The lightly equipped formations of the 6th Airborne which had very little armor at its disposal (para #46), were not intended to drive against heavily armed enemy forces nor to storm strongly held positions. Their part in the general eastward advance now beginning was rather to keep contact with a retreating army, driving his rearguards back, and mopping up isolated pockets of resistance as these were encountered.
(27) Further progress of the 3rd Parachute Brigade was halted by the enemy’s destruction of the bridge across the St Samsom – Dives-sur-Mer canal. This canal parallels the Dives River in a general northeasterly direction, swinging north to cut across the Troarn – Dozulé road 1000 yards east of Goustranville. But the map showed 4 bridges crossing the canal at 400 yards intervals, the northernmost one carrying the railway line from Troarn just west of its junction with the mainline running south from Dives-sur-Mer.
The 1st Canadian Parachute was ordered to seize the four bridge positions, and to ascertain whether any were passable to infantry and vehicles.
(28) Hour zero was set at 2145, Aug 18. At 2030, the unit left Plain Lugan to form up at the crossroads west of Gourstranville. The attack went in on schedule, and by 2220, Charlie Co had seized the railway bridge. The southernmost bridge was taken by Able Co, who named it Canada Bridge. By 2350, all bridges were in hands of the Canadians, who continued to hold them through the night.
150 prisoners of war were taken, and the Brigade report on the operation refers to: the Canadian battalion as having successfully liquidated two enemy companies in well-fortified positions. (ibid: Appx. A2, Report on 3 Para Bde Operation Paddle II). Considering the nature of the task casualties were surprisingly light.
(29) The railway bridge partially demolished, was found to be passable to infantry. Shortly after midnight, the 9th Parachute battalion crossed, in four feet of water, and by 0245, had seized the railway line and routed the balance of the enemy battalion. Heavy German shelling and mortaring came from dominating high ground further east, but in the course of the morning, the 5th Parachute Brigade went through, crossing by the Canada Bridge to the south followed by the 1st and the 4th Special Service Brigades.
That night, the GOC, 6th Airborne Division congratulated the units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade on their exploits during Operation Paddle and Operation Paddle II. The Brigade had indeed made a good showing.
In the first 3 days of its advance, it had successfully driven the enemy rearguards from the ‘island’ enclosed by the Dives River and the Canal, and it had overcome difficult obstacles with a loss to the German of an entire unit, the 744.Grenadier-Regiment (711.Infantry-Division).
(30) While the 1st and the 4th Special Service Brigades pushed forward to clear the Dozulé area of the enemy, units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade remained for 2 days in the Goustranville area, the Canadians holding their defensive positions at the 4 captured bridges. Enemy shelling on both days (Aug 19-20) caused a few casualties, and enemy aircraft dropped some bombs on the first night, without however causing damage. On the morning of Aug 21, the Brigade started to move forward on foot towards Annebault, passing through the 2 Special Service Brigades at Dozulé.
Their role as infantry must have been unpleasantly driven home to the parachute troops as they proceeded through pouring rain along a road that was being shelled heavily. No contact was made with the retreating enemy until the evening. While the Brigade administrative area was established at Le Bourg at 1800, the 8th Parachute Battalion pushed forward to capture Annebault and the 1st Parachute battalion swung north to engage a resistance point on high ground at La Vallée Tantot. The Canadians encountered 81-MM Mortar fire and SP guns, and, unable to make further progress, dug in for the night. By morning, the enemy had retreated, and the Battalion returned to the main road at Annebault, rejoining the other brigade units half-a-mile west of la Haie Tondue at 1000 (Aug 22).
(31) It was now the 3rd Parachute Brigade’s turn to halt while the 5th Parachute Brigade pushed through to Pont-L’Evêque. For 48 hours, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion rested, while all personnel took advantage of the respite to do their washing and generally prepare themselves for further action.
On Aug 23, Gen K. Stuart, Chief of Staff, visited the unit, and Col Bradbrooke relinquished command to take a staff appointment (GSO I, (Air) 38th Group RAF). For the short period, Maj G.F. Eadie acted as Commanding Officer and on Sept 8, Col J.A. Nicklin assumed command.
(32) On Aug 24, the 1st CA sent the following warning order to the 1st British Corps: S.D. 45, Warning Order. The 6-A/B will prepare to move into the British 21st Army Group afternoon on Aug 30. Further instructions follow to a later date. All information. (WD, GS, SD, 1st Canadian Army, Aug 44, Appx 275). The message is significant in pointing to the approaching end of the 6-A/B’s role in the 1st Canadian Army’s rapid move drive eastwards across Normandy. The Army’s main axis of advance was swinging more and more sharply towards the north, as the 1st US Army came up from the south, moving in upon the enemy’s last precarious foothold on the left bank of the Seine River at Elbeuf. As the narrowing front moved forward, the 6th Airborne Division’s sector on the left flank of the 1st British Corps, and therefore on the extreme left of the entire 21st Army Group, had developed into a diminishing triangle whose forward apex ran into the sea at the mouth of the Seine River. It seemed that only a few more days would be required for the airborne unit to complete their task.
