The 'Battle for Caen' was fought by British and Canadian forces against German forces for the northern French city of Caen in the immediate aftermath of the 'Neptune' (iii) amphibious assault which began the 'Overlord' campaign for Normandy (6 June/8 August 1944).
The primary forces were elements of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group, in particular Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army and Lieutenant General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army, and of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Heeresgruppe 'B', in particular General Leo Reichsfreiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg’s (from 5 August General Heinrich Eberbach’s) Panzergruppe 'West'.
Caen lies about 9 miles (4 km) inland from the Calvados coast of Normandy astride the Orne river and Caen Canal, and was the junction of several important roads and railways, and these communication links made the city an important operational objective for both sides. Caen and the area to its south are flatter and more open than the complexes of sunken roads bordered by tall hedges of the bocage country in western Normandy. Allied air force commanders also wanted the swift seizure of the area for the establishment of airfields for the tactical warplanes needed to support the land forces' advances.
The plan was for Major General T. G. Rennie’s British 3rd Division of Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s British I Corps was to take Caen on D-Day or otherwise to dig in short of the city if the Germans prevented its capture, and thereby temporarily mask Caen to maintain the Allied threat against it, and to thwart any possible German counterattack from the city.
Caen, Bayeux and Carentan were not captured by the Allies on D-Day, and for the first week of the invasion the Allies concentrated on linking their five beach-heads into a single lodgement. The British and Canadian forces resumed their attacks in Caen area, and the suburbs and city centre to the north of the Orne river were captured in 'Charnwood' (8/9 July). The suburbs of Caen to the south of the river were captured by Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian II Corps in 'Atlantic' (18/20 July). The Germans had committed most of their Panzer divisions in a determined defence of Caen, which made the fighting mutually costly and deprived the Germans of much of their capacity to reinforce the western end of the lodgement.
In western Normandy, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army cut off the Cotentin peninsula and captured Cherbourg. It then attacked southward towards St Lô, about 37 miles (60 km) to the west of Caen, and captured the town on 19 July. On 25 July, after weather-dictated delay, the 1st Army began 'Cobra' on the road linking St Lô and Périers in an undertaking co-ordinated with the Canadian 'Spring' at Verrières (Bourguébus) ridge, to the south of Caen. 'Cobra' was a strategic success and triggered the collapse of the German position in Normandy. The Allied break-out led to the 'Battle of the Falaise Pocket' (12/21 August), which trapped most of the remnants of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army and the 5th Panzerarmee (formerly Panzergruppe 'West') and opened the way to the Seine river and Paris.
Caen was effectively destroyed by the combination of Allied bombing and ground combat, which caused many French civilian casualties.
The UK had declared war on Germany in September 1939 to maintain the balance of power in Europe, for merely being on the winning side would not be enough to secure British war aims, given the rise of the USA and USSR as superpowers. British post-war influence would be limited, but by playing a full part in the overthrow of Germany and the Nazi régime, the 21st Army Group would remain a factor in the post-war settlement, and would also be available for the 'Downfall' final campaign against Japan. The British economy had been fully mobilised for war since 1942, when there had started to emerge a severe manpower shortage in the army. By avoiding casualties, the effectiveness of the army would be protected, morale among the survivors would be maintained and the army would still be of considerable size once Germany had been defeated. At the reopening of the Western Front in 1944, the 21st Army Group was to be constrained in capability by its lack of reinforcements, which would also add to the burden of maintaining morale. Many British and Canadian commanders had fought as junior officers on the Western Front in World War I and believed that an operational approach based on technology and firepower could help to prevent the development of another long drawn-out bloodbath. Great care had to be taken by British commanders because the German army in Normandy could be expected to confront mostly inexperienced British and Canadian commanders and formations with many highly experienced commanders and a number of battle-hardened formations.
Intelligence gained from reading intercepted German radio messages coded by Enigma cipher machines was codenamed 'Ultra' by the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in England. By the middle of 1943, and unknown to the Germans, 'Ultra' signals were regularly being read and passed on to senior Allied commanders. German measures to repel an invasion and the success of Allied deception measures could be gauged by reference to 'Ultra' and other sources of intelligence. In March 1944, decrypts showed that invasions were expected anywhere from Norway to Spain. On 5 March, the German navy thought that up to six divisions would invade Norway and the Fremde Heere West (Foreign Armies West), the intelligence department of Oberkommando des Heeres which studied the Allied order of battle, put the danger zone between the Pas de Calais and the mouth of the Loire river valley.
Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefehlshaber 'West', forecast a 20-division invasion at a date early in May, probably in the area between Boulogne and Normandy, and accurately identified the Allied concentration area between Southampton and Portsmouth. Anti-invasion practices were undertaken between Bruges in Belgium and the Loire river estuary in western France, and one scheme assumed an invasion some 30 miles (50 km) wide between Ouistreham and Isigny on the Normandy coast. On 1 June, the Fremde Heere West predicted an invasion on 12 June either on the Mediterranean coast or in the Balkans.
On 6 December 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed as the Supreme Allied Commander Allied Expeditionary Force. The invasion was to be conducted by the 21st Army Group under Montgomery as the land force commander. The 21st Army would comprise all Allied troops in France until Eisenhower established his ground forces headquarters in France. Lieutenant General F. E. Morgan, the Chief-of-Staff, Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) and his staff had been preparing invasion plans since May 1943. Montgomery studied the COSSAC plan and at a conference on 21 January 1944 advocated a landing on a wider front between Quinéville in the west and Cabourg les Bains on the eastern side of the Orne river. Three divisions of Dempsey’s British 2nd Army were to come ashore on beach-heads codenamed, from west to east, as 'Gold', 'Juno' and 'Sword'.
Three divisions of Bradley’s US 1st Army were to land on the 'Omaha' and 'Utah' beaches farther to the, and three airborne divisions (one British and two US) were to land farther inland on the flanks of the amphibious invasion area. The US forces in the west were to capture the port of Cherbourg and then, in a second phase, the lodgement was to be expanded in the west to the Loire river and the ports of Brittany ports. The British and-Canadian forces on the eastern flank of the lodgement would confront the main German force facing the invasion and reinforcements arriving from the east and south-east. In the operational plan the invasion forces were quickly to gain control of the main roads in Normandy by the rapid advance of armoured forces past Caen, Bayeux and Carentan, and to capture the high ground to the south-east of Caen, which dominates the hinterland, the main roads which converge on Caen and the crossings of the Odon and Orne rivers.
On 7/8 April Montgomery supervised 'Thunderclap' as a planning exercise in which the intention of the operation was given as simultaneous attacks to the north of the Douve river estuary near Carentan and between the estuary and the Orne river, to capture a bridgehead that included airfield sites and the port of Cherbourg. Montgomery forecast a rapid German reinforcement of the Normandy front by D+4, from a Westheer (western army) total of 60 divisions, of which 10 were Panzer or Panzergrenadier formations, to conduct a counter-offensive against the landing beaches. Montgomery predicted that the German offensive would be defeated and that the Germans would have to change to the defensive by D+8 in their effort to contain the Allied lodgement. The 2nd Army, comprising British and Canadian divisions, was to land to the west of the Orne river estuary, protected on their eastern flank by an airborne division which was to land to the east of the river and capture the Orne river bridges at Benouville and Ranville. The British and Canadian forces were to advance to the south and south-east in order to capture ground for airfields and to guard the eastern flank of the 1st Army as it attacked Cherbourg. Montgomery used a map to show phase lines, a planning device inherited from the COSSAC plan, to show a first phase complete by D+20, with the battlefront along a line running from the coast of the English Channel to an area to the east of Caen, to the south-west of the city, to the south of the Vire river and to the south of Avranches to the coast.
On 15 May, Montgomery gave a final presentation of the 'Overlord' plan to the Allied commanders and from his notes, gave the intention of the operation, to assault simultaneously the area immediately to the north of the Carentan estuary and the area between the Carentan estuary and the Orne river with the object of securing, as a base for further operations, a lodgement including airfield sites and the port of Cherbourg.
Montgomery predicted that the Germans would try to defeat the invasion on the beaches and hold Caen, Bayeux and Carentan, with Bayeux at the centre of a German counter-offensive intended to split the Allied lodgement. As the German counter-offensive faltered, a 'roping-off' policy would be substituted to hold the ground dominating the road axes around the Dives river, the high ground from the Orne river at Falaise to the Vire river at St Lô and along the high ground to the west of the Vire river.
