A surprise effect was achieved by the mortars, which found an ideal target in the infantry grouped along the road, and the heavy casualties inflicted upon the enemy considerably exceeded the Canadian losses in the engagement. With the support this mortar gave to the battalion’s infantry sections, the attack was repulsed, and the rest of the day was quiet save for activity by enemy snipers. This reverse inflicted upon enemy armor by lightly armed airborne forces is a directly notable incident.
(13) For the next 10 days events followed a fairly regular and unchanging pattern. Small-scale attacks of 1 or 2 platoons strength on our part secured points of vantage on the edge of the defense area, and helped to stabilize the brigade front. In these operations, artillery support was given by naval bombardment FROM the cruiser Arethusa? and one destroyer (Naval Artillery Support 3rd Parachute Brigade – Appx A, to 3 Para Bge O.O. N°1), and from field batteries of the 3rd British Division Artillery, which came in support of the 6th Airborne Division early on D Day (302-FA Battery came under command – Trace X to the 3rd Para Bde O.O. N°1).
Constant patrolling, 24 hours of the day, was maintained by the battalion in attempts to obtain information about enemy dispositions and movements. In general, these patrols were unable to probe very deeply into the opposing defense before they found themselves pinned down by superior numbers, and were forced to return to their own lines.
During the whole of this period shelling and mortaring of the battalion and brigade positions continued without inflicting many casualties, and enemy snipers in trees and hedgerows proved nuisance factor until they were winkled out. More unpleasant was the shooting up of the Brigade’s HQs and the Main Dressing Station by Typhoons on June 13, when 2 Canadian officers were wounded and a French female civilian killed (WD, 3 para Bde, June 13, 1944).
(14). Generally speaking, the opposition encountered by the Canadian Battalion during its first ten days in France had not been severe. The enemy appeared to have few troops in the areas attacked. Most of the prisoners taken by the 3rd Parachute Brigade on D Day were Poles and Russians (ibid June 7, 1944). Later in the fighting interrogation of Polish deserters disclosed that the 857. and 858.Grenadier-Regiments (346.Infantry-Division), the formation facing the 3rd Parachute Brigade front, were reinforced early in July by drafts from a coast defense regiment near Boulogne. Enemy sections were reported as being so arranged that to each Pole there were about 8 Germans.
The latter handled all automatic weapons (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, Aug 1944, Appx N°3 Interrogation Report, Aug 11, 1944). But the Germans took full advantage of cover and used their infantry weapons with persistence and skill during their frequent attacks upon the Canadian position. A British War Correspondent (Guy Byam) gives a graphic account of the force of the enemy’s counter-attacks in the early days of the assault: while operations proceeded on the beaches and on the other side of the river and canal, the Germans came at us with tanks and men, again and again. At night he pushed patrols forward, probing and seeking out our weak spots. Every day men died, men were wounded, and our ranks thinned. But the Germans got nowhere. Dead Germans were to be found in the woods along the lines, in the cornfields, everywhere. The enemy left also burned out tanks and smashed mortars. Sometimes we were shelled for long periods, and the blast stripped the trees and splattered into slit trenches where it killed men. (The BBC War Correspondent, Guy Byam, ‘A Great Feat of Arms’ Radio Times, Vol 84, N°1086, Jul 21, 1944).
(Doc Snafu) On Feb 3, 1945, Guy Byam was killed when the B-17 Bomber ‘The Rose of York’ crashed after a daylight raid on Berlin. Byam, 26, was on board of this US 8-USAAF Flying Fortress. The bomber was damaged by the German FLAK over Berlin and disappeared over the North Sea. In the early years of the war, Byam saw action with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Combined Operations but was wounded and invalided out. He joined the BBC’s War Reporting Unit in April 1944. Two months later he parachuted into Normandy with the 6th British Airborne Division on D-Day and his reports made him a household name. A listener wrote after his death: ‘All looked forward to hearing his enthusiastic and youthful voice in the 9 o’clock news’.
(15) Maintenance of formations of the 6th Airborne Division with supplies and ammunition was effectively carried out, after the first day’s fighting, from the Divisional Maintenance Area Ranville. When the paratroopers jumped on D Day, all personnel carried rations for 48 hours and ammunition for 36 hours. A brigade dump of ammunition dropped from aircraft at the time of the initial assault was formed by BRASCO at the Brigade HQs (WD 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 1944: Adm Order N°1, May 29, 1944). During the night of June 6-7, a resupply drop from 50 planes took place at the Divisional Maintenance Area, 2 miles to the rear of the Canadian position, and for the next 2 weeks maintenance air missions, without meeting serious opposition from enemy fighter planes, effectively handled the matter of resupply the 6th Airborne Division (Hist Sec file, AEF/1 Cdn Para Bn/C/H, 6th Airborne Division Sitreps 2-27).
