Sword Beach was the furthest east of the five beaches targeted for D-Day. Sword Beach was based about nine miles to the north-east of the vital city of Caen and was less than ten miles from Gold Beach and four miles from the start of Juno Beach.
Sword Beach itself was about five miles across and the town of Ouistreham was all but in the middle of the target beach. The main prize of Caen was important because all the main roads in the region ran through the city and control of these was vital if the Allies were to successfully advance inland and to the east and west. Such was the importance of Caen, that the Germans were also prepared to fight for it – ultimately to the city’s detriment.
The area around Sword Beach was lightly defended when compared to beaches such as Omaha. The Germans had oriented their main defence around artillery emplacements away from Sword. Five miles to the east of Sword was the Merville Battery where the Germans had placed 75-mm guns. Twenty miles further to the east at Le Harve were 155-mm guns. Eight miles inland of Sword were 88-mm guns. In terms of artillery, Sword could have taken a pounding and casualties could have been high. This, however, never happened.
Units of the British 2nd Army led by Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey were assigned the beach. The time for the first landings at Sword was 07.25 when British and French commandos attacked the beach. Troops from the British 1st Corps led by Crocker continued the attack. The soldiers attacking via the beach were joined by paratroopers from 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades who landed at places inland from the beach. Paratroopers who landed at Ranville, to the south-east of Ouistreham, were less than five miles from Caen.
It was at Sword Beach that Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, of the British Commandos found fame. His men were given the task of moving swiftly off the beach and joining up with the paratroopers who had landed inland.
The British met little resistance at Sword. By 08.00 most of the fighting around the beach was over. By 13.00, commandos had linked up with paratroopers by the Orne waterways, inland from Ouistreham.
However, Sword Beach experienced the only real counter-attack by the Germans on June 6th. British troops had been unable to link up with Canadian troops from Juno – as had been planned – and they were attacked by men from the German 21st Panzer Division. The 192nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment actually reached Sword Beach by 20.00 but it was only a temporary victory as their vehicles were very open to aerial attack and many were destroyed by Allied fighter planes and tanks already landed at Sword. The counter-attack fizzled out.
By the end of the day, 29,000 men had been landed at Sword with 630 casualties. Allied forces had advanced about four miles inland and stabilised the beach. A corridor had been created between Sword Beach and Juno but this was not to prove a long-term problem. However, their major targets of Caen and the aerodrome at Carpiquet were still a long way off.