Operation Martlet (operation Dauntless)
June 25, – July 1st, 1944


Image : Carte de l'opération Epsom illustrant la mission de la 49ème division d'infanterie
Map of the Epsom operation illustrating the mission of the 49th Infantry Division

Objectives of operation Martlet

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, including the Epsom operation which begins on June 26, 1944 and which is conducted in the direction of hills 113 and 112. No less than three British army corps are engaged in the operation: the 1st Corps, the 8th Corps and the 30th Corps.

On the flank of Operation Epsom, the British set up Operation Martlet, also known as “Dauntless”, according to the official march of the British Army. This maneuver is necessary because the Epsom – induced progression uncovers the right flank of the 8th Corps, particularly in the Rauray region: it is necessary for the Allies to seize several key points, Main action, namely the Epsom operation. These key points are mainly the villages of Rauray, Fontenay-le-Pesnel, Tessel, Brettevillette and Juvigny.

The 49th Infantry Division is designated to carry out this mission. It consists of the 70th, 146th and 147th Infantry Brigades as well as the 8th Armored Brigade. The German forces in this sector consist of the 3rd battalion of the 26th regiment S.S. Panzergrenadier as well as elements of the 12th regiment S.S. Panzer of the 12th S.S Panzerdivision. The latter have set themselves up as defensive in the sector and have valued their positions for several days.

Conduct of Operation Martlet

Operation Martlet begins on 25 June 1944 at dawn. The British soldiers have been awakened since three o’clock in the morning and after a quick breakfast, they set up on the line to uncork. Allied artillery opens fire from 04:15; Forty-five minutes later, the fire became rolling and progressed to the south, with the soldiers of the next 49th infantry division immediately.

The British division is progressing on two axes, the 146th brigade having for objective Rauray, the 147th brigade heading for Fontenay-le-Pesnel. The 70th Infantry Brigade is in reserve and the 8th Armored Brigade supports it.

The morning coolness puts a thick fog on the ground, to which is added the smoke of the explosions: the visibility is extremely reduced and the British lose time in seeking to orient themselves.

The 146th brigade reached the wood of Tessel-Brettevillette near Vendes in the early afternoon, but when the 1st battalion of the 4th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry regiment reached the woods, Party by the Germans and then positions his positions.

The 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers of the 147th Brigade arrived at Fontenay-le-Pesnel, where fierce fighting took place on the morning of June 25: the Germans of the 26th S.S. Panzergrenadier regiment repulsed their opponents to the northern suburbs of Village and the duels of artillery add to the general disorder. The 7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment reinforces at nightfall and seizes most of Fontenay before midnight.

On June 25 at midnight, the entire right flank of Operation Epsom is not yet secure and Operation Martlet is delayed by the strong defense of the Germans in this area. The next day, under cover of the Allied artillery, the British renewed the offensive from 05:30. The 70th Infantry Brigade took the lead with the 8th Armored Brigade: they seized Tessel-Brettevillette before being repulsed by the opposing forces. Night falls, both camps reinforce their positions during the hours that follow and prepare to resume the fight the next day.

On the 27th of June, the 146th brigade is still fighting to open itself beyond the wood of Tessel-Brettevillette but it does not succeed. Meanwhile, Rauray is hit by the leading elements of the 70th Brigade that is under British control late in the evening. As they do every night, they settle in defensive positions on dearly conquered positions and artillery duels continue until dawn. On June 28, the village of Brettevillette is reached by the 1st Tyneside Scottish of the 70th brigade but in front of the furious counter-attacks of the 2nd SS Panzer Korps, the Scots are folded along a line of defense installed in the sector of Rauray. The flank of Operation Martlet is now in place and the British of the 49th Infantry Division are preparing for the clash of German counter-attacks.

The counter-attack of the 2nd S.S. Panzer Korps

On July 1, 1944, at six o’clock in the morning, the Germans counter-massively attacked Rauray. Supported by artillery and tanks, they isolate the Scottish 1st Tyneside Scottish (who lose 132 men in one day only) from the rest of the 49th D.I. and continue northward. It was only at ten o’clock in the morning that the Germans slowed down and began to retreat, hard hit by the British. An hour later, they renew their assault which is once again a failure. Towards noon, the 9th S.S. Panzerdivision attacked for four hours, without result. If the British forces are particularly affected, they stand up to the storm of the S.S. troops.

At eighteen o’clock, the Germans left Rauray and retired definitively to rejoin a new line of defense.

Conclusions of Operation Martlet

Operation Martlet is a British tactical victory. Operation Epsom, which is General Montgomery’s point of effort, is secured on its right flank thanks to the action carried out by the 49th Infantry Division. Moreover, major elements of the German combatant set are fixed by the fighting in the region of Rauray and do not intervene to counter Epsom.

The 49th D.I. settles in solid defense on its positions that it keeps for nearly a month (it carries out diversion actions to the benefit of the other units throughout the month of July). It was not until the 30th of July that the division moved to the east of Caen to progress towards the Seine river.

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