The 'Battle of Villers Bocage' was fought between British and German forces one week after the 'Neptune' (iii) landings had launched the 'Overlord' campaign in Normandy (13 June 1944).
The battle resulted from a British attempt to improve their position by exploiting a gap in the German defences to the west of the city of Caen. After one day of fighting in and around the small town of Villers Bocage and a second day defending a position outside the town, the British force retreated.
Both the Allies and the Germans regarded control of Caen as vital to the battle for Normandy, and in the days following the 'Neptune' (iii) landings on 6 June, the Germans quickly created strong defences in front of the city, which the Allies had planned but failed to take on D-Day. On 9 June, a two-pronged British attempt to surround and capture Caen was defeated. On the right flank of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2d Army, Major General Clarence R. Huebner’s US 1st Division had forced back Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss’s 352nd Division and thereby prised open a gap in the German front. Seizing the opportunity to bypass Generalmajor Hyanzinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz’s Panzer-Lehr Division blocking the direct route to the south in the area of Tilly sur Seulles, a mixed force of tanks, infantry and artillery, based on Brigadier W. R. N. Hinde’s 2nd Armoured Brigade of Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division, advanced through the gap in a flanking manoeuvre in the direction of Villers Bocage. British commanders hoped that the appearance of a strong force in its rear would force the Panzer-Lehr Division, an element of General Erich Marcks’s LXXXIV Corps within Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army, to withdraw or be surrounded.
The 22nd Armoured Brigade reached Villers Bocage without serious incident on the morning of 13 June, and its leading elements advanced eastward from the town on the Caen road to Point 213, where they were ambushed by PzKpfw VI Tiger I heavy tanks of the 101st SS schwere Panzerabteiling. In fewer than 15 minutes many British tanks, anti-tank guns and transport vehicles were destroyed, several of them by SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann. The Germans then attacked the town and were repulsed, losing several Tiger heavy tanks and PzKpfw IV battle tanks. After six hours, Hinde ordered a withdrawal to a more easily defended location on a knoll to the west of Villers Bocage. On the following ay the Germans attacked the brigade box, which had been arranged for all-round defence, in the so-called 'Battle of the Island'. The British inflicted a costly repulse on the Germans and then retired from the salient. The Battle for Caen continued to the east of Villers Bocage, whose ruins were captured on 4 August after two raids by four-engined heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command.
The British conduct of the 'Battle of Villers Bocage' has proved controversial as the British withdrawal marked the end of the 'scramble for ground' after D-Day and the start of an attritional battle for Caen. Some historians have argued that the British attack was a failure caused by a lack of conviction among some senior commanders, rather than the fighting power of the German army, while others have claimed that the British force was inadequate for the task.
Major General T. G. Rennie’s British 3rd Division, of Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s I Corps, came ashore on 'Sword' Beach on 6 June with Caen, 9 miles (14 km) inland, as its objective. The Caen area was attractive to Allied planners because it contained airfields and was open, dry and conducive to fast-moving offensive operations, for which the Allies had the advantage of numerical superiority in tanks and mobile formations and units. The attempt to take Caen on D-Day was ambitious, and traffic jams on the beaches delayed Brigadier G. E. Prior-Palmer’s 27th Armoured Brigade. The pace of the 3rd Division;s advance lessened as it fought past German fortifications, and before the fall of night the division had been stopped short of Caen by elements of Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtingr’s 21st Panzerdivision. On the following day, the British began 'Perch' (i) as an advance to the south-east of Caen in accord with a contingency in the invasion plan. The I Corps continued the attack toward Caen, but the Germans were able to reinforce the defenders, which made it impossible to rush the city with small numbers of men and tanks. On 9 June, the ground forces commander of the Allied 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, revised 'Perch' as a larger attack with a pincer movement to surround the city. After delays resulting from the time it took to get the attacking forces into position, on 12 June, simultaneous attacks began to the west and east of Caen. On the eastern side of the Orne river, in the airborne bridgehead created in 'Tonga', two attacking brigades of Major General D. C. Bullen-Smith’s 51st Division were held up by the 21st Panzerdivision, and on 13 June the attack was terminated. To the west of Caen, Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s XXX Corps was unable to advance to the south of the village of Tilly sur Seulles against the Panzer-Lehr Division, one of the Germans' most powerful armoured formations and a recent arrival in Normandy.
