The D-Day Assault on Sword Beach

Sword Beach was easternmost of five landing beaches targeted along the Normandy coast, during the initial assault against German defenses on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (codenamed Operation Neptune).

The beach stretched eight kilometers from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.  It was assigned to the 3rd British Infantry Division.

Operation Neptune Papers WW2

The night before D-Day, under the command of General Richard Gale, the British 6th Airborne Division conducted a massive airborne operation.  Their mission was to secure a landing area on the beach.

Sword Beach Landing Map Operation Neptune WW2

The mission had four objectives:

  • Capture two bridges that spanned the Orne River, the Caen Canal, the Merville Battery and the area delimited by the Dives and Orne Rivers, to allow troops that landed on Sword Beach to move inland towards Caen
  • Deny the Germans an eastern invasion route by destroying the bridges over the Dives River
  • Prevent an enemy counter-attack by taking control of the area bordered by the Dives and Orne Rivers
  • Destroy the battery of Merville to disrupt and weaken German troops stationed there and reduce their potential threat to the Sword Beach sector

The 6th Airborne paratroopers successfully achieved all these objectives by early morning on D-Day.

Commandos Landing on Sword Beach WW2

The assault on Sword was assigned to two groups.  The British and French Commandos of Lord “Shimi” Lovat and the 3rd British Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Tom Rennie.

The British Commandos’ mission was to break through German defenses and move five kilometers inland.  Their destination; the two bridges spanning the Caen Canal and the Orne River.

Commandos moving inland from Sword Beach

The French Commandos’ mission was to neutralize Riva Bella Casino and liberate Ouistreham.  The town was heavily defended by German troops.

The commandos were led by Philippe Kieffer, a hero of the Free French forces of WW2.

Riva Bella Casino Sword Beach WW2

Postcard of Riva Bella Casino, Normandy, before the D-Day assault.

The Germans had turned the casino into an impenetrable stronghold.  It was protected by minefields and several bunkers connected by a network of trenches.

Although they attacked the casino with grenades and anti-tank weapons, Commander Kieffer and his men struggled to neutralize two main defenses of the building: a water tower and a bunker.

Commando Kieffer Unit WW2

Despite being wounded, Kieffer convinced a tank operator from the 27th Armoured Brigade to help him and his men knock out the defenses around these buildings.

With the support of the Centaure tank, the French Commandos soon overpowered the German defenses and took control of the stronghold.

Commando Keiffer insignia

Commando Kieffer insignia

The five elements on the insignia represent:

  • the lion of Normandie
  • the dagger of the Commandos
  • the anchor of the Navy
  • the thistle of Scotland
  • the Croix de Lorraine, symbol of the Free French




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French Fighter Squadron Normandie-Niemen pilots