Battle of Normandy – Battles for Caen – June 6 – July 8, 1944

Battles for Caen (1)

Battle of Normandy

D-Day to D-Day + 32: from June 6th to July 8th, 1944

The initial plan of the Allies provides for the liberation of the city of Caen in the evening of Tuesday, June 6, 1944 by the British troops of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Images : soldats Britanniques à bicyclettes après leur débarquement à SwordBritish soldiers with bicycles after landing on Sword. Photo: IWM

Thus, many infantrymen are equipped with folding bicycles during the disembarkation in order to move more quickly. But during the onslaught of the beaches, the units are behind schedule. during the landing phase and many tanks are isolated, a few kilometers from Caen only, without the support of the infantry. Not wanting to risk the unnecessary loss of armor, the British staff roll back the most advanced elements. The liberation of Caen is then postponed and the allied generals estimate that it is only a matter of hours.

On D + 1 (7 June), General Montgomery, commander of the Allied Land Forces in Normandy, launches Perch Peroration, which aims to revive the action of the day before to finally capture Caen. But the Germans are defending themselves fiercely and preventing the British from progressing. The first attacks were stopped by the German soldiers and tanks of the 12. SS Panzer-Division and the 21. Panzer-Division defending Caen and in particular the attack led by the 185th Brigade of the 3rd British Infantry Division in Lebisey , bordering the capital. Indeed, the German defense is ready to defend its positions. The commander of the 21st Panzer, Edgar Feuchtinger, has 16,000 men, 146 tanks, 4 motorized infantry battalions, about 50 guns, and a battalion of Flak cannons (defense against German planes) with 24 pieces of 88 mm caliber buried north of Caen.

To deceive this impressive defense, General Montgomery launched the 7th Armored Division (the famous “Desert Rats”: the “Desert Rats”) and the 51st Highland each belonging to the 8th British Corps. After a start of encirclement north of Caen, the advance of the Allies in this sector must stop: Day D + 5 (June 11), the losses in men and equipment are disastrous: one of the British paratroopers battalions , the 12th, accuses the loss of 141 soldiers out of 160 engaged during the capture of Bréville.

Operation Epsom

The takeover of Caen taking a serious delay compared to the date originally planned, General Montgomery now wants to deploy all his forces to attack Caen.

He decides to wait until enough units are available before launching the assault: thus, he plans to use on Day D + 17 (23 June) the forces commanded by General Richard O’Connor, three bodies of 60,000 men, 600 tanks and 700 guns.

This operation takes the code name “Epsom”.

But on June 23, a new storm rages in the Channel and reinforcements in food, materials and fuels are blocked aboard ships or England, can no longer be transported by sea for a while because of the execrable time. And if the Allies suffer from being unable to advance, the Germans, they take advantage of this lull to strengthen their front line by a new armored division, the Panzer Lehr. In total, the German strength in the area of ​​Caen represents 228 tanks, 150 guns of 88 as well as multiple guns.

On Sunday, June 25, 1944, an armored division and two armored brigades independent Anglo-Canadian belonging to the 8th corps, composed of nearly 60,000 men and 600 tanks, attack west of Caen.

The 49th British West Riding Infantry Division attacked Fontenay-le-Pesnel, but in the vicinity, the Panzer Lehr did not release anything, like the village of Rauray, located to the south-west of Tilly, which is firmly defended by the 1st SS armored corps and where hard fights engage for the control of this locality.

The opponents of the British, the fanatics of the Hitler Youth, fight to the death. Losses are high on both sides of the front.

The next day, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division, supported by Churchill tanks of the 31st British Armored Brigade also goes on the attack. Saint-Manvieux-Norrey, located near Carpiquet and its precious airport, is liberated by the 44th Lowland Scottish Brigade after furious fighting that sometimes ends in hand-to-hand combat.

Image : Soldats du 6e Royal Scot Fusiliers attaquent avec des fumigènes le 26 juinSoldiers of the 6th Royal Scot Fusiliers attack with smoke on June 26th. Photo: IWM

The German general Rommel, who understands the strategic importance of the village of Cheux, located at a crossroads of several other villages, orders various SS troops to leave the region of Saint-Lô to help the soldiers of the Hitlerjugend, overwhelmed by the Scottish infantry. But the allied air superiority is such that no large German movement is possible during the day, on pain of being pitilessly bombarded.

The 8th British Corps must at all costs seize the Hill 112, a height that dominates a large part of the region of the Odon. But this strategic position is firmly defended by the Germans who refuse to abandon the key point of the region. The first British attacks ended in failure and allied ships quickly intervened to support the troops of the 8th corps by bombarding the 112. The Scots resumed their march, supported by the naval artillery and tried to pierce the German defenses.

On June 27, the 49th British Infantry Division, after hard fighting, manages to liberate the village of Raurey. The 15th Scottish Infantry Division, after securing the village of Cheux, wishes to continue its meteoric progress and heads to the bridges over the Odon, major objectives of the operation Epsom. But it is slowed by defenders of the Panzer Lehr who refuse to lose more ground. Allied losses are very important.

However, advanced elements of the 15th Scottish Infantry Division manage to establish a bridgehead on the right bank of the Odon, reached at the bridge of Tourmanville. Other elements of this division, as well as the 11th Armored Division, cross the bridge and attack the strategic point of Hill 112.

In the evening of June 27, the Scots pierced the German front about 10 kilometers deep, an impressive performance but does not meet the expectations of Montgomery, who, from his headquarters in Blay, is worried by reports catastrophic British losses since the start of the Epsom operation.

On June 28, Generals Rommel and von Rundstedt were in Germany, having been summoned by Hitler to discuss the situation in Normandy. Their replacement, General Dollman, sees tightening the grip around the important dimension 112. He launches his last forces in the attack. Indeed, the 11th Armored Division is moving to Hill 112, releasing important junctions along the Orne River.

The 2nd Argyll and Sutherlands Highlanders Battalion of the 15th Scottish Infantry Division liberate the village of Gavrus on the right bank of the River Odon and capture its two bridges, while the 23rd Hussars liberate the town of Baron-sur-Odon, directly northwest of Gavrus, which is on the road to Hill 112, which is reached by the 8th Rifle Brigade and the tanks of the 3rd RTR in the early afternoon.

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