Chapter 6: Normandy: The Bridgehead Battle, 7–30 June 1944
(See Maps 1 and 2, and Sketches 7, 8 and 9)
The German Reaction to the Assault
The great Allied blow delivered in Normandy on the morning of 6 June 1944 took the Germans by surprise. That this was true on the “strategic” level has already been demonstrated.* It was also true on the “tactical” level; that is to say, the troops actually holding the coast defences had no warning until we opened fire.
The RAF attack on the ten coastal batteries which began at 11:31 p.m. on 5 June does not seem to have been interpreted by the Germans as heralding an assault. Not until the landing of parachute troops in large numbers was reported did their higher headquarters order unusual precautions; and even then their reaction was belated. At 9:45 p.m. German radio interception reported to C-in-C West the transmission at 9:15 p.m. of code messages known to be warnings of imminent invasion to Resistance forces. Shortly afterwards all commands concerned were informed by telephone. At 10:33 p.m. the German Fifteenth Army warned its subordinate formations that one of the messages pointed to “invasion within 48 hours”. At 1:20 a.m. a report of parachute landings in the area of the 711th Infantry Division was received from the Chief of Staff of the 81st Corps. This reflected the descent of the 6th Airborne Division, which as we have seen began as early as 12:20. At 1:45 a.m., after the commander of the 81st Corps had confirmed the descents in a telephone conversation with the Army Commander, “Alert II” (the highest degree of alert) was ordered for all Fifteenth Army corps and headquarters; naval and air commands and Military Governors were informed.1 The Seventh Army, whose area was being more directly assailed, had issued the same order five minutes before, after receiving at 1:30 a.m. a report from the 84th Corps of “parachute descents since 0105 hrs in the areas east and northwest of Caen, St. Marcove [? St. Marcouf], Montebourg, on both sides of the river Vire and on the east coast of the Cotentin”.2
Evidence as to the reception of the reports by the headquarters of Rommel’s Army Group B and of the Commander-in-Chief West is somewhat contradictory, but it would seem that there was some initial reluctance to accept the
* Chap. III.
Allied enterprise as a major undertaking.3 The C-in-C West refrained from reporting the time at which he ordered Alert II. Headquarters Naval Group West, which had itself been unwilling, as recently as 1:30 a.m.,4 to believe in the imminence of a large-scale landing, complained at 4:45 a.m. that the C-in-C West “is not yet convinced that invasion on a large scale has begun”.5 At that precise moment, however, the C-in-C West was requesting the release of the armoured divisions in Armed Forces High Command Reserve.6 Within a few hours, of course, reports of major seaborne landings eliminated all doubts that a very large operation had begun; but the suspicion was still to linger long in German minds that the attack in Normandy was not the main effort.
A matter of vast importance to a successful German defence was obviously the rapid commitment at the decisive point of the armoured divisions in OKW Reserve (above, page 58). As early as 4.45 a.m., as just indicated, Rundstedt’s Chief of Staff, General Blumentritt, dispatched to General Jodl on behalf of the C-in-C West a request for the release to him of these armoured divisions. In anticipation of an affirmative reply, he reported, he had already issued warning orders to the 12th SS Panzer Division, Panzer Lehr and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, and had actually ordered the 12th SS to undertake a reconnaissance in force (kampfkräftige Aufklärung) into the area of the 711th Infantry Division.7 Officers of OB West and Army Group B have asserted that Jodl not only refused to release the divisions but ordered all movement stopped.8 It has been suggested9 that the reason was that Jodl did not dare to waken Field-Marshal Keitel, and that when the latter did awake he in his turn declined to arouse Hitler in order to obtain from him the release of the divisions. Thus, it is said, Hitler learned of the landings only at his midday conference;*10 and only in mid-afternoon were the divisions actually released. The last statement is certainly true. Decisions did not begin to reach the higher headquarters in the theatre of operations until about three in the afternoon. At that hour the Seventh Army heard that the 12th SS and Panzer Lehr Divisions were to come under its command for employment in the 716th Division sector. At 3:40 Army Group B informed the Seventh Army that the 1st SS Panzer Corps (whose headquarters was at Le Merlerault, south-east of Argentan) was to be placed under it. At 4:00 p.m. the Seventh Army told that Corps that it would have under its command the 21st Panzer Division, Panzer Lehr, the 12th SS and the 716th Division, to act in the right portion of the 84th Corps sector—in other words, the Caen area. At 4:55 p.m. the senior operations staff officer at Headquarters C-in-C West, in conversation with the Seventh Army’s Chief of Staff, “referred to the wish of the Supreme Command that the enemy bridgehead be destroyed by the evening of 6 June because there was a danger of [further] strong airborne and sea landings”. The Chief of Staff replied that this was impossible.11
The Caen area had already emerged as the main centre of German interest.
* Hitler’s valet, Heinz Linge, asserts that the Führer was in fact early astir on the morning of D Day, and received news of the landings from Keitel and Jodl in good time. However, according to the Chief of Army Operations at the Armed Forces Operations Staff, it was 10:00 a.m. before that office was in a position to form a considered opinion on the strength and extent of the landings.
The Seventh Army’s plan for 7 June, though it comprehended “continuance of the attack” against the American airborne landing about Ste Mère Eglise, placed in the forefront the 1st SS Panzer Corps operation against the enemy between Bayeux and Caen. At 11:45 p.m. Army Headquarters heard through the 84th Corps some details of 1st SS Panzer’s intended deployment for the following day. The 21st Panzer Division was to operate east of Caen. West of the city the 12th SS Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr were to sweep forward against the invaders.12 It promised to be an interesting day. It is time to turn to more local events in the Caen sector as seen by the Germans. Here, according to the operations report of the 716th Division dated 23 June 1944, no special alert had been ordered by the division in advance of the attack, though its troops were already in a high general state of preparedness, and the air activity during the night led to additional vigilance. Reports of parachute landings, it is stated, came into divisional headquarters between 12:40 and 1:05, and as a result of these the division, on its own responsibility, ordered Alert II at 1:10 a.m. The German commander in the Ouistreham area (“Strongpoint ‘Riva Bella”‘) had already ordered Alert II for his own troops at 12:45. The 716th Division’s immediate steps were limited to local action against the parachutists east of the Orne. One particular measure taken at 2:35 a.m. was placing the 192nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment’s 2nd Battalion under the 736th Grenadier Regiment (see above, page 66) with orders to recover the Bénouville bridges. Subsequently however the development of our seaborne landings forced the enemy to limit his commitments against the airborne bridgehead to “defensive measures”.
A peculiar feature of the German story is a report recorded as made by the 736th Grenadier Regiment’s 2nd Battalion at 5:10 a.m. of parachute landings having taken place between the battalion headquarters at Tailleville and Bernières. It is stated that the battalion sent one company plus one platoon against these paratroopers, but that none of the troops committed returned. One may perhaps assume that the report originated in the presence of parachutists dropped in this area by mistake, and that the German troops dispatched to encounter them became involved in the fighting which followed the seaborne landings.
The 716th Division reported that little information concerning the beach battle was available, observation having been hindered by smoke screens and communications disrupted as a result of the bombardment, while few of the troops who held the beach defences ever returned to report. The inadequacy of communications is reflected in inaccurate accounts of the resistance offered by the coastal strongpoints. The 716th Division states that on the morning of 7 June the resistance nests in Luc-sur-Mer, Langrune, St. Aubin, Hill 61 (called by us “Hillman”) and Douvres were still holding out. This statement, true enough in the other cases, was, we know from our own records, certainly not true of St. Aubin, while at Hill 61 the last Germans surrendered to the 3rd British Division very early on the 7th.
On the extreme right of the Canadian front, west of Courseulles, the 441st East Battalion is reported to have fled. The 2nd Battalion of the 726th Grenadier
Regiment recovered some lost ground, but was finally overrun by tanks near its command post on the north edge of Ste Croix, and here the battalion commander, Major Lehmann, is said to have “died a hero’s death”. With respect to the situation around Tailleville, the division recorded that the command post of the 2nd Battalion of the 736th Grenadier Regiment in that village was several times surrounded during the day but disengaged itself. The last report from the battalion commander reached the division at 3:48 p.m., but the garrison, as we have seen, held out for some time longer (above, page 109).13
In the course of the day the 716th Division, having taken the main weight of the Anglo-Canadian assault, was reduced to a small fragment. The division’s contemporary report contains no statement of casualties; but Lieut.-General Richter, in a narrative written after the end of hostilities, estimates that it lost four-fifths of its infantry strength on D Day. “Of four German and two Russian battalions there remained in the evening one German battalion which had had about 20 per cent casualties; otherwise only remnants.” Eighty per cent of the artillery was gone; west of the Orne two batteries were left, each with three guns, and east of the Orne a battery and a half, with “five or six guns”. A liaison officer from the headquarters of C-in-C West reported that early on 9 June, apart from elements still holding out in strongpoints, it had been possible to collect in a battle-group only 292 all ranks of the division.14
The background of the counter-attack which the 21st Panzer Division delivered in the late afternoon against the 3rd British Division (above, page 115) can be fairly briefly stated. When the operation began this division, we have seen, was under Army Group B. It was released to the Seventh Army some time before 6:45 a.m., and thereafter placed under the 84th Corps. According to the 716th Division report, the 21st Panzer was placed under its command at 10:30 a.m. for action against the enemy west of the Orne. Earlier it had been ordered to act against the airborne landing zone “with main effort east of the Orne”, but after the seaborne landings developed this order was changed and the division went in north of Caen.15
At 4:20 p.m. Seventh Army reported to Army Group B that the 21st Panzer Division had arrived in the 716th Division area and that its forward elements were already north of Caen. Its subsequent fortunes have already been mentioned (above, page 115). British sources indicate that the German tanks struck a glancing blow, sheering more and more to the west as they met opposition and suffered losses. The 716th Division, which by implication criticizes the 21st Panzer for being late in getting into action, says that this attack penetrated to “the Church of Lion”, that is, to the centre of the town. But there is no British record of contact with German tanks in this particular area. The liaison officer above mentioned reported that General Marcks, commanding the 84th Corps, was very critical of the 21st Panzer. “The division’s first attack was got rolling only by the commander of 84 Corps advancing ahead of our own tanks in an open armoured car until he himself was being fired upon from tanks.”16
The contemporary report of the 716th Division supports General Feuchtinger’s statement in his later interrogation that the retirement of the German armoured
spearhead from the Lion area was influenced by new airborne landings nearby, which threatened the tanks with encirclement.17 It seems fairly evident that the airborne landings which the Germans found so alarming were in fact those of the 6th Airborne Division’s glider-borne airlanding brigade, which arrived about an hour before this time to reinforce the eastern flank. One of the brigade’s landing zones was between St. Aubin d’Arquenay and Benouville, west of the Caen Canal and some 6000 yards from Lion.18 After the shattering events of the day this menace in the middle distance was enough to send 21st Panzer’s surviving tanks rolling back southward.
