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Commonwealth War Graves Commission


The Normandy Campaign, June - August 1944

Apart from raids and special operations, no Allied serviceman set foot on French soil between the Dunkirk evacuation of June 1940 and the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. The invasion, under the supreme command of General Eisenhower and code named Overlord, was to be the largest combined military operation in history. Allied strategy in the weeks leading up to the landings led German intelligence to believe that the invasion would take place elsewhere, and their defending forces had been dispersed accordingly. Poor weather added a final element of surprise. On that first day, preceded by an intense bombardment from sea and air, a combined force of 133,000 United Kingdom, Canadian and American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy from the east side of the Cotentin Peninsula to the mouth of the River Orne, below Caen. A further 23,000 men of three airborne divisions had already landed by parachute and glider to secure the flanks of the invading force. Naval and air support was provided by all countries of the Commonwealth as well as France, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland. To supply the armies, two artificial 'Mulberry' harbours were towed across from England and assembled off Arromanches.

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The German counter-offensive launched on 7 August provided a temporary check to the advance, but ultimately left a substantial German force encircled by the Allies in a pocket extending eastwards from Mortain to a narrow gap between Falaise and Argentan. Seeing the danger, the Germans fought desperately to withdraw, but half of the force of 15 divisions was trapped when the gap was closed by the Canadians and Poles on 20 August, near Chambois. Thereafter, the Germans concentrated on evacuating their remaining forces across the Seine and withdrawing north-east. The Americans advanced on the right - the French Armoured Division taking the surrender of Paris on 25 August - while the British Second Army moved up the centre to liberate Brussels on 3 September. On the left flank, the Canadians fought their way up the coast, investing and taking the Channel ports, and crossed into Belgium on 7 September.

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Despite determined opposition, initial progress was promising. By mid June the Americans had advanced up the Cotentin Peninsula almost to Valognes, while the United Kingdom and Canadian forces had pushed inland south of Bayeux and were only six kilometres from Caen. However, the German forces fought back with great tenacity and skill, the close broken countryside favouring defence and largely cancelling out the Allied superiority in numbers. On 19 June a violent storm lasting four days struck the Channel. Convoys at sea were dispersed and unloading of supplies virtually stopped. This setback further slowed the advance and allowed the Germans to reinforce around Caen, the pivot of their defence. It was chiefly the United Kingdom and Canadian troops who engaged this heavy concentration of German forces and the city was not totally captured until 18 July. Meanwhile, the Americans were clearing the Cotentin Peninsula and pushing south, taking St Lo, also on 18 July. The bridgehead was now secure, but a further deterioration in the weather delayed the breakout until 25 July. The Americans drove south and west into Brittany, while also covering the flank of the United Kingdom and Canadian forces (now joined by a Polish division) moving south and east towards the Seine.

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The Dead
The position of the 18 Commonwealth war cemeteries in Normandy give an indication of the progress of the fighting. There are more than 22,000 Commonwealth servicemen buried in these cemeteries but many more graves will be found in churchyards and village cemeteries throughout the region. The figures given are for Commonwealth burials in these cemeteries and are mostly of United Kingdom forces, unless otherwise stated. Some cemeteries also contain large numbers of German graves, and war graves of other nationalities.
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Many of the images in the following pages chart the work of 48 Graves Concentration Unit which was based at Bayeux in the post-war years. The Unit, supported by French civilian workers, brought Commonwealth graves from scattered sites all over Normandy to form todays cemeteries. When their concentration work was complete, the cemeteries were passed into the Commissions care.

For the most part, the cemetery contains the graves of men killed in the fighting from the second week of July, when Caen was finally captured, to the last week in August when the Falaise Gap had been closed and the Allies were preparing for their advance beyond the Seine.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers

(2048 burials)
The village of Reviers lies 18 km east of Bayeux on the D12. The cemetery is 1 km east of the village on the north side of the road.

Bayeux War Cemetery

(3843 burials)

The cemetery lies on the south-west side of the ring road around the city of Bayeux, 100 metres east of the junction with the D5 to Littry.

There was little actual fighting in Bayeux, although it was the first French town of importance to be liberated. Bayeux is the largest Commonwealth cemetery of the Second World War in France and contains burials brought in from the surrounding districts and from hospitals that were located nearby.

Most of those buried in this cemetery are of the 3rd Canadian Division, who died either on 6 June when 355 of the Division's officers and men were killed, or during the early days of the advance towards Caen when the division engaged a German battle group formed from the 716th Division and the 21st Panzer Division.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery

(2957 burials)

Bayeux Memorial

(1808 names)

The Bayeux Memorial stands opposite the war cemetery and bears the names of the men of the Commonwealth forces who died in the Battle of Normandy and have no known grave. The inscription on the frieze of the memorial recalls the Norman conquest of England 900 years before:

This cemetery lies on the west side of the N158, the main road from Caen to Falaise, about 14 km south of Caen and just north of the village of Cintheaux.

