|Part of Normandy Landings|
Commandos landing on Gold beach near La Rivière
|United Kingdom||Nazi Germany|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Douglas Graham|| Wilhelm Richter
|50th (Northumbrian) Division
8th Armoured Brigade
No. 47 Commando
|716th Infantry Division|
|Casualties and losses|
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.
The beach was to be assaulted by the 50th Division between Le Hamel and Ver sur Mer. Attached to them were elements of the 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.
- 1 Background
- 2 Order of battle
- 3 Landings
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Stanley Hollis VC
- 6 Gallery
- 7 Citations
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for the creation of a second front in Western Europe. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion of continental Europe within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference, held in Washington in May 1943. The Allies initially planned to launch the invasion on May 1, 1944, and a draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion.
On December 31, 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions and two-thirds of an airborne division. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three divisions, to allow operations on a wider front. The change doubled the frontage of the invasion from 25 miles (40 km) to 50 miles (80 km). This would allow for quicker offloading of men and materiel, make it more difficult for the Germans to respond, and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg. The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft and troop carrier aircraft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.
The Americans, assigned to land at Utah and Omaha Beach, were to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword and Gold Beaches, and the Canadians at Juno Beach, were to capture Caen and form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen in order to protect the American flank, while establishing airfields near Caen. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would provide a suitable staging area for a push south to capture the town of Falaise. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory captured north of the Avranches-Falaise line during the first three weeks. The Allied armies would then swing left to advance towards the River Seine. Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, ending when all the forces reached the Seine.
The Gold Beach landings were assigned to British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division commanded by Major General D.A.H. Graham. The amphibious landing was to be preceded by extensive air bombardment as well as naval bombardment by Bombarding Force K, a task force of eighteen ships, primarily cruisers and destroyers.
Gold Beach was delineated by Port-en-Bessin on the west and La Rivière on the east, and included Arromanches, location of one of the artificial Mulberry harbours that were to be constructed shortly after the invasion. High cliffs at the western end of the zone meant that the landings would be undertaken on the flat beach between Le Hamel and La Rivière, in the sectors code-named Jig and King. Amphibious tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade were to arrive at 07:20, followed by infantry at 07:25. The 231st Brigade was assigned to land at Jig, and 69th Brigade at King. The 231st was to head west to capture Arromanches and establish contact with the American forces at Omaha, while the 69th was to move east and link up with the Canadian forces at Juno. The 47th Royal Marine Commando was assigned to land at Gold, infiltrate inland, and capture the small port at Port-en-Bessin from the landward side.
Arriving in the second wave on Jig, 56th Infantry Brigade was to capture Bayeux and a nearby ridge, thus cutting the N13 highway between Caen and Bayeux to make it difficult for the Germans to move in reinforcements. The second wave on King, 151st Infantry Brigade, was tasked with capturing the Caen road and railway, along with setting up positions on high ground between the Aure and Seulles rivers. Other forces involved in the landing included artillery regiments, signals corps, and engineering units. The total divisional strength was over 18,000 men.
In late 1943, Hitler placed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in charge of improving the coastal defences along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion, expected to take place sometime in 1944. Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In the immediate area of the Gold landings between Le Hamel and La Rivière were built seven defensive strongpoints designed to hold 50 men apiece. Two major concrete-reinforced coastal artillery emplacements (a battery of four 122 mm guns at Mont Fleury and the Longues-sur-Mer battery, with four 150 mm guns) were only partially completed by D-Day. Rommel ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beach to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks. Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high tide mark. Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.
Hitler gave Rommel command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. Reserves for this group included the 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer divisions. Recognizing that Allied air superiority would make it difficult if not impossible to move reserves into position once the invasion was underway, Rommel decided to concentrate the defences along the coast. The 716th Infantry Division, which had been stationed in the area since March 1942, was significantly understrength, with only 6,000 men. This unit received reinforcements, and some of the older men were replaced by younger soldiers. It was also supplemented by several battalions of Osttruppen (eastern soldiers), conscripted Soviet prisoners of war. The 352nd Infantry Division, a full-strength unit of around 12,000, was brought into the area by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments. About 2,000 men were stationed in the immediate area of Gold Beach.
Order of battle
- 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
- 69th Infantry Brigade
- 151st Infantry Brigade
- (6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry; 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry; 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry)
- 231st Infantry Brigade
- Divisional Troops
- 61st Reconnaissance Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps
- 2nd Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (Machine Gun)
- 233rd, 501st and 505th Field Companies, R.E.
- 235th Field Park Company, R.E.
- 74th, 90th and 124th Field Regiments R.A.
- 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Northumberland Hussars R.A.
- 25th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment R.A.
- 56th Infantry Brigade
- 8th Armoured Brigade
- 86th and 174th Field Regiments R.A. detached from Corps Troops (self-propelled guns)
- No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando
- 2 squadrons from 6th Assault Regiment, R.E.
- 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment
- 89th, 90th Field Companies, R.E.
- GHQ Liaison Regiment
- No.9 Beach Group, King sector (containing the 2nd Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment)
- No.10 Beach Group, Jig sector (containing the 6th Battalion, Border Regiment)
- In reserve No.36 Beach Brick (containing the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry)
Allied forces at Gold and Juno faced the following elements of the 352nd Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, a full-strength unit of around 12,000 brought in by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments.
- 914th Grenadier Regiment
- 915th Grenadier Regiment
- 916th Grenadier Regiment
- 352nd Artillery Regiment
- 100th Panzer Regiment
- 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment
- 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiment
- 155th Panzer Artillery Regiment
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. H-Hour for the landing at Gold (La Rivière/Ver sur Mer) was set at 07:25 hrs on King sector (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. 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, who also 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.
Men of the 6th Green Howards came ashore at Le Hamel/Asnelles, supported by DD tanks of the 4th/7th Dragoons and the special tanks of the Westminster Dragoons. In this sector, the defence 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, R.A., 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.
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 landed, including fuel by underwater pipe from tankers moored offshore. After landing, 47 (RM) 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, after a long battle.
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. These vehicles, such as the Sherman flail tank and Churchill AVRE, proved essential on D-Day. They cleared minefields, laid fascines (to bridge ditches) and track-way across soft sand to assist in exiting the beaches.
Hundreds of vessels made up Force 'G' 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. However, his ship was 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 defences inland
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.
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.
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 6 June, 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 8 June.
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
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.
Some pictures of modern day Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach).
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