'Charnwood' was a British and Canadian undertaking to capture Caen in Normandy using Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s British I Corps of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army within the context of the continuing Battle of Normandy after 'Overlord' (7/9 July 1944).
Caen had been a D-Day objective for the 2nd Army in 'Overlord', but had still not been taken slightly more than one month later, and the capture of both the city and the plain surrounding it was considered critical as a means of providing the Allies with the area to build front-line airfields, provide a greater freedom of movement for the generation of advances farther to the south, and pose a threat to the German position in Normandy so great that it would compel the German to commit major parts of their limited reserves and thereby render these unavailable for operations elsewhere.
Caen lies astride the Orne river, so the city’s capture would give the 2nd Army a foothold across this obstacle. Two unsuccessful attempts had been made to seize the city in June and July 1944 as 'Perch' and 'Epsom'. Given the limited options remaining to the 2nd Army, it was decided that the I Corps would launch a frontal assault finally to take the city. The corps contained two battle-hardened formations in the form of Major General L. G. Whistler’s 3rd Division and Major General R. F. L. Keller’s Canadian 3rd Division, along with Major General L. O. Lyne’s newly arrived 59th Division. All three of these divisions were to be employed in 'Charnwood': the 59th Division in the centre would attack the villages to the north of Caen that were still in German hands, the British 3rd Division on the right would attack into Lebisey and the western areas of Caen, and the Canadian 3rd Division on the left would take Carpiquet airfield, which it had attempted to take during 'Windsor' a few days earlier, and the eastern outskirts of the city.
'Charnwood' was thus a British and Canadian offensive within the Battle of Normandy to achieve at least the partial capture the German-occupied French city of Caen which, as noted above, was to have been taken on the first day of 'Overlord'. It was also hoped that the weight and threat of the offensive by a major proportion of the strength of Dempsey’s British 2nd Army would prevent the Germans from transferring armoured units and other significant reserves from the Anglo-Canadian sector on the eastern side of the Normandy lodgement to what was currently the more lightly held western sector of the lodgement, where Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army was planning and preparing its decisive 'Cobra' offensive to break out of the lodgement to the south and then the east.
In 'Charnwood', two British and one Canadian divisions advanced on a broad front, and by the evening of the second day had taken Caen as far as far to the south-east the line of the Orne and Odon rivers.
Preceded by a controversial bombing raid that destroyed much of Caen’s historic oldest quarter, 'Charnwood' was launched at dawn on 8 July, with battalions of three divisions attacking German positions in the area to the north of Caen behind a creeping artillery barrage. Supported by three armoured brigades, the forces of Crocker’s British I Corps made gradual progress against SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Kurt Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' and Generalleutnant Karl Sievers’s 16th Felddivision (L). By the end of the day Keller’s battle-hardened Canadian 3rd Division, Whistler’s experienced British 3rd Division and Lyne’s newly arrived British 59th Division had cleared the villages in their path and reached the outskirts of Caen. Moving into the city from dawn on the following day, the British and Canadians encountered resistance from remnants of German formations and units which were beginning to pull back to the south-east across the Orne river. Carpiquet airfield was taken by the Canadians during the early morning, and by 18.00 the British and Canadians had linked and were on the northern bank of the Orne river. Discovering Caen’s remaining bridges to be defended or impassable, and with German reserves now positioned to oppose any assault crossing, the I Corps end the offensive.
With the capture of the north-western half of Caen and the infliction of heavy casualties on two of the German formations (Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision and Sievers’s 16th Felddivision (L)) defending the sector, 'Charnwood' was an Allied tactical success despite the losses suffered by the I Corps. At the operational level the offensive achieved mixed results: although it forced the Germans to pull back all their formations in the area to the north of the Orne river, it did not stop the flow of formations westward toward the US front. The Germans were also able to establish a strong second defensive line along two ridges to the south of Caen, but the Allies maintained the initiative and launched the simultaneous British 'Goodwood' (i) and Canadian 'Atlantic' operations one week later, during which the rest of Caen was taken.