In and Out of the Line (June 20 – July 21)
(16) Within a week from D Day, defenses in the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade area had been strengthened by the arrival of the Seaborne reinforcements (the 3rd Para Bge War Diary notes the arrival on June 10 of units of the 153rd Brigade of the 51st (H) Division, -5/7 Gordons and 1 Gordons in the 8th Parachute Battalion area, and 5 Black Watch in the area of the 9th Parachute Battalion). To the North of the Canadian position, German resistance at Breville had been overcome, and the whole Brigade front from Le Plein to the Bois de Bavent stabilized. Montgomery had reported: we have won the battle of the beaches, and in the British sector Operation Overlord had entered its second phase, the defense of the Normandy bridgehead. On June 17, the 3rd Parachute Brigade was relieved in the line by the 5th Parachute Brigade, which had been defending the Southern approaches to the Ranville bridgehead.
(17) For 3 days the brigade remained in the Ranville – Herouvillette area, the 1st Cdn Para Bn occupying positions just outside the village of Ranville. The only enemy activity was occasional shelling of the main road that ran through the village, and the Canadians enjoyed their first relaxation since D Day. Then, on June 20, they moved to a rest area by the Orne River, near Ecarde. During their 5 days’ stay, they were blessed with fine warm weather, and parties were daily organized for bathing in the Orne.
An Army cinema at Luc-sur-Mer provided welcome entertainment. Sight-seeing tours were arranged to enable all ranks to visit the beaches at Ouistreham, the scene of the landing of 3 British Infantry Divisions, where they might learn something more of the vast scale on which Overlord was patterned.
(18) On June 25, the 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to Le Mesnil crossroads, the Canadian Battalion relieving the 13th Parachute Battalion at its former position. The week that followed saw an intensifying of enemy fire upon the brigade area and the Canadian casualty list mounted as a result of long-range artillery shells, harassing mortar fire, sniping, and on two occasions at least, close-range 75-MM AT bursts. because the closely wooded country did not allow long vision OPs, it was difficult to observe fire, and ranging by the battalion mortars in their counter-fire had to be done by sounds (impacts listening) or map reference.
Vigorous patrolling continued in an attempt to pinpoint enemy positions, but the result gained was generally meager and unsatisfactory (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 27, 1944). Both sides had developed strong defensive positions, supplemented by wiring and roadblocks. By the week of July, when the 3rd Parachute Brigade was relieved by the 5th Parachute Brigade, the situation on the ridge had become one completely static warfare.
(19) From Jul 4 to Jul 21, the battalion again enjoyed a respite from fighting when it moved to the Divisional Rest Area on the Orne River. The first week was spent in cleaning up and resting after the tour of duty in the line. Progress towards a complete mental and physical recovery was aided by the rumors that the Division was shortly to return to England to reform and refit (ibid: Jul 12, 1944). The cheering news of the fall of Caen (Jul 9) and American success in St Lô (Jul 18) suggested that the period of static warfare was ending, and from their battalion area, the Canadians saw, pouring across the Orne River on newly constructed pontoon bridges, the huge masses of armor and troops that were taking part in the big push Southwards.
During this period the unit was reinforced by the arrival of 7 officers and 100 other ranks from the Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion. This was a welcome addition to the fighting strength of the Parachute Battalion which has sustained 300 casualties since D Day (para #40). The fact that these reinforcements were not trained paratroopers mattered little. Indeed, for the role in which the battalion was to be engaged during the remainder of its stay in France, well-trained and equipped infantrymen provided the most valuable acquisition that could have been supplied.
Bavent Woods – Bures Woods (July 21 – August 17)
(20) The battalion’s hope for an early return to England were not to be realized. On July 21, the 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to the line, moving to an area immediately South of the 5th Parachute Brigade, which continued to man the Le Mesnil position. The new brigade area extended along the western edge of the thickly timbered Bois de Bavent, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion relieving the 12th Devons in their position astride the Le Mesnil – Troarn road. The weather had broken, and heavy rain had flooded the countryside, necessitating the immediate digging of new slit trenches at the end of the wood. That night, the battalion was issued with its first rum ration.
(21) After an uneventful week in the line, the Canadians were relieved on July 27 by the 8th Parachute Battalion and returned to the Orne River for a further short rest period. On the last day of July, the Battalion rejoined the 3rd Parachute Brigade, taking over the positions of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of the 51st Highland Division west of the Bois de Bures. (The Battalion War Diary gives a map reference 1000 meters to the east, but such position is not borne out by current patrol reports appended to the August War Diary). The 3rd Parachute Brigade still held its place in the center of the eastern line. To its left, the other formations of the 6th Airborne Division extended in order to the mouth of the Orne River – units of the 1st Special Service Brigade along the ridge north of Le Mesnil crossroads; 6th Air Landing Brigade between them and Breville and the 4th Special Service Brigade completing the line from Le Plein to Sallenelles.
On its right, the 6th Airborne Division was flanked by the 146th Brigade and other formations of the 49th Infantry Division, bending south and west through Demouville towards Caen. The remaining divisions of the 1st British Corps, the 3rd British Infantry Division, and the 51st Highland Division were in the rear west of the Orne River (WD, GS, 8D, 1st Canadian Army, August 1944: Location Statement 1st Canadian Army, August 1, 1944).
