After the half success or half failure of the operation known as "Goodwood" where the British units had suffered heavy casualties, almost all of the German Panzer Divisions were positioned in the sector of CAEN, facing the British and Canadian divisions.
On the 25th of July, 1500 bombers of the 8th US Air Force dropped 3,400 tons of bombs on an area west of St-Lo. The German units of the Panzer-Lehr Division, the Fallschirmjager Regiment 3 and the Infanterie-Division 275 were crushed up (as unfortunately some US positions and General Mc Nair was killed in his command post). General Bradley gave the orders to start the ground operation code-named "Cobra". The 4th Infantry Division, the 9th Infantry Division and the 30th Infantry Division, supported by the 3rd Armored Division and the 2nd Armored Division advanced deeply in the Norman countryside between Coutances and St-Lo.
The German resistance was very weak. On the 27th of July, the US armored spearheads were on the east and southeast of Coutances and on the southwest of Torigny-sur-vire. To ensure the success of the US advance towards Brittany and Val-de-Loire, the British divisions had to support the US left flank in order to prevent the Panzer-Divisions from counterattacking.
General Montgomery decided to start an offensive between Noyer (east) and Caumont (west). The 2nd British Army with 6 divisions under the command of General Sir Dempsey would attack towards Vire and Flers. The attacking force was constituted by 2 army corps, the VIII Corps of General O’Connor to attack in the sector of Caumont and the XXX Corps of General Bucknall who would attack in the sector of Tilly-sur-seulles. On the 28th of July, General Eisenhower accepted the British plan. The offensive was delayed to the 30th of July as the British divisions were not yet in the right sectors.
On the 30th the VIII Corps were now in position, facing the Infanterie-Division 326 and the XXX Corps was up against the Infanterie Division 276.
The attacking area was heavily mined, so the British corps attacked on a small front, each engaging 3 enemy brigades. All night long, the Royal Engineers worked to clear and mark paths in the mine fields. The final part would be done by flail tanks of the 79th Armoured Division. Because of a very cloudy and gray sky, the aerial support scheduled was reduced.
At 0600, the 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division attacked with its 231st and 56th Brigade. At 0800, on the right wing, the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division engaged the 130th Brigade. The German reaction is weak ; the counter attacks are easily stopped. But because of the numerous German (and even US !) mine fields, the advance is slowed down.
At 0700, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division, supported by the Churchill tanksof the 6th Guards Armored Independent Brigade attacked. On the right flank, the 11th Armoured Division was ready with the 159th Brigade. The first wave, supported by flail and flammer tanks quickly advances into the German lines held by non-German units with low morale. The 4th Battalion Coldstream Guards supported by units of the 15th Scottish Division, reach its objectives, the hills 309 and 226 in the middle of the afternoon. Jagdpanthers of the PanzerJager Abteilung 654 attack the British positions in late afternoon. On the hill 226, the squadron 2 is entirely destroyed by 3 Jagdpanthers but the hill is taken by the infantry for the night. Hill 309 although suffering some JagdPanther attacks is kept secure by the British units.
At dawn the tanks of the 1st and 3rd Squadrons of the Coldstream Guards return to the top of the Hill 309. The 2nd squadron covers the left flank. At 0530 a heavy artillery bombing hits the hill lasting half an hour. At 0600, grenadiers from Panzer-Division 21 appear in the village of La Ferriere-au-Doyen on the northeast of the hill. Panzer engines can be heard from the woods at the east, Le bois du Homme. At 0645, the German units attack the positions of the Seaforths and Glasgow Highlanders. This first attack fails as also a second attack with the support of panzers. All day long, the "Coldstream Hill" will be under constant German bombing.
While the 6th Guards Armoured Independent Brigade and the 15th Scottish Infantry Division defend the hills 309 and 226, the 11th Armoured Division continued its advance and near 1200, the village of St-Martin-des-Besaces was captured. At the same time, the C squadron the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment accomplished a daring raid, deeply between the border lines of two German army corps, the II Fallschirmjager Korps (west) and the LXXXIV Armee Korps (east). Leading the advance, a troop under command of Lt D. Powle with armored vehicles reached a bridge crossing of the deeply embanked river Souleuvre. The single German sentry is neutralized. At 1030, and then at 1035 the squadron commander sends a message to his HQ : "Bridge 637436 is free of enemy and totally undamaged".
