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D-DAY INVASION / AIRBORNE / 12th PARA.

We make war that we may live in peace.
Aristotle
Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
Bible Genesis ix. 6.
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A fine Second World War B.E.M. group of seven awarded to Company Quarter-Master Sergeant R. Linsley, 12th (Yorkshire) Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (A.A.C.) and Green Howards, who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day where his unit was heavily engaged at Ranville - he was subsequently wounded

British Empire Medal, (Military) G.VI.R., 1st issue (4385293 C.Q.M.S. Robert Linsley); India General Service 1936-39, 2 clasps, North West Frontier 1936-37, North West Frontier 1937-39 (4385293 Sjt., Green Howards); 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence and War Medals; Army L.S. & G.C., G.VI.R., Regular Army (4385293 C.Q.M.S., Green Howards), mounted court-style as worn, minor contact wear, generally very fine or better.

B.E.M. London Gazette 8 June 1944. The original recommendation states:

‘This N.C.O. has had unbroken service since May 1926, when he first joined the Green Howards. He has seen much foreign service including seven years in India and service in Shanghai during 1927-28. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 1936 and became a Company Quarter-Master Sergeant in 1940. On conversion of this Battalion [the 12th] to a Parachute Battalion, he volunteered to become a parachutist although in fact a Company Quarter-Master Sergeant is not required to jump. His experience and example have contributed much to the efficiency of his Company. During the months of hard training he has shown himself a most capable and conscientious Company Quarter-Master Sergeant in the Field.’

Robert Linsley, who was born in Durham and enlisted in the Green Howards in May 1926, aged 19 years, served in the 1st Battalion as part of the Shanghai Defence Force in the late 1920s, and in India on the North West Frontier in the mid-to-late 1930s. An experienced N.C.O. by the renewal of hostilities, he was posted to the newly raised 10th Battalion at Tidworth in June 1940, which unit became the 12th (Yorkshire) Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (A.A.C.) in June 1943. As confirmed by the recommendation for Linsley’s subsequent award of the B.E.M., which must have been submitted in early 1944, he qualified as a parachutist and contributed much to the efficiency of his Company, and subsequently dropped with his unit on D-Day, when as part of Brigadier J. H. N. Poett’s 5th Brigade, the 12th Parachute Battalion was charged with seizing the village known as Le Bas de Ranville and securing a DZ for reinforcements due to land later in the day. Lieutenant-Colonel T. B. H. Otway’s Airborne Forces takes up the story:

‘Meanwhile 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions had dropped at 0050 hours and were also scattered. When they moved from their rendezvous each battalion was not more than 60 per cent strong, though odd parties joined up during the day, but 12th Parachute Battalion seized Le Bas de Ranville area and the 13th Parachute Battalion the Ranville-Le Mariquet area. The Germans reacted swiftly against these units and attacked Ranville almost at once, but they were repulsed with the loss of a number of enemy prisoners of war and one German tank destroyed. At 1045 hours a further attack developed supported by self-propelled guns and one tank. By 1300 hours the enemy attacks had increased and the position of the 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions was critical, with the result that the leading Commando of 1 Special Service Brigade was diverted to the area to assist the airborne troops and was not released until evening ... In the fighting at Ranville there were many gallant actions but one was outstanding. Lieutenant J. A. N. Sims, 12th Parachute Battalion, was in charge of a position held by a few men. German infantry attacked, supported by two self-propelled guns, one of which Lieutenant Sims knocked out. The other gun killed his men one by one at point-blank range. However, the officer held his ground until the gun withdrew, leaving him with only three men.’
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British paratroopers waiting to be parachuted in France (6th June, 1944)

Ranville
7th Para Battalion, 13th Para Battalion, 12th Para Battalion. Their mission is to strenghten Major Howard's men on the bridge over the river Orne and on the canal. It is also to clear and secure the LZ "N" for the gliders and to establish a defensive zone on the Southern flank.





Ranville and Orne River Bridge

Ranville, France
6 June 1944

The Situation:

At 0015 hours on 6 June 1944, D-Day, three Horsa gliders landed along side the Caen Canal bridge - later known as Pegasus Bridge - whilst another two landed next to the River Orne bridge. The gliders carried D company, 2nd Battalion Ox and Bucks, plus a detachment of Royal Engineers - the Coup de main force of the entire allied offensive. They quickly captured their objectives from the second rate Axis defenders. .

