Military history

Area Four

SWORD Beach Walk: 3rd Division on D-Day

HISTORICAL SECTION

The 3rd Division was an infantry formation that had fought in France in 1940. Then commanded by Bernard Montgomery, it had acquired the name ‘Monty’s Ironsides’ and while it had been heavily mauled in the retreat to Dunkirk, on arrival in the UK it was reformed. By 1943 it was in the Scottish Lowlands engaged in invasion training and by 1944 it was arguably the most highly trained Combined Operations formation outside of the Commandos. It was commanded in 1944 by Major General Thomas Gordon ‘Tom’ Rennie, a tough and experienced solider. An officer in the Black Watch, he was taken prisoner in 1940 but escaped and fought in North Africa, where he was wounded. After Sicily he went back to the UK where he was given command of the division, and proved a popular and respected commander.

Major General Tom Rennie, commander of 3rd Division.

The defences on SWORD Beach close to Ouistreham.

The sector allocated to the landings of 3rd Division on D-Day ran from Luc-sur-Mer in the west to an area just short of Ouistreham. Overall part of SWORD Beach, like all other D-Day beaches it was broken down into small sectors named Oboe, Peter and Queen. The division would employ an assault brigade – 8th Infantry Brigade – in the first wave with the 185th Brigade in support and 9th Brigade in reserve. Armoured support would be from tank units in the attached 27th Armoured Brigade and tasks on the beach would be assisted by the 5th Assault Regiment Royal Engineers, from 79th (Armoured) Division. The task of Rennie’s division was to effect a secure landing, push inland to ‘Poland’ (the code-name for Caen) and link up with the 6th (Airborne) Division at the vital bridges over the Orne. On the right Commandos from 41st Royal Marine Commando would land at Luc-sur-Mer and link up with the Canadians at JUNO, but there would be an empty ‘corridor’ between SWORD and JUNO and Rennie’s men would have to keep an eye on that flank as the advance moved inland.

The defences on SWORD Beach close to Lion-sur-Mer.

Approaching SWORD Beach on D-Day.

In the early hours of 6 June more than 250 ships of all sizes were assembled taking the 3rd Division and its supporting units towards the Normandy coast. It has been a rough crossing.

In mid-Channel the waves were between five and six feet high, and a force 5 wind (16 to 20 knots) was blowing from the west. Still there was no resistance from the enemy, and it was gradually becoming clear that we had achieved the tactical and strategic surprise that had seemed too much to hope for.1

While there was no sign of any immediate resistance, the area was defended by elements of the German 716th Division, a formation pre-D-Day intelligence had stated consisted of upwards of 40 per cent of non-Germans: Poles, Russians and other nationalities swept up in the Nazi domination of Europe. Compared to the well-trained, well-motivated and well-led 3rd Division they may have appeared second-rate troops but their defences were formidable,

The assaulting troops would first meet two groups of ramp type obstacles starting 300 yards down from the back of the beach. Then they would come to a double row of stakes running continuously across the beaches, 30 to 60 yards between stakes, 230 yards down from the back of the beach. The last of the underwater obstacles began 180 yards from the back of the beach and consisted of overlapping rows of ‘hedgehogs’ twenty feet apart and fourteen to seventeen in a row. Hedgehogs were constructed of angle-iron after the pattern of caltrop used in the Hundred Years War . . . and the possibility of mines below high water was anticipated.2

In addition, the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall protected the defenders with a series of concreted machine-gun nests, Tobruk pits and larger bunker complexes such as at a position on the beach at La Brèche, called WN-18; a huge bunker housing an anti-tank gun. Firm believers in defence in depth, the Germans also had major defence complexes just inland at locations known to the British as DAIMLER, HILLMAN and SOLE. All of these defences were scheduled to be neutralised or destroyed by the pre-D-Day bombardment and aerial strikes, and if not, taken by direct assault once the beach was cleared.