Rommel and von Rundstedt disagreed about the manner in which the Allied invasion would be defeated, and this led to argument about the deployment of the Panzer divisions, the main part of the reserve kept in the hinterland. von Rundstedt intended to keep the mobile forces back until the thrust of the Allied main effort had been identified. The Allies were to be defeated beyond the invasion beaches and then pushed off the continent. Geyr von Schweppenburg, commander of the Panzergruppe 'West', a headquarters established in November 1943 to train the armoured forces in the west, agreed with von Rundstedt, based on the experience of Allied naval gunfire during German counterattacks against the Anzio beach-head of 'Shingle' in January and February 1944. Rommel had experienced the loss of Luftwaffe air superiority in North Africa and thought that the generals who had gained their experience on the Eastern Front underestimated the effect of Allied air power: attacks on the movement of reserve forces toward the invasion area would delay these forces and they would therefore fail to defeat the invasion. Rommel opined that only a prompt counterattack during the landing phase stood a chance of success and that the Panzer divisions would therefore need to be much closer to the coast for this tactic. von Rundstedt and Geyr von Schweppenburg viewed the inevitable dispersion of the Panzer divisions with dismay and thought that a thin screen of Panzer divisions would be destroyed by Allied naval gunfire and air attack.
In April 1944, Adolf Hitler imposed a compromise in which Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz’s 2nd Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin’s 116th Panzerdivision were subordinated to Rommel’s Heeresgruppe 'B', SS-Gruppenführer under Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Heinz Lammerding’s 2nd SS Panzerdivision 'Das Reich', Generalmajor Erwin Jollasse’s 9th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzerdivision went to Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe 'G', and SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Joseph Dietrich’s 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler', SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Kurt Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend', SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge’s 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision 'Götz von Berlichingen' and Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein’s Panzer-Lehr Division came under his personal control through the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. The compromise tus imposed on the German commanders in France meant that the central reserve was too small to provide the speed and mass that von Rundstedt believed to be optimal, and too few Panzer divisions were located near the coast to enable Rommel to defeat the invasion as soon as it began. von Rundstedt and Rommel lost control over the divisions taken into Oberkommando der Wehrmacht reserve and which Rommel considered necessary for his defensive strategy, and he had to spread the 21st Panzerdivision, 2nd Panzerdivision and 116th Panzerdivision between the Scheldt river in the Netherlands and Belgium to the Loire river in western France. In the spring of 1944, when Hitler included Normandy as a second Allied objective, von Rundstedt had 60 divisions with about 850,000 men and 10 armoured divisions with 1,552 tanks. Heeresgruppe 'B' had 35 of these divisions with which to protect a coastline 3,000 miles (4830 km) long. Half of the infantry divisions were smaller coastal defence or training formations and only about a quarter of the infantry divisions were at full establishment in men and equipment. SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s II SS Panzerkorps with SS-Obergruppenführer under General der Waffen-SS Willi Bittrich’s 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen' and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg' had been sent to Poland in April but was recalled on 12 June.
Command of the German defences of the Western Front was conducted by Hitler through the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Since 1940, work had been in progress on the fortification of ports. The defeat of the British and Canadian 'Jubilee' raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942 at a cost of only 600 German men, demonstrated the defensive value of fortifications. In March 1942, Hitler issued his Führerweisung Nr 40, requiring that an invasion force be defeated before it could land or actually on the coast before it advance inland. In November 1943, Hitler added Führerweisung Nr 51 for the reinforcement of the defences of Western Europe. Rommel was sent from Italy to inspect the coast defences, and then Heeresgruppe 'B' was transferred from Italy to command the General Hans von Salmuth’s 15th Army deployed from Antwerp to the Orne river and Dollmann’s 7th Army from the Orne river to the Loire river, but was limited to a coastal strip only 6.2 miles (10 km) deep. Farther to the south in France, Heeresgruppe 'G' commanded General Kurt von der Chevallerie’s 1st Army and General Friedrich Wiese’s 19th Army on the French Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Command of the forces farther inland was retained by von Rundstedt, but control of the Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions was eventually split between the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and the two army groups, von Rundstedt retaining command of only the three divisions in Heeresgruppe 'G'.
The civilian workers of the Organisation 'Todt' and troops built Perlenschnur (string of pearls) of concrete and steel defensive positions with overlapping fields of fire based on Widerstandsnester (resistance nests) formed into Stützpunkte (strongpoints) and Stützpunktgruppen (strongpoint groups). Beach obstacles and anti-tank ditches were built and vast numbers of real and dummy mines were laid, trebling the number planted since 1941. By the end of 1943 about 8,500 fortifications had been built and another 12,247 had been added in northern France by 6 June. Artillery positions were moved and false positions were dug in an effort to mislead Allied air reconnaissance.