At the end of the day “ Foreign Armies West” at OKH in Berlin drew up. its usual “Brief Estimate of the Enemy Situation West” to be appended to the day’s situation report for the western front.19 This estimate, while recognizing the invasion in Normandy as a large-scale operation, emphasized that the forces so far engaged comprised “only a comparatively small portion of the available formations”. It indicated that the Allied air forces had not yet attacked the important German headquarters in the west; that sabotage in France was still localized, wide areas being undisturbed; and that all the Allied formations so far identified came from a common area of departure. These points, the estimate observed, “seem to indicate that further operations are being planned and lend strength thereby to the statements of Churchill and Eisenhower of similar nature”. Noting the large forces not yet committed, it added, “the thought thus lies to hand, that the enemy Command is planning a further large-scale enterprise within the Channel area, which might be directed against a coastal sector in the vicinity of the Channel narrows”.
The Germans, who had been so fundamentally deceived on the time and place of the Normandy invasion, thus continued to be deceived. Anticipating a second invasion, probably to be directed against the Pas de Calais, they continued to retain very large forces idle in that area, waiting for an attack which never came. Had these forces been directed immediately against our bridgehead in Normandy, the outcome of the battle there might have been different.
The 7th Brigade Advances to the Final Objectives
The night of 6-7 June was relatively quiet on the Canadian front; nor did dawn bring the anticipated counter-attack, for the Germans were not ready.
In the western sector, Brigadier Foster issued his orders for 7 June at an “orders group” held at 1:30 a.m. The advance was to be resumed at 6:00 a.m., with The Royal Winnipeg Rifles going forward on the right and The Regina Rifle Regiment on the left, the Canadian Scottish remaining temporarily in position to provide a firm base.20
During the rest of the night the only significant contact with the enemy on the 7th Brigade front was the capture of 19 men of an enemy patrol by the Winnipegs. The two leading battalions moved off at 6:15 and 7:15 a.m. respectively. The Winnipegs met only scattered and ineffective resistance, the Reginas hardly more.
At 8:50, when it was clear that there was nothing important immediately in front, Brigade ordered the Canadian Scottish forward, and five minutes later it told all three battalions “to go flat out for their final objectives”. By about noon both leading units were on them, the Winnipegs in Putot-en-Bessin and the Reginas in Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse and Norrey-en-Bessin. It is impossible to say with certainty which battalion reached the objective first. An entry in the Brigade log to the effect that the Winnipegs were on OAK at 10:20 a.m. is not substantiated by the battalion’s own diary, which is content to say that it was “consolidating” on the objectives by 4:00 p.m. Brigadier Foster credited the Winnipegs with being first, but the Reginas also claim to have been “the first battalion in 21 Army Group to reach final objective”. Their log, which is unusually complete, records that their C Company reported OAK ABLE (i.e., the near side of the objective) at 10:30 and that the Winnipegs were heard to report “OAK ABLE minus 10” at 11: 50 (probably a clerical error for 10:50). On the other hand, the same log records that the Winnipegs reported OAK CHARLIE (the forward edge of the objective) at 12:05 and the Reginas OAK CHARLIE at this time.)21 The battalions seem to have been neck-and-neck. The most important point is that a few days later General Dempsey wrote to General Keller, “A battalion of 3 Canadian Division was the first unit in the Second Army to reach the final objective. That is something which you will always remember with pride.”22 By 12:25 p.m. the Brigade’s third battalion, the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment, had completed the seizure of OAK, having moved into position between Secqueville-en-Bessin and Bretteville.23 The 1st Hussars’ strength had been so reduced in the D Day fighting that two squadrons had had to be combined into one, and the regiment was not ready to give immediate support to the infantry when the advance began.24 However, since it turned out that the only opposition offered was that of groups of snipers, tank support was not needed.
The 9th Brigade Thrown Back
In the Canadians’ eastern sector the night of 6-7 June was more disturbed than on the 7th Brigade front. Both The North Nova Scotia Highlanders and Le Régiment de la Chaudière were attacked about 2:00 a.m. by infantry in half-tracked vehicles, apparently part of the 21st Panzer Division. The Germans lost several prisoners, and the Chaudières a whole platoon, during this attack. It was probably a local enterprise on the part of the 192nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion, which was stationed in this area before the assault.25
At 7:45 a.m. the 9th Brigade’s advanced guard, consisting of The North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the 27th Armoured Regiment, began to move southward, using the same tactical formation as on the previous day. The Stuart tanks of the armoured regiment’s reconnaissance troop led. Behind them came C Company of the Highlanders, riding on the battalion’s carriers. Next came a platoon of medium machine-guns from the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, a troop of tank-destroyers of the divisional anti-tank regiment, two assault sections of pioneers
and four battalion 6-pounders. Behind this vanguard, which was commanded by Major J. D. Learment of the North Nova Scotias, came the main body of the advanced guard, three infantry companies riding on Sherman tanks.26
At first opposition was slight, but it stiffened as the vanguard approached Buron. Two 88-mm. guns are said to have been knocked out before the village was in our hands. Buron was occupied by 11:50. Troublesome mortar fire was now coming from St. Contest on the left. While C Company was searching Buron, B arrived with its Shermans and began to advance upon the village of Authie beyond. The tanks deployed midway between the two villages and opened fire on targets in Authie. Shortly C passed two platoons in carriers through B. After a sharp skirmish they took Authie and proceeded to dig in on the south edge of the village, which was under intense mortar and artillery fire.27 At 1:00 p.m. the 9th Brigade logged a message from the North Nova Scotias to the effect that Authie was in our hands. Ten minutes later the brigade informed Division that there was enemy armour 800 yards east of Authie but that our footing there would hold.28 The 27th Armoured Regiment’s Stuarts had reported themselves in Franqueville, close to Carpiquet.29 A Company of the Highlanders, having passed around the western side of Buron, was approaching Authie. Between the two villages the infantry dismounted from their tanks, which pushed on alone.30
Further advance had become impossible, for the whole area was being swept by extremely heavy fire from the east. And it appears that at this point artillery support was not available. The 14th Field Regiment was supporting the 9th Brigade (the 19th, the other unit of the field artillery group in the Canadian left sector, was supporting the North Shore Regiment all this day).31 The 14th records that at noon it began to move from its old gun area north of Beny-sur-Mer to a new one south-east of Basly, the batteries “stepping up” in succession so as to ensure continuous support. Unfortunately, however, Authie was beyond effective range from the old position,* and the Forward Observation Officer with the North Nova Scotias had to report that “artillery was out of range and it would be some time before it could be moved up”. Moreover, the new gun area when occupied turned out to be under “continuous mortar fire” (perhaps from the Douvres radar stations?) which must certainly have interfered with support. Naval fire was temporarily unavailable because of a radio failure; but after communication was improvised big shells came down with great accuracy and effect.32
The advanced guard, with both flanks in the air and no support at hand, was seriously exposed. Lt.-Col. Petch therefore decided to withdraw the troops in Authie and form a battalion fortress on the rising ground north of the village. A Company accordingly dug in south-east of Gruchy. B Company was directed to join it but was pinned in Buron by the severity of the enemy’s fire. And before the two platoons of C Company could withdraw from Authie they were struck by a fierce German counter-attack.33 The 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend) was coming into action.
* The distance was close to 13,000 yards. The range of the 105-mm. “Priest” with which the 3rd Division’s field regiments were equipped at this time was 10,500 yards, considerably less than that of the 25-pounder, whose official maximum was 13,400 yards.
This division was formed in Belgium in the summer of 1943 on cadres furnished by the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler). It had not fought before D Day, but it certainly contained a high proportion of battle-experienced officers and NCOs. The officers appear to have been either hardened Nazis who had distinguished themselves in Russia or professional soldiers sympathetic to the Nazi viewpoint. The NCOs. were in part at least selected young veterans of the Russian campaigns, which were waged on both sides virtually as a war of extermination. The rank and file were largely youngsters fresh from the military fitness camps of the Hitler Youth and full of the Nazi ideology.34 A captured nominal roll of one panzer grenadier battalion of the division35 shows their extreme youthfulness. No less than 65 per cent of the personnel were 18 years of age, and only three per cent (virtually all officers and NCOs.) were over 25. The division was to show in action the characteristics which its composition might lead one to expect: reckless courage and determination combined with a degree of barbarity found perhaps in no other formation.
