Operation Bluecoat

This was a British operation to drive to the south from the lodgement of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group in Normandy to take Caumont and Mont Pinçon (30 July/7 August 1944).

The primary aim of the attack was to secure the key road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon, in the process threatening to cut off the German spearhead attacking at Mortain in ‘Lüttich’. As such, the operation can be regarded as the first element in the creation of the ‘Falaise pocket’, and was designed to support the exploitation after the US ‘Cobra’ break-out at the western end of the Allies’ Normandy lodgement.

The forces most heavily involved, on the British side, were Major General G. P. B. Roberts’s 11th Armoured Division, Major General A. H. S. Adair’s Guards Armoured Division, and Brigadier G. L. Verney’s (from 3 August Brigadier Sir Walter Battelot’s) 6th Guards Tank Brigade of Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps, supported by Major General G. MacMillan’s 15th Division and Major General L. G. Whistler’s 3rd Division, and Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division of Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s XXX Corps, supported by Major General D. Graham’s 50th Division, Major General G. Erskine’s (from 4 August Major General G. Verney’s) 7th Armoured Division and Brigadier G. Prior-Palmer’s 8th Armoured Brigade.

Te opposition was found be elements of General Heinrich Eberbach’s 5th Panzerarmee in the form of General Hans Freiherr von Funck’s XLVII Panzerkorps using Generalleutnant Kurt Badinski’s 276th Division and Generalleutnant Viktor von Drabich-Wächter’s (from 2 August Oberst Kertsch’s) 326th Division, but later reinforced by SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS (from 1 August SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS) Willi Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps with Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision, SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Theodor Wisch’s 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler', SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Sylvester Stadler’s (from 31 July SS-Oberführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Bock’s) 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen' and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg'.

The breakthrough in ‘Cobra’ on 25 July had been aided by ‘Goodwood’ (i) at the eastern end of the lodgement, where the offensive by British and Canadian formations had caused the main weight of Eberbach’s 5th Panzerarmee to be concentrated south of Caen. This prevented farther progress to the south by the 2nd Army, so the formation’s armour was switched westward toward Villers Bocage, adjacent to Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army.

Dempsey originally planned that ‘Bluecoat’ should start on 2 August, but the speed of events forced him to bring the date forward to 30 July with Bucknall’s XXX Corps leading the attack with O’Connor’s VIII Corps on its right flank. Initially only two German infantry divisions held the intended attack frontage, south and east of Caumont, but these had laid extensive minefields and constructed substantial defences, and also had the benefit of occupying bocage terrain, which was ideal for defence. A preliminary bombardment by more than 1,000 bombers, in place of the more standard artillery effort, was supposed to prepare the way for the attack, but the weather was poor and as a result many of the bombers could not find their targets.

Even so, the men of the two German infantry divisions were shocked by the bombing, and then came under attack by the British armour behind a creeping artillery barrage. Many of the British units were held up by minefields and steep gullies, however, but in the centre, the attackers advanced 5 miles (8 km). On the following day units of the 11th Armoured Division exploited the gap between the 5th Panzerarmee and SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s 7th Army, and captured a bridge over the Soulevre river, some 5 miles (8 km) behond the German front, and used timely reinforcements to break the first German armoured units sent to counterattack. The British forces were now only 5 miles (8 km) from Vire, but this was on the US side of the boundary between the British and American armies, so the British attack was diverted to the south-east. This gave Hausser’s 7th Army the time it needed to regroup, and also to move SS Panzer divisions to reinforce its defences, and as a result the British advance was slowed. O’Connor’s VIII Corps also had to protect its own eastern flank, because Bucknall’s XXX Corps had not maintained the same rate of advance: Bucknall was replaced on 2 August by Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks, and Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine, commander of the 7th Armoured Division, was replaced two days later by Major General G. L. Verney.

The advance was brought to a temporary halt on 4 August, but after renewed efforts Vire fell to British and US forces on 6 August, the day on which the 43rd Division captured Mont Pinçon.

Thus ‘Bluecoat’ proved successful in attracting a major part of the German strength away from the projected counterattack at Avranches, and so made an important contribution to the later encirclement of the German forces in the Falaise ‘pocket’.