4 – 5 July 1944
Origins of operation Windsor
One month after D-Day, Anglo-Canadian forces are still stationed north of Caen. The capital of Calvados, which was to fall into the hands of the Allies on June 6, 1944, is nevertheless an essential objective and new offensives aimed at getting the Germans out of the city are preparing at the beginning of the month of July 1944. In the western outskirts of Caen, 24 kilometers from the coast, is the commune of Carpiquet and its precious aerodrome: it is a first point to reach for the Allies who for this purpose decide to set up the operation code name Windsor. This offensive was originally planned as part of operation Epsom under the name of operation Ottawa, but was rejected before being renamed Windsor.
|Aerial view of the aerodrome of Carpiquet, massively bombed. Photo: IWM|
The Canadian troops of the 3rd Infantry Division under the command of General Rod Keller form the spearhead of this offensive, which begins on July 4, 1944. They consist of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, the Chaudière Regiment and the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment belonging to the 8th Infantry Brigade as well as the Royal Winnipeg Rifles of the 7th Infantry Brigade. Support is provided by the 10th Armored Gary Horse Regiment, the Sherbrooke Fusiliers and the Cameron Highlanders Support Battalion. Two squadrons on Typhoon and three squadrons of the 79th British Armored Division are also deployed.
|Aerial view of the hangars of the Carpiquet aerodrome and of the effects of the bombings. Photo: IWM|
The Germans are entrenched in defensive positions that they have been able to manage for several days despite the continuity of the allied bombing: they are about fifty in the commune of Carpiquet and belong to the 26th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment and 12th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th division SS Panzer “Hitlerjugend” commissioned by Kurt Meyer. Fifteen German tanks were installed on the defensive in the area of the aerodrome, as well as 88 mm artillery pieces. The latter benefit from a terrain that is largely favorable to the defense and the aviation tracks are surrounded by a 1900 meter long deck. Minefields, barbed wire networks and machine gun positions complete this system.
Conduct of operation Windsor
Operation Windsor is preceded by a large artillery preparation delivered by the 21 field batteries composed of 248 tubes of different calibres as well as the 408 mm and 380 mm pieces embarked on board the British battleships HMS Rodney and HMS Roberts in Manche . A first disappointment attack by the Royal Winnipeg is launched on July 4th at 5 am in the direction of the airfield hangars at the airport. At the same time, the Canadians of the La Chaudière and North Shore Regiment (8th Infantry Brigade) mounted an assault on the commune of Carpiquet. The tanks of the Sherbooke Fusiliers (27th Armored Brigade) manage to cross the minefields north of Carpiquet but meet a fierce defense from the soldiers S.S. who also take under their fire the North Shore Regiment. The Canadians, supported by the tanks of the 10th Army Fort Garry Horse (27th Armored Brigade), entered Carpiquet at 6:32 am, where heavy street fights began against the 12th SS Panzer-Division. Shortly after 08.30, the Allies seized the municipality and then concentrated their efforts on the aerodrome.
|Cameron Highlanders of Canada machine gun in action near Carpiquet on July 4, 1944. Photo: IWM|
The Royal Winnipeg Rifles relaunches its offensive, which this time aims to capture the hangars and airfields, but Canadians have to overcome the great discovery that separates them from the German positions. They suffered heavy casualties: several Sherman tanks were destroyed and, while they were halfway through the hangars, the Canadians fell back to their point of departure. No report goes back to General Keller who is convinced that everything works according to the plan originally planned: the front forms a salient that is unfavorable to the Allies, but the Germans remain in a defensive position and do not exploit the temporary withdrawal of the Canadians.
|A German prisoner is guarded by private Léon Marcoux on 4 July 1944 near Carpiquet. Photo: IWM|
In Carpiquet, the men of the 8th Infantry Brigade installed their defensive positions in anticipation of possible counter-attacks. They are located at 1600 meters from the first houses of Caen and represent a very important threat for the German forces: the latter concentrated their defense north of the capital of Calvados and the presence of the Canadian soldiers on their left flank is largely unfavorable to them. Anglo-Canadian forces are likely to use their off-centered Carpiquet bridgehead to bring down the German lines of defense.
|Wounded soldiers of the La Chaudière regiment are evacuated from Carpiquet on 4 July 1944. Photo: IWM|
Early in the afternoon, the Royal Winnipeg relaunched its offensive towards the airfield, supported this time by two squadrons of Typhoon aircraft which set out to hunt German tanks and guns. They managed to reach the hangars north of the airfield but the SS of the 12th Panzer did not bend and launched several counter-attacks with their tanks from the hangars to the south: again, Canadians were forced to withdraw to their point Despite the intervention of their aviation. The Allies lost thirteen tanks during the first day of Operation Windsor.
On the night of 4 to 5 July 1944, Kurt Meyer prepared the German counter-offensive to take over the commune of Carpiquet, which he said was essential to the defense of Caen. Its troops are ready to pierce the front line from the village of Francqueville and they gather all necessary support in armored, artillery, mortars, heavy machine guns. Shortly after midnight, on July 5, the counter-attack began. The defense of Carpiquet holds good against this German offensive: the fighting continues throughout the night and until dawn. The Germans launched no fewer than three attacks, all of which failed and their losses were high. They still maintain pressure through mortar and rocket launches during the day, but Canadian defenses are holding up.
|The effects of the bombing on the Carpiquet Airfield facilities. Photo: IWM|
All night, the Germans renewed their offensive against the North Shore regiment with the support of their artillery. The Canadians, once again, do not back down and their opponents are set by powerful shots. On the dawn of July 6, 1944, the SS soldiers, supported by tanks, launched a large offensive against the positions held by the La Chaudière regiment. The Canadian infantry must retreat while awaiting the salvific support of the Sherman tanks which allows it to regain its initial line of defense.
The aerodrome fell completely and definitively in the hands of Canadians on Sunday, July 9, 1944, following Operation Charnwood (launched by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division the previous day) to take control of Caen from north and west. Following a massive bombardment by 450 Royal Air Force aircraft, La Chaudière regiment took the last hangars south of the airfield while the infantry of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada seized the barracks.
|Officers are preparing the continuation of operations on July 8 near Carpiquet. Photo: IWM|
Operation Windsor balance sheet and implications
Operation Windsor is extremely costly in human lives and equipment, like most of the fighting on the outskirts of Caen. A total of 127 Canadians are killed and another 250 injured. The 10th Canadian Cavalry Regiment loses 17 tanks. For Canadians, a large part of the losses is recorded on July 4, at the beginning of the offensive. The Germans lose 155 personnel, including both the dead and the wounded and disappeared.
|On July 12, 1944, Canadians were briefing near the airfield hangars. Photo: IWM|
The operation itself did not lead to the taking of the aerodrome: it was not until the new offensive of operation Charnwood from 8 July 1944 to achieve it. However, Windsor’s evolution has allowed the Allies to pose a major threat to the city of Caen from the west and thus force the Germans to adopt a new defense system. The loss of land, the numerous and costly counter-attacks of July 4 to 9, 1944, forced the Germans to doubt their chances in the defense of Caen against the allied roller. Operation Windsor is a serious step towards the liberation of Caen, which has been paid at a high price by Canadians.
|The hangars of the Carpiquet aerodrome. Photo: IWM|
The engineers of the 24th Airfield Construction Group installed a track covered with PSP plates crossed with the cemented track to be repaired. Work on the ALG B-17 aerodrome by the Allies ends on 8 August 1944.