44, 20th July
Bombing of the area occurred again.
D + 45, 21st July
A propaganda talk was put over from the area of LONGUEMARE.
D + 46, 22nd July
The following exchange of messages took place between General Sir Bernard Montgomery, KCB, DSO, C in C 21 Army Group and Major General R.N. Gale, DSO, OBE, MC, GOC 6 Airborne Division.
"All officers and men of the 6 Airborne Division and the SS Brigades, must have felt very proud on the 18th July when the attack to burst through into the open country to the SE of CAEN was launched from the bridgehead held by the Airborne Division. The Airborne Division gained the bridgehead on D day - 6 June - and have held it firmly since that date. The Division must have wondered at times why it was so necessary to have this bridgehead; now they know the reason; and the whole allied cause has reaped the harvest, which was shown by the Airborne Troops. Well done. I congratulate General Gale and all officers and men of the Division." (SGD) B.L. MONTGOMERY, GENERAL, C-in-C 21 ARMY GROUP.
"My Dear General, To the 6th British Airborne Division and the 1st Special Service Brigade under my command you assigned the task of seizing the crossing over the river ORNE and CANAL DE CAEN and of forming a firm base on the Eastern bank of the river. I speak for all officers and men under my command when I say that we were very proud to have been considered fit for such a role. Many have given their lives and many have been wounded in this great enterprise, but never for a moment have any one of us been shaken in our complete belief in our task and in our ability to fulfil it. That you should have congratulated us on the successful accomplishment of this task in the way you have by a personal message from you is most stimulating to us all. On behalf of all, both the 6th Airborne Division and the two splendid Special Service Brigades who have worked and fought as part of us, I thank you most warmly." Yours sincerely, (SGD) RICHARD N. GALE, Major General. IN THE FIELD. 22nd July 1944.
D + 47, 23rd July
A deserter from 6 Coy 857 Regt 346 Division came in through 4 Commando's positions during the night from the area of the LONGUEMARE cross roads. He confirmed the suspicions that a relief had taken place and stated that 6/857 had taken over from 346 Fusilier Bn about a week ago.
D + 48, 24th July
Another deserter came in from the Coy at the LONGUEMARE cross roads and confirmed much of the information given by the two men who deserted the previous day.
D + 49, 25th July
4 Commando suffered bombing and shelling during the night, the latter being of heavier calibre than usual and caused 7 casualties including 1 killed. In spite of the noticeable increase in hostile bombing and shelling, the enemy ground forces still showed no desire to take the offensive and though our patrolling remained more or less harmless, no attempt was made by the enemy to regain the initiative or to dominate the area between the two defensive positions. A Brigade Commanders conference was held at 6 Airborne Division to discuss a rearrangement of the Divisional line which Brigadier D. Mills-Roberts DSO MC attended.
D + 51, 27th July
The front remained quiet during the day, though the usual nightly air attack on the area between the River and the front line resulted in a hit on one of the buildings used by Bde HQ as a PW cage.
D + 53, 29th July
Lt General Crocker GOC 1 Corps and Lt General F. Browning GOC Airborne Forces visited Brigadier D. Mills-Roberts.
D + 54, 30th July
Major General R. Sturges GOC SS Group visited the Brigade.
D + 55, 31st July
Orders were received that the Brigade was to move to take up new positions in another part of the line. 4 and 6 Commandos were relieved by units of 6 Airlanding Brigade and moved SOUTH to positions facing the BOIS de BAVENT where they took over from units of 3 Parachute Brigade who in turn moved SOUTH. Bde HQ moved into a new position in the rear of 4 Commando. The move was completed at 1200 hours without incident. 3 and 45 RM Commandos remained behind in LE PLEIN under command of 6 Airlanding Brigade.