The Normandy (Calvados) coast has wide beaches and small harbours, and is close to the port of Cherbourg. There is an 18-mile (29-km) stretch between the mouth of the Orne river, tp the north of Caen, and Arromanches on which landings can easily be made, except for reefs which prevent large ships from approaching the shore. In 1944, the 150-mile (240-km) distance been the Seine river estuary and Cherbourg was garrisoned by six German divisions, four being lower-establishment coastal defence formations, supported by the 21st Panzerdivision. On 'Sword' Beach, 522 hedgehogs, 267 stakes, 76 wooden ramps and 46 Cointet elements had been installed by June, making for a concentration of one obstacle every 8.2 ft (2.5 m), built from 245 tons of steel, 124 tons of wood and a mass of concrete. Most of the obstacles were fitted with mines or anti-aircraft shells, making about 1 lb (0.45 kg) of explosives per 3.3 ft (1 m) of beach. Beach-front properties were fortified and Stüzpunktgruppen were built at Franceville and Riva Bella at the mouth of the Orne river, an artillery battery was emplaced at Merville with four 75-mm (2.95in) guns in steel and concrete emplacements, and a battery of 155-mm guns (6.1-in) was installed to the south of Ouistreham. On 8 miles (13 km) of the shore from Riva Bella to a Stüzpunkt at Corseulles, nine Widerstandsnester resistance nests were built along the sea wall and in the dunes. Most of the Widerstandsnester had a concrete emplacement proof against bombing and heavy artillery bombardment, and a gun sited to enfilade the beach front. The nests also had machine gun posts, mortar positions and large concrete bunkers to protect the garrisons.
There was no continuous second position, but field guns and anti-tank guns were dug in between 2 and 4 miles (3.2 and 6.4 km) behind the coast, and infantry reserves were billeted in villages to contain a breakthrough until mobile reserves arrived. Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter’s 716th Division), a two-regiment formation increased to about 9,343 men early in 1944, supported by the 1716th Artillerieregiment with five batteries of French and Soviet guns, and one anti-tank company. By a time early in 1944, the division garrisoned the German defences from Le Hamel to Merville Franceville Plage in four sectors, where 13,400 mines had been laid, although about half had been rendered inoperative by corrosion in their detonators. A few weeks before the invasion, the division had 7,771 men in the 726th Grenadierregiment and 736th Grenadierregiment each of three battalions, with 96 machine guns, 11 50-mm (1.97-in) light mortars, 13 80-mm (3.15-in) medium mortars and one poorly-trained Ostbataillon mainly of Poles, a second anti-tank company and several anti-aircraft batteries. The 21st Panzerdivision had been transferred to Caen in May, deploying its 146 tanks and 50 assault guns in the area to the south of the city, two Panzergrenadier battalions on either side of the Orne to the north of the city, and its artillery on the coast to provide more defensive depth to the 716th Division on its 8-mile (13-km) front.
Before dawn on D-Day, Major General R. N. Gale’s British 6th Airborne Division, with the Canadian 1st Parachute Battalion attached, was to undertake 'Tonga'. The division was to capture of the Caen Canal and Orne river bridges over the lower Orne river by coup-de-main assault, establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the river and block a possible German counterattack from the east. Crocket’s British I Corps was to land with Major General R. F. L. Keller’s Canadian 3rd Division to the west on 'Juno' Beach with Brigadier R. A. Wyman’s Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade and advance south to cut the road linking Caen and Bayeux as far as Carpiquet, to the north-west of Caen. Major General T. G. Rennie’s British 3rd Division and Brigadier G. Prior-Palmer’s British 27th Armoured Brigade were to land on 'Sword' Beach and advance directly on Caen. If Caen was captured at the first attempt, the I Corps was to take the high ground to the south on the Falaise road, but if the Germans thwarted the attempt, the corps was to consolidate a defensive front around the city. In case Caen was not captured on D-Day, an operation codenamed 'Smock' had been planned to begin once Major General D. C. Bullen-Smith’s British 51st Division and Brigadier J. C. Currie’s British 4th Armoured Brigade had landed and reinforced the attackers about three to four days later. The 'Wild Oats' operation was another plan made before the invasion, for Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s British XXX Corps and Major General R. E. Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division to cut off a possible German retirement to the west from Caen. The landings were to be supported by the bombardment of the inland defences by Allied strategic bombers and naval gunfire, and the beaches to be 'drenched' by rocket and field gun fire from landing craft.