('We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror's native land'). The Battle of Normandy Museum lies 200 metres east of the Memorial.

Buried here are those who died during the later stages of the Battle of Normandy, the capture of Caen and the thrust southward - led initially by the 4th Canadian and 1st Polish Divisions - to close the Falaise Gap thus sealing off the German divisions fighting to escape being trapped west of the Seine. Most of the burials are Canadian, with almost every unit of the Canadian 2nd Corps represented in the cemetery.

Brouay War Cemetery

(377 burials)

Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery

(2170 burials)
This cemetery lies about 100 metres south of the N175, the main road from Caen to Pont l'Evque, about 8 km east of Caen and 3.5 km west of Troarn.

About mid-way between Bayeux and Caen, on the N13, take the D217 turn off south-west for Brouay. Cross the bridge over the railway then fork right onto the D94. In the village centre, turn right, following the road under the railway to the church. The cemetery entrance is through the churchyard, behind the church.

Those buried here died for the most part in the heavy fighting during the encirclement of Caen towards the south.

Hermanville War Cemetery

Cambes-en-Plaine War Cemetery

(224 burials)

Hermanville War Cemetery

(1003 burials)
From Caen take the D60 north towards Lionsur-Mer. Follow the road through Hermanville, turning right just past the Mairie (Town Hall). The gates to the cemetery are about 300 metres along this lane, just as it swings north again towards the coast.

From Caen, take the D79 north towards Courselles-sur-Mer. About 6 km from Caen turn right onto the D79B to the village of Cambes-en-Plaine. In the centre, turn left in front of the church and after 500 metres turn right. The cemetery is 300 metres further on, on the right.

More than half of the burials in this cemetery are of men of the South Staffordshire and North Staffordshire Regiments, killed in bitter fighting on 8 and 9 July during the attack on Caen. The greater part of that city was captured on 10 July.

The village of Hermanville lay behind Sword beach and was occupied early on 6 June by men of the 1st Bn. South Lancashire Regiment. Later the same day, the Shropshire Light Infantry supported by the armour of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, managed to reach and hold Bieville-Benville 4 kilometres to the south of Hermanville. Many of those buried in this cemetery died on 6 June and the first few days of the drive towards Caen.

The 48 GCU ops map shows the main battle areas, with each flag representing a grave for concentration

Hottot-les-Bagues War Cemetery (1005 burials)

From Bayeux, take the D6 south-east to Tilly-sur-Seulles. After passing through the town, turn right at Juvigney onto the D9, towards Caumont-l'Event. The cemetery is about 500 metres along this road on the right hand side, on rising ground.

Cambes-en-Plaine War Cemetery

Most of those who lie here were brought in from the surrounding district, where there was much heavy fighting during June and early July, as the United Kingdom forces were trying to press forward in an encircling movement to the south of Caen.

Fontenay-le-Pesnel War Cemetery

(460 burials)

From Caen, take the D9 west towards Fontenay-le-Pesnel. After about 16 km, at the hamlet of St-Martin, turn left onto the D139 towards Granville. After about 1 km, the memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Division will appear on the right. Opposite this is a track leading to the cemetery.

Jerusalem War Cemetery, Chouain

(47 burials)

From Bayeux, take the D6 south-east towards Tilly-sur-Seulles. The cemetery will be found after about 8 km, on the left hand side of the road, at the bottom of a down hill stretch.

This cemetery contains the graves of those who died in the fighting to the west of Caen in June and July. There are particularly large numbers of graves of the South Staffordshire, East Lancashire and Royal Warwickshire Regiments, and the Durham Light Infantry.

Jrusalem is a tiny hamlet near the village of Chouain. The area was the scene of bitter fighting when a German armoured column sought to retake Bayeux shortly after its liberation. The cemetery was begun on 10 June and is one of the smallest Commonwealth war cemeteries.

La Delivrande War Cemetery, Douvres

(942 burials)
From Caen, take the D7 north towards Langrune-sur-Mer. After about 12 km, the cemetery will be found on the right hand side of the road, a little before Douvres-la-Dlivrande crossroads and its twinspired church.

The burials in this cemetery mainly date from 6 June and the landings on Sword beach (particularly Oboe and Peter sectors). Others were brought in later from the battlefields between the coast and Caen.
Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

Ranville War Cemetery and Churchyard

(2235 and 47 burials)
From Caen, take the D513 north-east through the suburb of Colombelles. After about 9 km, turn left at Hrouvillette towards Ranville. After 1 km, turn right into the village, following the Rue Des Airbornes to the cemetery and churchyard.