As noted above, the Norman city of Caen had been one of the D-Day objectives for the British 3rd Division, which landed on 'Sword' Beach on 6 June 1944. The capture of Caen was an ambitious objective for the first day of 'Overlord', but was the most important D-Day objective of the I Corps, one of the British 2nd Army’s three primary formations. In 'Overlord', the 2nd Army was to take the city and establish a front between the area to the south-east of Caen (between the coast and Troarn) westward to Caumont l'Éventé in order to acquire flat terrain for the creation of forward airstrips and to shield the left flank of the US 1st Army while this latter moved on Cherbourg on the north coast of the Cotentin peninsula. Possession of Caen and the area round it would provide the 2nd Army a suitable staging area for the planned drive to the south for the seizure of Falaise, which could then be used as the pivot for a swing to the east in the direction of Argentan and then toward the Touques river. The terrain between Caen and Vimont was especially attractive to Allied planners as it was open, dry and ideally suited to fast-moving offensive operations. Since the Allied forces had a considerable advantage over the Germans in armour and mobile formations, there was clearly a major advantage to be gained in the creation of the conditions in which a fluid, fast-moving battle could be fought.
The British 3rd Division had landed as planned on D-Day but, hindered by congestion in its 'Sword' beach-head, the diversion of some of its strength en route and the late arrival of much of its armoured support (Brigadier G. E. Prior-Palmer’s 27th Armoured Brigade), was not able to assault Caen in force and its leading elements were therefore checked just to the north-east of the city’s outskirts. Follow-up attacks were unsuccessful as German resistance solidified around the rapid arrival of the 12th SS Panzerdivision, so the British abandoned the direct approach and on 7 June attempted 'Perch', a pincer attack by the I Corps and Lieutenant General C. G. Bucknall’s XXX Corps. 'Perch' was designed to encircle Caen from the east and west, but the I Corps, striking to the south of the Orne river, was halted by Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision, and the XXX Corps' attack to the west of Caen stalled near Tilly sur Seulles in the face of strong opposition by Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein’s Panzer-Lehr-Division. In an effort to force the withdrawal of the latter, Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s British 7th Armoured Division attacked the German flank on 13 June, aiming for the high ground near Villers Bocage through a gap in the German line. There followed a one-day battle which ended with the withdrawal of the 7th Armoured Division’s leading units. The Panzer-Lehr-Division in fact held its positions until the XXX Corps captured Tilly sur Seulles on 19 June.
The next British offensive was 'Epsom' launched by Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps on 26 June. Preceded by 'Martlet', which was also known as 'Dauntless', to secure its right flank, the VIII Corps advanced to the west of Caen on a 4-mile (6.4-km) front between Carpiquet and Rauray. After crossing the Odon and Orne rivers, the VIII Corps was to make for the high ground near Bretteville sur Laize and encircle Caen. The Germans managed to contain 'Epsom', though they had to commit all their strength, including two SS Panzer divisions (SS-Oberführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Thomas Müller’s 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen' and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg') newly arrived in Normandy and earmarked for an offensive against the British and US positions around Bayeux.
On 27 June Brigadier E. E. E. Cass’s 8th Brigade of the 3rd Division, supported by the Staffordshire Yeomanry and specialised armour of Major General Sir Percy Hobart’s 79th Armoured Division, launched 'Mitten' to take the German-occupied Château de la Londe and Château de la Landel. The initial assault, during the evening and led by the South Lancashire Regiment, was repulsed, but during the following morning renewed attacks gained the objectives and destroyed several German tanks. 'Mitten' cost the British 268 men and at least three tanks. If 'Mitten' had achieved its objective quickly, Brigadier A. D. G. Orr’s 9th Brigade, supported by Brigadier D. G. Cunningham’s Canadian 9th Brigade, would have launched 'Aberlour' as an ambitious plan to capture the villages of la Bijude, Epron, Galmache, St Contest, Authie and Cussy, but this was cancelled by Crocker.