General Roberts commander of the 11th Armoured Division, unhesitatingly sends tanks of the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry to support the C squadron. The bridge captured, the 11th Armored Division can advance now. On the left flank, the Guards Armored Division covers the progression.
At dawn, the squadrons B and C of the 23rd Hussars advanced towards Le Beny-Bocage which crosses the Souleuvre Valley. They entered the town with the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and infantry from the 3rd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment. The weak German resistance was quickly neutralized. The 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade on carriers supported by a squadron of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment continued the attack towards the hamlet of La Ferroniere. Another battle group with 2 squadrons of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and 2 companies of the 4th K.S.L.I reached the hamlet of Catheolles.
Next the Grenadiers Battle Group, the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards (Motorized Infantry) and the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards (Tanks) was ordered to defend the sector of St Martin des Besaces.
At 0500, a force with units from the 2nd Armored Battalion Irish Guards and the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards moved to the village of St Denis-Maisoncelles, south of St Martin des Besaces. The place was defended by tanks units of the Panzer-Division 21 and infantry units from Grenadier-Regiment 752 of the Infanterie-Division 326. After a furious fight, the village was finally captured. At the end of this day, Guards units entered the village of Le Tourneur, southeast of St Denis-Maisoncelles.
While the British units continued their advance, Marshall Von Kluge orders the II SS Panzer Korps with the SS Panzer Division 9 "Hohenstaufen" and the SS Panzer Division 10 "Frundsberg" which are in the sector of Caen to reinforce the German defense. At 1525, the "Frundsberg" Division is on the road, but because of inconsistent orders, the "Hohenstaufen" won’t be ready before 2100.
This division which had been suffering heavy casualties, was constituted of two armored groups :
Gepanzerte Gruppe Meyer Commander Obersturmbannfuhrer Meyer (SS Panzer Div. 9) SS-Panzer Regiment 9. (Tanks) SS-Panzer Aufklarung Abteilung 9. (Reconnaissance) 1/SS-Panzer Artillerie Regiment 9. (Wespe & Hummel Guns)
Gruppe Weiss Commander Sturmbannfuhrer Weiss (schwere SS Pz.Abt. 102) Schwere SS Panzer Abteilung 102 SS-Panzer Aufklarung Abteilung 9. (Elements) SS-Divisions-Begleitkompanie 9.
The two grenadiers regiments have been mixed to create the SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment "H". The SS-Panzer Regiment 9. has 76 available tanks :
28 SturmGeschutze in the 7th and 8th companies. 17 Panzer IV 31 Panther.
At 0200, the 2nd Company of the 3rd Battalion Irish Guard and the X Company of the 3rd Battalion Scots Guards are sent to the village of Le Tourneur to cross the bridge over the Souleuvre River.
The 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment is in defense, east from Le Beny-Bocage. The C squadron was ordered by General Roberts to scout the southern countryside. Major Herbert, the C squadron leader, wished to reach an observation ridge west of Estry. The troop of Lt Powle followed the road through the villages of La Ferroniere and St-Charles-de-Percy and turned right before Montchamp (controlled by German units) towards Presles. They reached Presles, and finally met German units managing to advance more than 3 miles south through the German front line.
At dawn, the Guards reconnaissance unit, the 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards with Cromwell tanks began its missions. The squadron 1 was ambushed after Catheolles and retreated. The squadron 2 failed to reach Montamy which was heavily defended by infantry, panzers and Pak Guns. The squadron 3 reached the village of La Ferroniere and continued towards St-Charles de Percy. But after the crossing of the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment, the place has been strengthened with StuG III of the 7/SturmGeschutz-Kompagnie of the SS Panzer Division 9. The squadron by-passed the village and advanced towards the hamlet of La Marvindiere, where they were finally rejoined by the 2 other squadrons.
Following the Welsh Guards, the Grenadiers Battle Group advanced towards Monchauvet. German units with Panzer IV and infantry held the hamlet of Drouet on the ridge over the Catheolles valley. The fighting was furious and the hamlet was finally captured. But later, a German counterattack was launched with support of StuG III and the hill was partially abandoned but Drouet was still held.
