The Allied plans for the campaign in France in 1944 had assumed that the River Seine would be defended with great determination by the Germans. Hitler's refusal to allow his generals to retreat in good order from Normandy meant that this didn’t happen. Instead the German army was forced into a chaotic retreat from the Falaise pocket, denying it the time to prepare for a proper defence of the Seine. The Allies realised that they had a chance to get across a major barrier without the major assault they had planned, and decided to try and 'bounce' their way across the Seine. The plan succeeded, and the crossing of the Seine became something of a footnote in histories of the campaign in France in 1944, seen as part of the 'Great Swan' that brought the Allies to the borders of Germany well ahead of their original schedule.
All this doesn't mean that the Seine was left undefended. All along the river scattered German units put up a determined fight with the limited means at their disposal, although the river line was very quickly breached. One of those battles saw the German 49th Infantry Division attempt to prevent the British 43rd (Wessex) Division from crossing the river at Vernon. This was a rare example of a battle fought between single infantry divisions. Although the British had far more support available than the Germans, the defenders had the advantage of the terrain, holding a series of chalk cliffs that overlooked the British crossing points.
What makes this battle particularly interesting is that very little seemed to go smoothly for the British. Boats grounded on mud banks in the middle of the river, DUKWs got stuck, bridging locations were difficult to find and the first few troops to get across the river found themselves isolated with one unit forced to surrender early on. Despite these setbacks the bridgehead was slowly secured, two bridges built across the river and the advance across France continued. As a result this book is an interesting examination of how a well drilled army can successful cope with setbacks and still achieve its objectives. The book was written while many of the veterans were still alive, and so Ford is able to include many eyewitness accounts of the action, which give it an immediacy often lacking in more modern books.
1 - Vernon on the Seine
2 - The Allies Move to the River Seine
3 - The Plan
4 - Preparations Continue
5 - The Move to the Seine Begins
6 - The German 49th Infantry Division
7 - The Arrival
8 - The Assault
9 - Consolidation
10 - Morning, 26 August
11 - Afternoon, 26 August
12 - Evening
13 - The Second Night
14 - Advance Inland
15 - Counter-Attack
16 - The Division Holds Firm
17 - Bridgehead Secured
Author: Ken Ford
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2011 edition of 1988 original