On Tuesday 6 June 1944 the largest invasion force ever gathered landed on the beaches of Normandy launching Operation Overlord, cracking the crust of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and providing the Allies with the first step on the road to victory. On the eastern flank of the invasion front British and Canadian airborne troops landed in the early hours of the morning to secure a bridgehead across the Orne River and behind them British infantry, supported by artillery, tanks and engineers landed on the beaches codenamed Sword. In the early hours of the morning paratroops and glider-borne infantry began landing east of the Orne to seize vital bridges and destroy others to prevent German reinforcement. Many of the drops were scattered and inaccurate and the lightly armed airborne soldiers had to struggle against confusion and the dark as well as the enemy. Despite this the capture of the bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal by a handful of soldiers arriving by glider was a spectacular success. At dawn the British 3rd Infantry Division began to disembark from landing craft onto Sword Beach, accompanied by swimming Sherman DD tanks. In the ensuing hours the infantrymen from Lancashire, Yorkshire and Suffolk battled the rising tide and German artillery as they fought their way inland, overcoming seemingly impregnable concrete bunkers and counter attacks by SS Panzer Grenadiers. However, despite initial success, by the end of D Day the Division was halted well short of the city of Caen, General Montgomery’s objective for the first day of Operation Overlord.
This tour will take you to Pegasus Bridge to witness the astonishing success achieved by the 181 men of Major John Howard’s company of 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who landed by glider in the dark just yards from their objective. And then on to the Merville Battery, assaulted by Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway’s 9th Parachute Battalion. By the end the action of the one hundred and thirty German defenders only 6 were unscathed and only 65 of Otway’s paratroopers lay dead or wounded. You will stand on Sword Beach where the assault battalions of 3rd Infantry Division waded ashore in the early morning and overcame the initial defences. By the end of D Day over 28,000 men had crossed Sword Beach for the loss of only 683 soldiers. Moving inland you stand in the concrete bunker complex known as Hillman where the Suffolk Regiment overcame what appeared to be an unassailable position. You will end the tour on Lebissey Ridge where 3rd Infantry Division’s advance stalled in sight of Caen.