D + 56, 1st August
3 and 45 Commandos were relieved by units of the 4th S.S. Brigade and moved SOUTH to take over 5 Parachute Brigade's positions SOUTH of the cross roads at LE MESNIL. The Brigade now held a line SOUTH from the MESNIL cross roads for about 2300 yards with 6 Airlanding Brigade on the left and 3 Parachute Brigade on the right. The line was held by 45 RM Commando in the NORTH, 3 and 4 Commando's in the centre and 6 Commando in the SOUTH. The new area faced very much thicker country than was the case at LE PLEIN, the forward positions of 4 and 6 Commandos facing into the BOIS de BAVENT itself. The enemy had concentrated a large proportion of his mortars in the area in and EAST of the BOIS and was in the habit of using them to good effect on the lines along the edge of the wood. Spasmodic mortaring was the order of the day and several casualties resulted, 3 Commando losing 1 officers and 11 ORs wounded.
D + 57, 2nd August
4 Commando and Brigade HQ area were shelled during the night but no casualties resulted. A new counter mortar policy was put into effect whereby the enemy forward positions opposite 45 and 3 Commandos where they could be observed were shelled every time mortars opened up anywhere on the Brigade area.
D + 58, 3rd August
No noticeable falling off of mortaring took place and casualties continued reaching a total of one officer and 33 other ranks since moving into the BOIS DE BAVENT positions.
D + 59, 4th August
Major General Sturges visited the Brigade and went round 45 Commando's lines. New enemy mortar tactics were noted in reply to our eye for an eye policy. Every time our artillery opened up he used the noise of the barrage to cover a heavy concentration of mortars on the forward positions, when no sound bearings could be taken.
D + 60, 5th August
Mortaring continued unabated. Careful record of the mortared areas was kept, and the pattern of the enemy's objectives became clear - cross roads receiving the most attention. The Brigade Aid Post at LE CARREFOUR DE LA MADELEINE was shelled during the night.
D + 61, 6th August
45 RM Cdo's forward post was attacked during the night and along the whole Brigade front, enemy patrols were more active.
D + 64, 9th August
Heavier shelling than usual was noted during the night particularly on 45 Cdo's area and enemy were observed moving about with packs in the early morning. 3 Cdo's listening post was attacked by a small enemy patrol while in the middle of handing over. The NCO in charge of the relief seized a Bren and firing from the hip dashed out into the road towards the enemy covered by rifle fire from the rest and the enemy withdrew. It was considered that all this activity on the part of the enemy might be interpreted as a blind to cover his withdrawal. In fact along the whole Divisional front there were signs that a withdrawal was being prepared if not imminent, and detailed plans were therefore made for immediate action in the event of a withdrawal though an attack before withdrawal commenced was not envisaged and indeed would have been difficult in the BOIS. In order to keep in touch with the enemy a more active patrolling policy was adopted. 4 Cdo confirmed that enemy troops were still active and observed an extensive system of booby trap wires in the woods.
D + 66, 11th August
The enemy took full advantage of a thick mist which came down in the early evening to step up their mortaring of the whole area. They were never slow to seize an opportunity of this kind and consistently used the noise of our own artillery to cover that of their own fire. Careful records showed however that, on the whole, the enemy were fairly regular in their choice of targets and to some extent in the timings. The mornings remained the quietest times. A patrol by 6 Cdo reported no sign of withdrawal. In fact work was in progress to further strengthen the enemy positions by clearing fields of fire in front of the FDLs.
D + 68, 13th August
The enemy tried lighting decoy fires and rattling tins to draw attention to certain sectors of the front, and 3 Cdo listening post was again attacked, but all three of the attackers were killed at the cost of one casualty on our side.
THE PURSUIT TO THE SEINE
D + 72, 17th August
Information along the whole front indicated that the enemy had started to withdraw and the prearranged pursuit was put into operation. The Brigade advanced through LE BOIS de BAVENT avoiding all roads where trouble was likely to be encountered. No 4 Cdo led the advance, clearing and marking the route through the woods for the remainder of the units to follow. The Brigade reached the area of BAVENT without contacting the enemy and without casualties from mines or booby traps. The enemy were obviously conducting a carefully planned withdrawal and had been able to evacuate all their equipment and weapons as there were no signs of a hasty departure.