With Caen’s strategic value to the Germans apparently lessening, on 1 July Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefehlshaber 'West', ordered the gradual abandonment of the city within the context of his intention of shifting the main German armoured strength westward to the part of the Normandy lodgement held by the US 1st Army. However, Caen and the area round it were regarded by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht to be the linchpin of the defence of Normandy, and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was adamant that the arc of defensible terrain from the English Channel to the western bank of the Orne river be held. It was at this stage that Adolf Hitler dismissed von Rundstedt and replaced him as the Oberbefehlshaber 'West' with Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge. Learning of this, the commander of the Allied 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, planned an offensive with the twofold objective of capturing Caen and preventing a major redeployment of German forces from the Anglo-Canadian eastern sector of the lodgement to its US-held western sector.
On 4 July, the Canadian 3rd Division launched 'Windsor', which had been designed to seize Carpiquet and the adjacent airfield from Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision, but though the Canadians took Carpiquet on 5 July, the airfield remained in German hands.
As the 2nd Army had failed to take Caen in a succession of flanking offensives, Montgomery now opted for a frontal assault. Despite the fact that the city’s strategic importance had lessened since D-Day, Montgomery needed control of Bourguébus and the commanding high ground to the south and on 5 July issued order for 'Charnwood', which was to be launched at 04.20, 90 minutes before dawn, on 8 July.
The new offensive’s objective was to clear Caen of its defenders as far to the south-east as the line of the south-west/north-east line of the Orne river through the city, and if possible to secure bridgeheads across the river in the south-eastern part of Caen. The latter was to be achieved by an armoured column sent through the city to rush the German-held bridges, and it was hoped, somewhat improbably, that the I Corps could then exploit the situation by sweeping through south-eastern Caen toward the Verrières and Bourguébus ridges, so paving the way for the 2nd Army to advance on Falaise.
'Charnwood' was allocated to the 115,000 men of Crocker’s I Corps, whose primary task was to penetrate to the line of the Odon and Orne rivers, of which the former flows into the latter just upstream of Caen. The British 3rd Division was to attack on a one-brigade front from the north-east, supported by Brigadier H. B. Scott’s 33rd Armoured Brigade; the 59th Division was to attack on a two-brigade front from the north, supported by the 27th Armoured Brigade; and the Canadian 3rd Division was to attack on a one-brigade front from the north-west, supported by Brigadier R. A. Wyman’s Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade. To maintain the maximum possible pressure on the German forces in the sector, the VIII Corps was placed on 24-hour notice to launch pinning attacks in the area to the west of Caen.
The implications of the fact that the Canadians had achieved only partial success in 'Windsor' were reflected in the decision that 'Charnwood' was to be made on a broad front to increase the pressure on the German defences and compel these latter to disperse their defensive fire. The planners of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force had recommended on 10 June that the optimum way to break a front-line stalemate was to use air power to support an attack, and this method was now to be used for 'Charnwood' as Montgomery enlisted the support of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command. Heavy bombers would attack Caen on the night preceding the assault, with 15% of the total bomb load being delayed-action bombs set to explode when the ground attack was launched. A second wave of light bombers was to follow the heavy bombers, and a third wave of US bombers was then to attack on the morning of the operation.
Additional fire support was to be provided by rocket-firing Hawker Typhoon fighter-bombers, the 15-in (381-mm) guns of the monitor Roberts, the 6-in (152.4-mm) guns of the light cruisers Belfast and Emerald and the 16-in (406.4-mm) guns of the battleship Rodney. Five divisions would contribute 656 pieces of artillery for the bombardment of the German defensive positions to the south.
