Operation Dreadnought

This was a British unrealised plan for a break-out by Major General G. T. Rennie’s 3rd Division and attached forces of Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s I Corps within Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army from the Orne river bridgehead in Normandy after ‘Overlord’ with the object of outflanking the German defence of Caen from the east (18 June 1944).

Caen had been a D-Day objective for the 3rd Division after it had landed on Sword Beach in ‘Overlord’ on 6 June, and was admitted to be an ambitious target though nonetheless the single most important task of the I Corps. In this eastern part of the British sector, the ‘Overlord’ plan was based on the 2nd Army’s seizure of the city and then the establishment of a front extending from Caumont l’Eventé to a point to the south-east of Caen, and thereby acquire airfields and protect the left flank of Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army as it advancede to take Cherbourg at the top of the Cotentin peninsula. The possession of Caen and the area surrounding it would provide the 2nd Army with a staging area suitable for the launch of a drive to the south to capture Falaise, which could be then be used as the pivot for a wheel to the left and an advance on Argentan and then toward the Touques river.

As a result of beach-head congestion, which delayed the deployment of its armoured support, and thereby forced to divert effort to attacking strong German positions along the 9.3-mile (15-km) route to the city, the 3rd Division was unable to launch a major assault of Caen on D-Day, and was stopped short of its outskirts by Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision. Immediate follow-up attacks were unsuccessful as the German resistance had been reinforced. The concept of a direct assault on the city was then abandoned in favour of the ‘Perch’ pincer attack by the I Corps and Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s XXX Corps, which was launched on 7 June with the intention of encircling Caen from the east and west. However, the I Corps, attacking to the south out of the Orne bridgehead, was halted by the 21st Panzerdivision and the XXX Corps was brought to a halt to the west of Caen in front of Tilly sur Seulles by Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein’s Panzer-Lehr-Division.

In an attempt to compel the Panzer-Lehr-Doivision to withdraw or surrender, and also to keep operations fluid, part of Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division pushed through a gap in the German front and captured Villers Bocage. The resulting Battle of Villers Bocage forced the vanguard of the 7th Armoured Division to pull back from the town, but by 17 June the Panzer-Lehr-Division had also been forced back and the XXX Corps had taken Tilly sur Seulles.

Another attack by the 7th Armoured Division and other offensive operations were abandoned when there was severe storm developed in the English Channel on 19 June. Lasting three days, this storm severely delayed the build-up of the Allied forces in Normandy: most of the convoys of landing craft and ships already at sea were driven back to ports in the southern UK; towed barges and other loads (including 2.5 miles/4 km of floating roadways for the ‘Mulberry’ harbours) were lost; and 800 landing craft were left stranded on the Normandy beaches until the spring tides in July.

Planning began for a second offensive, known as ‘Dreadnought’ and to be launched out of the Orne bridgehead by Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps, with the object of outflanking Caen from the east. The operation was then cancelled as a result of objections from O’Connor, and an attack toward Évrecy was considered but then also cancelled, either by Dempsey or General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander-in-chief of the Allied 21st Army Group.

Adverse weather between 19 and 22 June, at the time of the great storm in the English Channel, grounded Allied aircraft and the Germans took advantage of the respite from air attack to improve their defences, strengthening the approaches to their infantry positions with minefields and positioning about 70 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-role anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns in hedgerows and woods covering the approaches to Caen.

Given the fact that it had now come to be appreciated that the Orne river bridgehead was currently too small to accommodate the formation tasked with undertaking a fairly major operation, and that the operation had inevitably been postponed by the arrival of the great storm, Montgomery and Dempsey decided that what was now to be a limited attack to the east of the Orne river was to start on 23 June as a complement to ‘Epsom’, which was scheduled to start two days later as the major undertaking on the right-hand side of the British sector of the Allied lodgement.

As noted above, the delay occasioned by the storm had allowed the German defences to be bolstered in the area to the east of the Orne river: here the headquarters of General Hans von Obstfelder’s LXXXVI Corps had arrived, together with one battery of medium artillery and three troops of heavy tanks.

The object of the limited attack on the extreme left of the British lodgement was to take Ste Honorine la Chardonnerette on the eastern bank of the Orne, and the task was now entrusted to Brigadier D. H. Haugh’s 152nd Brigade of Major General D. C. Bullen-Smith’s 51st Division, and was to be started before daybreak on 23 June by the 5th Cameron Highlanders, supported by the 13th/18th Hussars, artillery and engineers. Without any artillery preparation, the infantry advanced in silence and, taking the German garrison by surprise, captured the village while it was still dark.

Later in the morning German infantry and armour of Major Hans-Ulrich von Luck und Witten’s Kampfgruppe ‘Luck’ of Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision counterattacked strongly and the Camerons’ leading company was at first compelled to give some ground. But the several German attempts to recapture the village were stopped by artillery fire or beaten off with the help of the Hussars, the Camerons being reinforced by a company of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders. Fighting continued all morning, but by 12.00 Ste Honorine had been cleared of Germans and was now strongly held. The Germans lost 13 tanks in this small operation.