The following description of events on Sword beach comes from Gareth Hughes’ 2019 guide to visiting the Normandy invasion beaches and landing grounds:
Sword beach“ was the most easterly landing beach on D-Day, stretching 8km from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. The beach was divided into four landing sectors, (running from west to east): ‘Oboe’, ‘Peter’, ‘Queen’ and ‘Roger’. Queen, a 2.9km section from Lion-sur-Mer to La Breche d’Hennanville, was selected as the designated landing zone With ‘White’ and ‘Red’ beaches being the primary targets for the landing craft.
I Corps was assigned the task and it would fall on Major General Tom Rennie’s 3rd Infantry Division to assault the beaches. The objectives were many and varied. 8th Infantry Brigade Group would be the first to land and after securing the beach, they were to relieve 6th Airborne at Bénouville Bridge. The 27th Armoured Brigade would support with tank units, many of which were ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ with their various specialized variations.
On the right of the landing, commandos from 41 Royal Marines Commando were to land at Luc-sur-Mer and link up with the Juno assault. No.4 Commando were to head east to Ouistreham whilst the 1st Special Service Brigade were also to get to Bénouville Bridge.
The landing at Sword had the most ambitious aim of all the landings on D-Day and was Montgomery’s grandest plan for the day: troops from 185th Infantry Brigade were set the objective of leapfrogging the 8th Brigade, once the landing was secure, and to take Caen, 12km inland from the coast.
H-Hour was 0725.
The 8th Brigade were originally planned to be the final assault formation to land on D-Day.
A naval bombardment preceded H-Hour and began at 0550. A huge smokescreen had also been laid down by Allied aircraft in order to disrupt Gennan surveillance out of Le Havre.
Crucially, DD tanks and other Landing Craft Tank carried ‘Funnies’ were on the beaches before the infantry and so were able both to draw fire from German guns and support the assault immediately. Twenty-one out of twenty-five armoured vehicles or tanks made it ashore.
The infantry arrived a couple of minutes after the designated H-Hour.
The German defences on Sword were reasonable, if not formidable. There were approximately twenty strongpoints across the whole of Sword, with strongpoint Cod facing directly on to the Queen sector. This was a system of trenches and bunkers with 50mm guns, mortars and machine guns.
Merville Battery could, of course, potentially dominate the sector whilst snipers and mortars were peppered close to the beach itself. The typical barbed wire defences and mined sections of the Atlantic Wall were scattered across Sword too.
La Breche translates as ‘the breach’ and is so named for a geographical feature, a dip at this section of the beach that leads inland to Hermanville. Major C. K. ‘Banger’ King, A Company Commander of the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment, could not turn down the opportunity of reciting to the men on his landing craft the lines ‘Once more unto the breach!’ from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The initial landings went well, with nearly all the tanks making it ashore and the leading elements of 8th Brigade hitting the designated areas.“ Initial German resistance was strong.
This should come as no surprise: it is important to remember that the American assaults had begun an hour earlier; thus German troops were, if not certain of an attack, on extremely high alert. However, shortly before 1030hrs the main resistance was subdued and obstacles were being cleared.
No.4 Commando, accompanied by elements of the Free French forces, were able to move on to Ouistreham whilst Lord Lovat’s Special Brigade Service were heading for Bénouville.
As the day wore on, the major difculty facing Sword was the rising tide. By noon the narrow beach strip measured only nine metres from seafront to water. Therefore, major delays and congestion dogged the follow-up landings throughout D-Day: an issue made worse by the fact that there was only really one suitable exit road from the beach.
Anyone visiting the Normandy invasion area today will have to consider carefully what they want to include in their itinerary. There is an ever growing number of sites and memorials that could be visited, and an ever growing library of guide books that could be used to assist a visitor. Yet most people will not want to try to include everything in any visit of a few days, rushing from site to site will not be much fun. Getting the most out of a trip also means having a reasonable understanding of the events that unfolded at the different locations.
Visiting the Normandy Invasion Beaches and Battlefields: A Helpful Guide Book for Groups and Individuals offers a pragmatic approach based on the experience of author, who has led many tours of the area. The aim has been to provide a “helpful guide book” for potential visitors planning a trip to Normandy. It will be especially useful for people who may be leading a tour of the area, whether a group of friends or a more organised event such as a school trip. This guides’ strength is the background material that it provides, which is comprehensive without being overwhelming. Ideally this could be read in advance of making the trip and then used to provide background ‘talks’ to your group at the different locations. Even if you have read widely about the battles in Normandy this will be a very useful aide memoire of the salient points that will explain the scene to fellow visitors.
There is a wealth of information here and it will undoubtedly assist any visitor in getting the most out of their trip. Two days of tours are proposed – the U.S. beaches and the British and Canadian beaches and there are suggestions for the length of time you might spend at each location. It would be very easy to adapt the author’s plan to your own particular preferences. I look forward to using it next time I am in Normandy.