1st Canadian Parachute Battalion – June 6 1944 – September 6 1944

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Amendment to Report #139
Historical Section – Canadian Military Headquarters

(1) The following amendment, dealing with the casualties suffered by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion on June 6 1944 should be read in conjunction with the paragraph #40 of this report. (2) This breakdown of casualty figures has been compiled by the Officer in charge of War Diaries, Historical Section, Canadian Military Headquarters (CMHQ), from information contained on the ‘battle casualty statistic cards’ maintained by the Casualty Section, Overseas Canadian Records Office. (3) Casualties for June 6 1944 were as follow : Presumed Killed 2; Killed 18; Missing 91; Wounded 6. This figure ‘Missing’ 91, includes 10 listed as ‘now safe’ and 81 listed as ‘Prisoner of War’ repatriated now.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in France
6 June – 6 September 1944

– Formation and Unit Objectives
– The Assault, 6 June 1944
– Progress during D Day
– Le Mesnil Crossroads (7/17 June 1944)
– In and Out of the Line (20 June – 20 July 1944)
– Bois de Bavent – Bois de Bures (21 July – 17 August 1944)
– The Eastward Advance (17/26 August 1944)
– Casualties and Decorations
– The 1st Centaur Battery Royal Canadian Army

Canadian troops patrolling the destroyed Rue Saint-Pierre after US paratroopers removed German forces from Caen
Canadian troops patrolling the destroyed rue Saint-Pierre in Caen


[1] This report is the story in outline of the participation of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in the Allied Invasion of France. The period covered is from D Day, June 6 1944 (GGG : in fact June 5 1944), to the unit’s return to England on September 6 1944. The formation of the unit, and the problems arising out of its early training in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, have been briefly discussed in an early report (Report # 138)(EUCMH : ‘Birth of the Elite, 1940, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (USA)’ and EUCMH : ‘1st Canadian Parachute Battalion – United Kingdom to France’)

[2] After its arrival in the United Kingdom on July 28 1943 under the command of Lt Col G.F.P. Bradbrook, the Battalion had 10 months’ extensive training in preparation for the airborne phase of the Allied assault. During this period of training, and subsequent during action in France,the unit formed part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade of the British 6th Airborne Division. The latter formation was included in the 21st Army Group which, under the command of General Sir Bernard Montgomery, comprised the British and Canadian component of the Allied forces that invaded France. The following brief account will inevitably make frequent reference to the activities of the British formations under whose command the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion served, in order that the relationship of the unit to the operation as a whole may be clearly established.

[3] Material for this report has been drawn from the unit War Diary, substantially supplement by the War Diary of the 3rd Parachute Brigade (British), and from sitreps and statements of officers who participated in the airborne assault. Map references throughout this report refer to : France 1:100,00, Caen – Falaise, Sheet 7F; Le Havre – Pont Audemer, Sheet 8E:; and Lisieux – Bernay, Sheet 8F.

General Plan of the Invasion

[4] The general plan of the Allied invasion of France in Operation Overlord is described in the report ‘Canadian Participation in the Operations on North West Europe 1944’, Part 1 : The Assault and Subsequent Operations of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade. In very condensed form the initial Joint Plan visualized a night attack by Bombers, in very great strength, followed by a large-scale attack by airborne troops. The latter would be preceded and prepare for the main Seaborne invasion, which would taken place under the cover of further air support and tremendous naval bombardment. The general area of the attack was that portion of the North Eastern coast of Normandy in the vicinity of Carentan, Bayeux and Caen.

Formation and Unit Objectives

[5] The airborne attack comprised 2 major operations. In the Western sector, on the right of the Allied landing, near the beaches in front of Carentan and Vareville, 2 American Airborne Divisions, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division, were to make a descent in preparation for the Seaborne landings in that area. In the Eastern sector, alloted to British and Canadian forces, the 6th Airborne Division, forming part of the 1st Corps of the 2nd British Army, was given the important task of protecting the left flank of 3 British Infantry Divisions, which was to land on the beach West of Ouistreham and to capture Caen by H 22. The 6th Airborne Division was to deny the enemy use of the area between the Orne River and the Dives River North of the road Troarn (1667) – Sannerville (1368) – Colombelles (0770), and to hold this bridgehead until the Seaborne reinforcements arrived. During the period of planning, the code name ‘Neptune’ was given to the Seaborne assault phase of the projected operations in the British sector.

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(Map Source : oldecuriosity.blogspot.be)

[6] Formations of the 6th Airborne Division, which was commanded by Maj Gen R. N. Gale, O.B.E., M.C., were the 3rd Parachute Brigade Group (which included the 1st Canadian Paratrooper Battalion), 5th Parachute Brigade Group, 6th Air Landing Brigade Group and 1st Air Landing Recce Regiment. Brought under command of Operation Neptune was 1st Special Service Brigade. Each of these five forces was assigned important tasks within the divisional area. The 5th Parachute Brigade (7th, 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions), in the role of securing a link with 3 British Infantry Divisions was ordered to seize and hold the 2 bridges that crossed the Canal de Caen in Colombelles and Benouville (0974) as well as the Orne River (1074)in the vicinity of Benouville then, establish a bridgehead in the Ranville area (1073). Immediately to the South, the 6th Air Landing Brigade Group (R.U.R and Oxf Bucks) was to come down on a landing zone West of Amfreville (1174) and to secure a firm base area between Escoville (1271) and the Orne River. Making a glider landing East of Ranville (1174) late on D Day, the Air Landing Recce Regiment was to strike Southwards beyond the divisional boundary, with the intention of establishing a base at Cagny (1064) from which further offensive operations East and Southeast could be carried out. To the North the Commandos of the Seaborne 1st Special Service Brigade (3rd, 4th and 6th Commandos and 45th (RM) Command), landing on the Ouistreham beaches, were assigned task of mopping up the coastal area between the Orne and the Dives Rivers as far South as Le Plein (1275) – Varaville (1875). The job of preventing the entrance into the area of enemy reinforcements from the East by demolishing 6 bridges across the Dives River and one of its tributaries, the Divette River, and by denying the use of all main roads within the the divisional area, was given to the 3rd Parachute Brigade (Brigadier S.J.L.Hill, D.S.O, M.C). In addition the brigade was made responsible for silencing an enemy coast defense battery at Merville (155776).

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[7] Division of the objectives of the 3rd Parachute Brigade between its component units saw the 9th Parachute Battalion being given the road-denial tasks in the North (including the destruction of the Merville Battery), the 8th Parachute Battalion receiving the bridge-blowing assignments in the Southeast part of the area, and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (Lt Col Bradbrooke) being alloted to operations in the Eastern and central sector, in Robehomme (1972) – Varaville (1875) – Le Mesnil (1372) triangle. The specific tasks of the Canadian unit as enumerated in the 3rd Parachute Brigade Operation Order was as follow :

(1) Secure and protect DZ (Drop Zone)(1775) during landing of the Brigade group by destruction of enemy Headquarters area at Varaville and neutralization if enemy occupying houses in the area (167753).

