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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Sword Beach

6 June 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: The Normandy coast north of Caen.
Players: Allies: 1st Corps of General Miles Dempsey's 2nd Army, including 3rd Division, 24 Armoured Brigade and 1 SS (Special Service, later changed to Commando) Brigade; 1st SS Brigade landed 3, 4, 6 and 45 (RM) Commando, along with elements of 10 Commando. Axis: General Friedrich Dollmann's 7th Army including 21st Panzer Division (under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's personal authority).
Outcome: The establishment of a British beachhead at Sword beach.

The British forces that landed at Sword Beach had multiple objectives. Some SS (Commando) Brigade units were to link up with the Juno beachhead to the west; others were to drive southwards, cutting through to the bridges north of Caen which had been captured - and were now being held - by 6th Airborne. Together with Canadian forces from Juno beach, 3rd Division was to take Caen - or at least 'effectively mask' the town, in the carefully chosen words of 1st Corps commander Lieutenant General John Crocker.

At Sword, as at Gold and Juno, British troops faced fierce but short-lived German opposition and a friendly reception from the local population. By the end of the day, only the second of the force's main objectives was met, with the occupation of an extensive tract of territory east of the River Orne.

The troops in the area were reinforced that evening by a massive drop of glider-borne infantry and equipment, protected by a Spitfire and Mustang escort. The objectives of linking up with Juno and taking Caen were precluded by opposition from German land forces: the first which the invasion had faced. British forces on the road to Caen were first held for several hours by 21st Panzer, then forced to fall back to Biéville, 5km (three miles) outside Caen.

The sheer rapidity of the landing, and the congestion on the beachhead which followed, left British forces dangerously spread out and vulnerable to counter attacks from 21st Panzer, operating in the corridor between the Gold/Juno and Sword beachheads.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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