Gold Beach

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Gold Beach
Part of Normandy Landings
50th division.jpg
Commandos landing on Gold beach near La Rivière
Date 6 June 1944
Location Arromanches-les-Bains, Le Hamel and La Rivière in France
Result Allied victory.
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Douglas Alexander Graham Nazi Germany Wilhelm Richter
Nazi Germany Dietrich Kraiss
Units involved
50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
8th Armoured Brigade
No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando
716th Infantry Division
Casualties and losses
400 casualties Unknown

Gold, commonly known as Gold Beach, was the code name for one of the D-Day landing beaches that Allied forces used to invade German-occupied France on 6 June 1944, during World War II.

Gold lay in the area assigned to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division commanded by Major General Douglas Alexander Graham, and the 8th Armoured Brigade. These were part of XXX Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Gerard Bucknall, which in turn was part of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey's British 2nd Army. Gold had three main assault sectors – these were designated (from west to east): Item, Jig (split into sections Green and Red), and King (also in two sections named Green and Red). A fourth, named How, was not used as a landing area.[1]

The beach was to be assaulted by the 50th Division between Le Hamel and Ver sur Mer. Attached to them were elements of 79th (Armoured) Division. The 231st Infantry Brigade would come ashore on Jig Sector at Le Hamel/Asnelles and the 69th Brigade at King Sector in front of Ver sur Mer. No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando, attached to the 50th Division for the landing, was assigned to Item sector.

Background to invasion of Normandy[edit]

Allied invasion plans and German preparations for Normandy

In 1942 the Western Allies agreed to open a second front (the Western front) in Western Europe to take pressure off the beleaguered Red Army in the Soviet Union.[2] While Britain and the United States did not yet possess the resources to mount a full invasion, invasion plans that came to be known as Operation Sledgehammer were drawn up, in case the German position in Western Europe weakened or the USSR's situation became dire. In August 1942 Anglo-Canadian forces attempted an abortive landing—Operation Jubilee—at the French port of Dieppe; the landing was designed to test the feasibility of a cross-channel invasion. The attack was poorly planned and ended in disaster; 4,963 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured.[3] Following the Anglo-American victory against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in North Africa in May 1943, British, American and Canadian troops invaded Sicily in July 1943, followed by Italy in September.[4] By December the Allies' progress had slowed facing tenacious German resistance and the difficult geography of the Italian Peninsula.[5]

After gaining valuable experience in amphibious assaults and inland fighting, Allied planners returned to the plans to invade Northern France, now postponed to 1944.[6] Under the direction of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force) and Frederick Morgan, plans for the invasion of France coalesced as Operation Overlord. With an initial target date of 1 May 1944, the infantry attack was conceived as a joint assault by five divisions transported by landing craft,[7] constituting the largest amphibious operation in military history.[8] The attack was later scheduled for Monday, 5 June 1944,[9] and Normandy was selected for the landing sites, with a zone of operations extending from the Cotentin Peninsula to Caen.[8] There were originally seventeen sectors along the Normandy coastline with code names taken from one of the spelling alphabets of the time, from Able, west of Omaha, to Rodger on the east flank of the invasion area. Eight further sectors were added when the planned invasion was extended to include Utah on the Cotentin Peninsula. Sectors were further subdivided into beaches identified by the colours Green, Red and White.[10] Operation Overlord called for the British Second Army to assault between the River Orne and Port en Bessin, capture Caen, and form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen, to acquire airfields and protect the left flank of the United States First Army while it captured Cherbourg.[11] Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give Second Army a suitable staging area for a push south to capture the city of Falaise, which could then be used as a pivot for a swing left to advance on Argentan, the Touques River and then towards the River Seine.[12]

After delays due to both logistical difficulties and poor weather, the D-Day of Overlord, the largest amphibious operation ever, was postponed 24 hours to 6 June 1944. Eisenhower and Montgomery, commander of 21st Army Group, aimed to capture Caen within the first day, and liberate Paris within 90 days.[8]

Objectives[edit]

The primary D–Day objectives for the 50th Infantry Division were to establish a beachhead between Arromanches (crucial for the deployment of the artificial Mulberry harbour) and Ver-sur-Mer, then head south towards Route Nationale 13 (RN 13), reaching Bayeux and cutting the road to Caen.

The 231st and 69th Infantry Brigades were to be first ashore and establish a beachhead. The follow-up 56th and 151st Infantry Brigades would aim to push south-west towards RN 13 supported by the tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade. To the west, 47 Commando's mission was to capture Port-en-Bessin and link-up with American forces landing on Omaha.

50th Division was also tasked with meeting the Canadian troops coming ashore on Juno.

Order of battle[edit]

British forces - 50 Division Group[edit]

50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
Divisional Troops
Attached
Beach Parties

German forces[edit]

  • 716th Static Infantry Division - Generalmajor Wilhelm Richter
    • 726th Grenadier Regiment
    • 736th Grenadier Regiment
    • 716th Pioneer (Engineer) Battalion
    • 716th Anti-Tank Company
    • 1716th Artillery Regiment[13]

German defenses[edit]

Facing the British in the eastern area of the beach were elements of the German 716th Static Infantry Division (No. 4 company of East Battalion 441 and No. 7 Company of the 736th Infantry Regiment).

