Sword Beach

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300px region and the north-western coast of France. Utah Beach and Omaha Beach are separated by the Douve River, whose mouth is clear in the coastline notch (or "corner") of the map.]]

Sword, commonly known as Sword Beach, was the code name given to one of the five main landing areas along the Normandy coast during the initial assault phase, Operation Neptune, of Operation Overlord; the Allied invasion of German-occupied France that commenced on 6 June 1944. Stretching 8 km from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the beach was the eastern most landing site of the invasion. Sword was divided into several sectors, and each sector divided into beaches; thus the British 3rd Infantry Division, assigned to land on Sword, assaulted a two mile (3 km) stretch of Sword codenamed Queen Sector - Queen Red, White and Green beaches.

Among the five beaches of the operation, Sword is the nearest to Caen, being located around 15 km from the ultimate goal of the 3rd Infantry Division. The initial landings were achieved with low casualties but the advance from the beach was met with traffic congestion, heavily defended areas behind the beachhead and was met by the only armoured counterattack of the day, mounted by the 21st Panzer Division, that halted further progress towards Caen.



Following the Fall of France British Prime Minister Winston Churchill vowed to return to continental Europe and liberate the Nazi German-occupied nations. The Western Allies agreed to open a Second Front in northern Europe in 1942 to aid the Soviet Union. However with resources for an invasion lacking it was postponed but planning was undertaken that in the event of the German position in western Europe becoming critically weakened or the Soviet Union's situation becoming dire, forces could be landed in France; Operation Sledgehammer. At the same time planning was underway for a major landing in occupied France during 1943; Operation Roundup. In August 1942 Anglo-Canadian forces attempted an abortive landing—Operation Jubilee—at the Calais port-town of Dieppe; the landing was designed to test the feasibility of a cross-channel invasion. The attack was poorly planned and ended in disaster; 4,963 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured. The decision to prosecute the Battle of the Atlantic to its closure, the lack of landing craft,<ref name="Ellis, p. 9">Ellis, p. 9</ref> invading Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September following the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943 resulted in the postponement of any assault on northern Europe till 1944.<ref name="Ellis, p. 9"/>

Having succeeded in opening up an offensive front in southern Europe, gaining valuable experience in amphibious assaults and inland fighting, Allied planners returned to the plans to invade Northern France. Now scheduled for 5 June 1944, the beaches of Normandy were selected as landing sites, with a zone of operations extending from the Cotentin Peninsula to Caen.<ref name=granat18/> Operation Overlord called for British Second Army to assault between the River Orne and Port en Bessin, capture the German-occupied city of Caen and form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen, in order to acquire airfields and protect the left flank of the United States First Army while it captured Cherbourg. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give Second Army a suitable staging area for a push south to capture the city of Falaise, which could then be used as a pivot for a left right to advance on Argentan, the Touques River and then towards the Seine River. Overlord would constitute the largest amphibious operation in military history.<ref name=granat18>Granatstein, p. 18</ref> After delays due to both logistical difficulties and poor weather, the D-Day of Overlord was moved to 6 June 1944. Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery, commander of 21st Army Group, aimed to capture Caen within the first day, and liberate Paris within 90 days.<ref name=granat18/>


Allied Planning

The historic Norman city of Caen was assigned as the main D-Day objective of the British 3rd Infantry Division who had been tasked as the assault division to land on Sword Beach.<ref name="Wilmot273">Wilmot, p. 273</ref> Attached to the division for the assault was the 27th Independent Armoured Brigade, the 1st Special Service Brigade that also contained Free French Commandos, No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando of the 4th Special Service Brigade, Royal Marine armoured support, additional artillery and engineer, and elements of the 79th Armoured Division

The 3rd Infantry Division was ordered to advance on Caen, Template:Convert from Sword Beach, with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division advancing, on its western flank, to secure Carpiquet airfield, Template:Convert from Juno Beach, on the outskirts of the city.<ref name="Wilmot273"/> The 3rd Infantry was also ordered to relieve the elements of the 6th Airborne Division that had secured the bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal during Operation Tonga, secure the high ground north of Caen, and "if possible Caen itself". A point further reinforced when I Corps commander, Lieutenant-General John Crocker, instructed the division, prior to the invasion, that by nightfall the city must be either captured or "effectively masked" with troops based north-west of the city and Bénouville.<ref name="Wilmot, p. 274">Wilmot, p. 274</ref>

