Operation Jupiter (ii)

'Jupiter' (ii) was a British offensive by Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army to take and then break out of the small bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Odon river before seizing and holding Hill 112, a prominent height to the north-east of Esquay, in Normandy (10/11 July 1944).

The object of undertaking was for Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division to take the villages of Baron sur Odon, Fontaine Etoupefour and Château de Fontaine, and to recapture Hill 112. An attached brigade of Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s 15th Division was also involved, and was to take Eterville, Maltot and the ground as far as the Orne river before the armour of Brigadier H. M. P. Carver’s the 4th Armoured Brigade, supported by infantry, advances across the captured ground to take and secure several villages to the west of the Orne river. It was hoped that the initial objectives would be captured by 09.00, after which the 4th Armoured Brigade begin its exploitation.

Initially, the British advance went well, but the fighter for Hill 112 all day and Maltot changed hands several times. On 11 July, counterattacks by SS-Brigadeführer Sylvester Stadler’s 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen', SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg' and SS-Obersturmbannführer Klein’s 102nd schwere SS Panzerabteilung during the afternoon, forced the British off the top of Hill 112 to positions on the north-facing slope. The operation was a tactical failure for the VIII Corps but nonetheless an operational success for the Allies as attrition had reduced SS-Obergruppenführer Willi Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps of General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg’s Panzergruppe 'West' to a condition from which it never recovered. British operations within this 2nd Battle of the Odon conducted in the Odon valley continued in July and Major General R. K. Ross’s 53rd Division occupied Hill 112 almost unopposed on 4 August after the Germans had withdrawn during 'Cobra' and 'Bluecoat' farther to the west.

The first battle for Hill 112 had been fought at the end of 'Epsom', when the amour of the 11th Armoured Division had broken out of the bridgehead established by the 2/Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, part of Brigadier J. R. Mackintosh-Walker’s 227th Brigade of the 15th Division, at Tourmauville. Hill 112 was an intermediate objective on the way to the Orne river crossings but the German reaction was so severe that the 23rd Hussars were able to capture and hold the hill only with difficulty. At the end of a narrow salient, Hill 112 was held by the infantry of the 8/Rifle Brigade, where it held under shell and mortar fire until 'Ultra' intelligence revealed that the II SS Panzerkorps was arriving. Before the German reinforcements could attack, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Allied 21st Army Group, ordered a withdrawal as he planned to hold the Panzer divisions (believed to total seven), on the British and Canadian front while Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 1st Army continued in its offensive to take Cherbourg and to break out of the lodgement. The US objective was feasible, because the 1st Army was faced by the equivalent of only 1.5 Panzer divisions, despite German attempts to disengage Panzer units from the eastern side of the lodgement.

'Charnwood' followed on 8/9 July with the object of taking Caen and of preventing the German movement of armoured units from the Anglo/Canadian front in the east to the US sector in the west. Three infantry divisions supported by three armoured brigades attacked behind a creeping barrage and made gradual progress against SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer’s 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' and Generalmajor Karl Sievers’s 16th Felddivision (L). By the end of the day Major General R. F. L. Keller’s Canadian 3rd Division, Major General L. G. Whistler’s British 3rd Division and Major General L. O. Lyne’s British 59th Division had reached Caen. At dawn, the attackers met the rearguards of German units retreating across the Orne river. Carpiquet airfield had fallen to the Canadians during the morning and by 18.00 the British and Canadian divisions had secured the north bank of the Orne river. With the remaining bridges fortified or impassable and with German reserves in the vicinity, Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s British I Corps ended the operation. 'Charnwood' had been costly for each side, but was a tactical success for the Allies as the Germans had been driven from the area to the north of the Orne river, although they had managed to establish a defensive line to the south of the city and continued to transfer formations to the US front.

The object of 'Jupiter' (ii) was the seizure of the bridges across the Orne river near Feuguerolles in order to create a bridgehead for the 2nd Army to attack over the open ground to Bretteville sur Laize and Falaise. The 43rd Division, which had arrived in Normandy in time to play a supporting role in 'Epsom', was to capture the spur running eastward from Hill 112 to the confluence of the Odon and Orne rivers. Brigadier G. H. L. Mole’s 129th Brigade was to take the top of the hill and establish observation posts as Brigadier N. D. Leslie’s 130th Brigade took the lower ground lying to the south-east of Hill 112. These two infantry brigades were to be supported by Churchill tanks of Brigadier G. S. Knight’s 31st Tank Brigade and Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower tanks of the 141st Regiment Royal Armoured Corps provided by Major General Sir Percy Hobart’s 79th Armoured Division. Brigadier R. M. P. Carver’s 4th Armoured Brigade, accompanied by Brigadier H. Essame’s 214th Brigade in Kangaroo troop-carrying tank conversions, was to exploit success by establishing a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Orne river. Brigadier C. M. Barber’s 46th Brigade of the 15th Division was placed under command of the 43rd Division to capture Verson and Eterville as well as the land between the confluence of the Odon and Orne river. The 46th Brigade was then to advance on each side of the Odon river to the Orne river as a flank guard as the 129th Brigade guarded the British right flank on Hill 112.

