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On 6 June 1944 the greatest amphibious operation in the history of British Arms was launched on the coast of Normandy, in north-west France. This was the beginning of the assault by the Allies on Hitler’s Fortress Europe’. The aim was to liberate Western Europe from the German occupying forces.
The Allied landing forces were under the command of Gen Sir Bernard Montgomery, who had been an officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (later the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers) from 1908 to 1934 and who was subsequently promoted Field Marshal, and became Colonel of the Regiment. The 3rd British Infantry Division landed on the left of the Allied forces, on ‘Queen’ Beach between Lion-sur-Mer and La Breche. 8 Brigade of the Division, which was the assault force, went ashore at 0625 hours. It was followed by 185 Brigade, which was to pass through 8 Brigade and advance south to seize Caen, nine miles inland. One of the three Battalions in 185 Brigade was the 2nd Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
The Battalion lost three landing craft by enemy fire during the final run in to the beach. By mid-morning on 6 June all four rifle companies were formed up under fire ready to advance south to clear the Brigade axis Hermanville – Beauville – Lebisey - Caen. Some German strong points, which were still holding out on the left flank and which were firing on the beaches, forced the plan to be changed. The Battalion was accordingly ordered to clear the villages to the east and south east, Coleville, Benouville and Blainville where these German posts were located. The first two villages were quickly cleared and a company was left in Benouville to hold the two vital bridges over the River Orne. By the end of D Day the Battalion had cleared the northern outskirts of Blainville, having advanced seven miles and incurred light casualties, four killed and 35 wounded.
On D+1 the Battalion was ordered to extend the beachhead by capturing the village and the wood at Lebisey, which were on high ground immediately north of Caen and some 3,000 yards south west of the Battalion’s position at Blainville. Unknown to the Battalion or to 185 Brigade the village and the wood had been occupied in strength during the previous night by a Battalion of 125 Panzer Grenadiers of the 21st Panzer Division. In this attack, which was executed in daylight, by three companies only, the Battalion lost ten officers killed, including the Commanding Officer, and 144 other ranks. The Battalion reached and held the fringe of the wood, but despite a follow-up attack by the 1st Norfolks the objectives could not be secured and both Battalions were forced to withdraw.
Lebisey was eventually captured a month later on 8 July, appropriately by the 2nd Battalion, which continued the next day to participate in the capture of Caen, at a total cost of six officers and 153 other ranks.
The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment remained in the 3rd Division in 21 Army Group until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, fighting from the Normandy beaches to 75 kilometres north of Bremen. The 1/7th Battalion of the Regiment fought in Normandy with the 59th Division from June to the end of August 1944. In 1946, the Colonel of the Regiment ordered the observance of 6 June by the Regiment as Normandy Day to celebrate the Regiment’s part in the liberation of Western Europe.
Forever England, Forever Friends, Forever Family
Fusilier 50 - Celebrating 50 years of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 2018
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