The initial landings took place at 0725 – H Hour here – on 6 June. The first troops to reach the beach were those to secure it allowing the main infantry assault to begin – the men of 13/18th Hussars. This unit was equipped with Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tanks which could swim ashore with a canopy to protect the tank and a motor to drive it in the sea. Launched at 5,000yd from the beach by driving out into the water from Landing Craft Tank (LCT), only a handful of tanks were lost in the water from the two squadrons leading the assault, but the weather conditions slowed them down and not all landed on time. The German defenders were already replying with anti-tank fire, and as the DD tank canopies dropped, the first shots were fired along this stretch of SWORD Beach. Close behind were the men from the Assault Squadrons of the Royal Engineers. To clear the minefields, Sherman Flail tanks from 22nd Dragoons were used and the 77th Assault Squadron equipped with Churchill Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tanks were to provide the other engineer support. The Petard mortars on the AVREs would be used to deal with strongpoints and blow holes in concrete obstacles, and a variety of kit from brushwood fascines, dropped bridges and ‘carpet’ from Bobin tanks would allow vehicles to exit the beach area. The landing for these men was far from easy and as in most places on SWORD Beach, it was clear the pre-D-Day bombardments had done little to the defences; the majority were intact and in use by the defenders. One gun opened up on a LCT bringing in equipment from the Assault Regiment headquarters causing an explosion onboard and killing the unit’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel A.D.B. Cocks.3

Men from 3rd Division pinned down on SWORD Beach.

Close on the heels of the first wave were the infantry. Touching down on the two beach sectors were the leading platoons from the 2nd East Yorks on Red Beach to the left and the 1st South Lancashires on White Beach to the right. The battle was only minutes old and here at La Brèche defenders from 10. Kompanie Grenadier-Regiment 736 commanded by Hauptmann Heinrich Kuhtz were putting up some stubborn resistance. As the infantry landed, as per the drills practised time and again in the preceding years, they came under withering fire. Well-sited machine guns and mortars had not yet been silenced and casualties in both battalions quickly mounted. The leading company commander on White Beach, Major John Frederick Harward, an Oxford graduate,4 was mortally wounded taking his men to the barbed wire on the beach. Hit by a burst of Spandau fire, he crawled in agony to the Bangalore torpedoes his men had placed under the wire to cut a land through it and lit them, collapsing in pain as the explosion ripped through the wire. Sadly, Harward died of his wounds the following day at Hermanville. In the confusion near Strongpoint COD, which was still firing on the beach, the commander of 1st South Lancs, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Burbury, was trying to organise his men when he was killed instantly by a sniper’s bullet. The only officer then present was Lieutenant Robert Bell-Walker who assumed command until he, too, was killed while assaulting a pillbox.

Tanks and men caught on the beach.

The price of victory.

On Red Beach it was equally chaotic. One officer, Major ‘Banger’ King, had inspired his men by reciting Shakespeare to them through a loud hailer but as the ramps went down the men came under terrific fire; survivors recall seeing many bodies floating in the water as their ramps went down. The commanding officer of 2nd East Yorks, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hutchinson, was in the thick of it, ‘The beaches were under very heavy fire and the assault companies suffered many casualties, but he rapidly collected his battalion and organised the mopping up of the remaining beach localities. During this period he was continuously under enemy artillery and mortar fire.5 Close by one of his officers, Lieutenant Arthur Oates, organised the breach of the wire defences.

This officer himself was wounded in the arm, but carried on with the assault. On reaching the wire obstacles at the top of the beaches it was found that the assault pioneer section were casualties and the Bangalore torpedo for clearing the wire was not available. This officer returned to the water edge and recovered the torpedo which he carried forward and exploded against the wire, enabling his platoon to cross over the beach. The platoon next attacked a defended locality which contained several pillboxes all of which this officer captured in every case personally leading the assault parties himself.6

Close by Private Arthur Wilson found that the Bangalore torpedo issued to him to cut the wire would not explode, so he, ‘forced his way through the wire obstacles and attacked a pillbox which he reached in spite of enemy fire. On reaching it he managed to throw in a grenade which silenced the enemy and his platoon were able to move away. This gallant action ... undoubtedly saved many lives.’7

All three men were decorated for bravery in this part of the battle: Lieutenant Colonel Hutchinson the Distinguished Service Order, Oates the Military Cross and Wilson with the Military Medal.

