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British Landings

The Geography of the Sector

a seaman plays the pipes as his ship leaves for France - British D class cruisers, Dragon and Danae in the background
a seaman plays the pipes as his ship leaves for France - British D class cruisers, Dragon and Danae in the background
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The British sector included the British beaches; Gold in the west and Sword in the east, with the Canadian Juno Beach in the centre. Although the three sections formed a continuous sector, the landing zones were separated by coastal reefs which were very numerous between Juno and Sword.

The assault area allowed the simultaneous landing of three divisions:

Gold - the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.

Juno - the 3rd Canadian Division.

Sword - the 3rd British Division.

In addition the 6th Airborne Division was projected into the German rear to the northeast of Caen, principally to seize a defensive flank to the east of the Orne. This was the zone most open to a German counter-offensive, as it was closest to the important reserves in the north of France.

This produced a more difficult situation for the British than for the Americans. The former had to fight in front of Caen, the city which the Germans considered as the pillar of their defence in Normandy, and which became the area of the fiercest German counterattacks.

The proximity of the capital of Normandy was therefore a handicap to the British, as was the closeness of Le Havre, one of the chief bases of S-boats and torpedo boats.

The actual layout of the coast itself was very different from that of the American beaches. Even if Gold had some similarity to Omaha, though with gentle undulations in the place of cliffs, Juno and Sword were radically different. At Sword the coast was covered with houses and bungalows, with the small seaside towns of Luc and Lion-sur-mer. At Juno, Courseulles and Bernieres were similar small holiday resorts, but the habitations were in more clearly defined groups, with certain parts of the beach being unbuilt-up dunes. In both cases the coast is low with numerous church towers the only landmarks.

The fleet approaches

Forces G, J and S crossed the Channel with no more difficulty than the Americans had experienced. Two small vessels had crossed before the rest. These were the midget submarines X 20 and X 23, with crews of five men each. They had left Portsmouth 72hr earlier, thanks to the delaying of the landing. Rather than return to England they had carefully checked their positions by periscope observations and then lain on the bottom offshore. The crews had waited patiently in extremely cramped and uncomfortable circumstances. At 0500 on 6th June they surfaced and each showed a green light, visible only from out to sea, one marking Juno and the other Sword.

Thirty minutes later the fleet of warships opened fire on coastal targets.

Rodney firing at shore targets off Caen - with Nelson she was in reserve on D-Day - here she is supporting the bridgehead
Rodney firing at shore targets off Caen - with Nelson she was in reserve on D-Day - here she is supporting the bridgehead
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The German response from the numerous shore batteries remained very weak: 'almost negligible' according to an official British account. Several shells were fired at the transports, but none hit. There were no aircraft attacks on the ships. However the German navy did put in an early appearance.

The only naval battle of the day

Three torpedo boats were sent on a reconnaissance mission from Le Havre, sailing at 0430. These were the T28, the Jaguar and the Mowe, all were basically small destroyers. The oldest was the Mowe, launched in 1926. Based on a First World War design she would be sunk on 15th June by an air raid on the port of Le Havre.

Jaguar was launched a year later, and she was sunk at the same time. However the T28 was one of the latest German vessels of this kind launched in 1943. She managed to survive the war.

The three ships discovered the huge D-Day armada and rapidly launched all 18 torpedoes they carried. Only one found a target the Norwegian destroyer Svenner which broke in two and sank quickly.

The Longues Battery

The battery opened fire at daybreak in succession on USS Emmons, USS Arkansas and Bulolo, the flagship of force G. Arkansas and Ajax exchanged fire.

HMS Ajax bombards defensive positions in the Gold area
HMS Ajax bombards defensive positions in the Gold area
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The battery then switched to targets on Omaha and Gold. Argonaut and the French Georges Leygues and Montcalm returned fire. By the end of the day the battery had ceased firing.

The balance sheet at midnight, 6th June

At the end of D-Day it was evident to the Allied command that the landing had succeeded, at a cost slightly less than forecast: 4,300 soldiers on the British side and about 6,000 for the Americans. This comprised killed, wounded and missing (the majority of the latter prisoners). These figures are the total for all the assault divisions; that is to say, five infantry and three airborne divisions. Taking into account the total numbers engaged and the strength of the German defences, these losses could be considered light. There are enormous discrepancies between areas. For example on Utah Beach the 4th Division only lost 197 men, whilst on Omaha the losses exceeded 2,000. In general the parachutists suffered worse than the infantry, because of the way they were dispersed.

To succeed, landing five, or eight, divisions, was certainly not sufficient. Now they had to be supplied with munitions and food, whilst at the same time building up the number of divisions engaged without delay. It was necessary to exploit the initial successes without leaving the Germans with time to pull themselves together.

In this respect, also, the situation seemed rather favourable. Thus by midnight on 6th June an impressive total of men had been landed, despite all the delays, especially at Omaha. The precise figure was 132,715 men. For materiel we only have the British figures, but they, too, were impressive: 6,000 vehicles (900 of them tanks or other armour), 240 field guns, 80 AA guns, 280 anti-tank guns. The number of tanks and armoured vehicles is particularly amazing, for at the same moment the only German armoured division present, 21st Panzer, had no more than 140 tanks, the majority of which were of poor quality.

The only weakness as night came on the 6th was in the supply of munitions. Expenditure had been, as always, greater than had been foreseen.

Precise figures for the American landings are not available for 6th June, but by the evening of the 10th no less than 62,550 men, 4,133 vehicles and 9,986 tons of materiel had been landed on Utah Beach alone. At the same date the Americans had five infantry divisions, two airborne divisions, and one armoured division in Normandy, an impressive total.

The losses of warships were also low. On the day of the landings itself there were only two relatively important vessels lost, the American destroyer Glennon and the Norwegian destroyer Svenner. Besides these, several minesweepers had been sunk. Landing craft losses were also relatively low, but many had been damaged by the defences and heavy seas.

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