At the origin of Operation Bluecoat
At the end of July 1944, the Americans continued operation Cobra in southern Cotentin, while German troops in Normandy remained concentrated in the southern region of Caen. It became urgent for General Montgomery, commander of Allied land forces, to protect the left flank of the Americans while allowing the British and Canadians to regain the advantage and prevent a large German counter-offensive in the “soft belly” of the Normandy front.
In fact, the Germans were firmly entrenched along a line linking Torigny-sur-Vire, Villers-Bocage to Hill 112. They took advantage of a favorable terrain for defense and held Vire, a predominant road in the Calvados region, in addition to the Mont-Pinçon heights favorable to observation. Montgomery does not want a salient between the 2nd British Army of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey and the American 1st Army of Hodges, which could benefit their opponent. That is why he imagines operation Bluecoat, which aims to maintain pressure on the German forces in the Caen region by fixing the enemy by a new offensive.
The Americans and the British made their junction at Villers-Bocage and the English were preparing to attack. Originally scheduled for August 2, 1944, the assault began on July 30 with a massive bombardment issued by more than one thousand allied bombers. But bad weather prevents pointers from reaching and sometimes finding their targets.
Start of operation Bluecoat
The aim is to upset the enemy’s defenses: the Germans have particularly settled in the Normandy bocage and buried hundreds of mines to prohibit access to the key points of the terrain. The infantry and tanks of the 8th and 30th corps of the second British army attacked in the wake of the bombardments to the south and east of Caumont-l’Eventé. The Germans of the Western Panzergruppe commanded by Eberbach and the 7th German Army of Hausser retarded the Allied advance. Meanwhile, the 1st and 9th S.S. Panzer divisions attack east of Caen and weaken the British lines of defense. On the first day of Operation Bluecoat, the objectives initially foreseen are not met.
Although some units have advanced more than eight kilometers to the south, the 30th British Corps is slowly slowing down and its divisions are only two kilometers from their starting point by land or minefields still intact.
On the night of July 30-31, 1944, the first German army was preparing a counter-attack, while reinforcements poured in to counter the Allied advance: the seventh army regrouped in the vicinity of Vire and its tanks took up a defensive position. The next day, the 11th British Armored Division captured Saint-Martin-des-Besaces and stopped the counter-attack of the German tanks headed south of Caumont: the 21st Panzer Division, supported by the 326th German infantry division, Contact with the 15th and 43rd Anglo-Canadian infantry divisions. Hard fighting is taking place, but Dempsey’s 2nd Army is resisting well. The opponents of the British made a big mistake: they left unattended a bridge over the Souleuvre which passed under the control of the 2nd Household Cavalry in the early afternoon, allowing the British to install a bridgehead on the other side of the river.
On 1 August, the 1st Canadian Army was in charge of repelling counter-attacks in the eastern and southern region of Caen. The 8th Corps also uses the bridgehead of La Souleuvre as the starting point of its new offensive: fierce fighting takes place in the vicinity of the Man-made Forest and south-east of the Forêt l’Evêque, 21st SS Panzer Division, backed by the 326th German Infantry Division, counterattacked to the north and east against the 15th and 43rd British infantry divisions and the 11th Armored Division which bore south towards Vire.
The 9th and 10th S Panzer divisions fought violent fights to stop the 11th British Armored Division and the Germans were forced to retreat south despite severe losses inflicted on the Allies.
Nevertheless, the Allies are in a delicate situation: the different rhythms of progress of the units towards the south expose a little more the flanks of the British. The complication of the situation entails serious consequences and internal dissension within the Allied General Staff. Also the head of corps of the 30th corps, Gerard Bucknall, is relieved of its functions on August 2nd. George Erskine, commander of the 7th Armored Division, suffered the same fate on 3 August. That same day, the tanks of the 10th S. Panzerdivision repulsed the British from the 7th Armored Division on their starting line.
Despite these difficulties and a slowdown of the allied progression on 4 August, the British pushed the enemy lines and the Germans were forced to commit their last reserves. Von Kluge appealed to ultimate reinforcements and took his troops behind the Orne river as far as Thury-Harcourt, which immediately took advantage of the 12th English corps: although the eastward advance of the American side along the river Vire, made difficult by the fierce defense of the German paratroopers of the 3rd Division and the survivors of the 10th SS Panzer division, the situation finally seems to turn largely to the advantage of the British. To the west of Caen, the 53rd and 59th infantry divisions liberated the strategic villages of Villers-Bocage and Evrecy, as well as Hill 112. Thanks to this decline in the regime of the German forces, Anglo-Canadians decided to To develop a new offensive which must cut off the retreat of the German forces which are beginning to retreat behind the Seine river.
The German troops between Thury-Harcourt and Mortain were worried. They fear an Anglo-Canadian encircling by the North and American by the South. The German headquarters decides to counter-attack massively before being submerged in Normandy and it develops an operation that must begin in the coming days. The British, conscious of the bad German position between Mortain and Thury-Harcourt, decided to continue the Bluecoat offensive some time before concentrating the offensive south of Caen to accelerate the phenomenon of encirclement. However, if east of the capital of Calvados the progression is still possible, it is very limited in the region near Caen. On 5 August, the 11th British Armored Division released Saint-Charles.
The British front has practically ceased to operate in the southern region of Caen for nearly a week and the 1st Canadian Army suffers in the face of the defenders of the 1st S. Panzer. On 6 August, the Americans released Vire and the British from the 43rd Infantry Division Wessex captured Mount Pincon after heavy fighting: first stopped by heavy mortar and machine-gun fire, 18th Hussars discover a trail left unattended by the Germans and use it to reach the summit. The 2nd British Army then moved slowly towards Thury-Harcourt and Condé, opposite the 74th German corps.
Conclusions of operation Bluecoat
Operation Bluecoat allows the British forces to succeed in maintaining the bulk of the German troops and armored forces concentrated to the south of Caen while taking control of new key points like the plain of Caen and the heights of Mont-Pinçon. Meanwhile, the Americans can continue their advance without encountering significant resistance: they reach Le Mans and the tactical situation allows them to envisage the hypothesis of an encirclement of the troops of the 5th and 7th German armies that could be carried out In the Falaise region.