The tank support was proving crucial to the outcome of the battle on the beach. Major Derrick Wormald of 13/18th Hussars was a tank commander on D-Day who,

showed tremendous courage and leadership when commanding a squadron of swimming tanks . . . The full weight of the enemy fire was directed at these tanks who were leading the assault on the beaches in broad daylight. Many rocket projectiles were falling in the water in front of the tanks. Major Wormald led his squadron through the curtain of enemy fire and on through the mined beach obstacles when heavy seas were breaking on the beaches. He personally directed the fire fight and successfully silenced the enemy beach defences thus enabling the assault to proceed.8

Strongpoint COD from an assault craft.

For his gallantry he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order. Close support from these tanks had certainly helped tip the balance in the favour of the infantry when it was clear more of the defenders had survived than originally expected.

With the tide of battle going in favour of the men from the 3rd Division, the work that had been going on while all the shot and shell fell around the beach by the men of the Royal Engineers was coming to an end. Sappers from the demolition parties in 246th Field Company, who had landed 40 minutes into operations, had crawled their way to the edge of White Beach and became the first unit to complete an exit off the beach, finally finished with a bulldozer loaned by the 79th Armoured Division. Through this exit poured elements of both infantry assault battalions supported by the surviving tanks of 13/18th Hussars and Forward Observation Officers from two of the Field Regiment Royal Artillery units attached.

Strongpoint COD photographed by an officer of 79th (Armoured) Division.

Prisoners taken at strongpoint COD.

The hinterland was not hard to defend . . . Behind Red and White Beaches and the houses scattered all along the front lay a strip of marshland impassable to vehicles. This extended back some 500 yards and then gave way to an area covered with orchards, where the green cornfields were hedged and the hedges were buttressed by poplars and elms. These and the apple trees almost hid Hermanville, a straggling little village about a mile from the sea.9

With the beach secure, follow-up waves now arrive.

Troops from 3rd Division begin the move inland.

The same building today.

This was the next objective for the assaulting battalions. The 2nd East Yorks on the left began to moved inland beyond the urbanised area close to the beach and across the fields beyond towards Colleville. Here were a number of bunker complexes on the high ground between Colleville and Ouistreham. Of these, two were the objectives of the East Yorks: SOLE and DAIMLER. By this stage the reserve companies of the battalion had arrived and brought the battalion up in strength, and more units were arriving on the beachhead all the time. As the battalion moved off, they now had M7 Priests, self-propelled 105mm howitzers, from 76th Field Regiment and M18 Wolverines, self-propelled 17-pounder anti-tank guns, from 20th Anti-Tank Regiment to support their advance. The German complex WN-14, SOLE, was the first objective.

After emerging from the houses and beach defences and into the lane behind, there was a fair amount of stuff coming down. Two very large and very frightened cart horses came galloping down the lane. A Lance Corporal with a small party of men told them to get out of the way and take cover behind a low wall, as they might otherwise get hurt. To take cover to avoid getting hurt by shells and mortar bombs had never occurred to him!

Under enemy observation, mortared and shelled, the move across country to ‘Sole’, the first objective, was slow. The naval artillery Observation Officer could not be found when naval artillery fire against ‘Sole’ was wanted, but 76 Field Regiment shelled the place, and ‘C’ Company finally took it. ‘A’ Company had meanwhile been clearing the beach area, but arrived at ‘Sole’ in time to help in consolidating.10

SOLE had contained the headquarters unit of 1. Batallion Grenadier-Regiment 736, and as a command and control complex it did not have considerable defences and had proved straightforward to overrun, even without the naval gunfire support. Colonel Hutchinson, the battalion’s commander, had again been instrumental in the fighting.