During the night of 9/10 June, the 352nd Division retired toward St Lô, thereby opening a wide gap in the German line covered only by light forces. On 12 June the 7th Armoured Division passed through the gap heading for Villers Bocage and the ridge beyond it, while the US 1st Division and Major General Walter M. Robinson’s US 2nd Division launched their own attacks in support.
The envelopment of Caen had been prevented by the Germans on the right flank of the XXX Corps, at the junction of the British 2nd Army and US 1st Army. Five German Kampfgruppen, including the last reserves of the LXXXIV Corps, had been destroyed, leaving only the remnants of the 352nd Division defending the front between Trévières and Agy. US attacks caused the German division’s left flank to collapse, and on the night of 9/10 June the division retreated to St Lô, leaving a 7.5-mile (12.1-km) gap between the Panzer-Lehr Division and the German forces near Caumont l’Eventé, with only the 17th SS Panzeraufklärungsabteilung of SS-Gruppenführer Werner Ostendorff’s 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision 'Götz von Berlichingen' left in the area. The Germans planned to fill the gap with SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Lammerding’s 2nd Panzerdivision but on 10 June most of this division was still between Amiens and Alençon and not expected to arrive in strength until 13 June. Although reluctant to commit the 2nd Panzerdivision on a piecemeal basis, General Hans Freiherr von Funck, commander of the XLVII Panzerkorps, rushed the divisional reconnaissance battalion to Caumont with the task of holding the high ground.
Dempsey, commanding the 2nd Army, ordered Bucknall, commanding the XXX Corps, and Erskine, commanding the 7th Armoured Division, to disengage the last from Tilly sur Seulles, move through the gap, seize Villers Bocage and threaten the exposed left flank of the Panzer-Lehr Division. The British geographical objective was a ridge 1.6 miles (2.6 km) to the east of Villers Bocage, and Dempsey hoped that the seizure of this feature would force the Panzer-Lehr Division to withdraw or risk being surrounded. Major General D. A. H. Graham’s 50th Division and most of Brigadier L. G. Whistler’s 131st Brigade, which was the infantry brigade of the 7th Armoured Division, were to continue the attack against the Panzer-Lehr Division around Tilly sur Seulles and the US 1st and 2nd Divisions of Major General Leonard T. Gerow’s US V Corps would continue their advance.
During the morning of 12 June, the 7th Armoured Division attacked toward Tilly sur Seulles according with its original orders, and at 12.00 Erskine ordered Hinde immediately to move the 22nd Armoured Brigade through the gap. Soon after this, the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, which was the divisional reconnaissance regiment, began to reconnoitre a route for the brigade, and the rest of the division left Trungy at about 16.00. At 20.00 the main body was close to Livry after a 12-mile (19-km) unopposed advance, the last 6 miles (9.7 km) of which were through German-held territory. The leading Cromwell tank of the 8th Hussars was destroyed by a Panzer-Lehr Division escort company anti-tank gun, which held out for two hours. On reaching the vicinity of la Mulotière, to the north of Livry, Hinde tried to mislead the Germans about the objective and ordered a halt for the night as the 8th King’s Royal Irish and 11th (Prince Albert’s Own) Hussars, which was the XXX Corps armoured car regiment, undertook reconnaissances of the flanks. The 11th Hussars encountered no resistance on the right flank and established contact with the US 1st Division near Caumont, and on the left flank, No. 3 Troop, A Squadron, 8th Hussars, located elements of the Panzer-Lehr Division less than 2 miles (3.2 km) away. The two leading tanks were knocked out by an anti-tank gun, and seven of the troops' men were killed.
It was clear that to control Villers-Bocage, the British would have to complete the rapid occupation of the ridge. The 4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), bolstered with one company of the 1/Rifle Brigade, was to pass through Villers Bocage and occupy Point 213, the ridge’s highest elevation. The 1/7th Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) was to follow and occupy the little town, and the 5th Royal Tank Regiment and one company of the Rifle Brigade, were to take the high ground at Maisoncelles Pelvey to the south-west of Villers Bocage. The 260th Anti-Tank Battery of the Norfolk Yeomanry was to cover the gap between the Sharpshooters and the 5th Royal Tank Regiment with Achilles selp-propelled 17-pdr anti-tank guns. The 5th Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery was to follow the rest of the brigade group with its Sexton self-propelled 25-pdr gun/howitzers. The 5th Royal Hose Artillery and the brigade group’s tactical headquarters were established at Amayé sur Seulles. The two Hussar regiments were to provide flank protection against the Panzer-Lehr Division and uncover German positions on each side of the advance. The 131st Brigade, with the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the 1/5th and 1/6th The Queen’s Royal Regiment, was to hold Livry as a firm base.