At the beginning of June 1944 the division’s strength was 20,540 all ranks; overall it was slightly above establishment, although it lacked 144 officers of its authorized total of 664. (This reinforces the impression that its cadre of fierce NCOs. was in great part responsible for setting the tone of the division and for its reputation for brutality.)* It was not quite complete in tanks, having 150 on hand compared with its authorized total of 186. It was organized basically in one panzer regiment, composed of two tank battalions (one equipped with Panthers and one with Mark IV tanks) and an anti-tank battalion, and two panzer grenadier (lorried infantry) regiments, each of three battalions.36
On 5 June this very formidable German formation had its headquarters at Acon, west of Dreux. It will be remembered that before 4:45 a.m. on the 6th it had been ordered to move into the area of the parachute landings east of the Orne. It was on the road about 10:00 a.m. At 3:30 p.m. on 6 June the division reported that it was already in the area of Lisieux. The Seventh Army then ordered it to swing westward, passing south of Caen. Its arrival west of Caen was to be reported to the 84th Corps.37 With the best will in the world, the division was unable to come into action rapidly. After the end of hostilities General Richter of the 716th Division recalled that the commander of the 12th SS reached his headquarters during the night 6-7 June and was briefed by him on the situation.† The panzer officer said to him, “I have been on my way to you for about eight hours; I lay a good four hours in roadside ditches because of air attacks. The division’s marching columns
* In his final statement to the court which tried him, after he had been found guilty but before sentence, Kurt Meyer said, “I have here, during these proceedings, been given an insight into things which, in the aggregate, were unknown to me up to now. I wish to state to the court here that these deeds were not committed by the young soldiers. I am convinced of it, that in the division there were elements who, due to the year-long battles, due to five years of war, had in a certain respect become brutalized.”
† The commander of the 12th SS was Brigadeführer (Major-General) Fritz Witt. Richter does not mention him by name, and it appears that the officer with whom he had this conversation was actually Kurt Meyer, the commander of Witt’s leading regiment, who tells in his book Grenadiere of such a briefing at Richter’s headquarters about midnight.
are suffering serious losses in men and material.”38 The attentions of the Allied air, forces evidently supply the chief reason why the Hitlerjugend was not able to reach the battlefield until the early afternoon of 7 June. Even then the whole division was not available; but the part that got into action that day struck a heavy and vicious blow.
The leading echelon was commanded by Standartenführer (Colonel) Kurt Meyer, commander of the 25th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment (whose headquarters before the invasion was at La Trinité west of Laigle). It consisted of his own regiment plus the division’s battalion of Mark IV tanks. According to Meyer, his group had reached St. Pierre-sur-Dives in its movement towards the airborne bridgehead when at 3:00 p.m. on 6 June he received the order to change direction westward. Travelling through the night by secondary roads, it crossed the Orne at St. Andre-sur-Orne and reached the western edge of Caen by a circuitous route.39
Meyer evidently arrived in the Caen area ahead of the main body of his troops; and about midnight, it would seem, there was a conference at the headquarters of the 716th Division, on the north edge of the city. Feuchtinger of the 21st Panzer Division, Richter and perhaps other senior officers were present.40 A liaison detachment from the Panzer Lehr Division had arrived41 and was doubtless represented. The discussion presumably dealt with the next day’s counterattack by the three panzer divisions which had been ordered by higher authority (above, page 122). But as it turned out the only effective attack that day was to be delivered by Meyer’s relatively small force. Our knowledge of the German side of the events that followed is based in part upon Meyer’s own detailed evidence at his interrogations and subsequent trial,42 and the interrogation of a soldier of the 3rd Battalion of the 25th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment who was captured early in July.43 We also have the war diary of Meyer’s 1st Battalion,* and a post-war narrative by the senior staff officer of the 12th SS Panzer Division, Lt.-Col. Hubert Meyer, who was apparently no relation to the other officer of the same name. On the whole these independent accounts support each other.
The 12th SS Panzer Division’s operation order issued early on 7 June from its command post south of Caen44 was hopeful:
The Division, in conjunction with the 21st Panzer Division, will attack the landed enemy and throw him back into the sea. ...
Objective: The beach. ...
The boundary with the 21st Panzer was the railway line connecting Caen with Luc-sur-Mer, with the 12th SS operating to the west of it. The attack was to go in at noon.
On the morning of 7 June, Kurt Meyer stated, he issued his own orders at an improvised headquarters on the western edge of Caen. They were evidently more realistic than the division’s. His plan, though he does not say so, seems to have been to take up a covering position protecting Caen pending the arrival of reinforcements. His 1st Battalion recorded that it was ordered to take up a line
* This was captured in Normandy. It is one of very few German diaries on the unit level available for the campaign.
about Epron north of Caen: “This position to be held in all circumstances.” He put all his three infantry battalions into the line: the 1st on his right, next to the 21st Panzer Division (the battalion records that there was a wide gap between the two formations); the 2nd in the centre, about St. Contest; and the 3rd on the left, towards the main road to Bayeux. He placed two companies of tanks behind the right and two behind the left, and disposed his artillery south of Caen in a position to give support. These positions were occupied by the afternoon. The soldier of the 3rd Battalion mentioned above stated that in the afternoon two of its companies dug in near St. Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe, on the main road some 3000 yards south-east of Authie, and were soon joined by the other two.45
It is thus evident that as the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade’s advanced guard moved forward on the axis Buron-Carpiquet it found itself marching across the front of the 21st Panzer and of Meyer’s force. The effect of the previous day’s change in the orders issued to the 9th British Infantry Brigade (above, page 116) was now felt. There were no Allied troops on the Canadians’ left, and the Germans in the line north and north-west of Caen were able to give them their undivided attention. In fact, the 9th British Brigade was ordered, in the morning of 7 June, to carry out the original plan, but this now involved moving across from one flank of the 3rd British Division to the other. By late afternoon, too late unfortunately to help the 9th Canadian Brigade’s advance, its leading troops had reached the area of Cambes, north-east of St. Contest. Here they were checked by Kurt Meyer’s 1st Battalion.46
Meyer had found an admirable observation post in the “tower” (presumably one of the corner turrets of the lofty chapel) of the medieval Abbey of Ardenne, in the fields north of St. Germain. From it, about noon, he looked towards the coast, and says he could see our troops moving forward. He then decided to deliver an immediate counter-attack without waiting for further reinforcements. His plan was to pivot on his right wing; the left (3rd) Battalion would attack first and subsequently the whole line would advance north in conjunction, he hoped, with the 21st Panzer Division on the right. He issued orders to this effect by radio from the tower (the 1st Battalion records that they were received at 3:00 p.m.), and from the same vantage-point he watched the attack go in.47 It is evident that the first stage, at least, was delivered by the 3rd Battalion of the 25th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment supported by tanks of the 12th SS Panzer Division’s Mark IV battalion. Meyer and the unnamed soldier agree that the infantry went in with two companies forward and one in reserve, and Meyer says that the leading companies bypassed Authie, leaving it to the third to take it, and pushed on towards Buron. The soldier, who was in one of the forward companies (the 10th), makes no mention of Authie and speaks of the attack as directed from Cussy upon Buron. The tanks apparently moved in front of the infantry.48
The platoons of The North Nova Scotia Highlanders in and around Authie, along with some men of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa and some tanks, fought hard but were overrun; only a few men got away. In the meantime the other German troops attacked A Company north of Authie. It held them off
for a considerable time, during which it was heavily shelled and mortared, but it too was finally overrun, the enemy infantry filtering forward into its positions through the standing grain. The 27th Armoured Regiment had a fierce engagement with the German tanks south of Buron with losses on both sides. The German attack was carried on to Buron, which was lost late in the afternoon, The North Nova Scotia Highlanders suffering further heavy casualties. Artillery support however was now available in full measure (a fact to which Meyer testifies), and a counter-attack supported by heavy shellfire and several surviving tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers recovered the village. At dusk Brigadier Cunningham granted the remnants of the advanced guard permission to fall back to Les Buissons. The 9th Brigade’s other units (The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders and the Highland Light Infantry) had moved up and dug in in this area. The remains of the North Nova Scotias and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers now joined with them in forming a brigade “fortress”.49
Although Meyer claimed later that only shortage of petrol and ammunition prevented him from carrying the attack on towards the coast, this need not be taken seriously. Indeed, he himself testified that, seeing from his lofty perch “enemy movements deeper in that area”—doubtless the advance of the main body of the 9th Brigade—he came down and rode his motorcycle to the 3rd Battalion to order its CO “not to continue the attack north of Buron”50 (And the Germans did not occupy the latter village that night, in spite of our withdrawal from it. They dug in on a line running south of Buron and through St. Contest. Only towards evening on 8 June did they again enter Buron.)51 Meyer’s 2nd Battalion had been drawn into the fight, north of St. Contest “in the direction of Galmanche”. Fierce fighting was going on when Meyer visited the battalion in the early evening; just as he arrived the battalion commander’s head was taken off by a tank shot. (He doubtless fell a victim to C Squadron of the Sherbrookes, which was engaged on this flank.) Meyer ordered both this battalion and the 1st (around Cambes) to go “over from attack to defence”.52
The day’s losses to the 9th Brigade’s advanced guard had been painfully heavy. The North Nova Scotia Highlanders had had 242 casualties; of these 84 were fatal, while 128 men became prisoners.*53 The 27th Armoured Regiment had lost 21 cruiser tanks knocked out and seven more damaged, while its personnel casualties amounted to 60, of which 26 were fatal.54
The German force undoubtedly lost heavily also. The 27th Armoured Regiment reported that night that it had destroyed 31 enemy tanks.†55 Meyer, who certainly would not exaggerate his own losses, stated his tank casualties from memory as approximately six.56 No figures are available for the casualties of the German infantry, but they must have been very considerable. Meyer remembered seeing about 50 wounded at Ardenne, but some of these may have been prisoners. Anger at the losses may in part account for the grim fact that a number of Canadians
* Three captured North Nova Scotia officers, Major J. D. Learment and Lieuts J. L. Fairweather and J. M. Veness, escaped from a train carrying them to Germany, joined a unit of the French “Maquis”, and eventually succeeded in getting to England and rejoining the Army.