(2) Destroy bridge at Varaville (186758) by H 2 and cover demolitions until relieved by 1st Special Service Brigade NOT before H 5.

(3) Destroy bridges at Robehomme (195727) and (199739) by H 2 and cover demolitions.
(But there is no indication on the 1:25,000 map of the area of the existence of any bridge, or need for one at (199739). Nor does the account of the operation in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion’s War Diary make any reference to the destruction of such a bridge. It may be assumed that this was one of a number of small bridges over ditches within B Company’s area)

(4) Cover move to an assault on the Merville Battery by the 9th Parachute Battalion from interference from the South.

(5) Seize and hold the area around the road junction at (141728).

This road junction topped the narrow Le Plein – Bois de Bavent ridge, a strategic feature, 180 feet high, dividing the Orne River and Dives River valleys. Possession of this thickly wooded ridge would protect the Benouville bridges (para #3), and prevent enemy observation of the Ranville bridgehead. (WD 1st Cdn Para Bn, Jun 44, ‘Appreciation of Situation by Brig Hill, Apr 14 1944’). Because of these factors the vicinity of the cross-roads was selected as the site of the 3rd Parachute Brigade Command Post, with Headquarters of the 3 battalions grouped around it. Of the above tasks for the 1st Canadian Para Bn, (1) (2) were assigned to C Company, (3) and (4) to B Company and (5) to A Company. (Historical Section File AEF/1 Cdn Para Bn/C/I/,Folio N°III (c): 1 Cdn Para Bn O.O. N°1, May 28 1944).

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The Assault (June 6 1944)

[8] After a postponement of 24 hours because of unfavorable weather, the Allied invasion of France began in the early hours of June 6 1944. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had enplaned late on June 5, in two sections. C Company,moving with the Advanced Brigade Headquarters to neutralize opposition on the DZ took off in 12 Albemarles from the Harwell Airfield between Oxford and Reading at 2230. The remainder of the battalion left from Down Ampney, between Swindon and Cirencester, at 2325, traveling in 38 C-47 Douglas Dakotas, 3 of which towed gliders, carrying jeeps and trailers loaded with ammunition and signals equipment. Each paratrooper carried normal equipment, including fighting knife, toggle rope, escape kit with French currency, and 2 24-hours rations. In all, a man’s load amounted to approximately 70 pounds (35 kg). A special duty party from 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company attended the battalion to the concentration area, and relieved it of various administrative tasks during the final stages of preparation for the assault.

[9] The Canadian descent from the sky upon the fields and woods on Normandy was made between 0100 and 0130 on D Day. Comparatively few of the men hit the designed DZ. Although flying conditions were good, and landmarks clearly visible, the dispersion was very bad, and the actual dropping zone extended over a general area (Easting 12-19, Northing 72-76) ten times the size of that originally projected. This apparently faulty air navigation might have had far more unfortunate results than actually ensued. Its result was seen in the large number of paratroopers captured from the battalion on the first day. Two platoons of B Company dropped West of Robehomme, 2 miles from their prescribed DZ. One stick of 10 men from C Company dropped West of the Orne River, below Ouistreham, more than 4 miles from its intended target. These paratroopers were fortunate in making their way to rejoin the battalion on the following day. That so many did return safely to their unit speaks well for their individual initiative and the thoroughness of the briefing given all ranks prior departure from England. Among the Vickers and Mortar Platoons there was an unexpectedly heavy wastage in weapons. Machine guns and mortars were carried in special kit bags, many of which tore loose during the jump and were lost (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 6 1944).

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Progress During D Day – June 6 1944

[10] In spite of its initial dispersion the battalion achieved surprise, and all objectives were speedily attained. C Company, having secured the DZ, demolished the bridge across the Divette River at Varaville, and engaged a German strong point just west of the town. This position, which had to be cleared to secure the DZ, proved much more strongly held than had been expected. By 1030, the enemy pillbox had surrendered, but not before a large number of Canadian casualties had been sustained. Its capitulation was largely brought about by effect of our P.I.A.T (Projectile Infantry Anti Tank) bombs, according to the evidence of a Canadian mortar detachment commander, who had landed on the top of the enemy position and temporarily been held prisoner.

PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti Tank)

The reduction of this post, and the destruction of the Merville Battery by the 9th Parachute Battalion removed the two strongest local enemy threats to the security of the brigade area. At 1500, cycle troops of the 6th Commando arrived, and C Company proceeded to the battalion area at Le Mesnil. Meanwhile the other Companies had had little difficulty in achieving their objectives. A Company, having covered the flank of the 9th Parachute Battalion in its successful assault on the bomb-shattered bunker of the Merville Battery (86 Halifax and 13 Lancasters of 6 Group, Royal Canadian Air Force, formed the major part of a force which dropped a full bomb load on the target prior the assault) and it’s subsequent withdrawal to Le Plein, rejoined its battalion at the Le Mesnil – Bavent crossroads at 1530. Blowing its bridge across the Dives River at Robehomme by B Company established a defense position and observation post on the Robehomme Hill (1873). It remained there for a day and a half, after which the withdrawal, under German pressure, of 6 Commando from Varaville compelled the removal of the company from its exposed forward site. It was called back under cover of darkness on the night 7/8 June, and reached Battalion Headquarters at 0330 on the morning of June 8.

[11] The Canadian Battalion’s initial success was characteristic of that achieved by the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade and by the 6th Airborne Division as a whole. All bridges from Troan to Varaville had been blown by the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade’s units. By 1200 on D Day, the important bridges crossing the Canal de Caen and the Orne River west of Ranville had been captured intact by the 5th Paratrooper Bridage, and by 2100 the 2 airborne battalions of the 6th Air Landing Brigade (1. R.U.R and 2 Oxf Bucks) had made successful glider landings. The 1st Air Landing Recce Regiment was reported to have probed to the outskirts of Caen before rejoining the 6th Airborne Division. Divisional F.D.Ls. had been established trough Longueval (0872), Escoville (1271) and along the main road running Southeast to,but excluding, Troarn (1667). Continual attacks from the South had all been held (Gist Sec File, AEF/1 Cdn Para Bn/C/H, 6th Airborne Division Sitrep N°3, June 7 1944). The first round had been won, and now it was a question of holding on until the Seaborne reinforcements should arrive. The aerial phase of their initial assault behind them, the members of the 1st Cdn Para Bn were destined to operate solely as infantry troops for the remainders of their stay in France. Nine months were to elapse before they again used parachutes to drop into action. In the meantime they put into practice the lessons they learned during months of preparation in Southern England. And in the difficult weeks that followed D Day, when enemy infantry and sometimes tank and S.P attack had to be met with an inferior weight of fire power, the insistence that had been placed upon intensive weapon-training at Bulford proved itself a worth-while investment.