On arrival at BAVENT units spread out to take up new positions in accordance with the new line which had been established, the formations on the right and left having also moved up after the retreating enemy who were withdrawing along the whole Eastern flank of the Beach Head. 3 Cdo moved on towards VARAVILLE where they made contact with an enemy rearguard caught in the village by the speed of our follow up, but the village was cleared without trouble and those of the enemy that survived withdrew Eastwards in the direction of LE PONT de VACAVILLE. 6 Cdo were in BAVENT and 4 Cdo to the SOUTH with 45 RM Cdo in reserve. A tactical Bde HQ moved up into BAVENT leaving the B Echelon at LE MESNIL.
Reconnaissance showed that the valley of the DIVES was completely flooded. Only the roads, raised on causeways across the marsh were passable, making the defence of the DIVES line very easy for the enemy. Moreover, the PONT de la DIVETTE between BAVENT and ROBEHOMME had been partially demolished by the retreating enemy who held the Eastern end with a small force.
6 Cdo however, patrolling towards the bridge later in the day, had a sharp brush with the enemy and managed to force a crossing, driving the enemy back into BRICQUEVILLE and subsequently clearing the whole ROBEHOMME feature, the enemy withdrawing Eastwards across the Rives DIVES. ROBEHOMME was occupied by a troop of 6 Cdo and work started to repair LE PONT de la DIVETTE. This work was greatly helped by the use of a home made prefabricated bridge, built by the SORE and carried up to the site by the LAD breakdown vehicle. It was in place by 2200 hrs.
The state of BAVENT and VARAVILLE, favourite targets for the navy during the early days, and for the artillery throughout the campaign, were excellent proof of the effectiveness of their fire.
D + 73, 18th August
The advance of 3 Para Bde and 4 SS Bde through TROARN and over the river DIVES had reached GOUSTRANVILLE, almost immediately due EAST of ROBEHOMME and although the area was not completely clear of the enemy it was possible for patrols to cross the DIVES from ROBEHOMME into the Para Bde area and reconnoitre further EAST.
No 6 Cdo sent out a patrol to recce the two bridges over the River DIVES and its tributary EAST of ROBEHOMME. This party reported both bridges blown by the enemy but the first was passable for infantry and the second obstacle fordable and the patrol was able to cross and made its way Northwards reaching the DIVES canal just SOUTH of the PONT de VACAVILLE. No contact was made with the enemy and the patrol, leaving a firm base on the WEST bank, successfully effected a crossing of the canal.
Still no enemy were seen and the patrol returned to the WEST bank to report, but a second attempt to cross the canal brought MG fire from the enemy's defensive positions. Casualties occurred and the patrol had to withdraw, but the enemy's positions were noted.
A second small patrol was sent out by No 3 Commando from VARAVILLE and made its way towards the VACAVILLE bridge. Enemy were sighted WEST of the bridge and some midget tanks were seen on the road. The patrol attempted to bypass the opposition by working its way round to a flank but once off the road progress was made extremely difficult by the flooded country. Later two violent explosions were heard from the direction of the VACAVILLE bridges, presumed to be demolitions. Back on the road the patrol came under heavy and accurate mortar and shell fire from positions EAST of the canal and suffered some casualties. It was apparent from the patrol that any advance Eastwards from VARAVILLE was restricted to the road and that any attempt to attack over the demolished PONT de VACAVILLE would be a costly and difficult business.
