The Battle for Normandy, June – July 1944
On 6 June 1944 the Allies launched the largest amphibious invasion in history on the coast of Northern France. Known as D-Day or the Normandy Landings, this assault formed part of Operation Overlord, the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War Two.
The 1st Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment, formed part of the 214th Infantry Brigade (43rd Wessex Infantry Division) that landed as reinforcements in Normandy on 22 June 1944 under the command of Brigadier Hubert Essame.
In support of the first major objective, the German-occupied city of Caen, the 43rd (Wessex) Division were ordered to occupy the ground captured at Cheux. The Worcesters and the 5th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry were assigned this task. This was completed by mid-morning, on the 27th June. The Battalion sustained over 16 casualties during this action, including all the officers of A Company. The village continued to be subjected to heavy mortar fire throughout the day and continuous harassment by German snipers. Despite this the Battalion had “dug in” and consolidated their position effectively.
Next day, the Worcesters were ordered to attack the village of Mouen, a mile and a half beyond. In what was described as ‘one of the slickest attacks of the War’, the Battalion moved forward with speed round the flanks of the village, wiping out machine-gun posts, and took the centre with few casualties.
Hill 112 10th – 23rd July 1944
On 6th July, 43rd Division, including the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, was ordered to prepare to attack and capture Hill 112. This was the dominating feature for miles around and overlooked Caen and the routes inland. Although the valleys below the hill were full of high hedges and trees, beyond the country was completely open cornfields rising up to the shoulder of Hill 112.
On the 10th July the attack started, 129 and 130 Brigades gained most of the crest after very bitter fighting reminiscent of 1914-18. The Worcesters received orders to move forward and by late afternoon they too had “dug in” in cornfields to the west of Chateau de Fontaine. The next day, fierce battles continued along the whole front. The Worcesters were ordered to hang on at all costs! However, on the 14th July they were relieved and withdrew to Bas de Mouen.
The Worcesters were again ordered to the foot of Hill 112 on the 17th July. The next day they were to make yet another attempt to get a footing on the far side of the crest of the Hill. This time it was to be a night attack. When the enemy put in heavy counter-attacks the Worcesters were forced back and fighting went on until just before dawn.
Finally, on the 23rd July the order came through that the 43rd Division was moving out of the line to a rest area at Jerusalem, near Bayeux, after 5 weeks of continued fighting.
‘Operation Neptune’ – the crossing of the Seine at Vernon, 26th August 1944
On 23rd August the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment came under the command of 129 Brigade for ‘Operation Neptune’ – the crossing of the Seine at Vernon. This had to be achieved as fast as possible before the enemy could organise a defence.
On 26th August, the assault was launched. The leading Battalions, the 5th Wiltshires and 4th Somersets, which were trying to cross the river in assault boats came under heavy fire from the far bank. In order to re-enforce the few men who had landed, the Worcesters were ordered to cross the damaged bridge on foot. The first attempt failed due to heavy enemy fire. When this had been neutralised by artillery fire, the Battalion crossed and cleared the village of Vernonnet.
The next day the 1st Battalion advanced along the road to Tilly. Here they were counter attacked by enemy infantry and tanks but after some hours of confused fighting they secured their sector of the bridgehead. This enabled temporary bridges to be built across the river behind them and for armoured units to cross and continue the advance. The operation cost the Battalion 60 casualties, including 27 killed.