British 6th Airborne Division

6th Airborne Division
ActiveWorld War II
3rd May 1943 - 1st April 1948
CountryGreat Britain
BranchBritish Army
TypeAirborne
Battles/warsOperation Overlord
Operation Varsity
Battle honoursD-Day
Normandy
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Maj.Gen. Richard Nelson Gale


The 6th Airborne Division was an airborne unit of the British Army during World War II.

Formation

On 23 April 1943 the British War Office ordered that a second airborne division be raised to supplement the original British 1st Airborne Division. The new division consisted initially of key personnel reassigned from 1st Airborne. This included several officers who had fought in North Africa with the 1st Parachute Brigade. For example, Richard Gale had raised and commanded the 1st Parachute Brigade. James Hill had commanded 1st Parachute Battalion. Alastair Pearson had been his second-in-command. Geoffrey Pine-Coffin had been second-in-command of 2nd Battalion.

The core of the new 6th Airborne Division was formed from the 3rd Parachute Brigade and 1st Airlanding Brigade. Both were reassigned from 1st Airborne. Lieutenant Colonel James Hill assumed command of 3rd Paracute Brigade while he was recovering from wounds received in North Africa. At 31, Hill was one of the youngest Brigadiers in the British army. The 3rd Parachute Brigade included the 7th, 8th and 9th Parachute Battalions. Each battalion had been recruited regionally. The 7th had been formed from the Somerset Light Infantry. Many paratroopers of the 8th were from the Midlands. The 9th was formed from the 10th Holding Battalion, The Essex Regiment. Lieutenant Colonels Pine-Coffin, Pearson, and Otway were the commanders the 7th, 8th, and 9th Battalions, respectively.

The 1st Airlanding Brigade was renamed the 6th Airlanding Brigade. It included two glider-borne, light infantry battalions: 1st Battalion the Royal Ulster Rifles (Lieutenant Colonel Jack Carson) and 2nd Battalion the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Michael Roberts). Later, the 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Dick Stephens), which had been formed recently from coastal defence units, was attached to the 6th Airlanding Brigade.

In June 1943, the 5th Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Nigel Poett, was added. It included the 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions. The 12th Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Reginald Parker) was formed from a Yorkshire battalion, the 10th Battalion, the Green Howards. The 13th was formed from the 2nd and 4th Battalions of the South Lancashire Regiment. It was led by Lieutenant Colonel Peter Luard. Lieutenant-Colonel George Bradbrooke's 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion arrived in July 1943. Other units attached to the division included pathfinders, engineers, anti-tank, reconnaissance, medical, and signals units.

In August 1943, the division was reorganized. The Canadians were attached to 3rd Parachute Brigade and the 7th Battalion was assigned to 5th Parachute Brigade. In September 1943, the 6th Airborne Division was almost at its full complement of about 8,500 men. Each parachute battalion consisted of about 650 men. The airlanding battalions were slightly larger with about 750 men each. In February 1944, Parker was made second-in-command of the 6th Airlanding Brigade and Lieutenant Colonel A.P. "Johnny" Johnson assumed command of the 12th Parachute Battalion.

D-Day

Enlarge picture
British Pathfinders synchronising their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle.


During the last hours of 5 June 1944 as part of Operation Tonga, transport aircraft and towed gliders carried units of the 6th Airborne to Normandy where they would land just prior to the D-Day landings that took place on the morning of 6 June. They were to land behind Sword Beach and secure the eastern flank. Some of the objectives included the seizure of the bridge over the Caen Canal (later renamed as "Pegasus Bridge" and the bridge over the Orne River (renamed later as Horsa Bridge) by D Company, 2nd Ox & Bucks (commanded by Major John Howard). And also the destruction of the Merville Battery by Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway's 9 PARA, both of whom were some of the first units to land and achieve their objectives. The landings proved successful, though many units were scattered across much of Normandy. The area around Pegasus and Horsa were successfully defended until they were eventually relieved, having repulsed numerous counter-attacks by the Germans, later on 6 June by Lord Lovat's 1 Special Service Brigade, followed later by elements of the British 3rd Infantry Division.

On 12 June, during the attack on Bréville, British artillery was bombarding it when a stray shell fell short and hit a group of British officers, killing Lieutenant-Colonel A.P. "Johnny" Johnson (CO 12 PARA) and badly wounding Brigadiers Kindersley (CO 6 Airlanding Brigade) and Lord Lovat (CO 1st Special Service Brigade).

