World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Caen (Battle For)
From Wikipedia
On 6 June 1944, Allied forces invaded France by launching Operation Neptune, the beach landing operation of Operation Overlord. A force of several thousand ships assaulted the beaches in Normandy, supported by approximately 3,000 aircraft. The D-Day landings were successful, but the Allied forces were unable to take Caen as planned.
In addition to seaborne landings, the Allies also employed Airborne forces. The U.S. 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, as well as the British 6th Airborne Division (with the attached 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion), were inserted behind the enemy lines. The British and Canadian paratroopers behind Sword Beach were tasked in Operation Deadstick with reaching and occupying the strategically important bridges such as Horsa and Pegasus, as well as to take the artillery battery at Merville in order to hinder the forward progress of the German forces. They managed to establish a bridgehead north of Caen, on the east bank of the Orne, that the Allied troops could use to their advantage in the battle for Caen.

Operation Neptune

The first operation intended to capture Caen was the initial landings on Sword Beach by the 3rd Infantry Division on 6 June. Despite being able to penetrate the Atlantic Wall and push south the division was unable to reach the city, their final objectives according to the plan, and in fact fell short by 3.7 mi (6.0 km). The 21st Panzer Division launched several counterattacks during the afternoon which effectively blocked the road to Caen.

Transport vehicles, including Bren Carriers and a 6 pounder anti-tank gun, of the 7th Armoured Division, knocked out during the Battle of Villers-Bocage, 13 June 1944.
Operation Perch was the second attempt to capture Caen after the direct attack from Sword Beach on 6 June failed. According to its pre-D-Day design, Operation Perch was intended to create the threat of a British breakout to the southeast of Caen. The operation was assigned to XXX Corps; the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was tasked with capturing Bayeux and the road to Tilly-sur-Seulles. The 7th Armoured Division would then spearhead the advance to Mont Pinçon.

On 9 June, Caen was still in German hands, so General Montgomery decided on a new plan for 2nd Army. Caen would be taken by a pincer movement. The eastern arm of the attack would consist of I Corps's 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. The Highlanders would cross into the Orne bridgehead, the ground gained east of the Orne during Operation Tonga, and attack southwards to Cagny, 6 mi (9.7 km) to the southeast of Caen. XXX Corps would form the pincer's western arm; the 7th Armoured Division would advance east, cross the Odon River to capture Évrecy and the high ground near the town (Hill 112).
Over the next few days XXX Corps battled for control of the town of Tilly-sur-Seulles, defended by the Panzer-Lehr Division and elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division; the allied forces became bogged down in the bocage, unable to overcome the formidable resistance offered.[21][22][23] I Corps were delayed moving into position, so their attack was rescheduled for 12 June.[20] When the 51st Highland Division launched its attack, it faced stiff resistance from the 21st Panzer Division in its efforts to push south; with the Highlanders unable to make progress, by 13 June the offensive east of Caen was called off.

Transport vehicles, including Bren Carriers and a 6 pounder anti-tank gun, of the 7th Armoured Division, knocked out during the Battle of Villers-Bocage, 13 June 1944.

On the right flank of XXX Corps, the Germans were unable to resist American attacks and began to withdraw south. This opened a 7.5 mi (12.1 km) gap in the German frontline. Conscious of the opportunity presented, Dempsey ordered the 7th Armoured Division to exploit the opening in the German lines, seize the town of Villers-Bocage and advance into the Panzer-Lehr-Division's flank. After two days of intense fighting that included the Battle of Villers-Bocage, on 14 June the division's position was judged untenable and it was withdrawn. The 7th Armoured Division was pulled back to be bolstered by the 33rd Armoured Brigade, which was in the process of landing and forming up within the British beachhead. It was planned that the reinforced division would resume the attack[31] but on 19 June a severe storm descended upon the English Channel causing widespread disruption to beach supply operations and further offensives were abandoned.

