Airborne operation prior to the landing
Sword Beach was the easternmost of the five landing beaches and the closest to Caen (15km), the focal point of all the region’s roads.
Sword Beach spread on 8km from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to the west to Ouistreham.
The D-Day assault on Sword Beach was assigned to the British 3rd Infantry Division.
It was scheduled for 7.25am in order to take advantage of the rising tide.
It was preceded by a massive airborne operation conducted by the British 6th Airborne Division under the command of General Richard Gale.
In the early hours of the D-Day the paratroopers were dropped on the eastern side of Sword Beach.
This zone included the two bridges spanning the Orne River and the Caen Canal (Pegasus and Horsa bridges), the Merville Battery and the area delineated by the Orne and Dives Rivers.
The 6th Airborne’s objective was to secure the area for the landing on Sword Beach.
They had four missions.
1- To capture, intact, the two bridges that would give the troops landed on Sword Beach an exit to move inland towards Caen.
2- To destroy the bridges over the Dives River in order to deny the Germans from an eastern invasion route.
3- To take control of the area delineated by the Orne and Dives Rivers in order to prevent an enemy counter attack.
4- Finally, to destroy the battery of Merville where the bulk of the Germans troops was stationed and threatened the Sword Beach sector.
By the morning the paratroopers of the British 6th Airborne Division had successfully fulfilled all their objectives and therefore secured the eastern area of the landing.
Naval and aerial bombardments preceded the landing.
Sword Beach’s landing sectors
Sword Beach was divided into four sectors code named from west to east:
Oboe from St-Aubin to Luc-sur-mer, Peter from Luc-sur-mer to Lion-sur-mer, Queen from Lion-sur-mer to La Brèche d’Hermanville and Roger from La Brèche d’Hermanville to Ouistreham.
The landing would focus on Queen-Roger, as the presence of shoals impaired access to the other beaches.
The assault on Sword Beach was assigned to the British 3rd Infantry Division placed under Major General Tom Rennie ( British 2nd Army commanded by General Miles Dempsey) and to French and British Commandos placed under the command of Lord Lovat, and supported by armour regiments.
The 3rd Division’s objective was to take control of the beach and Ouistreham and move inland in order to capture Caen and Carpiquet airfield.
The British Commandos of Lord Lovat had to breakthrough 5km inland towards the two bridges that span the Orne River and the Caen Canal.
They then had to link up with the 6th Airborne Division who had been dropped in that area in the early hours of the morning and had taken control of the bridges and destroyed the battery at Merville.
The Germans had indeed converted the casino into a stronghold with several bunkers connected by a network of trenches and protected by mine fields.
The coastal enemy defence along the Sword Beach sector was ‘relatively light’.
It consisted of beach obstacles and various bunkers scattered along the shore, plus a second line of defence in the dunes with machine guns and mortars.
They had installed anti-char ditches, mines and concrete walls in the coastal towns.
However, the infantry regiments and the 21st Panzer Division were stationed farther inland, ready for an eventual Allied attack.
The real threat was Merville Battery, situated 8km farther east, on the right bank of the river Orne, where the bulk of the German forces were positioned.
Landing on Sword Beach
The first aerial bombardment began around 3.30am.
The Royal Navy took over before the landing.
The first LCA‘s landed at 7:25 am.
Thirty-four amphibious tanks were put to sea some 4000m off the coast.
Twenty-eight tanks landed in order to support and protect the British engineers units (1st South Lancashire and 2nd East Yorkshire Yeomanry), who dug canals and opened a breach in order to reach Hermanville and Colleville.
N.B. Colleville is situated a few kilometres inland from Ouistreham and must not confused with Colleville-sur-Mer near Omaha Beach to the west.
The Germans had installed machine guns, mortars, bunkers, anti-tank lines and mine fields in the dunes.
However, they had protected but Hermanville Beach (sector Queen) with only two rows of obstacles supposed to rip the barges at high tide.
The British 3rd Division’s assault was supported by regiments of the British 79th Armoured Division under the command of Major General Percy Hobart.
Hobarts’s specialised tanks, the famous ‘Hobart’s Funnies‘, dismantled the beach obstacles.
The British troops therefore managed to take control of the sector relatively quickly and under moderate enemy fire.
By 8.00am they had reached the dunes.
Commander Kieffer and his French Commandos (Bérets Verts – Green Berets) attacked the casino of Ouistreham from the rear with grenades and anti tanks weapons.
They, however, failed in their attempt to neutralise the building’s two main defence, a bunker and a water tower.
Kieffer returned alone to the beach and persuaded the pilot of a Sherman tank to assist him and his men in knocking out the bunker and the water tower in order to open a breach that would allow them to enter the stronghold and seize it.
Outcome of the landing on Sword Beach
The French Commandos successfully reached their objective despite their high rate in casualties (21 killed and 93 wounded).
By 1.00pm the British Commando had linked up with the paratroopers of the 6th Airborne near the two bridges.
At 4.00pm the Germans attempted a counter-attack with the support of the 21st Panzer Division, which had moved towards the rear the beachhead in order to stop the Allied troops in their progression towards Caen.
Some Panzer units managed to reach the beach four hours later.
However, they were defeated by Allied tanks and aerial bombardment.
By the end of D-Day, the British had lost 630 men, but had successfully landed 29 000 troops on Sword Beach.
However, they had not been able to link up with the Canadians landed on Juno to the west, and Caen and Carpiquet airfield had not yet been captured.
The Allied troops would resume their progression towards Caen the following day, June 7.
However, the northern districts of the city would not be freed until June 9 and the southern until July 18 (Operation Atlantic).
Entirely destroyed by bombardment, the medieval town was nothing but a pile of rubble.
Gold Beach: Arromanches – Ver-sur-mer
Sword Beach: Ouistreham-Riva Bella
Rediscover all the landing beaches during the 75th Anniversary Commemorations
Department of Calvados – Ouistreham
Coordinates Kieffer Memorial: Lat 49.290261 – Long -0.262639