† This is from a detailed state furnished to HQ 2nd Armoured Brigade by a liaison officer at 2:00 a.m. on 8 June. The text of the unit diary claims 41 tanks; squadron claims attached to it appear to amount to 33 plus five probables.
who had surrendered were murdered by the SS troops. One of the charges later preferred against Meyer specified 23 murders about Authie and Buron on 7 June.57 He was acquitted on this particular charge.
The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group had fought its first battle with courage and spirit, but somewhat clumsily. Encountering an unusually efficient German force of about its own strength, it had come off second-best. Its advanced guard had been caught off balance and defeated in detail. The German blow had been well coordinated; it seems evident that tanks, infantry and artillery all played their parts effectively in close cooperation with one another. This sort of cooperation was less evident on our side, at least until near the end of the day. For a time artillery support was lacking, and although both infantry and tanks fought hard and suffered heavily the liaison between the two evidently left something to be desired.
At the same time, if the division and brigade message logs are an accurate reflection of the facts—and this is not always the case—the Canadian units were not good at passing information from front to rear in a manner that would enable higher commanders to support them and control the battle. It is true that Lt.-Col. Gordon about 2:30 reported himself heavily engaged with enemy tanks and asked the 2nd Armoured Brigade for reinforcements. The Fort Garry Horse were ordered to stand by, and did move up some distance* before the 2nd Armoured Brigade’s commander decided after a personal reconnaissance that the situation was in hand.58 But the reports from the 9th Brigade recorded at Headquarters 3rd Canadian Division are few and sketchy, although they do indicate that the advanced guard is in trouble. At 6:50 p.m. a message was logged to the effect that the forward troops were in Authie and Buron, that communications were poor to them and that the brigade commander had gone forward.59 Brigade headquarters was near Basly.60 Had more information been available the brigade’s main body might have been more effectively committed. As it was, neither The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders nor the Highland Light Infantry really got into action, although the former were able to bring fire to bear in support of the North Nova Scotias.61
This German counter-attack was not made in sufficient strength to have much effect upon the bridgehead battle as a whole. Meyer’s force was too small to achieve a great deal, particularly in the reduced state which it must have been in after the fierce fighting around Authie and Buron. He was in fact fought to a standstill; but before this took place he had inflicted a severe local reverse on the 9th Brigade. It was fortunate that the balance of the 12th SS Panzer Division, and the Panzer Lehr Division, were not yet on the ground and ready to follow up his stroke. At a time when the 9th Brigade’s leading troops were in sight of its final objective, the Carpiquet airfield, they had been thrown back for over two miles, and the ground thus lost was not to be recovered for a full month. These events, following those on the 3rd British Division’s front the day before, helped to ensure that Caen would remain in German hands and the eastern flank of the Allied bridgehead would be much more constricted than had been planned.
* The diary of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada states that the unit was fired on by Fort Garry tanks which mistook it for Germans.
The 8th Brigade on 7 June
For the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which now had the 9th between it and the main enemy forces, 7 June was, relatively, a quiet day. While the 9th Brigade grappled with the 12th SS Panzer Division counter-attack, the units of the 8th were dealing with the considerable elements of the enemy which had been by-passed by the rapid advance on D Day and still remained behind the front line.62
Neither The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada nor Le Régiment de la Chaudière had any heavy action. They spent the day dealing with snipers and isolated parties of the enemy in the area about Colomby-sur-Thaon and Anguerny, taking a good many prisoners and capturing some vehicles in the process.63 A heavier task fell to The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, following its very costly engagements at St. Aubin and Tailleville the day before. The two fortified radar stations west of Douvres-la-Délivrande (above, page 70) were still in enemy hands, and the North Shore’s mission was to take them. The battalion moved off at 7:00 a.m., but progress was slow from the beginning and time was lost in clearing a headquarters in the wood south-west of Tailleville, although there seems to have been little or no resistance here. When the unit made contact with the radar stations, their defences were found to be stronger than had been expected and neither the guns of the 19th Field Regiment nor the battalion’s mortars made much impression64 (“It was like blowing soap bubbles against Gibraltar”, writes the battalion chaplain).65
At noon the brigade’s information was that the North Shore was not yet operating against the radar stations but was busy mopping up its right flank. At 3:45 p.m., in answer to an inquiry from Brigade as to which of the two positions it was attacking, the North Shore replied that it was attacking the southerly one and would take on the other later. At 4:30 the brigade logged a message from the battalion to the effect that the positions were “more or less cleared up” except for snipers.66 This was optimistic. The radar stations were a labyrinth of concrete works and tunnels and at the end of the day the North Shore had in fact made no headway. Permission was sought and obtained to abandon the attack. The first orders issued specified that the greater part of the battalion would remain on the ground and contain the radar stations. However, it appears that in due course the whole battalion was withdrawn to a position north of Anguerny. The task of containing the radar stations was transferred to the 51st (Highland) Division, which was now ashore.67 Indeed, one unit of the 51st, the 5th Battalion Black Watch, was actually operating against one or both of them late on 7 June, without making any more impression than the North Shore.* Two of three AVREs supporting the Black Watch were lost.68
* The Black Watch war diary remarks bitterly that about 7:00 p.m., “Owing to misinformation, supplied by the Canadian Div. HQ, we found ourselves fighting a Bn of the North Shore Regt of Nova Scotia [sic] who had already occupied the wood [east of Beny-sur-Mer] and thought we were Boche.” The North Shore diary makes no reference to the Black Watch or to any such incident. Although both the Black Watch diary and that of HQ 153rd Infantry Brigade under which the Black Watch were serving refer to visits to HQ 3rd Canadian Division by the commanders of the British brigade and battalion, the division’s General Staff diary makes no mention of these. There is an untimed log entry in the afternoon recording an order to the 4th Special Service Brigade to send a liaison officer to give a situation report to the CO of the 5th Black Watch at Tailleville. It would seem that the North Shore’s attack on the radar stations had ended before that of the Black Watch was launched.
The Attacks on the 7th Brigade:: Putot-en-Bessin and Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse
The 8th of June witnessed a series of violent local counter-attacks directed by the Germans against the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade in the Putot-en-Bessin–Norrey-en-Bessin area. It was a fierce and bloody business, but it yielded the Germans no such return as they had reaped in the Canadian left sector the previous day.
On the evening of 7 June, Brigadier Foster, noting the dangerous gap in the Cairon area that separated his brigade and the 9th, dispatched thither a company of the Canadian Scottish supported by a squadron of the 6th Armoured Regiment and a troop of anti-tank guns. Apart from this detachment, the brigade was disposed with The Royal Winnipeg Rifles (which, we have seen, had had exceptionally heavy casualties on D Day) in Putot-en-Bessin, The Regina Rifle Regiment in Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse and the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment in reserve at Secqueville-en-Bessin. Brigade Headquarters was at Le Haut de Bretteville in the centre of the area.69
At 11:00 a.m. on 8 June General Keller held a conference at his headquarters and informed his brigade commanders that the 51st Division was now responsible for the area Douvres-St. Aubin-Tailleville and was soon to make an assault preceded by air attack on the troublesome radar stations. This was subsequently cancelled, as was another attack which Keller had intended that the 9th Brigade should deliver against Buron with the support of the full divisional artillery. The 7th and 8th Brigades were to hold their present positions.70
At this time the 7th Brigade was already under attack. The 1st Battalion of the 26th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which had been ordered to attack Norrey, got nowhere, but the 2nd Battalion, directed on Putot, had a temporary success. About 6:30 a.m. A Company of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles drove off a small enemy force which attempted to cross the railway into its position. This proved to be only the beginning. Assisted by numerous snipers in Putot, the enemy brought the Winnipegs under steadily increasing pressure, infiltrating between the company areas. At 2:20 p.m. the battalion still expected “to be able to handle situation”, but later in the afternoon Division heard that it had “had its right half sliced off by enemy armour” (it is in fact doubtful whether tanks were involved).71 A, B and C Companies were completely encircled and ammunition was running low. Immediate tank support was not available. The three companies tried to withdraw under cover of smoke, but only a few men got back to battalion headquarters, just east of Putot, where D Company, which was almost intact, set up a defensive position.72
With Putot lost, Brigadier Foster set about organizing a counter-attack to get it back. As soon as it was clear that things were going badly with the Winnipegs, he apparently warned Lt.-Col. Cabeldu of the Canadian Scottish to be ready; and the brigade log records that at 5:00 p.m. the Commanding
Officers concerned were called to an orders group. The Scottish were given strong support: a squadron of the 6th Armoured Regiment; the 12th and 13th Field Regiments; and part of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (MG). The Scottish company in the Cairon gap was withdrawn to take part. H Hour was 8:30 p.m.73
The attack went in behind a creeping barrage. The opposition was heavy, but it did not stop the Canadian Scottish. At 8:45 the attack was reported going well; at 9:00 the leftward company was reported on its objective; and at 9:30 the brigade indicated that the battalion was mopping up. Putot was in Canadian hands again, and the Scottish held it thereafter, although it was found necessary to give up the actual line of the railway. The remains of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles replaced the Canadian Scottish in brigade reserve.74
The 1st Battalion of The Canadian Scottish Regiment had distinguished itself; but the cost had been high. The Scottish casualties reported for 8 and 9 June numbered 125, of which 45 were fatal. (It is evident that most of the casualties suffered in the counterattack on the evening of the 8th were recorded under the date of the 9th.) The Royal Winnipeg Rifles had lost still more heavily, having 256 casualties, of which 105 were fatal, on 8 June.75 These included, unfortunately, a large number of men murdered after capture; for there was a repetition on this day of the 12th SS Panzer Division’s brutal atrocities against prisoners which had stained Meyer’s success at Authie the day before. Investigators later concluded that about 45 Canadian soldiers, chiefly of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, were murdered on 8 June.76 When General Crerar heard of these murders, he asked through the 21st Army Group for an investigation by a SHAEF court of inquiry; and this laid the basis for the prosecution later undertaken against Meyer.*
The night of 8-9 June saw fierce fighting on the left sector of the 7th Brigade’s front. Here The Regina Rifle Regiment was holding Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse with one company forward in Norrey-en-Bessin south of the railway. The German attack began just about the time when our own counter-attack was going in against Putot. Standartenführer Meyer explained that in the morning he had gradually come to the conclusion that we were unlikely to attack his own front in the Buron area and that he could afford to assist his division (the 26th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment having now come up on his left) by a thrust towards Bayeux. He concerted the plan with the commander of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment and informed the divisional commander. Just before dark the tanks of the Panzer Regiment’s Panther battalion went boring forward along the general line of the Caen-Bayeux road, with the men of Meyer’s reconnaissance company riding on them and Meyer himself—according to his own account—leading the advance on his motorcycle until the Rots area was reached.77 Parts of the Reginas’ position
* It may be noted here that Kurt Meyer was tried by a Canadian military court at Aurich in December 1945, was found guilty on three of five charges and sentenced to be shot. However, General Vokes, with whom as GOC Canadian Army Occupation Force the confirming power lay, was of opinion on reviewing the evidence that Meyer’s responsibility for the murders was vicarious rather than direct. He wrote, “The finding and sentence of the Court were within the law, but the severity of the sentence was not in my opinion in keeping with Canadian justice, having regard to the degree of responsibility.” He commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Meyer was finally released in September 1954.
