This was a British attempt by Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army to break out of the eastern end of the Allied lodgement in Normandy, past Caen’s eastern side, after ‘Overlord’ (18/21 July 1944).
Dispute has surrounded the operation almost from the time of its conclusion, the dispute being centred primarily on disputes about its objective. It has been variously claimed that the operation had only the limited objective of pinning German units in the east so that they could not disengage and join the counterattack against the US ‘Cobra’ operation on the western end of the lodgement, or that the objective was the achievement of a full break-out from the lodgement.
After their early successes in the Battle of Normandy, the Allied armies had been brought virtually to a halt by a time early in July. The key city of Caen, which was to have been taken on D-Day, was still in German hands at a time little short of six weeks after the Allied landings. Pre-invasion planning had proposed taking Caen and holding a front east of the Orne river as the pivot point of the Allied advance. Possession of Caen would thus give the 2nd Army ground ideally suited fight off German counterattacks, and also provide several bridges over the Orne river and Caen Canal. Another fact was that the Colombelles steel works at Caen included several high towers which could provide direct observation of much of the area round Caen.
Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps launched three armoured divisions in an attack designed to take the Bourguébus ridge, just to the south of Caen, as far to the south as the road linking Bretteville sur Laize and Vimont on the western and eastern sides of the ridge’s mid-point, while also destroying as much German armour as possible. ‘Goodwood’ (i) was preceded by preliminary attacks dubbed the 2nd Battle of the Odon: during 18 July, Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s British I Corps advanced to secure a series of villages on the VIII Corps eastern flank, and Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian II Corps launched the co-ordinated ‘Atlantic’ designed to take the remaining German-held sections of the city of Caen in the area to the south of the Orne river on the VIII Corps’ western flank.
In summation, when ‘Goodwood’ (i) came to an end on 20 July, the British armoured divisions had broken through the initial German defences and advanced 7 miles (11.25 km) before coming to a halt in front of the Bourguébus Ridge; armoured cars had penetrated still farther to the south and over the ridge. Whatever its outcome, this was probably the largest tank battle ever fought by the British army.
Caen had been a D-Day objective in ‘Overlord’ for Major General G. T. Rennie’s British 3rd Division, which landed on Sword Beach on 6 June 1944. The capture of Caen was an admittedly ambitious objective, and was the most important D-Day objective assigned to Crocker’s I Corps. ‘Overlord’ called for Dempsey’s 2nd Army firstly to secure the city and then form a front from Caumont l’Eventé, to the south-west of Caen, round to a point to the south-east of Caen, secondly to acquire space for airfields, and thirdly to shield the left flank of Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army, to the west of the 2nd Army, as it moved on Cherbourg, the major port at the head of the Cotentin peninsula. Possession of the Caen area would provide the 2nd Army with a staging area suitable for a push to the south for the seizure of Falaise, which could then become the pivot for a wheel to the left and an advance first on Argentan and second on the Touques river. The bocage terrain (deeply sunken roads flanked by tall banks surmounted by thick hedges) typical of much of Normandy was a serious problem for attacking units, but most of this bocage terrain was in sectors held by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army. Clearer land to the south-east, between Caen and Vimont, looked more promising for an offensive, for here open, drier and flatter terrain opened the possibility of faster-moving offensive operations spearheaded by armoured units. As they greatly outnumbered the Germans in mobile formations and armour, the Allies would benefit from the transformation of the battle into a fluid and faster-moving battle.
So much for the theory, but in practice the British 3rd Division was slowed by congestion in the beach-head, which delayed the deployment of its armoured support and compelled it to divert effort in an attack on strongly held German positions along the 9.3-mile (15-km) route to Caen. Thus the 3rd Division was unable to assault Caen in full strength, and therefore checked short of the city’s outskirts. As it was also to protect the Orne river bridgehead initially secured by Major General R. N. Gale’s 6th Airborne Division, the division had clearly ben asked to achieve too much. Successive attacks were unsuccessful as the German resistance became more solid. The notion of a direct approach to Caen was terminated, and ‘Perch’ was launched on 7 June as a pincer attack by the I Corps and Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall’s British XXX Corps to encircle Caen round its east and west. The I Corps, striking to the south out of its Orne river bridgehead, was halted by Generalmajor Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision and the XXX Corps became bogged down in front of Tilly sur Seulles, to the west of Caen, in the face of stiff opposition from Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein’s (from 8 June Generalmajor Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz’s) Panzer-Lehr-Division. To force the latter to withdraw or surrender and keep operations fluid, Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division drove through a gap in the German front in an effort to capture Villers Bocage in the German rear. Lasting one day, the resulting battle saw the vanguard of the 7th Armoured Division withdraw from the town, but by 17 June the Panzer-Lehr-Division had been forced back and the XXX Corps had taken Tilly sur Seulles.
On 19 June the British were forced to abandon plans for further offensive operations, including a second attack by the 7th Armoured Division, when a severe storm struck the English Channel. Lasting three days, the storm greatly delayed the enlargement of the Allied forces. The western ‘Mulberry’ harbour on Omaha Beach was destroyed, the eastern harbour on Gold Beach was severely damaged, most of the landing craft and ships already at sea were driven back to ports on the English south coast, towed barges and other loads, including 2.5 miles (4 km) of floating roadways for the ‘Mulberry’ harbours, were lost; and 800 landing craft were left stranded on the beaches of Normandy until they floated off during the next very high tides in July.