D + 74, 19th August
As the general situation seemed to indicate an eventual further advance Eastwards, another patrol was sent out under Major I D'Eath No 45 RM Cdo to explore the possibilities of crossing to the high ground EAST of the DIVES around DOZULE. 4 and 6 Cdos were moved onto ROBEHOMME, leaving 3 Cdo in VARAVILLE and 45 RM Cdo in BAVENT with Bde HQ. To the NORTH 6 Airldg Bde had cleared the coastal strip as far as the Western outskirts of CABOURG and on the right flank the enemy had been pushed back across the DIVES canal towards DOZULE with 3 and 5 Para Bdes disposed along the TROARN - DOZULE road in the area of GOUSTRANVILLE and PUTOT EN AUGE.
At 1730 hrs a conference was called at HQ 6 Airborne Division to issue orders for a continued advance onto the high ground EAST of the DIVES where the enemy held a naturally strong defensive line though in view of the general withdrawal along the whole front it was considered that he was not likely to fight more than a delaying action in this area and would withdraw further once his defensive line was breached.
The Bde was ordered to attack and hold a section of the high ground NORTH of the main DOZULE road to cover a further advance onto DOZULE and to exploit to the EAST as soon as circumstances permitted. The height was to be in our hands by dawn.
Information about the enemy was extremely scanty except that a withdrawal was possible in the event of a serious threat, and it was thought that some of his artillery had already been pulled out. It was likely therefore that the enemy positions were held by a strong crust with the usual mortars in support, of which the enemy had plenty and with automatic fire on fixed lines. The whole enemy position however was of quite exceptional natural strength.
Any approach had to be made across 2500 yards of open marshy country completely dominated by the high ground to the EAST rising sharply from sea level to a considerable height on which the enemy was disposed. Movement by day was out of the question except for small patrols, as had been proved by the recce patrols sent out previously to keep contact with the enemy.
The mounting of the operation was a race against time. Any plan had to consider the difficulties of approach and the fact that all bridges over the water obstacles had been rendered impossible by anything but infantry by the retreating enemy.
The Brigade Commander had to formulate his plan on his way back to his HQ. He decided that an approach by stealth was the only way, avoiding all obvious routes. An O Group was called immediately at 1900 hrs. Unit Commanders received their orders. In order to reach the objective by dawn, the advance had to start by 2330 hrs at the latest and some units were a considerable distance away from the Forming Up point. Moreover the only available route to the Forming Up Point was still closed by enemy bridge demolitions which were not due to be opened for MT before 2330, the time at which it was planned to cross the start line. Shortage of MT made it impossible to lift a whole unit at a time, and shuttle services had to be run to get men as far as the demolished bridges allowed. From there to the Forming Up Point at PLAIN GRUCHET the advance had to be made on foot.
The movement was still further restricted by the fact that all available bridges over the canal EAST of the DIVES had been blown and an Infantry bridge had to be constructed by 6 Airborne Division REs.
D + 75, 20th August
No 4 Commando whose objective was L'EPINE crossed the start line first at 0045 hrs 20 Aug and advanced along the line of the railway utilising an improvised Infantry bridge where the railway had been blown and thence along a stream to L'EPINE.
The main body of the Brigade crossed the start line 20 minutes later, following the line of the railway and crossing the canal by the Infantry bridge. The whole Brigade moved in single file 3 Commando leading, followed by 45 RM Commando and 6 Commando. The Brigade Commander had a small Tac HQ consisting of his Brigade Major and 16 other ranks which marched between 45 and 6 Commandos.
The route taken was difficult by choice to increase the chances of surprise. The night was exceptionally dark and close formation was essential if control was to be maintained, and inter unit and inter troop R/T helped to keep formation. But each time the route had to be reconnoitred, the whole column had to halt and get down and progress was necessarily slow. From the point where the column left the railway line white tape was laid by the leading section and the whole of the rest of the column followed exactly in the steps of the leaders.
All the same, it was about 0600 hrs before the whole column reached the edge of the high ground SOUTH of the heights of ANGOVILLE where a quick recce was made to search for landmarks and check position.
The advance continued and at 0615 hrs the leading section struck an enemy Coy HQ. Surprise was complete. The first indication that the enemy had of the attack was when their HQ sentries were shot and their HQ attacked while they were at breakfast.