The naval bombardment and bombing by the Allied air forces did not have the destructive effect on German beach defences that had been anticipated, and in many places Allied infantry, engineers and tanks had to fight their way forward. The Canadian 3rd Division landed on 'Juno' Beach with Brigadier H. W. Foster’s Canadian 7th Brigade to capture Corseulles, but this effort lasted into the afternoon. Brigadier K. G. Blackader’s Canadian 8th Brigade’s attack on Bernières and St Aubin sur Mer met determined resistance, and Brigadier D. G. Cunningham’s Canadian 9th Brigade followed as the tide rose higher and faster than usual, which narrowed the beach, making traffic jams at the beach exits much worse. To the Canadian division’s left, Brigadier E. E. E. Cass’s British 8th Brigade came ashore on 'Sword' Beach, with Brigadier the Lord Lovat’s British 1st Special Service Brigade on its left flank, to join the 6th Airborne Division at the Orne river crossings.
The unsettled weather which had lulled the German commanders into the belief that the invasion was not immediately imminent also pushed in the tide more quickly and farther than had been expected, so it covered obstacles and reduced the beaches to a strip about 33 ft (10 m) from the water’s edge to the sea wall, delaying the landing of follow-on forces; 'Sword' Beach was reduced to only 45 ft (13.75 m) instead of the usual 450 ft (135 m) of beach. Fire from unsuppressed German machine gun nests swept the beach as the British advanced to capture the beach-front resorts and villas. A German strongpoint at La Brèche held out until about 10.00. but by 10.30 the British and Canadian divisions had landed 15 infantry battalions, five commando units, seven armoured regiments, two Royal Marine armoured support regiments, nine field artillery regiments and two engineer regiments on a beach-head only 5 miles (8km) wide. By 12.00, the follow-up brigades were ashore and had inched through traffic jams at the beach exits under severe bombardment from German artillery, to begin the advance inland.
The German response was slower than the Allies had expected as the decision to land on 6 June had caught the German commanders unprepared. By morning, reports received by the headquarters of the 15th Army led to the ordering of the highest level of alert, but not at the headquarters of the 7th Army except for possible French maquis attacks. Many senior officers were absent, and only when it was discovered that airborne troops were landing was an alert issued by the 7th Army. German troops went off on wild goose chases and found only dummy paratroopers. At 06.00, von Rundstedt asked for control of the I SS Panzerkorps with which to counter an invasion, but this authorisation was not granted for 10 hours.
At the local level, the German tactical reply was resolute and troops on the Calvados coast fought with determination in many locations. The British 3rd Division had made swift progress from 'Sword' Beach against the 716th Division at Hermanville, Ouistreham and Colleville, but was delayed farther inland at strongpoints named as Daimler, Hillman, Morris and Rover by the British. Hillman dominated the road to the south in the direction of Caen and had been so cleverly fortified and camouflaged that its size and layout came as a total surprise. Morris surrendered at 13.00, but Hillman held out until the next morning and absorbed some of the forces intended for the planned dash to Caen, while other troops and tanks were still stuck in traffic at the beach exits. The fight for Hillman delayed the advance of the British 8th Brigade and 185th Brigade, and gave time for the infantry of the 21st Panzerdivision to stop its counterattacks against the 6th Airborne Division on each side of the Orne river, and to concentrate on the western side against the 3rd Division despite being spotted and attacked from the air.
'Perch' was designed to create the threat of a British break-out to the south-east of Caen by the XXX Corps, with Major General D. A. H. Graham’s 50th Division capturing the road to Tilly sur Seulles. Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division was then to spearhead the advance to Mont Pinçon. On 9 June, Montgomery ordered that Caen be taken by a pincer movement: the eastern arm of the attack would consist of Crocker’s I Corps with the 51st Division, which was to cross into the Orne river bridgehead and attack to the south in the direction of Cagny, 6 miles (9.7 km) to the south-east of Caen. Bucknall’s XXX Corps was to form the western arm of the pincer; the 7th Armoured Division would advance to the south-east and cross the Odon river, to take Evrecy and Hill 112. The XXX Corps attacked Tilly sur Seulles against the Panzer-Lehr Division and part of the 12th SS Panzerdivision, which held Tilly sur Seulles; the losses were heavy on each side.