Pegasus Bridge, June 1944. Transport moving across the Caen Canal Bridge at Benouville. The bridge was renamed Pegasus Bridge, after the mythical winged horse on the formation sign of British airborne forces.
Pegasus Bridge, across the Caen Canal Bridge at Benouville – June 1944. The bridge was renamed Pegasus Bridge, after the mythical winged horse on the formation sign of British & Canadian Airborne Forces
4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, and troops of 6th Airborne Division in Bénouville after the link-up between the two forces, 6 June 1944.
4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, and troops of 6th Airborne Division in Benouville after the link-up between the two forces, 6 June 1944

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade in action with a Bren gun during the advance to link up with 6th Airborne Division at Benouville, 6 June 1944.
Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade in action with a Bren gun during the advance to link up with the 6th Airborne Division at Benouville (6 June 1944)
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade digging in near Horsa gliders on 6th Airborne Division’s landing zone east of the River Orne, near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade digging in near Horsa Gliders 6th Airborne Division’s DZ & LZ East of the Orne River (Ranville) 6 June 1944
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade led by Brigadier Lord Lovat (in the water, to the right of his men) land on Queen Red beach, Sword area, c. 0840 hours, 6 June 1944. Sherman DD tanks of 13th/18th Royal Hussars and other vehicles can be seen on the beach. Lovat’s piper, Bill Millin, is in the foreground about to disembark.
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade led by Brigadier Lord Lovat (in the water, to the right of his men) land on Queen Red beach, Sword area, c. 0840 hours, 6 June 1944. Sherman DD tanks of 13th/18th Royal Hussars and other vehicles can be seen on the beach. Lovat’s piper, Bill Millin, is in the foreground about to disembark.
A British infantryman prepares to fire a PIAT anti-tank weapon, Normandy, 9 August 1944.
A British infantryman prepares to fire a PIAT anti-tank weapon, Normandy 1944

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The Le Mesnil Crossroads (June 7/17 1944)

[12] The morning of D 1 found the 1st Cdn Para Bn (les B Company being still in Robehomme) concentrated astride the Le Mesnil crossroads protecting the Brigade’s Headquarters. 3 mortars that had arrived by sea, replacing to some extent those lost during the parachute descent, were set up in position in the brickworks near the crossroads and manned by the mortar platoon. The expected counter-attack materialized in the early morning hours, when German infantry of the 857. and 858. Grenadier Regiments of the 346. Division, supported by Self Propelled guns and a number of Mark IV tanks, attacked the forward companies’ positions. A surprise effect was achieved by the mortars, which found an ideal target in the infantry grouped along the road, and the heavy casualties inflicted upon the enemy considerably exceeded the Canadian losses in the engagement. With the support of this mortar gave to the battalion’s infantry sections, the attack was repulsed, and the rest of the day was quiet save for activity by enemy snipers. This reverse inflicted upon enemy armor by lightly armed airborne forces is a directly notable incident.

[13] For the next 10 days events followed a fairly regular and unchanging pattern. Small-scale attacks of 1 or 2 platoons strength on our part secured points of vantage on the edge of the defense area, and helped to stabilize the brigade front. In these operations, artillery support was given by naval bombardment (the cruiser Arethusa and one destroyer were allowed to the 3rd Parachute Brigade fire support – Appx A, to 3 Para Bge O.O. N°1), and from field batteries of the 3rd British Division Artillery, which came in support of the 6th Airborne Division early on D Day (302nd Field Artillery Battery came under command – Trace X to the 3rd Para Bde O.O. N°1). Constant patrolling, 24 hours of the day, was maintained by the battalion in attempts to obtain information about enemy dispositions and movements. In general these patrols were unable to probe very deeply into the opposing defense before they found themselves pinned down by superior numbers, and were forced to return to their own lines. During the whole of this period shelling and mortaring of the battalion and brigade positions continued without inflicting many casualties, and enemy snipers in trees and hedgerows proved nuisance factor until they were winkled out. More unpleasant was the shooting up of the Brigade’s Headquarters and the Main Dressing Station by Typhoons on June 13, when 2 Canadian officers were wounded and a French female civilian killed (WD, 3 para Bde, June 13 1944).

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[14] Generally speaking, the opposition encountered by the Canadian Battalion during its first ten days in France had not been severe. The enemy appeared to have few troops in the areas attacked. Most of the prisoners taken by the 3rd Parachute Brigade on D Day were Poles and Russians (ibid: Hune 7 1944). Later in the fighting interrogation of Polish deserters disclosed that the 857. and 858. Grenadier Regiments of the 346. Infantry Division, the formation facing the 3rd Parachute Brigade front, were reinforced early in July by drafts from a coast defense regiment near Boulogne. Enemy sections were reported as being so arranged that to each Pole there were about 8 Germans.

Guy-ByamThe latter handled all automatic weapons (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, Aug 1944, Appx N°3 Interrogation Report, Aug 11 44). But the Germans took full advantage of cover, and used their infantry weapons with persistence and skill during their frequent attacks upon the Canadian position. A British War Correspondent gives a graphic account of the force of the enemy’s counter-attacks in the early days of the assault : While operations proceeded on the beaches and on the other side of the river and canal, the Germans came at us with tanks and men, again and again. At night he pushed patrols forward, probing and seeking out our weak spots. Every day men died, men were wounded, and our ranks thinned. But the Germans got nowhere : his dead were to be found in the woods along the lines, in the cornfields … everywhere. he left burn-out tanks and smashed mortars. Sometimes we were shelled for long periods, and the blast stripped the trees and splattered into slit trenches where it killed men. (Guy Byam, BBC, War Correspondent : ‘A Great Feat of Arms’ Radio Times, Vol 84, N°1086, Jul 21 1944). (Note – Gunter : On February 3 1945, BBC War Reporter Guy Byam was killed when a B-17 Bomber (The Rose of York) crashed after a daylight raid on Berlin. Byam, 26, was on board of this US 8th Army Air Force Flying Fortress. The plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire over Berlin and disappeared over the North Sea. In the early years of the war Byam saw action with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Combined Operations but was wounded and invalided out. He joined the BBC’s War Reporting Unit in April, 1944. Two months later he parachuted into Normandy with the 6th British Airborne Division on D-Day and his reports made him a household name. A listener wrote after his death : ‘All looked forward to hearing his enthusiastic and youthful voice in the 9 o’clock news’).

