Operation Jupiter (ii)

This was a British offensive by Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army to take and then break out of the small bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Odon river before seizing and holding Hill 112, a prominent height to the north-east of Esquay, in Normandy (10/11 July 1944).

The starting point for the operation was the seizure during the night of 8/9 July of a bridgehead over the Odon river to the south of Verson, itself lying to the south-west of Caen, which was now flanked on the east and west, and whose northern half was to be taken on 9 July by Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s I Corps. This starting line for ‘Jupiter’ (ii) was taken by a brigade of Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division.

With the capture of Caen imminent and with Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army approaching St Lô in the western part of the ‘Overlord’ lodgement, General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group felt that the time was right for a pair of operations, one being the British ‘Goodwood’ (ii) to enlarge and strengthen the Allies’ open eastern flank and at the same time draw in and pin the main weight of the German armoured strength in the region, and the other the American ‘Cobra’ to break out of the western flank from the constricted bocage country into more open terrain to the south of St Lô and then wheel to the east in the direction of the Seine river.

Montgomery hoped to launch the two operations simultaneously, but for a number of reasons this proved impossible, ‘Goodwood’ (ii) being launched on 18 July and ‘Cobra’ on 24 July. It would require some days to finalise the preparations for these two undertakings, and to keep the German armoured forces currently in the area of Caen and also to complete the capture of the ground which had not been taken at the end of ‘Epsom’, limited operations were schemed for the capture of Carpiquet airfield and the rest of the city of Caen.

Within this overall scheme, the bridgehead south of the Odon river was to be expanded by the capture of Eterville and Maltot, and also the recapture of Hill 112 lost at the end of ‘Epsom’. The formation entrusted with this task was the 43rd Division reinforced by Brigadier R. M. P. Carver’s 4th Armoured Brigade, Brigadier G. S. Knight’s 31st Tank Brigade and Brigadier C. M. Barber’s 46th Brigade, and supported by additional artillery of Major General G. P. B. Roberts’s 11th Armoured Division and Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s 15th Division and by the 3rd and 8th Army Groups, Royal Artillery. These British forces would attack from the shallow bridgehead across the Odon river, which now extended from Verson to Baron, for Brigadier H. Essame’s 214th Brigade had crossed the river to come in on the left of Brigadier G. H. L. Mole’s 129th Brigade on the night of 8/9 July.

The ‘Jupiter’ (ii) offensive was to be launched at 05.00 on 10 July, and to advance to the high ground which separates the valleys of the Odon and Orne rivers, reaching its highest point on Hill 112. The hill was crossed by the road from Caen to Evrecy, passing through the village of Eterville as it climbed to the top of the hill, and about 1 mile (1.6 km) distant, Maltot lay in the Orne river valley. Though Hill 112 dominates the surrounding country, much of the battlefield was in full view from beyond the Orne river and from hills around Evrecy to the south, which was to the decided advantage of the artillery regiments of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps (most notably SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision ‘Frundsberg’) within General Heinrich Eberbach’s Panzergruppe ‘West’.

‘Jupiter’ (ii) began with a British artillery bombardment early on 10 July, and in its wake followed the units of the 43rd Division, which reached Eterville and were well up on the slopes of Hill 112 by 08.00. The advance toward Maltot began soon after this. Eterville was taken and held. The British troops also reached and entered Maltot in the face of strong opposition, but by mid-afternoon an armoured counterattack and the receipt of heavy mortar fire made it clear that this low-lying village could not be held until Hill 112 had been taken and held. Here there was also hard fighting, the German infantry being hidden by standing corn and the German armour lurking in copses. One British battalion reached the road passing over the hill’s crest but could proceed no farther, and the brigade’s other battalions were pinned down below the crest. A fresh attack by the 5/Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry supported by the 7th Royal Tank Regiment was committed during the evening, and by the arrival of darkness the British had taken both Hill 112 and the small woods near it.

From this area to Eterville, by the end of the day the 43rd Division had all four infantry brigades and much of its armour on the ridge and on the slopes behind it. To the north of Eterville a brigade of Major General R. F. L. Keller’s Canadian 3rd Division had crossed the Odon river to strengthen the left of the bridgehead where SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Theodor Wisch’s 1st SS Panzerdivision ‘Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’ had been identified. The inevitable German counterattacks began soon after 24.00 and were repeated at several places along the front until a time late on 11 July. During some of these counterattacks German forces managed to reach and enter Eterville, but on every occasion were then ejected, and the British later discovered the bodies of 100 Germans. On Hill 112 the 5/Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was attacked strongly, and after all of its anti-tank guns had been put out of action and it had lost 240 men killed or wounded, the battalion had to fall back to the road on the hill top.

The British suffered some 2,000 casualties during this two-day operation, which took and held only a small area of ground, but nonetheless checked and pinned the 10th SS Panzerdivision, SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Weiss’s 102nd SS schwere Panzerabteilung with its PzKpfw VI Tiger heavy tanks, and part of the 1st SS Panzerdivision. Eberbach had informed Bittrich on 11 July that Hill 112 was the pivot of the German position to the south-west of Caen and was to be held at all costs, but the SS soldiers had since lost half of the hill, for the 43rd Division had captured the northern slopes and was half way across the hill’s almost flat top.

The commanding fields of vision from Hill 112 were of great tactical importance, but the hill was not captured by the British and therefore remained a no man’s land, with the two sides dug in on opposite sides.

Several surrounding villages had been taken, although the British were pushed back from Eterville. SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Sylvester Stadler’s 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen', which had been in the process of moving out of the line to form an operational reserve, was brought back to contain the attack and the German troops involved in counterattacks were exposed to firepower so intense that they were effectively debilitated, which deprived the German defence of the ability to contemplate a counter-offensive.

In July, 'Greenline', 'Pomegranate' and 'Express' took more ground in the Odon river valley, kept Panzer units pinned and further degraded the German units. In August 1944 the Germans withdrew from Hill 112 during 'Cobra' and Major General R. K. Ross’s 53rd Division occupied the feature with barely a fight.