(33) While the units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade rested between Annebault and La Haie Tondue, other formations of the 6th Airborne Division had forced their way across the Touques River in 2 places. The 5th Parachute Brigade, after overcoming stiff opposition at Pont-L’Evêque, was on the morning of Aug 24 well along the road to St Benoît-D’Hébertot, while the 6th Air Landing Brigade, which since Aug 17 had been making its way steadily along the coastal flank, followed closely by the Belgian Piron Brigade, was now over the river and into Bonneville-sur-Touques. It was time for further leap-frogging.
(34) At 1000, Aug 22, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion took the road again, as the 3rd Parachute Brigade swung north to make a wide sweep around Pont-L’Evêque and follow the 6th Air Kanding Brigade across the Touques River at Bonneville-sur-Touques. For the first 5 miles, the unit had a welcome that relied upon marching as lorries carried them as far as Vauville. Then the Canadians marched eastward in the rain to St Gatien. There was an hour’s halt at Tourgeville for the mid-day meal, and a further delay at Touques where the Canadians Battalion had to cross the river by ferry, but the day’s objective was reached at 1830. The only enemy opposition encountered during the day was at the outskirts of St Gatien, when a German SP gun fired 8 rounds, without however inflicting any casualties.
The battalion spent the night in the town, having advanced 14 miles that day. On the morning of Aug 25, they were on the road again by 0800 and 2 hours later, after passing through St Benoît-D’Hébertot, had reached La Moderie on the outskirts of Beuzeville, where they halted.
(35) A strong enemy position in Beuzeville was holding up the Brigade’s advance. The 8th Parachute Battalion attacked the south side of the town, while the 9th Parachute Battalion moved in from the north-west. Both battalions were successful in dislodging the enemy by late afternoon. At 1900, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was called on to move forward and to push on to Mon Maugher. Skirting Beuzeville on the west side the Canadians, now off the main road, traveled by track and footpath through the woods and across open fields. By 2300, they had got no further than, a point still 4 miles from Mon Maugher. Here, they stopped for 4 hours, at first light pushing on again to their destination, which they reached at 0740. Companies took up defensive positions, but no enemy was seen. Nor were any more enemy elements encountered by the Canadians during the remainder of their stay in France.
(36) Nightfall of Aug 26 found the units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade resting in the Beuzeville area. The remaining formations of the 6th Airborne Division, the 5th Parachute Brigade; the Royal Netherlands Group (Princess Irene); the 4th Special service Brigade; the 1st Special Service Brigade, the 1st Belgian Group (Brigade Piron) and the 6th Air Landing Brigade were grouped in that order along the left bank of the Risle River from Pont-Audemer to its junction with the Seine River at Berville-sur-Mer (WD, SD, 1st Cdn Army, Aug 44, Appx 324, Location Statement). On the Division’s right, brigades of the 49th British Infantry Division were closed in around Pont-Audemer, ready to take over or pass through the positions of the airborne formations. On Aug 28, orders were given to the 6th Airborne Division to move into the 21st Army Group Reserve. Les the 1st and the 4th Special Services brigades, it was done on the afternoon of Aug 30.
(37) It was no mean feat that the units of the 6th Airborne Division had accomplished since the beginning of their campaign in the early hours of D Day. In all phases of the operation – the initial assault, when in spite of dispersal they had speedily gained all their objectives; the long and trying period of holding the area between the Orne and the Dives Rivers in the face of frequent and determined attacks by a more heavily armed opponent; and the final rapid advance to the Risle River, during which a very inadequate scale of transport had failed to keep them from maintaining contact with the retreating enemy – in all these phases they had borne themselves well.
(38) For a week, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion rested at Mon Maugher. Personnel was allowed to visit Beuzeville, 25% of the unit strength at a time. On Sep 4, TCVs carried the battalion to Concentration Area N°60 near Arromanches, and embarkation took place 2 days later. By late afternoon, Sep 7, all the troopers were back at Bulford, in the barracks they had left 3 months before. From Sep 12 to Sep 24, the entire battalion was on leave. On its return, general training became the order of the day, a role that was to continue for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion until a Christmas Day embarkation at Folkestone marked the beginning of another chapter in the unit’s history.
Casualties and Decorations
(39) The casualties tool exacted for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during its stay in France was heavy but not much heavier than had been anticipated. The War Office forecast of invasion activity for the 6th British Airborne Division had estimated that wastage for the 1st month would be at a double intense rate, i.e., 50% of the War Establishment for officers and 40% for the other ranks. (CMHQ file 1/Para/ Tps/1: Col J.G.K Strahy to DAG, CMHQ, May 15 44). As was to be excepted, the number of casualties sustained during the early days of the operation far exceeded losses for the remaining time that the unit was in France. During the first 12 days of fighting, up to the time of the battalion’s first removal from the line, officer casualties amounted to 59% of War Establishment, the other ranks 39% (WE strength was 31 officers and 587 other ranks). Subsequent losses were on a considerably lower scale.
(40) The following table, compiled from Records Officer Casualty Reports, shows casualties suffered by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion for 3 significant periods of the total operation. The Prisoner of War losses in the first period was all sustained on D Day.