were overrun in the first shock, and some of the Panthers pushed on to within about 300 yards of battalion headquarters in Bretteville; here they halted and shelled and machine-gunned the village for a considerable time. About midnight two Panthers entered the village. One actually reached the headquarters and was there knocked out by three successive hits with PIAT* bombs.
It was a wild night’s work. Supported by 6-pounders of the 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment RCA, the Reginas stood off the attack. A passage from the account given by Lt.-Col. Matheson to the division’s Historical Officer† is well worth quoting: “Altogether 22 Panthers circled about Battalion HQ and A Company’s position during the night, and it is hard to picture the confusion which existed. Contact with all but D Company was lost. Fires and flares lit up the area, and the enemy several times appeared to be convinced that opposition had ceased. A foolhardy German despatch rider rode through Bretteville on a captured Canadian motorcycle, only to be brought down by the CO’s Sten gun. Some time later a German officer drove his Volkswagen up before Battalion HQ, dismounted and gazed about for a few seconds, until an excited PIAT gunner let fly with a bomb, which hit him squarely.” Both the 6-pounder, firing the new “discarding sabot” ammunition, and the PIAT showed themselves formidable opponents for the Panther. Lt-Col. Matheson computed the night’s score in enemy tanks at five Panthers and one Czech light tank knocked out. Two Panthers and the light tank fell victims to the PIAT. The Germans say they lost six Panthers.78
Shortly before first light on the morning of 9 June Meyer pulled his defeated Panthers back to the vicinity of Rots. He himself attributed the failure to the firm hold we had established on Norrey, which served to split the attack and prevent the cooperation between the tanks and the 26th Panzer Grenadier Regiment which had been planned.79
The German operations at this stage leave the impression of rather hasty and ineffective improvisation. The attacks were pressed with courage and determination but with no particular tactical skill. Brigadier Foster remarked that no use was made of the fact that the Reginas’ flanks were exposed; instead, “the enemy flung himself straight against the strongest points and utterly failed to exploit the undoubted weakness of his opponent’s position”.80 The operations seem to have been locally conceived and control even on the divisional level was ineffective. The two major enterprises of 8 June, the attacks against Putot and Bretteville, were apparently independent and uncoordinated. The Germans threw their troops in piecemeal as the battalions arrived on the ground.
During the next few days enemy activity on the Canadian front was limited to shelling, mortaring, sniping and aggressive patrolling. The Germans had had enough of major enterprises, and the 12th SS Panzer Division was content to hold the line which it had taken up. The fact that this crack armoured formation had to be used in a static defensive role is striking evidence of the dilemma in which the Germans found themselves. The large armoured counter-offensive planned on D Day (above, page 123) had never come to pass.
* Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank, the light infantry anti-tank weapon of this period.
† Capt. J. R. Martin, who landed on D Day and subsequently collected a large number of most valuable accounts of the assault and consolidation phases.
Both sides probed the positions opposite them with patrols. The Canadian Scottish, for instance, sent out on the evening of 10 June a “reconnaissance in force”, two platoons strong, directed at a wooded area south of Brunet. It ran into heavy opposition as soon as it approached the railway line west of Putot and one officer and 13 other ranks were reported killed in addition to four men missing.81 On The Regina Rifle Regiment’s front, the brigade commander more than once suggested that the advanced company in Norrey was too exposed and should be withdrawn. But both the company commander and Lt-Col. Matheson argued vigorously that if Norrey were given up it would merely have to be recaptured later; and the company stayed where it was, holding out amid the stench of unburied German dead in the ruined village dominated by the tragic wreck of one of the finest Gothic churches in Normandy.82
In the 9th Infantry Brigade’s sector, the project of an attack on Buron remained in the air but was never actually carried out. More than once The Highland Light Infantry of Canada prepared to make this attack, but it was always put off. On 9 June one such plan was cancelled because the brigade’s left flank was considered too exposed. On the same day this situation was considerably improved when troops of the 3rd British Division captured Cambes. On 11 June a new plan was initiated, under which The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders would occupy the village of Vieux Cairon and the Highland Light Infantry would then go on to Buron. The Glengarrians duly occupied Vieux Cairon, almost without opposition; but when the HLI were about to commence their attack orders were received to stay it, and Buron remained in German hands.83
There was still a gap between the 7th and 9th Brigades. The enemy was in the wooded valley of the little River Mue between Cairon and Rots; and our artillery in the vicinity of Bray felt themselves dangerously exposed. On 9 June The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada were placed under the 7th Brigade and moved to Bray to secure this area.84 It remained to clear the Mue valley. On 10 June planning began for a proposed armoured advance designed to occupy high ground beyond Cheux, south of Norrey-en-Bessin. It was considered that clearing the banks of the Mue was a necessary preliminary to this.85 However, it became necessary to advance the date of the Cheux operation (below, page 139), and both projects were carried out on the same day, 11 June.
The main task in the Mue valley fell to No. 46 Royal Marine Commando, under the command of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade and supported by a squadron of the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment. Le Régiment de la Chaudière and the North Shore Regiment were to move into the valley villages as clearing proceeded.86 The operation proved rather difficult. The Commando worked down the valley from the vicinity of Thaon, clearing in succession the villages of Cairon, Lasson and Rosel. The stiffest opposition was encountered in the last phase, when in the evening the force entered Le Hamel and Rots. Here SS troops supported by Panther tanks concealed in Rots fought hard, and Fort Garry tanks as well as a company of the Chaudières were brought into action to assist the Marines. Only in the early hours of 12 June did the Commando finally report the area clear of the enemy. After a discussion between Headquarters 3rd
Canadian Division and the 8th Brigade as to whether it was desirable to hold it,87 Rots was taken over by Le Régiment de la Chaudière, who were reported to have buried 122 of the enemy. The Commando recorded its own casualties as 17 killed, 9 wounded and 35 missing.88
The Failure at Le Mesnil-Patry
Planning begun on 10 June for an enterprise by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade south of Norrey-en-Bessin was based on the assumption that the main attack was to be made on 12 June. In the early morning of the 11th, however, information was received that it had been advanced and was to take place as soon as possible. At 8:00 a.m. the 6th Armoured Regiment was told that it was to go in at 1:00 p.m. that day. At about 10:30 a.m. Brigadier Wyman of the 2nd Armoured Brigade held his “orders group”, after which the commanding officers of the units held their own. The attack was thus put in at very short notice and with less careful preparation than would have been desirable, particularly in respect of artillery support.89
The reasons for advancing the time of the attack were not recorded; but it seems fairly clear that they must have been connected with an attack which the neighbouring formations of the 30th Corps were delivering (see below, page 142), and the decision was probably taken at a conference which General Dempsey held with his two Corps Commanders at 5:00 p.m. on 10 June. Headquarters 1st British Corps, under which the Canadian division was still operating, logged at noon on 11 June a message from the 30th Corps concerning an attack then being launched by the 69th British Infantry Brigade in the area about Bronay.