Soldiers under fire on Queen sector of Sword Beach
File:Queen sector Sword Beach.jpg
Queen beach, dated 16 August 1943

Sword Beach stretched for around Template:Convert from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to the mouth of the Orne River and was divided into four landing sectors. From west to east these sectors were 'Oboe' from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to Luc-sur-Mer, 'Peter' from Luc-sur-Mer to Lion-sur-Mer, 'Queen' from Lion-sur-Mer to La Brèche d'Hermanville, and finally 'Roger' from La Brèche d'Hermanville to Ouistreham. Each sector was also divided into multiple areas.<ref name="Fordbeaches"/> The sector chosen for the assault was the Template:Convert long 'White' and 'Red' areas of 'Queen' sector; as shallow reefs blocked access to the other sectors. Two infantry battalions supported by DD tanks would lead the assault followed up by the commandos and the rest of the division; the landing was due to start at 07:25 hours; the division would be the last assault division to land.Unknown extension tag "ref"

German Planning and preparation

On 23 March 1942 Führer Directive Number 40 called for the official creation of the Atlantic Wall. Fortifications were initially concentrated around ports until late in 1943 when defences were extended into other areas. While the German army had seen its strength and morale heavily depleted by campaigns in Russia, North Africa and Italy, it remained a powerful fighting force.<ref name=Granat19>Granatstein, p. 19</ref> Despite this, most of the German divisions along the French coast in late 1943 were composed of either new recruits or veteran units resting and rebuilding from the Eastern Front; altogether some 856,000 soldiers were stationed in France (predominantly on the coast).<ref name=Granat19/> An additional 60,000 Hilfswillige, Russian and Polish conscripts to the German army, served on the French coast. Under the command of Field Marshals Erwin Rommel and Gerd von Rundstedt, the defences of the Atlantic Wall—a line of coastal gun emplacements, machine-gun nests, minefields and beach obstacles along the French coast—were heavily upgraded; in the first six months of 1944 1.2 million tons of steel and 17.3 million cubic yards of concrete were laid.<ref name=saunders35>Saunders, p. 35</ref> Rommel also surrounded the coast with four million antitank and antipersonnel mines and 500,000 beach obstacles.<ref name=saunders35/>

On and behind Sword 20 strongpoints, which included several artillery batteries, were constructed.<ref name="ford2425">Ford, pp. 24-25</ref> The coastline was littered with wooden stakes, mines, hedgehogs, and Dragon’s teeth while along the top of the beach, infantry had constructed trenches, gun pits, mortars, and machine gun nests; barbed wire surrounded these positions and lined the beach.<ref name="Notes">Notes on Operations of 21 Army Group, p. 3</ref> To reinforce the defences six strong points, with one –codenamed by the British, Strongpoint "Cod" - located directly facing Queen sector, had been constructed on the coastline containing at least eight 50mm Anti tank guns, four 75mm guns, and one 88mm gun; while exits from the beaches had been blocked with various obstacles.<ref name="ford2425">Ford, pp. 24-25</ref><ref name="Notes"/> Behind the beaches six artillery batteries had also been positioned, three of which were based within three strongpoints; these latter batteries totalled four 100mm guns and up to ten 155mm guns.<ref name="ford2425"/> In addition, positioned east of the Orne River was the Merville Gun Battery that contained four Czechoslovakian 100mm howitzers that were also able to direct fire onto Sword Beach and the invasion fleet. Between Cherbourg and the Seine River there was a total of 32 batteries capable of firing onto the five invasion beaches; 50 per cent of which were positioned in casements of six foot reinforced concrete.<ref name="Notes"/>

German defence at Ouistreham — the turret is from a Renault FT-17 tank.