In the hope of limiting British casualties, the 'Charnwood' plan included the use of heavy bombers during the evening of 7 July in a major raid to shock and destroy German defenders, clear obstacles and boost the morale of the hard-pressed British and Canadian infantrymen. A target area about 4,000 yards (3660 m) wide was designated on the northern outskirts of the city. It was planned that a total of 2,000 tons of bombs would be dropped on Caen before the infantry assault began. As a result of the fact that the target area was only a short distance ahead of the British and Canadian front line, opening the spectre of 'friendly fire' casualties, the bombers' aiming point was shifted 6,000 yards (5485 m) farther to the south, and thus behind most of the main German defences screening the city.
Following a long saturation bombardment, the three infantry divisions were to push through the fortified villages in their path and advance directly into Caen’s northern suburbs.
The German defence of Caen lay in the hands of two formations, namely the 12th SS Panzerdivision of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Josef Dietrich’s I SS Panzerkorps and Sievers’s 16th Felddivision (L) of of General Hans von Obstfelder’s LXXXVI Corps within General Heinrich Eberbach’s Panzergruppe 'West'. An assault on the city was expected, and it was assumed that further attacks would soon follow in the Odon river valley toward the Orne river.
The 12th SS Panzerdivision comprised three Panzergrenadier regiments including the 1st SS Panzergrenadierregiment borrowed from SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Theodor Wisch’s 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler'. With its 61 surviving tanks, the division held the north-western approaches to Caen, defending the city and Carpiquet airfield from the Canadian 3rd and British 59th Divisions. The Germans main defensive line, a 5.6-mile (9-km) arc of villages extending from the north-east to the west, was held by the 25th SS Panzergrenadierregiment and elements of the 12th SS Panzerregiment. Units of the 26th SS Panzergrenadierregiment held the western flank with their strength, which included mortar batteries and a few tanks, concentrated in the area around Carpiquet airfield. The 1st SS Panzergrenadierregiment held a line from Franqueville to the western end of Eterville, the villages in this area having been turned into mutually supporting strongpoints with dug-in tanks and assault guns. The defensive line was 2 to 3 miles (3.2 to 4.8 km) deep, and incorporated anti-tank ditches, weapons pits, minefields and other obstacles. The rest of the division, with 35 tanks of the 12th SS Panzerregiment, was held in reserve, with elements located to the north, west and south of Caen. Most of the divisional artillery had been moved back across the Orne river, and the divisional command centre had been moved from Abbaye d’Ardenne to Abbaye aux Dames in the centre of Caen.
By contrast with the well-hardened 12th SS Panzerdivision, the 16th Luftwaffe Felddivision, or rather the 16th Felddivision (L) as it had been transferred to the army on 1 November 1943, was an inexperienced infantry formation which had only recently arrived in Normandy to relieve the 21st Panzerdivision of the task of holding Caen and the positions to the east of the Caen Canal. The division was poorly trained and was deficient in anti-armour capability. In an effort to offset this weakness, it had been reinforced with one Panzer battalion from the 21st Panzerdivision. The formation was deployed on each side of the Orne river, with three battalions holding the villages to the immediate north of the city.
The 1st SS Panzerdivision was located about 5 miles (8 km) to the south of Caen together with a regiment of 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-role anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns of General Wolfgang Pickert’s III Flakkorps. SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps was to the west, with Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg' some 2 miles (3.2 km) to the south-west of Caen.
While the original intention for the air attack had been to shatter the German forces in contact with the Anglo-Canadian forces in the villages to the north of Caen, the definitive plan was to blast an area of open ground and the northern edge of the city. The operation began at 21.50 on 7 July in good conditions as 467 Allied aircraft dropped 2,000 or more tons of 500- and 1,000-lb (227- and 454-kg) high explosive bombs. This bomber force comprised 283 Avro Lancaster and 164 Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers of Nos 1, 4, 6 and 8 Groups of the RAF’s Bomber Command. Although intended primarily to ease the British and Canadian advance and to prevent German forces from reaching the battle or retreating through Caen, the attack had the secondary task of suppressing the German defences. In this the bombing was largely ineffectual: in the 400-minute attack most of the historic mediaeval quarter of Caen was destroyed, but the Germans' main armour and infantry positions to the north of Caen were left intact. Several tanks were hit and disabled, albeit only for a short time, and only two PzKpfw IV battle tanks of the 12th SS Panzerdivision were destroyed. It should be noted, though, that Dempsey was more concerned with the effect of the bombing as a morale booster for the men of his 2nd Army than with the infliction of matériel losses it might inflict on the Germans.