The log noted, “3 Cdn Div told to keep 50 Div fully informed about progress of 2 Cdn Armd Bde which will help 69 Bde.”90
Under the plan adopted for the Canadian attack the 6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada were to attack through Norrey-en-Bessin with a view to seizing and holding the high ground south of Cheux. This was to be effected by a right flanking movement through Le Mesnil-Patry, Cheux itself being bypassed. The remainder of the armoured brigade would be prepared to join the 6th Armoured Regiment on the objective.91
The attack actually began shortly after 2:30 p.m. on 11 June. It was a complete and costly failure. B Squadron of the Hussars led the advance, with the men of D Company of the Queen’s Own riding on its tanks. This force had not gone far across the level grain fields between Norrey and Le Mesnil-Patry when very heavy mortar and machine-gun fire came down. The infantry were forced to dismount from the tanks, which pushed on in an attempt to deal with the opposition. Both the tanks and a party of infantry fought their way into Le Mesnil-Patry. The situation grew worse as enemy armour (which was at first believed to be British) and anti-tank guns came into action. Lt.-Col. Colwell of the Hussars, who was commanding the advanced group, ordered his force to withdraw to the start-line. But B Squadron evidently did not receive the order, and was virtually annihilated. All its officers and all save three NCOs. were listed as missing, and only two of its tanks returned. As for D Company of the Queen’s Own, it was found to have suffered 96 casualties, more than half of whom were missing. The total casualties for this day were 80 for the 6th Armoured Regiment and 99 for the Queen’s Own Rifles, the fatal casualties being 59 and 55 respectively.92
During the first six hectic days of Operation OVERLORD Canadian battle casualties had totalled 196 officers and 2635 other ranks; 72 officers and 945 all ranks lost their lives.93 All these losses had fallen upon the 3rd Division and attached troops. The other Canadian formations remained for the moment in England, awaiting in mingled eagerness and anxiety the opportunity to take their places in the battle line.
The costly affair at Le Mesnil-Patry was the last considerable Canadian operation during the month of June. The nature of Allied strategy resulted in the major action thereafter being concentrated elsewhere. On the night of 16-17 June Le Mesnil-Patry was occupied without opposition, thanks to progress by British troops on the right.94 The most important development on the Canadian front during the latter part of the month was the relief of the 7th Brigade in the Putot-Bretteville-Norrey positions by the 8th. This was effected on the night of 17-18 June, one of the shortest of the year;* the two brigades “exchanged areas in the face of the enemy, and without incident”.95
The 11th of June marked the end of a phase not only for the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division but for the Allied operations at large. The Allied armies were
* On 17 June Lt: Col. J. R. W. T. Bessonette, the 3rd Canadian Division’s senior RCASC officer, was killed by a shell in his headquarters area north-east of Camilly, where divisional HQ was then located. He had arrived in Normandy only the previous day.
now firmly established ashore, and the separate bridgeheads of D Day were linked up into a continuous deep lodgement all along the front. The gap between the two American sectors had been bridged on 10 June. By the night of 11-12 June the first stage of Operation OVERLORD had thus been successfully completed. The Allies had 326,547 men, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of stores ashore on the Continent. The construction of their complicated artificial harbours, at Arromanches in the British sector and St. Laurent in the American sector, was well advanced, and at least two complete GOOSEBERRIES (craft shelters formed by sinking ships, above, page 85) were in operation. Moreover, Allied aircraft were now operating from airstrips in France. Two RAF squadrons landed in France at noon 10 June; and that afternoon Nos. 441, 442, and 443 Squadrons RCAF were airborne for a sweep-”the first Allied squadrons to operate from French soil since the evacuation from Dunkirk.”96
The Germans’ plan of defence had failed. They had not succeeded in mounting the great armoured counter-offensive which was to drive the invaders into the sea. Even a more limited attack, in which General Geyr von Schweppenburg (whose Panzer Group West had now taken over the Caen sector) planned to use parts of the 21st and 12th SS Panzer Divisions under the 1st SS Panzer Corps against the Canadian front, had to be cancelled on 10 June; and immediately afterwards a devastating attack by aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Air Force which wiped out almost his whole staff put an end to such projects for the present, and the sector was returned to the 1st SS Panzer Corps’ control.97 Moreover, the Germans remained fully convinced that a second invasion, in the region of the Strait of Dover, was probable.* They therefore continued to hold there the divisions that might have turned the scale in Normandy.
It is now time to depart once more from the local scene in the Caen area and attempt a brief analysis of Allied strategy in the early stages of the invasion.
General Montgomery Directs the Battle
From the first stage of the invasion, General Montgomery, as commander of the Allied ground forces, exercised a firm and decisive control of the operations.
Early on 7 June Montgomery arrived off the Normandy beaches in HM flotilla leader Faulknor. During the morning he had contact with the two Army Commanders, Generals Bradley (shortly after 6 a.m.”) and Dempsey.† At 11:30 a.m. he signalled his headquarters in England that he had instructed Bradley to secure his D Day objectives and in particular to capture Carentan and Isigny so as to link up his two bridgeheads; he was then to thrust towards La Haye du Puits and thus cut the Cherbourg peninsula. Afterwards, Cherbourg was to be captured. General Dempsey he had ordered “to proceed relentlessly with
* The Supreme Command of the Armed Forces had believed that it had reliable information of such an assault planned for the morning of 10 June, and had issued orders accordingly.98
† Although General Bradley has a good many reservations about Montgomery, in his book A Soldier’s Story he pays a warm tribute to the “wisdom, forbearance, and restraint” with which Montgomery exercised his authority as an Allied commander at this period.
original plan”, holding a flank on the river Dives and capturing Caen and Bayeux. He was then to “pivot on Caen and swing his right forward”. During-this day the Supreme Commander was also off the beaches and Eisenhower and Montgomery were able to confer. General Eisenhower then returned to England; he did not establish himself permanently on the Continent until 7 August. Montgomery, however, went ashore on the morning of 8 June, when he joined his Tactical Headquarters at Ste Croix-sur-Mer. Later in the day it moved to Creully.99
By 9 June the situation was beginning to clarify. The British had definitely failed to capture Caen in the first rush; the Americans were still striving to link up their two lodgement areas. That day General Montgomery conferred with Bradley and Dempsey at Port-en-Bessin,100 and he sent to his Chief of Staff, who was still in England, a letter which defined his intentions. For the American front these remained much as before. On the eastern flank, however, he had now adopted a new plan, designed to take Caen by a “pincer movement”. In the 30th Corps sector west of the city he proposed to launch the 7th Armoured Division through Bayeux and Villers-Bocage directed on Evrecy. On the part of the 1st Corps front east of Caen he intended to pass the 51st (Highland) Division across the Orne through the 6th Airborne Division to attack towards Cagny. Subsequently he planned to drop the 1st British Airborne Division “somewhere south of Caen as a big air lock and to link up with it from Evrecy and Cagny”.
On these lines the battle was fought during the next few days. On 10 June the 7th Armoured Division went into action. The 51st Division began preliminary operations the following day. On both fronts opposition was heavy. On the morning of 11 June Montgomery, in a signal to his Chief of Staff, referred to a concept of the operations which, we have seen, had appeared in his appreciation dated 7 May (above, page 83): “My general object”, he wrote, “is to pull the Germans on to 2nd Army so that 1st Army can extend and expand.” From this time this idea dominates his directives.
By now a controversy was in progress with the Air Commander-in-Chief (Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory) concerning the proposed employment of the 1st Airborne Division. Leigh-Mallory did not consider it practicable. Discussion continued on the point, but within a couple of days circumstances so altered Montgomery’s plans that the concept of the air drop south of Caen was abandoned. On 13 June Montgomery began to compose a letter to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Field-Marshal Sir Alan Brooke). In it he wrote, “my pincer movement to get Caen is taking good shape, and there are distant possibilities that the enemy divs may not find it too easy to escape; especially Pz Lehr”. At this time the 7th Armoured Division was in Villers-Bocage, and the 51st on the other side of Caen was moving southwards slowly, “as just at present it cannot be given any tanks”. Developments on the evening of 13 June, however, led General Montgomery to revise his plans. The 2nd Panzer Division, suddenly appearing on the 7th Armoured Division’s front, counter-attacked the British formation and drove it out of Villers-Bocage. (The 2nd Panzer had come from north of the Seine, and, in the words of a 21st Army Group intelligence summary issued that day, had “arrived over quickly”; the summary of 15 June attributed this speed to the fact
that the weather on the day of its main move prevented air attack.)*101 On the morning of 14 June Montgomery added to his letter additional paragraphs in which he observed that this event had put “a different complexion on the problem”. He wished to be very certain of his position and “at all costs remain well balanced”. Considering that he did not yet have sufficient strength to act offensively on both flanks of the Second Army, he had therefore decided “to be defensive in the Caen sector on the front of 1 Corps, but aggressively so”. He proposed to put all his offensive power into the operation by the 30th Corps west of Caen. In other words, the idea of a pincer movement on both sides of Caen was abandoned for the moment in favour of a concentrated single blow west of the city, and the movement of the 51st Division on the east was “piped down”.102
At this point controversy and criticism were beginning to develop concerning the operations in Normandy. There was disappointment over the failure to take Caen, and as time passed more and more comparisons were made between the relatively rapid progress on the American front and the situation on the British flank, where, it appeared, the Second Army was “bogged down”. That these criticisms should appear in the press, whose editorial writers were unaware of the basic principle on which Montgomery was conducting the operations, was not surprising. The last thing the Allied command wanted was publicity for the fact that it was planning to attract enemy strength to the left flank to facilitate advances on the right. The criticisms, however, were also heard at SHAEF, among officers who presumably either did not fully understand Montgomery’s policy or discounted it. In the controversies which took place, both personal incompatibility and international and inter-service rivalries doubtless played their parts; but it is worth noting that some of Montgomery’s severest censors seem to have been British officers, and that although some of them came from the Royal Air Force other senior officers of that service supported Montgomery, while some British Army officers are reported to have opposed him. The Deputy Supreme Commander, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, is said to have been one of the most influential critics. Montgomery indicates in his Memoirs his own belief that Sir Frederick Morgan, the former COSSAC and now Deputy Chief of Staff at SHAEF, was another.