The I Corps was delayed moving into position because the state of the English Channel slowed the arrival of follow-up divisions and its attack was postponed to 12 June. The 51st Division attacked the 21st Panzerdivision but the German formation’s defence was determined, and on 13 June the offensive to the east of Caen was brought to an end. On the right-hand flank of the XXX Corps, Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss’s 352nd Division had been defeated by the 50th Division and the US 1st Division, and its remnants forced to flee to the south, in the process leaving a 7.5-mile (12.1-km) gap in the German front. Dempsey ordered the 7th Armoured Division to exploit this opening, seize Villers Bocage and advance into the western flank of the Panzer-Lehr Division. After the 'Battle of Villers Bocage', the position was judged untenable and the 7th Armoured Division withdrew on 14 June. The division was reinforced with Brigadier H. B. Scott’s 33rd Armoured Brigade, another follow-up formation, ready to resume the attack, but on 19 June a severe storm descended struck the English Channel, damaging the 'Mulberry' harbours and worsening the delay in unloading of reinforcements and supplies.
On 25 June, the XXX Corps (Major General E. H. Barker’s 49th Division, Graham’s 50th Division and the 8th Armoured Brigade) launched 'Martlet'. A preliminary to the 2nd Army’s main 'Epsom' effort, the operation was designed to take Rauray village and spur, Fontenay le Pesnel, Tessel Bretteville and Juvigny. Opposing the British were the 3/26th SS Panzergrenadierregiment and part of the 12th SS Panzerregiment of the 12th SS Panzerdivision on and around the spur: both of these units had been depleted during the fighting of the preceding weeks, but were well dug-in. By the end of the day, the British had reached the woods near Vendes and a line roughly to the south of Fontenay le Pesnel, and the Germans had held Rauray and about half of the spur. On the following day, Tessel Bretteville was captured by the British and then lost to a counterattack. During the night, reinforcements reached the Panzer-Lehr Division, on the right flank near Vendes, and on 27 June the British took Tessel Bretteville wood and Rauray, but the fighting on the Rauray spur continued during 'Epsom'.
'Epsom' began on 26 June with the British objective of taking the high ground to the south of Caen, near Bretteville sur Laize, with Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s newly arrived VIII Corps. The operation was supported by 736 guns, warships of the Royal Navy, close air support and a preliminary bombardment by 250 four-engined heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command. The bombing for the start of the operation was called off as a result of adverse weather over the UK. The I Corps and XXX Corps were also to support 'Epsom', but delays in landing equipment and reinforcements led to these two corps' role being reduced. Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s 15th Division and the 31st Tank Brigade made steady progress, and by the end of the first day had overrun much of the German outpost line with the exception of some flank positions. Over the following two days, a foothold was secured across the Odon river and efforts were made to expand this limited success by capturing tactically valuable points around the salient and moving up Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division. German counterattacks, by Dietrich’s I SS Panzerkorps and Hausser’s II SS Panzerkorps, led to a British withdrawal from some of their positions across the river by 30 June.
The VIII Corps had advanced nearly 6 miles (9.7 km), but with their last reserves the Germans achieved a costly defensive success by containing the British offensive. A German counter-offensive by fresh forces against the Allied lodgement had been forestalled and no German armoured forces could be redeployed against the US 1st Army or moved into reserve. Between 26 and 30 June, the operation cost the 2nd Army as many as 4,078 casualties. The VIII Corps lost 470 men killed, 2,187 wounded and 706 missing. During 1 July, a further 488 men were killed and wounded, and 227 more were reported missing. The Germans lost more than 3,000 men and 126 tanks.
The airfield at Carpiquet near Caen had been a D-Day objective for the Canadian 3rd Division, but the 12th SS Panzerdivision arrived first and occupied the concrete shelters, machine gun towers, tunnels, 75-mm (2.95-in) anti-tank guns and 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon round the airfield, behind minefields and barbed wire entanglements. A Canadian operation during 'Epsom' had been postponed because of the delays in disembarking troops. For 'Windsor', the Canadian 8th Brigade was reinforced, and the Canadians took Carpiquet village with the help of the French resistance fighters on 5 July. Three days later, after repulsing several German counterattacks, the Canadians captured the airfield and adjacent villages during 'Charnwood'. Keller was severely criticised for using only one rather than two brigades for 'Windsor' and for also delegating detailed planning to Blackader.
In 'Charnwood', three infantry divisions and three armoured brigades of the I Corps were to attack to the south through Caen to the Orne river and capture bridgeheads in the districts of Caen lying to the south of the river. An armoured column was prepared to advance through the city to rush the bridges and then to exploit the victory by sweeping forward through the southern part of Caen toward the Verrières and Bourguébus ridges, thereby opening the way for the 2nd Army to advance toward Falaise. New tactics were tried, including a preparatory bombardment by Allied strategic bombers to assist the British and Canadian advance and to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the battle or retreating. Suppression of the German defences was a secondary consideration. Moreover, close support aircraft and 656 pieces of artillery supported the attack.