The Lancaster pathfinder aircraft of No. 625 Squadron, tasked with the dropping of target markers for the bombers, were under orders not to allow the target zone to creep back toward the Allied lines, which had been a tendency evident in previous operations of this type. Together with the cautious shifting of the target zone during the planning stage, the effect was that in many cases the markers were dropped too far forward, pushing the bombed zone well into Caen itself and thus further behind the German defences. By 22.00 on 7 July the bombers had departed, leaving about 80% of the city’s northern area destroyed.
The major effects of the bombing were largely counterproductive, however: with the bombs falling on an urban area, many French civilians were killed, and the ruins of the city were instantly turned into excellent defensive positions for the Germans as the mounded nature of the rubble made the area virtually impassable to tanks. The shock value of the air attack was largely lost as the bombing was not followed by an immediate assault, while the defenders were still stunned.
At 22.50, six squadrons of de Havilland Mosquito light bombers attacked individual targets, and 10 minutes later the 636 pieces of artillery of the assaulting divisions opened fire, the weight of fire being further increased by the efforts of the battleship Rodney and other warships. The weight of this lengthy bombardment was intensified by the artillery of the VIII Corps, which targeted the villages to the north of Caen in an effort to destroy German strongpoints in the path of the imminent infantry assault.
At 04.30 on 8 July, the artillery of the I Corps and VIII Corps shifted its fire deeper into the German defensive belt along the axes of advance for the Canadian 3rd Division and British 59th Division. As the infantry and its supporting armour left their start lines, the barrage crept slowly forward, the fire being concentrated on positions in front of the British and Canadian troops, which comprised four infantry battalions and two armoured regiments advancing on a two-brigade front.
At 07.00 192 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers arrived over the battlefield but, finding it obscured by cloud, only 87 aircraft were able to drop 133 tons of bombs, some of which fell on the headquarters of the 12th SS Panzerdivision at Abbaye aux Dames.
Crocker committed the second phase of 'Charnwood' at 07.30 despite the fact that neither of the assault divisions had yet reached its first-phase objectives. The 26th SS Panzergrenadierregiment still controlled the high ground around Carpiquet airfield on the right flank of the advance. On the left, facing the relatively weak defences of the 16th Felddivision (L), the British 3rd Division was making good progress. The division attacked Lébisey and drove rapidly through this village, but the intensity of the fighting then increased as the division reached Hérouville.
Concerned about the state of the Luftwaffe division, Eberbach, commanding the Panzergruppe 'West' and observing the battle from a vantage point in the local steel works, ordered the 21st Panzerdivision to redeploy to the north-east of Caen in support of the 16th Luftwaffe Felddivision. The movement was spotted, though, and when the 21st Panzerdivision tried to cross the Caen Canal a potent barrage of naval gun fire was directed against it, in the face of potentially heavy losses, the division’s movement was abandoned.
In the centre, Brigadier R. W. H. Fryer’s 176th Brigade of the 59th Division was meeting much more capable resistance from the 12th SS Panzerregiment in Galmanche and la Bijude. However, the 176th Brigade’s partner unit, Brigadier J. Lingham’s 197th Brigade, bypassed Galmanche and by 12.00 had reached St Contest.
