Bretteville-sur-Laize (Calvados)

The cities of Normandy during the 1944 fighting

Bombardement de la commune de Bretteville-sur-Laize le 8 août 1944 dans le cadre de l'opération Totalize par les B-17 "Flying Fortress" de la 8th (US) Air Force. Photo : US National Archives

Bombing of the commune of Bretteville-sur-Laize on August 8, 1944 as part of Operation Totalize by B-17 “Flying Fortress” of the 8th (US) Air Force.
Photo: US National Archives

Liberation : August 9, 1944

Units involved:

Drapeau canadien de 1944 2nd Infantry Division

Drapeau canadien de 1944 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars), 2nd Armoured Brigade

Drapeau nazi 12. SS-Panzer-Division « Hitlerjugend »

Drapeau nazi 89. Infanterie-Division


Only a few days after the landing, having failed to seize Caen on D-Day, the Allies multiplied the bombardments on this city and on the surrounding villages in order to disrupt the movements of the German troops seeking to strengthen the front. The village of Bretteville-sur-Laize is not spared and is hit hard on June 10, 1944 by a raid. At 5:30 p.m., bombs fell on the town, killing twenty-five inhabitants and destroying a large part of the buildings. Part of the population therefore prefers to take refuge in the underground of the iron mine of Gouvix.

In order to shake up the German lines defending Caen, the 2nd British Army multiplied the attempts to make a great movement of circumvention and to pass the capital of Calvados by the West. For this purpose, as part of Operation Epsom, which begins on June 26, the eighth corps of Lieutenant General Richard O’Connor is in charge of reaching the heights overlooking Bretteville-sur-Laize at the end of the phase. But the formidable German resistance decided otherwise; the British and the Canadians renewed their attempt on July 18 on the occasion of Operation Goodwood, carrying out a new murderous bombardment on Bretteville-sur-Laize, but without more success.

Since the beginning of August 1944, as a result of Operation Bluecoat, the Germans have retreated east of the Orne by taking support along the heights overlooking the Laize. It was not until Operation Totalize launched on the evening of August 7 that the Allies finally approached Bretteville-sur-Laize. On August 8, with the triggering of Phase II of Totalize, the village is again targeted by the American planes of the 8th Air Force despite the dissuasive presence of the German air defense which manages to destroy nine bombers. Bombs fell by mistake in the allied lines: 65 allied soldiers were killed, 250 were wounded and 55 vehicles were neutralized. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division nevertheless mounted an assault and advanced on the right flank of the offensive, approaching Bretteville-sur-Laize from the northeast. But in the absence of artillery support, which intervened primarily for the benefit of the 6th Infantry Brigade, the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade delayed its assault of the village which was finally triggered at 16 hours. The de Maisonneuve Regiment and the Calgary Highlanders were engaged in combat, supported by the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars). The Canadians are fixed by the German resistance of the 89. Infantry-Division which receives the reinforcement of the guns of 88 mm armed by the batteries of the III. Flak-Korps which are arranged to form an anti-tank trap.

In the evening, the Calgary Highlanders seized the village but continued to suffer heavy losses, particularly because of the concentration of rockets from Nebelwerfer: his corps chief, Lieutenant-Colonel MacLaughlan, estimated that by recovering on the heights to the north-East of the village, he would manage to get out of the area beaten by fires. He is allowed to break contact and retreat. But during their disengagement, the Canadians were caught in their own artillery fire, increasing the number of casualties. The men of the de Maisonneuve regiment held the heights east of Bretteville-sur-Laize.

The 10th of August, the 12th. SS-Panzer-Division «Hitlerjugend» settled on the southern outskirts of the commune, preparing new defensive positions and multiplying patrols to maintain pressure on Canadian fighters. Faced with this reinforcement, the Allies renewed the bombardments on the village which is now a vast field of ruins. The Canadians of the 2nd Infantry Division multiply the recognitions in the sector to prevent any infiltration along the banks of the Laize where they meet only scattered enemy units, with the morale strongly reduced by the last fights. On 9 August, the Germans retreated further south, allowing the Canadians to regain their footing in the ruins of Bretteville-sur-Laize, which they held until 12 August.

Today, 2,958 soldiers (mostly Canadians) are buried in the Bretteville-sur-Laize military cemetery, located on the territory of the commune of Cintheaux, including 87 unidentified soldiers.

Bretteville-sur-Laize map:

Author: Marc Laurenceau – Reproduction subject to authorization of the author – Contact