After clearing the beach defences he led his battalion against two strongly defended localities which commanded the beaches from the high ground inland. The country was very enclosed and considerable opposition was experienced from these commanding positions. It was very difficult to get observations from which to make a recce of the positions and heavy mortar fire caused numerous casualties. Col Hutchinson, with complete disregard for his own safety, moved forward to where he could control the attack and was successful in capturing the first locality.11

The next objective, only a short distance away, was the gun battery at WN-12, otherwise known as DAIMLER. Intelligence reports showed this to be a 155mm gun battery that if not silenced would fire into the follow-up waves landing on SWORD Beach. Colonel Hutchinson now had a Bren Gun Carrier at his disposal as the battalion’s transport was gradually arriving, and with several other officers took it up to a sunken lane to recce the next position when they were seen and got hit by mortar fire. Hutchinson was wounded and evacuated, bringing his eventful day to a conclusion. By now it was well past midday, and the attack went in, well supported by the battalion’s 3in mortars, tanks from the Hussars, guns from 76th Field Regiment and a well-thought-out infantry assault.

Moving through the buildings on the coast road towards Hermanville.

With the aid of some tanks of the 13/18 Hussars and under cover of artillery fire from the 76 Field Regiment, ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies put in an attack on ‘DAIMLER’, which was quickly taken with little loss. Seventy of the enemy surrendered. Many German weapons were captured. In their dugouts, the Germans had been liberally supplied with wines and champagne. These the troops gladly ‘liberated’.12

While the fighting for these two complexes was taking place, the 1st South Lancs had moved inland towards Hermanville. Setting up their battalion headquarters near the church, radio communications was established and contact with all the battalion’s companies made. At this point, late morning on 6 June, the men were fighting their way through the streets of the village and dealing with small pockets of resistance and snipers. With the beach behind them clear the follow-up battalion of their brigade, 1st Suffolk Regiment, had landed at 0825. There was a handful of casualties on the beach, but as per the D-Day plans, the battalion moved inland to a wooded area close to Hermanville. Contact was made with the South Lancs, who confirmed that flank was secure, and Lieutenant Colonel J.G.M.B. Gough set about organising his men for the assault on the two bunker systems beyond. The first of these was WN-16, MORRIS, and beyond that was the more substantial WN-17, HILLMAN. MORRIS was bombarded by 6in guns from HMS Dragon before air support from 2nd Tactictal Air Force went in. An infantry assault was planned but just as the Forward Observation Officer for 76th Field Regiment was ranging in his guns on the site, the defenders put up a white flag and surrendered. That was the easy part; HILLMAN was much more formidable.

HILLMAN covered an area of 600 yards by 400 yards and consisted of deep concrete shelters and pillboxes and 3 cupolas and a complete system of connecting trenches about 7 feet deep. The armament consisted of two infantry guns, several machine guns with A.A. and ground roles. There was also normal riflemen of approx strength of one platoon and the Bn HQ of the unit guarding the beach defences. The position was surrounded by two belts of wire between which were anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. The whole position was very well equipped with modern instruments, telephones and every comfort possible in the circumstances. It was in fact very much stronger and better guarded and equipped than had been supposed prior to the operation. It was not known that there were any of the deep concrete shelters.

Captain Ryley went forward to make his recce at about 11.30 . . . while the company moved up through the village to its FUP [Forming Up Position] and in doing so it sustained a number of casualties . . . one section of No 9 Platoon was almost wiped out. After a short recce the plan was put into action.13

Protected by wire and covered by mines, once more the men of the Royal Engineers were called in to deal with the problem. An officer of ‘D’ Company crawled forward with Lieutenant Arthur Heal of the 246th Field Company Royal Engineers and four Sappers. Carrying a mine detector, white tape and wire cutters, they cleared and marked a path through the minefield and cut the wire, all the while supported by fire from the infantry. Heal later wrote,

I was ordered, in the nicest possible way . . . to clear a path through the perimeter minefield so that tanks could enter the locality. During training in Scotland I made sure that we could all recognise and disarm any mine we were likely to find. I was therefore disconcerted that I could not identify the first mine that I uncovered. It turned out to be an obsolete British Mk 11 anti-tank mine left behind at Dunkirk in 1940. However, lying flat on the ground, and with the help of covering fire and smoke from the tanks of the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the assault company this was achieved by the early evening. It was only much later that it was appreciated what a formidable obstacle HILLMAN had been.14

Finally, Heal’s party dragged some Bangalore torpedoes through the high grass, which had been covering the small party throughout the operation, and blew the final approach allowing the infantry to go in.