Farther to the west, units of Cunningham’s Canadian 9th Brigade had been involved in heavy fighting in Buron, which was held by some 200 men of the 12th SS Panzerregiment. With support from the Canadian 10th Armoured Regiment, the brigade had taken Buron by 12.00, though the brigade’s assault companies had suffered something in the order of 60% casualties in the process. To the south of Buron, a counterattack by PzKpfw IV and PzKpfw V Panther battle tanks of the 12th SS Panzerregiment was defeated by M10 Achilles self-propelled anti-tank guns (each comprising a US M10 tank destroyer rearmed with a 17-pdr anti-tank gun) and towed 17-pdr anti-tank guns of the 245th Battery, 62nd Anti-Tank Regiment: 13 German tanks were destroyed in one of the most successful anti-tank engagements of the Normandy campaign, for the loss of four tank destroyers and four damaged. The Canadians then took Gruchy without significant problem, with Brigadier H. W. Foster’s Canadian 7th Brigade then encountering only mortar and artillery fire during its advance to Authie. The capture of Authie facilitated the 59th Division’s attack on St Contest, whose capture cleared the way for an advance on Caen.
In the third phase of 'Charnwood', the Canadian 7th Brigade pushed toward the 12th SS Panzerdivision's former headquarters at Abbaye d’Ardenne, securing the position before 24.00.
By this time the British 3rd Division had pushed past the 16th Felddivision (L) and was approaching Caen’s outskirts from the north-east. At 19.15, Meyer and Eberbach authorised the withdrawal of all of the 12th SS Panzerdivision's surviving heavy weapons and the remnants of the 16th Felddivision (L) across the Orne river to the south-eastern side of Caen. Throughout the early evening the 12th SS Panzerdivision fought a rearguard action against elements of the British 59th and 3rd Divisions as it pulled back from positions now considered untenable. This withdrawal was reported to the Anglo-Canadian command, but patrols probing German front-line positions created a false perception that no withdrawal was taking place.
By a time late in the evening, Brigadier E. L. Bols’s 185th Brigade of the British 3rd Division was in possession of Point 64, overlooking Caen itself. The brigade’s patrols had started to penetrate into the ruins, reporting that further heavy movement would be extremely difficult as a result of the amount of rubble and wreckage.
Other patrols of the British and Canadian divisions started to move into Caen at dawn on 9 July. Carpiquet airfield finally fell into Allied hands at a time early in the morning when units of the Canadian 3rd Division discovered that the 26th SS Panzergrenadierregiment had withdrawn during the night. As the German situation to the north of the Orne river became steadily more difficult, the combat elements of the 21st Panzerdivision and the remaining regiments of the 12th SS Panzerdivision fell back slowly across the Orne river toward the Verrières and Bourguébus ridges. By 12.00 the British 3rd Infantry Division had reached the northern bank of the Orne river, in the process effectively destroying the elements of the 16th Felddivision (L) still positioned to the north-west of the Orne river. A few hours later the British and Canadians met in the centre of the city and by 18.00 the north-western half of Caen was firmly under Allied control.
The I Corps had achieved all that had been demanded of it. A few of Caen’s bridges were still intact, but these were either blocked by rubble or defended by German troops on the south-eastern bank, and moreover the 1st SS Panzerdivision was now in position to oppose any further advance.
The 12th SS Panzerdivision, whose infantry strength had been reduced to that of a battalion by this time, claimed over the course of two days to have destroyed 103 British and Canadian tanks for the loss of 20 of its own.
On entering Caen the British and Canadian troops found little more than ruins, with some 80% of the old city reduced to rubble by the bombing of 7 July. Debris choked the streets, and made it almost impossible for the British armour to manoeuvre through the north-western half of the city and thereby prevented the 2nd Army from exploiting the I Corps' success. Without possession of the terrain flanking the south of the city, no further gains could be made within Caen, so by the middle of the afternoon of 9 July, 'Charnwood' was over.
