Battles for Caen (2/2)

Battle of Normandy

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

Continued from the page: The battles for Caen (1/2)

Operation Epsom (continuation)

Obergruppenführer Hausser, commander of the 2nd SS Panzerkorps, composed of the 9th and 10th Panzerdivisions, arrives in Normandy on June 23, after a long journey through Europe started from Poland on June 12. As for the 1st S.S. Panzerdivision, she left Belgium, and reached Normandy on June 18th south of Caumont. The 2nd Panzerdivision, commanded by von Luttwitz, it is since June 18 engaged towards Villers-Bocage.

The German movements are slowed or even stopped by the Allied air force which destroys everything in its path. Troops must travel at night to avoid annihilation even before they can fight.

Thus, the German forces are terribly disabled vis-à-vis the enemy: all tank reserves were committed, including the famous SS 2nd Panzerkorps SS Obergruppenführer Hausser, trying July 1, 1944 to upset the British front on the Odon without success.

Images : Le 28 juin, un tireur isolé de la "Hitlerjugend" est emmené par des soldats de la 49e D.I. Britannique On June 28th, 1944, a sniper of the “Hitlerjugend” is made prisoner by soldiers of the 49th British Infantry Division. Photo: IWM

On July 1st, while Operation Epsom is stopped, Caen has still not fallen. This offensive has attracted around the city many German armored vehicles (belonging to the 2nd SS Panzerkorps (9th and 10th SS Panzerdivisions) of Poland and the 1st SS Panzerdivision from Belgium) that could not break between Bayeux and Arromanches, as Hitler wanted.

The latter refuses to abandon the capital of Calvados and replaces most of its generals at the head of the units defending the surrounding area Caen: von Kluge will replace von Rundstedt, sacked after proposing to make peace with the Allies. Rommel still remains at the head of Army Group B but Eberbach replaces injured Geyr von Schweppenburg.

The city of Caen is found encircled in the north (and especially by the British paratroopers of the 6th airborne division in position since the D-Day) and in the west by the positions held by the Anglo-Canadians on the Odon.

The situation becomes extremely tragic for the German defenders who have to endure a bombardment on the evening of July 7, by the strategic forces composed of Lancaster and Halifax General Harris model aircraft. 2,500 tons of bombs are dropped north of Caen, on the outskirts.

The 3rd Canadian division and the 3rd British division occupy on the D + 32 day (July 8, 1944) the northern part of Caen while the 12th SS Panzerdivision and the 272nd division retreat to the south of the Orne.

Images : Un corporal surveille la rue de Geole dans Caen depuis le pont-levis du château
A corporal monitors the street of Geole in Caen from the drawbridge of the castle. Photo: IWM

Operation Goodwood

The British staff estimates that a new large-scale offensive will allow its troops to control the entire city and to drive the Germans out of Caen and the southern roads. He set up the code-named operation Goodwood, which begins on July 18th: 750 tanks are to be fired from the east towards Bourguébus. At the same time, a diversionary attack must attract enemy defenders west of the city, two hours before the start of Goodwood. In the past, 4,500 Allied bombers destroyed all targets on British roads: they dropped 7,000 tons of bombs and were supported by naval artillery and ground artillery firing nearly 250,000 shells.

But German Tiger and Panther tanks block the road, helped by the formidable 88mm guns. Very quickly, with all the bombing preceding Goodwood, the German officers ordered that the tanks are buried, leaving only the turret: the 36 tanks Tiger become more dangerous than ever. On the evening of July 18th, 6000 soldiers are victims of the fighting and nearly 400 tanks are destroyed for an allied advance which does not exceed the 11 kilometers, Bourguébus still being not under British control. The 11th British Division loses 126 tanks on this single day.

Images : Le 9 juillet, patrouille Canadienne dans la ville de Caen July 9, Canadian patrol in the city of Caen. Photo: IWM

Eisenhower, annoyed by the turn of the fighting, said: “We can not hope to cross the whole of France by dropping 1000 tons of bombs per kilometer!” The hour is serious, because the allied generals do not get along with Montgomery: they think he is not good enough strategist. U.S. Air Force officers even refuse air support for troops commanded by the British general. As for the Allied Air Force General, Arthur Tedder, he even proposes to sack him.

But Montgomery defends himself by showing that the Goodwood offensive is not a total defeat: three major obstacles are crossed: the Orne, the Odon and Caen. In addition, British troops have the merit of having attracted most Panzerdivisions around Caen, releasing a little more access to the south for US troops.

The city of Caen is completely liberated around July 21, at the end of the Goodwood operation, and the plain of Caen open up to 7 kilometers around the city. But the city is almost completely destroyed by the constant bombing.

Images : Caen, le 9 juillet 1944, détruite par les bombardements Caen, July 9, 1944, destroyed by bombing. Photo: IWM

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