On 26 June, having taken a days to make good the deficiencies caused by the storm, the British launched ‘Epsom’. O’Connor’s newly arrived VIII Corps was to strike, in the area to the west of Caen, on a southerly axis across the Odon and Orne rivers, capture an area of high ground near Bretteville sur Laize and thus encircle Caen. This offensive was preceded by ‘Martlet’ to secure the flank of the VIII Corps by taking high ground on the right of the planned axis of advance. The Germans managed to contain the offensive, but only by committing all their available strength, including two Panzer divisions freshly arrived in Normandy and otherwise earmarked for an offensive against the British and US positions around Bayeux.
Several days later, the 2nd Army tried once again to take Caen by frontal assault in ‘Charnwood’ and, as a preface, the already postponed ‘Windsor’ was undertaken to capture the airfield at Carpiquet just to the west of Caen. By 9 July ‘Charnwood’ had succeeded in taking the northern part of Caen as far to the south-east as the Orne and Odon rivers, but the Germans retained possession of the rivers’ southern banks as well as a number of important locations, including the Colombelles steel works, whose tall chimneys commanded the entire area.
On 10 July, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the 21st Army Group controlling all the Allied ground forces in Normandy, held a meeting at his headquarters with his subordinate army commanders, Dempsey of the British 2nd Army and Bradley of the US 1st Army. These commanders discussed the 21st Army Group’s operations in the aftermath of ‘Charnwood’ and the failure of the 1st Army’s initial attempt to break-out of the lodgement. Montgomery approved Bradley’s suggestion for a new ‘Cobra’ break-out offensive to be launched on 18 July. To facilitate ‘Cobra’, Montgomery instructed Dempsey to ‘go on hitting: drawing the German strength, especially the armour, onto yourself – so as to ease the way for Brad.’
Early in July, Montgomery had been informed by the adjutant general, General Sir Ronald Adam, that the shortage of manpower in the UK meant that the pool of replacements to maintain the British infantry strength in Normandy was on the point of exhaustion. Dempsey therefore proposed an offensive using only armoured divisions, but Montgomery was initially sceptical as this was completely contrary to his belief in using only balanced forces. Tanks were a commodity with which the British were plentifully supplied: by the middle of July, the 2nd Army had within the Normandy lodgement 2,250 medium and 400 light tanks, of which 500 were held back as replacements for vehicles which were lost. The British armoured strength was organised into three armoured divisions and seven independent armoured or tank brigades, but excluding Major General Sir Percy Herbert’s 79th Armoured Division, which was never used as a single formation as its units of specialised armour were allocated to other formations as and when required. These formations and units were Major General A. H. Adair’s Guards Armoured Division, Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division, Major General G. P. B. Roberts’s 11th Armoured Division, Brigadier R. M. P. Carver’s 4th Armoured Brigade, the 8th Armoured Brigade under the temporary command of Colonel A. D. R. Wingfield and, from 18 July, Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Byron, Brigadier G. E. Prior-Palmer’s 27th Armoured Brigade and Brigadier H. B. Scott’s 33rd Armoured Brigade, Brigadier G. S. Knight’s 31st Army Tank Brigade, Brigadier W. S. Clarke’s 34th Army Tank Brigade and Brigadier R. A. Wyman’s Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade. Brigadier Sir Walter Bartellot’s 6th Guards Tank Brigade landed after the conclusion of the ‘Atlantic’ and ‘Goodwood’(i) battles, and is not included. The armoured brigades were equipped with medium tanks, while the army tank brigades were equipped with Churchill infantry tanks and a small number of light tanks.
At 10.00 on 13 July, Dempsey met with Crocker, O’Connor and Simmons, three of his five corps commanders, to discuss the proposal, and later on the same day there appeared the first written order for ‘Goodwood’ (i). This comprised preliminary instructions and general intentions, and was deigned largely to stimulate detailed planning, and it was expected that a number of changes would then be incorporated. The order was sent to senior members of the 2nd Army’s staff, and also to senior planners in the UK so that air support for the operation could be secured.
As the VIII Corps assembled in Normandy in mid-June, it had been suggested that the corps be used to attack out of the Orne river bridgehead and thus outflank Caen from the east, but this ‘Dreadnought’ concept was cancelled after Dempsey and O’Connor had delivered pessimistic assessments to Montgomery regarding the difficulties involved in such an undertaking. The outline plan for ‘Goodwood’ (i) envisaged that the VIII Corps, with three armoured divisions, would attack to the south out of the Orne river bridgehead. On the right the 11th Armoured Division was to advance to the south-west over the Bourguébus ridge and the road linking Caen and Falaise road with the object of reaching Bretteville sur Laize. On the left the Guards Armoured Division was to push to the south-east to take Vimont and Argences. In the centre the 7th Armoured Division, starting last, was to aim due south with the object of reaching Falaise. On the extreme left the 3rd Division, now under the command of Major General L. G. Whistler and supported by elements of Major General D. C. Bullen-Smith’s 51st Division, was to secure the VIII Corps’ eastern flank by seizing the area around Emiéville, Touffréville and Troarn. On the right, simultaneously with ‘Goodwood’ (i), Simmons’s Canadian II Corps would launch the ‘Atlantic’ supporting attack on the VIII Corps’ western flank. The Canadian offensive was intended to liberate the area of Caen to the south of the Orne river.
The British and Canadian operations were tentatively scheduled for 18 July, and the start of Bradley’s ‘Cobra’ was postponed by two days to enable the US 1st Army to secure its start line around St Lô.