[15] Maintenance of formations of the 6th Airborne Division with supplies and ammunition was effectively carried out, after the first day’s fighting, from the Divisional Maintenance Area Ranville. When the paratroopers jumped on D Day, all personnel carried rations fro 48 hours and ammunition for 36 hours. A brigade dump of ammunition dropped from aircraft at the time of the initial assault was formed by B.R.A.S.C.O at Brigade Headquarters (WD 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 44: Adm Order N°1, May 29 1944). On the night of 6/7 June a resupply drop from 50 planes took place at the Divisional Maintenance Area, 2 miles to the rear of the Canadian position, and for the next 2 weeks maintenance air missions, without meeting serious opposition from enemy fighter planes, effectively handled the matter of resupply the 6th Airborne Division (Hist Sec file, AEF/1 Cdn Para Bn/C/H, 6th Airborne Division Sitreps 2-27).

In and Out of the Line (June 20 – July 21 1944)

[16] Within a week from D Day, defenses in the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade area had been strengthened by the arrival of the Seaborne reinforcements (the 3rd Para Bge War Diary notes the arrival on June 10 of units of the 153rd Brigade of the 51st (H) Division, -5/7 Gordons and 1 Gordons in the 8th Parachute Battalion area, and 5 Black watch in the area of the 9th Parachute Battalion). To the North of the Canadian position, German resistance at Breville (1374) had been overcome, and the whole Brigade front from Le Plein to the Bois de Bavent stabilized. Gen Montgomery had reported : ‘We have won the battle of the beaches’, and in the British sector Operation Overlord had entered its second phase, the defense of the Normandy bridgehead. On June 17, the 3rd Parachute Brigade was relieved in the line by the 5th Parachute Brigade, which had been defending the Southern approaches to the Ranville bridgehead.

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade with captured Germans in a jeep, with gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade in the background, near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade with captured Germans and troops of the 6th Air Landing Brigade, near Ranville. (Source WW-2 Today)

[17] For 3 days the brigade remained in the Ranville – Herouvillette area, the 1st Cdn Para Bn occupying positions just outside the village of Ranville (115734). The only enemy activity was occasional shelling of the main road that ran through the village, and the Canadians enjoyed their first relaxation since D Day. Then, on June 20, they moved to a rest area by the Orne River, near Ecarde (1176). During their 5 days’ stay they were blessed with fine warm weather and parties were daily organized for bathing in the Orne. An Army cinema at Luc-sur-Mer provided welcome entertainment. Sight-seeing tours were arranged to enable all ranks to visit the beaches at Ouistreham, the scene of the landing of 3 British Infantry Divisions, where they might learn something more of the vast scale on which Overlord was patterned.

[18] On June 25, the 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to Le Mesnil crossroads, the Canadian Battalion relieving the 13th Parachute Battalion at its former position. The week that followed saw an intensifying of enemy fire upon the brigade area and the Canadian casualty list mounted as a result of long range artillery shells, harassing mortar fire and sniping and, on two occasions at least, close-range 75-MM Anti Tank bursts. because the closely wooded country did not allow long vision O.Ps., it was difficult to observe fire, and ranging by the battalion mortars in their counter-fire had to be effected by sounds or map reference. Vigorous patrolling continued in a attempt to pin-point enemy positions, but the result gained were generally meager and unsatisfactory (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 27 1944). Both sides had developed strong defensive positions, supplemented by wiring and road blocks. By the week of July, when the 3rd Parachute Brigade was relieved by the 5th Parachute Brigade, the situation on the ridge had become one completely static warfare.

[19] From July 4 to July 21, the battalion again enjoyed a respite from fighting when it moved to the Divisional Rest Area on the Orne River. The first week was spent in cleaning up and resting after the tour of duty in the line. Progress towards a complete mental and physical recovery was aided by the rumors that the Division was shortly to return to England to reform and refit (ibid: Jul 12 1944). The cheering news of the fall of Caen (Jul 9) and American success in St Lô (Jul 18) suggested that the period of static warfare was ending, and from their battalion area the Canadians saw, pouring across the Orne River on newly constructed pontoon bridges, the huge masses of armor and troops that were taking part in the big push Southwards. During this period the unit was reinforced by the arrival of 7 officers and 100 other ranks from the Canadian Base Reinforcement Battalion. This was a welcome addition to the fighting strength of the Parachute Battalion which has sustained 300 casualties since D Day (para #40). The fact that these reinforcements were not trained paratroopers mattered little. Indeed, for the role in which the battalion was to be engaged during the remainder of its stay in France, well-trained and equipped infantrymen provided the most valuable acquisition that could have been supplied.

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Half length portrait of a paratrooper carrying a Sten gun, having loaded it ready for immediate action.
Half length portrait of a British Paratrooper carrying a Cal. 9-MM Sten gun, having loaded it ready for immediate action.

Bois de Bavent (Bavent Woods) – Bois de Bures (Bures Woods)
July 21 – August 17 1944

[20] The battalion’s hope for an early return to England were not to be realized. On July 21, the 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to the line, moving to an area immediately South of the 5th Parachute Brigade, which continued to man the Le Mesnil position. The new brigade area extended along th Western edge of the thickly timbered Bois de Bavent, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion relieving the 12th Devons in their position astride the Le Mesnil -Troarn road at (136707). The weather had broken, and heavy rain had flooded the country-side, necessitating the immediate digging of new slit trenches at the end of the wood. That night, the battalion was issued with its first rum ration.

[21] After an uneventful week in the line, the Canadians were relieved on July 27 by the 8th Parachute Battalion and returned to the Orne River for a further short rest period. On the last day of July, the Battalion rejoined the 3rd Parachute Brigade, taking over the positions of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of the 51st Highland Division West of the Bois de Bures (triangle 140705)(The Battalion War Diary gives a map reference 1000 meters to the East, but such position in not borne out by current patrol reports appended to the August War Diary). The 3rd Parachute Brigade still held its place in the center of the Eastern line. To its left, the other formation of the 6th Airborne Division extended in order to the mouth of the Orne River – units of the 1st Special Service Brigade along the ridge North of Le Mesnil cross rads; 6th Air Landing Brigade between them and Breville (1374) and the 4th Special Service Brigade completing the line from Le Plein (1375) to Sallenelles (1376). On its right, the 6th Airborne Division was flanked by the 146th Brigade and other formations of the 49th Infantry Division, bending South and West through Demouville (1067) towards Caen. The remaining divisions of the 1st British Corps, the 3rd British Infantry Division and the 51st Highland Division, were in the rear West of the Orne River (WD, GS, 8D, 1st Canadian Army, August 1944: Location Statement 1st Canadian Army, August 1 1944). Since July 23, when the 1st Canadian Army took over the Eastern Normandy sector, the 1st British Corps had been under Canadian operational command (WD, GSOps, 1st Canadian Army, Appx 79) and on the day on which the 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion returned to the line at the Bois de Bures (Jul 31), the 1st Canadian Army assumed command of the 2nd Canadian Corps in the Caen area. Thus the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, while still part of a British Brigade, a British Division and a British Corps, came for the first time under command of the 1st Canadian Army.

Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade digging in near Horsa gliders from the 6th Airborne Division, 1944
Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade digging in near Horsa gliders from the 6th Airborne Division, 1944

[22] For the first half of August the situation of the 6th Airborne Division’s front saw little change. The Canadian Battalion continued to send out patrols, but only meager information about the enemy was obtained (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, Aug 6 1944). Propaganda broadcasts by means of amplifiers were arranged by Brigade Headquarters, to encourage deserters, from whom identifications of enemy units might be made. (Polish deserters later stated that the Germans dismissed the general contents of these broadcasts as incorrect in view of a few inaccuracies which were contained in the remarks about their own positions and strengths. (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, Aug 44, Appx 3, Interrogation Report, Aug 15 1944). Daily exchanges of artillery and mortar fire took place, the German shells and bombs usually landing accurately upon the battalion positions. On Aug 15, enemy aircraft bombed the area to the South of the Canadian position. The tempo of the German artillery fire increased. Patrols probing into the Bois de Bures that night and the next day encountered no enemy. It looked as though the long period of static warfare were over. On the evening of Aug 16, the unit received orders to advance the next day.

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The Eastward Advance – 17 August – 26 August 1944

[23] The forward move which all ranks of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been awaiting for 10 weeks, and which in 10 days thereafter was to carry them 40 miles onwards to the mouth of the Seine River (30 miles as the crow flies) , began early on the morning of August 17, as part of an operation that set in motion the whole line held by the 1st British Corps. On the right flank of the 1st Canadian Army Falaise (1436) had fallen on Aug 16; the pivot of the enemy’s whole position in Normandy had been smashed, and large part of his army was encircled and being destroyed, while the remainder retreated Eastward. As its share of the general Allied offensive, the 1st British Corps, whose boundary with the 2nd Canadian Corps ran approximately along the line northing 50, through St Pierre sur Dives (2649), was directed to advance on Lisieux (5387) (WD, GSOps, HQ 1st Cdn Army, Appx 66, GS Memo, 16 August 1944).

[24] The corps front stretched from the mouth of the Orne River to St Pierre sur Dives, and was held by the British 51st Division (Highlanders) and the 7th British Armoured Division (South), the British 49th Division (Center) and the 6th Airborne Division (North). The 6th Airborne was practically in the same positions it had seized on D Day, from Sallenelles (1376) to the outskirts of Troarn (1667). The 1st Belgian Brigade (Brigade Piron)(Light Brigade) and the Royal Netherlands Brigade (Princess Irene) had come under command in the Amfreville – Breville area (1374), while Southwards along the Le Plein – Bois de Bavent ridge were stationed in order the 6th Air Landing Brigade, the 1st Special Service Brigade, the 3rd Parachute Battalion, the 4th Special Service Brigade. In reserve at Ranville was the 5th Parachute Brigade. (For a note on the Employment of the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade and the Belgian Piron Brigade as well as their organization, see 1st Canadian Army Instr. N°9d. 2 Aug 44. WD, GS, Ops HQ 1 Cdn Army Aug 44, Appx 7). In the plan for the Division’s advance, the 4th Special Service Brigade was to push form a firm base North of Toufferville (134696); on the left flank, the 6th Air Landing Brigade was to push towards Cabourg (2179), at the mouth of the Dives River; in the center, the 1st Special service Brigade was directed on Bavent (1673) – Varaville (1875); while on the right the 3rd Parachute Brigade was ordered to seize and hold Bures (1769) (WD, 3 Para Bn, Aug 44, 3 Para Bde OO Exercice ‘Paddle’ Aug 9 1944).

[25] The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was given initially a reserve role in the Operation Paddle (the name given to the 3rd Parachute Brigade’s advance on Aug 17 1944). This Operation commenced at 0300. While the 8th and the 9th Parachute Battalions completed the occupation of Bures by 0700, without encountering opposition, the Canadian Battalion took over a larger section of the brigade front (139706 – 147695), and at 0800, began a sweep through the Bois de Bavent (! schown as Bois de Bures on 1:25,000 sheets). The enemy, who for 10 weeks had held the wood so tenaciously, haw now withdrawn, but not without leaving behind AP mines and Booby Traps that delayed B Company in their advance and cost the Canadians 10 more casualties. Bridges across the Dives River at Bures had been demolished, but the late afternoon a passable route had been constructed by the 3rd Canadian Parachute Battalion’s Royal Engineer Sqn and all the units of the brigade crossed before nightfall. By 2100, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion having advanced 3 miles along the railway running North-East from Bures, had made contact with the enemy at Plain Lugan (2072), and taken up positions for the night there. The 8th Parachute Battalion was at Goustranville (2271), the 9th Parachute Battalion in reserve was, with the Brigade Headquarters, at St Richer (2069).

A captured German half track mounting a 20 mm gun, which was used by the 6th Airborne Division to shoot down an attacking aircraft on 28 August 1944
A captured German half track mounting a 20-MM gun, which was used by the 6th Airborne Division to shoot down an attacking aircraft on August 28 1944

Air-Landing-troops_June_1944

[26] The lack of comparative-lightness of enemy resistance encountered by the 3rd Parachute Brigade on the first day, and in general during the whole period of the advance to the Seine River, underlines the instructions of the G.O.C., 6th British Airborne Division, given to the Brigade prior to the commencement of the Operation Paddle, ‘to advance if and when it is certain that the enemy were withdrawing’ (ibid: Appx A2, Report on 3 Para Bde Operation Paddle). The lightly equipped formations of the 6th Airborne which had very little armor at its disposal (para #46), were not intended to drive against heavily armed enemy forces nor to storm strongly held positions. Their part in the general Eastward advance now beginning was rather to keep contact with a retreating army, driving his rearguards back, and mopping up isolated pockets of resistance as these were encountered.

[27] Further progress of the 3rd Parachute Brigade was halted by the enemy’s destruction of the bridge (237720) across the St Samsom – Dives sur Mer canal. This canal, parallels the Dives River in a general Northeasterly direction, swinging North to cut across the Troarn – Dozulé road 1000 yards East of Goustranville. But the map showed 4 bridges crossing the canal at 400 yards intervals in square 2372 and 2371, the northernmost one carrying the railway line from Troarn just West of its junction with the main line running South from Dives sur Mer. The 1st Canadian Parachute was ordered to seize the 4 bridges positions, and to ascertain whether any were passable to infantry and vehicles.

[28] Zero hour was set at 2145, Aug 18. At 2030, the unit left Plain Lugan to form up at the crossroads (2271) west of Gourstranville. The attack went in on schedule, and by 2220, C Company had seized the railway bridge. The southernmost bridge was taken by A Company, who named it Canada Bridge. By 2350, all bridges were in hands of the Canadians, who continued to hold them through the night. 150 prisoners of war were taken, and the Brigade report on the operation refers to : [… the Canadian battalion as having successfully liquidated two enemy compagnies in well fortified positions …] (ibid: Appx. A2, Report on 3 Para Bde Operation Paddle II).