Losses had been heavy in the British and Canadian assault units, and German snipers and some artillery were still active in the city, with a number of reports indicating that Wisch’s 1st SS Panzerdivision was now arriving in the Caen area. In addition, the rubble severely hindered the movement of troops and vehicles, and it was thus decided to halt any further offensive operations to allow the roads to be cleared and reinforcements to be brought up. The British and Canadians had sustained some 3,817 casualties as well as the loss of about 80 tanks, while the Germans had taken more than 2,000 casualties and lost between 18 and 32 of their 61 available tanks.
On 10 July, Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division, to the north of the Odon river in the area to the south-west of Caen, attacked the positions of the 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg' on Hill 112 in 'Jupiter'. Preceded by a two-day bombardment that included support from warships and Typhoon fighter-bombers, the assault was designed to threaten Caen from the west and push back the 10th SS Panzerdivision, thereby gaining for the 2nd Army Army an excellent jumping-off location for future offensives. The 43rd Division began its attack at dawn on 10 July with the support of two armoured brigades. By 08.00 British armour and infantry were engaged with 10th SS Panzerdivision and had driven well up the slopes of Hill 112. The British took Eterville in the middle of the morning, and as the 43rd Division and Brigadier R. M. P. Carver’s 4th Armoured Brigade continued, Eberbach insisted that Hill 112 be held at all costs as it was lynchpin of the German position to the west of Caen, so the 102nd schwere SS Panzerabteilung (Tiger) and the 1st SS Panzerdivision were committed to its defence. The 4th Armoured Brigade reached the summit, but during the evening was counterattacked by remnants of the 1st SS Panzerdivision and 12th SS Panzerdivision.
'Jupiter' resumed the following day with the support of anti-tank regiments of the 2nd Army, which suffered heavy losses in a counterattack by the PzKpfw VI Tiger heavy tanks of the 102nd schwere SS Panzerabteilung. A battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry took the summit of Hill 112, but lost it to German counterattacks late in the afternoon. By the evening of 11 July, with both sides exhausted and suffering the effects of heavy losses, the offensive had reached a stalemate. The 43rd Division and its supporting armour had suffered something in the order of 2,000 casualties in the two days of fighting.
With that part of Caen to the north-west of the Orne river in Allied hands, mine-clearance operations were launched, bulldozers started to clear the streets, and a convoy of trucks carrying supplies for the civilian population arrived. On 10 July the French flag was raised over the city and three days later a parade was held in the Place St Martin during which a second flag was raised.
Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, the commander of Heeresgruppe 'B' in northern France, and Eberbach now consolidated the German defensive positions in and around southern Caen. As part of this process the 12th SS Panzerdivision, 1st SS Panzerdivision and 9th SS Panzerdivision turned the Bourguébus and Verrières ridges into formidable barriers to any British and Canadian offensive drive on a southerly axis. Having committed all of his armoured reserves, Rommel transferred the remainder of his infantry strength (Generalleutnant Hermann Wilck’s 708th Division, Generalleutnant Kurt Badinski’s 276th Division, Generalleutnant Albert Praun’s 277th Division and Generalleutnant Friedrich-Albert Schack’s 272nd Division) to the Anglo-Canadian front, and on 8 July released the remnants of the Panzer-Lehr-Division and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Heinz Lammerding’s 2nd SS Panzerdivision 'Das Reich' to the US sector.
At the start of the Normandy campaign, the Panzer-Lehr-Division had been among the most powerful German armoured formations, but by this time it had been reduced to a number of Kampfgruppen and was no longer operational as a division.
On 17 July, in a strafing attack on his staff car by British fighters, Rommel was severely injured and taken to hospital. Two days later he was replaced at the head of Heeresgruppe 'B' by von Kluge. Rommel did not return to Normandy and on 14 October, implicated in the 20 July plot against Hitler, he was forced to commit suicide.
The partial capture of Caen and the severe degradation of the German armoured forces used in the attempt to hold the city allowed Bradley, the commander of the US 1st States Army, to accelerate his plans for a break-out. Shortly after 'Charnwood', Major General J. Lawton Collins’s US VII Corps attacked German positions in St Lô, which the 2nd SS Panzerdivision had been ordered to hold at all costs, and on 18 July, after eight days of fighting during which 95% of the town was destroyed and VII Corps sustained more than 5,000 casualties, St Lô fell to the Americans.