Detailed planning ‘Goodwood’ (i) began on 14 July, but on the following day Montgomery issued a written directive ordering Dempsey to make the operation less ambitious: the operation was now to be a ‘limited attack’ rather than a ‘deep break-out’. Montgomery believed that the Germans would be forced to commit their armoured reserves to check a major British armoured breakthrough, and instructed Dempsey that the 2nds Army was to ‘engage the German armour in battle and “write it down” to such an extent that it is of no further value to the Germans’. Dempsey was nonetheless to take any opportunity offered for the improvement of the 2nd Army’s position, and instructions received by Dempsey’s stated that ‘a victory on the eastern flank will help us to gain what we want on the western flank’, but also not to endanger the 2nd Army’s role as a ‘firm bastion’ on which the success of the forthcoming US ‘Cobra’ offensive would depend. The objectives of the three armoured divisions were amended to encompass the domination of the area encompassing Bourguébus, Vimont and Bretteville sur Laize, although it was intended that ‘armoured cars should push far to the south towards Falaise, [and] spread alarm and despondency’. The VIII Corps’ objective was thus modified from a wide punch to the south in the direction of Falaise to a limited thrust to the south-west of Caen. The objectives for the Canadian II Corps’ ‘Atlantic’ remained unchanged and it was stressed that these were vital, and only following their achievement would the VIII Corps ‘“crack about” as the situation demands’.
The 11th Armoured Division was assigned to lead the advance, screen Cagny on its left and take Bras, Hubert Folie, Verrières and Fontenay le Marmion. Its 29th Armoured Brigade was to bypass most of the German-held villages in its area, leaving them to be taken by follow-up waves, and its 159th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier J. B. Churcher, was initially to act independently and take Cuverville and Démouville. The Guards Armoured Division, advancing behind the 11th Armoured Division, was to capture Cagny and Vimont. Starting last, the 7th Armoured Division was to move to the south into the area beyond the Garcelles–Secqueville ridge. The armoured divisions were to advance father only on Dempsey’s order.
The Canadian II Corps’ detailed orders were issued a day later. The corps was to first liberate Colombelles and the remaining portion of Caen and then be ready to move on the strongly held Verrières ridge. If the German front collapsed a deeper advance would be considered.
But the plan possessed several major flaws. Firstly, even before reaching their start line, each armoured division had to cross two water obstacles and a minefield: the Orne river and the Caen Canal ran parallel with the British front, directly in front of the armoured divisions, and there were only six small bridges for the movement of more than 8,000 vehicles, including tanks, artillery, mechanised infantry, engineer, and support vehicles such as ammunition and fuel supply vehicles, medical units, etc, and a traffic control problem was inevitable. Dempsey’s proposed solution was tactically unsound: he directed O’Connor to give priority to the tanks, leaving behind everything else until all the armour had crossed. Thus the British combined arms teaming was broken even before the Germans had fired a shot. Having crossed the bridges, the British vehicles then had to cross a British anti-tank and anti-personnel minefield, which had been laid only days before by Major General D. C. Bullen-Smith’s 51st Division. This obstacle could have been overcome by strong engineer support before the battle. But the Germans had the minefield under observation from the steelworks in Caen, so a major mineclearing operation would have alerted them to the imminence of the attack. In the event, several gaps, each only one tank wide, were cleared in the minefield at night, even though it was appreciated that this would further constrain the movement of vehicles.
Secondly, the issue of tactical surprise was mishandled. It was believed that moving the armoured units to their attack positions too early, or clearing lanes through the minefield too soon, would serve only to alert the Germans to the attack, but with hindsight it is can be seen that the armour moved too late: the hundreds of tanks were slowed to a snail’s pace by the bottleneck of the bridges and minefield. Again, to preserve surprise, artillery units were not moved forward to support the attack. However, ‘Ultra’ decrypts of German signals, as well as the 2nd Army’s own intelligence estimates, revealed that by 15 July the Germans were well aware of the time and place of the attack and were reinforcing their defence. At this point, since tactical surprise had been lost, the minefields could have been more thoroughly cleared and units moved up into attack positions without adverse consequences, but this was not done.
Thirdly, the 11th Armoured Division was allocated too many tasks. Although it was the offensive’s lead formation, the division was also given the mission of clearing the front-line villages of Cuverville and Demouville, whereas the standard tactic in virtually every army of 1944 would have been for the lead formation to bypass these villages and leave them to the attentions of following formations. Instead, while the division’s tank units attacked Bourguébus ridge, the infantry units which should have been supporting them were instead clearing villages. This slowed both attacks and further broke up combined arms integrity.
Fourthly, the planning of the fire support was poor. Artillery units were left to the west of the Orne river, placing the main German defensive position on Bourguébus ridge out of their range, and co-ordination between field artillery and tanks was poor. Fifth and finally, the terrain was poorly chosen. The area was filled with small villages, each of which had a small German garrison of infantry, armour and artillery connected by tunnels. As such, the area was in effect a series of strongpoints overlooking the intended Allied line of advance. The high ground of the Bourguébus ridge, with numerous dug-in German heavy weapons, overlooked a clear field of fire into the path of the intended advance. These problems were apparent, or should have been, in the operation’s planning stage.