Considering the nature of the task casualties were surprisingly light.

Canadian-039

Canadian-038

[29] The railway bridge, through partially demolished, was found to be passable to infantry. Shortly after midnight, the 9th Parachute battalion crossed, in four feet of water, and by 0245, had seized the railway line and routed the balance of the enemy battalion. Heavy German shelling and mortaring came from dominating high ground further East, but in the course of the morning the 5th Parachute Brigade went through, crossing by the Canada Bridge to the South followed by the 1st and the 4th Special Service Brigades. That night, the G.O.C., 6th Airborne Division congratulated the units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade on their exploits during Operation Paddle and Operation Paddle II. The Brigade had indeed make a good showing. In the first 3 days of its advance, it had successfully driven the enemy rearguards from the ‘island’ enclosed by the Dives River and the Canal, and it had overcome difficult obstacles with a lost to the German of a entire unit, the 744. Grenadier Regiment (711. Infantry Division).

[30] While the 1st and the 4th Special Service Brigades pushed forward to clear the Dozulé (2673) areaof the enemy, units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade remained for 2 days in the Goustranville area, the Canadians holding their defensive positions at the 4 captured bridges. Enemy shelling on both days (Aug 19 and 20) caused a few casualties, and enemy aircraft dropped some bombs on the first night, without however causing damage. On the morning of Aug 21, the Brigade started to move forward on foot towards Annebault (4201), passing through the 2 Special Service Brigades at Dozulé. Their role as infantry must have been unpleasantly driven home to the parachute troops as they proceeded through pouring rain along a road that was being shelled heavily. No contact was made with the retreating enemy until the evening. While the Brigade administrative area was established at Le Bourg (3174) at 1800, the 8th Parachute Battalion pushed forward to capture Annebault and the 1st Parachute battalion swung North to engage a resistance point on high ground at La Vallée Tantot (4001). The Canadians encountered fire from 81-MM mortars and S.P. guns, and, unable to make further progress, dug in for the night. By morning, the enemy had retreated, and the Battalion returned to the main road at Annebault, rejoining the other brigade units half-a-mile west of la Haie Tondue (4501) at 1000 (Aug 22).

British_Army_in_Normandy_1944

An abandoned German SdKfz 250/9 half-track in Le Bourg, 30 July 1944. B 8252 Part of WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit Palmer (Sgt)
No time to repair ! another abandoned German SdKfz 250/9 half-track.
Le Bourg, July 30 1944.

[31] It was now the 3rd Parachute Brigade’s turn to halt while the 5th Parachute Brigade pushed through to Pont-L’Evêque. For 48 hours, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion rested, while all personnel took advantage of the respite to do their washing and generally prepare themselves for further action. On Aug 23, Lt Gen K. Stuart, Chief of Staff, visited the unit, and Lt Col Bradbrooke relinquished command to take a staff appointment (G.S.O. I, (Air) 38th Group R.A.F.). For the short period, Maj (now Lt Col) G. F. Eadie acted as Commanding Officer and on Sept 8, Lt Col J. A. Nicklin assumed command.

[32] On Aug 24, the 1st Canadian Army sent the following warning order to the 1st British Corps : S.D. 45, Warning Order. The 6th British Airborne Division will prepare to move into the British 21st Army Group res afternoon August 30. Further instructions follow later date. All infm. (WD, GS, SD, 1st Canadian Army, Aug 44, Appx 275).

The message is significant in pointing to the approaching end of the 6th Airborne Division’s role in the 1st Canadian Army’s rapid move drive eastwards across Normandy. The Army’s main axis of advance was swinging more and more sharply towards the North, as the 1st US Army came up from the South, moving in upon the enemy’s last precarious foothold on the left bank of the Seine River at Elbeuf (1298). As the narrowing front moved forward, the 6th Airborne Division’s sector on the left flank of the 1st British Corps, and therefore on the extreme left of the entire 21 st Army Group, had developed into a diminishing triangle whose forward apex ran into the sea at the mouth of the Seine River. It seemed that only a few more days would be required for the airborne unit to complete their task.

Map-04

Pioneer Cpl 1944 – (Source : QOR Museum Pioneer Cpl 1944 – (Source : QOR Museum )[/caption]

Junction in Elbeuf. Canadian troops and US Troops (2nd Armored Division)
Junction in Elbeuf. Canadian troops and US Troops (2nd Armored Division)

[36] Nightfall of Aug 26 found the units of the 3rd Parachute Brigade resting in the Beuzeville area. The remaining formations of the 6th Airborne Division : the 5th Parachute Brigade; the Royal Netherlands Group (Princess Irène); the 4th Special service Brigade; the 1st Special Service Brigade, the 1st Belgian Group (Brigade Piron) and the 6th Air Landing Brigade, were grouped in that order along the left bank of the Risle River from Pont-Audemer (7608) to its junction with the Seine River at Berville sur Mer (6618) (WD, SD, 1st Cdn Army, Aug 44, Appx 324, Location Statement). On the Division’s right, brigades of the 49th British Infantry Division were closed in around Pont-Audemer, ready to take over or pass through the positions of the airborne formations. On Aug 28, orders were given to the 6th Airborne Division to move into the 21st Army Group Reserve. Les the 1st and the 4th Special Services brigades, it was done on the afternoon of Aug 30.

[37] It was no mean feat that the units of the 6th Airborne Division had accomplished since the beginning of their campaign in the early hours of D Day. In all phases of the operation – the initial assault, when in spite of dispersal they had speedily gained all their objectives; the long and trying period of holding the area between the Orne and the Dives Rivers in the face of frequent and determined attacks by a more heavily armed opponent; and the final rapid advance to the Risle River, during which a very inadequate scale of transport had failed to keep them from maintaining contact with the retreating enemy – in all these phases they had borne themselves well.

[38] For a wekk, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion rested at Mon Maugher. Personnel were allowed to visit Beuzeville, 25% of the unit strength at a time. On Sept 4, TCVs carried the battalion to Concentration Area N°60 near Arromanches, and embarkation took place 2 days later. By late afternoon, Sept 7, all rank were back at Bulford, in the barracks they had left 3 months before. From Sept 12 to Sept 24, the entire battalion was on leave. On its return, general training became the order of the day, a role that was to continue for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion until a Christmas Day embarkation at Folkestone marked the beginning of a another chapter in the unit’s history.