On the evening of 7 July, bombers dropped more than 1,785 tons of bombs on the city. Cautious planning to avoid attacking their own troops meant the bombs landed more on the city than on the German defences. The ground attack began at 04.30 on 8 July with the support of a creeping barrage. By the evening, the I Corps had reached the outskirts of Caen and the Germans began to withdraw their heavy weapons and the remnants of Generalleutnant Karl Sievers’s 16th Felddivision (L) to the southern side of Caen. The remnants of the 12th SS Panzerdivision fought a rearguard action and then retired across the Orne river during the night and early on 9 July. British and Canadian patrols entered the city and Canadians occupied Carpiquet airfield. By 12.00, the Allied infantry had reached the north bank of the Orne river, some of whose bridges were still intact but blocked by rubble and covered by the fire of German troops on the southern bank poised for a counterattack.
'Jupiter' was an VIII Corps attack spearheaded by the 43rd Division and the 4th Armoured Brigade, and began on 10 July in order to follow up a possible German retreat after 'Charnwood'. The Germans had five infantry battalions, two Tiger heavy tank detachments, two Sturmgeschütz assault gun companies and Nebelwerfer artillery rocket launchers, mostly of the 10th SS-Panzerdivision but with elements of the 9th SS Panzerdivision and the 12th SS Panzerdivision in reserve. The attack was intended to capture the villages of Baron sur Odon, Fontaine Etoupefour and Château de Fontaine, and to recapture the top of Hill 112 by 09.00. After the first phase, positions on Hill 112 were to cover an advance on Eterville, Maltot and the ground up to the Orne river. A bombardment by mortars and more than 100 pieces of field artiilery was to precede the attack. The offensive began after a naval bombardment, air attack and artillery fire, but the Tiger tanks of the 102nd SS schwere Panzerabteilung outranged the British Churchill and Sherman tanks. Neither side could hold Hill 112, whose top was left in no-man’s land. Several villages nearby were taken and the 9th SS Panzerdivision was sent from reserve to contain the attack, which achieved the Allied operational objective.
On 18 July, the VIII Corps began 'Goodwood' (i), an attack by three armoured divisions toward the German-held Bourguébus ridge, along with the area between Bretteville sur Laize and Vimont, in an effort to force the Germans to commit their armoured reserves in costly counterattacks. 'Goodwood' (i) was preceded farther to the west by the '2nd Battle of the Odon', which comprised attacks by the XXX Corps and the XII Corps to inflict casualties and concentrate the attention of Panzergruppe 'West' on the eastern end of the lodgement. On 18 July, the I Corps conducted an advance to secure villages and the eastern flank of the VIII Corps. On the western flank, the Canadian II Corps undertook 'Atlantic' to capture the remaining German positions in Caen in the area to the south of the Orne river. The Germans were able to halt the British advance short of the Bourguébus ridge but had been shocked by the weight of the attack and preliminary aerial bombardment. The Germans had only the resources to hold ground in great depth in the area to the south of Caen. The southern bank suburbs had been captured by the Canadians in 'Atlantic' and the British had advanced 7 miles (11 km) to the east of Caen and took about 12,000 yards (10975 m) of ground to the south of the city.
The attack reinforced the German view that the Allied threat on the eastern flank was the more dangerous, and they therefore transferred more units to the east, these including the remaining mobile elements of the 2nd Panzerdivision near Caumont. By 25 July, there were 600 German tanks, including all the Tiger units, opposite the 2nd Army and just 150 facing the US 1st Army. The Germans had not been destroyed, but the German commanders became fatalistic.