The 2nd Army’s intelligence branch had established a good estimate of the opposition likely to be encountered in ‘Goodwood’ (i), although the positions held by General Heinrich Eberbach’s Panzergruppe ‘West’ beyond the first line of villages had to be inferred, mainly from inconclusive air reconnaissance. The German defensive line was believed to be based on a pair of belts up to 4 miles (6.4 km) deep. Aware that the Germans were expecting a substantial attack out of the Orne river bridgehead, the British initially anticipated meeting resistance from Generalmajor Karl Sievers’s 16th Felddivision (L) of General Hans von Obstfelder’s LXXXVI Corps bolstered by the 25th SS Panzergrenadierregiment of SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Kurt Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’ of SS-Obergruppenführer under General der Waffen-SS Josef Dietrich’s I SS Panzerkorps. Signals intelligence confirmed that the 12th SS Panzerdivision had been moved into reserve, and although it was slow to discover that the 25th SS Panzergrenadierregiment was not in fact with the 16th Felddivision (L), having also been placed into reserve, this erroneous assumption had been corrected before 18 July. Kampfgruppen of the LXXXVI Corps’s 21st Panzerdivision, with about 50 PzKpfw IV battle tanks and 34 assault guns, were expected near the Route Nationale 13. SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Theodor Wisch’s 1st SS Panzerdivision ‘Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’ was identified in reserve with an estimated 40 PzKpfw V Panther and 60 PzKpfw IV tanks, and the presence of two heavy tank battalions (101st schwere Panzerabteilung and 503rd schwere Panzerabteilung) equipped with PzKpfw VI Tiger tanks was established. The German armoured strength was estimated at 230 tanks, and the artillery strength at 300 field and anti-tank guns. The 2nd Army believed that 90 guns were in the centre of the battle zone, 40 on the flanks and 20 defending the railway line linking Caen and Vimont. The British had also established the existence of the German gun line on the Bourguébus ridge, but did not know its strength and gun positions.
To mask the operational objectives, the 2nd Army undertook a deception plan which included diversionary attacks by Lieutenant General N. M. Ritchie’s British XII Corps to the west and Bucknall’s British XXX Corps still farther to the west.
The three armoured divisions moved to their staging positions to the south of the Orne river only at night and in radio silence, artillery fire being used to drown the noise of the tanks’ engines. During the day all efforts were made to camouflage the new positions.
For artillery support, ‘Goodwood’ (i) was allocated 760 pieces of artillery with 297,600 rounds of ammunition: the guns comprised 456 pieces of 19 field regiments, 208 pieces of 13 medium regiments, 48 pieces of three heavy regiments, and 48 anti-aircraft guns of two heavy anti-aircraft regiments. This artillery strength was provided by the I, VIII, XII Corps and Canadian II Corps as well as the 2nd Canadian Army Group Royal Artillery and 4th Army Group Royal Artillery. Each field, medium and heavy piece of artillery was allocated 500, 300 and 150 rounds respectively. Before the assault, this artillery strength was to attempt to suppress German anti-tank and field artillery positions, and during the assault would provide the 11th Armoured Division with a rolling barrage and anti-aircraft defence. They would also support the attacks of the 3rd Division and Infantry and Major General C. Foulkes’s Canadian 2nd Divisions, and engage targets as requested. Additional gunfire support would be provided by the Royal Navy in the form of the monitor Erebus with two 15-in (381-mm) guns and the light cruisers Enterprise and Mauritius with seven and 12 6-in (152-mm) guns respectively, whose targets were the German gun batteries located near the coast in the region of Cabourg and Franceville.
To supplement the preliminary artillery bombardment, 2,077 Allied bombers (1,056 heavy bombers of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command, 539 heavy bombers of Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle’s US 8th AAF and 482 medium bombers of Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton’s US 9th AAF) were to attack in three waves in the largest air raid launched in direct support of ground forces in the campaign so far. Speed was an essential of the ‘Goodwood’ (i) plan, and it was hoped that the concentrated bombing would open the way for the 11th Armoured Division to achieve the rapid seizure of the Bourguébus ridge. Dempsey believed the success of the operation required the armour to be on the ridge by the afternoon of the offensive’s first day, and therefore cancelled a second attack by heavy bombers scheduled for that time. Although this was to have been in direct support of the advance toward the ridge, he was concerned that the 11th Armoured Division should not be delayed waiting for the attack. Close air support was to be provided by Air Vice Marshal H. Broadhurst’s No. 83 Group of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham’s 2nd Tactical Air Force, which was tasked with the neutralisation of German positions on the flanks of the VIII Corps’ planned advance, the destruction of strongpoints such as the village of Cagny, and German gun and reserve positions, as well as the interdiction of German troop movements. Each of the VIII Corps’ brigade headquarters was allocated a forward air control post to enhance the capability and speed of response by the air units.
Between 13 and 16 July, the engineering resources of the 2nd Army, the I and VIII Corps, and the divisions worked to build six roads, from west of the Orne river to the start lines to the east of the river and the Caen Canal. I Corps’ engineers strengthened existing bridges and built two new sets of bridges across the Orne river and the Caen Canal. The engineers were also to construct another two sets of bridges by the end of the first day. The Canadian II Corps planned to build as many as three bridges across the Orne river as quickly as possible to give the I and VIII Corps exclusive access to the river and the canal bridges in the area to the north of Caen. The 51st Division’s engineers, with a small detachment from the 3rd Division, were ordered to breach the German minefield in front of the 51st Division, and this was largely accomplished during the night of 16/17 July, when the engineers cleared and marked 14 gaps. By the morning of 18 July, 19 gaps, 40 ft (12.2 m) wide, had been completed: each allowed one armoured regiment to pass through at a time.