It was clear that the whole Brigade had managed to infiltrate right through the enemy FDLs. It was later learned that it had passed undetected over a bridge which was covered by an MG position manned by 7 Germans less than 150 yards away.
Brigade HQ settled in the area of the captured enemy HQ with a troop of 3 and 6 Commandos in protection of proposed supply route. The remainder of the Brigade disposed themselves on the high ground to the NORTH. It was obvious that the top of the ridge had to be held if the area originally ordered to be held could be made tenable. This was accomplished. Prisoners being taken and 3 (2 cm) Flak guns captured intact, the crews being killed.
As soon as the position clarified and the enemy realised that a force of considerable strength was in fact already inside his defences, heavy harassing fire from mortars, arty and SP guns was brought down on the ridge. The enemy obviously did not intend to give up such a commanding height without a struggle. 4 Infantry counter attacks were launched against out positions between 1100 - 2200 hrs. On one occasion, when attacking enemy Infantry was taking cover from our own artillery, Lt CLAPTON No 6 Commando went in with his troop disregarding the danger, killed the officer in charge and brought out 24 prisoners.
The harassing fire caused fairly heavy casualties, 6 Commando suffered the worst.
As the number of casualties and prisoners mounted it became increasingly necessary to open the route across the low ground to the SOUTH. The nature of the approach march had strictly limited the amount that could be carried by the troops and though the ammunition situation was healthy enough due to strict fire control, food etc had been restricted to a minimum and was not calculated to last long.
A fighting patrol of Troop strength was sent out by 45 RM Commando to clear the supply route across the valley to L'EPINE where 4 Commando had established themselves holding the SOUTH side of the valley.
The valley consisted of flat open country overlooked by the rising ground on either side. Moreover the field on either side of the road at the Northern end was flooded, making the road a long and difficult defile.
The patrol was subjected to extremely severe and accurate mortar and shell fire, obviously registered. Almost as soon as it emerged into open country, it was completely pinned down. The patrol leader and 4 others were killed and the remainder withdrew as soon as it was practicable. It was obvious that it was impossible to cross the valley and that the supply of the Brigade could not be carried out by daylight.
By late afternoon wireless batteries began to get low and communications with Rear HQ at PLAIN GRUCHET worsened.
At 2200 when it was getting dark, under cover of smoke brought down in the most troublesome areas. A convoy of Jeeps bringing food, batteries etc made its way across the valley without interference. About 40 casualties were evacuated on the returning Jeeps.
In the meantime 4 Commando had accomplished their task with speed and efficiency. Advancing on L'EPINE from the WEST they attacked, with complete surprise and cleared the area taking 41 prisoners. During the day they were shelled and mortared on a considerable scale. Towards 1300 hrs the enemy area round the cross roads to the SOUTH of 4 Commandos positions was cleared out and contact made between 4 Commando and 5 Para Brigade. No further trouble occurred and it became evident that the enemy had pulled out during the night and withdrew towards the EAST.
Casualties were as follows:-
Officers Killed - 1
Officers Wounded - 1
ORs Killed - 11
ORs Wounded - 42
D + 77, 21st August
In the early hours of 21 Aug elements of 6 Airldg Bde came through the Bde positions and continued its advance Northwards. By 1000 hours the Heights of ANGOVILLE were a back area. During the day the main Bde HQ which had remained at PLAIN GRUCHET rejoined the main body. A trickle of deserters and hiding enemy were rounded up. A survey of the area showed how completely the high ground dominated the whole valley WEST of the DIVES as far as the BOIS de BAVENT and BREVILLE.
D + 78, 22nd August
The Brigade moved off in the morning towards the EAST, using all available MT and running a shuttle service to leap frog the troops forward. All units made good progress though it was only possible to lift one Commando at a time. The Brigade halted at HEULAND and remained in reserve all day behind 6 Airldg Bde who were advancing towards DEAUVILLE and the River TOUCQUES. 45 RM Commando were sent out to capture a reported dump of human torpedoes at GONNEVILLE S/MER but found the place deserted and the torpedoes gone.