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Casualties
Jun 6, 1944 – Sep 6, 1944 KIA, Officers 5, Other ranks 43. WIA, Officers 10, Other ranks 103. MIA, Officer 0, Other ranks 3. POW, Officers 3, Other ranks 82. Total casualties, Officers 18, Other ranks 231.
Jun 18, 1944 – Jul 4, 1944 KIA, Officer 0, Other ranks 13. WIA, Officers 4, Other ranks 32. MIA, Officer 0, Other ranks 0. POW, Officers 0, Other ranks 0. Total casualties, Officers 4, Other ranks 45.
Jul 5, 1944 – Sep 6, 1944 KIA, Officers 0, Other ranks 10. WIA, Officers 2, Other ranks 49. MIA, Officer 0, Other ranks 7. POW, Officers 0, Other ranks 1. Total casualties, Officers 2, Other ranks 67.
KIA, Officers 5, Other ranks 66. WIA, Officers 16, Other ranks 184. MIA, Officer 0, Other ranks 10. POW, Officers 3, Other ranks 83. Total casualties, Officers 34, Other ranks 343.
(41) The deficiencies in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion’s strength caused by these casualties were successfully met from unit reinforcements for the first 3 weeks of fighting. But during July, the source of supply dwindled, and the difficulty of obtaining replacements is reflected in the battalion’s diminishing strength returns. On Aug 5, the unit’s strength reached its lowest figure of the campaign, 17 officers and 315 other ranks. There was a little improvement during the month, and when the battalion returned to England at the beginning of September there was a strength deficiency of 5 officers and 242 other ranks (CMHQ, File 24/AEF/1/5, AG Stats Letter, May 5, 1945).
(42) 60 different officers and men of the 6th Airborne Division decorated in the field by FM Bernard Montgomery shortly after D Day,5 were members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Capt J.P. Hanson (Military Cross); Capt P.R. Griffin (Military Cross); Sgt G.H Morgan (D.136859)(Military Medal); Cpl Wm. Noval (B.146477)(Military Medal); LCpl R.A. Geddes (B.101038)(Military Medal). The Military Medal was also won but awarded posthumously by Sgt J.A. Lacasse (B.3047) (Died of Wounds); Pvt W.B. Ducker (F.25504) (Died of Wounds) and Sgt W.P. Minard (Status Unknown).
(43) These awards were earned in two actions. Charlie Co attack on the enemy position at Varaville on D Day and the assault by Baker Co east of Le Mesnil crossroads on June 8. In the Varaville engagement, Capt Hanson (2 I/C Charlie Co), took command of the company when its commander, Maj H.M. McLeod was killed. Although he was himself wounded, he successfully led the action that resulted in the taking of the German bunker and the enemy Headquarters, inflicting many casualties and taking 40 prisoners. Pvt Ducker, a medical orderly attached to Charlie Co under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire gave medical assistance to the Company Commander and 3 others fatally injured when a German 75-MM shell detonated the Canadian PIAT ammunition dump, caring for them until certain that they were beyond aid (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 6 44). In the same action; Sgt Minard displayed exceptional qualities of leadership and initiative in commanding his platoon when its officer was killed. On Jun 13, he again distinguished himself when he exercised a steadying influence on his platoon during the relief by his company of part of 5 Black Watch, who were being strongly attacked at the Château South of Breville.
(44) On the morning of June 8, after his company’s return from Robehomme, Capt Griffin led one and a half platoon of Baker Co to assault a group of strongly held buildings in the Bois de Bavent, east of the crossroads at Le Mesnil. The enemy was driven out with heavy casualties, and a counter-attack with superior forces was successfully held off. Sgt Lacasse and Sgt Morgan won their decorations at the same time. The former though twice wounded, led his section across an open field swept by fire, to knock out an enemy LMG position; the latter displayed skill, initiative, and complete disregard of his own personal safety as he conducted his platoon’s successful assault upon the occupied buildings. In the same action, Cpl Noval and LCpl Geddes (at this time both being private soldiers), operating as a Bren gun and sniper team to give covering fire, accounted between then for less than 25 Germans (CMHQ File 21/Gen/8, Citations, France).
(45) Two major awards were won by personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during the operation at Goustranville on Aug 18, 1944 (para #28). Capt J.A. Clancy was awarded the Military Cross, the citation noting his behavior on that day as but one example of ‘his devotion to duty and outstanding gallantry’ throughout the entire campaign in Normandy. As acting as 2 I/C of Able Co, he led a platoon in the assault against the southern bridge. By the momentum of his attack in the face of strong machine-gun fire the bridge, which was vital to this Brigade, was captured before the enemy could destroy it. In the same engagement Sgt G.W. Green (B.62282), an acting platoon commander in Able Co, reorganized his platoon when it suffered heavy casualties and led his men in 2 attacks that resulted in the killing and capture of more than 25 Germans. Although severely wounded, Sgt Green continued to control his platoon until he was able to hand over to his Company Commander. For this action, and for the inspiration to his men through the campaign up to that time, he was awarded the Military Medal.
C.P. Stacey, Colonel
Canadian Military Headquarters
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