Operation Pomegranate (ii)

This was the British second of a pair of interlinked offensives by Lieutenant General N. M. Ritchie’s XII Corps (‘Greenline’) and Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s XXX Corps (‘Pomegranate’) in the sector of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army within General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 12th Army Group in the Allies’ Normandy lodgement (16/18 July 1944).

The undertaking comprised a series of attacks in the area to the west of Caen designed to divert German attentions away from the area to the east of this city as Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps completed its preparations for ‘Goodwood’ (i), and to gain whatever ground it could against SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s 7th Army in the west and General Heinrich Eberbach’s Panzergruppe ‘West’ in the east. In this area the XXX Corps held the sector between Caumont and Rauray, and was opposed by General Hans Freiherr von Funck’s XLVII Panzerkorps of the 7th Army, while the XII Corps held the Odon salient sector, and was opposed by SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps of Panzergruppe ‘West’.

At this time the XXX Corps comprised Major General E. H. Barker’s 49th Division, Major General D. A. H. Graham’s 50th Division and Major General L. O. Lyne’s 59th Division, together with Colonel A. D. R. Wingfield’s 8th Armoured Brigade and Brigadier H. B. Scott’s 33rd Armoured Brigade, while the XLVII Panzerkorps comprised Generalleutnant Kurt Badinski’s 276th Division and Generalleutnant Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz’s 2nd Panzerdivision, the latter scheduled for replacement by Generalleutnant Viktor von Drabich-Wächter’s 326th Division on its way from Boulogne.

The XII Corps comprised Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s 15th Division, Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division and Major General R. K. Ross’s 53rd Division, together with Brigadier R. M. P. Carver’s 4th Armoured Brigade, Brigadier G. S. Knight’s 31st Tank Brigade and Brigadier W. S. Clarke’s 34th Tank Brigade, while the II SS Panzerkorps comprised Generalleutnant Paul Danhauser’s 271st Division in the process of relieving SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision ‘Frundsberg’, Generalleutnant Albert Praun’s 277th Division and the 102nd SS schwere Panzerabteilung (Tiger), with SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Sylvester Stadler’s 9th SS Panzerdivision ‘Hohenstaufen’ in corps reserve.

Preliminary British operations began on the night of 15/16 June with attacks across the front in the area between a point to the the west of Caen and Tilly sur Seulles. Starting from the Odon bridgehead, the XII Corps was first to secure a firm base on the road running to the south-east from Bougy through Evrecy, with a view to a subsequent drive in the direction of Aunay sur Odon or Thury Harcourt as deemed more opportune as the situation became clearer. The XXX Corps was meanwhile to secure the Noyers area and be prepared to exploit to the high ground to the north-east of Villers Bocage should the opportunity present itself.

From the night of 15/16 July to 18 July and the launch of ‘Goodwood’ (i), both corps fought hard against determined German opposition and repeated counterattacks by German armour and infantry. In the area of the XII Corps' 'Greenline' on the left, the 15th Division took Bougy and Gavrus, but while the British also entered Esquay, it could not wholly dislodge the German defenders and after a series of attacks and counterattacks Esquay remained in German hands. On the 15th Division’s right, the 53rd Division took Cahier, and had to fight off a determined German counterattack to keep its hold on the town.

To the west, the XXX Corps launched 'Pomegranate' (ii). On the corps' right, the 50th Division had held ground to the north of Hottot since the last week of June, and had kept the front steadily disturbed by frequent patrols and raids, a fact which had provoked several German armour-supported counterattacks. Bridagier M. S. Ekin’s 56th Independent Brigade had attacked Hottot on 8 July had captured its objective on the main road to the west of Hottot, and had then been driven back by a counterattack, delivered by a force of about three infantry companies and some 30 tanks of the Panzer-Lehr-Division, which drove the brigade back across the road. On 11 July, Brigadier Sir A. G. B. Stanier’s 231st Brigade attacked Hottot with the object of taking the village. Supported by tanks and an elaborate artillery fire plan, two of the brigade’s battalions were able to reach the northern edge of the village.

On 18 July the 50th Division captured Hottot for the final time, assisted by a German withdrawal spurred by 'Goodwood' (i) to the east and 'Cobra' to the west. The occupation of Hottot left the 50th Division poised to capture Villers Bocage and advance towards the Noireau river.

On the 50th Division’s right flank, Ekin’s 56th Independent Brigade faced the 2nd Panzerdivision, which maintained a constant attack by the use of self-propelled guns, mortars and snipers. The brigade patrolled extensively, and by 20 July it had been realised that the Germans had withdrawn from the area of La Chapelle, which had been a very good observation position from which the Germans could observe deep into the Allied lines; more than 450 Teller anti-tank mines and 160 anti-personnel mines were lifted on the road up to the position. After a patrol had moved forward and dug in, a company advanced through Bois de St Germain and dug in on the southern fringe.