The assault brigades were to be supported by the divisional artilleries of the 43rd Division, 11th Armoured Division, 15th Division and 53rd Division, and the medium and heavy guns of the 3rd Army Group Royal Artillery (AGRA), 8th AGRA and part of the 5th AGRA of the XXX Corps to the west. Some 13 field regiments, 10 medium regiments and 2.5 heavy regiments were to participate with 312 25-pdr field guns, 160 4.5- and 5.5-in (114- and 130-mm) medium guns, and 24 155-mm (6.1§-in) and 16 7.2-in (183-mm) heavy guns. The battleship Rodney with nine 16-in (406-mm) guns, monitor Roberts with two 15-in (381-mm) guns and light cruiser Belfast with 12 6-in (152-mm), operating in the Bay of the Seine, were also to contribute their firepower. The army artillery amounted to 512 pieces and the navy contribution was 23 medium and super-heavy guns. The 4.2-in (107-mm) heavy mortars of the 8/Middlesex and the 3-in (76-mm) mortars of the infantry were to participate and Hawker Typhoon Fighter-bombers were to operate over the German-occupied roads leading to the area.

Hill 112 was held by the 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg' with the 21st SS-Panzergrenadierregiment on the hill, the 22nd SS-Panzergrenadierregiment between the hill and the Orne river and the 10th SS-Panzerregiment in reserve with the PzKpfw VI Tiger tanks of the 102nd schwere SS-Panzerabteilung. The German defences comprised a line of outposts down the northern slope of Hill 112 and a main line of resistance along the road linking Caen and Evrecy. A second line extended from Feuguerolles to the west from the Orne river to Bully, Avenay and Evrecy, and another outpost line ran through St Martin; another main line of resistance extended from Bully to Evrecy via Amayé sur Orne. The Orne river crossings were held by the pioneer and reconnaissance battalions, and artillery support was provided by the 10th SS Artillerieregiment and the 8th Werferbrigade.

When the Canadian 3rd Division took Carpiquet on 9 July, the Germans lost their observation capability to the west over the south-eastern slope of Hill 112 but could still observe from positions farther to the east across the Orne river.

'Jupiter' (ii) began from the Odon river bridgehead, which ran from Verson to Baron, after the 214th Brigade had crossed the river during the night of 8/9 July. Following a preliminary bombardment, the first battalions of the 43rd Division reached Eterville and the northern slope of Hill 112 by 08.00 and the advance to Maltot began. The village was entered, but determined German defenders, mortar fire and armoured counterattacks made the British position in the village untenable in the absence of total control of Hill 112. The German defenders on the hill were dug into cornfields, and tanks were hidden in copses. The Germans stopped the British advance along the road between Caen and Evrecy and below the crest on the flanks. In the evening the 5/Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry of the 214th Brigade and the 7/Royal Tank Regiment attacked the hill and reached the hill top and nearby woods, which brought the four brigades of the 43rd Division onto the ridge. To the north of Eterville, units of the Canadian 3rd Division had crossed the Odon river and extended the Allied salient to the east.

German counterattacks began at about 00.00 and reached Eterville on several occasions. On Hill 112, the 5/DCLI was forced back to the road between Caen and Evrecy after all its anti-tanks guns had been destroyed, and the battalion suffered 240 casualties. During the battle, General Heinrich Eberbach, on the staff of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Heersgruppe 'B'. had made the defence of Hill 112 the priority of the II SS Panzerkorps, but the British advance had taken the hill’s northern slope and progressed half-way across the hill’s top. Subjected to naval bombardment, air attack and artillery fire, the German defenders had nonetheless held much of their ground, with the support of the 102nd schwere SS-Panzerabteilung, which had arrived in Normandy only two days earlier.

A British exploitation of a German retirement from Caen after lCharnwoodl had not been possible as the Germans withdrew only as far as the southern bank of the Orne river. The British had attacked up open slopes to reach the top of Hill 112, commanded by entrenched German units and tanks on the reverse slope. Narrow-front attacks were tactically unwise, but lack of troops and the circumstances had combined to make them unavoidable, despite the congestion behind the British front line and the delays this caused in the delivery of reinforcements and supplies. O’Connor, commander of the VIII Corps, had recommended that more account be taken of topography in the selection of objectives and that the occupation of high ground be favoured over attacks on villages. The British and Canadians had used their increasing experience and kept the initiative but the Germans had not withdrawn despite the cost of such defensive operations. The commanding views from Hill 112 were of great tactical importance, but the highest point of the hill was relinquished by the British and left as a no-man’s land with the opponents dug in on each side.

