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Sword Beach

History and pictures of the beach

 

Sword Beach represents the third and the last of the british landing sectors. The zone of Sword, 5 kilometers east of Juno Beach, is located between the localities of Saint-Aubin and Ouistreham, and represents the east allied side of the Normandy invasion.

Involved forces

The British forces are composed of the 8th brigade (belonging to the 3rd infantry division), several commando units (numbers 4, 6, 8, 10, 41 and 45), the 1st Brigade of the Special Services (which commands the number 4 commando of the Free France battalion). These allied forces belong to the 1st Army corps, led by the british Lieutenant General John Crocker.
The beach is divided into four sectors codenamed, from west to east: “Oboe”, “Peter”, “Queen” and “Roger”.

The beaches of Sword are defended by the men of the 716th infantry division, composed of 29 companies and armed with about 500 machineguns, 50 mortars and 90 various types guns.

Image :  Warships, planes and sailplanes on the way towards the objective: Sword Warships, planes and sailplanes on the way towards the objective: Sword.

The attack

This attack is preceded, as on the other invasion beaches, by an air raid then by a naval bombardment, two hours before the beginning of the landing, which must start at 07:25 a.m.
On Sword Beach, as on Gold and Juno, frogmen are charged to open several accesses to the beach, 20 minutes before H Hour, while removing elements of the beach defenses, in order to facilitate the navigation of the landing crafts.

Image :  After the tanks, the first assault wave arrives After the tanks, the first assault wave arrives.

In fact, the special tanks (25 on the whole and called “funnies”) are charged to land first, right before the infantry. In spite of a difficult navigation because of a very strong swell, the boats reach the beach on time. The German shootings are strong, and the mortar shells explode near units, wounding or killing the attackers.

Image :  British soldiers taking cover from german shootings on the beach British soldiers taking cover from german shootings on the beach.

When the infantry starts landing, the tanks have destroyed some German strongpoints already, but the British progress with difficulty between the shore and the houses line directly in edge of the beach, both because of the shootings and the beach defenses, very numerous on a small space. The rising tide still reduces the surface of the beach which is almost completely encumbered by various material, destroyed vehicles, corpses.

Image :  Landed troops gathering, sheltered from the enemy shootings Landed troops gathering, sheltered from the enemy shootings.

When Major (Lord) Lovat lands, he is accompanied by the sound piper Bill Millin. During the crossing of the beach, Lovat called Millin to play: “Let's play Highland Laddie”. When the piper reaches the Norman soil, he plays the bagpipe and the well known song. The melody arrives even to the ears of German, according to Maurice Chauvet, belonging to the 1st Battalion Fusiler Marin (Free French forces), witness of the scene whereas he lands on Sword beac: “Abruptly, when Millin started to play, the Germans stopped shooting during a few seconds, they did not believe their eyes… and their ears!”

 

Up

 

The attackers protect themselves behind the dune or the anti-tank wall bordering the road, gather, cross the barbed wire lines while being fire at by the Germans still defending some resistance points on the beach. The Allies reach the interior of the grounds, supported as close as possible by the amphibious tanks and the “funnies”.

Image: The infantry, supported by the amphibious tanks, frees the surrounding villages The infantry, supported by the amphibious tanks, frees the surrounding villages.

The landing troops must, after having controlled the various German strongpoints, seize the surrounding villages before continuing towards the town of Caen which must be captured the same day: at around 09:30 a.m., the british infantrymen of the 1st South Lancs enter Hermanville and move to the german resistance pockets.

Image :  Obstruction of vehicles and material destroyed on Sword Beach Obstruction of vehicles and material destroyed on Sword Beach.

It is only about midday that the beach is cleaned of its encumber and that enough breaches are open allowing the reinforcements to go on landing. The troops of the first attack accelerate towards the interior: Ouistreham and its famous casino (which, it is to be said, is nothing like the one in the “Longest Day” movie) are captured during the morning, but a fort in the city still resists the French and British attacks. The place will be captured only three days later.

Image :  British soldiers on the way towards the south of Normandy British soldiers on the way towards the south of Normandy.

Assessment

The Germans are disorganized and oppose in great majority only a very low resistance to the landed forces. The french and british troops, which travel towards the south, are slowed down by snipers which are camouflaged in individual holes bordering the roads. Lord Lovat joined as forecast the british airborne troops of the 6th division all around the Bénouville and Ranville bridges (codenamed Pegasus bridge and Horsa Bridge) which he reaches at midday. The 3rd british infantry division reports, at the end of the day, the loss of nearly 630 men, killed or wounded soldiers. 28.845 men and 2.603 vehicles belonging to this same division are on-site on June 6 at midnight.

At the evening of June 6, 1944, the British have, west of the Orne river, a beachhead of nearly 8 kilometers long, to the village of Biéville-sur-Orne, hardly located at 5 kilometers from Caen. East of the Orne river, various points of resistance of the parachutists of the 6th airborne division hang on, south of Franceville and the village of Varaville.

Image :  Arrival of reinforcements (men and vehicles) on Sword Arrival of reinforcements (men and vehicles) on Sword.

The landed troops make their junction with the airborne division; they cross the two bridges captured in the first hours of June 6 by the men of Major John Howard and silence strongpoints, south of the village of Ranville until the Western limits of the Bavent forest.

Image :  British soldiers equipped with bicycles in order to move faster to their objective: Caen British soldiers equipped with bicycles in order to move faster to their objective: Caen.

The junction with the landed canadian troops at Juno Beach is not carried out yet by the commandos numbers 8 and 41 fighting in Lion-sur-Mer. The realization of this junction is, with the capture of the town of Caen, one of the major priorities for the british troops, in order to protect the beachhead just installed to ensure the good continuation of the allied invasion in Normandy.

 

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