The pathfinders of the British 6th Airborne Division dropped immediately afterwards to mark the LZ for their compatriots. At 0050 hours the 5th Parachute Brigade dropped and by 0420 had established a perimeter around the two bridges. The 12th Parachute Battalion and their Bridge HQ were located at Ranville, and the 7th Parachute Battlaion in Bénouville west of the Caen Canal Bridge.

The Germans counter attacked throughout the day. At Bénouville the 7th Parachute Battalion fought off elements of 716 Infantry Division supported by units of 21 Panzer Division.

At Ranville, when 21 Panzer Division was finally let off the Fuhrer's leash, Kampfgruppe von Luck achieved some surprise against the 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions. They made good progress as far as Escouville and one German tank even reached the outskirts of Ranville, however, mounting casualties - many from Naval gunfire - forced von Luck to withdraw. 12th Parachute Battalion was also mauled in the fighting,

At 1330 hours men of 1st Special Service Brigade reached the positions of 5th Parachute Brigade. 6 Commando reinforced 12th Parachute Battalion in Ranville.

Normandy, 6 Airborne Division (Map 7 in The Second World War 1939-1945: Airborne Forces)

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A Horsa with a smashed cockpit screen on one of the landing zones.

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Whether Linsley was wounded in these early Normandy actions, or later, remains unknown, but his unit continued to be actively engaged until withdrawn to England that September. The Battalion returned to France at the end of the year and remained on active service until February 1945, when it was recalled home in readiness for “Operation Varsity”, the crossing of the Rhine. Having dropped at Hamminkelin that day, the unit advanced through Osnabruck to Celle, and thence to Radoneck and the crossing of the Elbe in May 1945.

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The main tasks of the 6th Airborne Division were as follows:

1. To capture the Bénouville and Ranville Bridges. These strategically vital bridges, if held against counterattack, would not only prevent the Germans from moving decisively against the flank of the British and Canadian seaborne troops as they advanced inland, but they would also enable the Allies to advance eastwards.

2. The destruction of the Merville Battery. Several miles to the north-east of these bridges was an imposing fortification that contained four large calibre guns, which could do terrific damage to the invasion fleet. The 6th Airborne Division had to attack and destroy these guns in the hours before the landings took place.

By dawn, the 6th Airborne Division was holding a firm defensive position as the Allies began to land on the beaches. The assault began with a terrific bombardment of the beach defences by bombers and warships, after several hours of which the assault infantry pressed forward in their landing craft. By the end of the day, all of the beaches had been captured and the Allies were edging ashore in spite of heavy casualties, the worst of which had been suffered by the Americans on Omaha Beach.

On Sword Beach, nearest to the 6th Airborne Division, the Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade arrived, and with great speed they cut their way through German resistance to link up with the Airborne troops. The Commandos, having crossed the bridges, pushed on northwards to the aid of the desperately weak 9th Parachute Battalion. Elsewhere, the fiercest fighting was experienced by the 12th Parachute Battalion, who fought off two heavy attacks on their positions, and in particular by the 7th Parachute Battalion, who had only a third of their strength and were struggling to hold the western end of Pegasus Bridge from determined German attacks. Despite heavy casualties, they yielded no ground and by midnight they were relieved by the main force of infantry arriving from Sword Beach.

Throughout the next week the 6th Airborne Division held its bridgehead across the River Orne against increasingly vicious attacks. Time after time they threw these back with severe casualties, however a steady toll was being taken on their own numbers and as such it was proving difficult for them to hold such a wide expanse of territory. Gradually the attacks became focused upon a crucial wide ridge, which overlooked the British invasion area and therefore it was vital that this ground be held. Here, the well-equipped German 346th Division made numerous attempts to gain a foothold by constantly attacking the 1st Canadian and 9th Parachute Battalions as well as the 1st Special Service Brigade. On the 12th June, a particularly heavy attack was successfully beaten off, however the position of the two parachute battalions was precarious and it was doubtful whether they could withstand another attack of such magnitude.