As early as 14 June Tedder is reported to have remarked at the daily conference of air commanders of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force that he felt that the situation in the eastern sector of the bridgehead might become critical at any moment, and that all air forces should be held in readiness to give assistance to the armies if this became necessary.103 Nevertheless, he was apparently reluctant at this time to employ the strategic bombers to break the developing deadlock at Caen,
* The 2nd Panzer Division, formerly stationed in the Somme valley, had been ordered south on 8 June, evidently in the hope that it could be employed in a major armoured thrust towards the mouth of the Vire to split the Allied bridgehead. But the continued Allied attacks both in the Carentan and Caumont-Villers-Bocage areas made it impossible to collect the required striking force, and the first elements of 2nd Panzer to arrive were hustled into action at Villers-Bocage to close a dangerous gap which had appeared here between the 1st SS Panzer and the 2nd Parachute Corps. It was only the infantry that fought here; the division’s tanks did not arrive in the area for several days.
and here he came into disagreement with the views of the Air Commander-in-Chief. On this same day Leigh-Mallory, accompanied by Montgomery’s Chief of Staff and his own chief planner, flew to France to see Montgomery and to repeat his opposition to the plan for an airborne operation south of Caen. He suggested as an acceptable alternative that the stalemate there might be broken by an attack in which medium and heavy bombers would lay a barrage behind which the army might advance. Montgomery, we are told, closed with this proposal and suggested that it should be discussed in detail with General Dempsey and his staff.104
The further discussion accordingly took place on (it appears) 15 June at Creully. Although more than one officer apparently has “vivid recollections”105 of the meeting, only one—Leigh-Mallory’s chief planner, Air Vice-Marshal E. J. Kingston-McCloughry—has described it in detail in public print. It appears that Air Marshal Coningham, commanding the 2nd Tactical Air Force, was unfortunately absent from his headquarters on the 14th and was not informed of the meeting. When he did hear of it he complained to Tedder. As Kingston-McCloughry remembers it, in the middle of the meeting Tedder, Coningham and Air Vice-Marshal Broadhurst (commanding No. 83 Group RAF) “burst into the’ room”. Tedder then “instructed all Air Force officers to leave the meeting and to gather next door, where Air Marshal Coningham addressed us. The Air Marshal stated that he had all the tactical air forces necessary to support the Army and that no heavy bombers were necessary.”106 Two witnesses agree that the Army’s case for the use of heavy bombers, as presented before Tedder’s intervention, had not been well prepared.107 The result of the incident seems to have been that this use of the strategic air forces was postponed for three weeks.*
On 17 June a long-standing sore in the British area was cleared up, when an attack by No. 41 Royal Marine Commando, directed by the 1st British Corps and strongly supported by artillery, naval fire and AVREs, captured the two radar stations near Douvres-la-Délivrande. British casualties in this final assault were very light; enemy prisoners numbered six officers and 214† other ranks.108
In the paragraphs added to his letter to Sir Alan Brooke on the morning of 14 June (above, page 143), General Montgomery had written:
My general policy remains unchanged. It is as follows:
a. To increase and improve our own build-up through the beaches.
b. To do everything possible to hamper and delay the enemy build-up, by air action and other means.
c. To pull the Germans on to Second British Army, and fight them there, so that First US Army can carry out its task the easier.
By 18 June, Montgomery felt that the situation permitted him to return to the policy of capturing Caen by encircling it from both flanks. On this day the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade was preparing actively for a new operation against the high ground south of Cheux, designed to cover the flank of an advance by the
* For a general discussion of the criticisms of Montgomery, see Pogue, The Supreme Command, 183 ff. It is suggested that one reason for the feeling of the RAF officers was the Army’s failure to get the hoped-for airfield sites south-east of Caen (above, page 84).
† This is according to the Corps intelligence summary. The Commando diary says five officers and 222 other ranks; other intelligence summaries give other figures.
neighbouring 49th (West Riding) Division of the 30th Corps. The 8th Brigade attack, however, was cancelled on 19 June, clearly as the result of a new directive (the first formal written one he had issued on the Continent) which Montgomery had sent to his Army Commanders on the previous day.109
This instruction110 emphasized the importance of capturing both Caen and Cherbourg. When this was accomplished, Montgomery wrote, the danger in Normandy would probably take precedence in the enemy’s mind over other potential threats such as that in the Pas de Calais; and “It is then that we have a mighty chance—to make the German army come to our threat, and to defeat it between the Seine and the Loire.” Caen, he said, “is really the key to Cherbourg; its capture will release forces which are now locked up in ensuring that our left flank holds secure.” In these circumstances, the Second Army’s task was to capture Caen “by means of a pincer movement from both flanks”. The 8th British Corps was now assembling in the bridgehead, and Montgomery proposed to attack with a view to establishing it in the area immediately south-east of Caen. The Army’s right wing, forming the western half of the pincers, was to “swing south-eastwards” through Aunay-sur-Odon and Evrecy towards the Orne bridges between Thury-Harcourt and Amaye-sur-Orne. These operations were to begin on 18 June and “work up to a crescendo” on 22 June, on which date the 8th Corps was to pass through the bridgehead east of the Orne to carry out its prescribed task. As for the First US Army, its immediate task was to capture Cherbourg, the first stage being to isolate the Cherbourg peninsula by completing a westward thrust to the sea. The directive ended, “I shall hope to see both Caen and Cherbourg captured by 24 June.”
This plan was short-lived. Montgomery, usually so decisive, was obviously finding the problem difficult. Another directive,111 dated 19 June, stated that on further examination the difficulties of forming up the 8th Corps in the Orne bridgehead, and launching it thence, were very great. He had therefore decided that the left wing of the attack should be “scaled down” and be only of such a nature as could be carried out by the troops of the 1st Corps already on the ground. The 8th Corps would be switched to form part of the right or western wing of the pincer movement. It was to be “launched on its task” on the morning of 23 June.
At this point General Montgomery’s intentions were further interfered with by developments beyond human control. On 19 June a summer gale of extraordinary force blew up in the Channel. Unloading ceased almost entirely for three and a half days. The American MULBERRY was so badly damaged that work on it was abandoned, and that at Arromanches also suffered.112 Rough weather earlier had already slowed the Allied “build-up” of troops and supplies. On the evening of 20 June Montgomery informed Eisenhower and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff that the build-up was five days behind schedule. Important parts of the 8th Corps were still afloat and 25 June was now the earliest day for the “blitz attack” which he planned. Each further day of bad weather would postpone it one day more.113 By 22 June, however, the gale was abating and the 8th Corps in fact launched its attack (Operation EPSOM) on the morning of 26 June.
In the meantime the Americans had been making progress. On the night of
17-18 June they cut the Cotentin peninsula at Barneville, thus isolating Cherbourg. Thereafter they drove towards the great port itself. There was fierce fighting, particularly around Montebourg, but the advance was inexorable. By 24 June the attackers were in touch with the defences of the city. On the 26th Cherbourg fell, and the last organized resistance in the peninsula ended on 1 July.114
The congestion on the constricted British flank of the bridgehead, combined with the delay in the build-up generally, had unfortunate consequences for the First Canadian Army. It was in fact to be a month and a half after D Day before the Army’s headquarters assumed an operational role. General Crerar himself crossed the Channel in HMCS Algonquin on 18 June and set up his small tactical headquarters in Amblie, east of Creully.115 On 22 June he attended a conference of Army, Corps and Divisional Commanders. On this occasion Montgomery reviewed past progress and stated his future intentions, along the lines already indicated, emphasizing the importance of bringing the enemy’s main weight against the British Army. General Crerar’s notes of the conference116 concluded as follows:
From now on, most careful tactics must be employed and careful arrangements made for every operation. We were heading for a “show-down”. The requirements, therefore, were carefully coordinated attacks and all steps taken to make sure that we held whatever ground we took. It was his hope to bring the Boche in to do battle around Caen. ...
In conclusion, C-in-C 21 Army Gp stated that owing to the delay, caused by the weather, in the “build-up” and in the capture of Caen, and the securing of the line of the R Dives to the East, it was necessary to phase back the arrival of the Canadian Army until this situation had been attained. The first essential was the completion of the Second Brit Army to full strength and securing the necessary “elbow room” in which to concentrate another Army.
In view of existing circumstances, it might well be the middle of July before the phasing in of the Cdn Army was completed.
After the conference was concluded, I mentioned to General Montgomery my disappointment at this delay, although I recognized that his reasons were well founded. He remarked that he had reached this decision that morning because he considered it essential that one Army and one Army Comd should complete this first and essential phase of the expansion of the bridgehead before another higher formation was brought in.