The infantry of the 11th Armoured Division’s 159th Brigade, with the divisional and 29th Armoured Brigade headquarters, crossed into the Orne river bridgehead during the night of 16/17 July, with the rest of the division following during the following night. The Guards Armoured Division and 7th Armoured Division were held to the west of the river until the operation began. As the final elements of the 11th Armoured Division moved into position and the VIII Corps headquarters took up residence in Bény sur Mer, more gaps in the minefields were blown, the forward areas were signposted, and the routes to be taken were marked with white tape.
On the other side of the front line, the Germans considered the area of Caen to be the heart of their position in Normandy, and were therefore determined to maintain a defensive arc from the coast of the English Channel to the western bank of the Orne river. On 15 July, German military intelligence warned Panzergruppe ‘West’ that from 17 July a British attack out of the Orne river bridgehead was probable, and that the British would push to the south-east in the direction of Paris. Eberbach created a basic defensive plan whose details were then worked out by his two corps and six divisional commanders. A belt of at least 10 miles (16 km) depth was constructed, organised into four defence lines. Villages within the belt were fortified and anti-tank guns placed along this belt’s southern and eastern edges. To allow armoured vehicles to move freely within the belt, the Germans decided to lay no anti-tank minefields between each defensive line.
On 16 July the Germans managed to fly several reconnaissance flights toward the British front, but most of these were driven off by anti-aircraft fire. However, after the fall of night, camera-equipped aircraft managed to bring back flare-illuminated photographs revealing a one-way flow of traffic over the Orne river into the British bridgehead.
Strongly reinforced with additional artillery, von Obstfelder’s LXXXVI Corps held the German front. Generalmajor Erich Straube’s 346th Division was dug in from the coast to the area to the north of Touffréville, and the depleted 16th Felddivision (L) held the next sector from Touffréville to Colombelles. Oberst Hans-Ulrich Freiherr von Luck und Witten’s Kampfgruppe ‘von Luck’, formed round the 125th Panzergrenadierregiment of the 21st Panzerdivision, was located to the rear of these formations with some 30 assault guns. The armoured elements of the 21st Panzerdivision, reinforced by the 503rd schwere Panzerabteilung including 10 PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tanks, were to the north-east of Cagny in a position to support the Kampfgruppe ‘von Luck’ and to act as a general reserve, and the rest of the division’s Panzergrenadier strength, together with assault guns and towed anti-tank guns, was dug in among the villages of the Caen plain.
The reconnaissance and pioneer battalions of Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision were positioned on the Bourguébus ridge to protect the corps artillery, which consisted of some 48 medium and field together with an equal number of Nebelwerfer rocket-launchers. The LXXXVI Corps had 194 pieces of artillery, 272 Nebelwerfer rocket-launchers and 78 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-role anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. One battery of four 88-mm (3.465-in) guns from the 2nd Flaksturmregiment was positioned in Cagny, while in the villages along the Bourguébus ridge there was a screen of 44 88-mm (3.465-in) guns of the 200th Panzerabwehrabteilung. Most of the LXXXVI Corps’ artillery was beyond the ridge to cover the road linking Caen and Falaise road.
Facing Caen, in the area to the west of the road linking Caen and Falaise, was Dietrich’s I SS Panzerkorps. On 14 July, elements of its 272nd Division, under the command of Generalmajor Friedrich Schack, took over the defence of Vaucelles from Wisch’s 1st SS Panzerdivision, which pulled back into local reserve between the village of Ifs and the eastern bank of the Orne river. On the following day Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision was placed in Oberkommando der Wehrmacht reserve to rest and refit and, on Adolf Hitler’s specific instructions, to be in a position to meet a possible (in many German mins probable) Allied second landing between the mouths of the Orne and Seine rivers. The 12th SS Panzerdivision’s 12th Panzerartillerieregiment and 12th SS Flakbataillon were detached to support the 272nd Division, and two Kampfgruppen were detached from the division. SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans Waldmüller’s Kampfgruppe ‘Waldmüller’ was moved close to Falaise and SS-Standartenführer Max Wünsche’s Kampfgruppe ‘Wünsche’ to Lisieux, 25 miles (40 km) to the east of Caen. Although the Kampfgruppe ‘Waldmüller’ was later ordered to rejoin the rest of the division at Lisieux, on 17 July Eberbach halted this move.
Shortly after the capture of the northern part of Caen in ‘Charnwood’, the British mounted an unsuccessful raid against the Colombelles steelworks complex to the north-east of the city. The factory area remained in German hands, its tall chimneys providing observation posts overlooking the Orne river bridgehead. At 01.00 on 11 July, elements of Brigadier H. Murray’s 153rd Brigade of the 51st Division, supported by Sherman medium tanks of the 148th Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, moved against the German position. The intention was to secure the area, for men of the Royal Engineers to destroy the chimneys, and then pull back. At 05.00, the British force was ambushed by Tiger tanks and, after the loss of nine tanks, forced to withdraw.
The 2nd Army launched two preliminary operations which, according to Montgomery, were to ‘engage the enemy in battle unceasingly; we must “write off” his troops; and generally we must kill Germans’.
