Francis I. Garcia-Pages
The British Landings: Gold and Sword Beaches
The initial landings were complicated due to the rough weather. "
Altogether there were 2, 727 ships, ranging from battleships to transports
and landing craft that would cross on their own bottoms" (Ambrose
170). The ships came from many nations. Some of these nations included
the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Norway,
Poland, Greece, and Holland. The ships were divided into two sections.
They were the Western Naval Task Force headed for Omaha and Utah and
the Eastern Naval
Task Force headed for Gold, Juno, and Sword.
After the initial landings, the first to move out were the mine-sweepers.
Their job was to sweep up along the English coast in case the Luftwaffe
and E-boats (German torpedo boats) had dropped mines in the area. They
proceeded to clear five channels for the separate assault forces. These
channels were marked with lighted dan buoys spaced at one-mile intervals
along the 400-meter-wide channels.
Comparison of British Beaches with Utah Beach
Gold and Sword beaches were similar to Utah in that they all had a gradual,
almost imperceptible rise inland. In these cases, as well as in Juno,
there was no high ground at the foot of the beach to overcome. This
meant that no one was shooting down on the attackers. The British beaches
differed from Utah in that they were far more built up with seaside
resorts and homes. The British infantry would have to win in street-to-street
/ fighting against the enemy. The British beaches were not so extensively
flooded as Utah, and the British had a more extensive road system available.
Their major objective was to capture Caen (Ambrose 515). At Gold and
Sword, once men were over the seawall and across the antitank ditch,
they were in paved village streets. Once through two or three blocks,
they were out in the wheat fields. These fields were very large.
The British and the Canadians were supposed to land on the beaches stretching
westward from the mouth of the Orne, code-named from east to west Sword
(British 3rd Division, plus British and French commandos), Juno (Canadian
3rd), and Gold. Gold Beach was the responsibility of the British 50th
Northumbrian Division and the 8th Armoured Brigade. Accompanying them
was a Royal Marine Commando unit who had to swing west and ~eize the
nearby town of Arromanches as a base for the British mulberry harbor
(Kemp 73). Another main objective was to take the battery at Longues-sur-Mer
from the rear.
The sectors at Gold were, from west to east, Item, Jig, King, and Love.
The attackers from the Northumbrian Division were the Devonshire, Hampshire,
Dorsetshire, and East Yorkshire regiments. The attackers were accompanied
by the Green Howards and Durham Light Infantry, plus engineer, communication,
and artillery units, followed by the 7th Armoured Division, the famous
"Desert Rats" (Ambrose 522).
The Underwater Demolition Team and the Royal Engineers began touching
down at 0735, followed immediately by the LCTs (landing craft, tank)
carrying tanks and the LCAs (landing craft, assault) bringing in infantry
assault teams. These landings came an hour later than the American landings.
This was due to the fact that the tide moved from west to east and low
tide came later on the British beaches (Ambrose 519). The wind at Gold
was coming in almost straight in from the northwest. The outer line
of obstacles was underwater before the Underwater Demolition Team could
get to them.
The later time of the attack was fortunate. It gave the bombers and
battleships longer to work over the beach defenses. Many of the Germans
were in the resort houses that dotted the coast. They were concentrated
at Le Hamel (right-center of Gold Beach) and La Riviere (left flank
boundary with Juno Beach). The houses could be set on fire by naval
shells and airdropped bombs (Ambrose 519).
Obstacles On and Off Gold Beach
The weather at the launch site was horrible. As at Omaha Beach, the
DD tanks / (dual-drive tanks) were not launched out to sea. It was decided
to land them directly behind the infantry. The assault wave managed
to land clear of the beach obstacles. These obstacles were extensive.
The dunes were not as high as at Utah. Behind the seawall there were
French vacation homes instead of bluffs. Some of these homes were tom
down to give a better field of fire (Ambrose 112). Some were used as
strong points in the line. Along the coast there were casemates which
ranged from large to small. There was no depth to the defense, as there
was elsewhere. Two main types of obstacles placed on the beaches were
the anti-tank mine and the spiked tetrahedron. The anti-tank mines were
assigned to detonate if hit by a landing craft. The spiked tetrahedron,
or "hedgehog," was used to rip open the thin skins of boats.
The stiff wind increased the tide. Due to this, the mines were obscured
more quickly than expected. Successive waves of landing craft had to
choose passages through the exploding beach debris (Kemp 74). Many vessels
were damaged in the process.
The defenses here were so formidable in order to prevent a British
breakout into open ground. " At Riva Bella, a village just west
of Ouistreham, there was an emplacement that had twenty-two pieces of
all types, including twelve 155mm cannon" (Ambrose 515). Scattered
along the beach were extensive emplacements holding 75s, 88s, mortars,
and machine guns. The embrasures opened along the beach and the concrete
was too thick and too well reinforced to be vulnerable to naval shells.
These positions would have to be taken by infantry .
