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6th Guards Tank Brigade Badge 6th Guards Tank Brigade in Normandy
by David Lister

The Political Battle
In September 1941 two brigades of the Foot Guards were converted to an armoured role. This formation was the Guards Armoured Division, commanded by Brigadier Adair. About a year later the two brigades were split. One retained the Guards Armoured Division name; the other containing the 4th Coldstream, 4th Grenadier and 3rd Scots Guards regiments, formed what became known as the 6th Guards Tank Brigade.

Left: 6th Guards Tank Brigade Badge.
Originally each infantry division was meant to have a tank brigade under its command. The 6th Guards were meant to be subordinated to the 15th Scottish Division. However, this quickly changed and the Brigades became independent formations.
The 6th Guards were originally equipped with the A13 Mk III Covenanter; but in early 1943 the Brigade was reequipped with the Churchill tank. The early Churchill tanks were deemed a dismal failure due to its rapid development and being hurried into production. It was so dreadful that it got mentioned several times in heated debates in the House of Commons. For example, early models would flood in heavy rain as it had no drainage channels. However, modifications were ongoing, and by the time the Brigade went into action over 71 alterations had been made. These along with its heavy armour made the tank an extremely good infantry tank. Churchill IV
Heavy losses suffered by the 6th Guards in Italy between June 1943 and January 1944 nearly caused the 6th Guards to be disbanded. Due to indecision regarding the Brigade's fate, the entire Brigade had its Churchill VIs replaced by Churchill III and IVs.
Churchill IV Prior to the Normandy landings, all of the 6 pdr guns were replaced with 75mm guns at the Brigade's workshops; oddly this prevented the Brigade’s deployment in Normandy. Montgomery had a preference for 6 pdr armed tanks. Finally the Brigade's commanding officer, Brigadier Verney, complained to King George, who in turn took the complaint to Prime Minister Churchill. Montgomery was persuaded to deploy the 6th Guards. This was further aided by the fact that a third of the tanks had been converted back to 6 pdrs, to meet Montgomery’s requirements.  Finally on the 20 July 1944, the 6th Guards were landed at Gold and Juno beaches.
Operation Bluecoat
During the lull between landing in Normandy and Operation Bluecoat, many of the Brigade's officers visited the vehicle collection points. After seeing the damage inflicted by the German 7.5cm and 8.8cm guns, the Brigade issued orders to weld tracks to the tanks; the hope this improvised measure would add an extra level of protection.

At the time, US forces were taking fire from their flanks from a position about six miles beyond the British frontline. This was a ridge line, with a high point; designated Hill 309.

Due to pressure from the Americans a hasty attack was planned, with no time for reconnaissance. The attack was organised with less than 24 hours notice. The initial objective was Hill 309. That evening the 6th Guards left their marshalling area on a night march towards the front. Again the lack of preparation showed, as many tanks got lost in the darkness. After scouts were sent out the next morning everyone was eventually found.
Churchill VI
The Brigade was in support of the 15th Division, whom it had trained with extensively. The first phase begun with the Grenadier Guards attack on Sept-Vents, and a neighbouring wood with Sherman Crabs and Churchill Crocodiles in support. Despite the Grenadiers Guards losing five Churchills to mines, the Crabs were not used; however the Crocodiles saw plenty of action. The Grenadier Guards pressed on even with the loss of many of their officers to enemy fire. After some early success; heavy mortar fire pinned the supporting infantry, halting the advance.
Churchill Crocodile At the same time the Scots Guards encountered the same heavy mortar fire. Compounded by difficult terrain their attack also bogged down. To maintain the momentum of the attack the Coldstream Guards press on past the Grenadiers Guards. Meeting little resistance the Battalion pushed on to Hervieux. In the afternoon the Coldstream Guards captured Hill 309, despite the boggy terrain and opposition from German armour.

Meanwhile, the Scots Guards had captured their foremost objective; Hill 226 over four miles behind the enemy frontlines. Shortly after capturing the hill, the Scots Guards were attacked by three Jagdpanthers.

The attack came from a wood that should have been captured by an infantry unit earlier in the day. However the unit responsible for securing the wood had been delayed by German resistance and in the devastating attack that followed the Scots Guards lost eleven Churchills. Despite these loses, the Scots Guards were able to disable two of the Jagdpanthers.

Fresh infantry were then brought up to support the Scots Guards. Due to the terrain, the infantry’s support weapons had to be manhandled into position, as none of the towing vehicles could make it. At the same time the Grenadier Guards, with fresh infantry support captured Montchauvet.
On the 1 August the 21. Panzer Division launched a pair of counterattacks. The first started with a preliminary bombardment at 0530hrs; this attack was easily blunted. Shortly afterwards the second attack was launched. While it was kept away from the hill, the exchange of fire lasted most of the day until the Germans withdrew at 1600hrs.

During the night four German deserters came over to the British lines. Information obtained from them revealed that another attack was being prepared in a nearby orchard. Immediately all available artillery support was directed at the orchard. Reinforced by the 3” and 4.2” mortars of the infantry; the results caused several Tiger tanks and supporting German infantry to retreat in disarray.
Churchill IV
The Following Days
After Bluecoat, the Brigade was split up to support infantry regiments from the 15th Division in limited attacks along the front. On 7 August under thick fog, the Grenadier Guards attacked Estry. But the lead squadron quickly ran into a German minefield, covered by Tigers and anti-tank guns. After stalling, a second squadron passed through the lead squadron and attacked. It barely managed to reach the outskirts of the town by nightfall. After a night of point blank fire from the Germans, it was forced to withdraw.

Later another squadron with AVRE and Crocodiles support attempted to push into the town, but the sunken lanes of the bocage hampered the specialised tanks, and they could not make an impact on the outcome. A final attempt was made by the entire Battalion, this last ditch effort was no more successful than previous attempts.
6th Guards Tank Brigade Organisation
6 Guards Tank Brigade Organisation

The Coldstream Guards had no luck trying to fight their way round the village either. Their progress was slow, and communications with the US forces on their flank were patchy. On a few occasions the Coldstream Guards prepared to launch attacks on enemy positions that were captured by the US forces. Luckily last minute communications prevented those attacks from going in and disaster was averted.  The Germans withdrew from Estry on 11 August and the 6th Guards Tank Brigade was relieved by the 11th Armoured Division.

Due to the slow speed of the Churchill, the Brigade was seen as ill suited for the pursuing of the Germans during the breakout of Normandy. It was during this period extra training was undertaken in preparation for future actions. Some officers were allowed to tour the surrounding countryside, normally returning to the Brigade with cheese, wine and other local delicacies. One pair of foraging officers took part in the liberation of Paris; arriving hours before it was officially liberated!

~ David.

Learn about other Churchill units in Normandy here...
Learn more about the Churchill tank here...

D-Day: British

British Tanks in Normandy, by Ludovic Fortin. ISBN: 2915239339.
6th. Guards Tank Brigade by Patrick Forbes. ISBN B000J2P9M8.

6th Guards Tank Brigade in Flames Of War
You may field a Normandy Guards Tank Squadron representing a force from the
6th Guards Tank Brigade using the Churchill Tank Squadron from D-Day: British and the Infantry Tanks Command Card from the D-Day: British Command Cards pack.

Last Updated On Monday, April 20, 2020 by Wayne at Battlefront