‘Greenline’ was launched by Ritchie’s XII Corps during the evening of 15 July, with Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s 15th Infantry Division reinforced by a brigade of Major General R. K. Ross’s 53rd Division, Clarke’s 34th Army Tank Brigade, Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division and Ross’s 53rd Division less the brigade strengthening the 15th Division. ‘Greenline’ was intended to convince the German command that the main British assault would be launched in the area to the west of the Orne river, through the positions held by XII Corps, and to tie down SS-Brigadeführer Sylvester Stadler’s 9th SS Panzerdivision ‘Hohenstaufen’ and SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Roestel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision ‘Frundsberg’ of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps so that they could oppose neither ‘Goodwood’ (i) nor ‘Cobra’.
The British attack made use of ‘artificial moonlight’ (the beams of searchlights reflected from the underside of clouds) and started well despite disruption caused by German artillery fire. By the break of day the XII Corps had captured several of its objectives including the important Hill 113, although the much-contested Hill 112 remained in German hands. By committing the 9th SS Panzerdivision, the Germans managed by the end of the day to restore most of their line, although a counterattack against Hill 113 failed. Attacks on the following day by the XII Corps gained no more ground, and during the evening of 17 July the operation was terminated and the British force on Hill 113 withdrawn.
In ‘Pomegranate’, which began on 16 July, Bucknall’s XXX Corps was to capture several important villages. On the first day the British infantry seized a key objective and took 300 prisoners, but on the following day there was much inconclusive fighting on the outskirts of Noyers Bocage and elements of the 9th SS Panzerdivision were committed to the defence of the village. Although the British took control of the railway station and an area of high ground outside the village, Noyers Bocage itself remained in German hands.
These preliminary operations cost the 2nd Army some 3,500 casualties for no significant territorial gains, but ‘Greenline’ and ‘Pomegranate’ were nonetheless successful in attaining their objects. Reacting to the threats in the Odon river valley, the Germans retained Generalleutnant Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz’s 2nd Panzerdivision of General Hans Freiherr von Funck’s XLVII Panzerkorps and Roestel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision in the front line and recalled Stadler’s 9th SS Panzerdivision from corps reserve. The Germans suffered some 2,000 casualties.
During the late afternoon of 17 July, a patrolling Supermarine Spitfire fighter spotted a German staff car on the road near the village of Ste Foy de Montgommery and in a strafing attack drove the car off the road. Among its occupants was the commander of Heeresgruppe ‘B’, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, who was seriously wounded. The army group was left temporarily leaderless.
Shortly before dawn on 18 July, the Highland Scottish infantrymen of the 51st Division in the south of the Orne river bridgehead, quietly withdrew some 900 yards (825 m) from the front line. At 05.45, 1,056 Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command approached at an altitude of 3,000 ft (915 m) and dropped 4,800 tons of HE bombs around Colombelles and its steelworks, and on the positions of the 21st Panzerdivision and the village of Cagny, reducing half of the latter to rubble. At 06.40 the British artillery opened fire and 20 minutes later, a second wave of bombers arrived. From altitudes between 10,000 and 13,000 ft (3050 and 3960 m), Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers of the 9th AAF released 563 long tons of fragmentation bombs on the 16th Felddivision (L), even as fighter-bombers attacked German strongpoints and artillery positions. During the 45-minute bombardment, the armour and infantry of the 11th Armoured Division moved out of their concentration areas towards the start line. H-hour was set for 07.45, and at this moment the artillery switched to a rolling barrage, which moved ahead of the 11th Armoured Division’s advance. As the division moved off, more artillery regiments opened fire on Cuverville, Demouville, Giberville, Liberville, Cagny and Emiéville, and also dropped harassing fire on targets as far to the south as Garcelles Secqueville and Secqueville la Campagne. Some 15 minutes later, US heavy bombers dropped 1,340 tons of fragmentation bombs in the Troarn area and on the main German gun line on the Bourguébus ridge. The three waves of bombers lost only 25 aircraft, all of them to German Flak. Air support of the operation proper then became the responsibility of 800 British fighter-bombers of Broadhurst’s No. 83 Group and and Air Vice Marshal L. O. Brown’s No. 84 Group.
The bombing knocked the 22nd Panzerregiment and the III/503rd schwere Panzerabteilung temporarily out of action, causing varying degrees of damage to their tanks. Some were overturned, some were destroyed and 20 were later found abandoned in bomb craters. Most of the German front-line positions had been neutralised, their survivors left in a shocked state of incoherence. Dust and smoke had impaired the ability of the bomber crews to identify some of their targets and others on the edges of the bombing zones had remained untouched. Cagny and Emiéville were extensively bombed, but most of their defenders were unscathed and recovered in time to meet the British advance: both of these places possessed clear lines of fire on the route the British were to take. The 503rd schwere Panzerabteilung pulled itself together rapidly and immediately set to work to gig out its tanks. On the Bourguébus ridge, a number of pieces of artillery were destroyed by the bombing, but most of the artillery and anti-tank guns remained intact.
By 08.05, the leading British tank regiments, the 2/Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and the 3/Royal Tank Regiment of Brigadier C. B. C. Harvey’s 29th Armoured Brigade, had found their way through the minefields and reached the road and railway linking Caen and Troarn. The first phase of the rolling barrage ended at 08.30, by which time large numbers of prisoners from the 16th Felddivision (L) had been taken. By the time the artillery began to fire once again at 08.50, only the first armoured regiment and a portion of the second had crossed the line. Although the German opposition was still very limited and more prisoners were taken, the two regiments struggled to keep up with the barrage and were moving out of supporting range of their reserves.The barrage lifted on schedule at 09.00, and 35 minutes later the leading tank squadrons reached the railway line and road linking Caen and Vimont. In reserve, the 23rd Hussars had managed to clear the first railway line only to became embroiled in a 90-minute engagement with a battery of the 200th Sturmgeschützabteilung’s assault mistaken for Tiger heavy tanks.