No 9 Platoon under command of Lieut J. Powell was the first platoon through the gap which was effected under cover of a squadron of 13/18th Hussars Sherman tanks, two batteries of RA and 2-inch mortar smoke from ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies. No 8 Section went through the gap and immediately came under heavy MG fire and Cpl Jones was killed while trying to get his section forward. The platoon commander now came forward and got the PIAT team forward and into action so as to be able to fire three shots at a cupola which was the cause of most of the trouble.

A message was sent back to the company commander that the platoon was pinned down. The platoon runner was killed in trying to get this message back and a second runner then had to be sent.

A further concentration of fire (HE and smoke) was put down and the rest of the company were then led in by the company commander. Once again MG fire held up the advance and only 4 men (Capt Ryley, Lieut Tooley, Lieut Powell and Cpl Stares) managed to get through and went forward for about 200 yards and took a few prisoners. As it was obviously impossible to continue this without further assistance Lieut Powell went back while the others remained until his return. He was only able to get one Sergeant (Sgt Lankester) and two men, and they again went forward and found that Lieut Tooley and Cpl Stares had both been badly wounded. Captain Ryley was killed very shortly afterwards when returning for assistance. The position was now a stalemate and a new plan on a battalion level had to be made.15

Another reason for making a new plan was that the Divisional Commander, Tom Rennie, was now ashore and had come up for a personal reconnaissance of what was taking place. Typical of Rennie, he arrived wearing a cap and no steel helmet, and informed the local commander that HILLMAN had to be captured before dark so the units of 8 Brigade could dig in on their D-Day objectives and be ready for any counter-attack; it was already being reported that German armour was coming down the gap between his division and the Canadians from the direction of Caen. Fresh tank support from A Squadron of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, equipped with Shermans, came up and mine-clearing tanks were requested.

It was decided to call up two Flails and about 8 or 9 extra tanks. The Flails were too long arriving and the attack went in immediately the artillery had fired again onto the position. The tanks moved into the perimeter followed by Nos 8 and 9 Platoons who moved out and mopped up the area by using No 75 and No 36 Grenades. One Platoon of D Company also moved in to assist while one Platoon of C Company acted as a left flank protection. A number of the Boche surrendered, others died in the emplacements and the success signal was given.16

This was around 2000 on 6 June, so the battle for HILLMAN had lasted for nearly 9 hours. However, events there weren’t quite over as the site came under sporadic shell and sniper fire, and on the morning of the 7th a group of more than seventy officers and men emerged from a hidden bunker that had been missed and finally surrendered. For 8 Brigade, with the East Yorks, Suffolks and South Lancs dug in along the slopes of the Périers Ridge, D-Day was over.

With the ground around the beachhead now secure, the next phase of the battle plan envisaged 185 Brigade moving further inland and taking the division’s main objective ‘Poland’ – Caen. The battalions from this brigade – 2nd Royal Warwicks, 1st Norfolks and 2nd King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) – had all landed between 1000 and 1100 as the fight for the bunker systems between MORRIS, HILLMAN, SOLE and DAIMLER were going on. The beaches were all under fire, and each of the battalions had lost men upon landing and as they moved inland to their forming up points. The Warwicks, in particular, suffered from machine-gun fire coming from the direction of Lion sur Mer. But by midday the next phase of the plan began and Brigadier K.P. Smith ordered the men to begin the advance on Caen supported by tanks from the Staffordshire Yeomanry, and AVREs from 79th (Armoured). Other supporting units, such as the artillery, were not available at that point as they either hadn’t cleared the beach or were engaged in the fighting for the bunker sites, although Forward Observers did accompany the brigade.

The HILLMAN complex under new owners.

Beyond the beachhead the ground rose to Périers Ridge, a long stretch of high ground that went from Plumetot in the west – where the gap between the divisions were – through Périers-le-Dan which gave a route towards Bénouville. Beyond that was a clear approach over open fields, and a clear view towards Caen itself. As they approached the ridge all three battalions had come under fire, often from different directions; the Norfolks, for example, had taken substantial casualties as they passed the on-going battle at HILLMAN. On the ridge itself mortar and shell fire came in. The latter was from a battery of Russian 122mm howitzers in a known gun position near Périers village, which should have been silenced in the pre-D-Day bombardment, but which like much of the defences had survived intact. At 1425 Lieutenant Colonel Maurice, commanding 2nd KSLI, sent his ‘Z’ Company, commanded by Major Wheelock, to deal with this battery. He was to discover it wasn’t just a few guns in a field, but a proper position protected by wire and mines.