Several villages in the vicinity had been taken, although the British were pushed out of Eterville, and the Germans had been provoked into counterattacking British penetrations. The 9th SS Panzerdivision, which had been moving out of the line to form an operational reserve, had been brought back to contain the attack, and the Germans were exposed to Allied naval and ground artillery fire as well as attack from the air, and these combined to inflict severe casualties on the Germans and deprived their defence of the ability to conduct a counter-offensive. Tank-against-tank engagements continued at ranges of fewer than 1,000 yards (915 m), at which the 150-mm (5.9 in) frontal armour of the Churchill tanks could not resist hand-held hollow-charge weapons or the high-velocity projectiles of the German 75- and 88-mm (2.95- and 3.465-in) anti-tank guns. The medium-velocity projectiles fired by the 75-mm (2.95-in) of British tanks could not penetrate the frontal armour of the PzKpfw V Panther battle tank or the armour of the Tiger heavy tank from any direction.

The 43rd Division suffered 2,000 casualties in the operation and 7,000 casualties in the period between 10 and 22 July. The 31st Tank Brigade lost 39 tanks, some 25% of its establishment.

The 9th SS Panzerdivision suffered 746 casualties between 2 and 18 July, and its 9 July total of 19 operational PzKpfw IV battle tanks, 50 Panther battle tanks and 25 StuG III assault guns had by 10 July become 20 PzKpfw IV, 50 Panther and 27 StuG III on 10 July, and by 12 July 13 PzKpfw IV, 35 Panther and 12 StuG III vehicles.

The 10th SS Panzerdivision lost 403 men killed, 1,263 wounded and 470 missing in July; had 27 PzKpfw IV and 25 StuG III vehicles operational on 9 July, and 17 PzKpfw IV and eight StuG III vehicles on 12 July. The 102nd schwere SS Panzerabteilung had 25 operational Tiger tanks when it first went into action on 9 July, 14 on 11 July and 10 on 12 July.

At dusk on 11 July, the 4/Somerset Light Infantry of the 129th Brigade made a silent attack on the crest of Hill 112. D Company attacked in the centre to re-occupy the orchard with A Company on the right and C Company on the left. A Company crossed the road between Caen and Evrecy and tried to dig in, but found the ground too hard for their tools, and the Germans were then alerted by British machine gun fire. D Company got to the edge of 'Cornwall Wood' where they received machine gun fire, much of which ricochetted from derelict tanks, and one of its platoons strayed to the right and disappeared. Men of the 19th SS Panzergrenadierregiment discovered the advance and managed to repulse the British, then found that their compatriots on the other side of the orchard had pulled back. Constant artillery, mortar and machine gun fire swept the top of Hill 112 and made it untenable for each side, and positions below the crest, where troops could assemble for an attack, were frequently bombarded. Small parties of the 5/DCLI remained in the orchard, not having heard of the retirement and after four days, a group which sent four German prisoners down the hill was ordered back.

In the XII Corps' 'Greenline' between 15 and 17 July, the crossroads at Le Bon Repos and the higher ground overlooking Esquay Nôtre Dame were attacked by the 2/Glasgow Highlanders of the 227th Brigade, supported by Churchill tanks of the 107th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps from the 34th Tank Brigade and the 141st RAC of the 79th Armoured Division, with Churchill Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers assault tanks and Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower tanks. The Highlanders advanced from the north-east of Hill 112 to the south-west over the northern slope, toward the defences of the 3/21st SS-Panzergrenadierregiment. As the British infantry emerged from dead ground they were met by massed mortar fire, which temporarily disorganised the battalion, as did a smoke screen placed on Hill 112, where it merged with fog and covered the area. The Highlanders managed to cross the start line on time at 21.30 and took prisoner the SS survivors of a flame attack by the Crocodiles on the road between Caen and Evrecy, between Croix des Filandriers and Le Bon Repos. The advance continued downhill under 'Monty’s Moonlight' (illumination from searchlight beams reflected by clouds) and covering fire from the 107th RAC’s Churchill tanks on the higher ground just to the south of Baron.