From June to August the Division successfully defended the area to the east of the Orne river. On 2 August 1944 the division became part of the First Allied Airborne Army. In mid-August the division took part in the advance towards the Seine and early in September it returned to Britain to recuperate and reorganise, having suffered over 4,000 casualties (killed, wounded, and missing).

The Battle of the Bulge

On 16 December the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge a last-gasp offensive against the Allies in the Ardennes forest. The 6th Airborne was rushed to Belgium shortly afterward to assist in repulsing the attack. The fighting took place in awful weather conditions, ending in mid-January 1945.

The Rhine Crossings

On 24 March the 6th Airborne took part in the airborne crossing of the Rhine (known as Operation Varsity), taking place a day after the crossing of the Rhine by ground forces. The Germans had expected them and the division suffered significant casualties in the air and on the ground. The operation was a success, if a costly one, and the 6th Airborne subsequently advanced east, eventually linking up with the Soviets near the Baltic port of Wismar in late April. The Second World War ended in Europe on 8 May 1945.

Later Operations

The war, however, continued elsewhere and the 5th Parachute Brigade was deployed to the Far East in July to take part in the campaign against the Japanese, with the intention of the rest of the division following it. The war ended suddenly in August with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese formally surrendered on 2 September. Thus, the Division's move was halted and the 5th Brigade was employed in operations in Malaya and Singapore to assist in the disarmament of the Japanese occupation forces there. The Brigade subsequently moved to Java, Dutch East Indies, where it attempted to assist in maintaining order against hostile nationalist forces intent on preventing the Dutch from returning to the colony. The division left with the arrival of substantial forces from the Royal Netherlands Army in April 1946.

Elsewhere, the rest of the division had moved to Palestine in September 1945, taking part in internal security duties against Zionist organisations known as Irgun, Haganah and the Lehi (group) who were trying to expel the British. The 6th Airborne continued to carry out operations against the groups in difficult circumstances until they were disbanded on 1 April 1948 just before the British left Palestine.

In the present-day British Army the 16 Air Assault Brigade (named to perpuate the 16 Parachute Brigade) is numbered in honour of the 1st Airborne and 6th Airborne divisions.

Commanders

Constituent Units

This is the composition of the division at the time of the Normandy invasion.

3rd Parachute Brigade (Brigadier James Hill)
  • 8th (Midland Counties) Parachute Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson)
  • 9th (Eastern and Home Counties) Parachute Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway)
  • 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel George Bradbrooke)
  • 3rd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA (Major Nick Crammer)
  • 3rd Parachute Squadron, RE (Major Tim Roseveare)
  • 224th Parachute Field Ambulance, RAMC (Lieutenant-Colonel D. H. Thompson)
5th Parachute Brigade (Brigadier Nigel Poett)
  • 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Geoffrey Pine-Coffin)
  • 12th (Yorkshire) Parachute Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Johnson)
  • 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Luard)
  • 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA (Major Peter Dixon)
  • 591st Parachute Squadron, RE (Major Andy Wood)
  • 225th Parachute Field Ambulance, RAMC (Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce Harvey)
6th Airlanding Brigade (Brigadier The Honourable Hugh Kindersley) Divisional Units
  • 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, RA (Lieutenant-Colonel Tony Teacher)
  • 2 Forward (Airborne) Observation Unit, RA (Major Harry Rice)
  • 2nd Airlanding Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA (Major W. A. H. Rowatt)
  • 6th Airborne Divisional Postal Unit, RE (Captain JCG Hine RE)
  • 22nd Independent Parachute Company (Major Francis Lennox-Boyd)
  • 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Godfrey Stewart)
  • 6th Airborne Division Signals (Lieutenant-Colonel D. Smallman-Tew)
  • 63rd Composite Company, RASC (Major A. C. Billie-Top)
  • 398th Composite Company, RASC (Major M. E. Phipps)
  • 716th Composite Company, RASC (Major E. C. Jones)
  • 6th (Airborne) Divisional Ordnance Field Park, RASC (Major W. L. Taylor)
  • 6th (Airborne) Divisional Workshops, REME (Major E. B.Bonniwell)
  • 10th Airlanding Light Aid Detachment, REME
  • 12th Airlanding Light Aid Detachment, REME
  • 6th (Airborne) Divisional Provost Company, CMP (Captain Irwin)
  • 317th Field Security Section, Intelligence Corps (Captain F G MacMillan / Capt. Donaldson-Loudon)
Attached Units
  • The Glider Pilot Regiment
  • No. 1 Wing (Lieutenant-Colonel Iain Murray)
  • No. 2 Wing (Lieutenant-Colonel John Place)
  • HQ, 245th Provost Company, CMP