During the battle, the I SS Panzerkorps had turned the 90-ft (27-m) high Verrières ridge into their primary fortification, defending it with hundreds of guns, tanks, Nebelwerfers, mortars, and infantry from as many as three divisions. On 18 July, 'Atlantic' began 45 minutes after 'Goodwood' (i) and the Canadian 2nd Division, with tank support, captured Giberville and the Caen industrial suburbs of Colombelles and Vaucelles to the south of the Orne river. By the middle of the afternoon, two companies of the Black Watch of Canada had crossed the river and the Canadian 5th Brigade managed to push southward to St André sur Orne. With the southern bank secured, the Canadian 4th and 6th Brigades moved into position for the operation’s second phase, an assault on Verrières ridge, which was known as Bourguébus ridge to the British. On 19 July, Cormelles was captured by the 7th Armoured Division and the Canadian 5th Brigade took the eastern slope of Point 67 (the village of Ifs). The 1st SS Panzerdivision and the 272nd Division counterattacked but were repulsed. On 20 July, the South Saskatchewan Regiment, the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and the 27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment), supported by Hawker Typhoon single-engined fighter-bombers, assaulted the ridge. The Cameron Highlanders attacked St André sur Orne but were repulsed. Torrential rain immobilised the tanks and infantry, and grounded aircraft. The South Saskatchewans suffered 282 casualties. Battle groups from four Panzer divisions counterattacked and forced the Canadians back beyond their start lines. The Essex Scottish suffered about 300 casualties. On 21 July, Simonds ordered the Black Watch and the Calgary Highlanders to stabilise the front along Verrières ridge. The two battalions and the Canadian 3rd Division defeated more counterattacks by the two SS Panzer divisions in costly defensive fighting.
On 25 July, the Canadian II Corps undertook 'Spring' on Verrières (Bourguébus) ridge simultaneously with the US 'Cobra' operation in the west. The operation was intended to capture the ridge and villages on its southern slope. The German defences on the ridge and armoured counterattacks inflicted heavy casualties on the Canadian infantry and tanks, and the attack came to an end later in the day.
Men of the 12th SS Panzerdivision shot 156 Canadian prisoners near Caen during the 'Battle of Normandy'. After the 'Battle of le Mesnil Patry', men of the same division took prisoner seven Canadians wandering in no-man’s land since the battle, tired and hungry. The men were interrogated by an officer of the 12th SS Panzerpionierbatallion at an ad hoc headquarters in the village of Mouen, about 5 miles (8 km) to the south-east of le Mesnil Patry. On 14 June, two crew members of the 1st Hussars reached the Canadian lines and reported that they had seen several Canadian prisoners shot in the back after surrendering. At about 22.00, the men had been led to the outskirts of the village under armed guard. Four Canadian prisoners were killed by a firing squad and the remaining men were shot in the head at close range. Some 20 Canadian prisoners were killed near Villons les Buissons, to the north-west of Caen in Ardenne Abbey.
Before the invasion, Caen had a population of some 60,000 persons. On 6 June, Allied aircraft dropped leaflets urging the population to leave, but only a few hundred did so. Later in the same day, British heavy bombers attacked the city to slow the flow of German reinforcements, and 800 civilians were killed in the first 48 hours of the invasion. The city’s streets were blocked by rubble, so the injured were taken to an emergency hospital set up in the Bon Sauveur convent. The Palais des Ducs, the church of St Etienne and the railway station were destroyed or severely damaged. About 15,000 people took refuge for more than a month in mediaeval quarry tunnels to the south of the city. Allied bombing turned much of the French countryside and the city of Caen into a wasteland. The German resistance was extremely fierce, and the Germans used the ruins to their advantage.
The Défense Passive and other civil groups co-ordinated medical relief effort. Six surgical teams were alerted on the morning of the invasion and police brought medical supplies to Bon Sauveur and hospitals at the Lycée Malherbe and Hospice des Petites Soeurs des Pauvres. Many buildings caught fire and molten lead dripped from their roofs. About 3,000 people took refuge in Bon Sauveur, Abbaye aux Hommes and St Etienne church. Foraging parties were sent out into the countryside for food and old wells were reopened. On 9 June, the bell tower of St Pierre was destroyed by a shell from the battleship Rodney. The Vichy French government in Paris managed to send 225 tons of supplies to Caen under the auspices of Secours Nationale.
The Germans ordered all remaining civilians to leave the city on 6 July and by the bombing during the evening of 7 July, only 15,000 inhabitants remained as a force of 450 heavy bombers prepared the way for 'Charnwood'. Although the delayed-action bombs were aimed at the northern edge of Caen, massive damage was again inflicted on the city centre. At least two civilian shelters were hit and the Caen university building was destroyed, 350 people being killed by the raid and the fighting in Caen on 8 July, bringing the civilian death toll to 1,150 since D-Day. The Germans withdrew from the part of Caen to the north of the Orne river on 9 July and blew the last bridge. The southern suburbs were liberated on 18 July by the Canadian 3rd Division.