Secqueville-en-Bessin War Cemetery

(99 burials)
About mid-way between Bayeux and Caen, on the N13, take the D217 turn off north-east for Secqueville. Turn right in the village and after about 200 metres, take the track to the left, signed Farringdon Way. The cemetery will be found in open fields on the left.

The name of Ranville will always be linked with the landing by parachute and glider of the 6th Airborne Division, many of whose dead are buried here. Their task was to seize the vital bridges over the River Orne and the Caen canal. The famous Pegasus bridge, with its museum, lies west of the village

This is a battlefield cemetery containing the graves of men killed in the advance to Caen early in June, with some from subsequent fighting up to the end of that month.

St Charles de Percy War Cemetery

(809 burials)
From Caen, take the N175 towards Vire. About 5 km beyond VillersBocage, fork left onto the D577. Carry on for a further 15 km and turn left onto the D56 at the hamlet of La Ferronire. After 500 metres, turn right into the lane leading to the cemetery.

Ryes War Cemetery, Bazenville

(652 burials)

From Bayeux, take the D12, east. At the village of Sommervieu, carry straight on, following the D112. After 3 km, turn right onto the D87. The road climbs around a bend to the left, and the cemetery will then be found on the left hand side of the road.

Inland from Arromanches, where the 50th Division landed on 6 June, this cemetery contains some burials made just two days after the landing.

The southernmost of the Normandy cemeteries, the majority of those buried here died in late July and early August, in the major thrust made from Caumont-l'Event towards Vire to drive a wedge between the German 7th Army and Panzer Group West.

Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery

Bayeux Memorial

An officer of 48 GCU hands over Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery to an Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission official

Imperial War Graves Commission staff begin their work

St Desir War Cemetery

(597 burials)

Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery

(990 burials)
From Bayeux, take the D6 south-east for about 12 km to Tilly-sur-Seulles. In the centre of town, turn right onto the D13. The cemetery will be found on the left after about 1 km.

War cemeteries of other nations in the Calvados are:

The Normandy American Cemetery at Laurent-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach. The Polish War Cemetery at Langannerie, 18 km south of Caen on the N158 road to Falaise. The German War Cemeteries at La Cambe 23 km west of Bayeux on the road to Carentan, and at St-Dsir 4 km west of Lisieux (practically adjoining the CWGC cemetery).
Brouay War Cemetery

The Village of St-Dsir is about 4 km west of Lisieux on the N13, the main road to Caen. The cemetery is 1 km east of the village, on the D159, which winds northwards to Ouilly-le-Vicomte.

The most easterly of the Commonwealth war cemeteries in Normandy, those buried here died in the final stages of the campaign, in pursuit of the German forces towards the Seine.

There was heavy fighting in these parts immediately after the landings, involving chiefly the 49th and 5th Divisions and the 7th Armoured Division. Tilly itself was not taken until 18 June and fighting continued nearby until mid-July.

St Manvieu War Cemetery, Cheux

(1627 burials)
From Caen, take the D9 west. After about 8 km, the road by-passes St-Manvieu. The cemetery will be found on the right hand side of the D9, just after the junction with the D83 to Cheux on the left. Civilian typists prepare graves registration reports

The burials in this cemetery are from the fluctuating battles from mid-June to the end of July in this region between Tilly-sur-Seulles and Caen.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in France

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars, for building and maintaining memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and for providing records and registers of these 1.7 million burials and commemorations found in most countries throughout the world. Enquiries about the location of individual burials or commemorations in France may be directed to either of the offices below or through the Debt of Honour Register - a search by surname database at the Commission's Web site at www.cwgc.org. Commonwealth War Graves Commission 2 Marlow Road Maidenhead Berkshire SL6 7DX United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0) 1628 507200 Fax: +44 (0) 1628 771208 Web site: www.cwgc.org E-mail: casualty.enq@cwgc.org Commonwealth War Graves Commission France Area Rue Angle Richard 62217 Beaurains France Tel: +33 (0) 3 21 21 77 00 Fax: +33 (0) 3 21 21 77 10 E-mail: france.area@cwgc.org The Commissions Normandy cemeteries are included in Cemeteries and Memorials in Belgium and Northern France, a specially overprinted Michelin road atlas available from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. To order a copy, contact either of the above offices. Our particular thanks go to the unknown photographer attached to 48 GCU who was responsible for many of the images reproduced here, and to Mr Tony Pedder, son of Major Robert Pedder who commanded the unit.

Secqueville-en-Bessin War Cemetery