The central stretch of the beach was marshy and defended only by No. 3 Company of the 441st East Battalion, composed mainly of Russian conscripts. Crew-served weapons in this sector were mainly 50 mm guns in concrete emplacements and 75 mm guns inside pillboxes.

Facing the British in the western area of the beach were units of the 1st Battalion of the 916th Infantry Regiment of the 352nd Division. The units facing the eastern and western areas of the beach were concentrated in fortified beach houses along the coast at Le Hamel and La Rivière. The houses proved to be highly vulnerable to both naval and aerial bombardment.[15]

Several artillery batteries were to the rear at Mont-Fleury, Ryes, Marefontaine, Creully and Crepon, covering the beach.

An observation post for four 155 mm guns was positioned on the top of the cliffs at Longues-sur-Mer. These guns were located a further half mile (800 m) inland.

Kampfgruppe Meyer, the 352nd division's reserve based at Bayeux, had been in an ideal position to counterattack the landings early on June 6. However, the presence of paratroopers of the US 101st Airborne Division near the Vire estuary, led General Kraiss, the Commander of the 352nd division, to perceive this threat as more important and ordered the reserve to this location. This tactical error meant several hours were spent retracing the 30 or so kilometres back towards the real threat at Gold. The ability to counter-attack had been lost.

Initial assault[edit]

King Green and Jig beaches from the air during the 50th Division's landing

Prior to the landings, German defensive positions were attacked by medium and heavy bombers; the bombardment was continued by the 6 inch (15 cm) and 8 inch (20 cm) guns of the accompanying cruisers,[16](see 'Naval support' section below).

King Sector (La Rivière/Ver sur Mer)[edit]

H-Hour for the landing at Gold was set at 0725 hrs on King sector[16] (50 minutes later than in the American sector to allow for the difference in the west to east tidal surge). The British were aware that the beach was littered with defences – anti-tank obstacles and mines – which were to be dealt with by engineers in the first wave. However, due to a strong north-westerly wind, sea levels along the coast were higher than had been anticipated. This higher tide covered many of the mines and other obstacles. Those engineers that did reach the obstacles soon came under enemy fire which prevented them from being cleared.

A decision was taken not to launch the amphibious DD tanks from their landing craft tank (LCTs) but to run them directly onto the beach. The first wave, carried in LCAs, came in under heavy fire from the German defenders and suffered casualties. The 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment lost its Commanding Officer and Second-in-Command within minutes of landing. Following the Hampshires were the Commandos of the 4th Special Service Brigade. They too suffered badly during the run-in and only one of their allotted landing craft actually reached the shore.

The decision to land the tanks directly on to the beach proved correct as there was no German armour in the area. Once ashore the tanks provided close support to the infantry and most of the initial German resistance was quickly overcome. Many of the German strong points had been neutralised by the naval bombardment earlier in the morning; La Rivièra held out the longest, but by 1000 hrs it had been captured.[17]

Jig Sector (Le Hamel/Asnelles)[edit]

Men of the 6th Green Howards came ashore supported by DD tanks of the 4th/7th Dragoons and the special tanks of the Westminster Dragoons. In this sector the defense was weak and the coastal strong points were easily knocked out before the troops pushed inland to tackle the German artillery batteries.

The attack on Le Hamel was slow and British forces took a number of casualties. The intervention of the 147th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, enabled the strong point to be neutralized and the village fell at approximately 1600 hrs.

The 69th brigade then continued its southward advance though Creully and Crépon. At 1600 hrs a German counter-attack was launched but failed to break the British lines.[18]

Item Sector[edit]

No 47 (RM) Commando, the last commando unit to land, came ashore on Gold east of Le Hamel in Item sector. Their task was to immediately push inland, then turn right (west) and cross 10 miles (16 km) of enemy held territory in order to seize and hold the coastal harbor of Port-en-Bessin. This small port was significant as it was to be the only permanent harbor for supplies to be brought in including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore. After landing, 47 Commando moved south of Arromanches and pushed west to within a mile of Port-en-Bessin where they were halted just to the south of the Longues-sur-Mer battery. Here they dug in on ‘Hill 72’. Port-en-Bessin did not fall into British hands until June 8, following heavy fighting.

Beachhead[edit]

50th Division troops inspect a knocked-out German 50mm gun emplacement on Gold beach

Despite fierce opposition initially, British forces broke through the German defences with relatively few casualties. They also had the assistance of the 79th (Armoured) Division, equipped with Hobart's Funnies.[19] These vehicles, such as the Sherman flail tank, proved essential on D-Day. They cleared minefields, laid fascines (to bridge ditches) and trackway across soft sand to assist in exiting the beaches.