Major Wheelock’s company managed to drive the German gunners from their emplacements but they went to ground and covered the wire with dense machine-gun fire. The Yeomanry Colonel directed a Regimental Shoot of 7th Field Regiment on to them, but several times the Germans got back to their guns and continued to shell the road until stopped again by the small-arms fire of Z Company. Eventually a Pole was captured who knew the way through the wire at the back of the battery. The gunners fled into the woods, harried for some hundreds of yards by the Company. The guns were then blown up.17

Wheelock was later awarded a Military Cross for his bravery here and Sergeant Rawling of the 2nd Middlesex machine-gunners, supporting the infantry, was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for taking over when his officer, Lieutenant Dixon, fell mortally wounded.

The advance continued towards Caen and the villages of Beuville and Biéville were taken. At Biéville the advance halted as a large tank force was seen advancing on the right flank towards the gap between 3rd Division and the Canadians. A Squadron of the Staffordshire Yeomanry had moved up, fresh from the battle at HILLMAN, and their B Squadron was in position at Périers-le-Dan. The 2nd KSLI support company had moved up their 6-pounder guns, now equipped with the new Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot ammunition, and close to Biéville a troop from the 41st Anti-Tank Regiment, equipped with M10 Wolverines, was also ready. Some accounts claim as many as forty German tanks were in the Battle Group, which comprised largely Mk IV tanks from Major Vierzig’s II. Bataillion Panzer-Regiment 100, part of 21. Panzer-Division. Leading tanks were hit by 2nd KSLI’s 6-pounders and the Shermans from the Staffordshire Yeomanry. The column moved further to the right, and then were hit by fire from the Anti-Tank Regiment, and other squadrons of Shermans. With a bloody nose, Major Vierzig called off the counter-attack and withdrew.

The 2nd Royal Warwicks continued to move on Caen. They had reached the road that ran along the Orne Canal towards the city and advanced on Blainville. Here they came under fire from 88mm guns and encountered substantial defenders. The Forward Observers’ tank was knocked out, which meant no artillery support and by midnight the battalion was on the outskirts of the village, only a few miles from Caen. Over to their right, just north of the woods at Lebisey, were 2nd KSLI. Both close to Caen, but for now it remained an objective for another day, and another battle.

Walk 4: 3rd Division’s Sector

STARTING POINT: Montgomery Statue, Colleville-Montgomery

GPS: 49°17′25.9″N, 0°16′56.8″W

DURATION: 17km/10.6 miles

Park your vehicle in a side street next to the Field Marshall Montgomery Memorial just off the Rue de la Mer where it meets the D514. Start at the Montgomery Memorial.

This memorial commemorates Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery who as commander of 21st Army Group landed on the beach at Colleville on 8 June 1944. Collville-sur-Orne, as it was originally known in 1944, was renamed Colleville-Montgomery in honour of the Field Marshall after the war.

The memorial to Field Marshal Montgomery at Colleville-Montgomery.

Memorial to the first burial ground. The graves are now in Hermanville War Cemetery.

From the memorial take the road to the right of it, now a dead end, and follow to the D514. Cross the road and stop at the entrance to Rue du 4eme Commando. There are two memorials here. The one on the left commemorates men of Commandant Kieffer’s French Commandos who formed up here before moving off along the lateral roads towards Ouistrehem (see the Commando Walk, page 62). The one on the right commemorates the first British cemetery made on European soil in 1944. The graves here were part of the first formal cemetery on French soil and were all of men from the 3rd Division, and some of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who died in the landings on SWORD Beach on 6 June. The graves were moved to Hermanville War Cemetery after the war and this memorial was on the site for the first anniversary of D-Day in 1945.