On 24 June General Crerar had a personal conference with the Army Group Commander at his new tactical headquarters near Blay, west of Bayeux. During this interview Montgomery reiterated that until there had been a further advance there was not enough frontage or space for another Army. His senior administrative officer “had informed him that while another Corps could be brought in, he could not maintain another body of Army Troops in the existing area”. Moreover, while Montgomery wanted more infantry, he did not need more armour at present. Therefore, the Guards Armoured Division and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division were to be “phased back” and come in at the end of the build-up. His immediate intention was to build up the 12th Corps by bringing in the 53rd and 59th Infantry Divisions, and thereafter to bring in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and the Headquarters and Corps Troops of the 2nd Canadian Corps. He had told General Dempsey to place the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division under the 2nd Canadian Corps as soon as the latter could take over operational responsibility, thus getting the two Canadian infantry divisions under Canadian command. There
after, the Canadian Army Headquarters and Army Troops could be brought in; but until Caen and the line of the Dives had been secured, the commander of the Second Army would have to command five corps. As soon as possible thereafter the original plan was to be carried out, the 1st British and the 2nd Canadian Corps being grouped together under the Canadian Army Commander, who would be responsible for the left sector of the Army Group.117
The Battle of the Odon
For several days before the beginning of Operation EPSOM, reconnaissance parties of the 15th (Scottish) Division of the 8th Corps were active in the 3rd Canadian Division’s area; for the Scottish were to attack through the Canadians. Canadian patrols were also active, gaining information to help the offensive; and on 25 June Lieut.-General Sir Richard O’Connor, GOC 8th Corps, wrote General Keller thanking him for their good work.118
On 26 June conditions were not favourable to the British enterprise. A preliminary attack by the 30th Corps the day before, directed on Rauray, and supported by artillery which included three of the Canadian field regiments, had met heavy opposition and made limited progress, so the 8th Corps’ right flank would be exposed. Also, the weather being bad for flying, little air support was available. Nevertheless, the 8th Corps went forward early on the 26th, the 15th Division going in behind an artillery barrage to which the guns of the 3rd Canadian Division (the only portion of the division to take part) made a large contribution.119 During the day the attack made progress, though less than had been hoped for. Cheux was captured, but the River Odon was not reached. On 27 June, however, the 15th Division established a shallow bridgehead across the Odon north-west of Esquay. The narrow wooded valley of this little stream was now to witness a fearful struggle. On the morning of the 28th an armoured brigade was put into the bridgehead. On this day however the Germans reacted violently, throwing in fierce counter-attacks on the flanks. With better weather, British fighter-bomber support was active and useful. It was clear however that the enemy was bringing up large and powerful reinforcements, and on the morning of 29 June the 8th Corps went over to the defensive, preparing to maintain its hard-won foothold.120
The Germans, alarmed by the serious threat to Caen which the offensive represented, were in fact straining every nerve to counter it. The 2nd SS Panzer Corps, with the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions under command, had been sent to the Eastern Front in March (above, page 62). On 12 June it was ordered back to the west “at top speed”,121 and it was now arriving and was committed against the 8th Corps penetration. On the afternoon of 29 June it came into action, and succeeded in reducing the bridgehead to some extent. This was the nearest thing to a really large-scale armoured counter-offensive the Germans had yet contrived to mount. But their hopes were disappointed. The SS divisions found themselves smitten by a great weight of artillery fire, including naval fire—for the battlefield was still within reach of the Fleet—and fierce air attacks. The Commander-in-Chief West’s situation report for 30 June122 began:
After several hours of fluctuating fighting in the line north of Esquay–Gavrus–Grainville the attack of 2 SS Pz Corps broke down. The enemy air force and naval artillery—reported by 2 [SS] Pz Corps to have reached a hitherto unprecedented strength—have inflicted particularly heavy damage on our assault formations. The attack was temporarily halted. Continuation is intended for the night of 30 Jun/1 Jul. High enemy losses in men and material can be balanced against own grievous losses. ...
Further desperate attempts at advance on the following day were failures. The British bridgehead held fast; but the 15th (Scottish) Division alone had had 2720 casualties in Operation EPSOM.123
The German military leaders in Normandy were now becoming despondent. On 17 June Hitler had come to France and conferred with Rundstedt and Rommel at Margival near Soissons. This meeting was inconclusive. It appears that Rommel counselled a counter-offensive to be preceded by a limited withdrawal to enable the battle to be fought outside the range of Allied naval guns; but there was no decision, except that Hitler authorized “small adjustments in the front line” of the 1st SS Panzer Corps.124 Rommel’s chief of staff, in his post-war reminiscences, suggests that the meeting greatly widened the gulf between Rommel and Hitler; however, if a letter which the Field Marshal wrote to his wife the following day is good evidence—and its limitations are obvious—the dictator was “very cordial and in a good humour” and Rommel was left hoping that Hitler now had a more realistic view of the situation as a result of his own frank exposition of it.125
On 29 June the two western Field Marshals again saw Hitler, this time at Berchtesgaden. During this conference Hitler reluctantly abandoned, in the light of their arguments, the cherished project of a major offensive directed on Cherbourg to recover the great port and split the Allied bridgehead;126 but it is evident that he was unwilling to accept the generals’ opinion that the existing line in Normandy had become untenable. It was at this period that, according to Rundstedt’s account given to Canadian interrogators, the C-in-C had a telephone conversation with Field-Marshal Keitel in which, in answer to the latter’s anguished inquiry, “What shall we do?” he replied, “Make peace, you idiots! What else can you do?”127 It is not surprising that changes in the command followed. Making peace was not a practical policy for Hitler.
On 30 June General Geyr von Schweppenburg, commanding Panzer Group West, which was directing the operations against the British, forwarded to Headquarters Seventh Army a detailed recommendation128 beginning “The situation at Caen and west of it demands basically new decisions.” He proposed that the Germans should evacuate the part of Caen north and west of the Orne and withdraw to a new line following the Orne as far as Bully (some six miles south of Caen) and thence through Avenay and Villers-Bocage to the Caumont area; this would be followed by a “renewed transition to offensive thrusts beyond the most effective range of naval artillery”. General Hausser (who had taken command of the Seventh Army after General Dollmann died of a heart attack on 28 June), Field-Marshal Rommel and Field-Marshal von Rundstedt all concurred in. this recommendation. Rommel accepted it, even though in conversation with Geyr at noon on 1 July he questioned the desirability of yielding as much as Geyr proposed; he emphasized the importance of Caen as the anchor point against the expected Allied lunge
towards Paris and said it was important to concentrate more and more German forces in that area.129 (Montgomery’s strategy was working admirably.) At 3: 00 a.m. on 1 July Rundstedt asked the Supreme Command for a free hand to carry out the proposed withdrawals.130
Hitler clearly had no intention of accepting any such policy. At 5:40 p.m. the Commander-in-Chief West received the following message131 from OKW:–
The present positions are to be held. Any further enemy breakthrough must be prevented by obstinate defence or local counter-attacks.
The following day Field-Marshal von Rundstedt was told that he was being replaced by Field-Marshal Gunther von Kluge. On 3 July General Geyr von Schweppenburg was replaced by General Heinrich Eberbach.132 Rommel broke the news to Geyr with the cheerful remark, “I’m the next on the list!”133 But in fact Rommel was, for the moment, allowed to remain; and it was not Hitler but the Royal Air Force that removed him from the command of Army Group B on 17 July.
Had the 8th Corps gained more ground in EPSOM, the 3rd Canadian Division would have been called upon to attack on its left flank. Two separate operations were planned: ABERLOUR, to be delivered by the 3rd British Division with the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade under command, against the enemy’s salient north of Caen; and OTTAWA, to be put in by the 3rd Canadian Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade from the north against Carpiquet village. Detailed orders were prepared for these operations. But as the result of the events on the 8th Corps front, ABERLOUR was cancelled on 28 June, and the whole plan was revised. The 1st British Corps now produced a new plan for clearing the Caen area, part of which was a different scheme for an attack on Carpiquet, to be delivered by the 3rd Canadian Division from the west and known by the code name WINDSOR. This was postponed on the 30th.134
The Situation at the End of June
As the eventful month of June drew to a close, with sanguinary fighting in progress along the Odon, it was clear that Montgomery’s policy of pulling the enemy’s main strength on to the Second Army had been an almost embarrassingly complete success. A great concentration of German troops, and particularly of armour, now faced the eastern flank of the Normandy bridgehead.
The German order of battle on the evening of 29 June135 shows the following formations confronting the First United States Army:–
2nd Parachute Corps
3rd Parachute Division
352nd Infantry Division*
17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division
91st Airlanding Division*
353rd Infantry Division
77th Infantry Division*
2nd SS Panzer Division* (battle group only, in Army Group Reserve)136
* Not a full division.
In addition, remnants of the 243rd and 709th Infantry Divisions had been liquidated in the Cherbourg peninsula during the past few days.137
Generally facing the Second British Army were the following:–138
Panzer Group West
711th Infantry Division
346th Infantry Division
21st Panzer Division
16th Air Force Division (moving up)
716th Infantry Division*
1st SS Panzer Corps
1st SS Panzer Division
12th SS Panzer Division
2nd SS Panzer Corps
9th SS Panzer Division
10th SS Panzer Division
2nd SS Panzer Division*
276th Infantry Division (moving up)
277th Infantry Division (moving up)
47th Panzer Corps
Panzer Lehr Division
2nd Panzer Division
It is thus apparent that, at the end of June, of the eight panzer divisions in Normandy seven and a half were on the British front.† Of other divisions or remnants of divisions in all categories, there were six on the US and six on the British front.
On 30 June General Montgomery issued another long formal directive139 to Generals Bradley and Dempsey. It is reproduced as Appendix D, and only the basic sentence describing Montgomery’s “Plan in Outline” need be quoted here: “To hold the maximum number of enemy divisions on our eastern flank between Caen and Villers Bocage, and to swing the western or right flank of the Army Group southwards and eastwards in a wide sweep so as to threaten the line of withdrawal of such enemy divisions to the south of Paris.”
On these lines the battle was duly fought during the next seven weeks. It was General Montgomery’s hope, as we have seen, that the enemy would continue to fight strongly on his present line-as Montgomery put it on 18 June (above, page 145), “come to our threat” and expose himself to defeat between the Seine and the Loire. Hitler was enforcing precisely this policy, and refusing to allow his commanders on the ground to make politic withdrawals. The result of this obstinacy was to be a catastrophic German defeat; but there was much hard fighting before the rout began.
* Not a full division.
† The 2nd Panzer Division, on Panzer Group West’s extreme left flank, overlapped the American front after the 7th British Armoured Division’s sector was taken over by the First US Army at the end of the month.