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Sword Beach - June 6, 1944 - D Day

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Please add only the public profiles of those who served actively in support of Sword Beach on D Day (6 June 1944).

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 kilometres (5.0 mi) from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the beach was the easternmost 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 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) 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 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the 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 counter-attack 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.[14] 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[15] 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.[16] In August 1942, Canadian and British 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.[17] The decision to prosecute the Battle of the Atlantic to its closure, the lack of landing craft,[18] invading Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September following the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943[19] resulted in the postponement of any assault on northern Europe till 1944.[18]

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.[20] Now scheduled for 5 June 1944,[21] the beaches of Normandy were selected as landing sites, with a zone of operations extending from the Cotentin Peninsula to Caen.[22] Operation Overlord called for the 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.[23] 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 an advance on Argentan, the Touques River and then towards the Seine River.[24] Overlord would constitute the largest amphibious operation in military history.[22] 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.

Allied[edit] The historic Norman city of Caen was assigned as the main D-Day objective of the British 3rd Infantry Division, which had been tasked as the assault division to land on Sword Beach.[25][26] Attached to the division for the assault was the 27th Independent Armoured Brigade, the 1st Special Service Brigade (which also contained Free French Commandos), No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando of the 4th Special Service Brigade, Royal Marine armoured support, additional artillery and engineers, and elements of the 79th Armoured Division.[27] 6th Beach Group was deployed to assist the troops and landing craft landing on Sword Beach and to develop the beach maintenance area.

The 3rd Infantry Division was ordered to advance on Caen, 7.5 miles (12.1 km) from Sword Beach,[28] with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division advancing, on its western flank, to secure Carpiquet airfield, 11 miles (18 km) from Juno Beach, on the outskirts of the city.[26] 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".[29] 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.[30]

Queen beach, dated 16 August 1943 Sword Beach stretched for around 5 miles (8.0 km) 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.[31] The sector chosen for the assault was the 1.8 miles (2.9 km) long 'White' and 'Red' areas of 'Queen' sector; as shallow reefs blocked access to the other sectors.[32] Two infantry battalions supported by DD tanks would lead the assault followed up by the commandos and the rest of the division;[33] the landing was due to start at 07:25 hours;[34] the division would be the last assault division to land.[nb 5]


An example of German beach defences. 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.[36] 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.[37] 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).[37] An additional 60,000 Hilfswillige, Russian and Polish conscripts to the German army, served on the French coast.[38] 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.[39] Rommel also surrounded the coast with four million antitank and anti-personnel mines and 500,000 beach obstacles.[39]

On and behind Sword, 20 strong points, which included several artillery batteries, were constructed.[4] 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.[40][41] To reinforce the defences, six strong points, with one –codenamed by the British, Strong point "Cod", located directly facing Queen sector, had been constructed on the coastline containing at least eight 5 cm Pak 38 50mm anti-tank guns, four 75mm guns and one 88mm gun; while exits from the beaches had been blocked with various obstacles.[4][41] Behind the beaches, six artillery batteries had also been positioned, three of which were based within three strong points; these latter batteries totalled four 100 mm guns and up to ten 155mm guns.[4] In addition, positioned east of the Orne River was the Merville Gun Battery, which contained four Czechoslovakian 100 mm howitzers that were also able to direct fire onto Sword Beach and the invasion fleet.[42][43] Between Cherbourg and the Seine River there was a total of 32 batteries capable of firing onto the five invasion beaches; 50% of which were positioned in casemates of 6-foot (1.8 m) reinforced concrete.[41]

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.[44] In March 1942, the 352nd Infantry Division assumed control of the western Calvados coast, leaving the 716th in position north of Caen covering an 8 miles (13 km) stretch of coastline. The division comprised four regular infantry battalions, two Ost battalions and artillery units.[45] Four infantry companies were spread along Sword, with two positioned facing Queen sector, while a further four were positioned inland behind the beach.[4] 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 counter-attack force should a landing take place.[46][47][48] In May 1944, two Panzergrenadier battalions and an antitank battalion from the 21st Panzer Division, were placed under Richter’s command;[45] this deployment eliminated 21st Panzer as a mobile reserve.[48] One of these battalions, along with the divisions anti tank guns, and several mobile 155 mm guns were positioned on Périers Ridge, which rose to about 50 metres (160 ft) above sea level, 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Sword.[30][49][50]