Gold Beach, 6 June 1944

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The landing on Gold Beach was one of the more successful of the D-Day landings, and by the end of 6 June the British had penetrated the German's coastal defences and were on the verge of liberating Bayeux, which on 7 June became the first French town to be liberated. Gold Beach was on the right flank of the British and Canadian sector on D-Day, and was in the centre of the line of five beaches chosen as Allied landing grounds. The troops on Gold Beach had two vitally important task – to capture Bayeux and prevent the Germans from using the towns through that town to move troops between the beaches, and to link up with the Americans on Omaha Beach. Neither objective would be achieved on D-Day itself, but enough progress was made to ensure that the Germans were unable to launch a full-scale counter attack against the hard-pressed Americans on Omaha Beach.

Gold Beach was the landing ground General G.C. Bucknall's British XXX Corps. The assault was to be carried out by the 50th Infantry Division, supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade, and the 8th Infantry Division was to land later on the day. 231st Brigade was to land on the western half of the beach, facing Le Hamel, with 69th Brigade to the east, at la Rivière. The beach was gentle, with no major obstacles at the top, but it did contain some strands of treacherous soft clay which needed to be covered if they were not to trap Allied armour.

British 2nd Army on D-Day
British 2nd Army
on D-Day

The beach was defended by part of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter's 716th Infantry Division, with elements from the far superior 352nd division on the German left. Richter was painfully aware that many of his troops were Russians, and would probably not put up much of a fight. Many German defensive positions were built into the houses of the villages that lined this part of the Norman coast, which made them much more vulnerable to the Allied naval bombardment than the solid concrete bunkers of Omaha Beach. Some strongpoints did hold out for some time, most notably the sanatorium at Le Hamel, but the thin coastal crust would not hold for long.

The timing of the tides meant that the landing on Gold Beach took place one hour after the landings on the American beaches further to the west. This meant that the naval bombardment lasted much longer and did more damage. The poor weather meant that the tides were higher than expected, which caused some disruption later in the day as landing craft became entangled on the beach defences, but not as much as at Juno Beach, where the landings started even later.

At 7.25 (or 7.35 in some sources) the flail tanks and armoured vehicles of the Westminster Dragoons and the 81st and 82 Assault Squadrons, Royal Engineers, landed at Le Hamel and La Rivière. At the western end of the line the assault teams on the right flank of the 231st Brigade ran into heavy fire. Only one of the flail tanks managed to create a safe way off the beach, while the remaining tanks had their tracks blown off. Even then they served as fixed armoured gun positions and shelter for the infantry.

Gold Beach on D-Day
Gold Beach on D-Day

On the left flank the three assault teams were safe from the fire from Le Hamel and Hobart's specials worked exactly as planned. The flail tanks detonated the German mine, creating four safe lanes through the minefields. The bobbin tanks covered the soft clay patches and the fascine tanks bridged the shell and bomb craters and the anti tank barriers. Within an hour of the landings Hobart's specials had cleared four safe lanes off the Le Hamel beaches and were leading the 231st Brigade onto its first objectives, while the Petard tanks began to destroy German strong-points along the beach.

The strongest German resistance on the coast came at Le Hamel, where the sanatorium held out until mid-afternoon. The 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the leading unit on the British right, was forced to move east from its starting point in front of Le Hamel, advancing through les Roquettes and Asnelles-sur-Mer before attacking Le Hamel from the flank. German resistance finally ended when Petard tanks arrived and destroyed the sanatorium building.

At La Rivière the 5th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment and the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards, the leading battalions of the 69th Brigade, fought a well integrated battle, with the infantry, tanks and off-shore guns working together exactly as hoped. Some tough street fighting meant that the fighting went on until 10.00am, but the Germans were unable to prevent the British from advancing around the village. Even before Le Hamel fell the British had advanced three miles inland and had cut the roads from Le Rivière and Arromaches to Bayeux.

The DD tanks allocated to Gold Beach arrived late, having been carried all the way to the shore to avoid the rough seas. They came into their own later in the day, when they helped support the 56th and 151st Brigades as they advanced into the countryside behind the beach.

One of the most impressive achievements on D-Day was the ten mile long advance of 47th Royal Marine Commandos, the furthest any unit advanced on foot. Their task was to land at the western end of Gold Beach, push slightly inland and then advance west to attack Port-en-Bessin from behind, and by the end of the day they were within a mile of the port. It had been hoped that they would join up with the Americans from Omaha Beach on D-Day, but the port held out for longer than expected, and didn’t fall to the Commandos until early on 8 June.

D-Day beachheads at midnight, 6-7 June 1944
D-Day beachheads at
midnight, 6-7 June 1944

If things had gone according to their plans the Germans would have been able to launch a powerful counterattack on Gold Beach. Kampfgruppe Meyer, the 352nd division's reserve, had been posted around Bayeux, and was prepared for a rapid advance to the beaches, but at four in the morning, with an unknown number of paratroops landings to his west, General Kraiss, the commanding officer of the division, sent his reserves west towards Isigny. At eight he changed his mind, and ordered them back towards the battle on the beaches, sending one battalion to Omaha Beach and the remaining two to Gold. The confusion behind the German lines and the disruption caused by Allied air power meant the reserves didn't reach their assembly area at Brazenville until 17.30, by which time the village was in British hands and instead of being used to launch a counterattack the Kampfgruppe had to be thrown into the defensive battle.

By the end of the day the British on Gold Beach had advanced five miles into France. They had joined up with the Canadians on Juno Beach to form the biggest single beachhead established on D-Day, and although then had failed to capture Bayeux or cut the Bayeux-Caen road, both objectives were achieved on D-Day+1. By the end of D-Day 25,000 men had landed on Gold Beach, at a cost of 400-500 casualties. 

The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more] cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 May 2009), Gold Beach, 6 June 1944 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_gold_beach.html

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