The commander of the I SS Panzerkorps, SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, ordered his only reserve, the 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung, to move behind the Panzer-Lehr Division and SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Witt’s (from June 1944 SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' in the Villers Bocage area, as a precaution against a British attempt to advance into the Caumont 'gap'. The 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung had arrived in Normandy on 12 June after a five-day drive from Beauvais. The battalion had an establishment of 45 Tiger I heavy tanks, but had been reduced to about 17 serviceable tanks by an air attack near Versailles. Its 1st Kompanie moved to a position 5.6 miles (9 km) to the north-east of Villers Bocage; the 2nd Kompanie to a position just to the south of Point 213 on the Villers Bocage ridge, and the 3rd Kompanie remained near Falaise with just one serviceable tank. The 2nd Kompanie had 12 tanks, but through a combination of losses and mechanical failures, only six of these were present on 13 June. The area round Villers Bocage came under heavy naval artillery fire during the night of 12/13 June and the 2nd Kompanie moved three times; the company planned a mechanical overhaul for the forthcoming morning.
Early on 13 June, the 1st Rifle Brigade reconnoitred the first 880 yards (800 m) of the route. Livry was reported to be clear of Germans and the advance resumed at 05.30 with the Sharpshooters leading. The column was met by French civilians, whose joy led to a relaxed mood among the soldiers. Erroneous information was passed to the British that German tanks were stranded in Tracy Bocage, and rumours suggested that other tanks were similarly stranded at the Château de Villers Bocage. On 11 June, German medical personnel had established a hospital at the château but had left at dawn on 13 June, but a few German troops remained about the town.
As the British column approached Villers Bocage, an SdKfz 231 armoured car crew observed the British advance and escaped. At 08.30, after advancing 5 miles (8 km), the 22nd Armoured Brigade group entered the town to be greeted by civilian celebrations. Two German soldiers were spotted leaving at high speed in a Kübelwagen. The two Hussar regiments made contact with German forces on each side of the 22nd Brigade group route and the 8th Hussars engaged schwerer Panzerspähwagen (eight-wheeled armoured cars. The Hussars reported German tanks heading towards Villers Bocage but Lieutenant Charles Pearce, of Sharpshooters, thought that these were probably self-propelled guns.
With Villers Bocage occupied, the Sharpshooters' A Squadron drove forward to Point 213 without reconnaissance, as ordered. A Kübelwagen was destroyed and the tanks moved into hull-down positions to establish a defensive perimeter. Along the road between the town and the ridge, the personnel carriers of the Rifle Brigade pulled over nose-to-tail in order to make it possible for reinforcements for Point 213 to pass. The riflemen dismounted and posted sentries but could see fewer than 250 yards (230 m) to either side of the road.
Major Wright, commanding officer of the 1st Rifle Brigade, called a conference at Point 213 for all officers and the senior non-commissioned officers of A Company. It was realised that a shell could wipe out the company commanders, and the occupants of the half-track were quickly dispersed among several other vehicles. In Villers Bocage, Lieutenant Colonel the Viscount Cranley, the Sharpshooters' commander, expressed concern that his men were 'out on a limb' but was assured by Hinde that all was well and was ordered to Point 213, to ensure his men had taken up good defensive positions. Hinde then departed Villers Bocage for his headquarters.
To the south of Point 213 Wittmann, commander of the 2nd Kompanie, 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung, was surprised by the British advance through Villers Bocage: 'I had no time to assemble my company; instead I had to act quickly, as I had to assume that the enemy had already spotted me and would destroy me where I stood. I set off with one tank and passed the order to the others not to retreat a single step but to hold their ground.'
Wittmann’s Tiger I was spotted at about 09.00 by Sergeant O’Connor of the Rifle Brigade, who was travelling toward Point 213 in a half-track and broke radio silence to give the only warning the British force received. The Tiger I emerged from cover onto Route Nationale 175 and knocked out a Cromwell, the rearmost tank at Point 213. A Sherman Firefly was then knocked out, caught fire and blocked the road. The British at Point 213 were then engaged by the rest of the 2nd Kompanie and lost three more tanks.