Le Mesnil-Patry

The last major Canadian operation of the month of June was directed at gaining high ground to the southwest of Caen, but ended in mixed results. No. 46 Royal Marine Commando had success operating with Canadian armour as well as Le Régiment de la Chaudière, driving as far south as Rots. However, the Queen's Own Rifles, supported by tanks of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) met with spectacular failure at Le Mesnil-Patry, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division assumed a static role until Operation Windsor in the first week of July.

Operation Martlet (also known as Operation Dauntless) was a preliminary attack to support Operation Epsom was launched on 25 June by the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division of XXX Corps. Their objective was to secure ground on the flank of the intended advance. The attack gained some ground; however, the weather and muddy ground hampered the attack thus some of the dominating terrain on the right flank of the intended attack by VIII Corps was still in German hands.

An ammunition carrier of the 11th Armoured Division explodes after being hit by a mortar round during Operation Epsom on 26 June 1944.

Operation Epsom

After a delay caused by the three-day storm that descended upon the English Channel, 2nd Army launched Operation Epsom on 26 June. The objective of the operation was to capture the high ground south of Caen, near Bretteville-sur-Laize. The attack was carried out by the newly arrived VIII Corps, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O'Connor, which consisted of 60,244 men. The operation would be supported by 736 artillery pieces, the Royal Navy, close air support and a preliminary bombardment by 250 bombers of the Royal Air Force. However the planned bombing mission for the start of the operation had to be called off due to poor weather over Britain. 

On the day before the attack was to be launched, Operation Martlet (also known as Operation Dauntless) was to be launched; 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, supported by tanks, was to secure VIII Corp's flank by capturing the high ground to the right of their advance. I Corps would launch two supporting operations several days following the launch of Epsom, codenamed Aberlour and Ottawa. The 3rd Infantry Division, supported by a Canadian infantry brigade, would launch the former and attack north of Caen; the latter would be a move by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, supported by tanks, to take the village and airfield of Carpiquet. However these attacks would not take place.

Supported by the tanks of the 31st Tank Brigade, the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division made steady progress, and by the end of the first day had largely overrun the German outpost line, although there remained some difficulties in securing the flanks of the advance. In heavy fighting over the following two days, a foothold was secured across the River Odon, and efforts were made to expand this by capturing strategic points around the salient and moving up the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division. However, in response to powerful German counterattacks by the I and II SS Panzer Corps, some of the British positions across the river were withdrawn by 30 June.

VIII Corps was able to advance nearly 6 mi (9.7 km). The Germans however, throwing in their last available reserves, had been able to achieve a defensive success at the operational level in containing the British offensive. At the tactical level, the fighting was indecisive, and after the initial gains made neither side was able to make much progress; German counterattacks were repulsed and further advances by British forces halted. On the strategic level, the 2nd Army had retained the initiative over the German forces in Normandy, had halted a massed German counterattack against the Allied beachhead before it could be launched, prevented German armoured forces either being redeployed to face the Americans or being relieved and passed into reserve.

The operation cost the Second Army up to 4,078 casualties while the German Army lost over 3,000 men and 126 tanks knocked out.[50]

Operation Jupiter

Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor tried again to develop the bridgehead with Caen. The 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division was to retake Hill 112 on 10 July during Operation Jupiter. In the first phase the Allied forces were to take Hill 112, Fontaine and Éterville and in the second phase use Hill 112 as a defensive position and move towards Maltot. A bombardment of mortars and over 100 field artillery pieces preceded the Allied attack.
The Germans had five infantry battalions, two Tiger heavy tank battalions, as well as two Sturmgeschütz companies and Nebelwerfer drawn mostly from the 10th SS Panzer Division, with elements of the 9th SS and 12th SS Panzer Divisions in reserve.

The operation failed because of strong resistance from the Germans which had dug themselves in and were well prepared for the attack. The 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division lost over 2,000 men during the operation.

Tiger Tank
Operation Goodwood

At a meeting with General Bernard Montgomery on 10 July, the commander of the 2nd Army—Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey—suggested the plan for Operation Goodwood on the same day Montgomery had approved Operation Cobra. The Canadian part of Operation Goodwood was given the codename Operation Atlantic.

