Operation Atlantic

Operation Atlantic

18 – 21 July 1944

Image : Carte de l'opération Goodwood montrant l'offensive de l'opération Atlantic

Map of Operation Atlantic inserted at Operation Goodwood

Objectives of operation Atlantic

The city of Caen is one of the major objectives of the British armies engaged in Normandy. Hard fights began on the evening of June 6 for the conquest of this city, which was to fall into the hands of the Allies on D-Day, in accordance with the plans originally foreseen. General Montgomery concentrated his efforts and decided to set up several operations in order to conquer Caen, notably operation Perch (June 7, 1944), operation Epsom (June 26, 1944) and operation Windsor (July 4, 1944). After operation Charnwood (7 July 1944), Anglo-Canadians controlled the northern half of the city, but the situation was very precarious.

The Allies seek to exploit the efforts of the previous weeks and so they want to set up a new offensive to drive the German defenders from the southern part of Caen. The latter also occupy the sector of the factory of Colombelles which offers an impregnable view to their observers of artillery. At the same time, the Americans were preparing the Cobra operation south of the Cotentin, scheduled for July 20, 1944: a new Anglo-Canadian offensive could fix the German reinforcements in the area of ​​Caen.

This ambitious operation, finalized on July 13, 1944 by General Dempsey, and approved on July 15 by General Montgomery, aims to bypass Caen by the east to reach the southern region composed of vast cereal plains, a terrain favorable to armored operations , To cut off German refueling routes. The operation as a whole is called Goodwood and the Canadian Forces (2nd Corps) is called operation Atlantic.

To this end, Anglo-Canadians gather an impressive number of armored vehicles: nearly 1,300 tanks, belonging to the three armored divisions of General Dempsey’s second army, the largest armored group in the entire Battle of Normandy Of the Western European campaign. The Canadian Corps of the 2nd Corps, under the command of General Guy Simonds, were tasked, as part of operation Atlantic, to seize Colombelles as well as the southern part of Caen and they must be able to seize the area of Verrières. The 2nd Corps is composed in particular of the 2nd and 3rd divisions of infantry which must lead the offensive, respectively towards Vaucelles and Colombelles, in the suburbs of Caen.

Meanwhile, German intelligence services warn units in the Caen region that an Anglo-Canadian attack is being prepared, which should bypass the city from the east and head towards Paris. The two armored divisions of the sector, the 12th Panzer Division and the 21st Panzer Division, reinforced by the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503, are preparing for the possibility of an attack and watch for signs indicating adverse preparations.

Conduct of operation Atlantic

On July 18, 1944, operation Goodwood was launched and the Canadians began operation Atlantic the same day. The offensive was preceded by massive aerial bombardment: more than 7,800 tons of bombs were dropped by 2,077 allied aircraft. This “carpet bombing” tactic aims to dislodge the Germans from their powerful defensive positions and disorganize them. Moreover, the impact of such a bombardment is positive on the troops preparing for the assault. Naval artillery and land artillery take over from aviation and fire close to 250,000 shells, targeted in a vast area between the eastern part of Caen and the village of Troarn, a corridor about fifteen Kilometers and four kilometers wide.

Image : Plan et déroulement de l'opération Goodwood du 18 au 21 juillet 1944 Map of the development of operation Goodwood from 18 to 21 July 1944.

The Canadian troops immediately set off: in reaction, the Germans set up a dense counter-barrage of artillery while the British tanks were slowed down by the three bottlenecks located at the level of the three bridges on the Orne. In addition to this initial difficulty, there is also the significant presence of mines in the area, posed by both the Germans and the Allies. In the precipitation of these installations, few surveys have been made by Anglo-Canadians. Which greatly slowed the advance of the 11th Armored Division. As for the Germans, they firmly hold the area according to their orders, and every village, farm or hamlet is forbidden.

The fighting southwest of Caen in the vicinity of Louvigny is fierce between the Canadians and the 12th and 21st SS Panzer divisions attached to the Western Panzergruppe commanded by Eberbach. This small village, lost the night before by the Allies, was taken again on July 18th in a vast attack by the Royal Regiment of Canada of the 2nd Infantry Division, supported by field artillery and naval artillery. The Orne and Odon rivers are crossed and two bridgeheads are installed respectively in Louvigny and Vaucelles in the middle of the afternoon.

The 3rd Infantry Division infiltrated the industrial sector of the Metallurgical Society of Normandy in the working city of Colombelles where it fought new battles. At nightfall, Canadians dig individual shelters to protect themselves from the bombardments that continue to harass their ranks and await a possible German counter-attack. The 4th and 6th Infantry Brigades are ready to depart on reconnaissance order in the direction of the Verrières Ridge.

On the evening of July 18, the Germans recovered on a new line of defense and still hold the ridge of Bourguébus, to the southeast of Canadian positions. The next morning, the 2nd Infantry Division progressed to Verrières Ridge, where it was stopped in its impetus by the relentless resistance of the 9th S. Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and the 272nd Infantry Division. But the villages of Cormelles-le-Royal, Fleury and Louvigny are definitively liberated by the Canadians.

The fighting of the Verrières crests

On July 20, 1944, as rain fell again in Normandy, the South Saskatchewan Regiment, supported by the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and the Sherbrooke Hussars, launched an attack on the ridges of Verrières, which dominated the plain to the south Of Caen. The Typhoon allies, who were also to provide support, were nailed to the ground due to poor weather conditions.

The Germans strongly defended the village of Saint-André-sur-Orne and the two German divisions (12th and 21st SS Panzer divisions) counterattacked immediately after the Canadian assault: the Allies had to retreat beyond their line and the Essex Scottish Regiment, which stood in reserve, lost nearly 300 men. In the last hours of the day, the soldiers bury themselves and prepare to hold their positions.

It becomes urgent for the Allies to consolidate their lines in order to avoid losing the precious land conquered the days before. On July 21, 1944, General Simonds deployed the Royal Highland Regiment and the Calgary Highlanders to strengthen positions in the Verrières area. Despite very heavy losses, the Canadians resisted and prevented the German counter-attacks from succeeding. The front is momentarily stabilized, marking the end of operation Atlantic.

Results of operation Atlantic

The Canadian casualties are very high: 1,349 soldiers are out of action throughout operation Atlantic, mostly personnel from the 4th and 6th Infantry Brigades. Verrières and its crests are still in the hands of the Germans, who again value their defensive positions. Their losses are unknown.

Nevertheless, the southern shore of the city of Caen is finally in the hands of the Allies, more than a month after the disembarkment. If Anglo-Canadians did not succeed in controlling a larger portion of land south of the Norman capital, the Atlantic offensive, under operation Goodwood, focused German attention and set several reserve elements in place. this region. The Americans, who launched operation Cobra from July 25, 1944, see the German pressure weighing down on them sharply, which is a real strategic victory.