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TOUR THE NORMANDY BATTLEFIELDS
THE OUTBREAK, THE BATTLE FOR CAEN

FOUR LABORIOUS OPERATIONS

Left to right; Montgomery, Eisenhower and Tedder.

Supreme Commander Eisenhower was disappointed in Montgomery. The original plan was to capture Caen on D-Day. 6 June, 1944. But the planned re-enforcement's came trickling at shore. Montgomery planned the first attack, with the codename 'Operation Perch' that on 10 June. Despite supporting fire from two battle cruisers and a battleship the advance of the 50th Division was extreme slow. The defence from the German elite-corps Panzer Lehr and the 12the SS-Pantserdivision (Hitlerjugend) was difficult to breech. When the counterattack came on the 11th from these troops, the losses were enormous on the British. June 12 saw another attack with more British troops thrown into battle. 7th Armoured Division headed westwards. The plan was a breakthrough near Villers-Bocage and than attack to the south of Caen. 7th Armoured made an enormous detour around Tilly-sur-Seulles and went south over Livry. There was little resistance on their way. The troops were confident on June 13 when they halted on the N175, a few kilometers after Villers-Bocage in front of 'Hill 213'. Suddenly a German unit of the SSPzAbt 101 appeared with their Tiger tanks. This unit, under command of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann lay in hiding and it was the perfect site for an ambush.

SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann and his men's last resting place.

Wittmann was the first to open fire with his 88mm cannon and destroyed a Cromwell tank at the rear of the column. The way back was blocked. Wittmann drove along the British column and shot at every vehicle that came in his sight. He destroyed is short time twenty-five tanks, fourteen halftracks and fourteen brencarriers. When Wittmann was turning around for another attack, his tank was hit by a Sherman Firefly that lay in hiding. The gunner of the Sherman used a shop's window as a mirror when Wittmann approached. Wittmann and his crew clambered out of the crippled Tiger and escaped to fight another day. Wittmann was given the Sword to his Knights Cross with Oakleafs, and became the highest decorated German tank commander. On August the 8th, 1944 Wittmann and his new tank were hit once again, now through a Sherman Vc Firefly of 3 Troop, A- Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry (tank 12) near St. Aignan de Cramesnil (some sources speak of a rocket from a British Typhoon). The whole crew perished and was buried beside the road. In 1983 they were found during roadwork's. After identification they were re-buried at 'La Cambe' (see 'The German Page'). On that same day, 8 August 1944 a total of 135 German tanks were destroyed!

Affraid of more losses for the 7th Division, it was decided to pull them back from the front in the night of June 14. The next operation, 'Operation Epson', started on 26 June, 1944. Frontline troops consisted this time of units from 8th Corps. The goal was again to make a encircling move from the west and to entangle Caen from the south. To achieve this they first had to capture 'Hill 112' (15 kilometres north of Villers-Bocage). The crossing of the River Orne was the next step. But the German defence on 'Hill 112' was very heavy and on June 29 the British troops had to retreat, and 'Operation Epson' was cancelled.

The memorial on 'Hill 112', a Churchill tank.

After two failures to take Caen, Montgomery decided to attack the town from three sides. On the 4th of July, with the new code name, 'Operation Charnwood', an attack is placed on the airfield south-west of Caen. The Canadian troops struggle for four days to drive the German 12de SS-Pansterdivisie out. To support the operation some 2000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the city of Caen on July the 7th. Unfortunately 3000 civilians were killed and most of the town was destroyed. The destruction and the German defence delayed the advance through Caen. The Canadian 3rd Division reached the centre on 8 July. But by that time the Germans were already pulling out of the city.

To capture the area south of Caen a new offensive was started. On 18 July 'Operation Goodwood' went ahead. After a bombardment of 2000 tonnes on the German positions, the British and Canadian troops advanced to the south. After a gain of 9 kilometres the advanced stopped in the mess of knocked out vehicles. 8th Corps lost that day 220 tanks to the well organised German anti-tank artillery. It was planned to continue the attack on July the 19th, but then it started to rain, and 'Operation Goodwood' came to a halt in the mud and mire.


THE ATTACK ON ERWIN ROMMEL

For the allied fighter pilots it was business as usual on Monday 17 July, 1944. Spotting German troops, shoot them up or throw bombs on them. Since the invasion in Normandy thousands of vehicles were destroyed on French roads. That afternoon, round the clock of four, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel boarded his Horch staff car that was parked outside the headquarters of SS Oberstgruppenfurher Josef Dietrich, commander of 1ste SS Panzer Corps, at Pierre-sur-Dives.

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel in his staff car.

Rommel took the D4 that should lead him through Livarot. He was in great hurry, everywhere the allies broke through the German defences. The roads were constantly blocked by burning wrecks that were knocked out by fighter-bombers. Because of some detouring Rommel arrived in Livarot around six o'clock that afternoon. Despite the danger the staff car continued it's way to Vimoutires on the N179. At that time flew eight Spitfires of the No 602 Squadron in the vicinity. Two Spitfires broke out of the formation when they spotted the staff car. Squadron Leader J.J. Le Roux, DFC (an ace with 23 destroyed enemy airplanes), took a shot at the staff car. His shells smack with heavy force into the Horch. His driver was hit badly in the arm. Rommel was wounded in the face and his skull is fractured in three places. Driver Daniel looses the car and he runs into the verge of the road, hits a tree and car turns over. Rommel land unconscious besides the car. They fear for his life, but Rommel survives the attack. Daniel, his driver dies of his wounds that same night.

On the right where Rommel ended in the verge.

You can still find the spot where the Horch staff car hit the trees. Follow the N179 from Livarot towards Vimoutiers. After you passed Ste-Foy-de-Montgommery you come across a gatehouse to the right that belongs to the estate of Usine Laniel. Opposite of this building, on the other side of the road, is the spot of the crash.


WAT IS LEFT AND TO FIND AROUND CAEN

First thing I want to mention and you have to visit in Caen is the 'Le Memorial de Caen' (you can't miss it, everywhere are signs on the ring-road around Caen). This is not a 'war-museum', it is a museum filled with the history of the 20th Century.

Le Memorial de Caen, right a Typhoon replica hangs in the hall

There is a theatre with a 'split-screen'. One site shows the boarding of the allied troops, the other the preparation for the defence by the Germans at Normandy. It is an experience you will not lightly forget. Laughing men heading for an uncertain future, how many of them won't come back?

Typhoon monument at Noyers-Bocage

Another impressive monument can be found in the town Noyers-Bocage on the N175, 15 kilometres south of Caen. This huge memorial is in remembrance to the Typhoon Squadrons, and their killed pilots that dropped their deadly cargo on the German troops. The monument is built from three plaques of black marble in the shape of arrowheads. At the rear are panels with the names of 150 names from pilots who were killed in May-August 1944 in Normandy.

To continue the 'outbreak' towards Avranches, click 'HERE'.

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