D + 79, 23rd August
The Division was advancing along two axes of advance, the Northern one along the coast towards the TOUCQUES at DEAUVILLE which was being carried out by 6 Airldg Bde and the Southern along the line of the main DOZULE road to PONT L'EVEQUE. Although nearly the whole area WEST of the TOUCQUES had been cleared, neither advance had yet succeeded in effecting a crossing of the river and fighting continued in PONT L'EVEQUE and at other crossing points.
During the morning orders were issued to move the Brigade to LA HAIE TONDUE on the DOZULE - PONT L'EVEQUE road, that is to say to switch from the Northern axis to the Southern where the Para Brigades were attempting to force a crossing at PONT L'EVEQUE. Again the Brigade set off, some marching, some going forward in all the available transport, and by early afternoon was disposed in the area of DRUBEC about 4 miles WEST of PONT L'EVEQUE awaiting further orders though it was not expected that the Brigade would be committed for 24 hours.
At 1800 hours however the Brigade Commander was called to Division HQ and given orders to attack over the River TOUCQUES the following morning to follow up a night attack by 4 SS Brigade SOUTH of PONT L'EVEQUE, 5 Para Brigades assault on the PONT L'EVEQUE crossing having been held up. The attack entailed crossing the river at a point where the valley was over a mile wide, completely flat and open overlooked by the enemy positions along the EAST side of the valley. In addition the river, about 40 yards wide at the point chosen, had to be forded waist deep. Once across an approach march of 6 to 7 miles was necessary to reach the objective, the high wooded ground of LE BOIS de St GATIEN overlooking PONT L'EVEQUE from the far side, the North East. Because of the difficult river crossing, permission was requested and granted to carry out the operation during darkness, but owing to the long approach march it was decided that the assault crossing of the river had to be made not later than 0200 hrs if the approach march was to be completed before dawn. This however was likely to clash with 4 SS Brigades crossing and neither Brigade wanted to give up the chance of surprise through having the other Brigade cross first. Later the enemy started shelling the proposed forming up areas, probably as a result of incautious movement by other troops and when darkness fell the stretch of river above PONT L'EVEQUE was continuously illuminated by flares. Partly owing to this apparent loss of surprise and partly to the difficulty of co-ordinating the attacks of the two SS Brigades, the attack was cancelled.
D + 80, 24th August
Early reconnaissance showed that the enemy had withdrawn during the night and 5 Para Brigade were able to cross the river at PONT L'EVEQUE. 49 Div were over further SOUTH and 6 Airldg Brigade had crossed into TROUVILLE. The Brigade, still in reserve, was ordered to follow up 5 Para Brigade and proceed about 4 miles beyond PONT L'EVEQUE towards BEUZEVILLE where the Para Brigade had caught up with the enemy rearguards and were held up by demolitions. The bridges at PONT L'EVEQUE had been blown and were impassable to vehicles though it was possible for infantry to cross on foot and sappers were working to open a route for traffic. It meant however that the move had to be made on foot. It was 1700 hrs before all units were in position beyond PONT L'EVEQUE with the Para Brigade, still in contact with the enemy in the region of a demolished railway bridge near ST BENOIT d'HERBERTOT. Brigade HQ being less mobile however were held up on the far side of the river WEST of PONT L'EVEQUE waiting to cross and when orders were received from Division for a continued advance towards BEUZEVILLE only a small reconnaissance party from Brigade HQ was available, consisting of Brigade Major, Intelligence Officer, 2 Signallers and 2 runners, who had crossed the river through 49 Divisions area to recce the Brigade area. Later the Brigade Commander was able to cross the river and it was with this small party with inadequate signals that the Brigade Operation was mounted. The Brigade task was to occupy two spurs, on either side of the main road South West of BEUZEVILLE, a distance of about 8 miles to be covered before dawn.