Since the middle of July, 2,250 medium and 400 light tanks in three armoured divisions and several independent armoured brigades had been brought to Normandy under the control of the 2nd Army, which was now in a position where they could afford to lose tanks, but not men, in order to break through the German positions on the eastern side of the Orne and in the north of Caen. Operation Goodwood was to begin on 18 July, two days before the beginning of the U.S. Operation Cobra. Cobra however, did not begin until 25 July.

Although heavy losses were expected in the operation, Dempsey believed his men had a good chance to break through. The armoured divisions of VIII Corps under the command of Lieutenant-General O’Connor were to make the main effort. Approximately 700 guns shooting about 250,000 rounds were to support the attack. Furthermore, the RAF was to bombard three targets: Colombelles-Mondeville, Toufreville-Émiéville and Cagny.

The goal was to capture all of Bras, Hubert-Folie, Verrières, Fontenay, Garcelles-Secqueville, Cagny and Vimont.[citation needed] A further goal was to push the Germans back from the Bourguebus Ridge. The Canadian forces had the task of securing the western flank, and the British infantry were to secure the eastern.
Medical personnel treat wounded soldiers during Operation Goodwood on 18 July.

On 18 July 1944, Allied bombers and fighters attacked five villages on the eastern end of Caen in order to facilitate Operation Goodwood. The attacks took place at dawn and were helped by good weather. Four of the targets were marked by pathfinders; for the fifth target, the bombardiers had to find another way to find their mark. Supported by American bombers and fighters, the British dropped approximately 6,800 short tons (6,200 t) of bombs on the villages and surrounding area. Two German units—the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division and the 21st Panzer Division—were hit hard by the bombing. German air defences and ground troops were able to shoot down six aircraft.

The three Allied armoured divisions had to overcome water obstacles and a minefield in order to reach their line of departure. The Orne River and the Caen Canal was an obstacle for the British troops during their advance. Six small bridges were available for the 8,000 vehicles including the tanks, the artillery, the motorised infantry, the engineers and the supply vehicles to cross the river. It was obvious that there would be a large traffic problem. Dempsey's solution was nearly fatal: he directed O′Connor to leave the infantry, engineers, and artillery on the other side until all of the tanks got across. This broke up the British combined-arms team before the Germans were even engaged.

After the tanks got over the bridges, the British had to cross a minefield of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines laid only a few days before by the 51st Highland Division. This obstacle would have taken a massive effort from the engineers to be cleared before the battle. There was a concern that, since the Germans had observation posts on the chimneys of the steel plant in the suburb of Colombelles and could observe the mine clearing effort, they would have been forewarned of the attack. However, tactical surprise had already been lost. The engineers of the 51st Highland Division had taken the two nights before the battle to clear 17 corridors through the minefield.

VIII Corps gave up the element of surprise as the tanks were slowed by the bridges and minefields. Through rare aerial reconnaissance and observation from Coucelles, the Germans had plenty of time to prepare their defences. Thus, Antony Beevor states more effort to clear additional lanes through the minefields should have been undertaken; however the engineering resources of Second Army, I and VIII Corps as well as divisional engineers had already been put to work between 13 July and the evening of 16 July building six new roads from west of the Orne river to the start lines east of the river and canal. I Corps engineers were also constructing new bridges across the Orne River and Caen Canal while strengthening the existing bridges prior to the attack. Engineers from the 3rd and 51st divisions had been tasked with clearing the minefield and nineteen 40 ft (12 m) wide gaps had been cleared by the morning of 18 July. Following Operation Goodwood, it took Royal Engineers five days, during daylight hours, to lift all the mines placed in front of the positions previously held by 51st (Highland) Infantry Division.

Additionally, fire support was not effective; the artillery regiments stayed west of the Orne as per Dempsey's orders, so that the main German defence at Bourguebus Ridge was not in range. Additionally, coordination between the field artillery and the tanks was lacking[citation needed].
It became clear that the area that had been selected was strategically poor[citation needed]. There were many small villages, and in each one there was a small German garrison, each connected by tunnels as well as many observation posts that could be used to watch the progress of the Allies.
The German artillery on the Bourguebus Ridge at Cagny and Émiéville was not weakened by either prior air or artillery attacks[citation needed]. From these positions the German guns as well as the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division dug in on the ridge had free fields of fire. Behind the ridge, were the remnants of the 21st Panzer Division with seventy-eight 88 mm (3.46 in) guns[citation needed] and 40 tanks.