On the same day, the 2nd Army launched 'Goodwood' (i) with between 1,100 and 1,300 tanks in the largest armoured battle in British military history. O’Connor’s VIII Corps spearheaded the drive towards the Bourguébus ridge with three armoured divisions, supported by Crocker’s I Corps. After a preliminary attack by 1,056 heavy bombers, elements of the 11th Armoured Division, Guards Armoured Division and 7th Armoured Division assaulted the positions of the LXXXVI Corps to the north of Bourguébus, but despite early gains of some 6.75 miles (10.85 km), strong resistance prevented the VIII Corps from taking the ridge. Simultaneously, Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s newly activated Canadian II Corps launched its 'Atlantic' offensive on the Verrières ridge. The Canadian II Corps met very strong resistance, and during the seven-day battle that followed the Canadians suffered 2,800 casualties. Verrières ridge remained in German hands until 8 August.
After the end of 'Charnwood', Eisenhower expressed his concern that a break-out was now unlikely on the grounds that the Germans would be able to keep the Allies penned in Normandy. Montgomery was more optimistic, for he believed that the tenacity of the German defence was no measure for its sustainability. In this Montgomery was supported by Rommel, who believed that the front line in France could be held for only another three weeks.
The major losses attendant on the German effort to maintain a static defence during June paved the way to changes in the German command. On 1 July, the commander of the Panzergruppe 'West', General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg, had been replaced by Eberbach after disagreeing with Hitler about the conduct of the campaign. On the following day von Rundstedt was replaced as the Oberbefehlshaber 'West' by von Kluge. The cost of the fighting in and around Caen and St Lô quickly convinced both Eberbach and von Kluge that their predecessors had been correct in their assessments of the campaign in France. The Germans had suffered so severely that Hitler ordered Heeresgruppe 'B' temporarily to abandon all major counterattacks and go over to the defensive until it could be reinforced.
By the end of 'Charnwood', the Allied losses since 6 June in the Normandy lodgement had surpassed 30,000 men, excluding those who had been evacuated as a result of sickness or battle exhaustion.
One aspect of 'Charnwood' that was and remains controversial was the bombing of Caen, which inflicted large numbers of French civilian casualties, caused only very limited German manpower and matériel losses, effectively destroyed the historic old city, and offered the Allies no significant advantage inasmuch as the rubble-filled streets denied them the chance of a swift advance to attempt the proposed advance over the bridges of the Orne river. It should also be noted, though, that the bombing boosted the morale of the British and Canadians troops, and did interfere with the delivery of food and supplies to the German formations to the north-west of the river in the day after the bombing.
The British initially announced that some 6,000 civilians had been killed during the air raid, but a larger investigation came to the conclusion that the civilian losses were some 300 to 400. Despite the hardships they had suffered, the citizens of Caen showed genuine relief, and provided their liberators with a very warm welcome.
Post-battle analysis suggested that the heavy bombing, in what had been RAF Bomber Command’s first use of its strategic bombing capability in a tactical role, had been largely counterproductive: because the bombs had been dropped onto an urban area many French civilians had been killed; the ground assault started only six hours after the bombardment so the shock effect of the bombing had been lost; and, finally, the use of heavy bombs had turned north-western Caen into a mass of largely impenetrable rubble, which slowed the movement of Allied armour into the city. Moreover, a survey of the shattered city found that there was virtually no sign of German gun positions, tanks or German dead in the target area. A lesson thus learned from 'Charnwood' was the need to use light bombs in large quantities to avoid the turning an urban target area into rubble or a rural area into a crated wilderness. This lesson was applied to following operations such as 'Goodwood' (i) and, to a lesser extent, 'Cobra'.