The British Operational Picture
Although weather conditions were far from ideal for a sea-borne assault and had already necessitated a twenty-four hour postponement of D-day, the Supreme Commander decided to launch the operation on the night of 5/6 June 1944. What ever may have been the private thoughts as to the wisdom of this decision by those actually on the landing craft in the heavy swell that was running at the time, there is no doubt that the prevailing conditions led to the assault proving to be an even bigger surprise to the enemy than had been hoped. Resistance was fierce in many localities but was generally less formidable than had been anticipated.
During the night 6 Airborne Division made a successful landing with comparatively light casualties They seized the bridges at BENOUVILLE and RANVILLE intact and thereafter proceeded to establish and hold a limited bridge-head across the river ORNE.
At H-hour the assaulting divisions went ashore on the beaches with 50 Infantry Division on the right, 3 Canadian Division in the centre and 3 British Division on the left. Although the village of LE HAMEL was strongly defended and held out until 1700 hours, 50 Division quickly established a bridgehead and by nightfall had made contact with 3 Canadian Division on the left and were on the high ground EAST of BAYEUX, from VAUX-SUR-AURE T7884 to BRECY T8878.
Despite a considerable amount of mortar and shell fire on the beaches, 3 Canadian Division advanced inland in the centre sector to reach the line CREULLY T9080 BENNY-SUR-MER T9680. On the left 3 British Division captured OUISTREHAM, made contact with 6 Airborne Division on its left and established itself on the line PERRIERS-SUR-LE-DAN U0576-BENOUVILLE U0974.
On 7 June BAYEUX was captured and 30 Corps attempted to advance SOUTH on the axis TILLY-SUR-SEULLES/VILLERS BOCAGE. 7 Armoured Division actually outflanked TILLY-SUR-SEULLES and reached VILLERS BOCAGE but were compelled to withdraw again to the high ground North-West of the town. On the 1 Corps front the enemy had delivered several counter attacks both EAST and WEST of the ORNE without success. In fact EAST of the ORNE our positions were improved by the capture of BREVILLE U1374 on 13 June by 6 Airborne Division reinforced by 51 Division.
From 16 to 30 June operations were directed to the capture of CAEN so that a strong left flank could be provided for the bridgehead. On 19 June 30 Corps finally captured TILLY-SUR-SEULLES after very fierce fighting. Regrouping now took place and 8 Corps came into the centre between 30 and 1 Corps.
On 25 June 30 Corps attacked SOUTH across the road CAUMONT—CAEN and by 27 June after repeated counter attacks and a slight withdrawal had secured a firm hold on the RAURAY feature some three quarters of a mile NORTH of BRETTEVILLETTE T8864.
On the same day 15 Division under 8 Corps had secured a bridgehead over the River ODON NORTH of GAVRUS T9262, while the following day the high ground around Point 112 T9562 was captured by 11 Armoured Division.
On the left of the BRITISH front 51 Division improved the bridgehead over the ORNE by capturing SAINT HONORINE but any move by 3 British Division in the direction of CAEN met with the fiercest resistance.
It was planned that from now on Second Army was to continue to contain the main enemy force and even draw further enemy formations towards it, while the US forces made a wide sweep on the right against what was hoped would be weak opposition.
Second Army therefore had three main tasks:
• to contain the main enemy forces in their present area
• to capture CAEN as soon as possible
• to repulse all counter attacks with its own resources so that the AMERICAN sweep SOUTH and WEST could continue unhampered.
After an attack by 450 heavy bombers of Bomber Command on 7 July, CAEN was finally captured on 9 July. From 10 to 18 July only limited progress was made, but on 18 July a powerful thrust was launched EAST of CAEN preceded by an air bombardment from over two thousand heavy and medium bombers. At the start excellent progress was made by the armour, but after three days heavy fighting a strong anti-tank screen brought the advance to a halt. The CAEN suburbs EAST of the ORNE had been cleared and the advance had reached the general line SAINT MARTIN-DE-FONTENAY U0260—BOURGUEBUS U06—CAGNY U1164.
In order to oppose our attack the enemy had concentrated almost all his armour EAST of the ORNE and Second Army had achieved its object of containing the main enemy forces thus smoothing the way for the US advances.