Wittmann drove toward Villers Bocage, and along the road the men of the Rifle Brigade tried to reply with PIAT anti-tank weapons and a 6-pdr anti-tank gun but, as the Tiger I drew closer, panic set in and the riflemen looked for cover. The brigade vehicles were set on fire by machine guns and high explosive shells, but few casualties were suffered. At the eastern end of Villers Bocage, Wittmann engaged and knocked out three M3 Stuart light tanks of the Sharpshooters' reconnaissance troop. Within the town, the tanks of the Sharpshooters' regimental headquarters tried to escape, but their reverse speed was too slow and one tank fired two shots before being destroyed by the Tiger I. Two tanks reversed off the road into gardens, the Sharpshooters' adjutant, Captain Pat Dyas, parked behind a barn. The Tiger I drove past a wrecked Stuart toward the centre of town, knocking out another tank, but missed that of Dyas. Pearce took his scout car and warned the rest of the reconnaissance troop in the town centre and the continued to the west in order to alert the Sharpshooters' B Squadron. Wittmann knocked out another Cromwell and on the main street, destroyed two artillery observation post tanks of the 5th Royal Horde Artillery, the intelligence officer’s scout car and the medical officer’s half-track.
Two accounts say that Wittmann’s Tiger I was engaged by a Sherman Firefly and withdrew after collapsing a house that contained a German sniper. Moore wrote later that he forced Wittmann to retire when a shot from his tank dented the visor of the Tiger I’s driver. Wittmann’s withdrawal brought him close to Dyas, who had been stalking the Tiger I to fire at its thinner rear armour. The Cromwell’s 75-mm (2.95-in) shells had no effect on the Tiger I and Wittmann then destroyed the British tank. Dyas escaped the tank and was engaged by German infantry in houses along the street. Wittmann drove eastward to the outskirts of Villers Bocage before being disabled by a 6-pdr anti-tank gun at the Tilly sur Seulles road junction. In fewer than 15 minutes, 13 or 14 tanks, two anti-tank guns and 13 to 15 transport vehicles had been destroyed by the 2nd Kpmpanie, 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung, many by Wittmann, who with his crew made their way to the Panzer-Lehr Division's headquarters at the Cháteau d’Orbois, 3.7 miles (6 km) to the north of Villers Bocage.
Major Werncke of the Panzer-Lehr Division undertook a reconnaissance of Point 213 later in the morning, and reconnoitring on foot, discovered a column of unoccupied Cromwell tanks, whose crews were studying a map with an officer at the front of the column. Werncke drove one off before the British could react. At the eastern end of Villers Bocage, he found a scene of 'burning tanks and Bren-gun carriers and dead Tommies' and drove back to the Panzer-Lehr Division's headquarters at the Château d’Orbois. After the ambush on Point 213, the Sharpshooters' A Squadron had nine operational tanks including two Sherman Firefly and one Cromwell observation post machines, although some were short of crew. There was one rifle section and an equal number of officers. It was decided to hold the position on the ridge until reinforcements arrived and an all-round defence was organised. At about 10.00, support and reconnaissance troops of the 4th Kompanie, 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung arrived and began to collect prisoners between the ridge and the town. Some of the British escaped and about 30 managed to return to the British lines.
The 1/7th Queen’s took up defensive positions in Villers Bocage and captured an advance party of three of the 2nd Panzerdivision's men. A relief force was prepared to rescue the troops on the ridge but this plan was rejected by Cranley. At about 10.30, Cranley reported that the position on Point 213 was becoming untenable and that a withdrawal was impossible. A break-out attempt was schemed and two hours later, a Cromwell tried to get back to Villers Bocage by a roundabout route but was knocked out by German tank fire. The Germans shelled the trees along the road, spraying shell fragments and wood splinters, and after five minutes the troops on the ridge surrendered. The British tried to burn their tanks but German soldiers arrived quickly and took 30 Sharpshooters prisoner, along with some riflemen and troops of the Royal Horse Artillery. A few men escaped.