As the 2/Fife and Forfar Yeomanry advanced past Cagny, it came under anti-tank fire from the east, this fire including 88-mm (3.565-in) projectiles from the dual-role weapons in Cagny, and within just a few minutes at least 12 tanks had been disabled. The yeomanry battalion pressed on to the south and was engaged by the main German gun line on the ridge, while the 3/Royal Tank Regiment, shifted to the west, exchanged fire with the German garrison in Grentheville before moving around the village and advancing along the southern outskirts of Caen in the direction of Bras and Hubert Folie on the northern edge of the Bourguébus ridge. What had been conceived as an attack towards the Bourguébus ridge by three armoured divisions had by now became an unsupported advance by two tank regiments, each out of sight of the other, against heavy German fire. By 11.15 the leading British tanks reached the ridge and the villages of Bras and Bourguébus. Some losses were inflicted on the German armour, but attempts to advance farther were met by strong opposition, including fire from the rear from pockets of resistance which had been bypassed.
Eberbach ordered a major counterattack not just to check the British but to drive them right back. The 1st SS Panzerdivision was to attack to the east across the ridge, while in the Cagny area to the east the 21st Panzerdivision was to regain all the ground which had been lost. German tanks started to arrive on the ridge at about 12.00, and the British tank crews were soon reporting German tanks and guns everywhere. Hawker Typhoon ground-attack warplanes used their rockets against targets on the ridge throughout the afternoon, delaying the counterattack of the 1st SS Panzerdivision and eventually breaking it. A final attempt to storm the ridge resulted in the loss of 16 British tanks, and a small counter-attack during the afternoon was driven back with the destruction of six Panther battle tanks.
Just before 10.00, the Guards Armoured Division had come up with the 11th Armoured Division and pressed forward in the direction of Cagny. By 12.00 the leading elements were halted by severe fighting. A counterattack on the 2 (Armoured)/ Grenadier Guards, by 19 tanks of the 21st Panzerdivision and the Tiger tanks of the 503rd schwere Panzerabteilung failed after the German armour came under fire from their own guns and two Tiger heavy tanks were knocked out. One isolated Tiger II tank attempting to manoeuvre out of danger, was caught by a Sherman tank of the 2 (Armoured)/Irish Guards which had also become detached from its unit. The Sherman crew fired into the Tiger and then rammed it. Anti-tank fire from other British units then penetrated the Tiger’s armour. Both crews abandoned their vehicles, and most of the German crew was captured. The 503rd schwere Panzerabteilung later attacked the 1 (Armoured)/Coldstream Guards but was forced to withdraw by massed anti-tank fire. It took the Guards Armoured Division the rest of the day to capture Cagny, which was found to have been abandoned when infantry entered the village. Attempts to renew the advance were met by fierce German resistance.
Starting last, the only element of the 7th Armoured Division to enter the battle was the 5/Royal Tank Regiment. At 17.00, near Cuverville, it knocked out two PzKpfw IV tanks for the loss of four of its own tanks, and then cleared Grentheville, which had been bypassed earlier in the day by the 3/Royal Tank Regiment, and took a number of prisoners. A German counterattack by six tanks faded after each side had lost two tanks.
The 11th Armoured Division pulled back to the railway line linking Caen and Vimont for the evening, and replacement tanks were brought forward for all divisions, with priority allocated to the 11th Armoured Division. German recovery teams went forward to recover and repair as many of their tanks as possible, as few replacements were available.
Unnoticed by the British, during the fighting a gap had appeared in the German line between Emiéville and Troarn. This was closed during the night by the arrival of the 12th SS Panzerdivision, which had lost 10 tanks to air attack as it moved forward. Several minor German counterattacks were launched from the ridge: one at dusk was broken up by British artillery and anti-tank fire, which destroyed one Panther and one Tiger; and another, after the fall of night and led by a captured Sherman, was repulsed after the Sherman and two Panther tanks had been knocked out by a British anti-tank battery. During the night German bombers dropped flares over the Orne river bridges, which were then attacked from the air: one bridge was slightly damaged and the headquarters of the 11th Armoured Division was hit, as were some tank crews who had survived the fighting.
In the fighting around Cagny, the Guards Armoured Division lost 15 tanks destroyed and 45 others damaged. The 11th Armoured Division lost 126 tanks, although only 40 of these were irrecoverable as the rest were damaged or had broken down. The armoured divisions suffered 521 casualties during the day.
On the eastern flank, the 3rd Division had a successful day, capturing all of its objectives except Troarn.
On the Canadian front to the west of Caen, ‘Atlantic’ began at 08.15 with a rolling barrage, and the infantry and their supporting armour crossed their start line 20 minutes later. At 08.40, British infantry of Churcher’s 159th Brigade to the east of Caen entered Cuverville: the village and the area round it had been secured by 10.30, but patrols found Demouville, to the south of Cuverville, firmly held, and attempts to capture this second objective were delayed while the infantry reorganised. The rest of the day saw a slow advance to the south as numerous German positions were cleared. Linking with their armoured support by the fall of night, the infantry dug in around Le Mesnil Frémentel.
The German armoured counterattack which had started late in the afternoon continued along the high ground and around Hubert-Folie on 19 July and 20 July, bringing the British offensive to a halt. On 21 July, Dempsey started to secure his gains by replacing the armour with infantry.