In the centre of XXX Corps, the 49th Division attacked with Brigadier J. F. Walker’s 146th Brigade at La Barbée Farm with the 1/4th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which advanced at 06.45 and quickly reached the farm from the east. At 05.00 the Germans counterattacked the farm and surrounded it on three sides. The Hallamshire Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment attacked Vendes frontally despite its suggestion that an attack by night or from the east would be less costly. The attack began at 06.45 and was stopped quickly by the crossfire of several well-sited German machine guns. An attempt at a flank attack was stopped at La Bijude Farm and an attack from the west through La Barbée Farm after it had been captured also failed. A box-barrage around the Hallamshires and KOYLI was fired for 20 minutes, after which the battalions withdrew at 17.00. On the following day it was learned from the interrogation of deserters that the Germans had withdrawn from Vendes and the farms.

In the area of the 59th Division, the first phase of the attack began at 05.30 with Brigadier J. Lingham’s 197th Brigade on the right attacking with the 5/East Lancashire Regiment and Brigadier M. Eltrington’s 177th Brigade on the left with 5 and 1/6th South Staffordshire Regiment. The 5/East Lancashire fought its way to the first objective, to the east of Vendes, and had taken part of the village by 08.00, but at 14.30 it was counterattacked by German infantry and tanks, which overran one company and forced the rest of the battalion back to its start line. The 1/6th South Staffords had taken Brettevillette by 06.45 in a costly attack in which many men lost direction in the thick dawn mist and the British discovered to their cost that the area had been sown thickly with mines. The battalion nonetheless pressed forward and had reached Queudeville by 08.45, despite the fact that most of the battalion’s supporting tanks had already been knocked out in a British minefield.

The 5/South Staffords took orchards to the west of Grainville sur Odon and had taken Les Nouillons by 12.00, which left the 177th Brigade on the first phase objectives. At 13.30 flail tanks began to work through a German minefield at Queudeville.

The start of the second phase was delayed by the relatively high number of casualties which had been suffered in the first phase, but ay 17.30 2/6th South Staffords attacked Noyers, and at 18.15 the 6/North Staffords attacked Haut des Forges. The 2/6th South Staffords managed to entered Noyers, but was later pushed back to Pt 126, just to the north of the station. The 6/North Staffords took Haut des Forges against less determined opposition.

The 59th Division had captured 369 prisoners.

On the front of Lingham’s 197th Brigade, the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers was scheduled to attack its first-phase objective at 22.30, but was prevented by a mass of German mortar fire from leaving its start line. At dawn on 17 July, the 2/6th South Staffords and part of the 5/South Staffords attacked Noyers and advanced to a point close to the railway station before being forced to take cover, and at 13.30 was withdrawn to reorganise. During the afternoon the 5/South Staffords attacked Noyers from the north-east, but was held on the edge of the village. The 1/6th South Staffords advanced from Brettevillette toward Bordel at the same time and encountered determined resistance. When night fell the British fell back slightly from Noyers during another artillery and mortar bombardment. In the area of the 197th Brigade, the 1/7th Royal Warwicks, tanks of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tanks attacked the first-phase objective again at 12.30 and captured the objective. The 176th Brigade attacked Bordel, but was able to make little progress.

On the following day, the 177th Brigade attacked Noyers at 10.00 with the 1/6th and 5/South Staffords supported by conventional tanks, Churchill AVRE demolition tanks and Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tanks, but was unable to advance far against determined German resistance, which knocked out five of the armoured vehicles, and another attack in the afternoon failed. The British retired after dark and the village was then subjected to a potent artillery bombardment.

On the right flank, the 1/7th Royal Warwicks had reached Ferme de Guiberon by the fall of night, and the 49th Division reported that there had been German withdrawals on their front. In the centre the 7/South Staffords of the 176th Brigade advanced on Bordel and took the village and the area as far as La Senevière against few German troops but much artillery and mortar fire.

The 197th Brigade was relieved overnight by Brigadier R. W. H. Fryer’s 176th Brigade, and the 7/Royal Norfolks took over from the 1/7th Royal Warwicks at the Ferme de Guiberon, Pt 124 and Landet, which had been taken after dark.

The British infantry had captured the high ground to the south of Brettevillette and taken 300 prisoners on the first day.

On the following day the advance continued with much fighting on the outskirts of Noyers Bocage. The reconnaissance battalion of the 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen' was committed to the defence of Noyers Bocage, which the Germans claimed to have recaptured, although the XXX Corps had in fact been checked on the outskirts after taking only the high ground outside the village and the railway station. The 49th Division captured Vendes. The 59th Division took Haut des Forges and entered Noyers, but was repulsed from the village by the 277th Division. The 50th Division captured Hottot les Bagues, fighting for which had lasted more than a month, and took 300 prisoners.

'Greenline' and 'Pomegranate' (ii) between them had cost the 2nd Army some 3,500 casualties without significant territorial gains. However, the operations had been of considerable strategic importance inasmuch as the 2nd Panzerdivision, 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler' and 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frunsberg' had been kept in the front line and the 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen' had been recalled from reserve as the Germans were compelled to react to each threat that developed in the Odon river valley.The Germans had suffered about 2,000 casualties during the course of the two British operations, and on 16 July the 9th SS Panzerdivision recorded the loss of 23 tanks.

Thus 'Greenline' and 'Pomegranate' (ii) played an important part in promoting the impression in the Germans that the 2nd Army was planning to break out of the Normandy lodgement in the area to the west of Caen and thereby, it was hoped, eased the task of the ‘Goodwood’ (i) forces fighting in the area to the east of Caen.