In the Media

  • Call of Duty - a first-person shooter game for PC. Gamers play as Sgt. Evans; a member of the British 6th Airborne Division. Your task is to assault the Bénouville Bridge and hold it until relieved. Some characters from the actual event are portrayed, however with different names. The order of events is dramatised somewhat and is not historically accurate.
The exploits of the 6th Airborne, and the events of the 5th Of June 1944, are also the basis of the source book D-1, for the tabletop battle game Flames Of War.

See also

External links

Sources

Bernage, Georges (2002). Red Devils In Normandy. Heimdal, 9. ISBN 2840481596.Heimdal&rft.pages=9"> 

Hickman, Mark. Pegasus Archive. Retrieved on 2006-12-07.

Mills, T.F.. Land Forces of Britain, the Empire, and Commonwealth. Retrieved on 2006-12-09.

Saunders, Hilary (1985). The red beret: The story of the parachute regiment at war 1940-1945. Battery Press. ISBN 0898390877. 
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Canada: 5,000 dead; 13,000 wounded and missing;
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Operation Varsity was an airborne operation towards the end of World War II, intended to gain a foothold across the River Rhine in western Germany as a part of Operation Plunder. It involved two divisions and 1,700 transport aircraft.
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A battle honour is a military tradition practiced in the Commonwealth countries of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand and is an official acknowledgement rewarded to military units for their achievements in specific wars or operations of a military campaign.
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D-Day is a term often used in military parlance to denote the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. "D-Day" often represents a variable, designating the day upon which some significant event will occur or has occurred; see Military designation of days and
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67,060 wounded,
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Richard Nelson Gale, GCB, KBE, DSO, MC (1896 – 1982) was a British soldier who served in both world wars, rising eventually to be Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
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Airborne forces are military units, usually light infantry, set up to be moved by aircraft and 'dropped' into battle. Thus they can be placed behind enemy lines, and have an ability to deploy almost anywhere with little warning.
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The British Army is the land armed forces branch of the British Armed Forces. It came into being with unification of the governments and armed forces of England and Scotland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.
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1st Airborne Division was a military unit that fought in World War II. It suffered terrible casualties, especially in Operation Market Garden. The unit was the first to use the maroon beret, now an internationally recognised symbol of elite airborne forces.
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5,5 Richter Scale, 34º36'00S, 57º53'59'W.
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    Operation Tonga was the codename given to the landing of the British 6th Airborne Division on the eastern flank of the invasion area during the Battle of Normandy on the night of the 5/6 June 1944, and was part of Operation Neptune, the assault portion of Operation Overlord.
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    June 6 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

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    Pegasus Bridge is a bascule bridge over the Caen Canal, near Ouistreham, France. The bridge, also known as the Bénouville Bridge after the neighbouring village, was a major objective of Operation Tonga.
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    Canal de Caen à la Mer ("Canal from Caen to the sea"; also called the "Caen Canal") is a small canal in the department (préfecture) of Calvados, France, connecting the Port of Caen, in the city of Caen, downstream to the town of Ouistreham and the English Channel.
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    Pegasus Bridge is a bascule bridge over the Caen Canal, near Ouistreham, France. The bridge, also known as the Bénouville Bridge after the neighbouring village, was a major objective of Operation Tonga.
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    Origin Normandy
    Mouth English Channel
    Basin countries France
    Length 170 km
    Source elevation 240 m

    Avg. discharge 27,5 m³/s
    Basin area 2,932 km² The Orne is a river in Normandy, within northwestern France.
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    Major John Howard, DSO (December 8, 1912- May 5, 1999) was a British Army officer who led the World War II assault on "Pegasus", a vital bridge over the Caen Canal, and the bridge over the adjacent River Orne (about 500 yards to the east).
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    The Merville Gun Battery was a costal fortification in Normandy, France in use as part of the Nazi's Atlantic wall built to defend continental Europe from Allied invasion. It was one of the first places to be attacked by Allied forces on D-Day.
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