At the tactical level, the Germans had contained the British offensive, holding many of their main positions and preventing an Allied breakthrough, but they had been shocked by the weight of the attack and the aerial bombardment which preceded it. It was clear that any Allied attack of this type could punch through any defensive system less than 5 miles (8 km) deep, and the Germans could afford to man their defences in such depth only in the sector south of Caen. In ‘Goodwood’ (i) the British extended their control over an area 7 miles (11 km) deeper to the east of Caen, and had taken the rest of Caen. ‘Goodwood’ yielded some terrain gain as the bridgehead over the Orne river was expanded, and in a few areas the depth of penetration was 12,000 yards (10975 m), but much of the gain was lateral, southward across the British front rather than eastward into the depth of the German position. By the end of the operation on 20 July the 7th Armoured Division and Guards Armoured Division had moved on to the left of the 11th Armoured Division, pushing back the 1st SS Panzerdivision and 12th SS Panzerdivision. Crocker’s British I Corps and Simmonds’s Canadian II Corps had also advanced on the flanks of the VIII Corps. On the left of the Anglo-Canadian assault the I Corps had pushed its 3rd Division and 51st Division forward into the positions of the 16th Felddivision (L) and 21st Panzerdivision, and on the right the II Corps had used its 2nd Division and Foulkes’s 3rd Division to take Caen and push forward on the flank of the VIII Corps through the defences of the Schack’s 272nd Division and the 1st SS Panzerdivision.
The loss of German men and matériel could not be made up, so ‘Goodwood’ was thus one more nail in the coffin that was the German position in France. The lost British tanks were easily replaced, and crew losses were not severe. The British offensive reinforced in the Germans the view that their greatest danger was on the eastern flank rather than the south or the western flank. The Allied intent to pin down the main German armoured strength had succeeded and, as German reinforcements arrived in Normandy, they were drawn into defensive battles in the east and worn down. The Germans continued to maintain their highest-quality mechanised units in the British sector, away from the 1st Army in the west, and indeed started to move SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Heinz Lammerding’s (from 24 July SS-Standartenführer Christian Tychensen’s) 2nd SS Panzerdivision ‘Das Reich’ to the east from the area of St Lô. However, the Germans really had no choice. In the face of Allied air power, even if they had intended to move most of their armour to the US sector of the front, they could not have intervened in time to affect ‘Cobra’. Also, had the Germans weakened the British front to face the Americans, the 2nd Army front might have broken through as planned. Combined with the Germans’ belief, fostered by ‘Fortitude’, that the Allies were planning to launch a second strategic landing in north-eastern France, in the area of Calais, they never seriously considered moving their armour to the west.
By the end of July the German defence of Normandy was close to collapse. Only 1.5 Panzer divisions were at the western end of the Normandy front by comparison with 6.5 facing the eastern end of the Allied lodgement. In the west, once ‘Cobra’ breached the thin German defensive position, little more than a crust, there were few German mechanised formations and units to attempt a counterattack. ‘Goodwood’ (i) inflicted substantial losses on the Germans, but not a shattering matériel blow. The effect on the morale of the German commanders was greater, and exacerbated the effects of the loss of Rommel, major air attacks on Kiel and Stuttgart, and the repercussions of the ‘Bomb Plot’. Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge lost his early optimism on being appointed, on 5 July, as the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’ to replace Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, and on 21 July wrote to Hitler predicting an imminent collapse.
‘Goodwood’ (i) had been launched at a time of great frustration in the higher echelons of the Allied command, and this contributed to the controversy surrounding the operation. The Allied lodgement in Normandy was not been expanded at the rate the high command had expected and wanted, for the lodgement was only about 20% of the planned size. This had led to congestion and fears of a stalemate. Allied commanders had been unable to exploit their potentially decisive advantages in mobility during June and early part of July 1944.
Much of the controversy surrounding the objectives of the battle derive from the conflicting messages given by Montgomery. He talked up the objectives of ‘Goodwood’ (i) to the press on the first day, later saying that this was deliberate, to encourage the Germans to commit their forces at the eastern end of the battlefield. Yet during the planning stage of ‘Goodwood’ (i), Montgomery had appeared to promise that the offensive would be a breakthrough, and when the VIII Corps failed to break out, by some accounts the supreme commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, felt that he had been misled. While his intermittent communications to his superior appeared to promise a breakthrough, Montgomery was writing orders to his subordinates for a limited attack. Copies of orders forwarded to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) called for an armoured division to take Falaise, a town far in the German rear, but three days before the start of the offensive, Montgomery revised the orders, in the process eliminating Falaise as an objective, but did not send copies of the revised scheme to SHAEF. Eisenhower was furious at the result, which dogged Montgomery as it allowed his many high command opponents, especially Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, the Allied deputy supreme commander, to imply that the operation was a failure.
There are great disagreements about the precise number of the British and Canadian casualties in ‘Goodwood’ (i) and its ancillary operations, but it would be reasonable to estimate these as something in the order of 5,500 men. On the other side of the front, the Germans lost about 2,000 men taken prisoner and about 100 tanks destroyed.
The British tank losses during ‘Goodwood’ (i) have also been the subject of considerable debate, with tank losses reported as anything between 300 and 500, excluding about 20 tanks lost in the flanking operations. It is probably that tank losses were in the order of 400, but that many of these were recovered, repaired and placed back in service.