The Brigade Commanders plan was to move the Brigade forward in two columns starting at dusk, the first consisting of 6 and 45 RM Commandos, the second column of 4, 3 and the small Brigade HQ starting later. As before, both columns were to move in single file across open country avoiding all roads and obvious routes of approach, and moving as light as possible. All heavy weapons were to remain at the rear to be called forward as soon as the road was clear.
The column moved off about 2000 hours 6 Commando leading. The road and demolished railway bridge where clearance work was in progress were being fairly heavily mortared as the troops went through but there were no casualties and they advanced through 5 Para Brigades positions. The first column, making a detour to the NORTH of the road came up against fairly stiff opposition on the line of a secondary road running NE SW across the line of advance. Here 6 Commando who were leading left a section to hold the enemy's attention and during the ensuing fire fight which caused no casualties to our troops the remainder worked round to a flank and continued the advance. The second column following up also gave the opposition a wide berth and slipped round to the NORTH without encountering any trouble. But this meant a considerable detour, painfully slow on account of the pitch darkness and the thick country, and frequent halts to make gaps in thick hedges or clamber up a bank, but the objectives were reached by dawn after a march of 10 hours without a proper halt. The section of 6 Commando left to hold the enemy reported that the enemy broke off the fight after a short while and withdrew in the darkness and by morning there was no sign of them WEST of BEUZEVILLE though reconnaissance proved that the town was still held in some strength and the bridges over the valley South West of the town blown.
D + 81, 25th August
By this time the troops were getting tired. They had come some 40 miles in 5 days since leaving BAVENT on the 19 Aug, advancing mostly by night and often on foot, fighting strenuous actions on the way, once having been completely cut off for 18 hours. It was a relief therefore when the Division indicated that the Brigade would not be required for a full 24 hours and though units were occupying positions in the line the general situation was such that a high percentage of the troops were able to rest.
But the job was not yet done. In the evening orders were received to secure positions on the line of the main HONFLEUR - PONT AUDEMER road running NW SE about 4 miles beyond BEUZEVILLE with the object of cutting off the retreat of the enemy still fighting in BEUZEVILLE and preventing their further withdrawal over the river RISLE to the SEINE. 49 Division was fighting in PONT AUDEMER and HONFLEUR had been taken by 6 Airldg Brigade during the day and it was hoped, by by-passing BEUZEVILLE to trap its defenders and prevent their escape to the EAST, though the position on their flanks made it seem probable that they would pull out during the night as had been the case during the whole retreat under similar circumstances.
It was nearly 2100 hours before the Brigade Commander returning from Div HQ with his orders and night had fallen before the force could be got on the move and formed up within 3 Para Brigades positions just NORTH of the town. The advance was very similar to that of the previous night, complete darkness and difficult thick hedges and banks making both movement and control a tricky business. But no contact was made with the enemy and it seemed probable that they had taken the first opportunity of darkness to draw out as quickly as they could. Each part of the force gained its objective by dawn with 4 Cdo in ST MACLOU and a firm line established along the line of the HONFLEUR - PONT AUDEMER road with 4 SS Brigade on the right and 6 Airldg Brigade on the left.
D + 82, 26th August
The enemy had gone - Over the RISLE and the SEINE, and the Airborne Divisions task was done. The order came to dispose the troops with a view to maximum rest and comfort and without tactical considerations.
The Brigade had been in the fight for 83 days without being rested. Of the 146 officers and 2252 other ranks who had landed on D Day 77 officers and 890 other ranks had become casualties, made up as follows:-
Up to 17 Aug when the pursuit of the enemy began
(a) Killed 17 officers 171 other ranks.
(b) Wounded 54 officers 584 other ranks.
(c) Missing 2 officers 69 other ranks.
[Final page missing]