Since the spring of 1942 Generalleutnant’s Wilhelm Richter’s 8,000 man strong 716th Infantry Division had been positioned to defend the Calvados coast of Normandy.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.16">Ford and Gerrard, p. 16.</ref> In March 1942 the 352nd Infantry Division assumed control of the western Calvados coastline, leaving the 716th in position north of Caen covering an Template:Convert stretch of coastline. The division comprised four regular infantry battalions, two Ost battalions, and artillery units.<ref name="Copp37">Copp, p. 37</ref> Four infantry companies were spread along Sword with two positioned facing Queen sector while a further four were positioned inland behind the beach.<ref name="ford2425"/> Further inland Generalleutnant’s Edgar Feuchtinger’s 16,297 strong 21st Panzer Division had been positioned on both sides of the Orne River around Caen to provide an immediate counterattack force should a landing take place.<ref name="Deste117">D’Este, p. 117</ref> In May 1944 two Panzergrenadier battalions and an antitank battalion from the 21st Panzer Division, were placed under Richter’s command;<ref name="Copp37">Copp, p. 37</ref> this deployment eliminated 21st Panzer as a mobile reserve.<ref name="Deste117"/> One of these battalions, along with the divisions anti tank guns, and several mobile 155mm guns were positioned on Périers Ridge; a ridgeline raising to Template:Convert above sea level Template:Convert south of Sword.<ref name="Wilmot, p. 274"/>


Order of Battle

British forces - 3 Division Group

  • 3rd Division — Major-General TG Rennie
  • 8th Brigade (Assault Brigade)
    • 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment
    • 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment
    • 1st Battalion South Lancashire Regiment
  • 9th Brigade
    • 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
    • 1st Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers
    • 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles
  • 185th Brigade
    • 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment
    • 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment
    • 2nd Battalion King's Own Shropshire Light Infantry
  • Divisional Troops
    • 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment RAC
    • 33rd and 76th Field Regiments RA (self-propelled guns)
    • 7th Field Regiment RA
    • 20th Anti-Tank Regiment RA
    • 92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery
    • 3rd Divisional Engineers
    • 3rd Divisional Signals
    • 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment (machine guns)
  • 5th Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment
  • 27th Armoured Brigade(DD Tanks)
    • 13th/18th Royal Hussars
    • 1st East Riding Yeomanry
    • Staffordshire Yeomanry
  • 1st Special Service Brigade - landed on eastern extremity of Sword — Brigadier Lord Lovat
    • No. 3 Commando - Lieutenant Colonel Peter Young
    • No. 4 Commando - Lieutenant Colonel Robert Dawson
      • A force of 176 French Marine Commandos from No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, commanded by Commandant Philippe Kieffer landed with No. 4 Commando
    • No. 6 Commando - Lieutenant Colonel Derek Mills-Roberts
    • No. 45 (Royal Marine) Commando - Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ries
  • 4th Special Service Brigade - landed between Juno and Sword


Breaking the beach defences

File:Landing on Queen Red Beach, Sword Area.jpg
Sword Beach. Lord Lovat, on the right of the column, wades through the water. The figure in the foreground is Piper Bill Millin.

Units of the British 2nd Army led by Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey were assigned the beach. Troops from the British 1st Corps led by Crocker continued the beach assault. The landing was concentrated in the Queen sector of the beach Hermanville-sur-Mer. The key objective was to take the key town of Caen and the nearby Carpiquet Aerodrome to the west.<ref name = "Zaloga and Johnson p.55">Zaloga and Johnson, p. 55.</ref> Landings began at 07:25 am when the 3rd Division landed in Peter and Queen.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> Attached commando units 1st Special Service Brigade and part of 4th Special Service Brigade were tasked with seizing the bridges on the River Orne and the Caen Canal, linking up with paratroops of the 6th Airborne Division who were holding the bridges and had earlier destroyed the batteries at Merville.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/>

Resistance on the beach was weak. Within 45 minutes, by 08:00, the fighting had been pushed inland and on the east flank the Commando units had reached the Orne,<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13">Ford and Gerrard, p. 13.</ref> linking up with British paratroopers who had landed by the Orne waterways inland from Ouistreham, by 13:00.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> The British could not link up with the Canadian forces to the west until much later in the day. The only significant German counter-attacks on D-Day came into this area, starting around 16:00.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> In two attacks the 21st Panzer Division pushed all the way from near Caen to the beach between Lion-sur-Mer and Luc-sur-Mer and were only fully neutralised by late evening.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> By the end of 6 June, the 716th Infantry Division had been almost entirely destroyed, many having fought to the death.


