9th Para Battalion in Normandy
After Action Reports
6th (GB) Airborne Division
REPORT ON OPERATIONS OF 9 PARA BN – JUNE 6-12, 1944
The primary task of 9 Para Bn in the initial landing was the destruction of the Coastal Battery at 155775. A separate report on this action has already been submitted. It is necessary however to recapitulate somewhat in order to describe the state of the Bn on completion of its primary task.
The parachute drop at 0050 hrs had been widely scattered. Consequently only 150 all ranks had been available for the primary task. This task, which was successfully accomplished, involved heavy casualties to the already small force.
The secondary task allotted to 9 Para Bn was to seize and hold the LE PLEIN feature until relieved by No 1 SS Bde.
The bn strength was now reduced to 80 all ranks, one MG, no mortars, no Fd Amb, no sappers, a few unit medical orderlies. The CO further had 22 prisoners on his hands, and his wounded personnel to consider. Amongst his prisoners he found a German Medical Officer and two medical orderlies. He therefore left his wounded with these medical personnel and two of his own medical orderlies, at a neighbouring chateau. His numbers were now augmented by the crew of a glider who had been fighting a German Pl in the neighbourhood. This brought the Bn strength up to just 100.
The move to LE PLEIN across country was begun at once – it was uneventful. Shortly after the start a formation of Allied aircraft came over, and presumably mistaking them for enemy troops, released two sticks of heavy bombs. These sticks fell on either side of the column and parallel to their line of advance. By extreme good fortune no casualties ensued.
On approaching the village of HAUGER on the north slopes of LE PLEIN the column was warned by a frenchman that the village was occupied by 200 Russians, impressed into the Germany Army after capture on the Eastern Front.
At 0900 hrs the column was fired on from the front and left flank as it approach rd junc 133757. As the advance continued the enemy 30-40 strong withdrew to the cross rds on the eastern outskirts of the village. The leading elements of the column thereupon put in a straight forward attack down the line of the road. This dislodged the enemy who fell back on the rd junc in the centre of the village leaving 15 dead behind them.
The enemy now held a position of some strength with MGs posted on both flanks. The CO therefore occupied the houses at the eastern end of the village.
The enemy now attempted to counter attack by a right flanking move through the orchards. As this attack came in it was met by the Vickers MG at 20 yds range, the attack immediately dissolved, leaving a further dozen dead behind.
It became apparent that the strength of the enemy’s position lay in one particular house. The CO therefore decided to send a party of 30 right flanking to take this house in the rear. This attack failed, however, as the house had been properly prepared for defence and loop-holes all round. Furthermore it was surrounded by a 6 ft wall with MGs firing on fixed lines along the edge of the wall.
It was apparent that this force was not strong enough to evict the enemy from the village, and the CO therefore decided to consolidate. He occupied a chateau on the outskirts of the village with his main force, leaving one section at the rd junc.
The position then became one of stalemate. The enemy, though in greatly superior numbers made no further attempts to attack. He did, however, make a very great use of snipers who were most skilfully sited and concealed. Their standard of shooting varied however. In one instance they appeared incapable of learning any lessons from the fate of their comrades. They persistently sniped from the church tower although one man after another was killed in doing so. Subsequently, six dead snipers were found in the tower. The most effective way of dealing with the sniping proved to be the “set a thief to catch a thief” method. Our own snipers by carefully watching located enemy snipers and eliminated them in turn.
This situation lasted for almost 24 hrs, until the afternoon of 7 June when 1 SS Bde (Commandos) arrived, cleared the village and relieved the Bn of responsibility for the LE PLEIN feature.
– reverted to bde control, and during the night 7/8 Jun moved to the woods south at ST COME 1373, where they were ordered to hold the high ground about 135736. The whole area was heavily wooded and intersected with high thick hedges. At only three points where orchards adjoined the position was there any field of view.
At midday on 8 Jun an attack on the right flank of the position by the enemy infantry developed which was repulsed with comparative ease. It subsequently transpired that this attack was made by troops of the 857 Regt.
During the afternoon and evening several more thrusts from the NE were made in single company strength. None of these attacks were supported by covering fire.
During the night 8/9 Jun, Bde sent up to the Bn two 3″ Mortars and 3 Vickers MGs. This enabled the CO to organise a mortar section and a strong MG Pl of 4 MGs, one of which were mobile on a jeep.
At first light on 9 Jun a very heavy Mortar concentration was put down on the Bn area, and a determined infantry attack developed from the NE. In view of the close nature of the country the enemy advanced to within 50 yds before fire was opened – 2″ and 3″ mortars joined in repelling this attack as the risk of causing casualties amongst our own troops and they did cause a few. The defensive fire inflicted appalling casualties to the enemy who broke and fled. Another attack developed an hour later with the same results. Later in the morning information reached the CO that a serious situation was developing immediately to the south of his Bn area, where an enemy attack was developing on Bde HQ.
The CO immediately organised a force of 30 men and 2 MGs which he led himself, attacking the enemy in the rear. The line of attack was down the main road. The two MGs were placed firing down the road, while the force attacked left flanking, clearing house by house. By degrees the enemy position was outflanked, and the enemy withdrew into a very thick stretch of woodland running parallel to the road.
The MG positions were now altered and one was sited to fire down each side of the strip of woodland thus sealing the enemy within it.
An interesting method was then adopted for clearing the wood from end to end. The party advanced through the wood in two waves. Leading wave armed with stens, second wave armed with 36 grenades.