The main position from which the 346th Division was fighting was the village of Bréville, which was sited upon the ridge and also served as a potentially destabilising wedge between the positions of the Paratroopers and the Commandos. The commander of the 6th Airborne Division, Major-General Richard Gale, decided that Bréville had to be captured immediately or else his defence might fold. During the night of the 12th June, the 12th Parachute Battalion attacked and successfully captured the village, though at a very high cost. The British lost one hundred and sixty two killed to the Germans seventy seven. Despite this, The Battle of Bréville was a crucial victory because it truly secured the 6th Airborne Division's position, and with it the entire Allied left flank. Furthermore, the offensive spin of the 346th Division had been shattered, and from the 12th June onwards, no further serious attacks were mounted against the 6th Airborne Division.

For the following two months, the Division fought a static defence. That is to say they remained firmly in their positions and made no attempts to advance, but at the same time they sent out numerous heavy patrols, by day and night, to seek out and raid any enemy in their area. The purpose of this strategy was to destabilise the Germans and so prevent them from becoming comfortable enough to contemplate another offensive against the Division. The Airborne troops, and in particular the Commandos, were ideally suited to this task they did an excellent job of unsettling and frustrating their opponents.

Elsewhere, the Allied armies were advancing slowly in the face of stiff opposition. However the Germans were gradually worn down and, in late July, the Americans succeeded in breaking through the lines of the German Seventh Army and began to encircle them in what was to become known as the Falaise Pocket. Inevitably, the Germans were heavily defeated in Falaise, and with their front line in disarray they fell back, rapidly pursued by the Allies. Within weeks, most of France and Belgium had been liberated.

The 6th Airborne Division took part in this advance despite the fact that many doubted that they would be able to maintain the pace, because they had far fewer vehicles and support equipment than a standard British infantry formation had available to it. Confounding the skeptics, the Division, through quick marches and intelligent use of what resources they had, were not in the slightest hindered in this regard and in just ten days they waged a fighting advance over a distance of some thirty miles. Throughout this time, the Germans fought a stubborn rearguard action, particularly across the three rivers that the Division had to ford, but nevertheless they overcame all that was before them, and on the 27th August the Division was ordered to halt at the mouth of the River Seine. Their role in the Normandy campaign was at an end and in early September they returned to England.

Throughout the three months of fighting in Normandy, the 6th Airborne Division had made a crucial contribution to the success of the invasion. All of their objectives had been achieved during the first few hours of the landing, and over the coming days they gave no ground whatsoever in the face of determined German counterattacks. Their casualties, however, had been considerable. Of the approximate ten thousand men of the Division, one thousand one hundred and forty-seven had been killed, two thousand seven hundred and five were wounded, and nine hundred and twenty-seven were missing. The fact that, in spite of this loss, mostly as a consequence of the scattered drop on the first night of the landings, the Division still manage to accomplish its tasks and hold such a wide expanse of territory, can only be attributed to the high calibre of its soldiers.

British Gliders D-Day.

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Lance-Corporals L. Barnett and A. Burton of the Provost Company dug in at a crossroads.

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Mr R. G. Lloyd was a member of 6th Airborne Division:
“I was in the 12th Parachute Regiment, 6th Airborne Division, and we took off in converted Stirling bombers from airfields in various parts of southern England at about 21.30 hours on the 5th June 1944. Our flight across the Channel went off without incident, thanks to the supremacy of the Allied air forces. Incidentally our aircraft had a Canadian crew. In the very early hours of D-Day we were dropped a few miles inland behind the Normandy beaches. As I left the aircraft I could see some light flak coming up, slowly it seemed, like long strings of flaming sausages.
After landing safely in open country, my first impression was not what I expected. It was very quiet. After releasing myself from my parachute and retrieving my kitbag which contained a small radio set, I commenced my stealthy walk towards what I thought should be our rendezvous. I found a crossroads and a few of my comrades. We discovered later that like many of our division, we had been scattered far and wide in the darkness, and so had not time to get to the rendezvous. We then made our way in a small party across open country to our objective, where about 100 of our unit were already in position. From now on, enemy opposition increased, and for a few hours we had a very hectic time. Shells passed overhead – this was H.M.S. Warspite firing her big guns at targets well inland. We could hear the noise of the beach invasion. Daylight came. Yes! This was D-Day and I was in Normandy.” Flak = fire from anti-aircraft guns.