The 3rd Battalion Irish Guards under command of Lt-Col. Vandeleur, after reaching the bridge continued their progression towards La Ferroniere. Just before twilight, the village was captured without major resistance. During the night, the battle group continued its advance towards St Charles de Percy but they are stopped at the crossroads of La Croix Rouge (The Red Cross).
At 0245, the 153rd Field Regiment Royal Artillery was ordered to move and deploy its batteries to the table-land, in the sector west of the hamlet of Maisoncelles to support the attacking British units. But the Maisoncelles sector was still held by Germans elements of the 9 SS Panzer Division. Despite the support of one troop of the 1st Armoured Battalion Coldstream Guards, and the rescue of tank destroyers from the 21st Anti-Tank Regiment R.A., the artillery regiment was forced to retreat to the British lines after suffering heavy casualties.
At 0530 the 4th Company of the 3rd Irish Guards with the support of one troop of the 1st Armoured Battalion Coldstream Guards advanced towards St Charles du Percy under the fire of German snipers and grenadiers of the SS Panzer Division 9 "Hohenstaufen". Some panzers were also spotted. The village was held by the German units until the next day.
On Drouet hill, the British positions were bombed by the Wespe guns of the SS-Panzer Artillerie Regiment 9 all day long. Several German counterattacks were launched but the Grenadiers Guards units resisted firmly while suffering heavy casualties.
The 2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards and the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards have now joined the Welsh guards at La Marvindière. Several Battle Groups mixing the Irish Guards tanks and the Coldstream Guards infantry are constituted. They advanced towards the village of Le Busq and the neighbouring ridge. But these positions were held by Waffen-SS units (both panzers and grenadiers) and the morning attack failed. The Guards units were deployed in the sector around the hamlet to secure the place.
Since the 2nd of August, British units have been holding the hamlet of La Marvindiere, but in a confused situation they were surrounded by Kampfgruppen of the 9 SS-Panzer Division. In this place was located the R.A.P. (Regimental Aid Post / Medical Center). The position was held by units of the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards, a squadron of the 2nd Armoured Recce Battalion Welsh Guards and troops of the 2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards. All day long, units of the 9. SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen" with panthers, panzer IV and infantry attack the area.
The Irish Guards of Col. Vandeleur were now in the village of St Charles du Percy. Just above the hamlet of Maisoncelles, the hill 192 was held by the SS Panzer Division 9 "Hohenstaufen". A Flak-88 gun was in position and threatened the British positions in the valley. Col. Vandeleur sends a task force constituted of the X company of the 3rd Battalion Scots Guards supported by a troop of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards and 2 antitank guns. The hill is quite easily captured. Col. Vandeleur gave orders to strengthen the hill and sends reinforcements (Anti-tank guns, mortars and infantry squads.)
After the withdrawal of the German units from the sector of Drouet Hill, the Grenadier Battle Group launched an attack towards Montchauvet, supported by the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards on its right flank. At the end of the day, the villages of Montchamps and Montchauvet have been captured and the road between these two villages was held.
On Hill 192, near Maisoncelles, the X company of the Scots Guards was placed on alert. At 0100, Panthers of SS-Panzer Regiment 9 attack the British positions. They are supported by StuG III of the 8/SturmGeschutz-Kompagnie of the Oberstrumfuhrer Rennert and grenadiers of the "H" regiment. After a short and violent fight, the German units retreated with heavy casualties.
During the day, the 9 SS-Panzer Division units withdrew from the sector of Maisoncelles but they still hold the village of Estry.
After the attack of Montchauvet, the Grenadier Battle group, was sent to Montchamps and St Charles de Percy. Then the group continued towards La Marvindiere to reinforce the area. The battalions’ officers studied the situation which was still pretty confused, in order to plan the attack on the hamlet of Le Busq.
The German snipers were still very active as some lonesome German Panthers fired at targets of opportunity.
At 0500, the 2nd Armored Battalion Irish Guards and the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards attack the German positions in the village of Le Busq near Estry. The advance was slowed by heavy mortar bombing and MG fire.