Victory at Gold Beach
The battle of Gold Beach was won with the aid of the specialist armor
that had landed in front of the infantry and the amphibious tanks that
landed behind. By the afternoon, Arromanches had been secured and the
British soldiers were marching inland toward Bayeux (Kemp 75). By nightfall
on June 6, the British at Gold Beach had penetrated some ten kilometers
inland and hooked up with the Canadians at Creully on their left (Ambrose
530). They were in position to take Bayeux or cross the N-13 by the
next day. "They had put 25,000 men ashore at a cost of 400 casualties"
"Sword Beach ran from Lion-sur-Mer to Ouistreham at the mouth of
the Oran Canal. In most areas there were vacation homes and tourist
establishments just inland from the paved promenade that ran behind
the seawall" (Ambrose 549). The British 3rd Infantry Division and
its supporting units, including a force of French Commandos, which served
with the Scottish 1 st Commando Brigade, assaulted Sword Beach. The
Commandos were to clear a way through the town of Ouistreham, very near
Benouville, and then meet the members of the British 6th Airborne Division
who were waiting at the Orne bridgehead. " After a massive preliminary
bombardment, the heaviest on any of the beaches that day, the DD tanks
were launched" (Kemp 76).
"The infantry assault teams consisted of companies from the South
Lancashire Regiment (Peter sector, on the right), the Suffolk Regiment
(Queen sector, in the middle), and the East Yorkshire Regiment (Roger
sector, on the left), supported by DD tanks" (Ambrose 550). The
main objective of these teams was to open exits through which the follow-up
wave could pass inland to their objectives.
DD tanks were supposed to land first, but they could not swim fast
enough because of the tide. LCTs and LCAs passed them. The DD tanks
eventually reached the shore in spite of the heavy seas. They were closely
followed by the LCTs loaded with specialist-armored vehicles. The infantry
came in close to them. Bagpiper Bill Millin accompanied it. Sporadic
machine-gun and mortar fire, accompanied by 88mm shells fired from inland.
The fire was not so heavy as at Juno or Omaha, but much heavier than
at Utah and Gold (Ambrose 550).
Royal Marine frogmen jumped over the sides of their craft and began
to work on the obstacles (Ambrose 550). There were heavy casualties
as the infantry worked its way ashore. A majority of the assault teams,
however, were able to make it to the dunes. The Shermans and Churchills
provided a great help in protecting the men crossing the beach. A bridge-carrying
Sherman was used to take the gun on an emplacement out of action. Flail
tanks were used to clear paths through the mines. Other tanks were used
to blow gaps in the barbed wire and the dunes.
The infantry assault teams were stopped by sniper and machine-gun fire
coming from Lion-sur-Mer. "The commandos coming in the second wave
were supposed to pass right through Lion and move west, to link up with
the Canadians at Langrune-sur-Mer, but they too were held up by the
German fire" (Ambrose 551).
At Ouistreham, the assaulting troops faced a solid line of enemy-held
seafront villas including a casino turned into a fortress (Kemp 76).
The assaulting troops quickly set about storming the houses and after
a short amount of time, the gray-clad German prisoners were on their
way towards the shore with their hands above their heads.
After having made short work of the fortified casino and the town of
Ouistreham, Lord Lovat and his men were on their way into open country.
They continued by marching toward the bridge over the Orne and Benouville
canal. They fought their way through light opposition, but on arrival
at the bridgehead, they became entangled in the battle between the British
6th Airborne and the newly arrived 21st Panzer Division.
Obstacles On Sword Beach
The obstacles on this beach were the usual ones. The emplacements in
the sand dunes were also the usual ones. It had mortar crews, medium
artillery pieces, and heavy artillery pieces inland. The Germans intended
to defend Sword Beach from the British attack with the 75mm guns of
the Merville battery and the 155mm guns at Le Havre.
This task was made even more difficult because Lieutenant Colonel Otway's
6th Airborne Division had destroyed the Merville battery and made the
guns at Le Havre ineffective. The guns at Le Havre were made ineffective
because of the smoke screens used to prevent Germans' ranging and because
it had spent the morning fighting the HMS Warpsite.
Even though the British had succeeded in doing this, the Germans still
had the 88mms on the first rise, which was a couple of kilometers inland,
which could put a steady fire on the beach and aid the mortars and the
machine guns. Massive concrete walls, antitank ditches, and mines were
used to impede progress inland. The defenses would delay the assault
and cause considerable casualties.
The Effect of the Atlantic Wall
At Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, the Atlantic Wall held up the British
50th, the Canadian 3rd, and the British 3rd divisions for about an hour.
There was no depth in the Atlantic Wall. Once it was penetrated, even
if only by a kilometer, it was useless (Ambrose 577). It was actually
worse than useless because the Wehrmacht troops manning it east and
west of the invasion area were immobile. They were incapable of rushing
to the sound of the guns.
Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day. June 6. 1944: The Climactic Battle of
World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1994.
Kemp, Anthony. D-Day and the Invasion of Norrnandy. New York:
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994.