Continue along Rue du 4eme Commando to the Boulevard Maritime. Here turn left and cross the road onto the marked footpath (do not walk on the cycle lane). Here you are standing on the left flank of Queen Beach looking straight down the beachhead where the 2nd Bn East Yorkshire Regiment landed. Continue on the Boulevard Maritime and on the left is a large German bunker, now part of a house.

This is WN-18, a German strongpoint which housed a 75mm gun. It was protected by a huge concrete wall, still clearly visible, which substantially reduced the effect of direct fire from the sea and on D-Day it was only neutralised by tank fire at short range from the 13/18th Hussars. Its potential field of fire is clear. Opposite the bunker is a modern memorial to the landings which includes plaques commemorating the 1st Special Service Brigade and the men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment who landed here in the follow-up waves.

The buildings of Strongpoint COD today.

Continue along the footpath and along SWORD Beach to where there is a grassed area in front of the seaside housing. This was open ground in June 1944 and the defences of Strongpoint COD were here. COD consisted of a system of trenches, machine-gun positions, mortar pits, bunkers and 50mm guns that defended this stretch of the beach. Churchill AVREs and armoured bulldozers from the 79th Assault Squadron landed here, supported by tanks of the 13/18th Hussars and men from 2nd East Yorks landing on their right flank. The two period houses – the so-called ‘Twin Villas’ – which appeared on many wartime images are the only indication of where COD was located and can be seen set back from the beach on Rue de Rouen.

Again continue along the footpath, and the road soon becomes Promenade Henri Spriet. Where this meets Place du Cuirasse Courbet, stop. Look back in the direction you have just walked and you are now overlooking Peter Beach where the 1st South Lancashire Regiment landed at H Hour, and while assembling his men at this point their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Burbury, was killed by a sniper. The small square just off the beach is home to a large number of memorials, including a plaque to the South Lancs, and a large representation of the 3rd Division battle insignia on the pavement. Other plaques and memorials commemorate the 13/18th Hussars, East Yorkshire Regiment, 5th King’s Liverpool Regiment, who manned SWORD Beach from 6 June until the end of the campaign, Norwegian sailors who took part in Operation ‘Neptune’ and an older memorial to the Royal Artillery units of 3rd Division. Many of the buildings off this square date from the pre-Second World War period and appear on a number of the photographs taken on D-Day. There is also a lively café here, which makes a good stop before continuing with the walk. On certain days a small hut next to the beach is open and displays a panoramic photograph of SWORD Beach and a number of other relics of 1944.

From the Place, walk south towards the D514. Go straight across onto Rue du 6 Juin following signs for Hermanville. This is the route 1st South Lancs followed after the beach was secure, as the second phase of their D-Day objective was to move forward, take Hermanville and guard this flank while other units of 3rd Division continued with the advance. The streets of Hermanville in 1944, as they are today, were narrow and walking the route into the centre of the village gives a sense of what it was like clearing the area, and how the nature of Normandy buildings and the close terrain favoured the defender.

Continue past the church, and stop at the village war memorial in Grande Rue. This appears on wartime images showing men from 3rd Division marching past to continue with the battle towards Caen. Just beyond the memorial is the entrance to a chateau, now a building owned by the local council. This chateau was used by General Tom Rennie and the headquarters of 3rd Division from D-Day, once Hermanville had been cleared. Medical units of the division also established a Dressing Station here and the grounds of the chateau had graves of men who died of their wounds here, now re-buried at the nearby war cemetery.

Retrace your steps to the church, and opposite is a memorial to the Hermanville water well. This well, when tested, showed no signs of any water pollution and for the first few weeks of the campaign in Normandy was the principal source of water for the troops as they pushed inland. A staggering 1.5 million gallons of water were drawn from here. Over the years of visiting Normandy with veterans, many of them had read about the well and wanted to visit it, having once indirectly drank from it, and often owed their lives to it, all those years before.

The important well in Hermanville.

Hermanville War Memorial.