Naval support[edit]

Hundreds of vessels made up Force 'G'[20] that was to assault Gold. Amongst these were the British cruisers HMS Ajax, HMS Argonaut, HMS Emerald, HMS Orion, the battleship HMS Warspite and the Free French Navy cruiser Georges Leygues. Commodore Douglas-Pennant, Naval Commander of Force "G", aboard the headquarters ship HMS Bulolo commanded the landing on Gold Beach, but the ship forced to relocate after receiving incoming fire the German battery at Longues-sur-Mer, but she remained off the beaches directing the assault. On 27 June she returned to Portsmouth.

German defenses inland[edit]

Considerable opposition from inland enemy batteries and mortars hampered the landings, but by 1000 hrs, La Rivière was captured and a couple hours later, Le Hamel fell. The Royal Marine Commandos were able to reach within a mile (1.6 km) of Port-en-Bessin after finding that the Loungue-Sur-Mer battery had been put out of action by HMS Ajax.

Gold Beach timeline[edit]

07.25 – The 231st and 69th Assault Brigades hit the beach. DD (swimming) tanks and beach clearance groups, delayed by bad weather, are landed directly on to the beach.

07.45 – Troops make slow progress against raking fire, but three beach exits are cleared within the hour.

08.20 – Follow-up battalions and No. 47 Royal Marine Commando land.

09.30 – Les Roquettes is captured.

Infantry of the 50th Division moving forward near St Gabriel on 6 June

09.50 – Stiff resistance at Le Hamel. Commandos head for Port-en-Besin to link with American forces. CSM Stan Hollis, 6th Green Howards, performs acts of bravery at Crépon for which he is later awarded the Victoria Cross.

10.50 – Reserve brigades begin to land; seven beach exits have been secured.

16.00 – Le Hamel is finally captured. 231st Brigade moves on to Arromanches. 69th Brigade encounters resistance in Villers le Sec/Bazenville area.

20.30 – 56th and 151st Brigades reach the outskirts of Bayeux and the Caen-Bayeux road.

21.00 – Arromanches is captured.

23.59 – A large bridgehead has been established, six miles wide and deep, linking up with the Canadians at Juno. 47 Royal Marine Commando are ready to take Port-en-Bessin on the following day.

By midnight on June 6, the 50th Division had landed 25,000 men with approximately 400 casualties. They had penetrated 10 km (6.2 mi) inland and met up with the Canadians coming from Juno at Tierceville. The 56th, 69th and 151st Brigades had dug in on a line between Vaux-sur-Aure and Coulombs. During the evening, patrols of the 2nd Gloucestershires reach the outer suburbs of Bayeux. To the west, Arromanches is reached at 2000 hrs and cleared an hour later. The link-up with the American troops cannot be made.

Men of the 47th Royal Marine Commando, after a day-long progression into enemy territory, had dug in on Hill 72 south of the Longues-sur-Mer battery. Their objective, Port-en-Bessin, did not fall until June 8.

Aftermath[edit]

Following the landing Operation Perch was launched to drive further inland and later to attempt to capture Caen in the Battle for Caen. In the meantime, the Mulberry harbour that came to be known as 'Port Churchill' was constructed at Arromanches in Item sector.

Stanley Hollis VC[edit]

It was during the assault on the beach and clearing the Mount Fleury battery that CSM Stanley Hollis's actions enabled D Company to open the main beach exit. Later that day his bravery at Crepon saved the lives of several of his men and he was awarded the only Victoria Cross to be bestowed for actions on D-Day.[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Buckingham, William F. (2004). D-Day: The First 72 Hours. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7524-2842-0. 
  1. ^ Gold Beach — Battle Zone Normandy. Simon Trew. pp. 47–67
  2. ^ Wieviorka, p. 15
  3. ^ Granatstein, p. 11
  4. ^ Granatstein, pp. 13–14
  5. ^ Cawthorne, pp. 90–91
  6. ^ Zuehlke, p. 25
  7. ^ Granatstein, p. 17
  8. ^ a b c Granatstein, p. 18
  9. ^ Ellis, p. 140
  10. ^ Buckingham, p. 88
  11. ^ Ellis, p. 78
  12. ^ Ellis, p. 81
  13. ^ Axis History Factbook: 716. Infanterie-Division
  14. ^ Steven Zaloga, Ken Ford, Stephen Badsey, Overlord: The D-Day Landings, Osprey Publishing, 2009, p.63
  15. ^ The Battle of Normandy 1944. Robin Neilands. pp 65-74
  16. ^ a b Normandy Landing Beaches. Major & Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide. pp. 129
  17. ^ Gold Beach — Battle Zone Normandy. Simon Trew. pp. 58-66
  18. ^ Gold Beach — Battle Zone Normandy. Simon Trew. pp. 52-58
  19. ^ D-Day Dawn of Heroes. Nigel Cawthorne. pp 132
  20. ^ D-Day 1944 (4): Gold & Juno Beaches. Ken Ford. pp 29
  21. ^ Remembering D-Day: Personal Histories of Everyday Heroes Martin Bowman. pp 225

Gallery[edit]

Some pictures of modern day Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach).

Coordinates: 49°20′43″N 0°34′18″W / 49.34528°N 0.57167°W / 49.34528; -0.57167