Esquay was raided at about 23.00 but not held, as its position below a saucer of higher ground made it a shell-trap. The troops entrenched themselves on the rises to the north of Esquay at positions determined earlier using aerial reconnaissance photographs. Tiger tanks of the 102nd schwere SS Panzerabteilung were sent up the southern slope of Hill 112 to repulse an attack that never came. Farther to the west, the rest of the 15th Division had captured Point 113 but not Evrecy, which left the 2/Glasgow Highlanders overlooked from both flanks. German counterattacks by infantry of the 21st SS Panzergrenadierregiment and tanks of the 10th SS Panzerregiment at first concentrated on Esquay, which had already been evacuated. The German counterattack then fell on the positions around Le Bon Repos, where two PzKpfw IV tanks were knocked out by 6-pdr anti-tank guns. The Scottish were pushed back several times, only for the XII Corps' medium artillery to force the Germans back. On 18 July, the 107th RAC skirmished with dug‑in Tiger tanks and two 88-mm (3.465-in) self-propelled guns, losing four tanks on the ridge. The Highlanders maintained their positions for two days before being relieved by a battalion of the 53rd Division.

On 22 July, 'Express' was to jump-off from the village of Louvigny. The 5/Wiltshire Regiment of the 129th Brigade and B Squadron of the 9th RTR of the 31st Tank Brigade were to capture the village and orchard area to the north of the road from Louvigny, and the 4/Wiltshire Regiment and A Squadron of the 9th RTR were to attack the woods, orchards and a spur to the south-east of Maltot. The 4/Somerset Light Infantry was kept in reserve for the exploitation of any success. On the eastern bank of the Orne river, the Canadian 5th Brigade of the Canadian 2nd Division raided Etavaux with two companies moving along the railway close to the river, supported by a creeping barrage and tanks from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers on higher ground. Several Canadian soldiers rushed German machine gun positions and enabled the advance to continue to the village, where the Canadians fought the German garrison until the British barrage was due and then retired. After Maltot had been captured, the Canadians returned to occupy the village and took prisoner about 100 men of Generalleutnant Friedrich-August Schack’s 272nd Division for a loss of 108 casualties.

'Express' began at 17.30 and the 5/Wiltshire Regiment advanced behind a smoke screen and artillery barrage on the right-hand side of the road. The Germans were surprised and initially stunned by the bombardment. As the British moved through the village, some defenders recovered and there was hand-to-hand fighting. Grenadiers of the 10th SS Panzerdivision and Tiger tanks of the 102nd schwere SS Panzerabteilung launched a counterattack as the British entered Maltot and knocked out several Churchill tanks of B Squadron. A British forward air controller saw the German tanks and called in Typhoon fighter-bombers, which forced the Tiger tanks back to Hill 112, while the grenadiers reinforced the German infantry in the village. On the other side of the Louvigny road, the 4/Wiltshire Regiment advanced with A Squadron through woods and farms to the final objective in the area to the south of the village. The infantry led, with two sections in front of each tank, with the squadron commander on foot, accompanying the infantry commanders.

When the 5/Wiltshire Regiment saw that the 4/Wiltshire Regiment across the road had been delayed by the garrison in the Lieu de France farm at the eastern end of Maltot, Churchill and Churchill Crocodile tanks advanced, bombarded and flamed the defenders and then overran the position. As the British moved into the woods, small parties of British and German infantry stalked each other through trees, small quarries and trenches. The defenders were overrun in about two hours and mopping-up began, but some German troops were still holding out as dark fell. Most of the remaining defenders retired to Château Maltot on the far side of the road and were cut off, and as the 4/Wiltshire Regiment moved forward to the Rau de Maltot stream, they were stopped by fire from the château. Bombardment by the Churchill tanks prompted a German medic to ask for a truce, which the British were willing to accept in return for the surrender of all the German troops in the château, but the Germans declined. At dusk, the British attacked and broke into the ground floor but were held back by showers of hand grenades. Overnight the outbuildings were captured and the château was kept under fire by the tanks.

Between 21.30 and 22.00, both British battalions reached their final objectives to the west of Maltot and the woods to the south. The British tanks withdrew, having lost eight vehicles, and just after dawn the Germans remaining in the château surrendered. By the end of the operation, the 10th SS Panzerdivision had been reduced from about 15,000 to just 2,289 men, and could only counterattack the most vital positions. At dawn, the British were met by the sight of the dead left from 'Jupiter' (ii) and by long-range fire from German tanks and guns on the south-eastern slope of Hill 112. The Wiltshire Regiment had taken more than 400 prisoners in what it deemed a text-book operation: commanders had studied maps, photographs and sand models, had been given the time to establish infantry/tank co-operation with 7th RTR, and to undertake a reconnaissance of the terrain.

The 43rd Division was now withdrawn and the ground taken over by the 53rd Division. The Germans withdrew from Hill 112 in August, during the 'Cobra' and 'Bluecoat' operations farther to the west, and the 53rd Division occupied the feature with barely a fight on 4 August.