Wittmann briefed the Panzer-Lehr Division's intelligence officer and was given a Schwimmwagen in which to return to Point 213. Hauptmann Helmut Ritgen was ordered to block the northern exits of the town with 15 PzKpfw IV battle tanks, mainly of the 6th Kompanie, 2/130th Panzer-Lehr Regiment and 10 from a workshop to the south of Route Nationale 175. Ritgen rendezvoused with Bayerlein, the Panzer-Lehr Division's commander, in Villy Bocage. As Ritgen’s tanks moved toward Villers Bocage they ran into a British anti-tank gun screen and lost one of their number. Four PzKpfw IV tanks entered the town from the south: the first two of them were knocked out and the others withdrew.
In Villers Bocage, A Company of the 1/7th Queen’s secured the area of the railway station, and B and C Companies occupied the eastern side of the town. German infantry had entered the town and house-to-house fighting began.A pair of German tanks was damaged and driven off, but the 1/7th Queen’s infantry companies became mingled and were ordered to fall back to reorganise. A Company was ordered back to the railway station, C Company was assigned the town’s north-eastern edge and D Company the south-eastern edge. B Company was placed in reserve and the battalion anti-tank guns were distributed along the front line. In the town square an ambush was laid by the Sharpshooters. A Sherman Firefly and several Cromwell tanks, one 6-pdr anti-tank gun and infantry of the 1/7th Queen’s with PIATs waited for German tanks to move down the main street. To the west of the town, the Germans attacked the 1/5th Queen’s near Livry and lost a tank.
At about 13.00, tanks of the Panzer-Lehr Division advanced into Villers Bocage without infantry support. Four PzKpfw IV vehicles tried to enter from the south near a wrecked tank of the same type, and two were knocked out by anti-tank fire. Some Tiger tanks were brought up and silenced the anti-tank position. SS-Hauptsturmführer Rolf Möbius divided the primary counterattack down the main road through Villers Bocage and through the town’s southern section parallel to the main road in order to secure the town centre. The Tiger tanks advanced slowly in anc effort to intimidate the British into withdrawing and ran into the British ambush. The Firefly opened fire on the lead tank with its 17-pdt high-velocity gun and missed, but the anti-tank gun knocked out the German tank. A group of three Tiger tanks divided and drove through the back streets to flank the British: one was engaged by an anti-tank gun and destroyed, the other two were engaged with PIATs, one being knocked out and the other immobilised. A fifth Tiger halted on the main street short of the ambush site, apparently waiting for the British to emerge from cover. The Tiger was spotted by the crew of the Sherman Firefly through the windows of a corner building, and the British tank then reversed to shoot through the windows. The Tiger was hit on the gun mantlet and raced past the side street. A Cromwell advanced onto the main street and fired into the rear of the Tiger, knocking it out, and then reversed back into cover. The Sherman Firefly knocked out a PzKpfw IV, and during a lul, the disabled tanks were set on fire with petrol-soaked blankets. Outside the town, the 7th Armoured Division’s brigade group stretched back to Amayé sur Seulles and was attacked from the north and south. The attacks were repulsed, and at Tracey Bocage the 11th Hussars overwhelmed a pocket of resistance.
Under a mortar and artillery bombardment, the Germans attacked A Company of the 1/7th Queen’s in the town, and cut off one platoon that was then captured. Even with the whole of the Queen’s battalion in the town, the German troops found their way inside. Two grenadier battalions of the 2nd Panzerdivision attacked from the south, were engaged by the Sharpshooters' B Squadron and suffered many casualties. Both sides called for artillery support and several British mortars and a carrier were destroyed. By 18.00 the Queen’s battalion headquarters was threatened and Hinde decided to withdraw before dark made the town untenable. Covered by a smoke screen and a bombardment by the 5th Royal Horse Artillery and the US V Corps, the infantry retreated with short-range cover provided by the Sharpshooter’s tanks. The Germans harassed the withdrawal with artillery fire, and infantry from Tracy Bocage attacked the British for 150 minutes as they fell back. Though costly to the Germans, this assault continued until about 22.30.
On 14 June, the 22nd Armoured Brigade group formed a 'brigade box' all-round defensive position in the area bounded by Amayé sur Seulles, Tracy Bocage and St Germain to overlook Villers Bocage. Supported by the 1st Kompanie, 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung, the Panzer-Lehr Division attacked the brigade box.The US 1st Division, on the heights around Caumont, opened observed artillery fire, which helped to defeat the first German attack, but later attacks came so close that the artillery could not fire without hitting the British positions. A platoon was overrun, but an infantry and tank counterattack then forced the Germans back. The Germans subjected the box to harassing fire and attacked from two sides later in the day with artillery and tanks, and this attack broke into the box and came close to the brigade headquarters before being repulsed. Although confident that the brigade box could be held, the inability of the 50th Division to come up prompted the decision to recall the brigade group and straighten the front line.