Casualties and Decorations

leaf[39] The casualties tool exacted for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during its stay in France was heavy, but not much heavier than had been anticipated. The War Office forecast of invasion activity for the 6th British Airborne Division had estimated that wastage for the 1st month would be at the double intense rate, i.e., 50% of the War Establishment for officers and 40% for the other ranks. (CMHQ file 1/Para/ Tps/1: Col J.G.K Strahy to DAG, CMHQ, May 15 44). As was to be excepted, the number of casualties sustained during the early days of the operation far exceeded losses for the remaining time that the unit was in France. During the first 12 days of fighting, up to the time of the battalion’s first removal from the line, officer casualties amounted 59% of War Establishment, other ranks 39% (WE strength was 31 officers and 587 other ranks). Subsequent losses were on a considerably lower scale.

[40] The following table, compiled from Records Officer Casualty Reports, show casualties suffered by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion for 3 significant periods of the total operation. The Prisoner of War losses in the first period were all sustained on D Day.

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Casualties
June 6 1944 – September 6 1944

[A] : June 6 – June 17 1944
Killed in Action & Die of Wounds
– Officers : 5
– Other ranks : 43
Wounded in Action
– Officers : 10
– Other ranks : 103
Missing
– Officer : 0
– Other ranks – 3
Prisoner of War
– Officers : 3
– Other ranks : 82
Casualties – Total
– Officers : 18
– Other ranks : 231

[B] : June 18 – July 4 1944
Killed in Action & Die of Wounds
– Officer : 0
– Other ranks : 13
Wounded in Action
– Officers : 4
– Other ranks : 32
Missing
– Officer : 0
– Other ranks : 0
Prisoner of War
– Officers : 0
– Other ranks : 0
Casualties – Total
– Officers : 4
– Other ranks : 45

[C] : July 5 – September 6 1944
Killed in Action & Die of Wounds
– Officers : 0
– Other ranks : 10
Wounded in Action
– Officers : 2
– Other ranks : 49
Missing
– Officer : 0
– Other ranks : 7
Prisoner of War
– Officers : 0
– Other ranks : 1
Casualties – Total
– Officers : 2>br>
– Other ranks : 67

[D] : 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion – Campaign Casualties
Killed in Action & Die of Wounds
– Officers : 5
– Other ranks : 66
Wounded in Action
– Officers : 16
– Other ranks : 184
Missing
– Officer : 0
– Other ranks : 10
Prisoner of War
– Officers : 3
– Other ranks : 83
Casualties – Total
– Officers : 34
– Other ranks : 343

World War II veteran,  William Perrin,  watches the moving ceremony. He is now 94 years old. Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial in Ottawa November 11, 2014.  (Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen)
World War II veteran, William Perrin, watches the moving ceremony. He is now 94 years old. Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial in Ottawa November 11, 2014. (Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen)
France, Poppies in the Wind (Source : https://aviewfromthebend.files.wordpress.com
France, Poppies in the Wind (Source : aviewfromthebend.files.wordpress.com

[41] The deficiencies in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion’s strength caused by these casualties were successfully met from unit reinforcements for the first 3 weeks of fighting. But during July, the source of supply dwindled, and the difficulty of obtaining replacements is reflected in the battalion’s diminishing strength returns. On Aug 5, the unit’s strength reached it lowest figure of the campaign : 17 officers and 315 other ranks. There was a little improvement during the month, and when the battalion returned to England at the beginning of September there was a strength deficiency of 5 officers and 242 other ranks (CMHQ, File 24/AEF/1/5, AG Stats Letter, May 5 1945).

[42] 60 different officers and men of the 6th Airborne Division decorated in the field by Gen Sir Bernard Montgomery shortly after D Day,5 were members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

– Capt J.P. Hanson (later Major) – Military Cross
– Capt P.R. Griffin (later Major)- Military Cross
– Sgt G.H Morgan (D.136859) – Military Medal
– Cpl Wm. Noval (B.146477) – Military Medal
– L/Cpl R.A. Geddes (B.101038) – Military Medal

The Military Medal was also won but awarded posthumously by

– Sgt J.A. Lacasse (B.3047) – Military Medal (Die of Wounds)
– Pte W.B. Ducker (F.25504) – Military Medal (Die of Wounds)
– Sgt W.P. Minard – Military Medal (Status Unknown)

[43] These awards were earned in two action. C Company attack on the enemy position at Varaville on D Day (para #10) and the assault by B Company East of Le Mesnil crossroads on June 8. In the Varaville engagement, Capt Hanson (2 I/C C Co), took command of the company when its commander, Maj H.M. McLeod was killed. Although he was himself wounded, he successfully led the action that resulted in the taking of the German bunker and the enemy Headquarters, inflicting many casualties and taking 40 prisoners. Pte Ducker, a medical orderly attacked to C Company under heavy mortar and machine gun fire gave medical assistance to the Company Commander and 3 others fatally injured when a German 75-MM shell detonated the Canadian PIAT ammunition, caring for them until certain that they were beyond aid (WD, 1 Cdn Para Bn, June 6 44). In the same action; Sgt Minard displayed exceptional qualities of leadership and initiative in commanding his platoon when its officer was killed. On Jun 13, he again distinguished himself when he exercised a steadying influence on his platoon during the relief by his company of part of 5 Black Watch, who were being strongly attacked at the Château South of Breville. (para #16)

[44] On the morning of June 8, after his company’s return from Robehomme, Capt Griffin led one and a half platoon of B Company to assault a group of strongly held buildings in the Bois de Bavent (144730) East of the Le Mesnil crossroads. The enemy was driving out with heavy casualties, and a counter attack with superior forces was successfully held off. Sgt Lacasse and Sgt Morgan won their decorations at the same time. The former though thrice wounded, led his section across an open field swept by fire, to knock out an enemy LMG position; the later displayed skill, initiative and complete disregard of his own personal safety as he conducted his platoon’s successful assault upon the occupied buildings. In the same action, Cpl Noval and L/Cpl Geddes (at this time both being private soldiers), operating as a Bren gun and sniper team to give covering fire, accounted between then for less than 25 Germans (CMHQ File 21/Gen/8, Citations, France).

Montgomery with officers of the First Canadian Army. From left, Major-General Vokes, General Crerar, Field Marshal Montgomery, Lieutenant-General Horrocks, Lieutenant-General Simonds, Major-General Spry, and Major-General Mathews
Field Marshall Sir Bernard L. Montgomery with officers of the First Canadian Army. From left, Maj Gen Vokes, Gen Crerar, FM Montgomery, Lt Gen Horrocks, Lt Gen Simonds, Maj Gen Spry, and Maj Gen Mathews
Field Marshal Montgomery examines the remains of a German V2 rocket near the HQ of Major General Percy Hobart, GOC 79th Armoured Division (left), 30 October 1944.
Field Marshal Montgomery examines the remains of a German V2 rocket near the HQ of Maj Gen Percy Hobart, GOC 79th Armoured Division (left), 30 October 1944.

