Paying tribute to the 170 members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles who were wounded and killed at the battle for Cambes Wood on the 8th and 9th June 1944. 2RUR had landed on Sword Beach late in the afternoon of D-Day. The plan was that the British would move as quickly as possible off the beach towards the city of Caen, which they hoped would be captured by the end of the day. It’s only ten miles away but it proved to be ten miles too far and in fact, it was July before the city was in Allied hands.
The chaos on the beaches slowed the soldiers’ initial progress but that was just the start of the delay. Much more used to fighting in open countryside, the bocage – a network of fields and hedges built around stone walls made it particularly difficult for the Allies to make any reasonable ground. It was country much more suited to the defensive rather than the offensive and the Germans were well dug in and camouflaged.
On the 7th June, Lieutenant Colonel Harris, the commanding officer of 2RUR, received orders to capture and consolidate Cambes, a village situated in a wooded area six miles inland.
“The battle was fought by our 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles. It was initially a company attack against a battalion position. They had to then reorg(anise) and actually launch a full battalion attack onto this position, which was quite heavily defended by SS German Panzer battalion. They fought their way through the woods we’re standing beside now and into the village itself where a lot of hand-to-hand heavy fighting took place.
This is the field the Ulster riflemen had to advance across. It’s wide open and in June 1944 all they had to protect themselves was the corn growing here.
“It was very, very heavy corn. Thick corn. And it was up above our waists.”
“It must have been about 1,500 yards across that field and there was shelling and mortaring going on and all the rest of it.”
“It was remarked upon that basically once the battalion got over the ridge line and out of the dead ground and into basically the killing area, it was remarked upon, that this is where the attack would stop and some of the brigade staff looking on said, well, this is where it will peter out. To their amazement, from the leadership and courage of the officers and senior NCOs, they drove the men on and kept the men moving and successfully broke into the village and carried on with their objective.”
The Ulsters paid dearly and just seeing the lay of the land which has changed little in the last 70 years gave Major … and his colleagues food for thought.
“Well, from a personal point of view, the way we train in the army, sometimes we try to separate things about how we train, but this had the full package. It was a battalion advance across open ground. They had to fight through a forest, get in and then fight through a village, so with all the combined arms elements as well, the initial attack was not with as much fire support. They learnt from that with the second battalion attack. It was a whole integration of armour, naval gunfire support… The only thing they didn’t have that we would have today, would maybe be air power.”
Caen finally fell on the 9th July 1944, five weeks after D-Day. Fiona Weir, Forces News at Cambes Wood, Normandy.