The 21st Panzer Division counterattacks

The only real German counter-attack on 6 June took place at Sword Beach. British troops had not been able to link up with Canadian troops from Juno according to the plan, and they were attacked by men of the German 21st Panzer Division.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> The 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiment reached Sword Beach by 20:00 but many vehicles were destroyed by British air attacks. The flak units attached to the 21st Panzer had been spread thin, and as a result many vehicles were destroyed. Despite many reports that the units deployed by the 21st were obsolete (such as quote of 80 light Czech tanks), in actual fact the 21st Panzer held amongst their strength 112 Panzer IV (long barrel) and another 4 Panzer IV (short barrel)

Still, the 22nd Panzergrenadier along with about 50 Panzer IV tanks attacked the British-held position. The British had constructed effective defences and the counter-attack was defeated.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> Despite this, one company made it through the gaps in the defences and reached the coast at Lion-sur-Mer.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> Finding the coastal defences there intact, they set about reinforcing them. By coincidence, 250 Gliders of the British 6th Airlanding Brigade, on their way to reinforce the Orne bridgehead, flew over their positions.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> Believing they would be cut off, the Germans abandoned their defence.<ref name = "Ford and Gerrard p.13"/> By the end of the 6 June, the 21st Panzer Division had lost 50 tanks to British anti-tank guns.Template:Citation needed

The Panzer IV was the main battle tank of the 21st Panzer Division. The division had 127 Panzer IVs on 6 June.<ref name="Deste124"/>


The day ended after 28,845 men, of I Corps, having come ashore across Sword Beach. The British campaign historian, L.F. Ellis notes that "in spite of the Atlantic Wall over 156,000 men had been landed in France on the first day of the campaign."<ref name="Ellis223"/> British losses, in the Sword beach area, amounted to around 683 men.

The advance on Caen resumed the following day and the British and Canadians linked up; however, three days into the invasion the advance on Caen was halted. On 7 June Operation Perch, a pincer attack by the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and XXX Corps was launched to encircle Caen from the east and west.<ref name=ellis250>Ellis, p. 250</ref> However the 21st Panzer Division halted the highlanders advance<ref name=VdV139>Van der Vat, p. 139</ref> while XXX Corps's attack resulted in the Battle of Villers-Bocage and the withdrawal of XXX Corps leading elements soon after. The next offensive, codenamed Operation Epsom, was launched by VIII Corps on 26 June to envelope Caen from the West. German forces managed to contain the offensive, but to do so were obliged to commit all their available strength.

On 27 June the 3rd Infantry Division and tanks, launched Operation Mitten. The objective was to seize two German-occupied châteaux—la Londe and le Landel. The initial evening assault was repulsed, but the following morning further attacks gained the objectives and destroyed several German tanks. Operation Mitten cost at least three British tanks<ref name="Scarfe6869"/><ref name="Fortin30">Fortin, p. 30</ref> and 268 men.<ref name="Copp113">Copp (2004), p. 113</ref> Historian Terry Copp calls the fighting for these châteaux the "bloodiest square mile in Normandy".<ref name="Copp113"/> Divisional historian Norman Scarfe claims that had the operation gone more smoothly, further elements of the division and elements of the 3rd Canadian would have then launched Operation Aberlour, an ambitious plan to capture several villages north of Caen. However, this attack was cancelled by Lieutenant-General John Crocker.<ref name="Scarfe6869">Scarfe, pp. 68–69</ref><ref name="Fortin30"/> Several days later I Corps launched a new offensive, codenamed Operation Charnwood, to gain possession of Caen.<ref name="Williams131"/> In a frontal assault the northern half of the city was finally captured.<ref name="Williams131">Williams, p. 131</ref> However, German forces retained possession of the city south of the Orne river and this area would only be liberated during Operation Atlantic by Canadian infantry.



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