Just past the well turn right onto Rue du Cimetiere Anglais and follow to the entrance of Hermanville War Cemetery. Stop. The entrance has paved design similar to the 3rd Division badge. Enter the cemetery. It was once called ‘SWORD Beach Cemetery’ but the name was changed in the 1950s when the site was made permanent. The cemetery contains 903 burials, most of them men from 3rd Division who died in the fighting here on 6 June, and also some from the 1st Special Service Brigade who fell on SWORD Beach in the initial landings. Among the burials are Lieutenant Colonel Richard Percival Hawksley Burbury (I-A-18). Originally, he served with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, but he died commanding 1st South Lancashires on D-Day, although his headstone wrongly states that his date of death was on 7 June. Aged 38, he was an experienced soldier who had been twice mentioned in despatches. Close by is Lieutenant Charles Bell-Walker (I-M-14), from Bickley in Kent. He took over command of 1st South Lancs when Burbury and all the other officers were dead or wounded, and led them until he fell mortally wounded attacking a strongpoint.

Return to the entrance of the cemetery. Turn right onto a track and follow this until it reaches the D35, close to a water tower. It was close to here men from the 1st Suffolks assembled for the assault on Strongpoint MORRIS, located where the housing estate is ahead of you. MORRIS fell without a fight, but beyond it on the rising ground was the HILLMAN complex, a far more formidable defence work.

Turn left onto the D35 and then take the first right onto Rue du Stade. Then take the second right into Rue du Crespley. Follow this to the end and then turn right into an area where new houses have been built and in early 2011 were still being constructed. This was the area where Strongpoint MORRIS was located. MORRIS was a gun battery made up of four 105mm howitzers. Originally, these were on turntable gun mounts but in early 1944 efforts were made to place them in bunkers that had not been finished by D-Day. It was surrounded by two belts of barbed wire, along with anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Little of the battery is visible now, but the remaining turntable position and one of the 105mm bunkers have been incorporated into the housing estate, with the nearby road being named Impasse Morris in recognition of the importance of the site. The road layout is changing as the housing estate develops, but return to Rue du Crespley and then take Rue du Clos du Moulin onto the Rue du Caen (D60a). Go straight across to Rue Porte-Morin and then turn right onto Rue du Tour de Ville. Stay on this, and follow it left, where it joins Rue du Regiment du Suffolk. Here turn right and take the road uphill to the HILLMAN Bunker complex.

A gun turntable from Strongpoint MORRIS.

Artillery bunker from Strongpoint MORRIS.

The HILLMAN site is now locally owned and managed by the Friends of the Suffolk Regiment, a joint Anglo-French group. The site has gradually been improved, trench systems restored and bunkers cleaned and opened up. The site is always open but on certain days there are guided tours. Care should be taken when walking round the site as the trenches, gun pits and bunkers are not always easily visible. A good place to start is the observation cupola, which has excellent views back across the ground already walked and also onto SWORD Beach.

The observation cupola at HILLMAN.

The HILLMAN Bunker complex.

From HILLMAN go back downhill on Rue du Suffolk Regiment and take a minor track on the right called Rue des Petites Rues. Follow this until it meets the D35 and then go straight across, following the road to the church. Just past the church turn right onto Sentier de l’Eglise. Follow this out of Colleville-Montgomery onto Chemin des Pelerins. Follow this for just over a mile and take the second track on the left. The remains of WN-12 Strongpoint DAIMLER is here, captured on D-Day by the 2nd East Yorks. Manned by Artillery Regiment 1716, it was equipped with four 155mm howitzers in bunkers, and had Tobruks and 20mm flak positions. Like many of the howitzers used in other gun sites, the weapons were of First World War vintage and captured French Schnieders. The bunkers are still visible but parts of the strongpoint have been redeveloped and the site is largely on private ground and this needs to be respected.

From DAIMLER retrace your steps back to the outskirts of Colleville-Montgomery and turn right onto Rue du Bocage. At the end turn left onto the D35a and take the first right down a small cul-de-sac called Rue de la Fontaine. Follow this left then right, and on the right follow signs for a marked walking trail (part of a route called ‘sur les traces du 4eme commando’). Follow this through the countryside, past a wooded area and in the woods turn left and follow it to Collevillette, and then back to the Montgomery Memorial and your car.

Memorial to the 1st Suffolks.

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