Since July 23, when the 1st Canadian Army took over the eastern Normandy sector, the 1st British Corps had been under Canadian operational command (WD, GSOps, 1st Canadian Army, Appx 79) and on the day on which the 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion returned to the line at the Bois de Bures (Jul 31), the 1st Canadian Army assumed command of the 2nd Canadian Corps in the Caen area. Thus the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, while still part of a British Brigade, a British Division and a British Corps, came for the first time under command of the 1st Canadian Army.
(22) For the first half of August, the situation of the 6th Airborne Division’s front saw little change. The Canadian Battalion continued to send out patrols, but only meager information about the enemy was obtained (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, Aug 6, 1944). Propaganda broadcasts by means of amplifiers were arranged by the Brigade HQs, to encourage deserters, from whom identifications of enemy units might be made. Polish deserters later stated that the Germans dismissed the general contents of these broadcasts as incorrect in view of a few inaccuracies which were contained in the remarks about their own positions and strengths. (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, Aug 44, Appx 3, Interrogation Report, Aug 15, 1944).
Daily exchanges of artillery and mortar fire took place, the German shells and bombs usually landing accurately upon the battalion positions. On Aug 15, enemy aircraft bombed the area to the South of the Canadian position. The tempo of the German artillery fire increased. Patrols probing into the Bois de Bures that night and the next day encountered no enemy. It looked as though the long period of static warfare were over. On the evening of Aug 16, the unit received orders to advance the next day.
(23) The forward move which all ranks of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been waiting for 10 weeks, and which in 10 days thereafter was to carry them 40 miles onwards to the mouth of the Seine River (30 miles as the crow flies) began early on the morning of Aug 17, as part of an operation that set in motion the whole line held by the 1st British Corps. On the right flank of the 1st Canadian Army, Falaise had fallen on Aug 16; the pivot of the enemy’s whole position in Normandy had been smashed, and a large part of his army was encircled and being destroyed, while the remainder retreated eastward.
As its share of the general Allied offensive, the 1st British Corps, whose boundary with the 2nd Canadian Corps ran approximately along the line northing 50, through St Pierre-sur-Dives, was directed to advance on Lisieux (WD, GSOps, HQ 1st Cdn Army, Appx 66, GS Memo, 16 August 1944).
The Eastward Advance – August 17 – August 26
(24) The corps front stretched from the mouth of the Orne River to St Pierre-sur-Dives and was held by the British 51st Division (Highlanders) and the 7th British Armoured Division (south), the British 49th Division (center) and the 6th Airborne Division (north). The 6th Airborne was practically in the same positions it had seized on D Day, from Sallenelles to the outskirts of Troarn. The Belgian Brigade Piron (Light Brigade) and the Royal Netherlands Brigade (Princess Irene) had come under command in the Amfreville – Breville area), while southwards along the ridge Le Plein – Bois de Bavent were stationed, in order, the 6th Air Landing Brigade, the 1st Special Service Brigade, the 3rd Parachute Battalion, the 4th Special Service Brigade. In reserve at Ranville was the 5th Parachute Brigade. (For a note on the Employment of the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade and the Belgian Light Piron Brigade as well as their organization, see the 1st Canadian Army Instr. N°9d. August 2, 1944. WD, GS, Ops HQ 1 Cdn Army August 1944, Appx 7).
In the plan for the Division’s advance, the 4th Special Service Brigade was to push form a firm base North of Toufferville; on the left flank, the 6th Air Landing Brigade was to push towards Cabourg, at the mouth of the Dives River; in the center, the 1st Special service Brigade was directed on Bavent – Varaville; while on the right the 3rd Parachute Brigade was ordered to seize and hold Bures (WD, 3 Para Bn, Aug 44, 3 Para Bde OO Exercise ‘Paddle’ Aug 9, 1944).
(25) The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was given initially a reserve role in Operation Paddle (the name given to the 3rd Parachute Brigade’s advance on Aug 17, 1944). This Operation commenced at 0300. While the 8th and the 9th Parachute Battalions completed the occupation of Bures by 0700, without encountering opposition, the Canadian Battalion took over a larger section of the brigade front, and at 0800, began a sweep through the Bois de Bavent (shown as Bois de Bures on the 1:25,000 sheets). The enemy, who for 10 weeks had held the wood so tenaciously, haw now withdrawn, but not without leaving behind AP mines and Booby Traps that delayed Baker Co in their advance and added 10 more casualties to the Canadians. Bridges across the Dives River at Bures had been demolished, but the late afternoon a passable route had been constructed by the 3rd Canadian Parachute Battalion’s Royal Engineer Sqn, and all the units of the brigade crossed before nightfall. By 2100, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion having advanced 3 miles along the railway running north-east from Bures, had made contact with the enemy at Plain Lugan and taken up positions for the night there. The 8th Parachute Battalion was at Goustranville, the 9th Parachute Battalion in reserve was, with the Brigade HQs, at St Richer.
(26) The lack of comparative-lightness of enemy resistance encountered by the 3-Para Brig on the first day, and in general during the whole period of the advance to the Seine River, underlines the instructions of the GOC, 6 A/B British Division, given to the Brigade prior to the commencement of the Operation Paddle, (advance if and when it is certain that the enemy was withdrawing) (ibid: Appx A2, Report on 3 Para Bde Operation Paddle).