The 2nd Army over-tasked the 11th Armoured Division. Although it was the unit that led the attack, it also was tasked with cleaning out the small villages along the front lines, namely Cuverville and Demouville. These were to be secured by units following the initial effort, but instead the armoured brigades attacked Bourguebus Ridge while the Motorised Infantry brigades took care of the villages. This slowed the attacks down and prevented meaningful cooperation.

For the most part, VIII Corps pressed forward very slowly. The 29th Armoured brigade of the 11th Armoured Division made the biggest gains, capturing almost 7 mi (11 km) of ground[citation needed] lateral to the British front.

When the railroad at aen Vimont was reached at 09:30, the German troops had recovered from the bombardment. Twelve British tanks were destroyed by an 88 mm gun that fired on them several times[citation needed]. The British advanced slowly and crossed the rail line in order to approach the Bourguebus Ridge which was held by the 21st Panzer Division, the 1st SS Panzer Division and numerous artillery pieces.

For most of the day, the 29th Armoured Brigade, 11th Armoured Division, was without artillery support. The 159th Infantry Brigade was busy clearing out two villages behind the 29th Armoured Brigade. The remaining two armoured divisions were also busy crossing the bridges or passing through the minefields. At dawn on the 18th, only one tank battalion of the 7th Armoured division was involved in combat while most of the remaining armour units had to wait from 10:00 to midday on 18 July to cross the Orne.

Individual tank battalions fought without support and behind one another instead of fighting together which was what was planned at the outset of the operation. Most of the ground gained came on the morning of 18 July. On the right flank of the operation, Canadian 3rd Infantry Division advanced through the southern part of Caen, finally liberating the city that day.

The Germans began a counterattack after midday on 18 July that lasted until 20 July. General Montgomery brought the operation to a close, citing bad weather as the reason.


The operation did not go as planned for the Allies. Historian Simon Trew claims around 4,000 casualties[91] were inflicted on the 2nd Army during this operation while Chester Wilmot claims the figure was 4,837 casualties. Tank losses are open to debate; Michael Reynolds claims that a careful study of the relevant documents indicate a maximum loss of 253 tanks during Operation Goodwood, most of which were repairable. Trew states around 334 tanks were lost; he claims that after new investigation VIII Corps tank losses for Goodwood are 314 tanks knocked out, of which only 140 were completely destroyed. I Corps and the II Canadian Corps lost around 20 tanks during the same period. Historian John Buckley claims 21st Army Group lost 400 tanks during the Goodwood period however most were eventually recovered.[95] German losses are unknown however over 2,500 men were taken prisoner and between 75-100 tanks were destroyed.

The operation was a tactical failure for the Second Army in terms of achieving a breakout, yet achieved important strategic aims. The operation captured vital new ground including those portions of Caen yet untaken (and now 4-5 kilometres behind Allied lines) and, crucially, tied down four German corps, which included important armoured divisions, at the moment when the Americans were about to launch Operation Cobra.

The battle for Caen was over, as the whole of the city was now in British and Canadian hands.

Damage and civilian casualties

Before the invasion, Caen had a population of 60,000. On 6 June, leaflets were dropped by Allied aircraft, urging the population to disperse into the countryside. Only a few hundred left. Later in the day, British heavy bombers attacked the city, aiming to slow the flow of German reinforcements. There was huge destruction. Eight hundred civilians lost their lives in the 48 hours following the invasion. Streets were blocked by rubble, and ambulances could not get through, so the injured were taken to an emergency hospital set up in the Bon Sauveur convent. The convent was itself damaged. Notable buildings such as the Palais des Ducs, the church of Saint-Étienne and the railway station were all destroyed or severely damaged. To escape the bombardment of the city, 15,000 people took refuge for more than a month in tunnels to the south of the city, created by medieval stone quarrying.