[45] Two major awards were won by personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during the operation at Goustranville on Aug 18 1944 (para #28). Capt J.A. Clancy (later Major) was awarded the Military Cross, the citation noting his behavior on that day as but one example of ‘his devotion to duty and outstanding gallantry’ throughout the entire campaign in Normandy. As acting 2 I/C of A Company, he led a platoon in the assault against the southern bridge. By the momentum of his attack in the face of strong machine gun fire the bridge, which was vital to this Brigade, was captured before the enemy could destroy it. In the same engagement Sgt G.W. Green (B.62282), an acting platoon commander in A Co, reorganized his platoon when it suffered heavy casualties and led his men in 2 attacks that resulted in the killing and capture of more than 25 Germans. Although severely wounded, Sgt Green continued to control his platoon until he was able to hand over to his Company Commander. For this action, and for the inspiration to his men through the campaign up to that time, he was awarded the Military Medal.

Centaur-Support-Tank

The First Centaur Battery, R.C.A.

[46] The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was not the only Canadian unit to serve with the 6th British Airborne Division during Operation Overlord. The story of the brief existence of a Canadian Field (S.P.) battery that operated for 25 days as part of the 6th Airborne Division Artillery forms an interesting supplement to the account of the Parachute Battalion’s activities. Prior to D Day the artillery of the 6th Airborne regularly consisted of one light regiment of 75-MM pack howitzers, 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Light Regiment B.A. To supplement this, the 1st British Corps had formed an ad hoc battery of 12 95-MM Centaur S.P. equipments. This unit, designated X Armoured Battery R.A., proved especially useful for counter mortar task during June and July. At the beginning of August the British found it necessary to withdraw the personnel of the unit for employment as reinforcements elsewhere, and as the continued existence of the battery was considered an operational necessity, the G.O.C.-in-C., 1st Canadian Army approved the formation of a temporary Canadian unit to man the equipments (WD, GS, SD, HQ, 1st Cdn Army, Aug 1944, Appx 60).

Centaur-Tank-003

Centaur-Tank-001

Centaur-Tank-002

[47] The 1st Centaur Battery (Royal Canadian Army) was formed on August 6 1944 under the command of Maj D.M. Cooper (RCA). The battery comprised a Headquarters and 3 troops, each manning 1 Sherman O.P. tank and 4 95-MM S.P. Centaurs. The Centaur tank was heavily armed, mounting a Q.F., 95-MM Tank Howitzer MK-1 and 2 7.92-MM Besa machine guns. Twin Vickers G.O. machine guns gave anti-aircraft protection, and auxiliary weapons carried included a Cal .45 Thompson and a 9-MM Sten gun, a smoke bomb thrower and a rear smoke emitters, and an assortment of grenades of various sizes.

[48] Royal Canadian Army personnel to bring the 1st Canadian Centaur Battery to strength were posted from the 12th C.B.R. Bn, and on Aug 14, the Canadian Battery completed taking over from the X Armored Battery R.A. in the Ranville area. A British officer (Capt E.J. Leapard, R.A.) who had been with the guns since D Day, remained on attachment to the Canadian unit as Battery Captain, together with the 15th R.A. Signal personnel, and one R.E.M.E. fitter (gun). A few days were spent in getting the gun crews thoroughly familiar with their new jobs, ready to carry the role of the 6th Airborne Division Artillery was : (1) Maximum harassing five on the enemy’s administrative machinery. (2) Vigorous and immediate retaliatory fire. (WD., 1 Centaur Bty, R.C.A., Aug 10 1944)

[49] On Aug 17 1944, the guns of the battery came into action near Bréville, as Operation Paddle began. For this operation the 1st Canadian Centaur Battery, under control of the 53rd Light Regiment R.A. (WY), was in support of the 6th Air Landing Brigade. 3 Days later the Canadian battery left on the West side of the Dives River when the Air Landing Brigade went forward, came under command of the 1st Belgian Brigade (Piron), and on Aug 21, moved to Varaville in support of the Royal Netherlands Brigade (ibid: August 20 1944).

[50] The Dives River was crossed on Aug 22 and that afternoon, the Canadian guns went into action again at a point (441094) South of Deauville, using an O.P. established in one of the town’s hotels. Steering and brake trouble had left 5 Centaurs stranded along the road, and 2 of the unit’s 3 Sherman had been put out of action by mines. Next day the battery leaving Belgian Command, moved to the La Haie Tondue rendezvous (para #30) and on the afternoon of Aug 24 crossed the Touques River in support of an Armored Recce Regiment (ibi: Aug 24 1944, Designation of unit not given). Further breakdowns had reduced the battery’s total armor strength to 1 Sherman, 2 Centaurs and 1 Cromwell tank, the last-named borrowed from the Recce Regiment.

[51] For the assault on Beuzeville on August 25 (para #35), the 1st Canadian centaur Battery gave effective support to the 3rd Parachute Brigade, carrying out a fire plan of 60 rounds per gun. Then the unit moved forward again (Aug 26) with Dutch infantry riding on its tanks and vehicles. Outside Pont-Audemer (774063) its guns went into action once more, as targets were engaged for the Armored Recce Regiment and for the Armored cars of the Belgian Piron Brigade. As the 49th (WS) Division moved in to take over the area (para #36), the battery moved to a new position (718106) to the rear of Toutainville.

[52] The short but active life of the 1st Centaur Battery, Royal Canadian Army, was almost over. On August 28, the unit was reorganized as a six-gun battery, the six surplus gun crews being returned to the 2nd C.B.R.G. But with the removal of the 6th Airborne Division from an operational role, the need for the employment of the S.P. battery ceased. On August 29, orders were received for the disbandment of the unit, effective August 30 (ibid: Appx 2). Tanks were handed over to the British (259 Delivery Squadron Royal Canadian Army) and the remaining personnel went to the 2nd C.B.R.G. By September 2 1944, the 1st Centaur Battery ceased to exist. It’s obituary notice may be found in the following War Diary entry : During its short life B.R.A. states that it performed a very useful purpose, and although originally immobile it was able to keep up with the advance of the 6th British Airborne Division, and give useful fire support. (WD, A.Q. Branch, Adm HQs, 1st Canadian Army, August 30 1944)

[53] The following report was begun by Capt T.M.Hunter and was revised and completed by Maj W.H. Nicholson. The material contained in it has been checked by Maj W.H. Hemphill, DAA & QKG, Canadian Liaison Section, Headquarters 6th British Airborne Division, and by Maj J.A. Clancy, MC, who was with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion through the entire Normandy Campaign. This original Royal Canadian Army Archive was fully retyped by Gunter G. Gillot Jr, European Center of Military History and was finished on July 6 2015.

C.P.Stacey Colonel
Historical Officer

Canadian Military Headquarters

canadian-flag-apr-17-14-post-federal-funding-graphicstock-1024x384

For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Francorchamps 4970
Belgium
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be





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(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)

 

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