The British Army's Involvement in D-Day
During World War II (1939-1945), the Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June 1944 to August 1944, resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the battle began on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, when some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region. The invasion was one of the largest combined operations in history and required extensive planning. Prior to D-Day, the Allies conducted a large-scale deception campaign designed to mislead the Germans about the intended invasion target. By late August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated, and by the following spring the Allies had defeated the Germans. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
By dawn on June 6, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.
6th June 1944 Timeline
The first British troops from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry land by glider at Benouville bridge and Ranville bridge as part of Operation Deadstick. Today we know this as the Pegasus bridge operation.
RAF aircraft drop paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division over Ranville, Merville, Trouffeville and Troarn. Their aim is to take out the battery of Merville to the south-east of Cabourg, destroy the bridges and occupy the crest of Troarn to prevent the arrival of German reinforcements during the landings.
Assault troops begin boarding landing craft
Merville battery is captured by the British 9th Parachute Battalion, clearing the path for the landing on Sword beach. But it has old 75mm guns and not 150mm guns as was thought.
H-Hour at Sword beach
The British 3rd Division lands, led by Maj Gen Tom Rennie, whose aim is to liaise with the 6th Airborne and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions to take Caen and the Carpiquet aerodrome by nightfall. 28,845 men will land at Sword.
Resistance on Sword beach is weak. Within 45 minutes, fighting has moved inland and on the east flank the Commando units have reached the Orne. In all there will be 630 casualties securing the beach.
Despite progress it is becoming clear that the plan to take Caen from Sword beach by nightfall will not happen. The South Lancashires hold Hermanville but await tank support from the Staffordshire Yeomanry in order to move on.
Update from Gold beach: the Germans are holding 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment at bay outside Le Hamel. The forces of 50th Division have pushed inland four miles towards the town of Creully and 47 Commando Royal Marines have gone west four miles to take Port-en-Bessin and close the gap with the US forces at Omaha.
Lord Lovat and his Commandos, accompanied by piper Bill Millin, approach the Bénouville bridges to relieve Major John Howard, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Georges Gondrée, proprietor of the Café Gondreé, comes out with champagne for Lovat but is waved away with the words: "I'm working".
Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis of the Green Howards is having a remarkable day. After landing at Gold beach, he investigates two German pillboxes with his company commander. He takes all but five of the occupants of the first pillbox prisoner and then captures 26 prisoners from the second. Then he clears a neighbouring trench. Later he leads an attack on an enemy position containing a field gun and Spandau machine guns; then after withdrawing returns to fetch two men left behind. He will be the only winner of a Victoria Cross on D-Day.
Arromanches is captured; this will be key to installing the Mulberry harbours.
By the end of D-Day, 159,000 Allied troops, marines, airmen and naval personnel ashore have successfully established four sizeable beachheads. The invasion front remains vulnerable to German counter-attack, and there will be terrible fighting ahead, but a crucial step has been taken towards liberating Europe.
D-Day 75 Events
5th June 2019
1100 - 3rd (UK) Division, who led the assault onto Sword Beach on D-Day, are holding a number of parades, starting at the statue of Field Marshal Montgomery in Colleville-Montgomery.
1500 - 130 members of the Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade will drop from RAF Hercules aircraft and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s C-47 Dakota. They will jump along with 60 French Army paratroopers to recreate the famous airborne landings.
2300 - At Pegasus bridge, a retreat will be sounded by the Band and Bugles of The Rifles followed by the official commemoration for Operation Deadstick – which was crucial to the success of D-Day. A march will make its way from Benouville to Pegasus Bridge made up of soldiers and officers from the Army Air Corps and troops from the Rifles, with their band in support. Crossing the bridge, before a 75th commemoration plaque is unveiled.
6th June 2019
0725 - A lone piper will play on a Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches signalling the exact time the first soldier landed on Gold Beach 75 years ago.
Morning - 32 Engineer Regiment will lead a tri-service team at the Bayeux Cathedral service, then supporting the Veterans on a parade to Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery.
1055 - 3rd (UK) Division will hold a service to the ‘Fallen Civilian’ in Caen. Following a wreath laying by the Mayor of Caen, they will march to the 3rd British infantry Division memorial outside the Castle.
Afternoon - The Band of the RAF Regiment and the Pipes and Drums of 19 Regiment Royal Artillery will provide support during the celebration events for the Veterans, culminating in a firework display.
1930 - 3rd (UK) Division will hold a service in Hermanville-Sur-Mer before the parade, led by a piper, marches on to the CWGC Cemetery for their final service.