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Normandy: Sword Beach (British)

Gateway to Caen: the main prize of Normandy. The furthest east of the closely packed five D-Day landing beaches, Sword lay some nine miles northeast of Caen. Cain was recognised as the biggest catch of the invasion as all main roads in the area ran through the city. Its capture on D-Day was a high priority and the city was a key objective of the Btisdh 3rd Division, landing on Sword Beach.


Luckily for the British, Sword was relatively lightly defended as the Germans had depended on support from the 100mm guns in the Merville Battery, five miles to the east and heavier guns 20 miles further east in Le Havre. On the beach itself was a relatively thin crust of concrete emplacements and machine gun posts, protected by mined obstacles and anti-tank ditches.

The leading assault battalions came ashore at 0725 and bore the brunt of the casualties but a determined effort supported by a heavy weight of tank, artillery and naval gunfire soon brought results. By 0800, most of the fighting was inland. Free French commandos captured a German strong point near the Casino and British commandos, under Lord Lovat, pushed on to relieve elements of the 6th Airborne Division who had seized the bridges over the Caen Canal and the River Orne in a coup de main operation. By 1300 they had linked up with the airborne forces.

There was one major hiccup: British troops advancing towards Caen were held up by a major strongpoint, codenamed Hillman. The delay in capturing it caused problems for everyone advancing to capture Caen. It had always been an ambitious objective and when, in late afternoon, elements of the German 21st Panzer Division counter attacked, it proved unattainable. A handful of German tanks reached the coast but shortly after they did so, the gliders of 6th Airborne Division began arriving just to the east. The Germans, fearing encirclement, withdrew and the danger passed.

The Longest Day had begun. Caen and beyond were the next steps.

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