Airborne operations of the Normandy landings
6th Airborne Division battle order
Flights and transportation plan
The origins of Operation Mallard
The 6th Airborne Division led by General Gale is responsible for taking vital points on the left flank of the Allied bridgehead in Normandy. More than 5,300 British and Canadian soldiers were to be transported by groups 38 and 46 of the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.). Since these two units did not have sufficient numbers of aircraft to transport the entire division to its different points of deposition, the mission was broken down into two waves: the first one (codenamed operation Tonga) dedicated to the main objectives, which had be completed before the landing on the beaches, and the second (Operation Mallard) dedicated to secondary objectives.
With the second airborne assault on D-Day at 9:00 pm, 6th Airborne planed to reinforce itself in two areas: on the eastern bank of the Orne river (where the units involved in Operation Tonga were isolated in enemy territory) at glider landing zone coded “N”, east of Ranville, cleared of all obstacles by sappers, and on the western shore with the introduction of a new LZ: “W”. The latter is located between Ouistreham and Bénouville, near Saint-Aubin-d’Arquenay and had to be recognized by commandos under the responsibility of the 3rd British infantry division.
Consequently, the means transported during Operation Mallard were heavy equipment designed to increase the firepower of the airborne forces which, in tactical logic, are provided with lighter means during the initial assault: on board gliders could be find Tetrarch light tanks, Jeeps, trailers and anti-tank guns.
|Stirling Mk 4 bombers towing Horsa gliders during Operation Mallard. Photo: IWM
The distribution of the Mallard forces is as follows: 142 aircraft (towing 112 Horsa gliders and 30 Hamilcar gliders) designated to join the LZ “N” while 104 Horsa were expected on the LZ “W”. These vectors transported on the one hand (LZ “N”) the staff of the 6th Airlanding Brigade, the 6th Airborne Division Armored Reconnaissance Regiment and the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles and on the other (LZ “W”) A company of the 12th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment (12th Devons), the 2nd battalion of Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (2nd Ox & Bucks) without Major Howard’s D Company which was already at Bénouville and elements of the Airlanding Brigade (211th Airlanding Light Battery R.A., 249th Field Company, R.E. and two sections of the 195th Airlanding Field Ambulance).
|Aircraft towing gliders arrive over the Normandy coast shortly before 21:00. Photo: IWM
Conduct of Operation Mallard
The 246 aircraft of Operation Mallard took off from England at 6:40 pm on D-Day, towing 216 Horsa and 30 Hamilcar gliders. Four gliders were lost during the crossing of the English Channel: one of them (belonging to the 12th Devons) was destroyed at sea with its crew seven kilometers from the shore (five soldiers survived the crash and managed to reach the coast in front of Merville where they were taken prisoner by the Germans), another was lost east of the landing zone and the last two made an emergency landing in England.
|These gunners of the 3rd Infantry Division attend the parachutes of the 6th Airborne Division at 21:00. Photo: IWM|
|Landing of three Hamilcar gliders on the Landing Zone “N” on D-Day at 9:00 pm. Photo: IWM|
At 20:51, the first gliders landed on the LZ “W”. A section under the command of Lieutenant Sneezum was responsible for destroying directly after their landing the railway line connecting Cagny to Mézidon. The other elements joined their defensive positions immediately after their arrival in Normandy. The same applied to units landing on the LZ “N” near Ranville dedicated for the Tetrarch light tanks: of the 30 units deployed, 11 were immobilized within five minutes of their arrival due to technical problems. Indeed, the LZ was covered with parachutes that went into the caterpillars and blocked them. The area was also completely congested by gliders who struggled to find a clear space to land.
|A Horsa struck a low wall when landing on the Landing Zone “N” east of Ranville. Photo: IWM|
Hauptmann (captain) Wilhelm von Gottberg, commander of the I./Panzer-Regiment 22, was present at the airborne assault. At that moment he was at Lion-sur-Mer with six tanks from which he observed the landing operations after his infiltration through the opposing lines. Fearing to be definitely surrounded by the landing of the Allied gliders, he reported this event to the 21. Panzer Division headquarters and backed up.
|Disembarking equipment from a Horsa on the Landing Zone “N” near Ranville. Photo: IWM
Results of opration Mallard
The losses during the crossing were very low compared to the engaged means: 242 gliders out of 246 originally planned have landed in Normandy. The pilots level, the good weather conditions and the work of the sappers to remove as many obstacles as possible (such as the Rommel’s asparagus ) before the beginning of the operation allowed to limit the damage and losses of men and equipment on combat zones.
|A Jeep and its trailer land from a Horsa on the Landing Zone “N” near Ranville. Photo: IWM|
Operation Mallard deprived the 21st German Armored Division of any hope of a successful counter-attack before dark on D-Day. German staff envisaged that new airborne operations and landings of gliders could take place behind their lines during the night. Conversely, the arrival of the reinforcements of the 6th airborne division to the views of all restored morale to the Allies present in the area and who were preparing to spend their first night in France after a hard day of fighting.
Fighters of the 6th Airborne Division were waiting for new counter-attacks and upgrading their defensive positions overnight. The next day, June 7, the Germans attacked, using tanks and artillery. Ranville was assaulted by Major Hans-Ulrich von Luck at the head of the Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 125: the Allied armada made several barrage fires that stopped these counter-offensives. The front on the east bank of the Orne river remained static until the launch of the operation Paddle on August 17, 1944.
1,166 soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division were killed during the Battle of Normandy. Most of them are buried in the Ranville Military Cemetery.