The village was finally captured but the German units still hold the ridge near the village.
The 11th Armored Division, advance towards Chenedolle and Vire facing the Gruppe Weiss ( SS Pz-Div. 9 ) on their left and the SS Pz-Div. 10 Fundsberg". Near the hamlet of Pavee, west of Chenedolle, the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment was replaced by the 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Units of the SS Panzer-Division 10 were on the hills around Burcy. Using 105-Guns and mortars artillery, they bombed the British units almost destroying all the trucks of the Norfolk Regiment. By mistake, U.S. P-47 strafed the British pinned units. The German units took advantage of the confused situation and attacked the British positions. At 1700, the German units have broken through the Royal Norfolk line, British units retreated in disorder. Alone with a Bren gun, Corporal Sidney Bates faced a whole company of charging Waffen-SS. He was hit several times, but continued to fire ; finally his heroic stand forced the German grenadiers to finally retreat.
The Guards armored squadrons moved towards their daily positions in the villages of Les Grands Bonfaits and Le Busq. The Squadron 2 of the 2nd Armored Battalion Irish Guards was in position on the ridge, when they were engaged by three panzers IV and a Flak-88 gun which attacked the flank of the position. The Sherman FireFly of Sgt Mc Manus was hit and abandoned with only one wounded.
At Chenedolle, 6 miles east of Vire, elements of the 1st Company of the Schwere SS Panzer Abteilung 102 waited for an attack order. The Tigers were supported by the 1st Company of the Pionier-Batallion 600. Out of the village, in front of the church, sergeant Fey in his Tiger 134 stood on alert. A column of 15 Shermans of the 23rd Hussars and tracked carriers was spotted. Sgt Fey called his commander who gave him the order to withdraw. But the Sgt Fey told his radio operator to turn off the radio reception.
The allied tanks advanced in a narrow path between the hedges. At 800 meters an AP shell was loaded into the gun. The first target was at 600 meters. Suddenly, the sergeant Fey ordered : "Panzer granate-600-Feuer Frei" and began his tanks slaughter. At 1200, 14 Shermans and some carriers have been destroyed covering the valley with a dark smoke. The Tiger 134 is nearly out of ammo. Sergeant Fey left his panzer and he crawled to the nearest panzers. He came back later with a 88 AP shell. A Few minutes later, a heavy bombing began. One track was hit, immobilizing the tank. He called to be towed. They were waiting, jabbos over their head. Suddenly, they heard tracks on their right, at 1400. Two shells left. The hatches were opened, ready for evacuation. The Sherman gun was spotted, the first shell misses. But the second does not. A 15th victory ! In the evening, two Tigers of the Schwab Section (S1) came and towed the Tiger 134 to the company PC.
After a good advance during the first days, the VIII Corps have met a stronger German defense. With the reinforcement of elite Germans troops, 9 and 10 SS-Panzer Division, Heavy Armored Battalions, the opposition is tougher. The German ground losses were minimal and both armies suffered heavy casualties. The German units held the line ( Vire-Chenedolle-Estry ) until the 13th of August, when they finally withdrew to escape being surrounded and moved to Falaise.
Bataille de Normandie - Normandy Invasion - 11/06-29/08/44 G. Bernage - L. Mari - JP. Benamou - R. Mc Nair Ed. Heimdal - 1994
Normandy 1944 - Campaign Series #1 S. Badsey Ed. Osprey - 1990 1944 : Les Panzers (2) - Div. de Panzers SS et Bat. independants. R. Mc Nair Ed. Heimdal - 1992
Histoire de l’armee allemande 1939-1945 P. Masson Ed. Perrin - 1994
La Garde contre la Hohenstaufen - Historica #32 G. Bernage - M Leteinturier Ed. Heimdal - 1992
La bataille du bocage - Militaria HS# 13 Y. Buffetaut Ed. Histoire & Collections - 1993
Normandie 44 - 39/45 Magazine #85/86 Ed. Heimdal - 1993
This article was pusblished in the July’97 issue of the Novastar Games Co. Newsletter. It was the background history of several scenarios about this operation that I designed for the Steel Panthers video games.
I adapted one of scenarios for miniatures here