The Défense Passive organisation was based at Bon Sauveur. Civil defence and medical organisations worked well together to co-ordinate medical relief for the citizens of Caen.
Destruction Of Caen
Its medical profession was highly praised. Six surgical teams were alerted on the morning of the invasion, and Police collected medical supplies from pharmacies and clinics and brought them to Bon Sauveur and subsidiary hospitals at the Lycée Malherbe and the Hospice des Petites Sœurs des Pauvres.

On 9 June a major landmark of the city, the bell tower of Saint Pierre, was destroyed by a shell fired by the battleship HMS Rodney. Many buildings burned, and molten lead dripped from roofs. The bombing continued, and the medical teams were exhausted. Over 3,000 people took refuge in Bon Sauveur and the Abbaye aux Hommes, with more in Saint Etienne church. Foraging parties were set out into the countryside for food, and old wells were re-opened. The 500 refugees at the convent of the Petites Sœurs des Pauvres were actually well supplied, but the conditions in the rest of the city were terrible. The Vichy government in Paris managed to get some supplies through to Caen under the auspices of Secours Nationale, 250 short tons (230 t) in total.

The Germans ordered all remaining civilians to leave on 6 July. By the time Caen was bombed again on the evening of 7 July, only 15,000 inhabitants remained. 467 Lancaster and Halifax bombers attacked the city in preparation for Operation Charnwood. Although their delayed-action bombs were aimed at the northern edge of Caen, massive damage was again inflicted on the city centre. At least two civilian shelters were destroyed by direct hits, and the university was destroyed. Three hundred-fifty people were killed in this raid and the fighting that raged through the city on 8 July, bringing the civilian death toll to 1,150 since D-Day.

The Germans withdrew from the city north of the Orne on 9 July, blowing the only remaining bridge.[106] The southern part of the city was not liberated until 18 July, when the Canadian 3rd Division advanced through it as part of Operation Goodwood.

By the end of the battle, the civil population of Caen had fallen from 60,000 to 17,000. The destruction of the city caused much resentment.


Operation Overlord and the battles in Normandy successfully gave the Allies a foothold in France, which led to the liberation of the rest of Western Europe. On 25 August, the Allies were able to retake the French capital Paris.

Caen and many of the surrounding towns and villages were mostly destroyed; the cathedral in Caen and the University of Caen (founded in 1432) were both razed to the ground. The buildings were eventually rebuilt after the war and even expanded. For this reason, the symbol of the University of Caen is the Phoenix. Approximately 35,000 citizens of Caen were rendered homeless after Allied bombing.
After the war ended, the West German government had to pay reparations as compensation to any civilians in Caen killed, starved, or left homeless by Allied bombing and fighting.

The rebuilding of Caen officially lasted from 1948 to 1962. On 6 June 2004, Gerhard Schröder became the first German Chancellor to be invited to the anniversary celebration of the invasion.

There are many monuments to the Battle for Caen and Operation Overlord. For example on the road to Odon-bridge at Tourmauville, there is a memorial for the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division; or the monument on hill 112 for the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, as well as one for the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division. Near Hill 112, a forest was planted in memory of those that fought there.

The landings at Normandy, the Battle for Caen and the Second World War are remembered today with many memorials, in Caen there is the Mémorial with a "peace museum" (Musée de la paix). The museum was built by the city of Caen on top of where the bunker of General Wilhelm Richter, the commander of the 716th Infantry Division was located. On 6 June 1988 the museum was opened by the French president at the time, François Mitterrand as well as twelve ambassadors from countries that took part in the fighting in Normandy. The museum is dedicated to pacifism and borders the Parc international pour la Libération de l'Europe, a garden in remembrance of the Allied participants in the invasion.

The fallen are buried in the Brouay War Cemetery (377 graves), the Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery (2,170 graves), the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery (2,049 graves), the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery (2,957 graves), La Cambe German war cemetery (21,222 graves) as well as many more.