Contradictory sources make casualty figures difficult to establish. The 22nd Armoured Brigade group suffered around 217 men killed, wounded and missing, many of whom were taken prisoner at Point 213. This figure includes five riflemen who had been captured but were then shot by their guards, apparently for attempting to escape, when they took cover spontaneously in a ditch under US artillery fire. The British lost between 23 and 27 tanks, more than half of them on Point 213, where the Sharpshooters' A Squadron lost all 15 of its tanks. The Panzer-Lehr Division and the 2nd Panzerdivision were in action elsewhere on 13 June and did not list their casualties at Villers Bocage separately from the day’s overall losses. The 101st SS schwere Panzerabteilung was engaged only at Villers Bocage, and appears to have lost nine men killed and 10 wounded in the 1st Kompanie and one killed and three wounded in the 2nd Kompanie. Sources differ on the number of German tanks lost, in part because the Panzer-Lehr Division was committed on a piecemeal basis, making it impossible to be certain of the number of PzKpfw IV tanks knocked out. The German tank losses are generally considered to be between eight and 15, and include six Tiger machines. The numbers claimed by the British included tanks that were immobilised and later recovered. At least nine French civilians died on 13 June: six were killed by crossfire or shell fragments during the battle and three by artillery fire just before midnight. More civilians became casualties in the later fighting and bombing. After the British withdrawal, the town was reoccupied and searched by the Germans, who set on fire several shops, houses and the town hall.
During the night of 14/15 June, to cover the withdrawal of the 22nd Armoured Brigade group, 337 bombers (223 Avro Lancaster, 100 Handley Page Halifax and 14 de Havilland Mosquito machines of Nos 4, 5 and 8 Groups of RAF Bomber Command dropped 1,700 tons of bombs on the town of Évrecy and on targets round Villers Bocage, destroying one Tiger tank and damaging three more. No aircraft were lost. Slightly more than two weeks later, at 20.30 on 30 June, Villers Bocage was bombed again by 266 aircraft (151 Lancaster, 105 Halifax and 10 Mosquito machines of Nos 3, 4 and 8 Groups) in support of 'Epsom', dropping 1,100 tons of bombs. Only two aircraft were lost. The town was a vital traffic centre for German forces and though it was hoped that German troops would be caught in the bombing, only French civilians were present at the time. After being severely damaged by the fighting of 13 June and subsequent bombing raids, the town was finally liberated by a patrol of the 1/Dorset Regiment of the 50th Division on 4 August.
Early in August, as many as 100 men, including Bucknall, Erskine, Hinde and other senior officers, were removed from their positions and reassigned. It is generally agreed that this was a consequence of the failure at Villers Bocage, and the removals had been planned since the battle. One historian, however, believes that the battle’s outcome merely provided a convenient excuse and that the sackings took place to 'demonstrate that the army command was doing something to counteract the poor public opinion of the conduct of the campaign'.
Each side tried to exploit the 'Battle of Villers Bocage' for propaganda purposes. Having escaped from their knocked-out tank, Lieutenant J. Cloudsley-Thompson and his crew of the Sharpshooters spent much of the day in a basement in Villers Bocage before making their way back after dark and being picked up by troops of the 50th Division. During debriefing Cloudsley-Thompson said that he 'never wished to see another tank as long as [he] lived', but the British press reported this as 'The first thing the five tank men asked for was another tank.' Because the British had lost contact with the forces on Point 213 and withdrawn from Villers Bocage, they were ignorant of the losses on both sides.
The German propaganda machine swiftly credited Wittmann, a household name in Germany, with all the British tanks destroyed at Villers Bocage. Wittmann recorded a radio message on the evening of 13 June, describing the battle and claiming that later counterattacks had destroyed a British armoured regiment and an infantry battalion. Doctored images were produced: three joined-together photographs, published in the German armed forces magazine Signal, gave a false impression of the scale of destruction in the town. The propaganda campaign was given credence in Germany and abroad, leaving the British convinced that the 'Battle of Villers Bocage' had been a disaster when in fact its results were less clear cut.