The second wave would throw a volley of grenades over the heads of the leading wave into the undergrowth beyond. Immediately the grenades exploded the leading wave rose and rushed forward ten yards firing from their stens. The process was repeated until the wood was cleared and resulted in killing 19 Germans and capturing one.
After clearing the wood the party returned to the Bn Area.
During the afternoon an enemy attack by one and a half Coys developed from the EAST. It succeeded in infiltrating through the woods, and the situation became serious. A counter attack, one pl strong led by the 2 i/c was therefore launched. It was partially successful. It stopped the enemy, but failed to drive him back. The counter attack pl was caught in the flank by two MGs which split it in two, killing two officers and 5 ORs and wounding another 5. The pl then withdrew.
The CO was of the opinion that these losses were due to two tactical errors (a) the pl tried to cross a clearing in the woods without first ensuring that its flanks were protected by covering fire. (b) some men rushed a bank, behind which they knew enemy to be without grenading it first.
9/10 Jun. Stragglers from the parachute drop had been drifting in since 6 Jun, and during the night a further 40 had reached Bde and sent up. This included a missing Coy Comd, and brought the Bn strength up to approx: 240. The first task of the reinforcements was to get in the wounded. Then work on perimeter defences.
Night attacks by the enemy were continuous, and these were countered by pushing posts well outside the perimeter, to prevent enemy getting within grenade throwing range. Firing, except at point blank range was strictly forbidden. This policy paid, as PW captured in [?] had no idea of the Bn dispositions.
10 Jun – an attack, preceded by heavy mortaring, developed on the right flank of the Bn positions at about 1100 hrs – it was repulsed.
During the morning a further 30 men arrived from Bde, and enables the CO to re-organise the bn into three Coys of approx: 70 each. Re-organisation of the defences were also carried out – two MGs being sited to fire down the main rd, and one pl pushed across the main rd up to a deep ditch NE of the Bn posn. These dispositions paid a very early dividend.
At about noon half a Coy of enemy debouched from the woods and began to dip in along the main rd in full view of the MGs. Fire was held until all sub-units were hard at work digging. When it did open fire it was devastating, practically the whole enemy half Coy being wiped out.
An enemy party then advanced unawares on the Pl position concealed in the ditch. Fire was held until 10 yds. Some of the enemy dead actually falling into the ditch. The remnants broke and fled.
At 1400 hrs a further attack developed on the bn positions down the line of the track from the NE. Mortar amn was by this time running short, and it was suggested by the NCO i/c PIAT that these weapons should be pointed in the air and used as mortars. This was tried, and proved most effective, even though the effect was largely morale. Attempts at infiltration continued during the afternoon, and at one point an enemy SP gun ambled forward. A Vickers MG opened on the gun which promptly blew up. Presumably some amn was hit.
At 1900 hrs a very determined attack by one and a half Coys developed from the NORTH on the left flank of the bn position in the direction of BREVILLE. Many of these were shot and a few taken prisoner. It subsequently transpired that these were the fleeing survivors of a disastrous attack by the enemy of 5 Bde positions at RANVILLE. At 2000 hrs an enemy attempt was made to influence the battle by cutting in our Bde RT set. The bn was ordered to send men out carrying yellow triangles to meet ‘your friends on the left flank’. The order was not complied with.
Conditions quietened down by 2300 hrs and one coy was dispatched to seize and hold the chateau at ST COME. – it did so, and was attacked all through the night. The bn was left in peace.
During the night 10/11 Jun 5 BW arrived in the area preparatory to an attack they were launching on the village of BREVILLE the following morning. One coy 5 BW took over the chateau from the 9 Para Bn.
The attack on BREVILLE by 5 BW on the morning of 11 Jun failed, and the Bn withdrew into the 9 Para Bn area to re-organise, having suffered heavy casualties. In the afternoon 5 BW moved entirely into the Chateau area.
During the night 11/12 Jun sporadic attacks against the chateau and 9 Para Bn areas were maintained, and continued on morning 12 Jun when enemy tanks were reported in the vicinity. OC 5 BW kindly placed two of his A tk guns under command 9 Para Bn and these were sited in area cross rds 136737.
At 1500 hrs an intense arty and mortar bombardment on the two bn positions began and lasted for three quarters of an hour.
9 Para Bn well dug in in their slit trenches, only two slight wounds resulted from this intense bombardment.
It was immediately followed by a determined infantry assault on the chateau supported by six Mk IV or french tks and a number of SP guns.
The BW suffered heavily from the tks and SP guns. All their carriers were knocked out, as were the crews of their 6 pr guns which were thereby rendered ineffective.
At this juncture the bde comd 3 Para bde personally led a coy of 1 Cdn Para Bn to counter attack. The chateau position held, and the enemy switched his attack on to 9 para bn.
One enemy tank succeeded in penetrating to within forty yds of the 9 Para Bn posn and infantry to within 20 yds. Both were repelled. The tk was hit twice on the nose by PIATS without any effect a third PIAT bomb then hit in the flank and burst right through it, whereupon the tk hastily withdrew.
By 2000 hrs the situation had quietened down, but at 2100 hrs a concentration of very heavy shell fire (probably 120mm) came down on the bn posn – it lasted for ten minutes, but no infantry attack developed.
On the morning of 13 Jun the 9 Para Bn was relieved by the 2 OXF & BUCKS from 6 Airlg Bde.
It had been almost continuously in action since its paratp drop at 0050 hrs on 6 Jun and its strength on relief was 11 Officers and 218 ORs.